Impact of Coronavirus on the 2020 Election

In a recent webinar, Bloomberg Government Senior Reporter Greg Giroux answered questions about how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the 2020 election season. View the full webinar to learn more about how the government is responding to the coronavirus crisis.

What’s going on with the primaries?

As of March 26, some states and territories have postponed their presidential and/or congressional primaries – Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island. Alabama moved its primary runoff elections to July 14, Texas delayed its May 26 congressional runoff elections to July 14, and the Pennsylvania legislature just passed a bill to move its primaries to June 2.

Additionally, states are prodding voters or potential voters to cast ballots early and cast ballots by mail. We’ve always had discussions about how to make voting easier and more accessible for people, even before the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis is turbocharging these discussions.

There are bills at the national level now, such as one by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who want to expand early voting nationwide and allow any American to vote by mail. That’s probably going to get more of a spotlight than it otherwise normally would.

Other states are continuing to consider moving primaries, so this situation is still very much in flux. But we’re seeing a big push from election officials to open up voting, including by mail and absentee. Though not every state allows for voting absentee with no excuse, I think we’ll see a bigger push for that.

There are a lot of primaries in June, so if this crisis goes on for a while, I think we’ll see pressure for those states to push back their primaries even more.

[Learn more from Bloomberg Government’s elections gurus, who share insights and analysis about all elements of the upcoming 2020 election.]

What will happen to the Democratic and Republican conventions?

Right now it’s a little too soon to say. The Democratic National Committee recently released a statement noting that it’s “exploring a range of contingency options to ensure we can deliver a successful convention without unnecessary risk to public health.”

The DNC would have to change its rules, because I don’t think they allow proxy voting, or a distant convention voting. So they would have to adjust the rules to postpone the convention, or at least change it to a format that would allow delegates to vote for their candidate remotely.

But that’s sort of more of a pro forma thing now, because it looks like Joe Biden is really close to wrapping up the nomination, though he hasn’t done so mathematically. The Republican convention is six weeks after the Democratic convention, and President Trump has already won that. So that’s also a pro forma affair, and much later.

Regarding questions about how the coronavirus pandemic would affect the conventions, we’ll know more as we get closer. I think the most significant changes that would happen would be a very stripped-down convention. It wouldn’t be a full four-day affair or anything like that.

And if, in July, we’re still practicing social distancing, and we don’t want to have large crowds in one area, then you’re just not going to have a stadium with a big convention to pack with thousands of people. We’re still a ways off from that, but that’s something to watch for as we get closer to July.

[Listen to a podcast by Bloomberg Government’s Kyle Trygstad and Greg Giroux for more on the logistical impact of coronavirus on the campaign calendar.]

Worst-case scenario, what might happen if this persists into Election Day in November?

The national election date is set by federal statute; 3 U.S. Code § 1 and 2 U.S. Code § 1 and 7 state that the presidential and congressional election date is the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. So it would take an act of Congress to delay the presidential and congressional elections.

It’s not like what you’ve seen with some state primaries. A president can’t unilaterally postpone an election. It would take an act of Congress, and I think that’s highly unlikely, even though this crisis could still be with us for some time. I think it’s more likely that you’d have more expansive early voting, more absentee voting, and voting by mail rather than a postponement of the election.

A postponement of the election would create ripple effects for the Electoral College meetings, the start of the new Congress, and the inauguration, all in early to mid-January. So I think instead of postponing elections, we’ll see more of a push toward making voting easier.

[For the full scope of Bloomberg Government’s election coverage, visit our 2020 election homepage.]