Impact on DNC

How COVID-19 pandemic will impact upcoming DNC, November election

By Harrison Freuck

Voters in Wisconsin were outraged about the decisions by Evers, Wisconsin legislature leading up to a poorly-planned election in the midst of a pandemic

Photo courtesy of Tamia Fowlkes

On Tuesday, April 7, all eyes were on Wisconsin as hundreds of thousands of voters emerged from their homes to vote after a late response from Gov. Tony Evers (D) to delay the Spring General Election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that was then overturned by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court.

The failure to delay the election by Evers and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court upset voters statewide, resulting in era-defining images like this one from Journal Sentinel intern Patricia McKnight.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) was a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, running against David Crowley, who would win the election by an estimated 1,039 votes out of more than 192,000 ballots cast.

“Initially, Evers thought there were easier ways to solve the problem, like pushing vote by mail,” Larson said. “But as the election got closer, I think they realized they hadn’t accounted for a lack of poll workers and the public’s willingness to actually go out and vote. There were a lot of people who were upset that they were forced to go out and vote and put their lives in danger.”

Despite the fact that the election went on in the midst of a pandemic and in-person turnout was way down, the number of absentee ballots cast were way up, accounting for 71% of total votes compared to just 10% in the spring election of 2016, according to NPR.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative impacts on nearly everyone, the pandemic has also made many question how it will impact Election Day in November.

“I think now we have more of a runway leading into the November election,” Larson said. “That gives us a lot of time to look at how to push people to vote from home. It gives candidates and supporters of candidates time to look at how to reach voters. It gives clerks the ability to account for getting [absentee] ballots out in time and they can anticipate that’s likely to happen.”

Larson added that since it is virtually impossible to meet face-to-face with voters, new candidates will face an uphill battle in terms of collecting signatures to get their names on ballots, as this step can now only be done via mail and email. This will also force new candidates to rely on cultivated relationships instead of new ones.

Larson also said there is a strong chance the November election will be entirely or at least primarily run via absentee ballots.

“There’s a number of bills that are trying to change the rules for absentee ballots for the November election,” Larson said. “There are moves to make that part of the next package of relief bills for COVID-19. It would need to be a nationwide effort because each state has its own laws that govern absentee voting.”

While the November election is still months away, the bigger concern for Democrats and the state of Wisconsin right now is the Democratic National Convention which was set to take place in Milwaukee in July before being postponed to the week of August 17-20.

Larson’s brother, Dave, served as the senior director of hospitality for the convention before being laid off in mid-April as much of his role was eliminated with the convention likely to shift to a virtual shell of its usual self.

“The event was supposed to bring 50,000 people to town,” Dave Larson said. “Realistically, there’s no way that can happen now. They’re still working on a number of scenarios but the best bet is it will be virtual.”

While Dave Larson discussed the logistics regarding visitors and guests of the convention, Chris Larson talked about how Milwaukee was unlucky with the timing of the virus.

“Milwaukee basically got screwed out of $200 million of economic activity that we should have got out of the DNC,” Chris Larson said.

With many DNC events already cancelled and the rest of the convention delayed by at least a few weeks, the DNC planning committee has turned their attention to making the best of what they have, figuring out how to integrate technology with the events and keynote speeches that were set to happen at the convention.

Dave Larson also talked about the November election, directly relating it back to the questionable decisions made in Wisconsin in April.

“A lot of people will look at what took place in Wisconsin a few weeks ago to determine what’s the best way forward for November, including the political arms of both parties,” Dave Larson said. “The DNC and RNC will try to figure out the best way to engage their voters. Voting by mail is the one that makes sense but politics will determine how it will take place.”

While there are many uncertainties about the November election, it is all but guaranteed the COVID-19 pandemic will play a role in election protocols and how the election takes place, as well as an impact on election outcomes.