Bob Sheak, July 1, 2020
This post makes two basic points. The Trump presidential re-election campaign is sinking and the reasons why. And Trump and the Republicans are doing their utmost to rig the electoral process to avoid losing elections. I also, at the end, refer to some proposals for how to strengthen the right to vote.
Good News: Trump’s re-election campaign is in trouble
Trump’s presidential re-election campaign is in trouble, but he will battle to the end. Philip Bump, identifies some of the reasons for his troubles in article for The Washington Post (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/25/massive-shift-away-trump-six-key-states-indicates-serious-trouble-his-reelection-bid)
According to Bump, Trump and his campaign team have seen the president’s reelection chances “withering” away for weeks. Bump’s sources come from “reporting on “meetings at the White House,” “shake-ups in staffing aimed at bolstering the president’s position,” the president’s own “sense that things are [not] progressing.” The concerns of the inner circles of the Trump reelection efforts stem from “a steady deluge of bad news for the president, including an embarrassing primary loss in North Carolina and a humiliating failure to turn out supporters at an event in Tulsa last weekend [June 20] meant to mark his splashy return to the campaign trail.”
In order to avoid losing the presidential election in November, Trump and his allies will do whatever they can to win the election, and that means strengthening and expanding all the means by which voting can be limited and reduced in counties across the country that are identified as likely to vote for Democratic candidates. There is a long history of such voter suppression efforts, especially related to African Americans, it has been intensified in recent decades, and, without sufficient opposition, it may reach new heights in November. Primary elections already completed reflect how votes may be suppressed. The COVID-19 pandemic puts added stress on an already fragile and under-resourced electoral system. And, topping it off, is that we have an authoritarian-inclined president who would declare a national emergency and disregard election results based on an allegation that the election was immersed in fraudulent voting and uncounted votes. There are many huge, even existential issues, before us, and the chance that Trump would use his presidential power to nullify a presidential election and virtually end the already tenuous democracy that we have, is the stuff of the worst nightmares.
This post has two parts. The first part reviews some of the trends and developments that have the Trump and his political machine worried. The second part considers the anti-democratic methods and electoral dysfunctions that have undermined primary elections in some states and how such methods and dysfunctions may be unfortunately harbingers of what is to come in November. This future is not inevitable, but unless Democrats and democrats can find ways to match the outpouring of money to Trump’s campaign, counter his deceptive political misinformation, and energize the Democratic electorate to vote in large numbers, then Trump will win – and America will lose.
Part 1: What has trump worried
Playing the racist card may end up costing him votes
There is an emergent racial justice movement stirred by the brutal, sometimes murderous, police treatment of African American citizens, and, with it, a renewed focus on eradicating discriminatory treatment and laws generally. The problem for Trump is that he has a long racist record that is directly opposite of what the protests are about. His views may help him to consolidate his white-supremacist constituency, but it may at the same time, alienate a lot of “independent” and suburban white voters, especially women, and increase their vote and the African American vote for the Democrats.
The President has shown his disdain toward this movement, proclaiming himself to be the “law and order” president. David A. Graham and his colleagues at Atlantic magazine review his racist record up to 2019 (https://theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/06/trump-racism-comment). Economist and columnist Paul Krugman refers to recent events in June, 2020, “in which the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody led to demonstrations against police brutality, and these demonstrations were met by more police brutality — including unprecedented violence against the news media….And Donald Trump, far from trying to calm the nation, is pouring gasoline on the fire; he seems very close to trying to incite a civil war” (https://nytimes.com/2020/06/28/world/coronavirus-updates.html). Krugman emphasizes that “Trump clearly sides with those who reject any notion that police officers — or any other authority figures — should be held accountable for abusive behavior. Remember, he’s used his authority to pardon members of the U.S. military who were accused or convicted by their own services of committing war crimes.” Furthermore: “In a call with governors on Monday [June, 28], he showed no sign of recognizing either that there might be some justification for widespread protests or that he should play some role in unifying the nation. Instead, he told the governors that all the violence was coming from the “radical left,” and he insisted that governors must get tougher: ‘You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks; you have to arrest and try people.’” Trump is now pushing to extremes a decades-long Republican agenda “spent exploiting racial hostility to win elections. But it may backfire.
