This will not be easy. It never is. But, this year, we are facing obstacles to voting that we have never seen before. Not only from the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, which is already difficult enough, but from those who hope to exploit the pandemic along with their access to the levers of power to make voting --- by some --- as difficult as possible. It is now up to all of us to overcome those obstacles.
President Trump is, by no means, the first right-wing Republican to recognize that he can't win if voters turn out in large numbers.
"I don't want everybody to vote," Paul Weyrich, the GOP's notorious godfather of right-wing voter suppression infamously quipped during a 1980 address to a group of evangelical Christian ministers. "In fact, our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down," he added, after denigrating those who seek "good government" through maximum, informed voter participation, as people who suffer from "goo goo syndrome".
(The soaring pandemic death toll and an unprecedented 32.9% annualized second quarterly plunge in the GDP, serve as testament to what happens when We the People allow those opposed to "good government" to be placed in charge of our political economy.)
Trump's repeated attempts to suppress voter turnout are by no means novel --- as amply demonstrated during our two-part coverage (here and here) of the 2011 U.S. Senate hearings concerning a spike in GOP-engineered, state voter suppression laws. During those hearings nearly a decade ago, civil rights litigator Judith Browne Dianis described that spike as "the largest legislative effort to roll back voting rights since the post-Reconstruction era."
What makes our current circumstance both novel and extraordinarily dangerous is that an authoritarian-wannabe Donald Trump is the first Republican President who has been positioned to weaponize a pandemic by forcing voters to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and the risk of contracting a deadly virus. Instead of simply relying upon state voter suppression laws, Trump has aspired to engage in wholesale suppression on a national scale. Operating through a major GOP/Trump donor-turned-Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Trump seeks to actively sabotage the social distancing protection that Vote-by-Mail (VBM) affords by creating delays in U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries.
Last Friday, during a must-listen-to segment of The BradCast, Mark Dimondstein, President of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), confirmed that mail slow-downs were "happening across the country" at a time in which the USPS was already in "crisis mode" as a result of the dangers posed by COVID-19. In his view, the Post Office is now at the "epicenter" of the 2020 battle over "voting rights", noting that "without Vote-by-Mail people aren't going to be able to vote."
Thus, in addition to fending off "dubious" Republican legal challenges to mail-in voting expansion, democracy's defenders --- which, in this case, includes We the People --- must now double our own efforts to navigate Trump's sabotage of mail delivery. This, at a time when election officials in states that have not previously engaged in near-universal VBM must upgrade their electoral infrastructure in order to accommodate and tabulate an unprecedented volume of hand-marked paper VBM ballots.
But there are proactive steps that jurisdictions --- and, yes, you! --- can take to maximize the odds that your ballot is tallied this year...
On today's BradCast: Never mind the pre-election polling numbers you are hearing. Given the way Donald Trump and his Administration and acolytes around the country are actively working to undermine this year's November 3rd general elections, you'd make a mistake to place Joe Biden's odds of being declared the winner at any better than 50/50 at best at this point. Disturbing comments from our guest today only underscore that concern yet again. [Audio link for today's must-listen show is posted at bottom of article.]
But first up today --- after quick news that, contrary to yesterday's reporting, a second COVID test for the Governor of Ohio Mike DeWine appears to show he is actually, and happily, negative for the coronavirus --- we cover the stunning election news out of Tennessee on Thursday night. If the computer-tallied results of the Democratic Primary yesterday for U.S. Senate there can be believed, Marquita Bradshaw, a progressive African-American environmental activist supporting Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, has won the party's nomination to run for the seat being vacated by TN's longtime GOP Senator Lamar Alexander this November.
Bradshaw's campaign raised less than $10,000, according to FEC records, yet she reportedly defeated the Dem establishment-backed James Mackler who, with the support of Chuck Schumer's Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had raised more than $2 million for his campaign while only managing to come in THIRD in yesterday's contest! That's right, Bradshaw was outspent 250 to 1, but appears at least, to have easily defeated both Mackler and everyone else in the race according to the still-unofficial results.
Unless an error in tabulation is discovered, Bradshaw will go on to challenge Trump's former Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty, in November. He overcame a serious challenge in a contest that placed the Trump and Mitch McConnell-endorsed Hagerty against the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul-endorsed Manny Sethi. The far-rightwing Hagerty recently resigned from the board of a brokerage firm after they expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He will now run against a black activist in TN, which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1990. But, if Bradshaw could win after being outspent 250 to 1, who knows what may happen in November?
That said, the GOP dirty tricks this year are already underway. According to an email from our friend Tom Sullivan, a longtime blogger at Digby's Hullabaloo from the closely divided battleground state of North Carolina, some Democratic voters are now reportedly receiving phone calls purporting to be from the Board of Elections, falsely telling them they "no longer need to request an absentee ballot." That is completely false. If NC voters wish to vote by mail this year in the Tarheel State, they WILL need to request an absentee ballot --- though they can deliver their ballot by hand at county Boards of Elections, or even vote in-person later if they change their mind.
