In a year like no other, we'll hold the election of our lifetime

In a year like no other, we'll hold the election of our lifetime

In addition to death and taxes, one of life’s certainties is that every four years we’re told, “This is the most important election of our lives.” While there’s an element of truth in that platitude, for the most part it’s been an understandable exaggeration aimed at motivating and turning out voters. 

This year, however, it may be the absolute truth. 

We are a nation as deeply divided as at any point since the Civil War. We’ve been plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now face the daunting task of rebuilding an economy and social structures torn apart by the lockdowns and shutdowns of the past few months. In the midst of this we’re now experiencing rioting and looting in most of our cities. 

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The two major party candidates for president are in sharp contrast — former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenDonald Trump Jr. to self-publish book 'Liberal Privilege' before GOP convention Tom Price: Here's how we can obtain more affordable care The Memo: Democrats feel rising tide in Florida MORE representing the “new” Democratic Party of far-left leanings and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE, holding the banner of the center-right.

It’s going to be an election like none in our memory.

Even then, traditional staples of the electoral calendar — the two major party conventions — are in doubt. The Democrats have moved their convention date and there's a serious question about whether they’ll hold an actual convention in Milwaukee.

Republicans have been clear that they want to hold a real convention. But there’s some question about the venue, because of the Democratic governor of North Carolina’s inability or unwillingness to provide assurances that the convention can proceed as planned in Charlotte.

Interestingly, two of the last three Republican National Conventions had significant disruptions because of natural disasters. 

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In 2008, the first national convention to be held during the month of September was delayed by Hurricane Gustav, and there was serious talk of postponing or eliminating much of the proceedings. Day one, coinciding with Labor Day and the end of the Minnesota State Fair, also marked the landfall of the hurricane along our Gulf Coast. President Bush skipped the convention to attend to hurricane relief efforts, and the first day largely was devoted to calls for action to assist victims. 

Four years later, history repeated itself, only this time the convention itself was potentially in the eye of the storm. Hurricane Isaac approached the Gulf Coast as Republicans convened in Tampa Bay. Because of the risks, the schedule was changed, gaveling the convention to order as scheduled but with all business postponed until the following  afternoon. Despite some serious deluges, the convention then went off as hoped. 

Balmy weather and clear skies welcomed Donald Trump to Cleveland in 2016, where he received the nomination of his party.

While many scoff at “antiquated” conventions, for both traditionalists and political junkies they are celebrations. Gone is “gavel-to-gavel coverage” by the networks, but there’s still plenty of raw politicking and pageantry to satisfy those interested. This year certainly will test the endurance of the conventions as we know them.

The 2020 election also introduced early voting and mail-in voting to some states, and increased efforts to vote without going to the polls elsewhere. In my home state of Pennsylvania — regarded by all as a key to victory — for the first time we are allowed to vote by mail without providing a reason. 

The Pennsylvania primary this week, held along with seven others and the District of Columbia, was rescheduled to June 2 from its original late-April date because of concern about the pandemic. The primary will serve as a good test for a large, politically diverse state voting largely by mail for the first time. The two biggest concerns are the potential for fraud and the possibility of administrative nightmares delaying the results. 

The potential for fraud has been exacerbated by administrative foul-ups across the commonwealth. Stories abound of voters receiving multiple ballots, ballots not intended for them, ballots for the wrong party (Pennsylvania has a “closed” primary), or not receiving ballots they applied for. In one instance, ballots reportedly were returned to some voters, rather than sent to the county elections office.

Ballot harvesting, the practice of collecting and submitting ballots by persons other than the ones who feast them, is clearly illegal. However, few doubt that it’s occurring. So are some of the more benign practices, such as “drop boxes” for mail-in ballots. How prevalent these illegal activities are is something that will be closely watched in Pennsylvania.

All of this comes in the wake of federal indictments and guilty pleas for blatant voter fraud in Philadelphia. U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, who oversees the eastern part of the state, brought charges against a Democratic judge of elections who pleaded guilty to taking bribes to stuff the ballot box for Democrat candidates. 

McSwain is Philadelphia’s top crime-fighter, because their Democratic district attorney uses his time to do other things. Look for what McSwain might uncover after yesterday’s primary.

Concerns over administrative failures follow the debacle in Wisconsin this spring. Administrative hassles could gum up the works for days, depriving both candidates and voters of the opportunity to know who won. Already, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor has taken executive action to allow some counties an additional week for mail-in voting. This raises serious constitutional questions in addition to the obvious difficulty of getting timely results.

All of this is eerily reminiscent of more than half a century ago — 1968, “the summer of our discontent.” The nation was deeply divided then, largely over the Vietnam War. There were riots in the streets and a left-leaning Democrat lost the presidential nomination to a more moderate one, who went on to lose in November. 

“Law and order” was a theme that played well for Republicans that year. You can cut the ads out for the GOP from 52 years ago and paste “Trump” in place and they’d be effective. Bringing order to the chaos of 2020 — both financial and social — will be the issue in the November election. President Trump has the upper hand on both counts.

This year already is like no other. It really is the most important election of our lifetime. 

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.