Vote early. Read the instructions carefully. Make sure your ballot counts.
This year, 76 percent of Americans in 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, will be eligible to vote by mail — the highest rate in history. The Trump campaign is mounting a massive effort to discourage these voters, because they fear that if more people participate, Democratic chances will increase. The president justifies his effort by arguing that absentee voting is riddled with fraud, but there is no evidence — none — to back up that claim.
The best answer to this insidious plot is more democracy: more Americans determined to exercise their franchise, and exercise it in ways that Republicans cannot deter.
Trump’s intentions are not guesswork or Democratic propaganda. The president himself admitted his strategy back in March, when he opposed a Democratic bill allotting $4 billion to help states process mail-in ballots: “They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Justin Clark, a top Trump campaign official, promised a private gathering of Republicans an enhanced suppression effort: “It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”
Evidence of that “much bigger program” is everywhere. Rolling Stone cited just two examples: “In Pennsylvania, for instance, the RNC is suing the state government and election boards in all 67 counties to ban the use of secure drop boxes for submitting take-home ballots ... In Florida, Republicans have sued to block efforts that would make the state pay for postage on mail-in ballots.”
“It’s a pattern of voter suppression, and I just think it’s really reprehensible,” Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, told The New York Times.
It’s a pattern, though, that can be foiled. As the Times editorialized: “Especially in the midst of a raging pandemic, voting by mail is the surest path to a more inclusive, more accurate and more secure election.”
Simply utilizing the mail is no guarantee, however. You have to do it right. If you wait too long to request a ballot, or return it late — or if you mess up the signature or use the wrong envelope — your vote could be challenged by GOP enforcers, who will be trying to disqualify every possible vote.
And even following the rules won’t solve the whole problem. As election expert David Wasserman writes for NBC: “The real danger is a perfect catastrophe of administrative overload, postal delays and voter error that could lead to millions of absentee ballots not counting. And this year, unlike the past, those ballots are likely to be overwhelmingly Democratic.”
Here’s the nightmare scenario: Trump leads on election night because his supporters are likely to show up in person, and those votes are counted first. As absentee ballots are tallied, Joe Biden takes the lead, the president denounces the whole election as “rigged,” challenges the vote count and refuses to accept the results.
“The stormy once-in-a-lifetime Florida recount battle that polarized the nation in 2000 and left the Supreme Court to decide the presidency may soon look like a high school student council election compared with what could be coming after this November’s election,” reports the Times.
Fortunately, there is still time to mitigate the possibility of a catastrophe. Congress could still appropriate funds to help local officials cope with the barrage of absentee ballots we know is coming. States could take steps to make absentee voting easier, from expanding the drop boxes challenged in Pennsylvania to providing prepaid envelopes for folks using the mail.
One key flashpoint will be which mail-in ballots get counted. The new head of the U.S. Postal Service, a big GOP giver named Louis DeJoy, has actually cut back and slowed down mail delivery. So it’s important that states loosen the rules slightly and accept ballots that were mailed before Election Day but delivered later.
Democrats also worry that the Justice Department, headed by Trumpster William Barr, will tilt the legal process against them, so they see a growing need for an independent nonpartisan presence to guarantee a fair count. The Post suggests creation of a “highly visible, authoritative commission” that can “lower the temperature” by being “ready to observe and evaluate alleged irregularities.”
But the main bulwark against Trump’s attempts to undermine the election has to be individual voters. As Barack Obama said in his eulogy of Rep. John Lewis, “the central strategy of voter suppression (is) to make you discouraged, to stop believing in your own power.”
Don’t let that happen.