New Interview: I talked to Vanita Gupta, the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, about how to ensure a fair election, what the Trump administration is doing with the census, and the legal challenges we may see after November 3rd. https://t.co/1q3SHZHGSj
— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) August 9, 2020
Yes, I always say this, but seriously: READ THE WHOLE THING. (And share it.)
Chotiner is a widely acknowledged master of the meaty interview, and Gupta spells out the vital issues in simple terms:
With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of abating before November 3rd, Democrats and civil-rights groups are increasingly concerned that a slew of new mail-in voters will overwhelm states, leading to delayed counts and large numbers of rejected ballots. They are particularly concerned about the role of the U.S. Postal Service. In May, the Republican-majority Postal Service Board of Governors appointed a new Postmaster General, a Trump campaign donor named Louis DeJoy, who made operational changes that appear to have led to slowed delivery. Meanwhile, the President has repeatedly attacked the reliability of mail-in ballots, falsely claiming that they facilitate voter fraud.
To talk about these issues, I recently spoke by phone with Vanita Gupta, the president and C.E.O. of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group founded in 1950. Gupta previously served as the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, under President Obama…
What are the crucial things that states should be doing to prepare for holding an election amid a pandemic?
Several things. One is they need to create or implement vote-by-mail systems in their state that have prepaid postage and secure collection or drop-off. States that don’t already have this have to provide a reasonable window to accept ballots postmarked on Election Day that may arrive after. And this is especially important in light of the cuts to the United States Postal Service made by the Trump donor who’s running the agency.
States also need to expand early voting in order to have socially distanced, public-health-compliant polling places. They need to extend online voter registration, since so many of the government agencies that people typically register at are shuttered. And they need to be recruiting and training younger workers who are less vulnerable to COVID-19, and doing that on a pretty massive scale.
These are all the rule changes that need to happen at the state level, but then there’s this very significant voter-education effort that states need to be engaging in, too. It’s both affirmative and defensive. Affirmative because, in 2016, one in four voters voted by mail. There is going to be a pretty significant surge in those that are going to do this for the first time. And clarifying how voters can do this, what the deadlines are and all of that, is going to require a lot of voter education. But then they also have to be willing to fight disinformation. There’s going to be attacks on secretaries of state and local and state officials on November 3rd when they are unable to certify results because they need to count all of the absentee or mail-in ballots.
We obviously need to have mail-in voting so that people don’t put their health on the line to go to a polling place, but do you have concerns that a ton of mail-in voting is going to create problems?
There are more states than not that have experience with mail-in ballots. The primaries were really a test run for states, and the problems that we saw in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Pennsylvania can all be corrected, and secretaries of state have been taking steps. Many of them, not all, are trying to fix these problems and to be ready to make changes so that what we saw in the primary won’t happen in the general. And there are a lot of groups that are providing technical assistance. This is why the Leadership Conference has been urging Congress to supply the funds that are needed for states to make these changes and make them swiftly…
What have you made of the Trump Administration’s attacks on the Post Office? Is there something that people in Congress or elsewhere should be thinking of doing if the Administration tries to seriously mess with the Post Office?
Yeah. I’m deeply alarmed by this. I think there is no question that the Trump Administration is attacking core democratic institutions and they are threatening the infrastructure that is required to hold a safe, secure, accessible, and fair election in November. So you have this attack on the United States Postal Service, in which the President puts in a donor to run the agency, who makes cuts, and the result is delays in the mail. You look at the President’s tweet, from Monday, where Nevada passed a slew of measures seeking to expand [mail-in] voting. He knows that the Postal Service is a crucial part of our democratic infrastructure, especially in this election amid a pandemic.
So the things that need to happen are that Congress needs to provide adequate funding to push back on any notion of the need to make these cuts. In the absence of that, there is no reason why states should not be changing the rules, if they haven’t already, to accept ballots that have been postmarked on Election Day. You can provide a reasonable window of fifteen days, twenty days after the election, because there could be these delays to the U.S. Postal Service. So many of these states still have not done that, and that is a really important fix…
If a person can wear a mask and is able to vote safely in person, given all the things we’ve talked about, would you suggest that they do that?
My suggestion is that, for voters who can, they should apply as soon as possible for a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot, fill it out carefully, and then send it back or drop it off as early as possible so as to relieve pressure on polling places on the day of, when people for whom it is essential—like Native American voters who may not have U.S. postal addresses, or voters with disabilities who need assistance, or voters of color who, because of cultural reasons and historical reasons, may not trust the Postal Service—can vote. Keep in-person voting for those who consider it essential for whatever reason. If others engage in this process as early as possible, it will also, frankly, help secretaries of state to be able to count their votes earlier. There will be less of a surge, and it’ll reduce the delay in actually being able to announce the results after November 3rd…
I, for one, plan to send in my ballot as soon as it arrives (Massachusetts is sending mail-in ballots to every voter who requests one, this year). It’s not as though I’m going to change my mind about voting for Joe Biden!
— Tom Toles (@TomTolesToons) August 9, 2020