What if the U.S. had to hold a national election in the midst of an emergency?
Tronic last edited by Tronic
Judging The 1918 Election
Date: Spring 2010
What if the U.S. had to hold a national election in the midst of an emergency? This question regularly crops up in articles on election law that contemplate a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a pandemic, or some other ill-timed disruptive crisis. (1) However, absent from these discussions is any mention of the historical fact that the 1918 election was held during an emergency: the Great Influenza epidemic of 1918--possibly the worst public health crisis in American history.
Weeks before the election, public gatherings--including campaign events--were banned in cities across the country. On Election Day, voters and poll workers in some cities donned protective face masks. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of potential voters may have stayed home because they were too sick, afraid of catching the flu, or under quarantine. When the voter turnout numbers came in, it appeared that turnout was indeed lower than normal. But surprisingly, in most places the election was held with relatively few complications. There was no national debate about the legitimacy of the election results. The flu's influence on the 1918 mid-term election has faded into history with neither much comment nor long lasting effects.
Nevertheless, from the standpoint of election law and election administration, there were some noteworthy hitches to the 1918 election. In at least one case, election officials' attempts to allow quarantined voters access to the polls ran afoul of election laws. (2) In that case, Harper v. Dotson, (3) the outcome of a local election hinged on the Idaho Supreme Court's ruling on whether it was valid for election officials to establish an emergency polling place on a school campus to provide voting access for a group of teachers and students under a state-ordered quarantine. The court threw out the votes cast at the school--thus flipping the election from the Democrat to the Republican. Fairness and notice considerations--coupled with the language of the state's time, place, and manner requirements for establishing new voting places--compelled the result. (4) The case raises several underlying issues that remain relevant today: the pursuit of neutral election administration, election officials' emergency powers, and the disenfranchisement of voters unable to make it to the polls in an emergency.
This essay has two goals. The first is to offer the 1918 election as a case study of voting during an emergency. The second is to draw lessons from an early, overlooked period in election administration (5)--lessons for how to create an election system that allows officials to adapt to changing circumstances during an emergency but still preserves the integrity of the election. This essay proceeds as follows. The first part discusses the history of the 1918 flu and its effects on the 1918 election. The second part sets out the facts of Harper v. Dotson and briefly discusses the state of election law in 1918 before describing the court's opinion. The third part concludes with lessons for modern election administration.
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC AND THE 1918 ELECTION
Read More: https://tinyurl.com/y433ho9s