US officials weigh on mechanics of coronavirus election | USA News


Officials in the United States are grappling with a new political challenge: how to organize a national election in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gloomy new projections from top government scientists suggest the United States could face 100,000 to 240,000 coronavirus deaths in the coming months. The pandemic is changing the way the United States organizes its next national election.


Yet in November, some 260 million Americans are expected to go to local polling stations in schools, libraries and public buildings and line up to vote for their choice for the president and members of Congress.

“Assuming we are still going to be dealing with pandemic issues in November, we are going to have a huge increase in the use of postal voting in all states,” said Rick Hasen, professor of law and politics at ‘University of California.

The last time the United States faced an electoral dilemma like the present one was in 1918, during a midterm vote during the Spanish flu pandemic. At the time, as today, general quarantines were in place and businesses closed. The turnout ended up being abnormally low – 40% – and the Republican Opposition Party took full control of Congress of Democrats from outgoing President Woodrow Wilson.

Most of the main contests for the Democratic presidency – now a race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders – have already been postponed until June.

Wisconsin continues

Only one recalcitrant, the state of Midwest Wisconsin, is struggling to complete his primary next week. Communities like Milwaukee are drastically reducing the number of polling stations because workers are unwilling to risk exposure and call on National Guard soldiers to staff those who remain open.

“If we are going to have elections in November that will not rob many people of their rights, then we have to vote by email,” Hasen told Al Jazeera.

In the $ 2.2 trillion bailout package adopted by the United States last week, Congress provided $ 400 million to help states deal with the election-related impact of coronavirus. Hasen and others say it will not be enough.

Democrats sought to include a provision requiring all 50 states to allow universal postal voting, but the effort was pushed back by Republicans.

Postal voting is polarizing for the two major American political parties. Democrats generally want to encourage participation and Republicans are often seen placing checks on the vote. The underlying reason is that if everyone voted, the results would likely benefit Democrats.

“Regarding the elections, I think we are going to vote for the mail,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the number one Democrat in Congress, said on Tuesday.

Pelosi said again Wednesday that it intends to continue pushing the issue in negotiations with Republicans on the next legislative response to the coronavirus crisis.

Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrives for a briefing by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Republican resistance

President Donald Trump acknowledged Republican resistance to universal postal voting in a television interview on Monday.

Speaking of negotiations with the Democrats on the bailout, Trump said; “They had things, voting levels that if you had never accepted, you would never have a republican elected in this country again. “

Most states already allow voters to vote by mail, although with restrictions, according to a survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-partisan political think tank in Washington, DC.

In the 2018 congressional elections, a quarter of the votes were cast by mail, according to Jack Young, a lawyer in Washington, DC and a former lawyer for the National Democratic Committee.

“Enabling citizens to vote by mail is not enough,” Young told Al Jazeera. “We need to find funding to support the process. “

“We are going to flood postal facilities with last minute ballots at a time when the system is under great stress,” said Young.

Mississippi Primary

Hand sanitizer is highlighted so voters can apply after voting at the presidential primary in Ridgeland, Mississippi [File: Rogelio V Solis/AP Photo]

Vote of “absent”

Seventeen of the 50 states currently limit so-called postal voting to people with disabilities or who will be absent on polling day.

Only a few states – including California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah – already allow everyone to vote by mail.

Marian Schneider, president of the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that many states that are not used to seeing a large volume of mail-in ballots will face challenges.

“Elections are the foundation of our democracy. We need to think about how to secure the elections for all voters and how to work together to ensure this happens, “Schneider told Al Jazeera.

“Ultimately, COVID-19 does not discriminate by party affiliation. This is a public health crisis, “said Schneider.

The pandemic crisis is so extreme that even opponents of the expansion of postal voting procedures are urging local administrators to lift the state’s constitutional restrictions on mail voting.

The New York constitution only allows absentees to vote in the event of illness or absence.

Doug Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Election Council, advises local officials to get around this restriction by simply allowing anyone wishing to use a postal ballot to do so.

“Almost all of the fraud that occurred during the elections was linked to the postal ballots, so I am very concerned that this will become the normal voting procedure,” Kellner told Al Jazeera.

“But we cannot maintain a democracy without holding elections. And whatever conditions we need to impose for this to happen, we have to do it, ”said Kellner.


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