Let’s be real. The Republican Party has spent decades blocking access to the ballot box. From voter ID laws to shuttered polling locations in minority communities to gerrymandering, the GOP has a passion for finding new and creative ways to suppress the vote. And now they’re harnessing a global pandemic to lower participation even further.
As the November elections approach and primaries continue to take place across the country, public health experts are adamant that absentee and mail-in voting is the best way to keep Americans safe should social distancing need be extended through the fall.
Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah currently conduct all of their elections via mail, a process by which every registered voter in the state is automatically sent a ballot. Once the ballot is filled out, it’s put into a secure envelope, signed by the voter, and returned to election officials for counting.
Most other states already conduct a form of mail-in voting called absentee voting — where certain eligible groups like the elderly are permitted to mail-in ballots. In many red states, those eligible groups almost entirely align with the GOP’s base and the convenience is not extended to the majority of voters. In every state, reports of voter fraud are virtually nonexistent.
So Democrats — who have been fighting to expand voting access for years — and public health experts have now joined forces to push Republicans to protect the health of their constituents by expanding commonsense mail-in voting, at least for this year’s election.
But Republicans from the White House to the statehouses have made it clear that they will continue to oppose vote by mail with every fiber of their beings. And the reason is not for the health and safety of our democracy. In the words of President Trump, it’s because “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
That’s because in state after state that’s made it easier for people to vote, participation has jumped, and the more people that vote, the more likely Democrats are to win.
The alternative to vote-by-mail is continuing to force people to vote in person at voting locations that, in many red states, are already overcrowded due to the GOP’s systematic closure of polling places in more urban and minority communities. People are already waiting in line for up to eight hours to vote, and we don’t need to imagine what adding a global health pandemic would do in that scenario.
Last week we got a sneak peek into what this catastrophe would look like in practice. After Wisconsin’s Democratic governor sought to implement widespread absentee voting ahead of last week’s statewide election, Republicans fought tooth and nail to force voters to the polls on Election Day. And outrageously, the conservative-leaning federal Supreme Court backed them up.
The GOP has been downplaying the danger of COVID-19 for months, leading Democrats to consistently poll as being more concerned and taking more social distancing precautions than Republicans. Wisconsin Republicans thought mandatory in-person voting would weaken Democratic turnout and boost the chances for a controversial conservative statewide candidate.
Early numbers out of progressive Milwaukee were half what they were in the spring elections four years ago. With Democrats already less likely to turnout amid a pandemic, the city was forced to shut down 175 of their 180 polling locations because they couldn’t find volunteers to run them. That left only five voting locations for a city of nearly 600,000 people.
What happened in Wisconsin last week is a disgrace, and Republicans are working to replicate it all across the country. In Georgia, the House Speaker said he opposed vote-by-mail because it would “be extremely devastating to Republicans.” In Pennsylvania, the GOP speaker refused to postpone three special elections, leading to a dramatically lower turnout. In Kentucky, Republicans tightened voter ID requirements even though state closures make it impossible for people to obtain the proper identification. And that’s just the beginning.
We need to go into November fighting with our eyes wide open. Donald Trump and his Republican cronies in the states are actively working to sabotage our elections. We cannot let them get away with it. Sound the alarm, figure out the voting requirements in your state, help your friends and family make a plan for how to vote, and get the GOP out of office in November. It’s the only way to protect our elections and our lives.