As Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee would have it, it’s OK if you risk your life and those of others to come out and vote in the primaries. Especially if you’re casting your ballot for Joe Biden.
Originally, “Super Tuesday III” (if they’re all so “super,” are they really that super?) was supposed to involve Democratic Party primaries for four states. On the eve of Ohio’s intended primary, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration sought to postpone in-person voting until a later date in light of the ongoing global pandemic. The move was struck down by a judge but polls were later closed by Amy Acton, director of health for the Ohio Department of Health, and the primary was postponed.
Arizona, Florida, and Illinois went ahead with their primaries unabated, however, and reports from polling locations indicated that in many cases, the decision to not postpone was an unmitigated disaster. Numerous poll workers and managers were no-shows. Polling locations were closed or moved so abruptly that voters had to travel to multiple sites to try to cast their ballots, and because of the closures, prospective voters were herded into confined spaces (in violation of CDC guidelines), forced to wait potentially for one or more hours in unsafe conditions, or go home and forfeit their vote. Despite assertions to the contrary, many polling stations lacked sufficient hand sanitizer to meet the public demand or otherwise failed to enforce social distancing standards encouraged to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
These primaries were, in other words, a shit-show, and a completely foreseeable one, at that. Less than 24 hours beforehand, however, DNC chair Tom Perez was on MSNBC trying to make the case that, to borrow the verbiage of a popular meme, this is fine.
In an interview with Chris Hayes, Perez insisted that the DNC respected what Arizona, Florida, and Illinois were doing and that he didn’t think it was for him to “second-guess those judgments of governors who insisted they are able to safely carry on with the primaries.” On the day of the primary, he tweeted, “AZ, IL, and FL are all voting today. Please remember your health comes first. Stay safe and take care of yourself. Thank you to all the voters, poll workers, and staff making democracy work.”
Lo and behold, in light of the scenes described above, the judgment of Governors Doug Ducey (AZ), JB Pritzker (IL), and Ron DeSantis (FL) were very much questioned, especially so after they advised against congregations of people in other contexts to encourage social distancing. Perez’s boast about staff, voters, and workers “making democracy work” was therefore decidedly dubious. In a primary season that has seen incidence of long lines in states like California and Texas lasting beyond poll closing times, frequently in areas disproportionately trafficked by younger voters and/or people of color, poll closures and the appearance of anything remotely resembling voter suppression is liable to raise a red flag among concerned observers, particularly those of a progressive bent.
Owing to the numerous—shall we say—irregularities surrounding the latest swath of state primaries, these results should be considered illegitimate, regardless of the outcome. Furthermore, and more importantly, keeping the polls open or otherwise encouraging people to vote during a public health crisis and without credible assurance that the requisite safeguards would be available is reckless, a dereliction of duty, and as some might argue, criminally negligent. The aforementioned governors, Tom Perez, and the DNC should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves as a result, assuming they are capable of genuine human emotions like shame.
In terms of what should be the contested results of primaries, let’s not mince words: Joe Biden romped and probably would have, due apprehension of coronavirus or not. Biden beat Bernie Sanders by double digits across the board, even eating into his support among Latinos, a bastion of support that Sanders’s campaign had previously enjoyed during this campaign by a substantive margin. Exit polls indicated Biden performed significantly better among voters in terms of whose leadership they would trust during a crisis, who they think would be better able to get legislation passed given a Republican-controlled Senate, and perhaps most telling of all, that they think he would fare better than Bernie in the general election against Donald Trump.
The suggestion that Perez and Co. are trying to rush through the primaries so as to sew up the Democratic Party primary and limit Biden’s exposure, of course, is pure conjecture, barring some sort of WikiLeaks-esque revelation of favoritism on the DNC’s part as it was in 2016. Still, for a party looking to avoid bad optics following a much-publicized hack and proliferation of e-mails from the last election cycle, the choice to plow ahead and tout turnout when an untold number of voters were either turned away from the polls or feared for their safety is unconscionable and could literally cost lives.
Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee appear to be saying that the ends justify the means. The mere thought that your vote matters more than your voice or even your life, though, is a sobering one indeed.
What shouldn’t be overlooked as part of this story is that the Republican Party, too, held primaries earlier this week. Florida and Illinois had hundreds of thousands of Republicans turn out in favor of the incumbent, Donald Trump, allowing him to secure the necessary number of delegates to earn the nomination outright. Bill Weld (if you’re wondering who that is, I had to Google him to make sure that is, in fact, his name) has consequently suspended his bid for president, not that it had much of a chance to succeed to begin with. So the Republican Party bears some responsibility in this regard to boot. But in terms of party affiliation, the blame is bipartisan. JB Pritzker is a Democrat. Doug Ducey and Ron DeSantis are Republicans (as is Mike DeWine, whose administration, as noted earlier, commendably postponed the state’s primaries). At least at the state level, there is proverbial blood on both parties’ hands.
Even the two major Democratic Party candidates (Tulsi Gabbard was running as of Tuesday, but suspended her bid the next day and endorsed Joe Biden) could have done more. Joe Biden’s campaign rather indifferently directed people to the polls, downplaying the unique threat coronavirus poses by proffering the notion “we held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 flu pandemic, and World War II” such that “we can meet the same challenge today.” Bernie Sanders, while expressing concern that he wasn’t sure it made sense to hold the primaries when interviewed following last Sunday’s debate, could’ve, in theory, told his followers not to go to the polls and protested the outcome as illegitimate. That may have only further hurt his perception among Democratic Party loyalists not to mention his decreasing odds at capturing the nomination, but it would’ve been a prudent move.
Going back to the subject of turnout, despite coronavirus concerns and the lack of a contested primary on the Republican side, turnout was yet robust, though the final tallies were certainly aided by absentee, early, and mail-in votes. This shouldn’t necessarily be assumed as a boon for Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, however, particularly in deference to Trump’s having secured the nomination officially now and essentially before he began. Trump has a base of fervent supporters who haven’t substantially wavered since he took office.
Moreover, while Biden-friendly pundits tout the breadth of the coalition he’s building (I say that Biden is building it, but it’s more that Democrats are coalescing behind him as the person they think is best-positioned to beat Trump), Bernie continues to beat him handily in terms of independent voters and crushes him on youth support. It is very fair to wonder whether these key groups will come out in force for Biden, especially in swing states. While it’s reckless to put anyone’s supporters in danger, one might insist it is egregiously bad to do that with Biden’s backers, who are his bedrock and are most susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 generally being older.
This all makes for a disturbing picture for the rest of the primary season and engenders even less confidence in Democratic leadership among progressives than they previously have had during Tom Perez’s tenure as DNC chair. For his part in last Tuesday’s fiasco, Perez should resign, and as has long been a rallying cry, the Democratic National Committee should be reformed to more authentically represent the designs of rank-and-file party supporters instead of merely satisfying moneyed interests and seeking votes. Until and unless dramatic changes are made, the prospects of a Democratic Party victory in the 2020 election are suspect and the possibility of a mass exodus from the party sooner or later is disturbingly real.