Your vote is your voice
It’s often said that your vote is your voice.
“Elections provide the opportunity for citizens to express their voices and help decide the direction that our leaders should take our country,” said Judy Perry Martinez, president of the American Bar Association in the August issue of ABA Journal. “Each vote is a building block in our democracy.”
Republican strategists and lawmakers, meanwhile, are working quietly behind the scenes to make sure that certain voices are never heard.
Leading up to the 2020 election, Republicans have filed dozens of lawsuits to limit the number of votes cast by likely Democratic voters or counted by election officials. They have striven to purge voter rolls, reduce the number of polling places and hours of operation in historically left-leaning areas, tighten rules on provisional votes, and maintain restrictive voter-identification requirements.
But this year sees the emergence of a new Republican demon: mail-in voting. Under the guise of “preventing fraud,” Republicans have publicly decried the common practice as ripe for abuse.
Additionally, they have hamstrung the post office, sued to ban the use of secure drop boxes for submitting take-home ballots, sought to limit vote-by-mail eligibility, scaled up efforts to disqualify mail-in ballots with technical flaws, and attempted to outlaw the counting of ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but received afterward.
The unspoken intent of these efforts is to identify and discard large numbers of presumably Democratic ballots.
A report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice revealed just how rare election fraud really is: the rate of voter fraud in three elections studied was calculated at between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent.
The lack of evidential support has done nothing to curtail President Trump’s efforts to sow doubt about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. He said the quiet part out loud again Wednesday, when he refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power in the event he is defeated by Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“We’re going to have to see what happens, you know, but I’ve been complaining very strongly about the [mail-in] ballots. The ballots are a disaster,” Trump said.
“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” he added. “The ballots are out of control.”
If Trump thought that mail-in ballots would favor him, he would unabashedly support them. His contempt for mail-in ballots is not because he fears voter fraud, but because he fears losing.
As Barton Gellman notes in a lengthy Atlantic piece released this week, “Trump’s crusade against voting by mail is the strategy of a man who expects to be out-voted and means to hobble the count.”
“Trump has denounced mail-in voting often and urgently, airing fantastical nightmares,” says Gellman. “One day he tweeted, ‘mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud and abuse. It will also lead to the end of our great Republican party. We can never let this tragedy befall our nation.’ Another day he pointed to an imaginary — and easily debunked — scenario of forgery from abroad: ‘rigged 2020 election: millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others. it will be the scandal of our times!’”
A handful of Republican lawmakers have publicly distanced themselves from Trump’s comments, insisting that there will be a peaceful transfer of power should Trump lose.
But their words obscure the real Republican endgame: to create enough doubt and uncertainty about the expected deluge of mail-in ballots that determining the winner of the election can be questioned.
At that point, Trump’s baseless claims of fraud could mire the outcome of the election in chaos and tie it up in the courts all the way into January, ultimately pushing the decision to the Supreme Court, where Trump could by then enjoy a 6–3 Conservative majority.
“We could well see a protracted post-election struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown. “The kind of election meltdown we could see would be much worse than 2000’s Bush v. Gore case.”
Republicans are counting on the likelihood that more Democrats will heed social distancing guidelines associated with Covid-19, stay away from the polls on election day, and vote earlier by mail. They have good reason to believe this.
An Axios survey released this week found that 74 percent of those who said they “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance as president plan to vote by mail this year.
Of those who said they “somewhat” disapprove of the president’s performance, 65 percent said they will vote by mail.
Meanwhile, 77 percent of those who “strongly” approve of Trump’s job performance said they’d vote in person, and another 54 percent of those who “somewhat” approve said they would vote in person.
This is problematic for Democrats and in a nutshell explains Trump’s vendetta against mail-in voting.
The issue Democrats face, and the one Trump and Republicans aim to exploit, is what Gellman describes as the “Blue Shift.” This phenomenon involves “the overtime count — the canvass after Election Night that tallies late-reporting precincts, unprocessed absentee votes, and provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility need to be confirmed.”
This year, the overtime count is also expected to include tens of millions of mail-in ballots, most of which can’t legally be tallied until after the election.
Over the last two decades, the overtime count has grown and has trended more blue. Possible explanations for the shift include the fact that urban returns take longer to count, and more provisional ballots are cast by voters who lean blue.
