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Pandemic Politics

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

By Niva Cohen

Opinion Editor

The 2020 general election is fast approaching. The chaos and uncertainty of the quarantine have consumed people’s waking hours, distracting them from what is perhaps one of the highest stakes presidential votes in American history. Although November is still almost two months away, certain components of the election are hot topics: upcoming debates, questions around voting by mail, Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, and polls predicting outcomes.

The first presidential debate, which was supposed to occur in Indiana, is now scheduled for Sept. 29 in Cleveland, at Case Western University. Originally, Notre Dame was to host, but it decided not to take on that responsibility amidst widespread coronavirus concerns. Case Western stepped up, hoping that strict precautions will be enough of a safety measure. They intend to limit the audience and space out chairs, assuming people are allowed in at all. Planning for the second debate has also changed course, detouring from the University of Michigan to Miami on Oct. 15. The third debate, however, is still set to take place in Nashville.  But how the nominees will react to a reduced or absent crowd is difficult to know; it could either help them concentrate or derail them entirely.

Because of growing health concerns, what has become an especially pertinent issue this election is whether -- and in what capacity -- states should offer mail-in ballots to their constituents. The fear is that in-person voting would pose a risk because of long lines and a lack of social distancing. Even if it is safe, people should be able to fulfill their civic duty without worrying about their health. States responded in four ways. Many, like California and Vermont, planned to make absentee-voting as easy as possible by mailing ballots to every citizen, preventing people from forgetting to file a request. Others, like Delaware and Wisconsin, decided to send vote-by-mail applications to everyone, and some, like Alabama and New Hampshire, approved coronavirus as a reason for absentee-voting but would not prompt their citizens to apply; it is their job to remember. The fourth category, consisting of eight states, requires in-person voting except for those with approved excuses, like members of the military on a base far from home. Even though there is somewhat of a partisan divide between the categories, there are exceptions: Connecticut and New York are among the eight strictest states, joining much redder counterparts. Donald Trump has warned that voting by mail will lead to fraud, but these claims are unsubstantiated.

In mid-August, Joe Biden named Kamala Harris, a California senator, as his running mate. She is the first Black woman and the first Asian-American ever on a presidential ticket. Having run for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year, Harris has already gained name recognition and overcome scrutiny, which undoubtedly helped her become Biden’s pick. A former attorney general of California, Harris has championed police reform and racial equality for decades, which has become eespecially important in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Some on the Left question her actions as attorney general, which she may have to address before November. However historic Harris’s nomination, many consider it the safest choice Biden could have made.

When it comes to the 2020 general election, nothing has attracted more buzz than the polls. As of July 30, Franklin & Marshall College had Biden nine points ahead of Trump nationally, and other sources gave similar, if not more drastic, predictions. But those poll number have been changing, and people -- especially on the Left -- traumatized by the polls’ 2016 failure to predict Trump’s victory in several key states are loath to accept them this time around. Regardless, it is too far away from election-day for anyone to accurately predict the results, even if they are an exact representation of today. Changes in the economy or the public health situation, which will undoubtedly occur, could transport voters from the Left to the Right or vice versa.

The information presented in this article might grow out of date in a matter of weeks, but as of now, it is a relevant outline of what to expect this November. A roaring pandemic makes this a unique situation, and unprecedented mail-in voting rules leave everyone at a loss for what to expect. Some aspects, however, mirror every other election, like the debates. As for the polls, they will have to prove themselves this year lest their 2016 fluke turn into a pattern, which would lead to even more public skepticism. Not much is set in stone, but one thing is evident: casting ballots for president in these historic times is one of the most influential moves an American citizen can make. 


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