A collage of the constitution, a woman in a voting box voting, and paper that says "vote-by-mail" on it.

Election 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Voting

Democracy is on the ballot this November so naturally Republicans and Trump are doing everything they can to keep you from voting. Don't let them.

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Donald Trump, Attorney General Barr, and right-wing media have shown unrelenting disdain for the American voter.

Not only have they exhibited public contempt for those ready to cast their ballot for Biden, but also for their own base who they view as collateral damage in their quest to hold on to power this fall.

At this very moment, COVID-19 is killing one American every 80 seconds. The death toll is accelerating towards (and soon past) 165,000 in the United States. Our country has blown past 5 million COVID cases and we’re projected to lose another 100,000 Americans before the General Election on Nov. 3. COVID has crept into every community: BIPOC and white, Democratic and Republican, disabled and non-disabled, senior citizens and children. COVID is non-partisan. While COVID, like voter suppression, disproportionally harms BIPOC groups, it does not discriminate against who it will affect next. Yet, the Trump Administration has leveraged this national emergency to sow more division in our already hyperpartisan climate. Trump has politicized everything from face masks to voting-by-mail, both of which are safe ways to protect us from contracting the deadly virus. 

As if there weren’t enough cause for consternation, Trump has also debased one of our most vital institutions, the United States Post Office. He has called it a “joke” assigning one of the GOP’s biggest donors to strip the Post Office of its functional parts right before our general election that will be conducted almost entirely by mail.

Attorney General William Barr, is by no small coincidence another large donor to the GOP. It’s clear that to be in Trump’s orbit you must buy your way in as you purge yourself of any shred of superficial morality left. Barr has quickly disabused anyone of the notion that the Attorney General of the United States stands for enforcing laws to protect its people. Instead, Barr has designated himself as Trump’s personal lawyer. He is currently conducting a full-court media press impugning the integrity of voting by mail by propagating the false idea that voter fraud will run rampant despite decades of evidence to the contrary.  Should a prospective voter decide to Google “is voter fraud real?”, Trump and AG Barr have made sure that the White House’s website lists The Heritage Foundation’s dubious and debunked 381 page 2017 “study.” Trump has enlisted members of his Administration to push this faulty pamphlet on cable’s 24-hour news cycle. 

The sturm und drang of Trump and Barr’s messaging on vote-by-mail hasn’t landed quite as well as “her emails” did for legacy media in 2016, right-wing media has reliably parroted the voter fraud narrative through the echo-chambers of FOX News, OAN, and Sinclair Broadcast Group. A narrative aimed squarely at delegitimizing the election amongst the Trump base. If that isn’t enough, Trump has given sunlight to conspiracy theorist groups on Facebook and Twitter-like Qanon who are bent on “blowing up our shared reality” through disinformation and framing Trump as “a messianic figure fighting the so-called deep state.” While this sounds like the musings a few disaffected people with a score to settle, in reality, it’s hundreds of thousands of members who the FBI has labeled as a “violent threat.” Trump’s team has even dragged his “friend” Kanye West into this mess trying and failing to haphazardly get him on the ballot in key swing states. 

While it appears that Trump is doing all that he can to siphon votes from Biden and preemptively give the appearance that our election is illegitimate, it also appears to be backfiring. For decades, Republican voters have been cultivated to vote-by-mail, and now those same voters have begun to back away and distrust the process in numbers that threaten Trump’s re-election prospects. In Florida, Democrats have rushed to participate in the vote-by-mail program at a much higher rate than Republicans. As of this moment, 300,000 more Florida Democrats have opted in to vote-by-mail than that state’s Republicans. Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton in Florida was by a scant 112,911 votes.

 Though Trump’s only discernable skills are abject corruption and messaging that distracts legacy media like a flashlight to a kitten, he’s appeared frustrated as of late that he hasn’t been able to cultivate targeted sound bite messaging as he did before COVID. Trump struggled to get through his voter fraud fabrication in an interview with Axios’ Jonathan Swan who exposed Trump’s lies at every turn.

 Trump: “Universal mail-in voting [is bad]. Absentee voting is okay. You have to apply, you have to go through a process.”

Jonathan Swan: “You have to apply [and go through a process] for vote-by-mail too. The Republican party has an extremely well-funded vote-by-mail program. Your campaign puts out emails telling people to vote-by-mail.”

 Let’s set the record straight on vote-by-mail and absentee voting. Traditionally, absentee ballots are requested by voters who won’t be physically casting their ballots at the polls. These voters usually need to give an excuse as to why they can’t cast in-person (overseas, out of town, illness, etc.), and in some states, absentee voters must have a witness or a notary before sending back their ballots. In no-excuse absentee ballot states, there’s no need to provide an excuse as to why you are not voting in person, but you still need to go through the process of requesting an absentee ballot.  Vote-by-mail is when a ballot is automatically sent out to registered voters and without the need of requesting or applying for a ballot. Vote-by-mail states usually have several options for the voter to return their ballot: by mail, drop-box, in-person, county election office, polling place, or voting center. It’s beyond convenient.

