What to do

As some of you know, I taught “Introduction to American National Government” this summer in the second half of summer school. (This fact alone, with the events around it, would be worthy of a separate post, but I’m compressing the narrative here to get this written.) It is a requirement in the education, social work, and criminal justice majors, and it’s an elective for a lot of others. My campus does not have a political science major and in fact it’s the only political science class on offer, so it’s a one-off rather than an introduction to the field of study, and given the audience, it has to be focused on practical information. A class like that necessitates at least some reference to current events, and there were a lot of relevant current events in the seven weeks of the accelerated summer session this year.

The last week of the class was about elections, and I cautioned the students to do what all the experts were recommending at that point (after a brutal spring primary election in Wisconsin that became the subject of international news reports):

  • make a plan well in advance about where you will vote (this is often a problem for American college students, who don’t necessarily live in the precinct in which they are supposed to vote; one reason the participation rate is so poor for 18-24 year olds is that obstacles to voting are often put in their way by the precincts they do reside in;
  • assemble the necessary papers to register (a problem because the GOP has been busy raising the bar for voter identification in Wisconsin for the last decade);
  • make sure you are registered well ahead of time (this can be tricky in Wisconsin, because the law allows for same day registration, so people show up at the polls and discover they don’t have the right ID);
  • decide on a method (absentee, early voting, or voting on the day) and inform yourself as to the rules and deadlines;
  • if voting absentee (which was recommended for a lot of reasons), order the ballot immediately rather than waiting for the deadline, which is only four days before the election itself;
  • if voting absentee, mark the ballot as soon as you have decided;
  • if voting absentee, take the time to take the ballot to a post office branch and have it manually canceled (which functions as a date stamp) or else bring it back to your local elections collection point by hand;
  • make sure the vote arrives well ahead of time so that if it is challenged, you have the opportunity to respond to the challenge.

I followed my own advice. I ordered my first absentee ballot in twelve years in March, and I voted absentee in April and on August 11. On August 12, I ordered the absentee ballot for this November. The town mailed the ballots on September 15 and 16, and I received mine on September 18.

So far, so good. I marked the ballot and was all ready to carry it to the town offices, when:

Two days ago, three trays of mail were discovered, abandoned by the side of the road inside town boundaries. They were not our town’s mail, per the town office’s statement on FB, but they did include absentee ballots, per reporting in the local newspaper.

(Why the heck absentee ballots from elsewhere were found by the side of the road in our town would be interesting to know, but it’s not entirely relevant to my question. That said, my neighbors are busy beating each other up over it on NextDoor. Now if you think Twitter is bad …).

And on the same day, a federal court judge ruled that Wisconsin ballots would be counted as long as they were mailed by Election Day (even if they arrived afterwards) and they were received by six days later. (This responds to one can of worms from April and opens another one, but I’m compressing that part of the narrative, too.) This could potentially be important as the town’s statement also said that approximately a third of registered voters had ordered an absentee ballot by the first day they were mailed out. In any case, the ruling is under appeal.

In a normal year, the bizarre factoid of mail gone wrong wouldn’t matter much, and they’d just replace the ballots, but on the same day, reports surfaced that the Trump campaign is creating a series of strategies for getting swing state absentee ballots declared invalid before they are even counted. And months ago already, the GOP Director of Election Operations made clear that it sees Wisconsin as a prime field for successfully suppressing votes, although he was really focused on the southeast, urban part of the state . Common sense suggests that they couldn't do it on a case by case basis; that would take too long. It would have to be on a categoric basis.

So, also on Tuesday, the new "expert advice" came out -- if you can, vote in person. It will be much harder to suppress your vote in that way. (The GOP contingency plans for suppressing in person votes -- which they are not hiding! -- involve subverting the Electoral College in the state legislatures, but that's not something I can do much to influence either way.)

This is still possible for me -- I can vote at my precinct on election day as long as I don't make use of the absentee ballot.

