This is the first presidential campaign to happen under a lockdown: How’s it working?
The 2020 presidential election is approaching this November, and the typical abundance of primary elections and campaign events have ceased to exist. Following the outbreak of coronavirus this past March, many campaign efforts have been put on hold.
Since nationwide lockdown orders were put into effect, 15 states have postponed their presidential primaries or switched to mail-in voting altogether, generating some concerns around voting.
“One of my biggest concerns is voter turnout, as in the number of actual votes cast,” Lindsay Hoffman, an associate professor of communication and political science at the university, said.
The State of Delaware was set to open polls on April 28 for its statewide primary election. However, it has been postponed to June 2 to comply with lockdown policies and social distancing guidelines.
Frank McLaughlin is a registered voter from New Castle County who claims to be an active participant in civic engagement. He says he does not worry too much about not voting in-person, but he has worries elsewhere.
“The post office is very underfunded, and a surge in ballots through the mail could cause problems such as failing to count all of the votes before the deadline,” McLaughlin said.
There has been a major shift from in-person to mail-in voting in states that have yet to participate in a primary, creating a higher probability of improper distribution or counting of votes.
“The main concern for postponed primaries is confusion and misinformation,” Gillian Williams, the co-president of the university’s student-run “Make it Count” civic engagement initiative, said. “States with postponed primaries or changes in voting procedures need to have expansive voter education efforts through a variety of means such as public access TV, newspaper, billboards, email and everything in between.”
Hoffman believes the effects of the virus could affect the way polling, interest levels and voter turnout is measured.
“The way we often know which candidate wins each state is through exit polls, but with mail-in voting, these will no longer be accurate,” Hoffman said.
Exit polls are conducted on voters as they leave their polling places to determine how they voted.
Williams claims that the switch to mail-in ballots not only causes confusion and misinformation, but has the potential to further increase voter suppression and discrimination.
“There are serious concerns that vote-by-mail policies will discriminate against marginalized populations,” Williams said. “For communities that experience voter suppression, intimidation and discrimination, trust is just one thing that is needed in order for new voting procedures to be safe and efficient.”
Hoffman is concerned about the implications mail-in voting will have on people’s interest in elections.
“I worry about lower voter turnout, voter fraud and that results will not be valid,” Hoffman said. “I am more concerned about that in terms of the general election, because in the past we have seen candidates sowing fear and mistrust into our voting processes.”
Presidential primaries are held once every four years, so with the primaries being postponed as a reaction to the outbreak, Hoffman said she is worried that people will lose their sense of nationalism.
“For this country, Election Day is important,” Hoffman said. “We get the sticker, we get our photos taken outside of the voting booth, and the act of voting gives us that sense of patriotism and nationalism. It’s celebratory.”
The Democratic National Convention, at which the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee is officially named, is currently scheduled for August 17. However, with several state primaries being postponed until August 18, it is likely that the convention will be postponed as well.
A large part of campaigning involves rallies, group phone-banking and door-to-door initiatives. Now with the outbreak of the virus and lockdown orders implemented, many of these events are no longer feasible.
“Now that candidates are no longer able to campaign in the traditional sense with direct, in-person voter contact, there needs to be a shift in attention and priority, especially with postponed primaries,” Williams said. “Having a Democratic nominee this early on is a smart move and gives [Joe] Biden more time to campaign.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden unofficially became the Democratic presidential nominee when his competitors dropped out of the race, following the outbreak of coronavirus in the U.S.
“I think that perhaps this virus is going to benefit Joe Biden because people are going to be looking for a steady hand, someone who has been in government for a while and who doesn’t produce a lot of drama,” Hoffman said. “They are not looking for someone who is going to ‘wreck the system’ like a Bernie Sanders.”
In these uncertain times, the nation needs to feel a sense of comfort, especially within parties, Hoffman believes.
“I think there was a concern that if we were to get further down the line, and still have this polarizing notion between Bernie and Biden, will that be bad for [the Democratic] party?” Hoffman said.
The outcome of the race will be determined by how seamlessly the changes in voting are made. However, if interest levels fall, results may be unpredictable.
“I am concerned that we will see a continued lack of interest in the election, but my hope is that as the coronavirus slowly becomes under control, people will gradually be less panicked about it,” Hoffman said.
Editor’s Note: Olivia Feldman was a teaching assistant for Lindsay Hoffman’s Fall 2019 National Agenda class. Feldman wrote this story for a journalism class, and The Review picked up the piece afterward. Given the consistency with Hoffman’s previous interviews with The Review, we have no reason to believe Feldman’s relationship with Hoffman affected the neutrality of her coverage. We only note this for full transparency.