The COVID-19 pandemic has created a greater sense of urgency to campaigns already underway to expand mail-at-home voting and to grant non-salaried workers time off to vote. Extending voting rights and expanding voter participation are a core tenet of American democracy and a central part of our history. Unfortunately, resistance to such efforts is also a part of our history. This is one in a series of updates capturing the accelerating struggle to protect and expand voting rights for all Americans. —George Linzer, Executive Editor
Post Office Under Siege As Vote By Mail Surges
The US Postal Service (USPS) is under intense financial and political pressure that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, and Postal Service defenders are pushing back against threats that could cripple or shutter the service.
Postmaster General Megan Brennan (D) issued a statement on April 10 that estimated that the coronavirus pandemic “will increase the Postal Service’s net operating loss by more than $22 billion dollars over the next eighteen months…. threatening our ability to operate.”
Rather than shoring up the USPS, President Trump blocked a $13 billion grant that had been proposed as part of the CARES Act and instead recommended that the organization quadruple its price for package deliveries for online businesses like Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, has frequently come under attack from Trump. Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has often been critical of Trump before and since he became President.
The President has also publicly expressed concern about increasing the turnout of Democractic voters through efforts to expand voting by mail.
Postal carriers, who are considered essential frontline workers, worry about the possibility of the USPS’s ultimate collapse, which would affect the November election and all mail delivery services. Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told Democracy Now, “If we don’t have a United States public Postal Service, we will not be able to have vote by mail.”
Josh Silver, co-founder and director of RepresentUs, a grassroots anti-corruption group that works on expanding and improving voting and combating the influence of money in politics, said, “We’ve already seen how the coronavirus wreaked havoc on primaries.”
In-person primaries have presented voters and poll workers with a difficult choice between election participation and avoiding exposure to possible infection. This was particularly true in Wisconsin, where Governor Tony Evers (D) tried to postpone in-person voting and extend the deadline for absentee balloting. The order was ultimately struck down by the Wisconsin and US Supreme Courts, and on April 7, voters had to go to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to cast their ballots. On April 29, the Wisconsin Department of Health reported that 52 in-person voters and poll workers had tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing efforts suggest that many may have been infected on election day.
RepresentUs and other groups are pushing for Congress to do more to fully fund voting at home.
Find and contact your federal, state, and local elected officials
Texas Groups Promote Voting during COVID-19
Six Texas voters filed suit in federal court to fight a rule that limits who can vote by mail. The suit protested the state’s age restrictions, and was backed by the National Redistricting Foundation. The voters, all aged 18-28, are taking on the rule that only those 65 and older can vote absentee.
Likewise, the Texas Democratic Party has been busy battling to expand voting rights on two fronts. In Texas Democratic Party V. Hughs, Democrats hope to change another absentee balloting restriction so that healthy people can vote by mail during the pandemic. Right now, Texans under the age of 65 may obtain an absentee ballot only if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person. This differs from Virginia, for example, which recently did away with required excuses for absentee ballots, including illness.
Texas Democrats have also launched a new website that makes it easier for Texans to register to vote, particularly for residents who do not own a printer and so, cannot print forms available on the Texas government website. RegisterTexas.com allows Texans to enter their name, postal address, and birth date in order to receive via US mail a prefilled voter registration application to sign and mail in.
Additional Information on voting in Texas is available at VoteTexas.gov.
US Postal Service, “Postmaster General statement on U.S. Postal Service stimulus needs”, Apr 10, 2020, https://about.usps.com/newsroom/statements/041020-pmg-statement-on-usps-stimulus-needs.htm, accessed Apr 29,2020
Aaron Mak, “A Brief List of the Times Donald Trump Tried to Punish Jeff Bezos”, Slate, Apr 24, 2020, https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/donald-trumps-attempts-to-punish-amazon.html, accessed May 7, 2020
Jacob Bogage, “White House rejects bailout for U.S. Postal Service battered by coronavirus”, Washington Post, Apr 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/11/post-office-bailout-trump/, accessed May 8, 2020
Richard L. Hasen, “We Cannot Hold an Election Without a Functional Post Office”, Slate, Apr 14, 2020, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/04/november-election-post-office-bailout.html, Apr 28, 2020
Democracy Now, “Trump Attacks Post Office While Carriers & Clerks Die from COVID-19”, Apr 29, 2020, https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/29/mark_dimondstein_american_postal_workers_union, and https://youtu.be/-_LXh5ygvec?t=53, accessed May 1, 2020
Democracy Now, “Vote by Mail: Head of Postal Union Says Mailed Ballots Are Best Way to Secure 2020 Election”, Apr 29, 2020, ttps://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/29/trump_vote_by_mail_2020_election, accessed May 8, 2020
Rachel Barnhart, “RepresentUs: Senate Failed to Protect Elections in Stimulus Plan”, RepresentUs, Mar 26, 2020, https://act.represent.us/sign/votebymail/, accessed Apr 28, 2020
Anthony Man, “President Donald Trump voted for the first time in Palm Beach County (presumably for himself)”, Sun Sentinel, Apr 1, 2020, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/fl-ne-donald-trump-palm-beach-county-voter-20200401-zpl3jignmzflvfguteeahbjtbm-story.html, accessed May 7, 2020
Riley Vetterkind, “52 people with COVID-19 reported participating in spring election, but no tie certain, officials”, Wisconsin State Journal on Madison.com, Apr 29, 2020, https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/52-people-with-covid-19-reported-participating-in-spring-election/article_332d96bb-3c5d-5df1-bb85-332072b8ac01.html, accessed May 7, 2020
Alexis Ura, “Texas voters sue over age restrictions for mail-in ballots”, The Texas Tribune, Apr 29, 2020, https://www.texastribune.org/2020/04/29/texas-voters-sue-over-age-restrictions-mail-ballots/, accessed Apr 30, 2020
Ian Milhiser, “Texas’ election law could disenfranchise millions during a pandemic”, Vox, Apr 4, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/4/4/21204571/texas-election-law-disenfranchise-millions-pandemic-coronavirus-absentee-ballots, accessed Apr 30, 2020
Rebecca Klar, “Virginia governor signs legislation dropping voting restrictions”, The Hill, Apr 13, 2020, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/492462-virginia-governor-signs-legislation-dropping-voting-restrictions, accessed Apr 29, 2020
Dan Desai Martin, “Texas Democrats launch site to make sure residents can still register to vote”, The American Independent, Apr 21, 2020, https://americanindependent.com/texas-democrats-voter-registration-coronavirus-2020-election-pandemic-covid-19/, accessed Apr 29, 2020