Undermining and attacking the Post Office must not degrade our efforts to expand voting from home.

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I found myself thinking this a lot yesterday as we were bombarded with news coverage about USPS. This was crystallized in a recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, quoting Trump’s stooge of a Postmaster General about the potential for USPS shortcomings to undermine vote-by-mail in the upcoming election. Here at Vote From Home 2020, many of our best supporters and volunteers emailed us to share these concerns. They were worried that, in light of these revelations, our efforts to expand vote-by-mail might be a mistake, and we could be leading our voters into a trap.

In light of this, I wanted to share one of these email exchanges with everyone today. It reminds us that the only trap here is the one set by Trump to get us to lose faith in our elections — and in our ability to cast a ballot and to create change through our democratic process. Yes, the reports coming out about the Post Office and Trump’s demagoguery are scary. No one denies that. But these times call for courage and for heroes, not for a retreat based on fear.

Here’s the email exchange.

Original Email [Name Redacted for Privacy]:

On Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 11:39 PM XXX@gmail.com wrote:
Ben, Are we making a mistake? Are we sending vote by mail voters into Trump’s trap? Both Michigan & Pennsylvania required ballots to be received by 8 pm on election day, and North Carolina requires that ballots be received by 3 days after election day. With Trump’s sabotage of the USPS, are we making a mistake by encouraging vote from home? I know from personal experience that USPS mail has slowed down dramatically.

What are your thoughts?

My Email Response:

On Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 7:07 AM Ben Tyson wrote:

Hey, thanks for checking in — this is something we’ve all been thinking about a lot recently (for obvious reasons), and I keep coming to the same conclusion: definitively no, we are not making a mistake.

This is a really important concern, and certainly coming from the right place, but I believe it’s critical to remember that all of the recent worries about vote-by-mail and the postal service originated from Trump and his campaign. They want us to lose faith in our election systems, especially vote-by-mail, because they need fewer people to vote in order to win and they know getting more people to vote from home this year will do exactly that. So if there’s any trap here, it’s that — buying into the fear and uncertainty Trump is stoking around the issue of vote-by-mail and thus getting fewer people to vote safely this year from home. And we know it’s just fear-baiting because Trump’s campaign is actively telling their voters to vote-by-mail as well — attached here is a picture of a mailer we received a copy of yesterday that they’re sending to voters across North Carolina pushing them to vote-by-mail.

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We’re trying push back on the narrative that vote-by-mail is in dire peril this year, and there are a couple of other important factors to consider with:

  • As we’ve discussed before, Oregon is a great model and beacon for a lot of the activity around vote-by-mail, but one of the truly important pieces that most people tend to forget is that even though everyone there receives a ballot, that most people in Oregon don’t return their ballot via the Post Office, most of them return it in one of the secure dropboxes around the state. This is a practice that is expanding across the country, and is done by local election officials — free from Trump’s meddling.
  • It’s very prescient of you to point out the return ballot postmark deadlines for our 3 states — and in fact, not accepting ballots postmarked on Election Day is the primary cause behind all the ballot trouble in New York back in June, and why changing this by election officials across the country (this isn’t something that needs a new law in states) is one of the 4 pillars Marc Elias and his group Democracy Docket have outlined as essential changes they are currently suing to enforce. Additionally, at worse this becomes a timing issue and like you noted, we will need to move up our “internal election day” in terms of when we are telling folks to get ballots in the mail. If our records show that people haven’t returned their ballot (we will be getting daily updates) after the postmark deadlines, we will switch our scripts for the final few days so we are telling voters not to mail them, but rather to take them to the polls, surrender the ballot, and vote in-person instead. To quote from a NY Times article, “election officials had mailed out more than 34,000 ballots one day before the June 23 primary” which led to a whole bunch of problems. As you know, that’s why we’re getting started early and organizing hard to make sure that people aren’t submitting applications or ballots at the last minute.
  • Additionally, and I know there have been even more concerning updates recently from the USPS and other reports on the potential hang ups for mail-in ballots that way, but for all that media loves negative and doomsday stories because they get reads and clicks, there have been numerous successful expansions of vote-by-mail recently. In Nevada, Kentucky, Michigan — while there are still some adjustments, their most recent primaries mostly saw a successful counting and receiving of mail-in ballots, which will only improve between now and election day. The worst that can happen is it takes longer to count ballots which may not be ideal, but meanwhile, in all of these states while mail-in voting went relatively well, Election Day voters still had to contend with lines potentially 8 hours or more in length, particularly in black and brown communities.

And that’s the other important factor to consider, Trump wants attention focused on his smear campaign against vote-by-mail so that we don’t think about the voter suppression he is planning for Election Day, when it’s too late to stop it. That is the real trap. Putting all our eggs in the basket of voting in-person, only to see polling locations in our Democratic communities shut down, and the ones that are open covered by either Trump campaign volunteers or even the same Homeland Security armed forces that have been causing so much trouble up there in Portland to intimidate voters. Trump has openly said that he wants both of those things to happen, and that’s just scary. (This is something we’ve been concerned about since we worked at Let America Vote when we noticed a DHS notice that officially classified elections as critical infrastructure and allows these “troops” to be deployed at polling locations)

COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere unfortunately, so we will see polling locations closed, and MUCH longer lines to voting in-person — and we know from experience that these closures and long lines are much more likely to affect minority and communities of color. And all of the risk from COVID-19 is on top of the 50,000 “poll-watchers” that Trump has promised to deploy in Democratic precincts to intimidate voters, and institutionalized voter suppression like voter ID laws.

Voting on Election Day is almost guaranteed to be dangerous and rife with voter suppression, whereas we know that if we work at getting voters to cast ballots early and safely, walking them through the process with our Life Cycle model of organizing, that we can still get them to vote safely at home, beforehand.

Anyways, sorry to go on at such length, but I hope that helps. Our work this year is VITAL. Getting voters to request ballots early, turn them in early, and follow up with them throughout the process still has the best shot of defeating all the attempts and efforts of voter suppression that Trump and this pandemic can throw at us.

Thank you again for all for raising this concern, and for all of your support. We really are so grateful to all of your work and help with our effort here. If it would ever help for me to jump on the phone with you or any of our other volunteers to talk about this more, please just let me know, I’m more than happy to arrange that.

Best regards,
Ben

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So, what should we do?

There’s a lot of anxiety in the world right now. Between COVID-19, election interference, a collapsing economy, a heating planet, and systemic racism right on down the list, it’s a wonder that stores didn’t run out of Atavin along with the toilet paper this year. And I don’t mean to undermine these concerns — they’re very real, very well-founded, and about critical issues central to our health, safety, and our well-being on this planet.

But, we cannot let this fear win. We cannot let panic overtake us and rule this moment that so calls, not for desperation, but for action. History has shown us that our most trying times, just like the moment in which we find ourselves now, can only be surmounted by boldness and courage — not despair.

If you believe as we do, that we need safe and accessible ways to cast our ballots to protect our democracy this year, starting with voting at home, then please sign up to join us at www.votefromhome2020.org

Thank you.

Ben Tyson, Vote From Home 2020