In 100 days, America will decide its future, and, in the process, perhaps the future of Democracy and the planet. At the very least, it is clear that another four years of the status quo would tear completely the fraying fabric of our nation. I won’t go into the litany of reasons why that is the case–if you are reading this, whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, you already understand that the consequences of Donald Trump emerging victorious in November are dire and unacceptable to anyone nominally attached to the idea of representative democracy.
The issue, alas, is that this election is almost certainly going to be a catastrophe, even if Trump loses and accepts defeat; the best we can hope for is a barely-averted disaster. Not only has Trump spent the last 4+ years laying the groundwork for attacking as fraudulent any election that does not result in his re-election (remember, he doesn’t even accept that he lost the popular vote in 2016, falsely claiming that it was because millions of people voted illegally), but the Republican Party has an even longer history of using whatever tactics at their disposal–voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, gerrymandering, endless filibuster, thinly veiled racism–to win elections and maintain power. Moreover, Trump, instead of acknowledging and seeking to prevent foreign interference in the election, has made clear he will accept it. Disinformation, hacks that result in “October surprises,” a last-minute war, martial law–anything seems possible if not certain. And now, on top of that we have COVID-19, which has spiraled completely out of control and is going to result in unprecedented electoral chaos.
We have grown accustomed, as an electorate, to learn the results of presidential elections on the first Tuesday in November every four years; with the exception of the Bush / Gore campaign of 2000, this has been the case in recent memory. Why?Because, traditionally, enough people vote in-person that the counting of mail-in ballots does not result in substantial delays (it also helps that the states with the most mail-in ballots, such as California and Oregon, are not swing states). In 2016, for instance, “24 percent [of all ballots] were cast using by-mail absentee voting.” (Source: U.S. Election Assistance Commission.) As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is estimated that “the share of Americans who cast ballots by mail in November may roughly double” to about half of all ballots cast. (The Atlantic.) With much of this increase expected in key states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, it is unlikely that the winner can be announced before most of those ballots are counted. Any delay in the result will open the door for chaos, as Trump uses Twitter and right-wing media to spread conspiracy theories and delegitimize the result, and lawsuits to ensure his victory (this is not a new tactic, of course; it was the Supreme Court that ultimately handed the presidency to George Bush in 2000 by halting a recount in Florida that would likely have swung the state, and therefore the entire election, in Gore’s favor.)
But there’s another, more invidious problem with a surge in vote-by-mail: the states are not prepared for it, in no small part because Republicans in Congress have refused to fully fund the cost. Consider what is taking place in New York, whose June 23 primary election is still unsettled. According to the Atlantic, “In some legislative districts, they haven’t even started counting absentee votes. In the best-case scenario, election officials hope to declare winners by the first Tuesday in August—six weeks after Election Day. It might take a lot longer than that. Election officials in New York City have already invalidated upwards of 100,000 absentee ballots—about one of every five that were mailed in from the five boroughs. And furious candidates are already filing lawsuits charging discrimination and disenfranchisement.” Imagine this dynamic–delays in counting votes, millions of ballots invalidated because of a postmark date or a signature that does not match what’s on the voter rolls–at a national scale, and you can see how the famous “hanging chads” of Broward County from the 2000 election can start to sound quaint. In the same Atlantic article the author, Edward Isaac Dovere, argues that “The chaos in New York is a warning about November’s elections: Voting is being transformed by the pandemic. But no state has built new election infrastructure. No state has the time or the money to make sure vote-counting will go smoothly in November. And just about every state is about to be hit with a massive surge of absentee ballots.”