Dirty tricks from Republican activists, sadly, is nothing new, but bad enough. Especially in NC! But when the dirty tricks are coming from inside the White House itself, that is a matter of entirely different proportions. Shamefully, even as the President of the United States continues to make false claims about absentee voting (after fraudulently doing so himself!), Donald Trump's recently appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, is now undermining the U.S. Postal Service itself in advance of what will be, by far, the largest Vote-by-Mail elections in all 50 states in the nation's history. The Republican Trump mega-donor DeJoy, with no previous USPS experience, issued several directives upon taking office in June that have resulted in the slow down of mail delivery. And while both DeJoy and other leadership at the 250-year old Postal Service (whose first Postmaster General was Benjamin Franklin) have claimed the new directives are not aimed at slowing down mail or doing Trump's bidding to undermine absentee voting, our guest today, MARK DIMONDSTEIN, President of the American Postal Workers Union and Postal Service worker since 1983, charges that is exactly what is happening.
The new directives, purportedly meant as efficiency measures to curb overtime costs, "can't do anything but slow down mail," says Dimondstein. "Our understanding is that it's really happening all over the country, and it needs to be reversed. It needs to be stopped." The APWU chief, representing more than 200,000 postal workers, charges the new measures, which direct carriers to leave mail behind at sorting stations if waiting for it will delay their route, "runs counter to our DNA. Our DNA as a postal worker is to serve the customer, leave no mail behind, treat it as if it is our own."
The USPS is in crisis mode now, as coronavirus lockdowns have severely curbed regular mail delivery --- though package delivery has increased, he tells me, helping to mitigate that loss somewhat. The Post Office is funded entirely by postage, not tax payer dollars, but its Republican-dominated Board of Governor's, he says, unanimously voted to request a $25 billion emergency bailout from Congress earlier this year. While almost every other company in the nation has received crisis funding during the pandemic, Republicans in Congress and the White House have continued to block the request. "The Post Office does not run on tax dollars in normal times, it runs off the revenue. So if the revenue is not there, then the Post Office will run out of money," Dimondstein warns. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."
He goes on to respond to a host of questions, including on the safety (and necessity) of Vote-by-Mail and the President's attempts to undermine it. "Vote-by-Mail is nothing new for postal workers. We've been doing this for generations. Military personnel have been voting by mail since the days of the Civil War...And of course now, with the pandemic, it's a question of access to the ballot box at all for tens of millions of people who want to vote safely," he tells me, noting ironically that "Trump trusts us to deliver his mail-in ballot!"
We discuss what he describes as the "tremendous impact of COVID on the workforce," which has seen 40,000 workers quarantined and more than 2,500 who have tested positive, and why Donald Trump has had it out for so long --- even before the coronavirus --- for the Postal Service, which Trump has called "a joke". Contrary to popular speculation, Dimondstein doesn't believe Trump's antagonism is due to his dispute with Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon which works closely with USPS. He believes it's based on little more than interest by Trump and other corporatists to privatize and profit from the massive customer base served by the USPS every day at all 160 million addresses across the country, six days a week.
"The idea that the Postal Service is a joke is an insult to every dedicated postal worker. 600,000 plus strong," says Dimondstein. "Out here in this pandemic, on the front lines, can you imagine how we all feel hearing that? And it's an insult to the customers. 91% of the people in this country, in the latest Pew Research Poll [support USPS]. The Postal Service always rates the highest. This year, it was the highest ever, I think out of a deeper appreciation for the role of postal workers in this pandemic."
"The country just laid to rest John Lewis," Dimondstein notes. "His historic role in this country, courageously done, was the question of voting rights for African-Americans in the South of the United States. And it was courageous. He was almost beaten to death. Voting rights now is right here at the epicenter of what's going on right now, and the Post Office is right in the middle of this thing. Because without Vote-by-Mail, people aren't going to be able to vote. It's as simple as that. Tens of millions of people, from seniors to young people, just will not be able to vote during this pandemic if they don't have good access to Vote-by-Mail and don't have the states step up. We have to worry about some of these states that don't want people to vote. That's the reality."
When asked how long before Election Day Dimondstein would advise voters get their absentee ballot into the mail to ensure it arrives n time to be counted, he recommends that if you haven't mailed it by the Tuesday or Wednesday before Election Day, you'd be wise to try and drop it off in person at your precinct or local County headquarters. (Check your own jurisdiction to find out what is allowed, as the laws are different in each state and sometimes each county or municipality.)
There's much more in our conversation, but you get the idea. Please tune in for the full conversation.
Finally today, with the actual President of the United States now actively attacking the Post Office, the U.S. Census and democratic elections themselves --- all three, core elements of American democracy, each specifically cited by the U.S. Constitution itself! --- can there be any better reason to defend the nation and its Constitution by voting this guy out of office? With that in mind, we end with a bit of inspiration from satirist Roy Zimmerman's brand-new, updated version of his already-classic ear-worm parody tune, "Vote Him Away!"...
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