As we watched the homegoing of Congressman John R. Lewis, we got a stark reminder and warning of the current attacks on his legacy of civil rights and the voting rights. Former President Barack Obama went right to the heart of the matter:
“We may no longer have to guess the jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot,” Obama said, as he praised Lewis for his dedication and fight to pass the Voting Rights Law. “But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations, targeting minorities and students with restrictive (identification) laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision — even undermining the postal service in the run up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
We know that our new reality, the new “normal” will make mail-in voting an increasing option for millions of American voters. In what may be the most important election in U.S. history, the mail could carry the ballots of as many as 70% of eligible voters.
29 states have “no excuse” mail in voting-including Washington DC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 5 states: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah conduct elections almost entirely through the mail. Among remaining states that normally mandate an “excuse” to vote by mail, “COVID” exceptions for this year’s primary and general elections have been established; Delaware is among those states.
For a free, democratic country American voter turnout is shamefully low (55.7% in 2016); US turnout is lower than Canada, Germany, Mexico, UK and Spain. The trend toward voting by mail is a result of a long-term movement to increase voter participation and expand the franchise by making it as easy and convenient as possible to cast your ballot. Mail-in voting is among the most powerful best practices to increase voter participation for all Americans.
Yet, the President, in the middle of a pandemic, has demonized actions that enable more people to vote. His attack casts mail-in voting as a tactic that will benefit Democrats and a method that is ripe for potential fraud. Both of these ignorant, unfounded claims have been debunked by researchers from Pew Research Center and Stanford University.
Part of the Trump attack guts the one government agency that will facilitate the mail-in vote—the United States Postal Service. Right now, the postal service’s ability to deliver mail hangs in the balance while it’s recent COVID relief funding, $25 billion, has been tied up in a fight with the Treasury Department, seeking to control and politicize America’s first national public service agency. The impact for all of us would be to slow down the mail in advance of the November general elections.
Republican senators are falling in line with the President’s strategy; in March, Democratic Senators Klobuchar and Wyden introduced National Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (S.3529) to expand access to voting via vote-by-mail to all states. According to Congress.gov, it is still sitting in the senate rules committee, controlled by GOP Chairman Roy Blunt. Democrats across the country are raising the alarm:
“Attacks on USPS not only threaten our economy and the jobs of 600,000 workers. With our states now reliant on mail voting to continue elections during the pandemic, the destabilizing of the post office is a direct attack on American democracy itself,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.).
The Emergency Ballot Act is endorsed by AFSCME; I encourage you to support the bill and to contact PA Senators Casey and Toomey to push for passage.
Voting rights and labor rights are inexorably linked. Free access to the ballot is a cornerstone for policies that reflect the needs of working people. Unions worked hard with activists and legislators like the late John Lewis to secure our rights to vote. Local 1739 stands firm with union movements that increase voter participation. Given COVID precautions, if you are anxious about making an appearance to cast a ballot at the polls, you can take advantage of Pennsylvania’s option to use a mail-in ballot.
However, in the face of efforts to block and subvert the vote, must prepare for mail in voting NOW, way in advance of deadlines for the general election, so no doubt, delay or devious practice will prevent the receipt of a requested mail-in ballot. The completed ballot application must be received in your county election office by 5:00 PM on 10/27/2020.
In Pennsylvania, mail-in voting is easy. Take the first step by going to votespa.com to find out how to request a ballot. But do it now. Waiting until the last minute may take your right to vote away. Make a mail-in ballot your “new normal”.