By Michael Kelley
Perhaps you heard apprehension in the voices at the other end of your get-out-the-vote phone bank calls. “My husband and I were planning to vote absentee,” one woman told me. “Now, we’re just not sure. What can you tell me?” Or maybe you sensed it during a conversation with a neighbor or a friend.
With a critically important election on the horizon, and with voter turnout set to play a crucial role in the outcome, the coronavirus pandemic has turned a trip to the polls into a risk-laden endeavor and shaken confidence in the election in a way that few of us have experienced.
In an apparent attempt to suppress voting, which presumably would enhance his chances of winning re-election, President Donald Trump, with backing from Attorney General William Barr, has, without offering evidence, raised the specter of mass election fraud in November by interlopers who would somehow obtain millions of mail-in ballots and use them to rig the election.
Trump has appointed to the position of Postmaster General to Louis DeJoy, who raised $360,000 for the president’s reelection campaign. And who, with his wife, Aldona Wos, holds between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in investments in Postal Service competitors or contractors, according to financial disclosures filed on her behalf to secure Senate confirmation of her appointment as ambassador to Canada.
And now we learn that election officials across America are having difficulty filling poll worker positions because people who have undertaken this task in the past are, understandably, reluctant to risk infection at crowded indoor polling locations where the virus could wreak holy havoc.
No wonder we’re nervous.
Fortunately, here in New Mexico there are ways to ease the anxiety many of us feel about this election.
Earlier this week registered voters could begin requesting absentee ballots from their county clerks or by visiting the Secretary of State’s website, nmvote.org, where voters can also find the information they need to participate in the election, hopefully without fear of being left out of the process.
And, if one exercises the absentee ballot option, which doesn’t require the voter to be out of town to qualify, there should be little worry about unsubstantiated claims of fraud emanating from the White House and the U.S. Attorney General. Intelligent mail barcodes on ballot envelopes protect the integrity of absentee ballots and allow voters to track the progress of their ballots through the point at which they are counted by county clerks. Of course, the earlier the voter can mail their ballot in — or, better yet, drop it off at one of the designated boxes — the less risk there is of getting left out of the election.
Still, efforts to shake our confidence in the system persist.
Newspaper columns are filled with one discouraging revelation after another, creating a pall over this election that reflects a new normal in America. Citizens have been jolted from their assumption that electoral integrity can be taken for granted, further weakening confidence in the system that has deteriorated since it was revealed that Russia helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 through misleading social media posts and other means. That situation continues, according to social media platforms, as the 2020 election day draws near.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump are blocking legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would inject funds into the United States Postal Service that would help offset the agency’s massive operating and pension fund deficits and mitigate some of the cost-saving and vote-suppressing moves by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy has cut extra mail delivery trips, instituted stricter dispatch schedules, accelerated the removal of the iconic blue mailboxes that once dotted the landscape, and decommissioned hundreds of high-speed mail-sorting machines from distribution centers.
For his part, DeJoy has assured a House committee that he would fulfill his “sacred duty” to deliver ballots securely and on time. DeJoy also testified that he was in full compliance with all ethical requirements of his office. There has been no word on whether he also has swampland to sell in Florida.
Michael Kelley is a retired journalist, a member of RepresentUs New Mexico and freelance writer who lives in Santa Fe. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.