“Free and fair elections, genuinely contested, are the basis for the authority and legitimacy of all governments.”[State.gov] – Michael R. Pompeo, United States Secretary of State
Growing up in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, my mom saw countless “free elections” in which the Communist Party’s pre-selected candidate would “win” with 98% of the vote–or more. Earlier this week, Belarus, another former Soviet satellite state, showed that blatant election rigging is alive and well, even in what is now the European Union. There, Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as Belarus’s president / dictator since 1994, won re-election with over 80% of the vote, despite being wildly unpopular. There’s little mystery as to how he accomplished the feat: “it came down to a tried-and-true autocratic method: brutality.” (Vox) His principal challenger was the wife of a regime critic who was arrested two days after announcing his candidacy; despite massive rallies and exit polls showing she won 60% of the vote, the official result had her garnering just 10%. Ballot stuffing was clearly rampant.
In the quote at the beginning of this post, Mike Pompeo, our Democracy-loving Secretary of State, rightly denounces the Belarusian dictator for his anti-Democratic actions. Unfortunately, he has yet to call out troubling news at home, for there is no doubt that Donald Trump is working to steal the 2020 election. His not-so-subtle plan is to use the crony he installed as Postmaster General (a major GOP donor with no experience in the postal service and who has myriad conflicts of interest with the USPS) to slow down mail delivery. In an election during which a record number of voters will vote by mail, this slowdown will, at best, sow confusion and chaos, and at worst, swing the election to him. Nor is he being quiet about it. In a recent Fox News interview he explained his refusal to fund the Postal service as follows: “[Democrats] need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots…But if they don’t…that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.” [VICE] Of course, he has spent months railing against mail-in voting, spreading the malicious lie that it is insecure and rife with fraud. The truth? According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “An exhaustive investigative journalism analysis of all known voter fraud cases identified only 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud from 2000 to 2012. As election law professor Richard L. Hasen notes, during that period ‘literally billions of votes were cast.'”
Republicans have long fought to suppress voting rights, and their efforts have accelerated since the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013: voter ID laws, voter roll purges, the closing of polling places, and other tactics have had the effect of making it harder for likely Democratic voters to cast their ballots. But what Trump is doing reaches a level that would make Putin or Lukashenko or any other of the dictators who win rigged elections proud. Already, people are reporting delays in mail delivery, and “The United States Postal Service is removing mail sorting machines from facilities around the country without any official explanation or reason given.” (VICE) What’s more, the USPS has “informed some states that they may need to pay a first-class rate to deliver ballots rather than the normal rate — nearly tripling the cost” during a time of budget deficits and little federal aid. (NY Times) It isn’t hard to imagine myriad actions such as these causing likely Democratic voters to not receive a mail-in ballot, to receive it too late to send it back, or for its delivery to be delayed past the deadline for being counted–all resulting in disenfranchisement.
It is not possible to overstate how dangerous, dismaying, and despicable this is. In the middle of a pandemic that’s still raging out of control because of Trump’s criminal negligence, incompetence, corruption, and indifference, the only way to run a free, fair, and safe election is through the widespread use of vote-by-mail and early in-person voting. And yet, Trump, with the implicit, and sometimes explicit, approval of Senate Republicans, is refusing to to fund the USPS and, as we’ve seen, using a crony to actively sabotage it (note, too, that many argue the issue isn’t really a lack of funds; it comes down mostly, if not entirely, to sabotage). As Laurence Tribe, Jennifer Taub, and Joshua Geltzer have noted in a brilliant article in the Atlantic, Trump is pursuing a “three-pronged attack” on the election: “slowing mail delivery, then urging Republican state legislatures to deem Election Day “failed” because of the many uncounted votes, and finally denouncing as illegitimate all vote-counting that continues after Election Day—even as slowly delivered mail-in ballots keep arriving.”
But we can and must fight back. Here are my suggested action steps; I would love to hear yours too!