Amanda Marotte delves into Trump’s racist behavior and policies in an article titled “Yes, the racism is real: Trump thinks white-supremacist trolling is his path to re-election” (https://salon.com/2020/06/12/yes-the-racism-is-real-trump-thinks-white-supremacist-trolling-is-his-path-to-re-election). The President initially scheduled his Tulsa, Arizona, rally on June 19, a day of celebration of the end of slavery in Louisiana and Texas known as Juneteenth. The problem: “Tulsa is the location of the infamous mass lynching of 1921, in which hundreds of black residents were murdered and a prosperous black neighborhood was decimated, an event recently dramatized in the HBO series ‘Watchmen.’” Stephen Miller, a documented white nationalist with a strong interest in the history of white supremacy, is one of Trump’s closest and most trusted advisers. Bending to the outcry against the original scheduling of his rally, Trump rescheduled the date for the rally by one day to June 20. Marotte refers to other examples of Trump’s racism and inclination to use force, even military force, to quell what he views largely peaceful protests as a breakdown in law and order.
“Trump clearly believes that the key to his re-election in November — along with massive voter suppression, of course — is to go all in on white supremacist posturing. The hysterics about ‘riots’ and ‘antifa’ and ‘THUGS’ pouring out nonstop from Trump’s Twitter in response to the anti-racism protests — which were largely peaceful until cops started gassing and beating people — is all about this. That’s why Trump keeps waxing poetic about the National Guard cutting through protesters ‘like a knife cutting butter,’ or justifying violence against protesters by saying, ‘You have to dominate the streets.’”
“For instance, Trump is picking a fight over Confederate monuments and memorials, many of which are being reconsidered in light of the anti-racism protests. In particular, Trump is fighting efforts to rename military bases named for Confederate officers, resisting the idea that perhaps they should be named for people who didn’t wage war against the United States in defense of slavery.”
“And, as a topper, the campaign announced that Trump will give his relocated Republican National Convention speech in Jacksonville, Florida, on Aug. 27, which happens to be the 60th anniversary of a brutal racist attack in that city known as ‘Ax Handle Saturday,’ when the Klan orchestrated a beatdown of civil rights activists by a white mob.”
Some polls offer some hope
A CBS News poll reported on June 28, 2020, finds “A majority of the American public, including more than half of whites, say they agree with the ideas expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement. And more support than oppose the people protesting the treatment of African Americans by police. Most, regardless of their view, expect a lasting impact: 8 in 10 Americans think the protests will have at least some influence on the way police treat racial minorities” (https://cbsnews.org/news/black-lives-matter-police-reform-opinion-poll-28-06-2020). On the question of whether “ideas of the Black Lives Matter Movement,” 60 percent overall agree, 53 percent of whites, and 84 percent of blacks.
Being wrong again and again on the COVID-19 pandemic
The President and his supporters, eager to reopen the economy with no mandated national guidelines, have also misjudged terribly, based on ideology rather than science, that the rate of COVID-19 cases would decline, but now “26 states [up to 30] are reporting rising numbers of new coronavirus cases as the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak rages on” (https://yahoo.com/gms/arizona-covid-19-cases-hospitalizations-continue-rise-025760367.html). The rising number of cases are setting records. Hannah Knowles and her colleagues at The Washington Post report: “Across the United States, 39,327 new coronavirus infections were reported by state health departments on Thursday [June 25]— surpassing the previous single-day record of 38,115, which was set on Wednesday” (https://washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/25/coronavirus-live-updates.com). The number is now over 40,000 a day.
