The fiasco of the run-up to Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, with desperate wrangling over in-person voting despite a coronavirus stay-at-home order, is the latest evidence that the Democratic Party needs to face reality: This is a political emergency.
The solution: Hold all the remaining 20-plus Democratic contests on the same date, with the vote by smartphones and computers. It is an extreme answer, but this is an unprecedented moment in American history.
The party’s business-as-usual-as-possible approach during the pandemic has amounted to allowing state parties to shift the dates of their primaries and switch to mail-in ballots if they like. Oh, and moving the nominating convention from mid-July to mid-August. The idea seems to be that Democrats can muddle through until delegates show up in Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, Sanders and Joe Biden, with a big delegate lead but far short of what he needs for the nomination, are stuck at home, issuing campaign videos they hope someone will watch, while President Trump, with the GOP nomination sewn up, dominates the public’s attention with his daily reality-TV-show news conferences at the White House. And this could go on for months.
It is entirely possible that the Democratic Party will not have a nominee until August — assuming the convention can be held then. Having been denied the stature and fundraising power that comes when the nomination is certain, the Democratic nominee will then limp into a truncated general election.
There is an alternative: Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, could take charge by getting the state chairs in the remaining primary states on the phone and setting a single date — as soon as feasible — on which all Democratic primaries would be held.
There are four basic reasons the party needs to make this course correction. First, were it not for the rapid spread of covid-19 prompting the postponement of primaries, Biden by now likely would have at least 1,800 delegates, putting him on the cusp of clinching the nomination with the needed 1,991.
Second, the key word above is “likely.” Sanders and his supporters deserve to have a vote that will send an unambiguous message about the nomination. Quitting a campaign is always difficult when there is even a small chance of victory. Shutting down a movement is harder still. Only a fair vote will end this process fairly. The Wisconsin debacle is only making matters worse.
Third, any efforts by Democrats at the state level to hold in-person primary voting would put voters and poll workers at risk from covid-19. No Americans should be asked to put their lives at risk simply to exercise their right to vote.
Fourth, the national Democratic Party has the authority through its central committee to change primary dates and the method of voting. No act of Congress is necessary.
Democrats need to do this as quickly as possible. Switching to using exclusively mail-in ballots is not the answer. Voting by mail is a cumbersome and expensive process and would be impractical to arrange on short notice.
Fortunately, there is an alternative: mobile voting, by cellphone or Internet-connected computer. One effort among several on this front is the Mobile Voting Project, developed by the Tusk Philanthropies. Over the past two years, MVP has conducted pilots in 10 local elections across five states, making mobile voting available to deployed members of the military, overseas citizens and voters with disabilities. In the Seattle-area election for the King County Conservation District this year, all voters could use the project’s mobile app.
The 10 elections using MVP were audited by the National Cybersecurity Center, which found them to be secure. Mobile voting also increases turnout. (Primary voters without Internet access could use absentee ballots.) There are plenty of skeptics about the security of mobile voting, though, and using only this method in November would be premature. But the Democratic nomination process is in crisis now, and this solution — using a well-vetted platform for mobile voting — would address the party’s immediate problems.
With a one-day mobile vote encompassing the rest of the Democratic primaries, Americans could at last be confident that the Democrats have a nominee. The stage would be set for the November election. Anything short of this would be clouded by uncertainty that only helps Trump. If the Democratic Party remains passive, history will judge it harshly.