Lastly, the 50% of voters that will still vote in-person are going to face long lines and fewer polling places. Because poll workers tend to be older and more vulnerable to the virus, “On Election Day, national polls will be short at least 250,000 workers…” (Inc) This will only compound the trend in Republican-leaning states since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 to close polling places in Democratic-leaning districts as a means of voter suppression; since that Supreme Court ruling, “Southern U.S. states have closed 1,200 polling places.” (Reuters)
The combination of decades of voter suppression, a spineless Republican Party, a morally bankrupt incumbent president, foreign election interference welcome by said president, a vulnerable election infrastructure, and a global pandemic mean that only a landslide victory by Joe Biden can spare us a nightmare scenario, one in which a contested election turns on corruption, fraud, an ideologically driven Supreme Court decision, or a fascist rejection of the results. Everything hangs in the balance, and we have a little over three months to save the Republic. What can and should you be doing in the interim? Let’s not leave room for feeling that there was more we could do; if we act, we’ll defeat Trump, and Trumpism, handily. Here are some key action steps:
Check your voter registration status at https://www.vote.org/am-i-registered-to-vote/.You should check your status at least once per month to make sure you haven’t been accidentally–or intentionally–purged from the rolls. If you are not registered, then you can do so at https://www.vote.org/register-to-vote/. Then, ask every single one of your friends to do the same–to check their registration status or register to vote.
Write letters to potential voters. In the absence on in-person canvassing, letter-writing is proving to be an extremely popular and pragmatic means of reaching current and potential voters. I have been writing letters through a 501c4 nonprofit called Vote Forward (www.votefwd.org) and Postcards to Swing States, a project of Indivisible Chicago Alliance, which is also a 501c4; both have data to back up the claim that their approach results in statistically significant increases in voter turnout. It takes about 3 minutes per letter or postcard; why not pledge to write 5 per day? It’s cheap, easy, relaxing, COVID-friendly, and effective!
Volunteer to be a poll worker. Given the aforementioned shortage in poll workers, why not directly work to address it by…volunteering as a poll worker? Go to https://www.workelections.com/ to learn more and sign up!
Join progressive groups. A lot of organizations are working to ensure that Democrats take back the Senate and the White House. Some of my favorites are Swing Left, Indivisible, and Stand Up America. Most of them have local affiliates or groups that you can join and engage with.
Donate! Ok, I know that we are in an economic cataclysm and it can be hard to come up with the funds, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis–we gotta dig deep. Start by donating directly to the Biden Campaign at http://www.joebiden.com/. Why is it so important to give to his campaign? Because the amount of money they raise will be treated as a barometer of the depth of his support, and also because national elections are expensive. But don’t stop there. I recommend giving to groups known at 501c4s, PACs, or Super PACs that either work to elect a candidate(s) or are working on issues related to the election, such as voter registration and outreach (a few of these are traditional 501c3 nonprofits, too):
Political Advocacy Organizations
- Swing Left
- Lincoln Project (they are a group of Never Trump Republicans putting out hard-hitting ads against Trump and Republicans)
- Democratic Unity Fund of the Democratic National Committee
Call your elected officials
It isn’t too late for the Senate to vote on the plethora of election security, voting rights, COVID relief, and other bills that House Democrats have passed but that McConnell refuses to even take up. Your Senators still work for you, even if they are conservative Republicans; let them know what you demand and expect by calling or faxing them. Signing online petitions doesn’t matter to your Members of Congress, but calling or faxing does. You can use ResistBot to easily fax them or this tool, by Indivisible, to place a call. It really matters.
John Lewis, the lion of Civil Rights who just passed away, reminded us we should “not get lost in a sea of despair. ” Rather, he admonished us to “Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Yes, these are scary times. Yes, in many ways the odds are stacked against us–the courts, the Republican Party, the big corporations and the billionaires. Yes, we are in the middle of a pandemic Trump has all but intentionally made horrific. But at his core, Trump is a whiny, scared, insecure child. He has no magic powers, and will keep only that power which we grant him. Even if he steals the election, we can always turn to the streets en masse–but let’s stop him before then. Let’s do everything in our power–writing letters, donating, volunteering, advocating–to ensure he is a one-term president so we can begin the work of cleaning the unimaginable mess he has made. We have a lot of work to do.
What else do you suggest? What are you doing these next 100 days? Let’s work together to stop Trump!