These bleak COVID-19 trends are reflected in the polls, which is not good news for Trump. A CBS News poll released on June 28, 2020, finds that the percent agreeing that Trump is doing a “good job” in handling the coronavirus outbreak has fallen from 53 percent on March 24 to 41percent “now”[June 28] (https://cbsnews.com/coronavirus-trump-americans-opinion-poll-28-06-2020).
The polls have Biden preferred over Trump
There are other problematic developments for the president. On June 25, as reported by Philip Bump, polls conducted by Siena College for the New York Times in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, representing a third of Trump’s electoral vote in 2016, show respondents prefer Biden over Trump by an average of 9 points. The youth vote continues to be against Trump. Even among those 65 years and older, Biden now leads Trump in four of the six swing states included in the Times-Siena poll, all states where Trump won with those voters four years ago.” Independents are moving toward Biden, moving 15 points away from Trump in the six states. That’s not all. “Biden’s also doing better with white voters in all six states, an important factor because of how much of the electorate is white in each case.” And, among those who didn’t vote in 2016, “Biden earns at least half of the vote, leading by 30 points across all six states.
If the Siena College poll numbers hold up and are translated into actual votes in November, “Trump stands to lose about a third of his electoral votes and, therefore, the White House. The longer version is that this is one poll at one moment, months before the election itself. It does, however, both mirror national polling showing a broad Biden lead and other state polls (like one from Wisconsin released on Tuesday which showed a similar Biden advantage). It also reflects the obvious differences in the race, like Biden’s relative popularity compared to Clinton.” Bump adds: “the new polls make clear why Trump’s team has been scrambling. Without a significant reversal, Trump will lose. Such a reversal is certainly possible — but it’s not inevitable.”
Some older, white Americans are moving off the Trump bandwagon
Alexander Burns and Katie Glueck report on this story in an article for The New York Times (https://nytimes.com/2020/06/28/us/politics/trump-approval-older-americans-coronavirus.html). Republican presidential candidates have won the elderly vote since the 2000 election, when Al Gore won a majority of this segment of the electorate. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton “by seven percentage points with voters over 65” and “won white seniors by nearly triple that margin.” But today, Burns and Glueck report, “Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are tied among seniors, according to a poll of registered voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College. And in the six most important battleground states, Mr. Biden has established a clear upper hand, leading Mr. Trump by six percentage points among the oldest voters and nearly matching the president’s support among whites in that age group.” This is a particularly important development, “given the prevalence of retirement communities in a few of those crucial states, including Arizona and Florida.”
What are the issues driving a growing number of elderly voters away from Trump? Burns and Glueck offer this summary. “The grievances of these defecting seniors are familiar, most or all of them shared by their younger peers. But these voters often express themselves with a particularly sharp kind of dismay and disappointment. They see Mr. Trump as coarse and disrespectful, divisive to his core and failing persistently to comport himself with the dignity of the other presidents that they have observed for more than half a century. The Times poll also found that most seniors disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of race relations and the protests after the death of George Floyd.” The Times/Siena poll also found “seniors in the battleground states disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic by seven points, 52 percent to 45 percent. By a 26-point margin, this group said the federal government should prioritize containing the pandemic over reopening the economy.”
There are still some segments of the elderly electorate who support Trump. Burns and Glueck put it this way: “The abandonment of Mr. Trump by older voters is far from universal, and he still has a strong base among older white men and self-described conservatives. Nationally, the oldest voters approve of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy by 12 points, more than double the figure for voters of all ages.” This could change because Trump and the Republicans are threatening parts of the social safety net that are particularly important to elderly people, that is, their efforts to privatize Social Security and have the Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Care Act. In the battleground states, “Mr. Trump has a 10-point lead over Mr. Biden with white men over the age of 65, even as Mr. Biden has opened up an advantage with white women in the same age group. Nonwhite seniors in the battleground states currently support Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump by a huge margin, 65 percent to 25 percent.” However, even among some of Trump’s elderly supporters, “there is an undercurrent of unease about the way he approaches the presidency.”
