The Republican party talks a lot about “freedom,” “choice,” and “independence.”
When we peel back the rhetoric and focus on policy, though, we understand in its starkest form that Democracy is the GOP’s Achilles’ heel.
It could literally be the last thing it wants average everyday Americans to possess.
“Freedom,” “choice,” “Democracy,” in Republican double-speak are shibboleths to the wealthy and giant corporations permitted to steal, pollute, hustle, and hoodwink as much as their campaign contributions will allow.
We, on the other hand, must not make the mistake of expecting the concepts those terms imply to pertain to us.
The primary method by which the Republican party strips Democracy from us is through curtailing access to the ballot box.
If there is one thing Republicans absolutely do not want, it’s more people voting.
Paul Weyrich, the founder of conservative think tanks The Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, admitted as much at a religious right gathering back in 1980:
Last week, Donald Trump publicly echoed that sentiment when he admitted during an interview with Fox & Friends it was a good thing increased voting protections and ballot access proposals were omitted from Congress’s coronavirus relief package because “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Republicans are completely aware the majority of voters prefer Democratic party positions, and when Democrats show up, Republicans lose.
The converse is also true: when Democrats stay home or are prevented from casting ballots, Republicans win.
One of myriad ways the coronavirus/COVID-19 public health emergency is impacting our lives is its effect on elections.
Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and New York have postponed their presidential primaries to minimize people’s chances of spreading and contracting the virus.
Wisconsin tried until the right-wingers on the Supreme Court swooped in.
In a nation with embarrassingly low voter turnout, being ordered to stay home threatens the nomination process, not to mention the general election.
This has invited Congress and state legislatures opportunities to propose mail-in ballots to be delivered to all registered voters.
Perhaps that is why the current administration is reviving a George W. Bush-era assault on the United States Postal Service (USPS) by rejecting funds it needs to help deal with and recover from the damage the coronavirus is inflicting on it.
In 2006, the Republican-led Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which required the postal service to calculate all its anticipated pension costs for 75 years and set aside five billion dollars per year to cover future employees.
That’s five billion dollars each year for employees who haven’t even been born yet.
Writing for The Week, Jeff Spross explained:
“Consider your average 30-year mortgage. What if you had to set aside a few hundred thousand dollars right now, enough to pay the whole thing, even if you were still going to make payments over 30 years? No one would ever take out a mortgage. That’s the whole point: the costs only come in over time, and the income you use to pay them comes in over time as well. It works exactly the same for retiree pensions and benefit funds. Which is why, as economist Dean Baker pointed out to Congress, pretty much no one else does what the PAEA demanded of the Postal Service.”
Fast forward to today, when the USPS is faced with not only this handicap but also the unprecedented economic strains the virus is imposing.
The Trump administration–which has no problem bailing out the airline, tourism, and hospitality industries–has declared in order to make more profit a death sentence on the industry for which Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General.
How long can the postal service hang on?
About a month and a half.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) tweeted last week:
I spoke with the Postmaster General again today. She could not have been more clear:
The Postal Service will collapse without urgent intervention, and it will happen soon.
We’ve pleaded with the White House to help. @realDonaldTrump personally directed his staff not to do so. https://t.co/5wPQvbA951
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) April 9, 2020
We probably wouldn’t miss all the junk mail we receive.
But what about all the medications millions receive through the mail?
What about just the general principle of “starving the beast,” thereby slowly executing the postal service so FedEx, UPS, and DHL–for-profit delivery services–can corner the market?
How about crippling the postal service so it will be unable to adjust to any vote-by-mail changes that could conceivable pass Congress?
Some states are urging voters to apply for absentee ballots.
But instead of just temporarily adjusting to meet the current crisis, what if we addressed both the coronavirus’s impact on voting and traditionally anemic voter turnout?
What if we used this crisis as an opportunity to institute real progressive change?
The possibly of voting by mail is one such way to accomplish this.
Those who have voted via absentee ballot already do this.
Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Senate counterpart Ron Wyden introduced “The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020,” intending to replicate nationwide what their state has practiced since being passed into law in 1998.
The bill calls for $500 million to help states prepare for voter disruptions the coronavirus may inflict.
Wyden and Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also introduced “The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA)” to allow all states 20 days of early voting, counting mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days before an election, and ensuring all voters have the option to submit absentee ballots.
