Who’s Voting? Who Isn’t?
In an eleventh hour decision, Ohio postponed their primary from March 17 until June 2, 2020. Four other states – Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Maryland – have postponed their primary elections. The three states that went ahead with their primaries on March 17 – Illinois, Arizona and Florida – did so with great caution. All three are important to the primary cycle because of the number of delegates they handed out, and two of the states, Arizona and Florida, are considered swing states in the general election.
A Clear Democratic Frontrunner
Former Vice President Joe Biden went into the March 17 contests with a delegate count advantage over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden’s February momentum continued, as he handily beat Sanders in every contest. Biden won 60% of the vote in Illinois and Florida and over 40% in Arizona. Because Democratic primaries assign their delegates based on the vote count – not “winner take all” as the Republican Party does – Biden received twice as many delegates as Sanders. The Sanders campaign’s margin of loss to Biden has been significant since February 29. As of March 20, Sanders is in the process of “evaluating his campaign.” After a long and unpredictable Democratic primary season, Joe Biden will be the nominee for the Democratic Party. The question that now remains is – how will the COVID-19 outbreak impact voting and campaigns through the remainder of the year?
Will States Postpone Primaries?
It is possible that states that have yet to vote will delay, but they must vote before the scheduled convention. The states that are still on the calendar for a primary are considering expanding their mail-in ballots, increasing absentee ballots, and expanding early voting. Similar initiatives seemed to work well for Arizona and Florida. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, those states’ voting numbers were up from 2016. In Illinois – where these options were not utilized – numbers were down.
Will the Democrats and Republicans Cancel Conventions?
The Democratic convention is scheduled for July 13–16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Republican convention is scheduled for August 24–27 in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is possible that the parties will have to cancel their conventions. No one knows how long the COVID-19 lockdown will continue. If cancellations occur, it would be devastating to both parties and the host cities. Nothing can replace the energy that comes from the conventions. One thing to note is that it is unusual for the parties to have their conventions several weeks apart. This may make all the difference if by August the lockdown is lifted and the Republicans have their convention while the Democrats do not.
Campaigning in a Nationwide Quarantine
Clearly, the candidates cannot campaign in large groups for the near future. In a general election campaign, the inability to get out to the voters in an attempt to unite the party would likely hurt Biden. President Trump will also be without his campaign rally platform in the near term, but as the crisis continues to loom, he will naturally be front and center. One thing to watch is his approval within the Republican Party. If his approval levels stay high, he is more likely to get the turnout he needs at the voting booth even without the rallies.
Could the General Election Date Change?
According to various oddsmakers, as of mid-March, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are essentially tied. Any change in the date of the general election would require legislation enacted by Congress and signed by the president. The Federal statute requires the presidential election to take place on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November, and this cannot be changed by a state nor a president acting alone.
What’s more, the Constitution mandates that Congress is sworn in on January 3 and that the president’s term begins on January 20. These dates cannot be changed with normal legislation, as they are mandated by the Constitution. Never say never – but changing the date of the presidential election would be unprecedented and remains unlikely for now.
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