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America’s COVID Election

Summary:
Unprecedented numbers of US voters are beginning to cast their ballots for president by mail rather than risk going to polling places during a pandemic. And while President Donald Trump is trying to discredit mail-in voting, his campaign's fear-based strategy appears to be alienating ever more voters. WASHINGTON – The pandemic that US President Donald Trump has handled so disastrously – over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 are expected in the United States by Election Day – is persuading an unprecedented number of voters to cast their ballot by mail rather than expose themselves at the polls. That means Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, could “win” a state on November 3, only to have the result change when

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Unprecedented numbers of US voters are beginning to cast their ballots for president by mail rather than risk going to polling places during a pandemic. And while President Donald Trump is trying to discredit mail-in voting, his campaign's fear-based strategy appears to be alienating ever more voters.

WASHINGTON – The pandemic that US President Donald Trump has handled so disastrously – over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 are expected in the United States by Election Day – is persuading an unprecedented number of voters to cast their ballot by mail rather than expose themselves at the polls. That means Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, could “win” a state on November 3, only to have the result change when all the mail-in votes are counted. The likelihood of contested outcomes, particularly if an enraged Trump hasn’t clearly won – could make one of the most consequential elections in US history the most chaotic.

Unsurprisingly, Trump is contributing to the fevered climate of uncertainty by deliberately undermining confidence in mail-in ballots. He has regularly predicted that the election will be “rigged” – that is, if he loses. Yet there is almost no record of stolen votes as a result of mail-in ballots.

The voting is taking place amid conditions as challenging as any outside of wartime: the pandemic, the consequent collapse of the US economy, and the loss of 22 million jobs so far, with little cause for optimism that most of them will return. The record wildfires engulfing the West Coast add to the atmosphere of agitated anxiety. The large demonstrations against police brutality toward black Americans were once seen as an advantage to the Democrats. Now that the demonstrations frequently – or frequently enough – devolve into violence, they threaten to work in Trump’s favor.

Indeed, Kellyanne Conway, then a presidential adviser, said aloud that violence is good for Trump. Thus far, however, his attempt to mount a “law and order” campaign appears to have fallen flat.

This election is being fought mainly over what both sides don’t want it to be about: COVID-19. The Democrats want the vote to be a referendum on Trump – substantive issues, but also Trump’s conduct and his administration’s rampant corruption. Republicans, of course, want Biden to be the focus and to brand the former vice...

Elizabeth Drew
Contributor to New Republic, Daily Beast, Project Syndicate, Nation (book reviews). Fifteen books, including reissue of Washington Journal, Nixon & Watergate.

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