WATERTOWN — This is the quietest election I’ve encountered in my lifetime.
We have individuals on the municipal, county, state and federal levels to vote on this year. Of course, the biggest prize is the presidential race.
But you really wouldn’t know this based on the low-key campaigns being waged. In some cases, they are non-existent. Have some candidates simply given up their pursuit of elective office?
The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced many campaigns to be conducted under the radar. Candidates cannot engage in the retail politics vital in many cases for electoral victory.
This means no rallies, no small-group coffee klatches, no town hall meetings and no candidate debates. This personal interaction is often what makes the difference; it’s how many voters size up those under consideration for various positions.
(As an aside, this also means no candidate interviews at editorial board meetings — at least not in person. We’ll see what arrangements need to be made to accommodate prospective office-holders in the age of COVID-19.)
That more of us aren’t focused on who’s up in the Election 2020 polls is completely understandable. We all have more urgent matters on our minds. Even in a presidential election year, politics must give way to concerns over our well-being.
But this raises concerns about how prepared people will be for these elections and the number of voters who will participate. Given the seriousness of the pandemic, will many of us conclude that following the different campaigns and voting for candidates isn’t worth it?
There are competitive races for the state Assembly. Democrat Alex V. Hammond of Waddington will take on state Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk of Watertown, a Republican, in the 116th District. And Democrat Gail E. Tosh of Baldwinsville is challenging Republican state Assemblyman William A. Barclay of Pulaski in the 120th District.
It would be unfortunate if there was a noticeable drop-off in voter participation. Every election is critical because it enables individuals to exert governmental authority over our lives. Having numerical minorities of the electorate endow public officials with these powers defeats the purpose of self-governing system.
Even in good times, far too many Americans find excuses to shirk their civic duty. Fears over the coronavirus have justifiably become a national priority. This is likely to further dampen people’s willingness to vote.
We haven’t heard all that much about the race for the 21st Congressional District. In a repeat of the 2018 election, U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik of Schuylerville is again running as a Republican against Democrat Tedra L. Cobb of Hermon. This time around, they are being joined by Serve America Movement candidate Jeffrey I. French of Natural Bridge.
Two years ago, we were bombarded virtually every day with campaign literature, news releases and letters concerning this race. It was just about all anyone wanted to discuss in the north country.
To be honest, I’m not one who needs a steady diet of politics each morning. I’m more interested in how candidates will implement policy ideas and persuade colleagues to support them. This gives me a good sense of how they’ll govern, not the partisan bickering emanating from each camp to manipulate voters’ emotions.
But these days, campaign tidbits in NY-21 are few and far between.
It’s as if this race has gone underground.
More attention has been paid to the presidential contest than other races. But even this campaign has taken a back seat to ongoing news concerning the coronavirus.
Seeking re-election this year, Republican President Donald Trump is being challenged by former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan jumped off the GOP ship to join the list of Libertarian candidates, and Howie Hawkins of New York is among those vying for the Green Party nomination.
Despite the fact that Biden has yet to win enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo decided New York didn’t need a presidential primary. Citing safety concerns, he canceled the election scheduled for June 23.
However, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres saw things differently. She ruled that canceling the primary would be unconstitutional since the contest is not yet decided, so she ordered it back on the electoral docket. New York officials are appealing this decision.
Will Americans by and large want to journey to their polling places to cast ballots? Even when this pandemic subsides, will we ever regain the confidence to socialize in public like we used to? What does this mean for how we practice democracy?
“This year’s Democratic presidential primary was tumultuous from beginning to end — starting with a record field of two dozen major candidates and ending in the middle of a pandemic,” according to a story published April 28 by The Atlantic. “But its lasting legacy could be far more fundamental: The chaos of the 2020 election season could radically, even permanently, change how Americans vote. By November, a majority of the country — and possibly the overwhelming majority — could cast their ballot by mail for the first time. In the years to come, more and more voters will pick their candidates not by selecting one favorite but by ranking several under a system designed to give people more choices and less chance for regret. And by 2024, the final vestiges of a 200-year-old tradition — caucuses — could be gone, buried for good by the debacle in Iowa that launched this year’s nominating process.”
Changes in how we vote could be beneficial. It would be perilous, however, if we let this health care crisis weaken our resolve to participate in the electoral process at all.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com.