As state and local governments take action to postpone various elections and grant themselves emergency powers (and abuse those powers), the people should keep an eye on an important deadline: the declaration of candidacy.
The state forces citizens who might run for office to declare their intentions by June 22-24 in an election year. While this gives plenty of time for campaigning (and opposition research by incumbents) and prevents political surprises, it also means that voters may not be able to hold elected officials accountable for anything that happens between late June and November, especially if the incumbents are running unopposed.
Even if the coronavirus crisis subsides in time to make it reasonable for people to collect signatures following their declaration, the public is still at a disadvantage. When it comes to potential candidates, they can’t be out there right now learning the landscape and getting a feel for their chances. When it comes to incumbents, the public is too anxious and preoccupied, right now, to adequately assess their actions (or lack thereof), and this atmosphere may remain until well after the COVID-19 cloud lifts.
As much as government may have a fair claim to increased flexibility during this time, the public deserves an opportunity for increased accountability as things get back to normal. If parties can replace their candidates into September (as we witnessed when Bob Healey jumped in at the last minute as the Moderate Party candidate for governor in 2014), the people should be able to have until then to decide whether incumbents deserve competition or other declared candidates are satisfactory as the only other choices.