This Isn’t The First Time America Has Weathered A Crisis In An Election Year

The COVID-19 pandemic has already disrupted public life in many ways – Major events are canceled, Restaurants are closed and Many of us are stuck at home – But a fundamental aspect of our democratic society could also be threatened: voting.

Already, eight states or territories have postponed their presidential primaries – but depending on how long this pandemic affects daily life in the United States, it could also affect the November general election. However, this is not the first time that our country has to vote in a time of crisis. Elections took place during economic disasters such as the Great Depression and during both world wars. The good news is that we have always managed to hold parliamentary elections – even in the middle of the civil war – but the bad news is that our eligibility is often compromised. And voter turnout has usually decreased because voting has become more difficult or costly in the face of natural or man-made disasters. Looking ahead to the November elections, recent primaries show that states must be prepared for the worst to ensure that people can vote despite a health crisis.

Take last Tuesday. Ohio postponed his choice and in Illinois, where there’s no tradition of voting by post, The turnout was much lower than in the other two states that voted. (Florida and Arizona generally both occupied a large percentage of ballot papers by post.) We still don’t know much about the current health crisis we are in – how long will the urgency of the coronavirus threat last, for example, or how things will look in November – but if so, with elections involving ours are comparable at the moment, the mid-term of 1918 may be the most relevant.

This fall, in the waning days of World War I, the Spanish flu – a flu that has this name because Spain was one of the few countries to report freely – devastated the United States and killed hundreds of thousands of people, many ahead of the November elections.

In response to this devastating disease, public health officials attempted to limit its spread, but these mitigation measures affected political campaigns. Marian Moser Jones, professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health who examines the influenza pandemic, indicated bans on public gatherings that we are now seeing. “[Y]You couldn’t give the usual election speeches that were even more important back then because you had neither television nor radio, ”said Jones. “[Candidates] actually had to advertise through newspaper editors and mailings. “

This is especially true in the West, where the severity of the pandemic peaked in the days leading up to the elections. Even election night changed: there was a ban on displaying election results on large boards outside newspaper offices so that crowds would not gather to see the results, Jones said. And in Los Angeles, “election officials locked themselves in every voting booth to count votes and prevent the transmission of the flu.”

The Spanish flu has probably also contributed to a lower turnout on election day. Over 40 percent of the Voting population in the mid-term elections of 1918 a significant drop from 50 to 52 percent, which was elected in the two previous mid-term elections.

Jason Marisam, who examined the impact of influenza on the 1918 election As a legal assistant at Harvard Law School (he is now Assistant Attorney General in Minnesota), he told me that this was likely to have an impact on voting. “Photos of election day were published in the San Francisco Chronicle. People lined up to choose everyone who wore these masks. They called it the first masked ballot in US history, ”said Marisam. “You have to think that this kind of mentality had an impact on voter turnout.”

Observers in 1918 also attributed the drop in voter turnout to the effects of the pandemic. “The Los Angeles Times estimated that the flu had kept 40,000 people out of the San Francisco election,” Jones said, adding that newspaper reports on polls in Arizona and New Mexico on polling station disinfection and “easy voting” spoke about influenza and the absence of many men due to the war.

There is an obvious complication in examining voter turnout in 1918: World War I. It is difficult to separate the effects of influenza on the elections because around 2 million men continued to fight overseas in 1918 and little was done to help them vote. This meant that a significant proportion of the voters were effectively disenfranchised, since only men over the age of 21 could vote much of the country. (Remember the 19. ChangeMarisam estimated that the likelihood of women being given the right to vote was not ratified until the summer of 1920.) While influenza only explains part of the decline in voter turnout, she estimated that it is probably still responsible for the hundreds of thousands of people who do not choose.

Despite the public health concerns associated with influenza, Marisam told me he could find no evidence that people were discussing the postponement of the 1918 election. Civil pride and patriotism were high during the First World War War bond campaigns and propaganda from the Public Information Committee encouraged the Americans to do their part to support the war effort. And the newspapers encouraged citizens to vote in spite of the Spanish flu with headlines such as “Every loyal Californian will vote today” in the Los Angeles Times. There was no national debate either whether the results were legitimateAlthough voter turnout was lower and in some parts of the country, officials claimed that influenza may have affected results in congressional and local elections.