(1) Start by reading that Atlantic article: Trump Has Launched a Three-Pronged Attack on the Election
(2) Pressure elected officials–your U.S. Senators and Representative, your state’s Attorney General–and the Biden campaign to publicly state that any effort to interfere in the election will be prosecuted. Why does that matter? Well, while Trump doesn’t care about following the law, some of the people around him, and especially the many people who would have to skirt or break the law to carry out his design, might think twice if it was made clear that under a new administration they could be prosecuted for their actions, or if they knew the state was being vigilant. They would then have to decide if it was worth the risk (for Trump isn’t just going to try to cheat in this way; he is, I’m sure, pursuing every possible avenue).
Think speaking out can’t help? On July 20, as Trump was sending troops into Portland–who were filmed kidnapping, tear-gassing, and beating protestors–and threatening to send them into other Democratic strongholds, the District Attorney of Philadelphia wrote in an open letter, “Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office. At trial, they will face a Philadelphia jury. It’s the least we can do to honor those who fought fascism, including those who are fighting it even now.” No federal agents were sent to Philadelphia. I can’t say this is why, but the point is that we have to resist the machinery of evil. We are facing a constitutional crisis: let’s act like it.
So call your members of congress and ask them to investigate what’s going on at the USPS and to pass funding to save the Postal Service and to fully fund a safe election. Here is a great resource for how to do that and what to say. Write the Biden campaign and ask them to put out a statement making it clear that anyone who breaks the law to interfere in this election will be prosecuted. And then, contact your state officials–especially your state representatives, secretary of state, and, if appropriate, your state attorney general–and ask them to do the following (these are taken directly from the Atlantic article referenced above):
a) “pass statutes making clear that vote-counting must be done not by December 8, but by January 6—and ideally by December 23, which still provides crucial additional time. This will ensure that a state legislature can’t claim voters “failed to make a choice” simply because vote-counting necessarily continued past Election Day”
b) “adopt a postmark rule, whereby every ballot postmarked on or before November 3 is included in the tally. If the question isn’t whether ballots are received by November 3 but instead whether they’re sent by that date, a deliberately tardy Postal Service no longer poses the same threat.”
c) “start the mail-in and early-voting processes well before November 3, and as soon as the candidates up and down the ballot are known. This will help states count the unprecedented wave of mail-in ballots they’re about to receive.”
If you’ve never made calls to elected officials, or feel that you need more information, guidance, and resources, there are a lot of fantastic organizations you can connect with. I strongly recommend Indivisible and Swing Left, both of which have local chapters that you can join.
3) And lastly, what better way to protest the destruction on the Postal Service than by sending them a letter? Specifically, write a letter to the Postmaster General (the Trump crony). Imagine if we sent one million letters? No one could ignore that! Below is a template letter you can use:
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20260-2200
August 13, 2020
I write to express my shock and dismay at the steps you have already taken during your brief tenure as Postmaster General to neuter the beloved United States Postal Service, on which tens of millions of Americans like me rely and which will serve as the lynchpin for a safe and fair election in November. I am deeply troubled by reports of slowdowns in mail delivery (which I am personally experiencing); the unexplained deactivation of mail sorting machines; and the decision to force election officials to pay higher first-class rates for mail-in ballots to ensure on-time delivery—after previously treating ballots as speedier first-class mail while charging a lower marketing mail rate.
It is no secret that the President of the United States, whom you have supported with multi-million-dollar donations, sees slowing mail delivery as a means of assuring his re-election. But this is the United States of America: I still believe in the rule of law and the promise of Democracy, and I call on you to do what you know is right–to resist pressure to use one of the oldest and most venerated institutions in our nation as a partisan tool. You must instead to do everything in your considerable power to ensure that the Postal Service will again, as it has throughout it long and storied history, help our Democracy continue to pursue a more perfect union. By pushing for the funding that the USPS needs; by reversing your previously mentioned disastrous policies; and by working with all relevant stakeholders, you can help America run a free and fair election, even in the midst of a devastating pandemic.