Across the country, universities have announced the suspension of in-person classes because of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Wesleyan is no exception. While sending students home amidst a global pandemic has transformed many students’ lives, it has also dramatically altered plans to vote in the upcoming presidential primaries and has raised many questions regarding voting on a national scale. Although it may seem like society is at a standstill, democracy still continues.
To mitigate uncertainty in these precarious times, The Argus gathered the answers to some common questions about voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When is the Connecticut primary?
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that the Connecticut primary—originally scheduled for April 28—will now be held on June 2.
“In coordination with other states and our Secretary of the State, and in an effort to carry out Democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary to June 2nd,” Lamont tweeted on March 19.
This decision comes following the delay of several other state primaries including Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Ohio. Alaska and Hawaii will still hold their primaries on April 4, as originally planned, but both states are expanding the vote-by-mail systems they already had in place.
Other states, however, are continuing to hold their presidential primaries and caucuses on their scheduled dates. On Tuesday, March 17, Arizona, Illinois, and Florida held their primaries as scheduled. Other states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Kansas, also intend to hold their presidential primaries on their scheduled dates in the coming weeks.
If I’m not on campus anymore, can I still vote in Connecticut? How?
Anyone who will not be in the state on election day can request an absentee ballot by filling out this request form, which should be mailed to the Middletown Town Clerk with the original signature (not a fax, scan, or copy). Although the deadline to request an absentee ballot is the day of the election, there needs to be enough time for the request to be processed and for the ballot to be mailed. The form should be filled out using the address where the student will be living in May and June to ensure that they receive the ballot.
Absentee ballots are sent out beginning 21 days before a primary, which means that they should be received during the last few weeks of May. If they do not receive a ballot, voters should call the Middletown Board of Elections to check the status of their ballot. Once it is received, in order for a person’s vote to be properly counted, all the directions on the ballot must be followed, and the ballot must arrive at the Clerk’s office by Election Day on June 2.
Should I vote in Connecticut or at home?
Many states have already held their primaries, or their voter registration deadlines may have already passed. In these cases, students do not have an option. The deadlines and rules differ in each state and can be found on each state’s official website. Other factors to consider are whether or not they want to vote in person and the number of delegates each state offers, but ultimately, it is a personal decision. In order to win the party nomination, a candidate must win the majority of delegates, which are distributed by each state in proportion to the percentage of votes the candidate receives. Therefore, states with more delegates could have a larger impact on who becomes the nominee of each party.
If a student was already registered to vote in Connecticut but decides to vote at home, Assistant Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships Diana Martinez encourages them to send a letter asking to have their name removed from the Connecticut voter log to avoid any confusion. Although it is not illegal to be registered to vote in two states, states may occasionally purge voters who are registered in other locations, and each state or precinct may have different rules about registering in multiple places.
“If they’re in their home state now, they should consider whether they still have time to register and vote in their home state,” Martinez said. “If a student decides to vote in their home state, they should remove themselves from the Middletown voter logs so that they are only registered at one place at a time.”
If you choose to vote in person during the COVID-19 outbreak, students should remain cautious about spreading or contracting the virus by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations by washing hands often and avoiding close contact.
How will COVID-19 affect the elections?
With so many states postponing their primaries, it would not be surprising if more followed in their footsteps. Due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it is unknown if the outbreak will be better or worse by June.
WSA Senator and Wes For Bernie Member Katelin Penner ’22 believes that voter turnout will decline unless action is taken to change the voting system.
“Voter turnout will absolutely be highly reduced,” Penner said. “Primaries should be moved and universal vote-by-mail systems should be implemented.”
Martinez also expects that there will be lower voter turnout than usual.
“We’ve seen serious dips in [in-person] turnout in states that held primaries [on March 17] because of all the uncertainty and fear around contracting COVID-19,” Martinez said. “I’m hoping that by June, the contraction rate has declined significantly enough to not have that be a factor, but there’s no way to tell right now.”
Turnout in the March 17 primaries in Arizona, Florida, and Ohio showed significant decreases in in-person voter turnout but not in overall turnout, because they already had early voting and vote-by-mail systems in place. Although Illinois also had these systems, their decline in in-person voter turnout was much more dramatic because of a shortage of poll workers and the changing of many polling locations.
At the same time, Martinez hopes that COVID-19 will lead to long term changes to the American voting system. She explained that COVID-19 is not only creating problems, but also revealing disparities that have been around for years.
“If nothing else, COVID-19 is encouraging many of us to re-evaluate how we engage,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, for poor folks, working class folks, the chronically ill, and disabled folks, these…[are] regular hurdles they navigate daily. We owe it to those folks to establish better options and new normals after the COVID-19 dust settles. I hope students take advantage of the ability to vote and use their vote with those in most need in mind.”
Olivia Ramseur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.