The economy is in bad shape
An Associated Press story on the economy, published in The New York Post, reports on the bad economic news confronting the country (https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/us-economy-shrank-5-percent-in-first-quarter-more-bad-news-ahead). According to government data, the AP reports that the US economy shrank at a 5 percent rate in the first quarter and “a vastly worse performance is expected in the current three-month period [second quarter], when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the US.” The report continues: “The first-quarter period captured just two weeks of the shutdowns that began in many parts of the country in mid-March. Economists believe that GDP has plunged around 30 percent from April through the end of this month [June]. That would be the biggest quarterly decline on record by a long shot: Three times bigger than a 10 percent drop in the first quarter of 1958.”
The declining economy is also reflected in the data on unemployment claims. Claire Hansen reports that About 1.5 million people filed for unemployment during the third week of June, the 14th straight week that unemployment claims have topped 1 million and an indicator that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be slow. (https://usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2020-06-25/unemployment-claims-exceed-1-million-for-14th-straight-week). Overall, these claims have trended down from their peak of 6.9 million in March but remain far above pre-pandemic levels.
The National Bureau of Economic Research says that the US economy “officially entered a recession in February 2020, that is two consecutive months of negative “gross national product activity, “bringing the longest expansion on record to an end as the coronavirus pandemic caused economic activity to slow sharply” (https://nytimes.com/2020/06/08/business/economy/us-economy-recession-2020.html).
This is particularly bad news for Trump, since one of his principal claim is that he is responsible for making the economy “great” – and that if the Democrats win in November all his good work will be undone with the “tax and spend” Democrats in power. And now, during the pandemic, he reminds voters of how well the overall economy was doing before the virus and how it will rebound before the end of 2020 under his self-identified “stable genius” tutelage. Greg Sargent reports that there is still a majority of voters in six battleground states, 56 percent, who “approve of Trump’s handling of the economy…despite the economy being ‘mired in the worst recessions in nearly 100 years, and even as Trump and Republicans are resisting new economic rescue efforts amid widespread misery” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/25/trump-is-deep-trouble-new-polls-show-he-has-one-hidden-advantage). Sargent explains this persistent, though dubious view of Trump’s record as a businessman and the impact of his policies during the pandemic.
First, strategists have told Sargent, that there are “lingering perceptions of Trump as a competent businessman. He quotes Democratic pollster Jeffrey Pollock: “Voters have always been more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the economy because of their false belief in his business acumen,” overlooking or being ignorant of his lifetime of economic failures.
Second, the economy did grow and unemployment did fall to low levels during the first three years of Trump presidency – the pre-coronavirus years.
Third, many voters see the spread of the coronavirus as the cause of the economic recession and don’t hold Trump personally responsible. This is based on mistaken reading of the causes and spread of the disease. Sargent is quick to point out that “Trump’s catastrophic mismanagement of the coronavirus itself was a big reason the lockdowns were so severe.”
Fourth, Trump has continuously blamed China both for having unfair trade advantages with the US and for being the source of the now global coronavirus pandemic. However, Trump’s promise to bring good manufacturing jobs back from China to the US has not happened.
Sargent submits that, if the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession do not go away, attitudes on Trump’s economic policies will turn against the president. Nonetheless, the widely held attitudes that Trump is a good manager of the economy may persist unless Biden and the Democrats can run a campaign that disproves such contentions, do it in a way that ordinary Americans can understand it, and “unveil a plan that persuades American voters that they can control the coronavirus and simultaneously revive the economy.”
Part 2 – Can Trump and the Republicans steal the election?
