Home / US / 2020 election: experts warn Coronavirus jeopardizes the integrity of the election. The following could happen in November.

2020 election: experts warn Coronavirus jeopardizes the integrity of the election. The following could happen in November.

Interviews with more than a dozen state officials, former federal officials, voting rights activists and lawyers will require major changes in all 50 states to conduct the first pandemic-ridden presidential election in American history.

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At best, the pandemic subsides in summer and the country holds relatively normal November elections. However, some experts are considering doomsday scenarios, including attempts to postpone the election, a series of litigation and a constitutional crisis.

“The elections must continue at all costs,” said CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “This is not the NBA season or the Olympics. We have to vote in November. If we can vote in the middle of the civil war and if Franklin D. Roosevelt can run for an unprecedented fourth term in the middle of the year.” In the Second World War we can then find out how we can make 2020 a free and fair choice. “

Preparation for the “perfect storm”

More than 136 million Americans voted in 2016, and a record number of them cast early ballots. But almost 60% of voters still showed up on election day, waiting in long lines, using communal pens and touching the same voting machines – all dangerous movements in the corona virus era.
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“We don’t know what the future will be like,” said Matthew Petersen, who was a member of the federal election commission for eleven years and was appointed by a Republican president. “If the virus is still widespread this fall, ballot papers in crowded polling stations, which are mainly run by older and vulnerable poll workers, will result in a perfect storm in which the virus will spread.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made recommendations on protecting polling stations. The Election Aid Commission released lessons from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, including a warning from a Virginia election helper who noted that people who used hand disinfectants before the vote created moist ballots that blocked some machines.
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However, cleanliness is only part of the equation, and fixing the overall problem won’t be easy. Constitutional issues play a role. Legislators will also be forced to consider laws that will make it easier for Americans to vote, but may weaken their party’s chances of winning.

This standstill was seen in Washington this week when lawmakers haggled over how much money for election security would be included in the $ 2 trillion stimulus package. The compromise legislation contained only $ 400 million in election security grants – far less than the $ 2 billion that Democrats wanted – and doesn’t tell states what changes they need to make to the vote.
The House Democrats bill would have required all states to offer 15 days early voting and to send pre-paid postal ballot papers to all voters asking for one. The bill would have loosened the rules for voter registration and made it available online and in person on election day.
“An exceptional challenge requires an exceptional response,” said Max Feldman, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal think tank that has developed its own $ 2 billion election plan. “I’ve never seen such a challenge in my life. … The time to act is now.”

State governments have taken their own steps, including postponing the primaries, changing polling stations, switching to postal voting, and recruiting younger poll workers. But government officials are trying to find out who has the power to adjust election protocols during an emergency.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 12 states have the governor or senior election officials postpone an election. Elsewhere, officials are in unknown waters.
The drama took place in Ohio last week when the governor rushed to court to postpone the area code on March 17. The judge decided against, but the governor found a workaround: the state’s senior health official declared polling stations a public danger and closed them all. According to experts, if the public health crisis persists, disputes like this could recur in the fall.

The states want to promote postal voting

A trio of primaries last week presented a case study of what a pandemic election looks like.

Voter turnout was low and many voters stayed away from their polling stations. In Florida and Arizona, a large proportion of voters typically cast their ballots before election day, and this has increased this year according to the latest data. In Illinois, which is less dependent on postal voting and early voting, turnout this year was the worst of all states compared to the 2016 primary.
The data suggest that the coronavirus crisis could accelerate an existing postal voting trend, in which countries do most of their voting by mail. Voters have said this system could be the most effective way to save the November election.

“Postal voting is much more resilient in times of crisis,” said former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican who oversaw several nationwide universal postal voting elections. “It enables people to choose so that they can maintain social distance.”

Only five states are currently holding all of their elections by mail: Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii. Voters there made up 7% of the national vote in 2016.

