Whether or not the fever currently afflicting the world has broken by November 3, the United States of America has a date to keep on that day.
Or does it?
By Anatole d’Ecotopia
There is already widespread speculation that Donald Trump might attempt to exploit the health crisis he effectively created as a pretext for either postponing or cancelling the election that will decide his possible second term of office. It is not speculative that the unfolding COVID-19 crisis could render infeasible the way voting is conducted in most U.S. states. The real question is what — if anything — can be done about this in the extremely short time left to act.
One thing that is not going to happen is an outright cancellation by executive order. Even in a state of war, the President of the United States has no such power. The Constitution specifically places the power to set election dates in the hands of Congress. In 1845, Congress passed the Presidential Election Day Act, which specifically sets the Tuesday following the first Monday in November as election day. Even a postponement of this would require an act of congress. The last time any such thing was proposed was in the aftermath of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Nothing happened then… nothing is likely to happen now.
Even if a postponement of the election were to somehow pass Congress, it could not exceed 12:00 PM, January 2021 without violating or amending the 20th Amendment of the Constitution. Again, this is simply not going to happen. Amending the Constitution to postpone a national election and extend Trump’s current term of office requires — wait for it — a national election. In other words… we’re right back where we started.
Something that could happen would be either a one-time or permanent shift in state laws to permit mail-in ballots. At present, five states — Colorado, Hawai’i, Oregon, Washington and Utah — permit voting entirely by mail. Twenty-one other states permit some degree of mail-in voting for local and state elections. All states provide some measure of absentee voting. Clearly, the mechanism is there. Clearly, there is a compelling need for it.
But does that mean it could happen?
Anyone with a clear recollection of recent U.S. general elections is going to remember something else as well: ‘Voter ID’ laws, systematic closures of polling places in minority and lower-income communities, easily hacked electronic voting systems, and highly questionable electronic voting results. And although both major political parties bear some responsibility for the cumbersome mess of the U.S. electoral system, it is the Republican Party that has done the most to encourage this mess — and the Republican Party that has most clearly benefited from it.
It will come as no surprise that Trump has already gone on record as opposing national voting by mail. “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” Trump claims, echoing the GOP’s eternal and eternally unprovable allegation that it is voters who commit electoral fraud.
“It shouldn’t be mail-in voting,” Trump added in the same press conference. “It should be you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself. You don’t send it in the mail where people can pick up — all sorts of bad things can happen … by the time it gets in and is tabulated.”
Of course, ‘bad things’ are already happening — including a global pandemic that makes ‘displaying oneself’ — ‘proudly’ or not — in polling places operated by GOP rules a potential act of suicide. Given Red State reluctance to embrace the reality and consequences of COVID-19, it is entirely likely that such states would be entirely happy to conduct such elections, which would almost certainly lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections — possibly undoing months of effort and sacrifice by millions of Americans who do understand the consequences… and are trying desperately to ‘flatten the curve’.
Of course, the ‘bad thing’ Trump and other members of his party are really afraid of is the possibility that honest and accurate mail-in voting will turn the entire corrupt lot of them out of office. Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie has gone so far as to describe vote by mail as “the end of our republic as we know it.”
Depending on what happens over the next two months, a largely mailed-in election may happen whether Trump and his cronies like it or not. Election laws are determined at state, not federal levels, and the lack of any sort of effective federal-level coordination of COVI-19 response has made it very obvious to state governments that they are on their own– that is, excepting states with Republican governors that have learned the art of flattering Donald Trump. And even they understand that they are flattering a fickle buffoon with a long history of acting in bad faith.
The funny thing is that the GOP, despite their fears, might actually benefit — at least in this election — from national vote by mail. For starters, the Republican base skews heavily toward the demographic most at risk from the virus sometimes called the ‘boomer remover’. And that skew is only going to increase over time. Unless the GOP plans to start handing out walkers and masks at polling places, hanging tight on the crap way they prefer to handle elections is only going to hurt them. The smart play would be to get ahead of the curve, come out in favor of vote by mail at the national level — then figure out how to fuck it up at the local level, the way they fuck up everything else. Fortunately for the rest of the country… Republicans stopped being smart a long time ago.