Steadfast in support of the right-wing agenda
The response of Trump and his administration during these dark times is to double down on neoliberal policies that their corporate and rich backers want. Most prominently this is reflected in massive and ongoing deregulation of the executive branch agencies, the appointment of people with hard right-wing views to the cabinet and various decision-making positions in these agencies, the firing of agency attorney generals, and promises of new tax breaks and relief programs for their wealthy supporters. Amid it all, as reported by Justin Wise, the money continues piling up. In the first quarter of 2020, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised $212 million, with $240 million in cash on hand (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/492454-trump-campaign-gop-raise-212-million-in-first-quarter). Wise reports that “the campaign says [it] is funding the largest ‘field program and date operation in the GOP’s history.” And Trump has resumed fundraising (https://apnnews.com/e418a369ac2d294c27a90ab89381fd1a).
Simultaneously, Trump also works his electoral base and various special interest groups through his continuous twitters and media coverage, as he lauds the police, describes demonstrators for racial justice as anarchists, looters, radical socialists, escalates his anti-immigrant policies, and caters to the interests of evangelicals, 2nd Amendment gun absolutists, white supremacists, and those who love the idea of an all-powerful military.
Rigging the electoral process
But Trump and his allies are taking no chances, as they continue and intensify a wholesale attack on the country’s voting systems, an attack that goes back to the country’s origin and subsequently with some moments of progress. Their aim is to limit the number of voters who are likely to vote for their political opponents. This history and recent efforts to limit the franchise, especially of African Americans, are analyzed in outstanding recent books, including Eric Foner’s The Second Foundation: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, and Gilda R. Daniels’ Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America. Here, I want to offer some examples of the Trump/Republican efforts to intensify the rigging of the system in their favor, strengthening and employing voter suppression mechanisms, along with examples of how voter suppression is being implemented now.
Voter suppression in 2020
In a reported titled “Block the Vote: Voter Suppression in 2020,” the ACLU identifies five long-established voter-suppression tactics that Republicans have supported with the goal of for limiting the vote wherever there are likely to be potentially anti-Republican majorities (https://aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020). The thrust of the report is laid out in the introduction: “Suppression efforts range from the seemingly unobstructed, like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. And long before election cycles even begin, legislators can redraw district lines that determine the weight of your vote. Certain communities are particularly susceptible to suppression and in some cases, outright targeted — people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities.”
#1 Voter ID Laws – Thirty-six states have such laws and seven states have strict phot ID laws, “under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot – no exceptions. These strict ID laws are part of an ongoing strategy to suppress the vote, and it works. Voter ID laws have been estimated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to reduce voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points, translating to tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.” Also, “Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. That’s because ID cards aren’t always accessible for everyone. The ID itself can be costly, and even when IDs are free, applicants must incur other expenses to obtain the underlying documents that are needed to get an ID. This can be a significant burden on people in lower-income communities. Further, the travel required is an obstacle for people with disabilities, the elderly, and people living in rural areas.”
#2 Voter Registration Restrictions – According to the ACLU report this “is one of the most common forms of voter suppression.” Such laws “can include requiring documents to prove citizenship or identification, onerous penalties for voter registration drives or limiting the window of time in which voters can register.” Republicans “often use unfounded claims of voter fraud to try to justify registration restrictions.” For example, “In 2011, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach championed a law requiring Kansans to show ‘proof of citizenship’ documents in order to register to vote, citing false claims of noncitizen voting. Most people don’t carry the required documents on hand — like a passport, or a birth certificate — and as a result, the law blocked over 30,000 Kansans from voting. The ACLU sued and defeated the law in 2018.”
#3 Voter Purges – The ACLU report affirms that “cleaning up voter rolls can be a responsible part of election administration because many people move, die, or become ineligible to vote for other reasons.” However, states sometimes “use this process as a method of mass disenfranchisement, purging eligible voters from rolls for illegitimate reasons or based on inaccurate data, and often without adequate notice to the voters. A single purge can stop up to hundreds of thousands of people from voting. Often, voters only learn they’ve been purged when they show up at the polls on Election Day.” A recent Brennan Center study “found that almost 16 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, and that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination — which are no longer subject to preclearance after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — had significantly higher purge rates.” Most common, purges are used “to filter out voters who have changed their address, died, or have failed to vote in recent elections.” The report continues: “States often conduct such purges using inaccurate data, booting voters who don’t even fall under the targeted category. In 2016, Arkansas purged thousands of voters for so-called felony convictions, even though some of the voters had never been convicted of a felony at all. And in 2013, Virginia purged 39,000 voters based on data that was later found to have an error rate of up to 17 percent.”
