Your Most Paranoid Pandemic Election Questions, Answered

If the 2020 election is canceled, a Vermont senator (no, not that one) could become president

Can the presidential election be canceled?

No, it can’t. The terms of federal elected officials are set by the Constitution. Trump’s term ends on January 20, 2021. Extending it would require two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to support such an amendment and then having three-fourths of the state legislatures ratify it. That is not happening.

Can it be postponed?

Almost certainly not.

But are there any weird loopholes?

The language actually doesn’t provide for a popular vote. It states, “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.” While the Constitution provided for a popular vote for the House in its original text and for the Senate in the 17th Amendment, it still doesn’t do so for the election of presidential electors.

Back to Planet Earth, if a general election can’t be canceled, can a primary election be canceled?

Yes. Primary elections are administered by each state and subject to state law. More than a dozen states and territories so far have formally delayed primary elections.

Do polling places present health hazards?

Yes. Abdul El-Sayed, former health officer for the City of Detroit and author of the forthcoming book Healing Politics, told GEN in mid-March that there are “real risks” from “having people wait in line… and constantly touching the same [surfaces].” While it might be possible to mitigate some of the risks with in-person voting, “the overhead would be extreme,” he said. Instead, El-Sayed suggested voting by mail as a far safer alternative.

Is voting by mail safer?

Yes, it is. El-Sayed, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be governor of Michigan in 2018, noted while mail-in voting does pose risks, those can be mitigated. “You could create a vote-by-mail system once we understand a little bit more about the survivability of the virus that could, in effect, quarantine the envelope for that period of time,” he said. El-Sayed added that if he was an official responsible for elections, he would be asking himself, “How do I move my state to a vote-by-mail scenario ASAP? And then how do I figure out a system to mass-fumigate returned ballots and be counting that way?”

So, should everything in November go to vote by mail?

Not necessarily. While voting by mail presents public health advantages, there are still other significant issues with it. The only actual major voter fraud in recent political history involved a Republican operative in 2018 harvesting absentee ballots in a congressional election that had to be rerun. Further, sending a ballot to every voter can create confusion, particularly with older voters who are used to showing up to the polls on Election Day.

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