If I lived in Texas, still, I wouldn't worry about it, as the Democratic Party hasn't carried Texas since 1976, when I was seven, and although it's supposedly closer this time, I doubt it will flip. Wisconsin was decided for Trump by about 22,000 votes last time. There are way more than that in absentee ballots in circulation this time. If it were close in favor of Biden, I would think the Trump campaign would definitely try to flip the count in some way. (Obviously the Biden campaign would try the same if the situation were reversed, but I think it would be limited to [another] recount [like in 2016]; it can't imagine they'd try a preemptive attempt to negate all the absentee ballots.)

I hate this. I hate that a first world country can't get its voting together (Wisconsin is a symptom of much wider problems). I hate that I would have to break our heavy isolation to do this, in a state where I'm legally allowed to request an absentee ballot at any time without giving a reason. I've talked about my precinct before, and I hate that this situation calls upon me to become suspicious of my family's friends and neighbors. Several of the poll workers are the same women who taught me in Sunday School decades ago. I hate the way the Trump Administration seems to have both drawn the entire country into paranoia and also substantiated the threat enough that it's not paranoia, but actual anxiety.

I hate that what I'm dealing with now is something Black voters have to deal with in every election.

I hate that every time I think things can't get any worse, they do.

~ by Servetus on September 24, 2020.

43 Responses to “What to do”

  1. 😳😳😳 I have no words…

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    • The last four years have really altered my picture of the 1930s decisively. You think it won’t happen to you …

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      • I’ve lived in Paris all my adult life and now feel USA has been taken over by ALIENS . How has it come to this and all the insanity going on daily. Hopefully, with the help of French chapter of Democrats abroad my vote will get case , counted & count! I limit watching CNN to minimum so I sleep at nights & have given up defending being American in this insane situation . May dear RBG rest in Peace .

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        • It’s hard to defend the US while abroad. I discovered that for the first time, living in Mexico in 1989, but in Germany it seemed easier. Now, of course, there is little to defend. I was watching one of the ceremonies for RBG on tv this morning and an opera singer sang Norah Jones’ “American Anthem.” I thought, we’re all crying for the US as much as we’re mourning RBG.

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  2. This sounds extremely difficult and like such a mess too. I’m so very sorry! It should never be made this difficult to vote, there are too many obstacles, no wonder many people don’t want to go through all that hassle… So, now you will be going out to vote in person, do you think?

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    • it’s very easy to vote if you’re white and middle class or wealthy and have a very stable address. If you’re young, don’t have your own residence or move a lot, are poor and move a lot (which in this state applies disproportionately to Black voters), etc., it’s difficult. If you weren’t born in a hospital and didn’t have your birth registered, if you’re Native American, if you don’t drive a car, it’s really hard. It didn’t use to be this way. I remember when I moved to Germany in 1994 I wrote the town clerk a letter asking for a ballot and it came back without any difficulty at all. I sort of compressed the story of the factors that caused people to buy into the rhetoric of frequent voter fraud (figuring they would bore readers here, as my students were not that interested in them), but there’s this belief that people are dying to vote illegally. They’re not.

      I feel like, yeah, I will have to go in person. Not sure what to do about dad. I’ll try to explain the situation to him, or get my brother to explain it (their political views are closer to each other’s than either of them is to me.)

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      • Here you can authorize someone to vote for you, would that be possible for your dad? My mother used to do this for my father when he couldn’t walk that well anymore. She’d request a special ballot, he had to sign, and then they’d receive an official voting card that my mother could use to cast her vote and my dad’s vote at the same time.

        Liked by 1 person

        • He also has an absentee ballot (which he asked me to order), and I can bring that to the town office just like I can mine. But I can’t physically vote for him. I think I could drive him to precinct and they would bring a paper ballot to the car. I’ve seen people do that.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I should say: I think if he had a certified particular degree of physical disability I might be able to mark a ballot for him, but he doesn’t.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Gotcha. Here you don’t need to give a reason for voting for someone else, that person can just authorize whomever he or she wants to.

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            • yeah, here is really complicated. For instance, I can bring dad’s absentee ballot to the clerk because I’m his housemate / caregiver, but I can’t do the same thing for shut-in neighbors: that is called “ballot harvesting” and is illegal.

              Liked by 1 person

        • Here in France, it’s a bit like in the Netherlands ( you can vote for 2 people max). And voting is not that complicated : you just have to be registered in the city you live – that’s all.
          It seems so complicated in the US.

