3RT:22 – Going Postal, and a discussion with Nova Reid

The Post Office is under attack during a time where we may need it the most. A.Ron explores the validity of claims by Trump that our elections are rigged, and that mail in voting is particularly susceptible to fraud, and discusses what we can do to keep our elections democratic, safe, and fair. Then Nova Reid joins the podcast to discuss her work on anti-racist education and race relations in the UK. Be sure to check out her TED Talk, “Not All Superheros Wear Capes – How You Have the Power to Change the World”!

Please, if you do one thing today, check your voter registration status and / or get registered at Vote411.org! If you have a bit more time, ask your representatives what they’ll do if elections break down and the rule of law isn’t followed. We need to make plans now.

Sources from the podcast…

The following is an edited transcript of episode 22 of the Three Right Turns podcast. The above player is included in case you’d prefer to listen.

Today’s topic is about the foundation of our great republic, free and fair federal elections in these United States, and I’m sure many of you know why. Last week, President Trump floated the idea of delaying the Election, “until people can properly, securely and safely vote”.

Now, this is crazy. It’s crazy because this is coming from a man who wants to re-open factories, bars, theaters, hold rallies, and require children attend in-person school, but we can’t safely vote? It’s also crazy because if you look at the history of leaders who postpone elections, it’s not great. The vast majority of the time an election is delayed, for whatever pretext, free elections are never held again under that government. And it’s crazy because while the vast majority of prominent republicans have rejected Trump’s trial balloon of postponing the election, it hasn’t been in the strongest terms. Lots of furrowed brows. Lots of “I wish he wouldn’t say that.” Lots of “that’s not maybe the best idea.” 

But Trump’s primary concern isn’t election safety. It’s their legitimacy. Prior to the 2016 election, when asked if Trump would accept a potential electoral defeat, his response was, “it depends”. While he lost the popular vote by millions of votes, he did win the electoral college. But that wasn’t enough, he blamed his popular vote loss on voter fraud. 

Just two weeks ago, Fox News host Chris Wallace pressed the President on whether he would accept the results of the election. Trump responded that he wasn’t a good loser and he thinks mail-in voting is going to rig the election. 

That’s crazy, because many people are looking at mail-in and absentee voting as a way to safely and securely cast their ballot in this country where Coronavirus continues to run amok. (As an aside, both President Trump and Vice President Pence used a mail-in ballot to vote in the 2020 primaries.)

Trump said in June, “Mail ballots, they cheat. Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases. They have to vote. They should have voter ID, by the way.”

So let’s address two separate issues: Is in-person voting fraud a problem? And is mail-in voting fraud a problem?

According to the New York Times: “In the 2016 presidential election, where more than 137.7 million Americans cast ballots, election and law enforcement officials in 26 states and the District of Columbia — Democratic-leaning, Republican-leaning and in-between — said that so far they knew of no credible allegations of fraudulent voting. Officials in another eight states said they knew of only one allegation.”

“A few states reported somewhat larger numbers of fraud claims that were under review. Tennessee counted 40 credible allegations out of some 4.3 million primary and general election votes. In Georgia, where more than 4.1 million ballots were cast, officials said they had opened 25 inquiries into ‘suspicious voting or election-related activity.’”

The New York Times sent out inquiries to all 50 states, receiving a response from all states but Kansas, and found no states that reported indications of widespread fraud. 

In fact, President Trump’s commission he formed to explore the millions of fraudulent votes in the 2016 election, was disbanded in 2018 after finding no real evidence of fraud.

As far as mail-in voting, there is no evidence of fraud there, either, and little evidence that mail-in voting significantly affects the chances of either political party

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan public officials association composed of sitting state legislators” from the states, territories and commonwealths of the United States, there are in fact five states that have elections entirely by mail; Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. None of these states have reported anything but a handful of alleged voting irregularities.