Of course, the 1918 elections are not the only elections that were held in a time of crisis (although they took place during one of our country’s massive health crises). But just as in the 1918 elections, turnout was suppressed in other federal elections during the world wars.

During the Second World War, the government tried to increase voter turnout by passing in 1942 the Soldiers Voting Act, which helped states send federal votes to members of the ministry. It didn’t work very well: less than 30,000 federal votes were cast in accordance with the regulations, and voter turnout in 1942 was very low – only 34 percent of the population entitled to vote cast one vote, making it the second-lowest medium-term turnout since ratification in the 19th Change (only 1926 was 33 percent lower).

To avoid the same problems in 1944, Congress passed a military election law before the elections that helped at least 2.6 million soldiers cast their votes – enough to make President Franklin Roosevelt different in at least one state. (He won enough military votes in New Jersey to overcome his civilian deficit a simultaneous studyHowever, turnout in 1944 was lower than in the previous two presidential elections, and as you can see in the table below, turnout in elections during US participation in the two world wars was lower than in previous midterm and presidential elections.

Voter turnout decreased during the world wars compared to previous elections

Voter turnout of the eligible population during World War I and World War II compared to the previous two mid-term or presidential elections

First World War Interim participation
1910 52.0%
1914 50.4
1918 39.9
Second World War Interim participation
1934 44.5%
1938 46.6
1942 33.9
Second World War Voter turnout of the president
1936 61.0%
1940 62.4
1944 55.9

Source: US election project, Vital Statistics of American Politics

But it wasn’t just war and illness that disrupted our elections. Sudden natural disasters have also hampered voting. as shown by Hurricane Sandythat reached the east coast just a few days before the 2012 elections. New Jersey and New York were particularly hard hit, and leaders had to work to facilitate post-storm voting. The government in New Jersey designated those who were driven away by the storm as “foreign voters” who allowed them to send postal ballot papers by email or fax, although some places couldn’t handle it effectively the increase in vacation requests. And some voters in parts of New York City had to submit ballot papers in tents because of the damage to polling stations.

Sandy’s impact is unlikely to change the president’s outcome since both New Jersey and New York were certainly democratic, but Voter turnout declined in areas affected by storm surges in New Jersey. A study of political scientists at Stony Brook University found that The storm may have helped Barack Obama carry Virginia because it affected turnout in parts of the state.

Other disasters, such as September 11, have dramatically disrupted our elections. The New York primaries were scheduled for September 11, 2001, but the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that morning prompted New York governor George Pataki to postpone the choiceand the state stopped instead his area codes two weeks later. Obviously, this was a in particular Extreme case, but the sudden delay reminds us that elections can sometimes not take place.

And that is probably the reason why the states should now prepare for how the November vote will work. Voter turnout has usually declined – sometimes dramatically – in crisis elections – and the lower turnout in Illinois last Tuesday has shown that holding elections can be difficult if COVID-19 is still a significant threat in November, especially if some states continue to do so are dependent on personal coordination.

Edward Foley, an election law expert at Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, told me that states need to start adjusting their voting systems. “The focus should be on holding a November election that will maximize voter turnout under the current circumstances,” said Foley. “And that means increasing the capacity for postal voting in countries that are traditionally not used for postal voting.”

However, Many states could fight Introduce voting systems by email due to legal, logistical and election security challenges. This Law changes include more time for the delivery, collection and processing of sent ballots as well Make sure a person votes only once. There are seemingly banal obstacles that need to be overcome, e.g. B. Enough high quality paper to print ballot papers and enough envelopes! It is enough to ask you if there are any talk about postponing the 2020 elections.

However, it is very difficult to change the presidential and congressional elections scheduled for November. It would require congressional actionand such a move would be unprecedented. Fortunately, federal and state governments have time to face many potential election challenges arising from COVID-19. “If [states] When I start this preparation, I don’t expect any reason why Congress wants to change the date of the November elections, ”said Foley.

It remains to be seen whether our guides will make the necessary changes.

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