Tag Archives: coup d’etat

Vote By Mail

I’ve been banging the drum for vote-by-mail for a long time. What just happened in Wisconsin demonstrates its importance, as a recent op-ed by John Hickenlooper–former Governor of Colorado–emphasizes.

The election chaos in Wisconsin on Tuesday sent a clear message: The nation can’t afford a repeat in November. Poll workers, many of them vulnerable senior citizens, and voters were forced to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy, with scandalously long lines at the few polling places that were open in some areas. Gov. Tony Evers (D) had issued an executive order to reschedule the election, but Republicans fought against it and the state’s Supreme Court blocked it.

Republicans also attacked a sensible proposal by Evers to essentially turn the election into one conducted by mail, with absentee ballots sent to every registered voter. President Trump has lately chimed in with criticism that mail-in balloting is “horrible,” “corrupt” and invites “fraud.”

As Hickenlooper says, Colorado’s experience rebuts the GOP’s hysterical pushback.  Colorado wasn’t the first state to go to vote by mail (Oregon and Washington were first), but its citizens have been voting from home for six years. Eligible Colorado voters receive a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, giving them time to do research on candidates and ballot initiatives. They complete the ballot from the comfort of their own homes, and either mail the ballot in or deposit it at one of hundreds of drop-off locations around the state.

Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.

So what about those predictions of fraud?

The states that vote by mail have devised numerous safeguards against fraud. Colorado conducts rigorous risk-limiting audits; it also maintains a centralized database with voter signatures, and it tracks ballot returns. And as Hickenlooper points out, a big advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.

Other advantages? Higher turnouts (Oregon’s turnout puts Indiana’s to shame and in Colorado, the increase was particularly noticeable for “low propensity” populations) and significantly lower costs–Hickenlooper says Colorado saved $6 per voter.

It isn’t just Oregon, Washington and Colorado; other states have been moving in this direction. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use vote by mail to varying degrees. Nearly half of the states allow some elections to be conducted by mail, and many allow voters to cast no-excuse absentee ballots.

The reason the GOP is so adamantly opposed to vote-by-mail is obvious: it increases turnout, and Democrats win when turnout increases. Turnout this November will be especially important. As I wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision allowing gerrymandering to continue, we will need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.

Huge turnouts would be likely to do more than just eject the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration. A large enough turnout could wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out large numbers of the GOP’s state and local enablers. If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party from the white nationalists who have captured it.

If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court  and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.

Turnout, Vote-By-Mail And Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court, in an indefensible 5/4 ruling, has declined to stop political parties from engaging in extreme gerrymandering. (Thankfully, allowing the Trump Administration to add a citizenship question to the census was evidently a bridge too far….)

Readers of this blog have read my previous analyses of partisan redistricting, and I won’t repeat them here. I will simply link to the opinion, including Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent, with which I entirely agree.

That said, here we are. The Court has narrowly declined to enforce “one person, one vote,” and the remedy for that shameful refusal must come from voters. That means that the 2020 election becomes even more important than it already was–impossible as that may seem.

As I have noted before, in order to overcome a gerrymander, the “minority party” in a district that has been drawn to be safe for the majority party needs massive turnout. That’s hard, but it can be done. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats in numerous districts turned out in sufficient numbers  to overcome the considerable advantages built in by the GOP.

Although it may be the most effective, gerrymandering is only one of the voter suppression tactics employed by Republicans who recognize that they are increasingly a minority party. If the Court will not provide a tool for challenging partisan redistricting, Democrats–together with independents and any remaining rational Republicans–must engage in grass roots efforts that encourage, rather than suppress, turnout.

One of the most effective of those efforts is conducting the vote by mail, as this recent article documents.

“The ballot belongs to the voter, not the government,” said Phil Keisling, the former secretary of state of Oregon. “As long as it can be done with safety and integrity, it’s the obligation of the government to get it to me. It’s not my responsibility to qualify for it and get it.”

Many states are taking that goal seriously, and to meet it, they are taking steps to abolish the traditional polling booth….

In Washington, Oregon and Colorado — and any minute now, Hawaii, where the governor is about to sign a new law — there are no longer traditional polling places. (California is also rolling this out county by county; by the 2020 election, half of voters will get a ballot at home.) The states mail ballots in bar-coded envelopes to every registered voter several weeks before the election. It’s automatic; the voter doesn’t need to request it.

Those states are blue or purple, but home voting is also growing in red states. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use it, to varying degrees. And nearly half of states allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by home voting. It allows voters to mark their ballots at their leisure and either mail it back or drop it in a ballot drop box. (Most use a drop box, which is why it’s not entirely accurate to call it vote-by-mail.) Some states allow voters to track the progress of their ballots electronically.

Not surprisingly, home-voting states have high turnout, and there is some evidence that when political subdivisions shift to voting by mail, turnout increases.

Between the midterm elections in 2014 and 2018, Utah rolled out home voting and had the greatest rise in turnout of any state. The five California counties that switched to home voting in 2018 increased their turnout more than the rest of the state.

Obviously, there is not time between now and November of 2020 to institute vote-by-mail or the myriad other changes that would increase turnout by making voting more convenient–making Election Day a holiday, instituting same-day registration, etc. The challenge for those of us who are appalled by the mounting efforts to deny citizens a genuine voice in governance (efforts that have included packing the courts with rightwing ideologues) is obvious: we must devote massive time and effort to getting out the vote in 2020.

We need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.

Huge turnout would likely allow Democrats to eject not just the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration, but also wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out the GOP’s state and local enablers. Americans can then focus grassroots efforts on electing politicians who will commit to drawing fair districts.

If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party.

If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court  and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.