Americans have their attention mostly focused on the health of themselves and their families, when they can get back to their jobs and whatever will pass for normal for the foreseeable future. But despite what Jared Kushner might say about such things, we are going to have an election in November.
Donald Trump’s erratic words and actions pretty well demonstrate that his re-election prospects are diminishing. There will be some sort of a re-bound in the economy over the next several months, but the consensus of business leaders and economists is that it will be a slow slog back. Since Trump’s only serious bragging point for the campaign was the economy, the concern among Republican leaders is understandable.
It is going to be a long five months until November third, but as we approach June 1 it appears that Republican nervousness also extends to the races for Congress. The House is out of reach. It now looks like there are enough seats in play for the next Senate majority to be in question.
Trump seems to realize that his base is not big enough to win, so he’s turned his attention to efforts that he sees as being detrimental to his chances. With more and more states moving to some variation of mail voting, Trump has said if voting opportunities are expanded that way “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump recently threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan and Nevada because those states are planning to send absentee ballot applications to all voters. As per usual, he failed to get his facts straight and provided no specifics about what funding he could or would withhold.
There has been no evidence that mail voting favors one party or the other, and in fact states that have used mail voting include many controlled by Republican office holders.
South Carolina is one of the reddest states in the country. Contrary to the position Trump has staked out, the South Carolina Election Commission has informed state voters that “recent changes to election law allow all voters to vote absentee in the June Primaries.” And although the state rushed to re-open last month, there still seems to be some hesitation about social contact. The State Election Commission appears to be having a problem recruiting poll workers, noting that they “know many of our long-serving and dedicated poll managers, particularly those that fall into high-risk categories, have decided that working the polls in June is not worth the associated risk to their health.”
The New York Times recently reported that “[e]leven of the 16 states that limit who can vote absentee have eased their election rules this spring to let anyone cast an absentee ballot in upcoming primary elections — and in some cases, in November as well… Four of those 11 states are mailing ballot applications to registered voters… And that does not count 34 other states and the District of Columbia that already allow anyone to cast an absentee ballot, including five states in which voting by mail is the preferred method by law.”
Among the states that allow requested absentee voting with no excuse required are Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Georgia and Florida – all states that are controlled by Republicans.
In order to cut down on voter turnout, an effort which Republicans see as working to their advantage, the party has used a variety of suppression legislation which usually comes in the form of restricting voter registration; reducing early voting opportunities; and limiting in-person voting locations that result in long lines on election days.
The goal of such efforts has been to discourage people from showing up at all. These efforts were significantly aided by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that ended federal “preclearance” of voting procedures. That Voting Rights Act provision required extra scrutiny of jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination. Examples of voter suppression include:
- Wisconsin, where the Legislature, supported by the Republican controlled judiciary, forced an April 7th election to proceed in the midst of the state dealing with the pandemic. The state (like South Carolina) could not find enough people to service voting locations so the number was drastically reduced. People waited in lines for hours to vote. Some voters and election workers contracted the coronavirus; several died. The Wisconsin Republicans argued that there was no problem with voting in person that day, and to demonstrate that point, here’s a picture of the Republican Speaker of the Assembly, Robin Vos, getting reading to go to vote. He said “you are incredibly safe to go out.”
- Many states which require the use of voter ID cards have made obtaining such cards very difficult. Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas have limited office hours for obtaining cards, which often has a major impact on areas with high concentrations of minority voters.
- The Brennan Center for Justice reports that in “Texas … one of the states previously subject to federal preclearance, approximately 363,000 more voters were erased from the rolls in the first election cycle after Shelby County [Supreme Court decision] than in the comparable midterm election cycle immediately preceding it. And Georgia purged twice as many voters — 1.5 million — between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2012.”
- Voter purges in Georgia in 2018, a process controlled by then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, had a direct impact on electing Mr. Kemp governor that year.
The problems with in-person voting, both prior to and now during the pandemic, have led Democrats to promote mail voting opportunities everywhere in the nation.
Trump has weighed in on that issue on numerous occasions. He has claimed that absentee voting leads to fraud, but there is no evidence of that anywhere, not even in Palm Beach County, Florida, where Trump and his wife voted absentee in 2018.
He claims that such voting will lead to “vote harvesting,” but the only known example of that was in North Carolina in 2018 when a Republican operative was founded to have tampered with ballots, which led to criminal prosecution and a do-over election.
This November’s election will come down to a referendum of Donald Trump’s job performance. No incumbent president since Calvin Coolidge in 1924 has been elected to a new term during a recession, and for that matter Coolidge had only come to the office fifteen months before the election when another scandal-ridden Republican President, Warren Harding, died in office.
Donald Trump has done nothing to expand his legendary base, gambling that an expanded turnout of that group will carry him to victory. He has driven away many elements of the electorate that Republicans could often count on, including suburban Republican women and the elderly.
On the other hand Democrats have never been as unified as they are this year, and many folks have been raring to go for three and a half years now. Regardless of Republican efforts to make it harder for people to vote, the Democrats have momentum going for them. Fasten your seat belts.