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          • Same here – everyone is registered in the city they live in and if they’re 18 or over, they automatically get sent their ‘voting ticket’ at home. With that and your ID you can then go and vote, so no registering beforehand to vote necessary. But that seems to be more complicated in the US, the registering system is not that airtight.

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            • I think you have Meldepflicht in the Netherlands, no? (I know most of German speaking Europe has it, and France doesn’t).

              You kind of have to keep in mind that there is no national identity card in the U.S. Every time the suggestion comes up, various financial and political interests unite to oppose it. (The main reason people oppose them, I suspect, is that it continues to facilitate hiring undocumented migrants at illegally low wages, keeping cheap labor flowing into the US — but there is also a big libertarian opposition to it.) Most Americans don’t have passports (the closest equivalent). And there is no requirement to tell the government where you live, unless you have committed a crime that requires probation or monitoring of some kind (e.g., sex offenders). You don’t even have to have a fixed address to pay taxes anymore. So the central identification document for most voters is a driver’s license. With a DL and a birth certificate you can usually identify yourself sufficiently for most tasks.

              In practice, there are plenty of people who don’t have a DL — either because they’ve aged out of driving, or live in an urban area and have never driven. There are also lots of people who don’t have birth certificates, because they weren’t born in hospitals (esp: a lot of Black people in the South, who weren’t allowed into most hospitals until the 1960s) and their births were never registered for other reasons and/or they never needed to show proof of birth. (In my parents’ case, for example, they both got their DLs in the 50s with baptismal certificates, and although their births were both registered — my mother was born in her grandmother’s house, my father in a hospital — they never needed them until the 1980s, when they decided to get passports to visit me in Mexico — and even then they could have crossed the border with the birth certificates, I believe).

              So the question is how to identify yourself at a polling place (or for the purposes of registration). If you have a DL you’re in good shape, but if you don’t, it gets tricky. (It’s also increasingly hard to get a DL as the federal government is cracking down on that issue — “narrative compressed” but I can say more about it i fyou like.) In practice there are a lot of other combinations of IDs that should be accepted, but you have the problem of poll officials refusing them (e.g., the situation with a lot of Native Americans, who have tribal IDs rather than DLs and don’t have any proof of residence because they live on a reservation).

              So in general, the ID situation is difficult, and then you get to the issue of people who move around a lot. A homeless person who is a citizen is legally entitled to vote. However, if s/he can’t prove residence, s/he won’t be able to do so in practice.

              The situation is getting sticky even for the solidly middle class. I had issues in 2014 when I needed a fast passport renewal and couldn’t put my hands on my expired passport. I was born in Hawaii and their birth certificate office was inundated with work due to the Obama birther nonsense. Then, I had to go in person to Minneapolis to replace the passport if I needed it faster than three months. It was actually easier to replace the passport in Germany when I lost it than it was in the US. Oh, and I have a friend who’s trying to get his son a DL. He’s passed the test but he can’t identify himself properly because, although he has a birth certificate, he doesn’t have a second form of identification. Usually they use a vaccination record but in this case they can’t because he’s home schooling this year and so the school won’t certify his identity.

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          • There are a few things that are more common in Europe that are missing in the US. In general, it’s much more difficult to prove your identity in the US, period, than in Europe. (Putting more of this in the reply to Esther.) But yes. It’s complicated now.

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  3. I’m so sorry that you are going through this. I’m here hoping and praying for the best outcome and that Americans will have some sense of fairness to all. It’s scary.
    Please keep as safe as possible , you and your family. I hope democracy without fear and hate will become apart of your country again.

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  4. And you haven’t even discussed the possibility of the current administration disputing the results and basically refusing to leave.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting my oldest son just got his ballot in the mail today. He will never make it to vote in person with work. He would be rushed to work or from work, as he has a hour drive and been working 10 hour days. Not sure what middle son is thinking at this point. My husband said we are just going to go in person. He works but will be off at 6 pm. We didn’t do absentee in April and just didn’t go. In our special congress election in May we got absentee ballots. My husband pulled his out of the mailing. I mailed them back early. He then decided to mail his in time. It came back to us in the mail the day of the election. We never took it because that was the whole point of the absentee ballot. My aunt can go into the voting booth with my uncle to help him fill out the ballot. I am sure they never did absentee ballots at all this year. I really don’t think my uncle would understand the reason why.

