Will coronavirus outbreak force a postponement of US Presidential elections?

Delhi Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 08:31 PM(IST)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden Photograph:( Reuters )

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The Wuhan coronavirus is threatening the fundamentals of the US Presidential election process.

US President Donald Trump has asked Americans to brace for a painful period ahead, but even he doesn't know how long it's going to last.

The Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in about 7 months from today and the campaign trail has already seen major disruption.

Rallies, town hall meetings and public events have been cancelled. Over a dozen Democratic primaries have been delayed.

Given the situation at hand, holding the election will be a herculean task. This is the time when the election campaign should have hit fever pitch, but now it has all gone cold!

Democrats still don't have a candidate to take on Trump. Democratic primaries across 14 states have been delayed.

The latest being New York, which was scheduled to hold it at the end of April, but now it has been pushed to the end of June.

Other states have expanded vote by mail, citing the difficulty of holding elections. Republicans, meanwhile,  are still assessing the President's response to the crisis.

Donald Trump's biggest rival right now is not Joe Biden or even Bernie Sanders, but the Wuhan coronavirus. It's threatening the fundamentals of the Presidential election process.

Elections in America have been delayed because of emergencies in the past, but only at the state and local level.

The 9/11 terror attacks of 2001 came on the morning of a municipal primary election in the New York City. It was postponed by 2 weeks. In 2017, Municipal elections in Florida were briefly delayed because of Hurricane Irma. But never has the presidential election been postponed.

The date of the general election is set by the US Federal law and it has been fixed since the year 1845. To change election dates, the federal law will have to be changed which would need legislation enacted by the US Congress and signed by the President.

Furthermore, the American Constitution mandates that the new President’s term must begin on January 20. The US law doesn’t allow a President to stay in office after January 20 even in the case of a national emergency.

Trump initially underplayed the severity of the coronavirus, sparred with governors over their requests for medical supplies and floated the idea of reopening the economy against the advice of public health officials. But he shifted course to back extending the shutdown measures to slow the spread of the virus.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday, the coronavirus had rattled the entire country, with 89 per cent saying they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned by the respiratory disease.

(With inputs from agencies)

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