#4 Felony Disenfranchisement – Such laws vary among the states. “Some ban voting only during incarceration. Some ban voting for life. Some ban people while on probation or parole; others ban people from voting only while incarcerated. And some states, like Maine and Vermont, don’t disenfranchise people with felony convictions at all. The fact that these laws vary so dramatically only adds to the overall confusion that voters face, which is a form of voter suppression in itself.” This type of voter suppression affects Black people disproportionately, due to racial biases in the criminal justice system. In Iowa where there is permanent disenfranchisement of persons with felony convictions, “an estimated one in four voting-age black men, do not have the vote.
#5 Gerrymandering – Here is how it works. “Every 10 years, states redraw district lines based on population data gathered in the census. Legislators use these district lines to allocate representation in Congress and state legislatures. When redistricting is conducted properly, district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes and racial diversity. But too often, states use redistricting as a political tool to manipulate the outcome of elections. That’s called gerrymandering — a widespread, undemocratic practice that’s stifling the voice of millions of voters.” In their book, Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty, Anthony J. McGann and his colleagues find that the partisan bias in congressional redistricting sharply increased in 2010, after the Supreme Court decision in Vieth v Jubelirer (2004). The decision gave greater discretion to state legislatures to carry out redistricting in ways that would favor one party over the other, and this is what happened in 2010 and continued to have an effect through the 20-teens. The outcome is that many Republicans in the US House of Representatives have won their seats in districts that have been politically created to ensure they are likely to have Republican majorities.
Recent elections in some states reveal the fragility of their voting systems
On June 28, The New York Times reports that 46 states and the District of Columbia have “completed primary elections or party caucuses, facing the large challenge not just of voting during a pandemic, but also of voting by mail in record numbers” (https://nytimes.com/2020/06/28/world/coronavirus-updates.html).What is more, “many states had just weeks to scrap decades of in-person voting habits for voting by mail.” Through it all, and despite some debacles, “votes have been counted and winners chosen largely without incident.” However, the challenges will be much greater in November. For one, “in some areas, elections boards are already short of cash.” Two, “Postal and election workers overwhelmed by 55 million-plus primary-election voters now face triple that turnout in November.” Three, “States must recruit armies of poll workers to replace older ones deterred from working because of the virus — nearly six in 10 poll workers were 61 or older in 2018, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.” Four, “election offices will have to process millions of ballots packed in millions more specialty envelopes — which only a handful of companies are capable of printing.” Five, there only have to be a few hitches driving the vote count down in a few crucial states to make a difference in the presidential outcome.
These systems are shaky not only because of current challenges but also because political parties and politicians, especially on the Republican side, have made them so. Given this context, I want to focus on some worrisome recent examples of voter suppression.
Recent examples of flawed elections, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic
There were seven candidates for the US Senate in the Georgia’s Democratic primary election, with three topping the slate. They included Jon Ossoff , who won the primary for U.S. Senate in Georgia outright on June 9, 2020, having received more than 50% of the vote, Sarah Riggs Amico, and Teresa Tomlinson
(https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_election_in_Georgia_2020_(June_9_Democratic_primary). The main point, though, is that, as Amie Parnes reported on the Georgia primary for The Hill, “voters waited in hours-long lines, voting machines malfunctioned and election site workers were ill-equipped to handle problems‚ often in communities where large populations of black voters reside” (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/502535-democratic-fears-grow-over-2020-voter-suppression). Parnes quotes Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who is founder of Fair Fight, as follows:
“We should absolutely be concerned about voter suppression and its impact on November’s election,” Abrams said in a statement to The Hill, adding that Democrats “should turn that concern into action through robust voter protection operations, voter education, advocacy campaigns and litigation. Georgia’s primary was an unmitigated disaster, but the solutions are not difficult,” Abrams said. “We need more resources and better training of poll workers and county officials.”
