Though several states have started reopening after or amidst coronavirus first waves around the country, that doesn’t mean many people feel confident just carrying on politics as usual. Among the weary is Michigan, a state which has seen everything from strict stay-at-home guidelines to lockdown protests with armed militia. Though they were set to host the second presidential debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump on October 15, the University of Michigan announced that they are pulled out from hosting due to coronavirus concerns.
In place of their original location, the second debate will now be hosted in Miami, though coronavirus cases are on the rise there, too, since its reopening. The debate is now scheduled to be held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, which also hosted the first Democratic debates of the 2020 primary last year. Initially, Mark Schlissel, the president of the University of Michigan, called hosting a presidential debate “a tremendous opportunity for our university community to contribute to one of the most important features of our democracy — the open exchange of ideas — while setting an example of civic engagement and shining a light on the outstanding academic strengths of our institution.” However, upon the events of the last several months, Schlissel ultimately decided it would be safer for everyone involved not to host the debate after all.
“Given the scale and complexity of the work we are undertaking to help assure a safe and healthy fall for our students, faculty and staff and limited visitors — and in consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned,” he said in a recently released statement
Although no other event sites have pulled out of the debates yet, the University of Michigan’s decision to withdraw could inspire other campuses to steer clear of hosting such a large event that requires so many people in one place. The commission has stated it will be following "all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, county and site health and safety protocols at the four debate sites."
So far, all of the presidential debates remain scheduled as planned. The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana is set to host the first debate on September 29, and the third debate is scheduled for October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. There will also be the traditional vice presidential debate hosted at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on October 7.
Still, as coronavirus cases continue to rise, it remains to be seen if shutdowns will occur again by the fall when second waves are officially declared, which would certainly affect presidential debates’ ability to be hosted in person. But, this could be the first signal that the way electoral politics traditionally works needs to take a backseat and put public health concerns first.