Disease and Democracy


Throughout the entirety of U.S. history, there has never been a missed election. Voting has continued through both World Wars, the Civil War, and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The latter of these is a situation close to what we are experiencing right now. Since its origin in 2019, the COVID-19 virus has impacted the daily lives of every citizen of every country in the world. With the United States (among many other countries) having elections at the same time as this pandemic, how will this disease affect our democracy?
In Europe, presidential and parliamentary elections are still proceeding as scheduled in many countries. However, the sanctity of these elections, specifically that of Poland, has been called into question amidst the pandemic. The presidential incumbent, Andrzej Duda, has been criticized for benefiting from regular state coverage while his opponents’ campaigns are halted due to the virus.
In many ways, the Polish election is similar to the American election. The United States and Poland both have a presidential incumbent who is garnering media coverage frequently while his opponents are reduced to virtual town hall meetings. In Poland, the election has not been canceled and it will most likely not be canceled in America either. The question now is not if, but how the election will proceed.
Poland, for example, has moved to postal ballots and is not using in-person voting stations out of concerns for public health. Many have called for postal ballots to be used in the American presidential election, yet there are some concerns over its feasibility and safety.

Postal workers stretched to the brink by the increase in demand for delivered goods and the hazards of the job, have become a problem for the advocacy of postal ballots. A shortage of postal workers could mean delayed election results and fraud among a slew of other problems. 17 states require a reason for choosing an absentee (postal) ballot, a problem that will require legislative changes if the election moves to mail-in only. While voter fraud is rare and legislative problems can expect to be resolved quickly in these extraordinary circumstances, these remain real issues with postal ballots that many are concerned about.
On the other hand, postal ballots are not without their benefits. On March 15th, Germany’s second-most populous federal state, Bavaria, hosted an election. Voter turnout increased as well as the percentage of postal ballots. Postal ballots may increase voter turnout in the United States election like it did in Germany. With stay at home orders being instituted across the nation, in-person voting would most likely deter voters, decreasing voter turnout and compromising the fairness of the election.
With all this in mind, serious precautions would need to be taken for both in-person and mail-in ballots. By November, the entire coronavirus situation will look entirely different and the election proceedings will need to be reevaluated. Even if in-person voting stations would not be a public health issue in November, it’s better to be safe than sorry and many states will need to prepare for the very real possibility of a mail-in election.