OPINION: A Note to Voters – Stop Using the Mail, Vote in Person

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ERIC MESSINGER

BY ERIC MESSINGER
Mailing in an absentee ballot is a credible, convenient, and Covid-safe way to vote. But with one week left before Election Day, the time has come for anyone supporting Joe Biden who hasn’t voted yet — and especially voters in swing states like Pennsylvania — to stop using the mail.

Instead, they should follow their state’s guidelines for dropping off the absentee ballots in person, or, better yet, choose between an “early voting” option or voting at the polls on the big day itself.

Voting in person is not only safe — public-health experts consider it as low-risk as grocery shopping while wearing masks and social distancing — it is the surest path to a clear Biden victory.

Mail-in voting, on the other hand, is the priority target of Republican efforts to obstruct the vote. In some toss-up states, even those mail-in ballots that arrive before Election Day may not be counted till after it — a rule put in place by Republicans presumably to obscure the actual vote count while pursuing challenges to the election.

But early votes and Election Day votes are counted on Election Day. And if enough Biden supporters mask up and choose one of those options, there’s a real possibility that the former Vice President might be able to claim victory right then, on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Or soon after, when a number of states will also be done with counting their absentee ballots.

A clear Biden win on or soon after Election Day would not only be good for Democrats, it would be good for democracy. Indeed, it may be the only thing that could spare the country another protracted case of electoral trauma and scorched-earth divisiveness between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

In the grim shadow of the 220,000 Americans who have already died from Covid, and with the number of new cases escalating in many states, a call for Biden supporters to vote in person will undoubtedly strike some as insensitive if not irresponsible. But as supporters of the candidate who would lead the country through the rest of the pandemic with empathy for all, and respect for medical and scientific expertise, Biden supporters can meet the challenges of voting in the time of COVID: They can stay safe and engage the political realities of this time.

Empathy first: Anyone with preconditions that make them susceptible to Covid’s ravages should of course mail in their vote. So should anyone else who feels unnerved by the prospect of voting in person.

As for the science: A group of health experts led by Zeke Emmanuel, a bioethicist and former Obama-administration health adviser, put together “a COVID-19 Risk Index” to help people navigate the relative health risk of common activities like walking a dog or going to religious services. While voting wasn’t on the list, Emmanuel told the Atlantic that the risk is roughly equivalent to shopping, a comparison regularly used by other health experts as well. It’s a helpful guide: People who now feel confident going out to shop should also feel comfortable going to vote.

VOTERS snaked around an early voting site in Philadelphia at CAPA High School today, 300 strong. City Commissioner Omar Sabir was present to counsel them to avoid USPS delivery at this late date and use satellite offices or dropboxes now, or go to their voting divisions in person on Nov. 3, to ensure that their votes will be registered.

Voting at the polls is an indoor event, but one can expect virtually all polling stations to implement basic precautions to protect voters and poll workers alike, sometimes including lines that start outdoors. Voting stations cannot require voters to wear masks, but concerned voters should be able to protect themselves by keeping their masks on and staying clear of anyone who isn’t wearing one.

Biden voters also need to think about how best to protect themselves against voting obstruction. There is no one solution, but it’s helpful to be aware of what they’re up against.

People still planning to vote by mail should do it immediately to minimize the chance of their ballots’ being delayed because the Post Office, in the aftermath of the suspiciously timed cutbacks by the new Trump-appointed postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, doesn’t have the resources to meet the final surge of mail-in ballots. This is not a potential problem; it’s already happening. The delivery of mail-in ballots to the Board Of Elections is already running days behind in some states, putting them in jeopardy of being disqualified, especially following yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that the deadline for the arrival of mail-in votes in Wisconsin couldn’t be extended this close to the election (despite delays at the Post Office), a ruling likely to end up applying to any state with similar issues in court. Plus, late-arriving ballots, even if they aren’t automatically disqualified based on their arrival date, are also more likely to face challenges on how they were filled out.

The early voting options vary from state to state. They include going to the polls much as a voter would on Election Day; requesting your ballot in-person at the local Board of Elections (or equivalent body) and handing it in during your visit; or filling out your ballot at home and dropping it off yourself at the Board of Elections or at an officially sanctioned election box. These are all reasonable options, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and they offer the significant benefit of being counted on Election Day.

But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to muck them up: Republicans have lawsuits challenging the integrity of Early Voting ballots; Republicans have been caught setting up and promoting unofficial drop-off boxes; and in some areas, Republicans have allowed for absurdly few official drop-off boxes relative to the size of the voting population.

Election Day voters may encounter long lines, but at least they can likely count on their votes counting. For all the president’s untruthful assertions about Election Day fraud, that’s still when he’s encouraging voters, and Republican voters in particular, to vote. The Republican Party is unlikely to subject Election Day votes to a barrage of legal challenges if only because it could put too many of their own votes at risk.

But one troubling aspect of voting on Election Day that Democratic voters in particular need to consider: What to make of President Trump’s repeated calls for his followers to go to the polls and keep a watchful eye for fraudulent behavior, which, he implies, might be committed by Democrats. This is a nefarious tactic, intended to sow fear of voting in person among Democrats, and casting doubt on the vote’s credibility.

At the least, Democrats voting on Election Day can take comfort in numbers, in the likelihood that most people are coming to vote and not to interfere with someone else’s vote (which is illegal). But voters who feel like they’re being harassed, or who see something troublesome, should seek out an official poll worker. There’s also comfort to be had, I think, in the security efforts we don’t see: Law enforcement agencies, local and national, working to prevent trouble at the polls.

And beyond their pre-election and Election Day meddling, there’s the death star of Republican obstruction that may await Democratic voters and all other Biden supporters if the Election ends up turning on a case before the Supreme Court, who, with the addition of Amy Coney Barrett, has a solid majority of justices whose jurisprudence reliably supports right-wing policies and perspectives, and, when duty calls, presidential candidates (see Bush v. Gore).

If the polls are accurate, if they’re even close to accurate, Biden’s chances of winning the election are much greater than Trump’s. But the polls don’t include an algorithm for voter suppression — and there’s just no telling how successful the Republicans will be at it. Based on what we’ve seen from them so far however — from the disabling of the U.S. Postal Service (a smashing success) to the President’s thinly veiled call for voter intimidation on Election Day (remains to be seen)– I think it’s fair to say that Republicans will likely try to suppress enough Biden votes in enough swing states to effectively steal the election.

Why give them the chance?

Mailing in voting needs to come to a hard stop immediately.

Voters can essentially walk in their mail-in ballots instead, but it would be better for Joe Biden — and for the future of our electoral democracy — if his supporters voted early or voted on Election Day instead.

Eric Messinger is editor-in-chief of New York Family Magazine.

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