It’s a strange feeling to live in a moment and know that it will be studied in history books. With plenty of time to muse and reflect, I’ve let my imagination wander as to how the COVID-19 pandemic will change the sports world and society in general. Today’s topics are baseball and voting.
Northern fans, including Clevelanders, felt dismayed when they learned that Opening Day of the 2020 MLB season would fall in March. That is no longer a concern. Major League Baseball has deliberately remained vague on when the season will start or how long it will last. Considering the circumstances, that makes sense. For our purposes let’s assume that there will be absolutely no baseball of any kind until mid-May *shudder*. Playing 162 games will prove near impossible, but it may be doable to bring the total down to 125-130 with some scheduled double-headers. Whether split-game or traditional, baseball’s unique ability to play twice in a day allows an opportunity to make up for lost time, while inadvertently honoring the past. A shortened season will allow baseball’s powers that be a chance to test out a season with less baseball and perhaps set the tenor for the next “how many games in a season” topic of the next CBA negotiation.
Let’s be optimistic and say by May 15 Major League Baseball feels confident enough to resume organized baseball. The teams reconvene in Florida and Arizona for two weeks of hot and heavy spring training. By June 1 the season is ready to resume. If every team were to have an off day on Mondays starting June 8 and play a double-header literally every Sunday then each team can play 127 games if they extend the regular season to October 4. If the teams consent to a second weekday doubleheader every other week then the number of games could reach 136. There would be no All-Star Game and more likely than not no trade deadline. Who you have is who you get. Baseball can compensate for the compressed schedule by allowing an expanded roster of 30 players. More arms means more rest for pitchers. The schedule would have to be re-written with a focus on intra-division play and minimal interleague play. The same postseason qualifying process would remain– six division winners and four wild card teams.
Assuming a normal postseason, the Wild Card Games could still be played on October 6 and 7. The Division Series would run from October 9-15, Championship Series could go from October 17-25, and the World Series would run from October 27-November 4. Except, that won’t work. Baseball has a clause in the CBA that the season must be complete before November 3 (Election Day). To meet that goal we’re probably looking at a three-game Division Series, a five-game Championship Series, and a seven-game World Series which could comfortably run from October 9-28.
While the shortened postseason will not be popular among owners (fewer gate receipts) and fans of the losing team (“If only it were a seven-game series!”) it may be necessary considering the time restraints. A shorter regular season, however, could be the beginning of something more lasting. For years, pundits and bleacher bums have complained that there are too many games in the baseball season and that it starts too soon. The latter is not a concern, but the 2020 campaign (such as it is) would be an opportunity to workshop a shorter season and see how the fans and players respond.
The global pandemic has impacted every facet of American life including the democratic process. Ohio and a handful of other states have delayed their primary elections, and there is legitimate concern about how the nation would handle the General Election on November 3 if the virus were to re-emerge or remain a threat into the fall. However, it would be incredibly difficult (and dangerous) to delay the general election. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution reads as follows:
The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the third day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
In other words, the Constitution mandates the next Congress start their session on January 3, 2021 and there will be a presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. While Ohio’s presidential primary could easily be moved back six weeks without any major pushback, the most a federal election could be pushed back is a couple of weeks which would likely not make a big enough difference in terms of epidemiological impact. So, if the show must go on, how can the election be conducted safely?
Prediction: This is the beginning of a massive increase in absentee voting. Washington state, Oregon, and Colorado already conduct their elections entirely by mail and have for many years. Every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail in mid-October and has until Election Day to complete it and send it in. They can either deliver it in person to their local board of elections, put it in the mail (postage included), or drop it off in designated ballot deposit boxes. Best of all, its ease and convenience boost turnout well above national levels. Here’s a look at the last four major elections’ turnout in Washington state:
Let’s compare that to Ohio in the same years:
If a democracy works best when as many people as possible participate, then a mail-in system that yields higher turnout is better for democracy. Logistically, it may not be possible for every state to fully convert its system to one completely comprised of mail-in ballots, especially if done during an election year. However, if state and local elections are able to secure additional funds from the federal government, it would go a long way to covering the cost for such a massive endeavor.
Closer to home, Ohio offers a variety of voting options to their residents. Voters can normally vote on Election Day, early at their county board of elections, or absentee if they request a ballot. The last part is where Ohio lags behind other states. If you want an absentee ballot for the primary you need to go to the county board of election’s website, fill out a request form, print it out, mail it to the office, and they will process it and send you your ballot. This is a difficult process for people like my 87-year-old grandparents who do not navigate the internet with ease and do not own a printer. Normally they’d go to the library to print something off, but that is not an option right now. They have no office to work at so they cannot use the printer there. Instead they will need to call their county board of elections who will then send them the request form in the mail and they will send the completed request form back and then the office will send them their ballot and then they will complete it and send it back. Couldn’t this be simpler? It is long overdue for the Ohio General Assembly to allow the Secretary of State to accept absentee ballot requests electronically. The state already allows for online voter registration and there is no reason why the absentee request process should not also be online. It’s too late to change the process for the primary, but not for the general; I expect a massive increase in the number of absentee ballot requests for November. When it comes to elections, the government should make casting a ballot as easy as possible; that begins with allowing for electronic request of an absentee ballot. If you agree, contact your state reps in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate. If you don’t agree, I applaud you for gritting your teeth and reading over 700 words on the subject.
Needless to say, this barely scratches the surface of how this pandemic will change our lives both short- and long-term. Keep an eye on this space as we continue to hypothesize and discuss.