The post office will play a pivotal role in the Presidential election
Like many New Yorkers, I opened my mailbox this week to find an absentee ballot application for the June 23rd primary election. Governor Cuomo issued an executive order allowing these applications to go out so voters could cast their ballots by mail, helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
In a time when we’re all just trying to get through this pandemic with our sanity intact, we’re probably not thinking much about the mail, but we should be. According to an April study by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans expect the coronavirus outbreak to disrupt voting in November. I am among them. Not only do I think the virus will cause chaos at the polls this fall, I think it could hand Trump a victory — and the post office might play a key role in that.
On May 6th, the Postal Service’s board of governors unanimously approved Louis DeJoy to be the new Postmaster General. DeJoy, who will begin serving in June, is a North Carolina businessman who has given millions of dollars to the Republican Party, including $1.2 million to Trump Victory, a super PAC supporting Trump’s re-election bid. DeJoy has no experience working in the Postal Service and his selection marks the first time in nearly two decades that the Postmaster General has not been chosen from within the USPS ranks.
That’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, especially when you combine it with Trump’s virulent opposition to voting by mail. In April, the President said that if the United States switched to all-mail voting, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Despite the fact that there is no evidence voting by mail gives one party an advantage, Trump this week tweet-threatened two battleground states:
Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!
State of Nevada “thinks” that they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can’t! If they do, “I think” I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections.
Many Republicans actually favor stepping up the party’s efforts to provide absentee ballots, but are wary of speaking out against the President. Politico quoted one Wisconsin Republican on the condition of anonymity: “It’s clear that Republicans need to get serious [about voting by mail] … We have to overcome our instinctive hesitation and become more effective at it.”
Perhaps that’s exactly what they’re doing.
There is a practice Dems should always apply to Trump, no more stringently than in this moment: Forget what he says. Pay attention to what he does. Case in point: Here’s a headline from Friday’s New York Times, “As Trump Rails Against Voting by Mail, States Open the Door for It.”
Trump has been in hysterics about how allowing people to vote by mail will lead to corruption, fraud, and his certain doom in the general election — yet he’s done nothing to stop it. Some might say this is typical Trump. All bluster, no bite. I don’t think so. I think this is a well-designed strategy. I think this is the people behind Trump, the real masters of universe, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, making sure their guy gets four more years.
From voter suppression to court appointees, McConnell and his coven have proven time and time again that their bag of tricks is as deep as it is dirty. They rely on Democrats and the “liberal media” to remain distracted by Trump’s daily servings of idiocy so they can play the long game without anyone noticing. Right now, that means using this pandemic to their electoral advantage. Voting in the time of Covid-19 is going to be a *#@$storm of epic proportion, and Republicans not only know it but are seizing on it.
Perhaps there was a time when Trump’s inner circle genuinely feared absentee ballots would tip the election toward his opponent, but the facts don’t bear that out. I believe, in his typically evil-genius way, McConnell & Co. are working the Br’er Rabbit plan: “Whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch!” Let the electorate believe Trump opposes vote-by-mail. That will cause alarm among the Dems (and the “wussier” types in the Republican party), who will immediately get to work making sure everyone in America can vote by mail — which is what the inner circle actually wants.
From the Times story: “Every once in a while you get the President of the United States popping up and screaming against vote-by-mail, but states and both political parties are organizing their people for it,” said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “It’s a bizarre cognitive dissonance.”
Also: “Experts argue that the greatest threat posed by a shift to voting by mail has nothing to do with fraud. Rather, they say, it is the very real prospect that a tsunami of mail votes could overwhelm both postal workers and election officials, creating a snarl in tallying and certifying votes that would allow a candidate to claim that late-counted votes were fraudulent.”
Finally: “I think [Trump] is trying to undermine confidence in elections,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “Maybe he’s not being conscious about what he’s doing. But he’s acting as if he has a plan.”
You bet he does. And so does the coven.
The latest coronavirus response bill passed by the House of Representatives included $3.6 billion in funding for states to adjust their election systems in light of the pandemic. The Senate opposes the bill, which McConnell said, “tries to use the virus as cover to implement sweeping changes to election laws that Democrats have wanted for years.”
Let’s imagine for a moment that Mitch is “convinced to change his mind” on this. The funds flow, the rhetoric softens, and everyone who wants an absentee ballot gets one. What are the chances those ballots will be filled out correctly, mailed in, and counted? According to Emily Bazelon’s May 5th article for The New York Times Magazine, “Will Americans Lose Their Right to Vote in the Pandemic?” the hurdles are huge.
For starters, more people than ever will request absentee ballots for the general election, and it will be a monumental feat for states to meet the demand. One example: In the 2016 Presidential election, Wisconsin voters cast 145,000 absentee votes by mail. In that state’s April election, which included the Presidential primary and a key seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, they cast more than a million.
It’s not easy to create a million or tens of millions of mail-in ballots and get them to voters quickly. According to Bazelon’s piece, printing and packaging bulk mail, such as absentee ballots, is a “niche business” which specializes in “details like ensuring that the paper for the ballots and envelopes is certified so the ink printed on it will scan correctly.”
She adds that many of the companies that do this work are “already at capacity for November, filling orders from longtime vote-by-mail states like California and Colorado. They could expand, but they would need to buy costly equipment that takes several months to obtain, a step they would only take with orders from states and counties in hand.”
