While it may come as a surprise to some, there’s still a presidential primary season going on, along with a number of state and local primary races to be decided. And since today is Tuesday, there’s going to be a bunch of people voting today. In addition to the four elections previously scheduled for today (New Mexico, South Dakota, Washington, D.C. and Montana), four other states postponed their votes until today due to the pandemic (Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island). Think of it as a pandemic Super Tuesday. Of course, since the Democrats have already settled on Uncle Joe and there’s no realistic challenger to Trump, I’m guessing that turnout may be somewhat depressed, to say the least.
We no longer live in ordinary times, however. Many states have expanded their vote-by-mail options, but some people will still be looking to go to the polls in person. And how do they do that if they are still worried about either contracting the virus or running into hordes of protesters/rioters? The question is further complicated for places like the District of Columbia which normally keeps the polls open until 8 pm but now has a mandatory curfew set to start at 7 pm. That’s the question being tackled at Slate this week.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser put the city under a strict curfew Monday and Tuesday nights, barring most residents from leaving their house after 7 p.m. But the District is in the midst of a primary election, and voting centers will remain open until 8 p.m. on both nights. Tuesday is the final day to cast a ballot. Residents who vote on either night may therefore risk arrest while walking to or from the polls after curfew. And Bowser has declined to explain how they can avoid a confrontation with law enforcement in the process…
But what about voters? Bowser has urged residents to vote early, and Monday is the last day of early voting. Tuesday is Election Day. Because DC is overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary effectively determines the winner of most races for the city council. Polls are still set to stay open until 8 p.m. What happens to voters who leave their homes to cast a ballot after curfew?
Yesterday, Mayor Bowser put out a statement intended to settle this issue. She declared that voting was an “essential” activity, so “DC residents voting will be exempt to the curfew.”
That sounds great in theory, but how does she plan to implement it? If the cops see somebody running down the street at 7:30 carrying a Molotov and a baseball bat and try to stop them, what do they do when the dude insists he’s just trying to make it to his polling place before it closes? The District obviously couldn’t print up any sort of “voting pass” to show the police and distribute it to everyone who needs one on a single day’s notice. The Mayor’s spokesperson was asked about all of these issues but had no answers.
Wouldn’t the solution be to push the curfew back by 90 minutes? That should give everyone time to vote and get back home, assuming they plan on obeying the law. Of course, judging by the activity we’ve seen in previous nights, most of the people intent on rioting and looting aren’t going to be paying any attention to the curfew anyway. They appear to be taking a “Raid Area 51” approach to their rioting. They can’t arrest all of us! And sadly, they appear to be correct.
This discussion centers on the District of Columbia, but the questions being raised apply to many of the other seven states voting today as well. In South Dakota, both Rapid City and Sioux Falls have now implemented curfews, but they don’t begin until 10 pm so that shouldn’t impact voting. But Philadelphia has been under a curfew starting at 6 pm for the past three days with no end in sight. There are more examples around the country.
And even if people aren’t facing complications arising from curfews, is it really fair to expect people in the larger cities to try to make their way to the polls through streets filled with rioters and looters? And that’s on top of worries about maintaining social distancing. The turnout for these primaries may wind up being so ridiculously low that few will place much faith in the final numbers. Also keep in mind that in some of the very blue cities like D.C. and Baltimore, when it comes to the local and municipal elections, the primary basically is the general election because Republicans are so vastly outnumbered. This combination of catastrophes is going to wind up impacting the 2020 elections to a greater degree than some people may have anticipated.