American senators have floated the possibility of November’s presidential election being carried out purely by mail votes as the impacts of coronavirus on the campaign calendar begin to enter the spotlight.
Some have suggested that if the outbreak is still on-going later this year there could be no in-person voting at polling stations in what would be a remarkable break with historical precedent.
Other ideas such as electronic voting done remotely or increased use of absentee ballots so the elderly who are most vulnerable to the virus could stay at home have also been raised as possibilities.
There has even been loose talk from Democrats that Donald Trump could push back the election date – despite the fact that the US president has made no public indication that he could do so.
The discussions in Washington DC reflect the degree to which the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the well-established election year calendar into disarray.
What does coronavirus mean for primaries and caucuses?
State voting in the Democratic nomination race will continue despite the fact that Joe Biden is now the party’s presumptive nominee. While Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign, he will remain on the ballot in states that have yet to vote and “continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible”. However the final date for some of those primaries remains uncertain, with multiple states pushing back their polls by months.
Six states – Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – have rescheduled their primary contests to Tuesday, June 2. Four other states – Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota – as well as Washington DC were already slated to hold elections the same day, transforming it into the second biggest day in the Democratic race. Ohio, has moved to a vote-by-mail primary on April 28.
Mr Biden, the former US vice president, gained a near insurmountable lead in delegates – the metric used to determine the winner – but he has not yet met the threshold to become the official nominee. at the party’s national convention in the summer,
What does it mean for the party conventions?
Even the summer political conventions, a staple of presidential election years, now have new degrees of uncertainty attached to them.
The Democrats have pushed back their Milwaukee gathering to August, a week before the Republican convention is meant to happen in Charlotte in August.
Both events would normally attract tens of thousands of people, with the nominee from each party giving a keynote speech to a packed stadium – gatherings that today would not be allowed to happen under US guidelines barring gatherings of more than 10.
The presidential election on November 3 is still eight months away. Not even the country’s most senior health officials can say with certainty the trajectory of the US outbreak, but that has not stopped politicians speculating.
Will the election be postponed?
Steny Hoyer, the second most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, said: “If it comes to it, and we still have the virus … and best practices is being away from one another, disaggregated, then I think we ought to go to an election by mail.”
He added: “I think it’s very, very important for the American people to be able to select as a commander-in-chief, particularly at the time when we have great challenges in our country, the person of their choice. So I would be opposed to delaying the November election.”
The suggestion is not without controversy. The impact on voter turnout and whether it would favour some demographics over others is unknown and untested.
How will votes be placed and counted?
Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, has suggested more absentee or remote voting could be used to make sure voting happens safely.
He has also talked about rethinking “how we can allocate space and distribute people so they’re not standing next to each other in polling places.”
Mr Blumenthal said: “We’re the United States of America. Democracies can conquer these kinds of logistical challenges. We should plan to have our election in November.”
Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio, has been among those who has raised the possibility of Mr Trump trying to push back the date for the presidential election.
He made the remark when discussing Ohio’s decision to delay its vote due earlier this month in the Democratic presidential nomination race over coronavirus concerns.
Mr Brown said his “concern” was that “the president might ask for a delay in the November election based on something, perhaps this, perhaps something else”.
However there is no evidence that Mr Trump would consider such a radical step. In fact he has recently talked about the importance of keeping polls open in tough times.
Pressed on whether states should push back primaries in the Democratic race at a recent White House press briefing, Mr Trump demurred, declining to back the move.