April 8 (UPI) — Nearly half of the United States have yet to vote in their 2020 presidential primary elections as the coronavirus emergency has brought unprecedented disruptions.
For weeks, the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign has effectively been pushed to the back burner by the pandemic that has killed more than 70,000 people worldwide. Democratic front-runner Joe Biden seized a commanding delegate lead over rival and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders before the health crisis began to seriously impact the United States.
Sanders on Wednesday announced he would suspend his campaign but would remain on the ballot in states that have not yet held primaries, to bring the largest possible support to the Democratic National Convention in August.
After Wisconsin voted on Tuesday, 22 states still have unfulfilled primaries — Alaska, Wyoming, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, Georgia, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky and New York. Four territories have also yet to vote — Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Several of the remaining states have postponed their contests, and others have taken measures to nix in-person voting and extend absentee ballot deadlines, efforts to comply with federal restrictions related to the outbreak that will last through at least April 30.
The next major date on the primary calendar is June 2, when 10 states — including delegate-heavy Pennsylvania and New Jersey — and Washington, D.C., will vote.
Daniel Birdsong, a political science lecturer at the University of Dayton, said that long intermission could have ended up favoring Biden because Sanders hadn’t been able to do anything to close the gap.
“One big day focuses attention on overall results and those that are doing well or doing better than expected,” he said. “Everything seems to be not necessarily frozen but moving much slower than it initially was, and it’s probably going to be more of the same unless there’s some tremendous hiccup for the Biden campaign.”
Wisconsin staged its primary only after it was ordered to by the state Supreme Court. Gov. Tony Evers tried to push the contest to June due to coronavirus, but the court rejected that move. The U.S. Supreme Court also blocked an attempt to push back the state’s deadline to return absentee ballots.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who favored extending the deadline, unsuccessfully argued that thousands of Wisconsin voters would be left “quite literally without a vote” because many absentee ballots wouldn’t arrive before Tuesday’s deadline.
Ohio faced a similar situation three weeks ago, but was partly successful in postponing its March primary. Lawmakers ultimately extended mail voting through April 28 after the state legislature blocked an attempt to stage the contest on in June. Other contests in Florida, Illinois and Arizona that were scheduled for the same day, March 17, went ahead, but saw significant declines in voter turnout.
In efforts to minimize the impact of the coronavirus on the remaining elections, some states, like Georgia, have moved to expand or postpone deadlines for mail-in ballots.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that all New Yorkers will be allowed to vote absentee, citing the health risks associated with in-person voting.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their civic duty,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some experts say it’s a sound strategy as long as the states have the infrastructure like personnel and equipment to handle the difference.
“If you do have a higher volume … or there’s more than what you can handle manually, it may make sense to engage with a vendor to facilitate the mailing of those ballots,” Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, said. “It’s more efficient and they have equipment that can do it, so it isn’t a manual process.”
McReynolds urges voters to send in their ballot applications as soon as possible, and follow up to ensure their votes are counted.
A prolonged crisis could ultimately impact the general election on Nov. 3. If so, experts like Birdsong say Trump and Biden will probably have to campaign with digital events instead of traditional rallies. They will also likely have to find ways to urge voters to shift to voting by mail — because the outcome of the presidential election may depend on it.
“The overarching goal is to mobilize, but the structure that they have to wage that mobilization in is different,” Birdsong said. “How well they’ve been connecting people virtually and if they can essentially send people information about [mail] voting to make it easier.
“Then, it increases the chance [voters will] turn out.”
Remaining state primaries:
Friday: Alaska (mail only)
April 17: Wyoming (mail only)
April 26: Puerto Rico (mail and in-person voting)
April 28: Ohio (mail only)
May 2: Kansas, Guam (both mail only)
May 12: Nebraska (mail and in-person)
May 19: Georgia (mail and in-person), Oregon (mail only)
May 22: Hawaii (mail only)
June 2: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Dakota are all planning both mail and in-person voting. Rhode Island will be mail only.
June 6: U.S. Virgin Islands
June 9: West Virginia (mail and in-person)
June 20: Louisiana (mail and in-person)
June 23: New York, Kentucky (both mail and in-person)