Voting

I don’t often post about politics on my blog. There are just too many opinions about politics, and also, there is some internet troll out there who keeps saying nasty things about my political posts and my beliefs in a more democratic society. Whoever it may be, it may not be just one person. The message is almost always the same; he or she waits about two weeks after a political post to comment. This is a good thing; I have my comments set so that comments on posts over two weeks old must be approved by me. So, I just don’t approve them and mark them as spam. Anyway, this post is about something else that has been bothering me lately.

Quite frankly, I just don’t understand the Republican Party. They just baffle me. Most claim to be evangelical Christians, but they are the least Christ-like people in America. They follow absolutely none of Jesus’s teachings. Then there is the fact that they often say America is a democracy (it’s actually a Republic, you’d think with a name like Republican they’d embrace that), yet they work the hardest to make the United States as undemocratic as possible. Their latest scheme of opposing mail-in voting really confounds me. Trump and his Republican allies are launching an aggressive strategy to fight what many of the administration’s own health officials view as one of the most effective ways to make voting safer amid the deadly spread of COVID-19: the expanded use of mail-in ballots.

In this current voting cycle, Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to stop voting by mail. Why? I did a bit of research to see why this was the case. Why make it harder to vote? First of all, it should come as no surprise to me since Republicans want as few people as possible to vote because they believe it helps them in elections. This is why they have created voter ID laws. Even though in those states, it is relatively easy to get a free government ID, it’s still difficult for some people to get to the courthouse and apply for that ID. The push to limit voting options is in keeping with Republicans’ decades-running campaign to impose restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and younger voters, under the banner of combating voter fraud — which is exceedingly rare. Democrats have more core constituencies among the nation’s disenfranchised, and both parties have long believed that easier voting measures will benefit Democrats.

Trump views the issue in a stark, partisan way: He complains that under Democratic plans for national expansion of early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” I’m not convinced this is true; even stupid people will vote by mail. Trump has said he believes vote-by-mail has been abused to hurt Republicans, and he “will not stand for it,” though the hypocrite that he is, he says that mail ballots could help some older voters — an important part of his voting base. It was a slight change that came at the urging of his advisers. Trump was roundly ridiculed for suggesting that expanding vote-by-mail would hurt Republicans in November. The New York Times called it a “false claim,” declaring that “there is no evidence to back up the argument from the right that all-mail elections favor Democrats.” But the truth is a little more complicated.

The United States has had absentee ballots for many years. I voted absentee the whole time I lived in Mississippi because the State of Mississippi wouldn’t allow out-of-state students to become Mississippi citizens, and thus we could not register to vote in Mississippi. It was all to charge us exorbitant out-of-state tuition, so I had to vote in Alabama by absentee ballot. The current public health crisis brings new urgency to the battle, as Democrats and a few Republican state officials turn to expanded voting by mail as an important way to avoid the serious health hazard of crowded polling stations amid a pandemic. In a pre-coronavirus world, Republicans found that the threat of voter fraud and the need for tighter voter restrictions were popular messages with segments of their base. If there was a chance that the political equation might change with the pandemic, Trump and his cronies have not seemed concerned. A lot of Alabamians vote by absentee ballot, yet Republicans control every statewide political office.

There are basically three categories of vote-by-mail in the US. The most restrictive level, found in seven states, including Alabama, is traditional absentee balloting, where voters have to give a reason why they can’t vote in person. Next is no-excuse absentee, where anyone can vote by mail but must request a ballot. About half of states have a version of that. Then there’s universal vote-by-mail, or “vote at home,” a system now used in five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—plus many counties in California. New York just joined this group, at least for the primary. In this third system, the government automatically mails a ballot to every registered voter, and voters have about two weeks to mail the ballot back, or they can drop it off in person by election day.

Perhaps wary of the politics of taking an absolutist position amid the pandemic, and aware that absentee ballots can also be a preferred form of voting for some of Trump’s supporters (my mother being one of them), his advisers have pushed him to soften his position. After all, state’s rights have for the past 30 years or more been a hallmark of Republican ideology, and voting is the purview of the states, not the federal government. Republicans are highly focused on stopping Democrats from loosening absentee voting restrictions, which they have portrayed as a Democratic plot to inflate voting tallies.

Democrats and voting rights groups have filed lawsuits seeking to expand mail and absentee voting options and pushed for an extra $2 billion to help states adjust their election systems. National Republicans are fighting those efforts, while Trump doubled down on claims, without any evidence, that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud and that it helps Democrats. The studies done on mail-in-voting does not show this to be true. It merely shows that more people vote when it is easier to cast a ballot and does not universally favor one party over the other. It just shows that Trump is scared of the masses, and afraid they will vote him out of office, which I fervently hope they do.

While Trump and his cronies fight to prevent expansion of absentee ballots, nothing illustrates the mixed-up and hypocritical politics of the opposition to vote-by-mail better than the world’s most famous absentee voter declaring the practice corrupt. “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, because they’re cheaters,” Trump told reporters in early April, a few weeks after casting an absentee ballot in Florida’s primary. “They’re fraudulent in many cases.” If this is the case, why did he vote absentee? Did he commit fraud by doing so? He’s broken so many laws and told so many lies, I have lost count.

The only thing we really know about voting this year is that absentee ballots are going to increase dramatically. Maybe making that easier would benefit Democrats, who live in densely populated urban areas where viral transmission is more likely. Or maybe it would benefit Republicans, who are older in general and so have more to fear of getting infected. There’s no way to know—which makes treating the question as one of partisan advantage thoroughly insane. Instead of focusing on which party might gain an edge, legislators and election officials would do well to spend their energy on what’s safest for voters and poll workers. It’s better to be remembered for keeping citizens safe than for forcing voters to choose between their health and the right to vote. Yet, we know, Trump and his ilk do not care about the health and well-being of the citizens of the United States. If they did, they wouldn’t be opening states back up to boost the economy. They care more about money lining their pockets than they do about the health of the average American.

Sorry this is so long. I guess I had a lot to say.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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