Can coronavirus infect Virginia’s November elections?

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — “We the people” — Very few things embody the American experience like the campaign stop, with a candidate making the case for your vote. 

But the ability to draw a crowd may not take center stage as we get closer to November elections, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The whole process of putting the presidential campaign together is very different right now than it would have been,” said Dr. Jesse Richman, associate professor of political science at Old Dominion University.

President Donald Trump and his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, are both over 70, the most vulnerable age group for infection. 

In March, the former vice president suspended his campaign events.  The Democratic Party has moved its convention from July to August. At the same time, North Carolina’s Democratic governor is making Republicans promise they can safely hold their convention in Charlotte that same month. 

Political observers say the coronavirus is changing how we consume a candidate’s message. 

“I think we’re going to see more of the election take place through media as opposed to direct person-to-person kinds of contact,” Richman said.

Come November, if the pandemic persists, Richman says how we vote may have to change to ensure scenes like the recent Wisconsin and Ohio primaries don’t happen here in Virginia.

“We need to be planning now so we do not end up with the kind of chaos that can be created when, at the very last minute, we try to change the way the election is being conducted,” Richman said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has encouraged people to use mail-in ballots, saying no one should choose between voting and their health.  Richman suggests a possible drive-thru poll.  

“Maybe someone hands them the ballot, maybe they print it out already, the scan-able ballot.  They then interact with the poll worker, while the voter stays in their car the whole time,” Richman said.

Richman believes state and local leaders should start planning now.

The Virginia legislature has already passed no-excuse absentee voting, which goes into effect in July,  after the June primary elections. The Republican-led North Carolina House just passed a bill prohibiting a mail-in only election, while letting voters submit absentee ballots by email, fax or a new online tool. 

Safe to say, what will happen in November is still evolving.

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