Another 28 states and the District of Columbia offer “excuse-free” voting by mail, meaning that any voter can get a postal vote if they request one. States with stricter laws require voters to apologize – under penalty of perjury – for why they cannot appear in the elections.

The urge to vote by post was mainly led by democrats in liberal countries.

But this week, Republican governor of Ohio Mike DeWine advocated a plan to send a postal voting application form to all registered voters before the June area code. Republican Foreign Minister of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, also said he would send postal ballot applications to all voters who can apply for postal ballot papers for the May and November primary elections. This could lead to a dramatic shift in a state where typically only about 5% of voters vote by post.

Arizona will be a test of whether these ideas are supported by two parties: the Democratic Secretary of State has asked GOP-controlled lawmakers to approve November all-mail elections.

No silver balls

Despite the advantages, postal voting can be complicated and there are pitfalls. According to the CNN, states that rely on postal voting have spent years, not months, of switching to the new system.

There are two forms of postal voting: There is a two-step process in which voters first apply for postal voting and then send a vote home (like the new proposals in Ohio and Georgia). In one step, local officials automatically send ballot papers to all registered voters, and voters simply send them back (e.g., the Colorado and Oregon systems).

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Once the ballots have been returned, they are checked through a process called “curing”. Every voter has to sign his postal vote, and this signature is then compared with the deposited signature. This ensures that the voter is who he says he is. If there is a discrepancy, a notification will be sent back to the voter, who will be able to fix the problem. However, this process can take some time.

“We cannot just vote by email and believe that everything will be resolved,” said Ari Berman, a voting rights expert who wrote extensively on the subject. “It is not a panacea.”
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Berman and the other experts who spoke to CNN said postal ballot papers are more likely to be rejected than ballot papers delivered to polling stations. This is because the polling stations are staffed by volunteers and officials who can solve local problems. Ballots can also be wrongly rejected if a state does not have a strong database of signatures that verify the identity of voters.

Other serious security vulnerabilities were uncovered in 2018 when a competitive home race in North Carolina was derailed by an absentee voting scandal. Republican activists wrongly gathered ballots from voters in their homes, changed their votes, and forged their signatures. The program affected results and a new election took place in 2019.
Postal voting also poses health risks. Prior to this month’s all-email prefix in Washington, officials told residents not to lick their envelopes before sending in their ballots.

Postpone election?

If the corona virus continues to spread unchecked in the fall, Congress could consider postponing the general election, although Democrats and Republicans would have to work together.

It wouldn’t be an unprecedented idea either. The United Kingdom announced a one-year delay in May local elections, including the mayoral competition in London. France took a similar step. Chile has postponed a national referendum until October, and Bolivia has suspended its presidential election for coronavirus. In addition, the US outbreak is far worse than the outbreaks in these countries.
With this in mind, some critics of Trump have voiced fears that he may try to stop the November election. (He recently said, “Postponing elections is not a very good thing.”)
According to a report by the bipartisan congress research service in 2004, the president cannot postpone the election even in an emergency. This power rests with Congress, which can pass a law that changes the date of election but cannot entirely repeal it. The constitution also gives states a wide margin to regulate elections within their own borders.

“The authors thought that because people in the states would physically vote, they should give that power to the states,” said Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional scientist who testified at the impeachment hearings for Trump and President Bill Clinton. “It’s an efficiency measure. It created a federal government review against counterfeit voting to help those in power stay in power.”

Congress researchers believe that only one federal election has ever been postponed: the 2018 race for the non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory that was devastated by a super typhoon before the election.
There are some examples of delays in state and local elections. It happened in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in New York City, where a mayoral elementary school was to be held on September 11th.

The constitution does not specify when elections are to be held. But it does require Trump’s term in office to expire on January 20, 2021, regardless of whether an election takes place in November.

“The heart of our democracy is our elections,” said Brinkley. “Without our elections, we are a totalitarian nation. By holding our November elections, it actually saves America.”

EXPLANATION: The story has been updated to clarify the timing of the postal voting changes in Georgia.

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