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    • wow, your husband’s ballot came back? That is bizarre. I have checked on myvote.gov and they have accepted all of our ballots, but that’s another problem scenario.

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      • Yes his ballot coming back was very weird. It took be by surprise and took a bit to process. Both my oldest have voted and sending back their ballots. We are just going to go in person voting.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think it’s probably the safest in terms of getting your vote actually counted. The discourse about the GOP challenging absentee ballots quieted down a bit this week, but I’m sure this is not the last we have heard of this discussion.

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  6. Reading the reports on the situation in USA on the election, COVID-19 and replacement of RBG, I am just totally flabbergasted. The news reports read like a bad Dan Brown novel. Like one of your other readers (ilikepoemtoo), I can only hope that USA regains Democracy without fear and hate.
    We are having local council elections in October (Melbourne, Australia) and as a COVID-19 prevention measure, voting is 100% postal with ballot papers automatically sent to all registered voters. (Voting is compulsory, not optional.)
    I will be thinking of your election ‘race’ as we watch an unusual version of our own race – a Melbourne Cup without a crowd in the stands and inebriated folk in the carpark.

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    • I used to be opposed to compulsory voting — but I’m starting to change my mind. As I discussed at length with the students in my class, only 27% of Americans of voting age voted for this president. If that’s not minority rule, I don’t know what is.

      It’s so interesting what you say about your live events. We are starting to see live events that used to have huge crowds televised without them here as well, and it’s kind of a mixture of boring creepy, I find! Sort of like a university classroom building on the weekends.

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  7. Your electoral system is very strange. I’ve read about it’s history also…

    A lot of things coming to the surface now. All over the world but especially in the US.
    I’m sorry you are going through this.
    I hope the election will be fair. I hope for better times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I resent most is that the president has succeeded in painting a process that has been majority fair (or at least as far as I realized) as corrupt, which in turn has made me worried about its corruption. It’s a shame that I needed to wait to realize this until it concretely affected me, which is of course the reason for the resentment.

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  8. Reading this is painful, how sad must it feel going though it in person 😦
    The US seems tmore o be a ‘Bananenrepublik’ than the land of the free and I really am afraid what will happen in the next three or four month :/ but I hope for the best of course. For your sake but also for the worlds sake too and I know that sounds a bit pathetic….

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    • I know what you mean, though. I’ve been told many times by Germans that it’s as if the US President were the president of the whole world, but only Americans get to vote for him.

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  9. Well, I surrendered my absentee ballot this morning and will be voting in person on November 3, baruch hashem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Every vote is going to count in your state of Wisconsin. Is there any chance the state senate will flip? The Supreme Court screwed it with yesterday’s decision on ballot postal marks. I know I don’t have to suggest you take something to read, but maybe try a face shield along with a mask for extra protection. The available shields aren’t great for protecting the sides of your face, but with a mask, they are extra protection.
      Do you expect intimidation or disruption at the polling place? Zol zahn mit mazl.

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      • I didn’t understand why the SC made the opposite decision in the case of PA last week. We’ve been watching this so long, though, that I think the main people potentially negatively impacted will be members of the military.

        I was joking with dad’s personal care person that I’d put on this old hazmat suit we have in the garage.

        I can’t imagine that there will be trouble at our voting place. First of all, it’s a church, which should theoretically discourage people, but I honestly don’t think there will be many people there — a waste of time for people who really want to disrupt an election. The Town Clerk has been posting statistics on FB — 35.9% of registered voters requested an absentee ballot, and I just now saw that over 3/4 of them have already been marked returned, and there’s a week left. I suppose there could be a lot of people there registering on the day, but I kind of doubt it. We have an incorporation referendum on the ballot and people have been kind of exercised.

        Thanks for the good wishes. I may take POP!Thorin along to defend me.

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      • oh, re: WI state senate — signs are the GOP is worried, in that I’m seeing ads in markets that are so firmly Republican that they haven’t invested in campaign ads in years, but I don’t think it’s likely.

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  10. […] from here. After that post, another huge snafu hit our county elections office: it turned out that half of […]

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