State election officials tell Power Up they're following the recent guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control on best practices to prevent coronavirus from spreading in election polling locations, which includes not just frequent hand-washing by poll workers but disinfecting any “voting associated electronics” and providing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer “for use before or after using the voting machine or the final step in the voting process.”
- On deck: 352 delegates are at stake today in Idaho, Mississippi, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington.
But election officials are much more worried about November: All of the Clorox wipes are unlikely to be enough to allay voters' concerns if coronavirus gets so widespread in the U.S. that daily life slows to a standstill, as it has in parts of China and Italy.
State and local governments across the country are discussing ways voters will still be able to cast their ballots — even amid such a doomsday scenario.
- “Postponing an election is not an option,” Chad Houck, Idaho's chief deputy secretary of state, told Power Up. “So it really comes down to trying to find alternative methods to executing an election. And those conversations are definitely happening.”
- “The ideal response is to prepare for election modifications,” agreed Mike Morley, a professor at Florida State University Law School who worked on disaster planning. While some local elections were canceled or postponed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Morley said with plenty of lead time until November, officials “can tweak the rules to allow [maximum] participation and have election integrity measures in place to prevent any mistakes.”
- “The closest scenario to anything like this that we've had is when a large group of people were suddenly unable to make it to their voting location because of a significant deployment of state guardsmen during Desert Storm,” Houck said. “We took some exceptional measures and distributed ballots to soldiers outside of a normal timeline.”
As the CDC is already warning older people or those with underlying health conditions against going to places with large crowds, state officials with upcoming primaries are making clear that there are other options.
- “Arizona has a number of ways people can make their voices heard,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said in a statement about the state's March 17 primary.
- But that, at least for now, requires some foresight on voters' part: “I am recommending that voters call their county recorder or visit my.arizona.vote to request a ballot-by-mail by today’s 5 p.m. deadline. This will ensure voters have an option to vote by mail and avoid Election Day crowds.”
The states already trending toward expanding voting are best positioned for a more seamless response. Washington state, for example, is a completely vote by mail state — a lucky coincidence for today's primary as the state has one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country.
- Still, voting by mail requires officials to take precautions: “How long does coronavirus last in saliva that is on an envelope?” Washington's Secretary of State Kim Wyman told the New York Times's Kirk Johnson and Campbell Robertson. “We’re telling all of the people who handle incoming ballots to use gloves … We’ve also had a recommendation from National Guard: ‘Folks, you might consider masks.’”
- And they're asking voters to do their part: “Election officials, pressing voters to use a wet sponge or a cloth as a sealant, launched a public education campaign on social media with the slogan ‘Whether healthy or sick, please don’t lick!’” our colleagues Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck report. “State officials were also advising that voters deliver their ballots to election drop boxes in an effort to spare postal workers the health risk.”
- Silver linings: “I think [coronavirus] will spur a trend that is already taking place to widen opportunities for voter registration and voting that is spreading in states both red and blue throughout the country,” Miles Rapoport, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Ash Center who previously served as Connecticut's secretary of state, told Power Up. “This is one more major impetus for states to do what they have been and really should be doing: making it as convenient and accessible for people to vote as they possible can.”
Israeli officials took big steps to counter coronavirus anxieties in its election last week. Israel set up special polling stations to accommodate those under quarantine — which was meant to also tamp down other voters' fears about exposure.
- “Paramedics dressed in head-to-toe protective gear stood guard at dedicated polling stations,” per Reuters. “One by one, voters in face masks and gloves who [were] isolated at home after crossing paths with coronavirus carriers filed through more than a dozen tents across the country to fill in their ballot slips.”
- In Iran, voter turnout during parliamentary elections at the end of February dropped to “the lowest since the 1979 revolution,” in part due to fears surrounding the virus.
Coronavirus is the cherry on top of concerns from state election officials, who spent years preparing to avoid hacking attempts or disinformation campaigns that could disrupt the 2020 process. But Houck says that the lines of communication deepened between the federal government and state, local, tribal leaders in the wake of Russia's election interference efforts in 2016 have also facilitated a robust conversation about the virus. He credits the Department of Homeland Security's National Network of Fusion Centers for allowing states and feds to share “threat-related information” both “upstream and downstream.”
- “They are parallel challenges in totally different arenas,” Houck told us of cybersecurity and coronavirus concerns. “One is keeping information secure, and the other is an attendance and logistics challenge. It's a good example of two things that are totally disjointed and separate from one another but can both pose equally difficult challenges.”
