How Coronavirus is Affecting the Democratic Primaries

Arshaan Sayed, Print News Associate

COVID-19 has thrown the world into utter pandemonium.  Cities are on lockdown, stocks are plummeting, and nearly all international travel has been banned. Along with this chaos, the Democratic primaries have been disrupted dramatically.  From a lack of voter participation in elections to discussions of the virus in Democratic debates, all eyes have turned to see the impact of the disease on the Democratic primaries.

Due to the pandemic, the voting process has been postponed and, in many cases, canceled. States such as Indiana, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island postponed their primary elections, citing the outbreak.  Other states such as Hawaii, Wyoming, and Alaska, have switched their voting process to mail. By doing this, the winner of the Democratic primaries will not become apparent until sometime in June, which may affect the Democratic candidates’ performance in the general election in November. Freshman David Cohen explains: “COVID-19 will no doubt have an impact on the primaries for two reasons: access and change. People will not want to vote, and this brings about change. Since everyone is more focused on the pandemic, results will likely be different, and candidates may win districts or states they wouldn’t have if the coronavirus didn’t exist.” While some states continued with elections trying to avoid the possible variation in votes, their attempt drastically backfired.

Illinois, which had its election on March 17, saw a staggering 25 percent decrease in attendance of voters, a significant drop from participation in the 2016 election. Several districts in the state also observed that many workers did not show up to run the voting process, causing significant disorganization. However, states like Illinois aren’t the only ones that had these results. The virus has also reached elections globally. Countries such as Iran saw a 57 percent decrease in votes from their last election. Despite the disruptions this may cause, voters and workers had a valid reason.

Voters meet many strangers and handle things that thousands of people have touched, such as clipboards, pens, and voting machines. While touch is not the primary way COVID-19 infects people, it is still a very viable method of transmission. The virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets produced by coughing and sneezing.  To prevent infection, the CDC asks people to “avoid anyone in close contact (within about 6 feet).” Since this is almost impossible to do in the public elections, many decided to stay home and skip it. While the voting process has been struck, it isn’t the only part of the primaries that has been affected by the virus.

COVID-19 has also become possibly the dominant topic in debates and speeches among democratic candidates. In the tenth Democratic debate on February 25, and the eleventh debate on March 15 (which was moved to another location from concerns about the disease), candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden discussed the global pandemic and what actions they would have taken to prevent it. Along with relevant issues such as healthcare, economy, climate change, and foreign policy, the candidates’ opinions on COVID-19 will be an opportunity for them to either gain or lose voters. However, some beg to differ.

PDS Alumnus Sasha Sindwani explains, “The current political environment is already polarized and voter opinions of their preferred candidates will stay the same regardless of their positions on the pandemic.” While David and Sasha both have reasons why what they said is true, no one knows what the outcome will be. As the situation continues to develop globally, our predictions will be influenced by any change or policy implemented in response to the virus.