Author and investigative journalist David Daley describes the Georgia primary as a “voting fiasco” and a warning of what may await voters in November (https://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/11/georgia-election-chaos-november). He writes that in six rural counties new voting machines “didn’t function.” And, additionally, there were an “insufficient number of paper ballots” and precincts “were understaffed and many poll workers lacked sufficient training.” There is more. “In many minority communities the lines were nearly seven-hours long, while voting was a breeze in white, wealthier suburbs.” Indeed, more than “200 precincts across Georgia, disproportionately in minority counties, have been ordered closed since Roberts and the US supreme court” made their decision in 2013in Shelby County v. Holder. The decision “cast aside protections that had prevented states and localities with a history of racial prejudice in voting laws from remaking their electoral rules without federal oversight.”
While the in-person voting options were selectively problem-ridden, “Georgia’s expanded vote-by-mail system melted down, forcing tens of thousands of voters who requested, but never received, absentee ballots to either join these long line” or give up on voting.” “In Georgia, while the secretary of state did take the proactive step of sending registered voters a vote-by-mail absentee application, tens of thousands of ballots did not land in mailboxes on time. Just as bad, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said she received a return envelope that was already sealed. Situations like these forced voters to don masks, find an open precinct, then brave the long lines.”
Daley points out that the problems in Georgia “also occurred in “Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and many other crucial states.” He writes: “Many of the problems we face involve intentional voter suppression, such as the surgically focused voter ID bills, precinct closures and voter roll purges (all of which disproportionately target minority voters), which Roberts’ ruling in Shelby Counter v. Holder turbocharged across conservative states nationwide. Other issues relate to the coronavirus pandemic, which has slashed the number of willing poll workers and forced even deeper reductions in the number of in-person voting precincts. During Wisconsin’s April elections, only five of 180 precincts could be opened in Milwaukee. Add to all of this the usual underfunding, poor planning and ineptitude.” On a Democracy Now program, aired online on June 23, Cliff Albright was the guest. He is co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. In the interview, the problem of long lines at the polls in New York, Kentucky, and Virginia, were highlighted. For example, “even as President Trump continues to attack mail-in voting, falsely claiming it leads to fraud, Kentucky had “slashed the number of polling places from 3,700 to just 170 – a 95% reduction” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/06/23/new_york_kentucky_virginia_primaries).
The problems in Wisconsin were compounded by “an unprecedented increase in absentee ballot requests [that] flooded underfunded election boards.” Daley continues: “Undelivered ballots stacked up in post offices statewide.” In Washington DC voters “also complained that they asked for absentee ballots that never arrived, pushing them into long lines during a pandemic and civil unrest.” Officials in Pennsylvania “are still counting ballots from last week’s primary in which 70% of voters opted to vote by mail, folded ballots snarled some optical scanners, and state law prohibits election officials from tallying results before election day.”
As desire for mail-in ballots is rising partly as a result of the pandemic, Daily is concerned that state election systems may “fall apart” in November, given the many potential and already institutionalized obstacles that exist. He gives the following examples. “State laws requiring too many lengthy steps before voters receive an absentee ballot.” Many election boards are underfunded and overwhelmed. The US postal service is “on the brink of bankruptcy.” There is a “dire shortage of poll workers due to the pandemic” and a “shortage of in-person precincts because, due to Covid-19, senior citizen centers and schools are unsafe gathering spots for voting.”