Ultimately, it will be up to states to decide how to proceed in the coming months. There are laws on the books in most states that provide guidance for Election Day emergencies such as natural disasters, Isaac and Elise report. And “in eight states, including Florida, Texas and Virginia, the governor has the statutory power to delay or reschedule an election.”
- “We tend to talk about a presidential election as if it is a single unified national event but in fact it’s not — there are 51 distinct, independent, hermetically sealed elections,” said Morley. “So the federal government doesn’t have much control over the electoral process.”
- For those wondering: It wouldn't be Trump's decision to cancel or postpone a presidential election: “It's not his call in the first place,” Morley said.
Still, “there is little precedent for the waging of a presidential race against the backdrop of an epidemic on this scale,” per Isaac and Elise.
- “The election of 1918 is the only truly momentous American election ever to take place in the midst of a major pandemic,” the late professor Alfred W. Crosby wrote in “America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918.” “Spanish influenza certainly affected campaigning: it canceled political meetings; doused that American political perennial, the torchlight parade; and obliged politicians to abandon their plans for last-minute whirlwind speaking tours.”
- But: “Crosby cast doubt on whether the flu had depressed voter turnout, noting that while there was a ‘sharp drop’ in votes compared with 1916, 1918 was a midterm election, when voter interest is typically lower,” per Isaac and Elise.
At The White House
TRUMP CONFRONTS CORONAVIRUS WITH OUTBURSTS: “Trump confronted one of the most perilous days of his presidency by first erupting in a barrage of commentary that failed to calm the cratering financial markets, struggling to inspire confidence that his administration could stop the spread of the novel coronavirus,” our colleagues Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report.
The president's handling of the crisis has unsettled many GOP allies on the Hill: Inside the White House, “even some aides acknowledged that [Trump] is compounding problems with his grievances and conspiratorial mind-set,” our colleagues write.”
- One Republican governor says the president is contradicting his own administration: “He at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told our colleagues. “It’s critically important that the message is straightforward and fact-based for the public.”
- The White House's handling of situation has further eroded the little trust left among Democrats: ““In many ways this was the moment we feared: a true security threat to the nation and a president who can’t tell the truth, who can’t organize a consistent response and doesn’t have enough experienced people on the job,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told our colleagues.
Trump is seeking major policy changes in the hopes of stopping the economic fallout: Trump told reporters that the White House is eyeing a payroll tax cut, relief for hourly workers suffering from virus related fallout and assistance to the airline, cruise and hotel industries, our colleagues Jeff Stein, Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report. It's unclear if Trump would benefit from assistance to the hotel industry.
- Key congressional Democrats brushed aside those ideas: Democrats are expected to unveil their own proposal as soon as this week, our colleagues write. “Payroll tax cuts in the past have been popular with Democrats, because of the way they are structured, and opposed by many Republicans."
- What Democrats want: “Free coronavirus testing for all Americans, paid leave for those affected by the epidemic, expanded food subsidies and an expansion of the federal unemployment insurance program,” our colleagues write of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's comments. Other senior party leaders say that a broader economic stimulus may soon be necessary.
- There does appear to be common ground on paid leave for workers: “Vice President Pence, who is leading the administration’s coronavirus task force, said the administration would work with Congress to make sure people who contract the coronavirus do not lose paychecks as a result, although details of such a plan were unclear.”
Outside the Beltway
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE OUTBREAK IN THE U.S.:
Stocks dove at a rate not seen in over a decade, sparking fears of a recession: “The Dow Jones industrial average shed 2,014 points, or 7.8 percent, the largest decline since the financial crisis,” our colleagues Heather Long, Thomas Heath, Will Englund and Taylor Telford report.
- The fallout from the virus is spreading to other areas: “Oil prices tumbled 25 percent, its worst day since the 1991 Gulf War, as the coronavirus weakens demand for fuel, with Saudi Arabia and Russia refusing to scale back production,” our colleagues write.
- But today might be better: “Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 854 points, indicating an opening jump 902.98 points,” CNBC's Yun Li reported early this morning of an expected jump tied to the possibility of a payroll tax cut.
More passengers are expected to disembark the Grand Princess today: The cruise ship “pulled into port in Oakland on Monday, the first step in an unprecedented domestic operation that will require medical care and the quarantining of more than 3,000 people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus,” our colleagues Reed Albergotti, Faiz Siddiqui and Mark Berman report from Oakland.
Millions of workers still lack paid sick leave: This means efforts to contain the virus “are complicated by the legions of low-wage workers who lack paid sick leave but often feel compelled to show up even when they are showing symptoms. Experts have a name for this phenomenon: ‘contagious presenteeism,’” our colleagues Abha Bhattarai and Peter Whoriskey report.
