Quashing the Vote

Photograph Source: Paul Sableman – CC BY 2.0

In late May, before the surge of Covid-19 cases in 22 states, Trump threatened to withhold aid to Michigan and Nevada over their plans to permit voting by mail. Such withholding is illegal. Trump alleged that vote by mail leads to voter fraud. This is hogwash. Trump’s fabrication about voter fraud is an attempt to distract from what he and some Republicans are up to, namely, voter suppression. But even Trump had to back down from his threat.

This voter suppression continues with no shame, despite people preferring absentee voting amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue is simple: people should not have to choose between voting and catching a potentially lethal disease. Some in the GOP get this. Trump does not. Or he pretends not to, because this is just too big an opportunity to quash the vote for the GOP to pass up. Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson tweeted in response to Trump’s threat: “We sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia.” Trump’s attack on Nevada did not note that the secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, is a Republican. Meanwhile the Republican Iowa secretary of state sent out absentee ballot request forms, but this displeased the Republican controlled state legislature, which voted in mid-June to prevent such coddling of voters from happening again.

Compounding the outrage of Trump’s false accusations about vote by mail is the fact that he and his wife…voted by mail! They did so in Florida in the 2018 mid-term elections. Evidently vote by mail is a privilege reserved for the royal family – at least that was Trump’s view, which he didn’t bother to conceal. Hiding in his bunker in early June, however, he may have reconsidered his ostentatious claims of aristocratic entitlement. Fear can work wonders, but no doubt they will be short-lived.

Trump’s “attacks on mail-in voting have fueled an unprecedented effort by conservatives to limit” it before the election, noted the Washington Post in June. Texas stands at the forefront of this battle. Its lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, has led the charge against vote by mail and called it a scam. The governor, Greg Abbott, says he feels like he’s watching a tennis game, as the debate bounces back and forth in the courts. An appellate court upheld vote by mail expansion in mid-May, with the Texas Supreme Court later ruling that lack of Covid-19 immunity doesn’t qualify a voter for a mail-in ballot. But this ruling also stated that voters determine “whether in-person voting will cause a likelihood of injury due to a physical condition.” Those physical health conditions are age of 65 or older and disability. It’s up to a voter with asthma, for instance, to judge the safety of in-person voting. An appeals court later concurred with this approach.

The New York Times reported on June 2 that Republicans fear Trump’s anti-vote by mail campaign could damage them. But that hasn’t impelled them to break ranks in any major way. Meanwhile in over a dozen states, lawsuits promoting vote by mail have gone forward. NBC noted that most battleground states offer “vote by mail without needing a reason to do so.” Well, now people have a reason. It’s called Covid-19. Still there are obstacles – addressed by suits in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But $20 million to fight such suits has been pledged by Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. Nothing like Republican resolve to make voter suppression great again.

The big picture here is ugly. A democracy in which one of the two major political parties believes it cannot win if many people vote won’t remain a democracy for long. (In fact, by other metrics, the Economist magazine judged the U.S. merely a partial democracy some time ago.) Republicans want to ditch voters. Clearly that is because most voters don’t like Republicans. But instead of changing the policies that people find so obnoxious, this party clings to its false, hateful and hated ideology and decides to give the people the heave-ho. Trump even acknowledged this when vote by mail was first proposed as a solution to touching Covid-19-infected voting screens. He made the telling remark that if all these people voted, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

The alternative here stinks. If the Republicans are the party of Wall Street, war and the big corporations, what are the Democrats? The party of Wall Street, war and the big corporations. True, the Dems have a progressive wing that from time to time coughs up leftish populist politicians, but the trend, ever since the Carter presidency, then accelerated under Clinton and turbo-charged by Obama has been corporate sycophancy and sleep-inducing centrism, set off by a gilded frame of…Democratic billionaires. These plutocrats are so at home with centrist Dems that Republican billionaire Michael Bloomberg became a candidate in the recent Democratic primary. So no, there is little salvation there. But little is better than zero. Compromised and hypocritical as they may be, Democrats still believe you win by persuading voters. Republicans believe you win by eliminating them.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.