Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has put most traditional American political practices on hold. It’s not just the presidential candidates who are practicing social distancing, candidates up and down the entire ballot are staying home. Traditional campaign tactics such as door-to-door canvassing, campaign rallies, and candidate forums are no longer the norm. Candidates have migrated to virtual rallies. Fundraising has taken the form of mail, email and text messages.
But during all this upheaval, there’s still the need for state and local municipalities to hold primaries and local elections. The difficult questions are how and when.
A majority of state governors have enacted stay-home orders (32 as of this writing; See up to date list here.) The governors are properly asking citizens to minimize the spread of the coronavirus by limiting their interactions with others and keeping their trips from home to only absolute necessities, like food and medicine. On the other hand, they have a seemingly contrary obligation to plan for elections.
Several states have moved their primaries from March and April into May and June with the hope of better days ahead. New York moved its presidential primary from April 28 to June 23 to avoid as much of the virus outbreak as possible. Wisconsin has kept its April 7 primary date in place and is urging voters to cast absentee votes to minimize in-person contact at local precincts. Thus far, over 880,000 voters have done so. Some in Wisconsin have recently argued for last-minute mail-in ballots but state lawmakers determined it’s too late to put this option in place for a state of 3.3 million.
There is some hope on the horizon as the recently passed $2 trillion stimulus bill includes $400 million for states to improve their mail-in, absentee and early voting operations Ohio, West Virginia and Georgia have announced they are mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters in their states. No matter what, experts are expecting lower voter turnout during the primary season due to health concerns.
All this underscores how states are scrambling, just like candidates, to adjust to the new reality of campaigning and holding elections during a pandemic. You might be viewing the next candidate forum from your phone – and the same for casting your vote.
Randy Dwyer is director of grassroots program development with the American Farm Bureau Federation.