The featured article asks the question: “So, what happens when immovable dates become negotiable — when everything does — in the throes of a pandemic? What must hold firm when nothing seems to?”
Between the Olympics being postponed, school being moved online, and sports events, weddings and graduations canceled, many people are wondering what will go on, and how?
How do you view the role of democracy and the constitutional right to vote in the midst of a pandemic? Should democratic procedures be relaxed or suspended, or is it more important to find ways to preserve them during a crisis?
In “Is All of 2020 Postponed?,” Matt Flegenheimer writes about the overall resistance to postponing the primaries and the 2020 presidential election:
“We voted in the middle of a Civil War,” Joseph R. Biden Jr., the heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination, told supporters at a tele-fund-raiser on Sunday. “We voted in the middle of World War I and II. And so, the idea of postponing the electoral process is just — seems to me, out of the question.”
And yet for weeks, the moment has delivered one reminder after the next of all that the crisis has made wobbly, all that seemed certain before certainty went into quarantine.
Dates exist in stone until they don’t. Younger people are spared the worst of the virus’s ravages until they aren’t. American ideals, in 2020, leave no room for the concession of mass death, surely. But then here is a White House now suggesting that the cure (stifling business for a period to encourage social distancing) cannot become worse than the disease (the disease).
The article continues:
Already, meaningful electoral proceedings have been delayed or recast. Many states have pushed their primaries into June in the hopes of waiting out the worst of the virus. Pennsylvania, slated for April 28, is likely to be next. Senator Bernie Sanders, Mr. Biden’s chief rival, has effectively converted his campaign into a pandemic policy shop and vessel for progressive activism as he confronts a significant delegate deficit. Planners for the Democratic National Convention said this week that they were assessing “contingency options” in case the July gathering cannot go on as planned.
But the general election is another matter. No one in a position of relevant authority has proposed moving it, though the subject has instantly become a cause of angst for President Trump’s critics. These fears seem to owe more to Mr. Trump’s attacks on democratic norms and institutions during his time in office than anything the president has said of late.
So far, Mr. Trump has appeared inclined to defy the guidance of public health experts by suggesting Americans return to their workplaces and public engagements well before the coronavirus has been tamed.
Even if he wished to delay the November election, the decision would appear to be out of his hands. Any change to the date would require federal legislation, passed by Congress, to say nothing of challenges in the court system.
You may be wondering more about the possibility of voting by mail. Read the following two excerpts from “Voting by Mail Is the Hot New Idea. Is There Time to Make It Work?” by Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul to learn about some of the options that individual states and Congress are exploring:
The next three nominating contests in the Democratic primary race — Hawaii, Wyoming and Alaska — are all run by the state Democratic Party, not the state government. All three have had extensive vote-by-mail operations in place for months; Wyoming even canceled its in-person caucuses and went to a full vote-by-mail system.
But given the decentralized structure of American elections, which are governed by states, counties and even municipalities, shifting to a federally mandated, completely vote-by-mail system for the general election could be impossible both logistically and legislatively.
Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expressed optimism that states could gear up to expand mail and absentee voting for the coming primary elections, which tend to have relatively low turnout.
The November general election will be another matter, he said.
“I think that once people take a deep breath and consider what’s going to be done in November, they’re going to realize that the big lift necessary to expand the amount of mail voting by a factor of four, five or six in some states is going to be disruptive,” said Mr. Stewart, who studies both voting technology and election administration.
Under normal circumstances, states gradually transition to mail voting.
Mr. Stewart said he worried that states’ lack of experience holding big elections without in-person voting could have negative consequences.
The article discusses a bill by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota that would require states to offer a mail-in or drop-off paper ballot option if 25 percent of states declare a state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill would call for all states to send prepaid, self-sealing envelopes, as well as ballot-tracking markers, to make sure that voters incurred no personal cost that would act as a barrier to voting, and to minimize any spread of the coronavirus through licking envelopes.
Though the bill does not specify a price tag, a previous iteration under Mr. Wyden estimated a cost of roughly $500 million. But the bill would provide only the opportunity of vote-by-mail expansion, not fully transition the country to voting by mail.
“We’re not saying to get rid of all polling places by any means,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “It’s just that the more people we can get to vote this way, the better off this is.”
Students, read the entire article “Is All of 2020 Postponed?” If you have additional time, you can also read “Voting by Mail Is the Hot New Idea. Is There Time to Make It Work?” Then respond to the questions:
Do you believe there are some things that, even in the midst of a pandemic, should not be postponed or canceled? If yes, what?
How do you think individual states and the Democratic National Committee should balance the need to hold presidential primaries while also protecting people’s health and safety? Should the primaries continue as planned, or be postponed or even canceled? Do you think there are safety measures that states and polling places should take when preparing for the primaries if they happen in person?
One larger concern discussed in the article is the potential of a postponed 2020 general election. Do you think this is something that should be considered? Or do you think alternate voting options should be explored? As you respond, be sure to consider some of the limitations of voting by mail, as discussed in Mr. Corasaniti and Ms. Saul’s article.
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.