Now, I am not saying it doesn’t happen. Instances where people engage in individual fraud – somehow successfully registering their dog for a ballot or casting a ballot for a deceased person – generate huge headlines and tons of media attention. Which makes sense because, like we said at the opening, elections are the bedrock foundation of our democracy. But these stories tend to come from both Republicans and Democrats.

For example, in 1997, a Miami mayoral election led to the defeat of a republican incumbent because a small army of paid fixers generated false absentee ballots. The fraud was caught by auditors, a Judge threw out the results of an election, and 60 days later a new vote was held.

Similarly, in 2018 a congressional election was invalidated and had to be run again when it was discovered that a Republican operative in one county collected hundreds of absentee ballots, including blank ones, from private residences. Again, the fraud was easily detected. 

But would mail-in voting favor one party or the other? There is no evidence of this either. There are states with slight advantages afforded to either Republicans or Democrats. What matters is turn out, as in traditional elections. In this case, the party that prioritizes education of their electorate about the process of mail-in voting and gets their constituents to follow that process to get their ballots counted prevails.

But on the other hand… who the fuck cares? If voting is made easier and more people vote, and they vote Democrat, then “them’s the breaks”. Nobody that believes in democracy makes it difficult to vote.

So where are these calls to restrict absentee voting during a pandemic, and calls to enact new voter ID laws coming from?

Well, a possible answer lies in our nation’s recent past. 

In 1865, the Civil War was won by the Union. As part of reconstruction, federal troops occupied the south, putting down small scale rebellions and paramilitary outfits like the White League and the Red Shirts, forerunners of the KKK, preventing them from terrorizing the newly freed black folks and thereby suppressing the vote. 

After about a decade, as a way to resolve the disputed 1876 election, Southern Democrats agreed to accept Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president so long as the Northern Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the south and allow them to deal with their black population without federal interference. 

Enter the Jim Crow era. Racists politicians contrived several ways to suppress the black vote. There were literacy tests. Slaves were widely forbidden from being educated and taught to read, which put them at a disadvantage. And while white literacy rates weren’t great at the time either, there were many ways around this. A person who voted in an election prior to 1865 could be “grandfathered in” and excused the literacy test. You could also have people vouch for your upstanding moral character to be excused from the tests. You’ll never guess which types of people could vouch for moral character, and what types of characters voting boards would accept. 

Black people being black people, they overcame. As black literacy grew and black teachers and college professors, confident in their abilities, tried to vote, southern politicians switched tactics. Now voting administrators would sit a jar of jelly beans on a counter, and ask voters to guess how many beans were in the jar, or they’d ask how many bubbles a pro-offered bar of soap contained. Somehow, white people always knew the right answers, and black folks, no matter their intelligence and education, just couldn’t get the answers right.

Other places applied poll taxes, charging as much as $1.50 to register to vote, which doesn’t sound like it, but was actually a lot of money at the time (about $45.19 today). These taxes also had grandfather clauses. Now, these laws also affected poor and working class whites, but they disproportionately affected black people. 

And when all else failed, there was always good old fashioned intimidation. They’d just send some good old boys; maybe some sheriff’s deputies, or maybe some members of the Klan in good standing, to watch over the polling places. You know, just to spot irregularities; like, black people being able to cast votes.

All this came to an end with the Voter Rights Act of 1965, which forbade these kinds of shenanigans. However, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act, one that required states with histories of racial and minority discrimination to get changes to their election rules cleared by the federal government before they went into effect. 

Since then, those states with a history of disenfranchising minorities have been busy passing Voter ID laws. Now, you might ask, what’s the big deal about requiring a specific ID to vote? I don’t know, what was wrong with charging a buck fifty to register to vote? What was wrong with requiring the ability to read to cast a vote? What was wrong with having polling security? Lots of things that seem innocent can have sinister applications, especially when there is zero reason to be stepping up security because as we’ve mentioned, there is zero evidence of voter fraud in the United States. 