With an expected “crush of absentee ballots arriving after election day,” there is, Daley writes, likely to be a raft of disputed vote counts and lawsuits. For example, in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, “officials can’t start counting before election day, delaying results for a week.” The confusion is increased by a “mistrustful nation already on edge after a decade of advanced Republican voter-suppression techniques, and a president willing to amplify false claims about voter fraud on Twitter.” And, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of going away and “could force voters to choose between the health of themselves and loved ones, and their right to vote.” All of this could lead to “a disputed election that lands before a 5-4 US supreme court that looks increasingly political and unfriendly to voting rights.”
Daley concludes with this thought. “What’s intentional and what’s incompetence? It doesn’t matter. It all suppresses the vote. it all makes our elections less fair and less free.”
In a long article for the Guardian magazine, Sam Levine covers much of the same ground as David Daley and anticipates how what happened in Georgia and some other states may prevent “a fair and competent presidential vote in November” ((https://theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/12/us-presidential-election-fiasco-voter-suppression). Here is some of what writes.
Levine cites a report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights that found more “[m]ore than 1,600 polling places in jurisdictions previously covered by the Voting Rights Act were closed [across the country] between 2012 and 2018, including 214 polling places in Georgia.” He quotes, among others, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which “has closely monitored the primaries” and found, in some parts of the country, “it feels like officials are making reckless decisions that are a recipe for disaster.” As noted earlier in this post, there have been concerns about mass disenfranchisement even before COVID-19, and “Donald Trump was already making repeated baseless accusations of voter fraud in what appears to be an effort to lay the foundation for contesting the legitimacy of the 2020 election.” He quotes Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida, who studies elections. McDonald refers to “an unprecedented Republican effort to monitor the polls and challenge the eligibility of voters who appear, something that could result in voter intimidation. The Republican National Committee, freed from a decades-old court order prohibiting them from such activity, is seeking to recruit up to 50,000 volunteers.”
Levine has other examples of how Republicans are heightening their voter suppression efforts.
“Recommended deadlines for purchasing necessary equipment and other measures are approaching and in some cases have already passed. Republicans in Congress have also scaled back funding to help states run elections, allocating just $400m so far, a small fraction of the billions experts say is needed. The Republican National Committee also plans to spend at least $20m to oppose efforts to expand vote by mail. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, refused to acknowledge systemic problems in the way the election was run this week, instead blaming local election officials. In Iowa, Republicans are considering legislation that would prohibit the secretary of state, Paul Pate, from sending absentee ballot applications to all voters, something Pate, a Republican, did ahead of the state’s June primary when there was record turnout. Ohio Republicans are also considering legislation that would bar the state’s top election official from paying for postage on absentee ballot requests and the ballots themselves.”
What to do?
There is no paucity of recommended solutions to the Trump/Republican political assaults on US democracy.
The ACLU refers to a few solutions that seem simple enough on paper but may not be so easy to implement in practice. Nonetheless, here is what the organization recommends. “States can enact measures to encourage rather than suppress voting. Automatic, online, and same-day voter registration encourage participation and reduce chances of error. Early voting helps people with travel or accessibility concerns participate. And states must enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act. At an individual level, the best way to fight voter suppression is to vote. Here’s how to ensure your vote is protected: Tell your senators to pass the VRAA [Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019], which would reinstate critical protections against voter suppression left behind after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Know Your Rights before you get to the polling booth. The ACLU has also published a guide on what to do if you face registration issues, need disability or language accommodations, or come across someone who’s interfering with your right to vote (https://aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-voter-suppression-in-2020).
Gilda R. Daniels closes her book, Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America, with proposals for making the electoral system fair and inclusive. She posits that the US needs a “right to vote amendment” to the Constitution, needs to “undertake massive civic education programs and stress civic engagement,” needs to eliminate “restrictive voting precincts,” needs to hold elections on a “national holiday,” and needs to facilitate voter registration through “automatic voter registration” and “same-day voter registration.”
Beyond these measures, states should ideally prepare to make in-person voting safe and mail-in balloting a reliable and effective option, and the US Congress should take steps to reverse the Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court and thereby reduce the amount of corporate and special-interest money that does so much to corrupt the US political system.