Will Covid-19 affect 2020 presidential elections? 5 ways pandemic may turn the tide in the battle for America

From chances of the high-profile poll getting postponed to people casting ballots via mail, this election year is full of uncertainties


                            Will Covid-19 affect 2020 presidential elections? 5 ways pandemic may turn the tide in the battle for America
(Getty Images)

The high-profile presidential election scheduled for November 3 is just over three months away but with the Covid-19 outbreak refusing to show any sign of slowing down, looks like the political battle is under a lot of uncertainty. There are talks of holding a purely virtual voting in the form of mail-in votes or even postponing the elections. America is the worst-affected country in the world with over 3.76M people testing positive and more than 140,000 losing their lives.

To understand what lies in store for the presidential election, here we stress upon some points related to the big battle that involves President Donald Trump and his presumptive Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

Will the 2020 election get postponed?

Former vice president Biden has alleged that Trump would postpone the election fearing an adverse result but the latter has denied it so far. Postponing a national election is not as easy but if the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, the Congress could consider delaying it. The Republicans and Democrats would have to work together in that case to make it a swift procedure.

Trump’s critics are apprehensive that the mercurial commander-in-chief could try to manipulate things though the reality is that he cannot postpone the election, even if there is an emergency, as per a 2004 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. It is the Congress which is ultimately powerful on this issue as it can pass a statute changing the election’s date but cannot cancel it. The US Constitution also empowers the states the authority to regulate elections within their territorial borders — a provision that experts see as a countermeasure against the federal government from rigging the election. In case the election gets postponed, the Constitution doesn’t speak about an alternative date but Trump’s four-year tenure certainly ends on January 20, 2021, irrespective of an election.

The US has seen elections — at federal, state and local levels — getting delayed because of poor weather conditions. 

What if people can't cast votes physically?

The idea of holding in-mail voting is gaining traction as the election date is approaching amid the pandemic. Election experts are of the opinion that it is the only way the November poll can be salvaged even though Trump and some of his top aides have vehemently criticized it saying it would lead to widespread malpractice. But the Republicans are not entirely against it.

Former Republican secretary of state of Colorado Wayne Willams, who oversaw several state elections in the past with near-total postal balloting, backed the idea saying it helps people to vote in a way where the norm of social distancing is upheld. Before the pandemic struck, only five states — Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Colorado — held their elections entirely by mail. It is true that there are certain disadvantages too that come with the system of distant voting but in these abnormal circumstances, it’s the best available way. However, there is every possibility that the US could see an election week or election month this time instead of an election night when it comes to the results. 

Are Trump's chances irreparably hit by coronavirus?

Till February, the incumbent president had a great momentum. The economy was in great shape and the Democrats were too divided and chaotic to throw Trump an effective challenge. But the outbreak of the coronavirus and the impact it left on health and economy turned the tables around overnight. Trump is now trailing Biden substantially in a number of key states. The economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly heavy on the low-wage earners, according to Thomas J Philipson, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, who spoke with BBC in a recent interview. And that is not happy news for the president. 

President Donald Trump's comeback rally in Tulsa on June 20, 2020, failed to draw enough supporters, leaving his campaign rattled (Getty Images)

"The virus has derailed any progress the US was making in raising the living standards of those on low pay," Prof Philipson said in an interview for Coronavirus: The Economic Shock, in which some of the world's leading economists and business leaders look at how the gravest economic downturn in nearly a hundred years may change the way we live and work, the BBC report said. 

Since Trump enjoys a far bigger support among the non-college-educated voters who are among the low-pay group, the effect of the pandemic could deliver him a decisive blow.

What do the party conventions have in store?

The summer political conventions for the parties are an important step in the run-up to the election and they too seem to be hit by uncertainty. Both the main parties are now set to hold their conventions in August but the essence of those occasions could be lost as crowding is being discouraged to prevent further transmission of the virus. The Republican Party faced an objection from the Democratic governor of North Carolina over holding its convention in Charlotte because of the pandemic and none other than the president expressed his disappointment over the matter and Jacksonville, Florida, was being floated as the probable alternative venue. 

Then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence acknowledge the crowd at the end of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, 2016 (Getty Images)

What does it mean for primaries and caucuses?

The schedule of the primaries and caucuses in several states is messed up because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a relief for both parties that they could decide on their respective candidates' fates before the pandemic struck hard. While Trump clinched the nomination one-sidedly, Biden also crossed the threshold of delegates required for the nomination and is waiting for an official endorsement of his party. But looking at the voting procedures in many of the primaries, they have been deferred by months. The sour experience from the Georgia primary last month has added to concerns over the November election. Mail-on voting also seems to be the only way forward in the remaining primaries/caucuses. 

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