For example, Texas found a way to discriminate based on which types of voter IDs were acceptable. For example, military IDs and concealed carry permits were allowed, but state employee photo IDs and university photo IDs were not. Service men and women and gun owners are predominantly republican. College kids and government workers lean democratic. Requiring a state ID often requires paying fees, having a permanent address, and waiting in long lines in government buildings and producing documentation like birth certificates and SSN cards, things that some people don’t have and can require a long time to get replacement copies. Combine this with voter registrations periods that close weeks ahead of elections, and people get disenfranchised. 

Hell, I showed up a few weeks ago to get a new Federal version of my state ID in Ohio and found out that they would not accept my birth certificate because my mother decided to laminate it 43 years ago. I have literally never had this certificate turned down for any reason whatsoever, but the nice lady informed me that they changed the law a few years ago. So I guess I have to go get a new copy. Literally, a state-issued ID and federally-issued passport was insufficient to prove my identity.

That’s a pain in the ass, but I can get it done. I have a car, I have a flexible schedule, I have money in the bank, I have an address to get a requested copy mailed to. But what if I didn’t? What if I, like millions of Americans, was in danger of losing my home in the next 30 days unless our leadership does something about the rent and mortgage crisis looming as 51 million Americans are newly unemployed since the start of the Coronavirus Epidemic?

More insidious, many places in the south are simply closing polling locations in urban areas and college campuses. And we’ve seen the results. In Georgia, people had to wait in line over six hours in the blazing sun, in the middle of a pandemic, to get their votes cast. Similar cases happened all over the south and south west. In some cases, these locations did not receive enough ballots to meet demand.

But suburban and affluent polling locations, no lines. Plenty of ballots. Which areas and types of people lean Republican? Which areas and types of people lean Democrats?

I’ll say again, nobody that believes in democracy makes it difficult to vote. And if you make it so that statistically only the “right” people can vote, that’s not democracy.

The natural way to combat polling location closures, ballot shortages and keep yourself safe during the Covid-19 pandemic is absentee voting. But that requires a functional Post Office to carry the mail. 

It just so happens Trump has been undermining the United States Postal Service, continuing a conservative attack that has been going on for some time.  In 2005, Congress imposed an austerity measure on the Postal Service which required them to pre-fund retirement benefits 75 years in the future, even for potential employees who have not yet been born. No other government agency or corporation operates in such a manner. The result is the Postal Service running annual shortages in the billions. 

The rise of the internet and economic recession in 2008 led to a reduction by a third in advertising mail that had been keeping the postal service afloat. In response, the post office has closed locations and laid off more than 200k staff positions. And right now, as we may depend on it to conduct a free and fair election, the Postal Service is looking at laying off thousands more and closing even more locations. In fact, the outgoing Postmaster General recently warned that without immediate support the agency could run out of funds within the year, and in that case might need to shut down.

I say outgoing because Trump just appointed a new Postmaster last month, a Republican Fundraiser. This completes a transition to total Trump leadership after earlier key resignations on the USPS’s governing board, including one position that oversees management of mail-in voting. Trump’s new man, Louis DeJoy, has cut overtime for hundreds of thousands of Postal Workers who were covering for the past decade of staff shortages. This is already causing delays to mail deliveries. 

So our President is baselessly attacking the validity of mail-in voting, which he himself takes advantage of, in the middle of a pandemic. A pandemic that he is personally mismanaging. New reporting alleged last week that his pandemic response team, led by his son in law Jared Kushner, declined to form a national covid plan, in large part because at the time, Covid-19 was hitting the blue states the hardest. The team concluded that a national plan was unnecessary, and wouldn’t make sense for the Trump administration politically. And by the time you read this, 160k Americans have died in large part because we had no coordinated national testing plan.

He is undermining the institution many Americans, myself included, will be counting on to deliver our ballots this November. 

And now he wants to delay the election. 

In response, leading democrats have posted scoffing tweets reminding Trump that he can’t do that, because the law says he can’t. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states: ‘The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.’”

Adam Schiff, representative for California, said, “Fact Check: You can’t do that. The Constitution explicitly grants Congress the power to set the election date. And we will do everything we can to ensure all Americans can vote — safely and securely — on November 3. No matter what nonsense you tweet.”

