PANDEMIC VOTING NEEDS AMERICA’S IMMEDIATE FULL ATTENTION
There is an increasing din in America that this self-congratulatory cradle of democracy is not up to the primal task of planning and implementing a free and fair presidential election in a couple of months. So sullied are we by the institutional failure to hold Trump’s government accountable for anything that there is a growing suspicion that the Trump cabal just might be able to thwart the coming electoral storm by undermining the electoral process at every turn.
The first checkpoint for the nation on the road to election day is to see if anyone has learned anything from the national pandemic response disaster. The same Trump playbook that has left almost 170,000 dead souls in its wake is being dusted off again. And this time, it is the presidential election that is going to take a massive hit if Americans do not collectively and forcefully demand something better.
Remember back in early April, less than 5 months ago? By then, it had become obvious to virtually every public health official and every identified Democrat in America that the cononavirus pandemic was a serious threat to the health and well-being of the nation. All but Trump and his minions demanded a national plan to limit the spread of the disease that included development of treatment protocols, adequate and timely availability of supplies, a uniform and aggressive national testing program with contact tracing, and the federal funding necessary to do all of this. The nation is still waiting for that plan.*
Fast forward to August, now less than three months before the scheduled November 3 presidential election. Even while death and disease ravage large parts of the nation and subvert economic and social well-being, there is an urgent national need to prepare for and ensure a free and fair election process.
This should be obvious, even to Republicans who show little interest in free and fair elections. It should be equally obvious that an efficient and uniform national plan for mail-in balloting, early voting, and a reduced number of polling places is more critical in this election cycle than ever before, including national standards and the federal resources to ensure compliance. So why isn’t it happening?
The reason is as simple as it has been with the pandemic response – a venal cabal lead by an ignorant narcissist will not use the institutions of the federal government to confront urgent problems unless any proposed solutions are sure to work for them and can be defined in politically advantageous terms. Neither human cost nor institutional integrity is part of the calculus.
As with the federal government’s pandemic response, there is readily at hand the time-honored way to deflect federal government responsibility in America. Make a speech about the urgent problem and then consign responsibility for solving the problem to state and local “laboratories.” This is always done with a pious nod to the US Constitution.
The result has been a patchwork and often conflicting response to gun violence, educational deficits, poverty, healthcare reform, and infrastructure inadequacies, to name a few. So Florida, do your own pandemic response. So South Dakota, bring on the motorcycle madness in the midst of a pandemic. And then just to top it off, make sure that the federal messaging gives each state the right to define “freedom” for its own denizens in a nation with no internal borders. Does this make any sense? Of course not.
After an initial burst of Trump testosterone and the conjuring of miracles, someone told Trump that if he took charge of the nation’s pandemic response like a real president, he would also bear responsibility if it didn’t work out. And that playing golf while people were dying on your watch would be difficult for someone actually in charge. Back in April, that quickly ended any effort to design and implement a national pandemic response plan.
So now, it is time to apply the same “logic” to the upcoming presidential election. Someone has told Trump that he is losing the election because he failed to implement a national response to the pandemic. From there, it was a short crossed wire to the message that you can’t lose if there is no election.
What will save the day for Trump and his minions? That same fifty “laboratories” strategy that has undermined the national pandemic response will now be unleashed to ensure that electoral freedom rings. All Trump has to do this time is the same thing he did in April – undermine any cohesive message, create institutional confusion, and provide neither standards nor resources to ensure a free and fair election. In short, pass the problem to the states and localities and do everything possible to ensure chaos.
And then, for an insurance policy, appoint a political hack to run the US Postal Service into the ground just when it will be needed most.** (Remember the once-proud Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now reduced to offering compromised pandemic “guidance” as soon as some unnamed Trump acolyte gives them the nod.)
Even while running around the rest of the world telling other countries that voting and fair elections are singular components of democracy, America has never had a national plan that even begins to address its most fundamental democratic failure, pathetic voter turnout. Further, there are almost no national standards that control voting practices and procedures, even for national elections. In this ambiance of neglect, voting in each of the fifty states has been blighted to some degree by gerrymandering, voter suppression measures, and dubious procedures that have thrived to undermine the equity of the US election process.
The nation does not have the luxury of electoral neglect this time around. In the 2016 presidential election, only a little over 55% of the voting age population actually bothered to vote.*** Think about that and how easily chaos thrives when so many don’t care enough to resist. Many will argue that there are lots of reasons for low voter turnout, from ignorance of process to impediments to voter registration and actual voting. Whatever the reason, we are back again to fifty states, fifty voting systems, fifty different sets of impediments to voting and a relatively mobile population.
Thus, any attempt to undermine the voting process has a lot of entry points and almost no up-front vigilance. It seems that counting the votes of those who do vote is much more important than ensuring that most eligible voters can actually vote.
The Trump election playbook is clear – incite division and chaos, divert responsibility to the states and localities, undermine the credibility and capacity of the US Postal Service, repeatedly and falsely disparage the integrity of mail-in ballots, and most importantly provide daily conflicting messages that will be gobbled up by the press. And this doesn’t even get to Trump’s open-door policy to foreign influence in the election process.
If somehow Trump seems to have won the election, he will heroically claim victory after having vanquished all the impediments to such an unlikely event and quickly forget that he rigged the election. If Trump seems to have lost the election, Trump will angrily announce that he cannot honor the results of a rigged election and quickly forget that he was the one who tried to rig it in the first place. The surest path to avoiding either of these outcomes is a forceful institutional response, quickly setting forth a national plan for ensuring a free and fair election. That will have to come from Congress and be reinforced by the media.
America cannot allow the fifty state “solution” to overwhelm what is left of the country’s democratic foundation. That is the same "solution" that now has almost 170,000 corpses crying out for something better.