What Can We Do, Part 1

8 mins read

After my post called “Oligarchy v. Democracy in the Age of a Pandemic,” Jane Q. Public asked:

I need to answer this question in parts. This is Part I.

The problem is: A political earthquake

The solution: Mail-in voting (To implement the solution: We’re already more than halfway there.)

Stick with me here. I have some strings to pull together.

In this lecture, Harvard prof Steven Levitsky explains why he compares the current politics in the US to an earthquake.

In the 1950s and earlier, both parties—as well as universities and all pillars of society—were largely run by white men. Before 1955 we had democratic norms and institutions—but they mostly protected white men.

To take one example, rape laws weren’t designed to protect women from attack, they were designed to protect (white) men from false accusation. (For more on that, see this post.)

Minority groups & women didn’t fully achieve equal rights until after the Civil Rights & women’s rights movement. So the whole “equality for all” is really fairly new.

A turning point was 1954, when the Supreme Court held racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. We’re still riding the backlash.

Now (from Levitsky) GOP morphed into the party of (largely) white Christians. The problem is that their base is shrinking, so their medium and long-term prospects are not good.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has morphed into the party of urban intellectuals, minority communities, and young people. These are numbers Levitsky gives in his lecture:

  • In 1994, White Christians were 74% of the electorate
  • By 2014, they were down to 57%
  • By 2024, they are projected be less than 50%

As the GOP watches its long-term prospects diminish, it is becoming increasingly desperate.

Terror of a democratic win in November explains much of what we’re seeing in the GOP right now. Because they’re desperate, they’re doing all those things that are causing you to feel outrage, horror, and fright.

Outraging you is a tactic to wear you out, discourage you, make you feel hopeless, and persuade you there’s nothing you can do. That way you give up and they win.

Each year the GOP numbers get worse. From the Consensus Bureau and PEW:

See the problem for the GOP?

Levitsky says we’re going through a political earthquake as we make the transition from a white male dominated America to a true liberal democracy. This is not an easy transition to make.

“Ethnic majorities rarely give up their dominant status without a fight.” Quotation from:

Making the transition requires passing through a period of intense polarizing reaction.

All that rattling and shaking you feel is the GOP trying one desperate measure after another to hold power. The way to deal with earthquakes is to strengthen the structures. The structures are the democratic institutions (like voting).

When elected officials actually represent the population, the Trump-FOX-GOP as we know it will be toast.

The GOP knows that, too. They are a minority party that relies on gerrymandering and voter suppression.

The solution to voting in a pandemic is the same solution to voter suppression: Mail in voting.

  • No worries about tricky voting machines
  • No worries about long lines at polling places
  • No worries about closing polls and confusing voters
  • There’s a paper trail. All the ballots are hand-marked

Colorado, Oregon, and Washington already conduct their elections entirely by mail, and it works well. Proof that mail in voting is the answer: How much the Trump-FOX-GOP wants to prevent it:

Here you have it from Georgia’s speaker:

Here’s Colorado’s response to Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting:

So how do we get from here (long lines, tricky machines, etc) to everyone voting by mail? It’s easier than you think. As matters stand, 28 states plus D.C. already allow this option. Another 20 states allow for absentee ballots, but require a good excuse (rules vary by state).

An advantage of federalism is that a few states can try something, and if it works, others can adopt the procedures. Overseas military personnel always vote by mail.Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have fine-tuned the procedures and safeguards. Most states already allow for the option, so it shouldn’t be hard to extend the option to everyone.

Anyone who does it raves about it. I fill out my ballot at home. I have lots of time to research each item. I double check for mistakes.

There’s enough time between now and November to work out procedures for (1) Getting ballots to people and (2) collecting or providing drop off locations for the ballots, (3) adapting counting procedures.

The most productive way to deal with outrage is to turn your anxiety to action. One of the best things you can do is get involved with a voter protection org. in your state.

Trump doesn’t (and can’t) control states’ election laws. The Constitution does give Congress the power to pass election regulations.

  • Q: Why don’t we have to worry about Congress making voting by mail harder?
  • A: Nancy Pelosi and a Democratic majority in the House.

Right now Wisconsin is scrambling to get mail-in ballots to everyone by the primary deadline. But look how much time we have until November.

We need everyone voting by mail in November. Join (or form) a voter protection group and get busy.

At this point on Twitter, I got my usual gloom-and-doom questions. People said that the USPS might shut down for lack of funds, Trump would shut down the Post Office so people couldn’t vote. (Trump would also completely destroy the American economy in the process, and anyway, absentee voting can happen without the post office by using pick up and drop off locations).

Someone else said people would just steal ballots out of mailboxes.

I get people are worried, so I think we need a rule. Anyone who says, “But what if . . .” and takes people down an improbable “what if rabbit hole” must do penance, which is to register 20 new voters.

[View as a Twitter thread]

Originally posted on Musing About Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.


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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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