The election results from states with in-person voting and vote-by-mail can be published during or shortly after Election night. In-person voting conducted by machines will tabulate the results as voters cast their ballot which can be calculated and shared election night. The original vote-by-mail states (WA, OR, UT, CO, HI), which Trump referred to as ‘universal mail-in voting’, already have the infrastructure in place for statewide vote-by-mail elections. There is no need for these states to drastically adjust or ramp up their ballot systems for this election. A few additional states will be classified as ‘vote-by-mail’ (e.g. voters automatically receive a ballot) this election: CA, NV, and DC. 

Trump has desperately tried to muddle the safety of voting by mail while distinguishing ‘vote-by-mail’ from ‘absentee ballot’ voting as evidenced by his July 30, 2020 tweet:

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

What Trump and Barr don’t want you to know is that Vote-by-Mail states have higher voter turnout rate, are non-partisan in their participation, and rare to zero voter fraud.

If I’ve unwittingly learned anything about Trump these past  3.5 years, it’s that if it appears he’s showing his cards, he still has another backroom gambling operation just out of sight. No, that’s not me giving Trump credit for being a cunning operator, to the contrary, he’s surrounded himself with authoritarian white nationalists who’d like to keep the grift going as long as they can. As Polonius said to Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”

The operation in the “front of the house” is Trump pushing convoluted messages to voters that the media eats up and analyzes in a fog of distraction.

The operation in the “back of the house” is Trump continuing to court foreign interference; dispatching an army of lawyers to sue every city and state expanding voting access for eligible voters; and recruiting an estimated 50,000-person army of “poll watchers” to intimidate voters, specifically BIPOC voters. This tactic has been used to terrorize Black voters since Reconstruction.

What can eligible voters do? We have few choices, but they could be effective. We can vote, we will vote, and our vote will be counted. Here is the order in which we must do this:

 We must register to vote now. Not at the last minute, now. Many states cut off voter registration 30 days before an election (Oct 3, 2020). Don’t wait until October. Register now in August.

If you’re already registered to vote, keep checking your registration status until the last day to register just to make sure you have not been purged off the voting rolls. You can check if you are still registered in your state by using DAME state voter guide to do so.

 If you don’t live in one of the vote-by-mail states (WA, OR, UT, CO, HI, CA, NV, and D.C.) but do live in one of the 32 no-excuse absentee ballot states (now including Connecticut, Arkansas, and some counties in Montana), please apply for your ballot now. Once you get your ballot please watch an online tutorial of how to fill it out. Absentee Ballots are rejected at a higher rate than voting in person. Why? Voters don’t understand the instructions for their ballot: they mark an “X” instead of filling in the bubble, they forget to sign their ballot, or they ‘overvote’ (when you vote for two candidates in the same category). Any one of these mistakes can lead to a ballot rejection. In 2016, according to The Election Administration report 1 percent of all ballots cast by mail we’re rejected. That might seem small, but those 318,728 rejected ballots can be the difference in some states. The main reason ballots are rejected, they were mailed too late. Please get your ballot early, and return it within 48 hours. If you make a mistake on your ballot, it’s OK, you can request a replacement.  If you need assistance with your ballot, please don’t hesitate to call your local election office, and ask them when you can find out if your ballot has been accepted or rejected. Help friends and family members register, apply, and fill out their ballots properly.

 You might be able to pick up and or drop off your ballot in-person to your local country elections office.  If you have ballot tracking, please take advantage of it, some of the tracking services even tell you if your ballot was accepted. If you vote early and your ballot is rejected, you can “cure” (correct) it in time. If you don’t live in a vote-by-mail state or no-excuse ballot state you can look at this guide to see what strengths and weaknesses your state has to offer in the way of voting. If your state insists you vote in person during a pandemic, again, vote early if you can. If you wait until Nov. 3 to vote, be prepared to be in line for at least 12 hours. Please don’t do that do yourself if you can avoid it. If you’re living outside of the United States and want to vote, you can go to Vote From Abroad to find everything you need.

As I advocate for early registration and early voting by mail, we also desperately need polling locations for in-person early voting. Many states might close polling locations that are needed by some disabled voters, Native voters, and other marginalized voters that might not feel comfortable voting by mail. You can help keep your polling location open by volunteering to be a poll worker. Some states pay poll workers.

Many states went from 1 percent to 4 percent of voters voting by mail to an estimated 75 percent of voters now with the option to voting by mail. The general election could take days, if not weeks, to calculate the votes pushed through old infrastructures and a stripped-down postal service. Trump would like to be declared the winner on election night. And AG Barr is providing Trump with a veritable pu-pu platter of tactics from accusing the American voter of massive domestic voter fraud; to dilutional floods of foreign mail-in-ballots (that would be easily decipherable); to accusing Biden of as yet to be determined hijinks to damage Biden’s election prospects. 

 If Trump doesn’t lose decisively, Barr is ready to declare the election rigged and contest the results.

 Let’s make the Biden/Harris win categorically indisputable. We can do that, if we vote early.

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