Since Republicans are much more likely to vote in person this year, the Blue Shift after election day will likely be amplified. It’s quite possible that Trump will lead in the election returns as November 3 comes to a close. But in the ensuing days, as tens of millions of mail-in ballots are tabulated, Biden will likely gain on Trump and may very well take the lead.
This is when Trump and Republicans are expected to harvest the bounty of their fraud claims, the seeds of which were planted in the months leading up to the election. Right-leaning media, politicians, strategists, and lawyers will protest the legitimacy of those mail-in ballots and demand that they be disqualified for the various reasons already discussed. Their claims of fraud will be “legitimized” by the steady, ever-changing, and inexplicable shift toward Biden, since those ballots could have come from “anywhere.”
“The worst case for an orderly count,” says Gellman, “is also considered by some election modelers the likeliest: that Trump will jump ahead on Election Night, based on in-person returns, but his lead will slowly give way to a Biden victory as mail-in votes are tabulated.”
The outcome election watchers and scholars fear most is not that Trump rejects the election outcome outright. The worst case is that he uses the awesome power of the presidency to prevent a decisive outcome against him.
“If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress,” says Gellman. “He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that uncertainty to hold on to power.”
What’s driving this Republican frenzy?
In part, Trump’s vendetta against voting by mail is a reflection of his belief that more voting is generally bad for Republicans, and for him specifically. Democrats, he said on Fox & Friends in March, want “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump is correct that Republicans’ hold on power is dependent on voter turnout. Republicans have long enjoyed power as a minority party, in part because Republican voters tend to vote at higher rates. But institutional factors (overrepresentation in the Senate and the Electoral College) also play a role and mute the voices of the majority.
Few of the positions and policies advocated by the right enjoy majority support. Gun control offers a case in point. More than 90 percent of the American electorate supports universal background checks, and yet Republicans have successfully prevented laws requiring background checks from making it to the books.
But it doesn’t end there. Reproductive rights, environmental protection, healthcare, voting rights, worker rights, civil rights, and climate change all represent issues where Republican lawmakers have continually thwarted the will of the majority.
Now, because longterm demographic trends are working against them, Republicans realize that their ability to govern from the minority is weakening. The Republican party skews older and whiter, while the country is turning younger and browner. We are approaching a tipping point past which obstacles to Republicans’ continued hold on power will become too great.
Add in Trump’s alienation of white college-educated voters, especially suburban women, and the party now faces an existential threat. A four-year Biden presidency, followed by a possible second Democratic term, could put the country too far down the demographic path for the Republicans party to recover.
In other words, this may be Republicans’ last best chance to cement power. And they are deploying any and all means to do so, including voter suppression, postal delays, and baseless claims of mail-in voter fraud.
“The Republican Party has a platform that can’t prevail in democratic competition,” said Conservative writer Davis Frum in a 2018 Atlantic article. “When highly committed parties strongly believe [in] things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don’t give up on their beliefs — they give up on democracy.”
We seem to have reached that point. Realizing that they must give up on either power or democracy, Republicans have decided democracy must go. We may be witnessing a coup in real-time.
What can Democratic voters do about it?
First, they should consider voting in person. Younger, healthier voters should weigh donning an N-95 mask, grabbing a bottle of hand sanitizer, and heading to the polls.
Those at low risk for COVID-19 should also consider volunteering as poll workers.
If voting in person is not an option, voters should complete and return their mail-in ballots as early as possible, well in advance of their state’s election deadline. When completing their ballots, voters should pay careful attention to instructions and return them using drop boxes when available.
Democrats should also speak up about their voting preferences, educate undecided voters in their circles, and recruit others to vote.
Democrats can also donate time and money. Donations through Act Blue and volunteering through Demcast can ensure that Democrats have the resources and voter turnout needed to surmount Republicans’ voter suppression tactitcs.
In short, Democrats need to do anything and everything they can, since more than the presidency appears to be at stake. How they act in the coming weeks could very will determine the future of American democracy.
“It’s here, said Rachael Maddow during her Wednesday broadcast. “It’s happening. We don’t have to wonder anymore…how we would act, what we would do for our country if our country was ever in this kind of peril. You now know what you would do if your country were ever in this much danger. It’s whatever you are doing right now. What you’re planning to do in the next six weeks. That’s what you’re made of.”