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Will Coronavirus Take Its Toll at the Polls?

Voter turnout and even primary deadlines have been affected by the spread of COVID-19. What does that mean for Bernie and Biden?

As state election officials in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Illinois all prepare to fend off Coronavirus at their primaries Tuesday, March 17, Louisiana has become the first state to actually postpone voting. Initially scheduled for April 4, the Pelican State’s primary has been bumped back to June 20 – a delay that might cost the state half its delegates or more.

There isn’t much about American life that remains untouched by the panic over COVID-19. With the Democrats’ July nominating convention quickly approaching, one must wonder what toll this pandemic will have on the Democratic Party’s primary process.

The Toll at the Polls

Campaign events have been canceled. Fundraising for most candidates is now exclusively a virtual affair. States with upcoming primaries are suggesting people mail in their ballots if they feel ill or if they’re at risk for catching the virus. Many poll employees are over the age of 70 – as are all of the leading candidates on either side of the political divide – and many polls are set up at retirement homes. With so much panic over Coronavirus, one wonders how many will actually vote in this primary contest, and of those who do, how many votes will actually be counted. In Washington, errors resulted in the disqualification of tens of thousands of those ballots.

Aside from the possibility of lackluster voter turnout and error-riddled ballots being tossed, Louisiana Democrats might face punishment from the DNC. “We will continue to work with every state party as they adjust their delegate selection plans around coronavirus,” a DNC spokesperson said. “Any violation of our rules could result in a penalty that would include a state losing at least half of its delegates. This change will be reviewed by the Rules and Bylaws Committee.”

Louisiana delays it’s primary to try and limit the spread of illness, and the DNC’s official response is that the state is breaking the rules and might lose at least half its delegates in punishment. Presumably, any other states that follow suit would face the same possibility.

Bernie v Biden

Both candidates will almost certainly lose some support as voters decide to simply sit this one out rather than risk infection, but it’s less about the number of votes and more the ratio that determines how many delegates are assigned to each candidate. The first to 1,991 wins the party nomination with a clear majority. Biden sits at 823 and Sanders at 663 – a gap of 160 delegates – and if no one candidate achieves a majority, they could be headed for a contested convention. In other words, Bernie is fighting an uphill battle. He needs voters to show up or mail in and make that happen, and it will only get harder as time passes. Even if he does manage to come out ahead of Biden, if he doesn’t nail down that majority, there’s a good chance Sanders won’t be nominated.

Since Biden – the establishment pick – has a 160-delegate lead on Sanders the socialist, an overall slump in turnout and postponed primaries will hit a lot harder for the Vermont senator. One might wonder if this will factor into whether or not the DNC will punish Louisiana or any other states that postpone their primaries by halving their delegates. There are still enough out there for Sen. Sanders to win, but there’s no denying that cutting that total down helps assure Biden carries the torch for the Democrats. Every delegate removed from the pool is one that can’t close the gap for Bernie – no matter how well he does in the popular vote.

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Read more from James Fite.

Read More From James Fite

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