Prof. Fahad Mutlaq Al-Otaibi
U.S. Elections in the Time of Epidemics: A Historical Reading

Some may think that the American elections taking place in the shadow of the Corona pandemic is different and unprecedented in the American history. 

This epidemic affects the way this election is conducted, and the voting mechanism itself for the American voters. But let's move on to the year (1918) to look for an American electoral experience similar to what we see today. 

In this year, which marked the end of the World War, the world was living under the Spanish influenza pandemic, which was then a deadly epidemic by all accounts. The epidemic has affected the American voters with varying effects depending on the region in which they lived. On the election day, photos in New York State show civilians, soldiers, and sailors standing next to each other, sharing candy, and not wearing masks, the thing which is not available to voters elsewhere. 

This led to the reliance on the written word as a channel of communication between candidates and voters. Candidates were unable to meet directly with their constituents. 

The elections of 1918 differed from the elections of (2020) in the absence of using the epidemic as a political card by candidates. President Wilson did not address the epidemic or be accused of spreading it to a third party. 

His opponents have also not exploited the epidemic. To stop the spread of the epidemic, states have ratified what will become the 18th Amendment to their law, which brings the manufacture, sale and transportation of "alcoholic beverages." Advocates of the ban, who have long viewed community salons as a threat to public health, were thrilled when cities shut them down to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Ironically, it is thought that whiskey was a cure for influenza, so they kept hospitals full of confiscated liquor.

The epidemic (1918) contributed to the formation of voter behaviors at the time, leading to many basic precautions in polling places similar to those taken in 2020. 

Seattle voters made early access to their polling stations to avoid dangerous congestion in the late afternoon. In Salt Lake City, tents replaced some poorly ventilated polling stations. The government faced a shortage of poll workers because many of those who registered had been infected with the flu. 

They found it difficult to provide an alternative due to people's fear of catching the disease. Health officials tried to reassure the public that it was safe to vote as long as people were restricted to wearing masks. 

Rather, as a catalyst, they said that not going out to vote would miss the opportunity for citizens to enjoy the sun and fresh air. 

Some of those who did not wear the muzzle were fined $10 (today's fine is $185). 

The American voter needed these assurances through the press, especially since the Wilson administration was criticized for its lack of interest in the psychological aspect of voters. 

However, the Spanish influenza affected the elections (1918) which saw a marked decline of 10% from the previous election. 

One of the reasons, however, is the presence of American soldiers in combat zones. The epidemic killed about 675,000 Americans and at least 50 million people worldwide. It infected about 500 million people -- one third of the world's population. 

Although there are those who believe that elections had a role to play in the rise in the number of casualties, we cannot miss the fact that some American cities have eased their precautionary restrictions to celebrate the end of world war.

 Finally, the Republicans won the elections, are they going to win the 2020 ones?


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