Florida is particularly vulnerable to fallout: “Nowhere will the effects be more acute than in Florida, a battleground state crucial to the 2020 election campaign and the home base for the nation’s biggest cruise companies,” our colleagues Jeanne Whalen, Rachel Siegel, Michael Majchrowicz Jeff Stein and Brittany Shammas report of the cruise industry after the State Department warned travelers against taking such trips.
- Key stat: “The sector supports about 422,000 jobs in the United States, more than a third of which are in Florida, according to the Cruise Lines International Association,” our colleagues write.
On The Hill
MEADOWS IS AMONG THE LAWMAKERS SELF-QUARANTINING: The incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, is among the six lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are quarantining themselves because of either suspected or direct contact with a confirmed carrier of the coronavirus, our colleague Mike DeBonis reports.
- Two of the lawmakers had direct contact with Trump: “Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) rode with Trump on Air Force One as he flew from Florida to Washington,” Mike writes. Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) joined the president's tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday and images show him shaking Trump's hand.
- All three of Meadows, Gaetz and Collins's cases are related to an attendee from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference who has tested positive for the virus. Meadows only had suspected contact with the individual and he tested negative for the virus.
- None of the six lawmakers, who are from both parties and chambers, have displayed any symptoms thus far: "Their proximity to confirmed cases highlighted the risks to members of Congress and their aides as the coronavirus outbreak expands to pandemic proportions,” our colleague writes.
Trump and Pence have not been tested: The White House press secretary Stephanie Grishman said last night that the president has not been tested for the coronavirus “because he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms.” Pence told reporters he had not been tested either.
ITALY EXPANDS TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS TO ENTIRE COUNTRY: “Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that Italy would restrict freedom of movement on a scale unprecedented in a democracy, locking down the entire country — 60 million people — in an attempt to contain the accelerating coronavirus,” our colleagues Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report from Rome.
- What this means: “The decision, announced in an evening address, indicates that Italian policymakers are convinced that hard-line measures offer the best chance to slow the virus, our colleagues write. “If Italy succeeds, a version of its tactics could be used in other countries where cases are multiplying, including across Europe, where cross-border movement is a cherished right for many citizens.”
OTHER RESPONSES AROUND THE WORLD:
Xi visits Wuhan: Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the global epicenter of the coronavirus for the first time since it emerged last year. “Previously Xi had dispatched the premier and a vice-premier to Wuhan, and analysts were waiting to see when the leader himself would visit, viewing this as a sign that China considered the epidemic was fully under control,” our colleague Adam Taylor reports.
Israel imposes quarantine on all international arrivals: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a video, said all visitors and Israeli residents arriving at Ben Gurion Airport over at least the next two weeks must proceed to 14 days of isolation. ‘This is a tough decision, but it is essential to maintain public health,’ Netanyahu said, ‘and public health precedes everything,’” our colleagues Steve Hendrix and Hazem Balousha report from Jerusalem.
Japan will punish reselling of face masks for profit: Offenders “will face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to 1 million yen ($9,800) or both, the government said,” our colleague Simon Denyer reports from Tokyo. A government ministry had previously asked e-commerce firms to suspend online mask options, but decided tougher enforcement was needed.
SUPER TUESDAY PART TWO: Like most sequels, it’s expected to lack the suspense of the original. The largest delegate prize is in Michigan, with 125 delegates up for grabs.
The fight over working-class white voters, the demographic seen as crucial to Democrats gaining ground in the Midwest and winning in November, will play out in Michigan and Missouri, which has 68 delegates, our colleague Annie Gowen reports from Claycomo, Mo.
- Sanders dominated with this group in 2016: “His allies have argued that many working-class voters in the region drawn to Sanders's populist message wound up staying home or backing Trump in the general election, sparking the president's decisive wins in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania,” Annie writes.
- While Biden is leaning on his bio: The former veep is, “a native of Scranton, Pa., has presented himself as a son of the Rust Belt and a champion of the middle class, has argued that he is more suited to win these voters back,” our colleague writes. “Exit polls from last week's Super Tuesday contests, in which Biden surged to take a national delegate lead, showed that he beat Sanders among non-college-educated whites by four points.”
Michigan seems like a dream to him now: “A handful of new polls released in the last 24 hours suggest [Biden] is going to blow [Sanders] out of the water in Michigan …,” Politico’s Steven Shepard reports.
- This may sound familiar: “The trouble is that’s the same thing the data said about Hillary Clinton four years ago — just before Sanders scored one of the biggest upsets in recent presidential campaign history,” Politico reports.