More than 37,000 people have died worldwide so far in the coronavirus pandemic. In the US, the death toll has gone past 3,000 and the predictions are grim. Top health experts fear that the number of the dead might go beyond 100,000 if the current rate of infections subside. Another tough scenario predicted is that the US might witness a second outbreak in the Fall, which is when the country is supposed to be in the thick of the presidential elections.
If the Covid-19 crisis worsens and if the country is scrambling to bury its dead and stop the pandemic from killing more, will it be able to hold the Presidential elections scheduled for November 3? Is there any precedent of the election being postponed? Who has the power to cancel or postpone the presidential election? Does President Donald Trump have the power to postpone or cancel the US presidential elections 2020?
Will US presidential election 2020 be postponed?
The presidential election in the US should be held on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November. This convention was fixed in 1845, and all elections since then have been held as per this unbroken convention. Even when the US was in a war the elections were held as per schedule. Hence a postponement of the election due to the coronavirus pandemic does not look plausible. However, no one can say which direction the contagion will go in the coming weeks and months.
What's the process for election postponement?
For the election to be postponed in the unlikeliest of situations, the proposal should be passed by Congress and signed by the president. However, the decision can be questioned in the courts. Even if the Congress changes the federal law and puts a new date for election, an indefinite postponement is not possible.
When should the next president take oath?
As pet the US constitution, the presidential term ends at noon on January 20. The next president must be elected by then and ready to take over power. Prior to this the Congress should be convened by January 3. This means that even if the Congress moves the November election date, it will have to choose a date in December.
Can President Trump cancel or postpone election?
The president does not have the powers to cancel or postpone the elections. Presidential primaries were postponed or cancelled in some states as these powers are vested in the governor. However, the president has no such powers to effect changes at the national level.
What is the historical precedent?
During the George W Bush administration, there was a proposal to amend laws to allow for the postponement of federal election in the event of a terror attack. However, the administration turned down the move eventually. According to the New York Times, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice pointed out that "elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war. And we should have the elections on time."
Can election process change in November 2020?
Though the odds of a postponement in the dates are low, authorities will have to take into account widespread disruptions during the poll run-up and considerable mayhem on the voting day if the epidemic persists closer to the election week. Alternatives like absentee voting, mail voting and a host of similar measures can be worked out in the event of a virus-plagued election. However, arriving at a consensus among the two opposing political parties will be easier said than done. Beyond that, all the 50 US states have significant powers at the state-level, complicating the process of streamlining difficult.
Is voting at booths safe?
Polling data for the 2016 presidential elections, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in a hard fought battle, as many as 60 percent of the voters turned up polling booths to cast their votes. The others resorted to absentee voting and early casting of votes. In this election, more voters might choose alternative methods -- and states could allow more similar measures - but still millions will still be at the hustings on election day.
"If the virus is still widely spreading this fall, then casting ballots in crowded polling places, operated primarily by elderly and vulnerable poll workers, really creates a perfect storm for the virus to continue spreading," Matthew Petersen, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, told CNN.
Will virus precautions cause election disruptions?
Political parties are wary of the impact of possible coronavirus precautionary measures on the actual voting process itself. The experience from the 2009 elections in the backdrop of the much milder swine flu pandemic shows that the use of hand sanitisers sometimes caused the jamming of the voting machines as they left the ballots wet and damp.
What's the cost of elections during the pandemic?
The US Congress has allotted $400 million in election security grants as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package announced last week. However, this amount was reached after long haggling. The Democrats wanted as much as $2 billion, a demand that was turned down by the administration. The actual additional cost of piecing together the federal election in the midst of a national health emergency will be much higher than that.
The United States now has nearly 150,000 coronavirus cases, the highest in the world. Globally, the virus continues to rage, with the death toll in Italy touching 11,500.