And you know what? They’re right. That’s what the laws, that’s what our Constitution says. And I’m not worried at all because Trump has a long track record of respecting the law, established norms, and the integrity and validity of elections.

A lot of people engaged in a lot of fun speculation about what might happen if he refuses to leave office. Some fantasize about the capital police arresting him and removing him from the white house like some kind of squatter. Others wryly observed that if Trump contests an election, his term as well as Vice President Pence’s expires by law in January and then Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House is next in line. But if there is a delay in election, SPeaker Pelosi’s term expires even earlier in January. Then what? 

The reality is no one knows. People act like Trump is going to go full military dictator, but the greater likelihood is he’ll just file lawsuit after lawsuit, muddy the waters, have his fixers in the Justice Department, led by Attorney General William Barr, play merry hell with the law while the hundreds of district and circuit court justices he personally appointed look the other way or enable this behavior. 

What I want to hear from our leadership is, what is the plan for when Trump decides to delay the election? What if he refuses to leave office if an election is held and he loses? What if the Post Office collapses or suffers massive delays during a majority mail-in election? What if there isn’t personnel available to monitor and prosecute mail-in voter fraud? 

Because pointing to the constitution and saying you can’t do that hasn’t been working out as well as we’d like lately, has it? A lot of our checks and balances haven’t seemed to be checking and balancing. So what if that trend continues? What do we do?

Usually, I have a pithy call to action for things we can do to try and right the wrongs we talk about here. But this? I’m not really sure. 

There are a few things I can think of. One, register to vote, and fucking vote. Vote411.org, get it done. If you live in a state that has mail-in ballots, make sure you’ve requested one. There have been many more states this year approving of mail-in absentee ballots this year because of the coronavirus. Unless you live in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, New York, or Connecticut, you can mail your ballot in. But you better do it as soon as you can. I filled out my application this week. I should get my ballot in early october. I don’t want to risk pressing my luck with a floundering post office. I’m going to be checking my mailbox like a hawk. As soon as I get it, I’m going to fill it out immediately and return it. I have the ability in Ohio to hand-deliver it to our election board offices, and I’m going to mask up and do so. I want to leave nothing to chance. Ohio provides an easy way to check the status of your ballot online. I’m going to be checking it every day until it shows as counted. I encourage everyone to do the same as much as your state allows. 

If you live in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, New York, or Connecticut, write your governor, your state representatives, your city council, your mayors and demand they take action. Call them. Email them. Tweet at them. Look for any state or local organization to apply poltical pressure on them to relent. 

The rest of us in states that are living in reality should ask our elected officials, especially our senators and US representatives, our governors, what is the plan if the rule of law fails us? What if the supreme court is ignored and the Senate shrugs? By what mechanism will the law be enforced? What are we going to do about the crisis facing our Postal Service? 

To that end, I’m including a direct link to the Find Your Representatives tool from the political watchdog organization, Common Cause. You input your street address, and it will spit out every elected official at the federal and state level that currently represents you with their contact information including phone number. If you’ve got a few minutes each day, or especially if you’re out of work right now, maybe reach out and let them know you’re watching what they’re doing and saying to these ends.

And then, I think, we all need to do some soul searching, decide what your line in the sand is. What are you going to do personally if the election is postponed, or even canceled? What are you going to do if there is a purge of voting registrations before the election? What are you going to do if your local polling stations have civilians with body armor and rifles, or even federal agents working for the Department of Homeland Security or Border Patrol or Marshals services posted up, you know, “just to keep an eye out for irregularities?” What are you going to do if your polling location is closed, or runs out of ballots? What are you going to do if the post office runs days or even weeks behind delivering your ballots? What are you going to do if millions in the United States are evicted and find themselves homeless heading into the election. What if that American is you?

Then, maybe it’s time to have another one of those difficult conversations with our friends and family. Are they aware of what’s happening? Are they concerned? What are they going to do about it? What can you do together? 

What is the plan?