Further, just as hospitals are running into shortages of personal protective equipment, polling places could run into shortages of voting supplies. Ballots and the envelopes they’re mailed in require specially certified paper. High-speed scanners are needed to count votes. According to Bazelon’s article, the requests to vote by mail in Wisconsin’s April election were so high “many people didn’t get to vote because counties ran out of envelopes for a time and then couldn’t fill all the applications for absentee ballots fast enough.”
Complicating matters even more is that state laws on mail-in voting are, as the website FiveThirtyEight put it, “a patchwork quilt.” Only five states already have elections that are held by mail-in ballot. Seventeen states require voters to provide an excuse for voting by absentee ballot.(This year, some states may accept concerns around coronavirus as an excuse.) Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia offer no-excuse absentee voting, though some states require voters to apply for ballots rather than providing them automatically.
If all of that won’t cause enough problems, the post office is going broke. It appealed to lawmakers in April for $89 billion in relief, saying it could run out of money by the end of September if Congress fails to act.
Maybe Trump initially wanted a crony to run the Postal Service so he’d be in better position to stick it to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. (Trump doesn’t like how that paper covers him, so he’s pushed the post office to jack up what it charges Amazon to deliver its packages.) But now he has an even better reason.
There’s a raging virus that’s making millions of people want to vote by mail, and for all Trump’s crowing about how much he opposes that concept, he’s done nothing to stop it. What he did allow, however, was one of his boys to be put in position to control the nation’s mail, which may end up controlling the outcome of the election.
To recap: The Postal Service, which is now run by a major Trump donor could be severely hampered in its ability to perform its duties come fall, the precise time at which an avalanche of absentee ballots will likely be pouring in. (Did I mention absentee ballot envelopes require Postal Service approval?)
And come November, if a bunch of absentee votes for the Democratic nominee in, say, Michigan or Nevada, get “lost” or dropped in a swamp, they’d need to be reprinted. And, shoot, it would too late for that. People would just have to hazmat up and head to the polls. See where I’m going with this?
The voter-suppression efforts employed in the 2018 midterms are well-documented. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that as that year’s election day approached, citizens in 24 states faced new laws making it harder for them to vote than it was in 2010. And in nine of those states, it was harder to vote than it was in 2016. Perhaps most important: “Voting restrictions have almost exclusively been promoted and supported by Republicans.”
In states that were already gerrymandered in their favor, Republicans attempted to confuse voters as well as intimidate and harass them. They used ultra-strict registration rules and voter ID requirements, voter purges, malfunctioning equipment, poll closures, and long lines to keep people from casting their ballots. Watch for adaptations to Republicans’ 2020 playbook that include targeting people in battleground states who wish to vote by mail.
One tactic to keep an eye on: scrutiny of signatures. Voters are required to sign their absentee ballot envelopes. The signature on the envelope must match the copy of the voter’s signature that the state has on file. According to Bazelon’s piece, many states lack uniform criteria or training for doing such matching, “As a result, rejection rates can vary a great deal from county to county.” One election expert she spoke with said, “If states don’t address it ahead of time, you can imagine absentee signatures being the hanging chads of 2020.”
It’s also not that much of a stretch to imagine bundles of ballots delivered to certain voters in swing states that happen to have misprints that make them impossible to fill out correctly, or ballots that are “accidentally” mailed out to certain voters without postage-paid return envelopes, or any envelopes at all.
And even if you do get your ballot, find a stamp, and drop the envelope in the mailbox, who’s to say that if you live in a certain area of a battleground state your ballot will get picked up in time to count. The post office is cash-strapped, remember. If it runs out of money this fall, it might just have to lay off a bunch of mail carriers in certain districts, which would slow down pickup and delivery of certain ballots. Just saying.
Also, not everyone can get an absentee ballot. This pandemic has forced many people to leave their homes because they’ve lost their jobs and can’t pay the rent. Maybe they’ve temporarily moved in with family or friends, or they’re living in a shelter or on the street, and no longer have a stable address. Those among them who wish to vote will likely have to go to the polls in November. That presents its own set of problems.
First, there will be fewer polling places. Milwaukee had only five sites open for in-person voting for Wisconsin’s April election, a dramatic reduction from the 180 sites that are typically open on an election day. There will also be fewer qualified and experienced poll workers. According to CNBC, poll workers who staff the general election tend to skew older. They may opt out in November due to the fear of catching the coronavirus. Several states are trying to recruit high school and college students to fill these roles, all of whom will have to be trained in skills such as, say it with me: comparing signatures.
Maybe the coven’s play will be to mess with just enough mail that just enough Democratic votes don’t get counted or end up in dispute. Trump can claim he never wanted vote-by-mail to begin with. He railed against it, even threatened to hold up aid to states that sent out absentee ballots. But the Dems insisted. And now they’re crying foul? Sorry. Game over, blue team. You lose.
Or perhaps there is no mail tampering. Trump loses and then he cries foul. Can you see the tweets? “Rigged election!” “Totally unfair!” “Cheatin’ Joe!” He refuses to leave the White House. The Supreme Court takes up the case. Trump gets four more years. Could happen. Just ask Al Gore.
Either way, there is big trouble ahead and Dems need to get ahead of it. Tune out the tweets, forget the bluster. Watch what’s being done, or not being done, and react to that. Prepare for that. Don’t fall for the same old trick. Don’t get distracted, outsmarted, Merrick Garlanded. Look beyond the obvious. See the bigger picture, the larger strategy at play. That is what winners do. Dems need a win in November, and it’s going to take a lot more than just mailing it in.