Governor Jim Justice, after consulting with Secretary of State Mac Warner and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, has decided to postpone West Virginia’s Primary Election from May 12 to June 9. (Read more here from Brad McElhinny.)
This is the right call for a variety of reasons.
If modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is right—and that changes daily depending on the data—the virus will peak in West Virginia on May 3, just nine days before the election.
If that’s accurate, our hospitals will be full, doctors and nurses will be stretched to the limit and between 9 and 27 people will die on that day from the virus. After the peak, there will be a gradual decline, but there will still be infections and deaths.
Again, that’s modeling and, as health officials have stressed over and over, West Virginians have an opportunity to flatten the curve and dramatically reduce the infection and mortality rate if we continue to follow their directives.
Yes, Warner and the clerks have put in place a system where every voter has an opportunity to use a mail-in absentee ballot, but who knows how many voters will take advantage of that?
It would be irresponsible to have workers stationed at over 1,800 separate precincts with tens of thousands of voters coming and going. The county clerks would have safety measures in place, but all that in-person voting increases the risk of contamination, especially if we are still being advised to stay home.
Sticking with the May 12 date would give the incumbents a significant advantage. Name recognition is an important part of campaigns and many of the incumbents have had time during their term to raise their profile, while challengers are hamstrung.
The vitally important face-to-face meetings and handshaking that are the bread and butter of politics are strictly off limits. Candidates can’t go door-to-door and there are no public gatherings or group meetings where politicians can make their pitch.
Candidates are also not getting any “earned media” from the press. Newspaper, TV and radio station news departments are preoccupied with pandemic stories. There’s hardly any room for political candidates to gain coverage.
And finally, who is thinking about politics right now? Even those among us who would normally be dialed in to an upcoming election have other things to worry about. And it’s probably going to be that way for at least the rest of this month.
Yes, we often get tired of politics, especially as the campaign seasons get longer. However, the result is that voters get to make their own decisions about who they want to represent them and how they expect their government to function.
Having West Virginia’s Primary Election during the pandemic—even if it is just after the expected peak—would be a disservice to the electorate and the candidates. Moving it back gives everybody a few more weeks to get their lives squared away so they have the luxury of thinking about politics again.