A Big 2020 Campaign Question: Wait, What Day Is It?

Yes, it is.

Also confusing: what the recent upheavals at the U.S. Postal Service, an institution whose effective functioning no longer seems to be one of those things Americans depend on as part of our national consensus, mean for the already-bewildering patchwork of dates and regulations governing mail-in voting in each state.

Over the summer, a number of head-spinning social media posts declared that Election Day is actually taking place on October 20 this year, given the mail troubles. That is not true, according to the fact-checking site PolitiFact, which investigated the claim with the Postal Service.

Or, not exactly true.

“The Postal Service recommends that domestic, nonmilitary voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials,” a postal official said. “The Postal Service also recommends that voters contact local election officials for information about deadlines.”

In July, the Postal Service took out its fog machine and sprayed even more confusion over the issue, sending ominous warning letters to states urging them to require that voters request ballots at least 15 days before the election.

By any objective measure, of course — by the rules of the calendar and the laws of science — the progression of time today, in the seventh month of the coronavirus pandemic, is exactly the same as it has always been. It may feel like today is some fake day outside the normal calendar — March 3000, or, if you prefer, June 666 — but it is not. The year is moving forward at a constant rate. The seasons are changing; the days are passing. An hour is still an hour.

It’s our perceptions that are discombobulated, Ellen Braaten, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, pointed out recently in STAT News. Our routines are awry, and things we depend on to happen at a particular time have not happened. We are disturbed and battered by the bewildering barrage of events, even as our own lives seem to be stuck in stressed-out states of animated suspension. “If we’re really anxious, we might experience time as slowing down,” Ms. Braaten said. “Anxiety is one of those things that can actually make time feel like it’s going on forever.”

Some things are happening at the same time as before, but not in the same way. Memorial Day didn’t signal the start of summer as many people usually experience it. Labor Day won’t usher in a normal, new-beginning fall. School feels more like “school.”

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