Welcome to politics in a time of pandemic, when elections are as complicated as everything else.
Voting in Illinois and Florida, both called as soon as polls closed for Biden, started just hours after the president let go of his two month-long delusion that the virus was a hoax designed to hurt his re-election—reportedly after Tucker Carlson told him it was real and an aide showed him a British study estimating 2.2 million could die in the U.S.if the president didn’t act. Late Monday, Donald Trump finally embraced voluntary social distancing measures for the next 15 days across a wide swath of the country.
Arizona also went with Biden, and that was a sweep with Ohio having postponed its election at the 11th hour as Republican Governor Mike DeWine cited an “unacceptable health risk” from the coronavirus.
Elsewhere, the usually welcome sight of voters in shirt sleeves on a spring day gathering and waiting to carry out their civic duty was a jarring violation of the new health guidelines. Voting is a contact sport and there’s only so much people in confined places can do to avoid each other. State officials tried to make it safe but there were shortages of hand sanitizer and wipes, and poll workers afraid to show up, crowding locations. Florida and Arizona are hotbeds of old people. Will we learn a week from now, when anyone who wants a test can finally get a test, that those two states have become hotspots for the deadly virus?
Those fears are what prompted DeWine to add voting to working, playing, praying, and so much else from our daily lives that has had to change while coping with the silent, unseen but deadly virus that arrived here in early January. DeWine’s been at the forefront of governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, filling the federal void by instituting draconian restrictions on residents to try and flatten the curve. He's one of the few Republicans to reject the magical thinking out of the White House for reality: While the polls were open, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. rose to 5,839 and deaths to 107.
Going forward, will state officials follow the lead of DeWine lead or the example of Abraham Lincoln, who resisted calls to cancel the election of 1864 when a civil war was raging? So far, six governors have joined Ohio in postponing their primaries. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, another Republican known for his common sense, asked why he would reopen places like senior citizen centers he’d shut down for safety reasons for an unsafe activity like voting that violates essential social distancing rules. Into the federal void, governors are forming their own federation to fight the virus.
Hogan was so alarmed that Patrick’s Day revelers crowded pubs over the weekend that he shut down the state’s bars and restaurants. A few hours later, the mayor of Washington, D.C., followed suit to avoid the kind of cross-border drinking that happens when partygoers are drinking like there’s no tomorrow (and maybe there isn’t). To avoid that, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York have formed their own coalition.
Although Trump awarded himself 10 out of 10 points for his handling of the crisis, the conditions for voting aren’t going to improve. In New York City alone, there were 100 new cases confirmed Tuesday and that’s without anyone wanting to get a test being able to get a test. Once swabs are readily available, we will know that infections are much higher and increasing exponentially.
Biden’s lead had already looked insurmountable, but it’s not one Sanders appears ready to acknowledge, and his dedicated base of small dollar donors means he’s under no financial pressure to do so. To drop out now would be to lose his bargaining power at the convention and his audience going forward. While the ratings for Sunday night’s debate with two old men jabbing fingers at each other was small, and there was no studio audience to cheer or jeer like fans at a prize fight, it’s all Bernie has now that he’s had to cancel his signature rallies.
Some of Sanders’ most prominent surrogates strongly suggested Tuesday night that the elections shouldn’t have been held, or even that the results should be nullified. But they results will count, and there is every indication that this is now Biden vs. Trump.
And while turnout overall has been up this year, generally people aren’t dying to vote—especially when that seems like a literal choice, and one in a contest where it’s all over but the shouting. For the remaining eight primaries, states should join the four states that already allow mail-in ballots. Every state should start planning to do the same for November.
To ensure people won’t have to make a choice between their life or the vote, bring the ballot box to them. Otherwise, the virus wins.