Other states are taking notice.
New York State Senator Jen Metzger (D–Rosendale) has introduced a bill (S8120) requiring the state board of elections to create a vote-by-mail election plan during emergencies, which would allow state residents to cast via U.S. mail June 2020 ballots should the current crisis continue.
Her plan involves all eligible voters receiving and returning ballots through the mail or delivering them to designated locations–just like Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado.
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi also introduced her version.
Wisconsin election clerks reported scores of requests for mail-in ballots before last week’s presidential primary.
More than 111,000 Illinois voters cast mail-in ballots.
Make no mistake: this is part of an insidious ploy to rig the game so Donald Trump sails to re-election in November.
The Republican party has not legitimately won the White House since Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.
Even though November 2018’s mid-term election results were historic, it does not mean the GOP has forgotten how to cheat to win.
Eleven years ago the Republican party was licking its wounds after the country elected its first African American president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
So Republicans came up with a strategy: concentrate on 16 states and gerrymander them so badly Democrats have little to no mathematical chance of winning in the 2010 mid-term elections.
But there was another, more insidious strategy.
Republicans knew they couldn’t come right out and criminalize voting, so they devised ways to make casting ballots harder, more inconvenient, and frustrating, hoping people would stay home rather than go through the rigmarole to practice their civic duty.
That’s when the term “voter fraud” started circulating around right-wing media. Simply accuse random people (mostly immigrants) of voting illegally, and enough “patriots” would rise up in an altruistic fervor to fortify the most fundamental of democratic institutions against those who seek to denigrate it.
Some (Republican) states began instituting “voter I.D.” laws, requiring birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, to “protect election integrity.” After all, minorities vote primarily for Democrats. If they are to preserve their hegemony, Republicans must take evasive measures.
Voter fraud, however, is a myth.
Voter suppression is very much alive in America, and Republican states are setting a record for purging voting roles.
A study from the Brennan Center for Justice reported last year that, between 2016 and 2018, at least 17 million voters were purged from nationwide voting rolls.
Voting districts with voter discrimination histories have purged 40% beyond the national average.
This is due almost entirely to the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County vs. Holder decision that rolled back section five of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring states to receive Justice Department “pre-clearance” before initiating changes to voting laws that may impact minority voters.
The Brennan Center stated:
“As the country prepares for the 2020 election, election administrators should take steps to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot next November. Election day is often too late to discover that a person has been wrongfully purged.”
Just before the 2016 election, North Carolina permanently closed 158 polling places in the 40 counties comprising the most African American voters.
In 2018, the nation’s highest court decided in favor of the Eighth Circuit Court’s decision allowing North Dakota to require voters to maintain residential street address, not post-office boxes, and an accepted form of identification stating that address, a move that blatantly targets indigenous voters since many live on reservations with P.O. boxes instead of street addresses.
It also ramped up Republican voter-suppression tactics when it decided in a split 5-4 decision along partisan lines to permit Ohio’s system for stripping voters from the rolls to proceed.
Last August, it took the two-member Randolph County, Georgia elections board under one minute to vote to shutter seven predominantly African American polling places.
More than 85,000 Georgia voters were purged from rolls in just the three months leading up to election day in 2016, in what National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Derrick Johnson called “textbook voter suppression.”
And then there’s Florida, where then-Republican Governor now U.S. Senator Rick Scott teamed up with Donald Trump to accuse elections in danger of being “stolen” after Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the Senate and gubernatorial races when unofficial results fell within the margin to legally trigger a recount.
As progressive talk show host and author Thom Hartmann wrote in “American Democracy Is on the Brink:”
“If we fail to do something large, substantial and dramatic about the scourge of voter suppression, we must all begin learning how to rivet chains.”
Republicans talk a good game about democracy and patriotism.
When it comes down to it, though, waving a flag is meaningless when one’s actions belie the very principles he or she claims to uphold.
Republicans do not want democracy.
They want an oligarchy.
But they know Americans outside the extremely wealthy do not.
So to maintain their wealthy donors’ hegemony, they try to prevent voters from exercising their fundamental right to choose whom they want to represent them.
Why else would they work so hard to suppress votes?
Why else would they court donors like the Koch brothers and Robert and Rebekah Mercer?
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