Politics

Justice Dem Fundraises Off Wuhan Virus, Says School Closures Constitute Voter Suppression

Ohio Democratic candidate for Congress Morgan Harper / Getty Images

A Justice Democrats-backed candidate is trying to cash in on fears of the Wuhan virus, claiming in a fundraising email that Ohio State University's decision to cancel classes is a form of voter suppression.

On Monday, the public university canceled all in-person classes and told its nearly 45,000 undergraduate students to stay home through March to contain the coronavirus. Morgan Harper, a far-left Democrat, took to Twitter to criticize the decision.

"First, I want to thank everyone for all they're doing to keep Ohioans safe," Harper said on Tuesday. "But I want to point out … how decisions have already been made that could potentially disenfranchise certain populations of voters, including Ohio State students, who have now been told that in-person classes are canceled through the end of the month."

The coronavirus closure also presented a fundraising opportunity for Harper's team, which sent out emails on Tuesday urging donors to give to an emergency fund because the "student vote [is] suppressed by coronavirus," putting Harper at a "huge disadvantage."

"Urgent funds needed for emergency student outreach RIGHT NOW," read one of the fundraising emails. "We need ALL HANDS ON DECK in the next 24 hours to contact thousands of students to request an absentee ballot and vote for Morgan.… Can you donate to our Emergency Student Voter Contact Fund?"

Harper is running against incumbent Democrat Rep. Joyce Beatty in the Columbus, Ohio, district that contains the university. The progressive is backed by Justice Democrats, the group that orchestrated the surprise primary victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) against a Democratic incumbent in 2018. Harper's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Harper, like many progressives, has been banking on student and youth turnout to secure her victory. Due to the class cancellations over pandemic fears, many Ohio State students will not be in the district for the March 17 primary.

In response, Harper demanded that the state government extend the postmark deadline for absentee ballots from March 16 to the end of the month in her Twitter video on Tuesday. She said that such a move is necessary to accommodate students, as well as voters with compromised immune systems who cannot go to the voting booth. No U.S. states accept absentee ballots postmarked after the election date.

Harper's campaign launched its fundraising push on the same day, asking donors to fund an emergency outreach campaign to compel student voters to request absentee ballots.

"THOUSANDS of progressive votes in Columbus are at risk if we aren't able to reach these student voters—and we only have a few hours," a fundraising email read. "Can you donate today so we can make sure their votes count?"

Another Justice Democrat is also capitalizing on coronavirus threats to bolster his war chest. The campaign team for Jamaal Bowman, a progressive running against Democratic heavyweight Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), asked donors on Thursday to fund a new "digital canvass" operation to minimize human-to-human contact between campaign staffers and prospective voters. Bowman's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

"We are taking the appropriate measures to make sure our volunteers and supporters remain safe and healthy while reaching voters across our district," the email said. "We're asking for your help to secure the services we need to digitally canvass our neighborhoods by reaching potential voters online and by phone and texts. Will you help our volunteers with a $10 contribution?"

Harper's and Bowman's attempts to fundraise off of the deadly virus come as the entire country enters crisis mode to combat the pandemic. With 1,200 cases already confirmed in the United States, President Donald J. Trump suspended all U.S.-bound European flights for a month on Wednesday. The coronavirus threat also provoked a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill, as Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus bill on March 5. The president signed the bill into law the next day.