Elections expert lays out why coronavirus could lead to a ‘nightmare scenario’ in November
Former Vice President Joe Biden, photo by Marc Nozell

Some of President Donald Trump’s critics, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have been expressing fears that he will try to delay the 2020 presidential election. Journalist Zach Stanton isn’t worried about that possibility, but in an article for Politico, he warns that there are many other things that could go wrong with the election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“For a certain segment of the American electorate,” Stanton explains, “the onset of the coronavirus pandemic birthed a 2020 nightmare scenario, with an embattled President Donald Trump delaying the November election. But the prospect that terrifies election experts isn’t the idea that Trump moves the election — something he lacks the power to do. It’s something altogether more plausible: despite an ongoing pandemic, the 2020 election takes place as planned — and America is totally unprepared.”

Stanton goes on to outline the “nightmare scenario” he is worried about.

“Large numbers of voters become disenfranchised because they’re worried it’s not safe to vote and that participating makes it more likely they catch the coronavirus,” Stanton writes. “Voter registration efforts, almost always geared toward in-person sign-ups, bring in very few new voters; few states allow online voter registration, and relatively few first-time voters take part in the election. A surge of demand for absentee ballots overwhelms election administrators, who haven’t printed enough ballots.”

Stanton continues, “In some states, like Texas, where fear of coronavirus isn’t a valid reason to request an absentee ballot, turnout drops as Americans are forced to choose between voting in person — and risking contact with the coronavirus — or not voting at all. At the same time, confidence in the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service — whose coronavirus funding President Donald Trump has already threatened to block — teeters, and its involvement in handling so many absentee votes causes concern. Much as happened during the Wisconsin primary, a flood of mailed-in ballots makes it impossible to get full returns on Election Night, with heavily blue Democratic cities being, as usual, among the slowest to count.”

Stanton fears a scenario in which Trump could prematurely declare victory only to later find out that former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, won.

“Trump declares victory based on those early returns, and again claims that the yet-to-be-counted absentees are tainted with fraud,” Stanton writes. “Days later, with those votes counted, Joe Biden is declared the victor. Across the political spectrum, faith in the democratic process disintegrates as Americans question both the validity of the election and the ability of the government to respond to challenges it should have seen coming.”

Stanton warns that the “nightmare scenario” he describes is “not far-fetched,” according to Rick Hasen — an expert on election law who teaches at the University of California, Irvine. In an interview, Hasen described to Stanton some of the things that could go wrong on Election Day 2020.

“One is that the president tries to use some kind of emergency power or something to shut down cities on Election Day in the name of promoting health and preventing the spread of disease,” Hasen told Stanton. “And of course, if you stop people in Detroit and Philadelphia from voting, that would affect election outcomes.”

Hasen went on to express concerns that some governors might declare a state of emergency in their states.

“I’m worried about large numbers of voters being disenfranchised through no fault of their own because it’s not safe to vote,” Hasen told Stanton. “That’s my #1 concern.”