Court Orders Public Release of Bodycam Footage of George Floyd Arrest and Killing   

On August 7, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill ordered the public release of the bodycam footages of the arrest and killing of George Floyd that were made by criminal defendants and former police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1]

The Judge’s order said, “Members of the Media Coalition, as well as other media and members of the public, may obtain copies” of the footage. The order, however, did not elaborate on the rationale for his ruling, nor on how or when the footage would be released.

On July 13, the so called Media Coalition of local and national media companies had filed with the court a motion for the immediate release of this footage. The Coalition argued that the court’s allowing these videos to be viewed only at the courthouse by appointment violated state laws, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[2]

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns a Minnesota television broadcaster (KSTP-TV); and the New York Times Co., among others.

S===================================

[1] Simons, Judge orders release of Minneapolis police body camera video from the night George Floyd was killed, StarTribune (Aug. 7, 2020); Judge orders release of body camera video showing Floyd killing, MPRnews (Aug. 7, 2020).

[2] Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 14, 2020).

 

Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing

On July 13, the Media Coalition of local and national media companies filed a motion for the immediate release of the bodycam footage of the killing of George Floyd on May 25th.[1]

The motion papers alleged that the court’s insistence that the videos be viewed by appointment only in the Hennepin County Government Center violates state laws governing public records, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, these media companies requested the Court “immediately make the BWC [body-worn camera] footage available for copying by the press and public so that it may be widely viewed not just by those who have the time and wherewithal to visit the courthouse during a global pandemic but by all members of the public concerned about the administration of justice in one of the most important, and most-watched cases, this State — perhaps this country — has ever seen.” [2]

The attorneys for the Coalition also said that “releasing the transcripts without the accompanying footage is the sort of piecemeal disclosure that threatens not only to mislead the public, including potential jurors, but also to destroy the public’s trust in the judicial system.” Moreover, they argued that a written transcript only captures what someone said, not actions. “The transcripts don’t capture non-verbal noises, tone of voice or other elements. In addition, the transcripts of Lane and Keung’s body camera videos differ during crucial moments of the encounter. Allowing journalists to copy the footage, watch it multiple times, transcribe it and compare it to the transcripts and to time stamps from the bystander video will help reporters piece together a more complete story.” [3]

In addition, the motion papers argued, “There is no reason to believe that making the BWC footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial .… As days of unrest in the Twin Cities showed, it is vitally important that the public have full confidence in the process and outcome of this criminal prosecution.”

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP-TV; and the New York Times Co., among others.

The Coalition is represented by  attorneys Leita Walker, a partner in the Media and Entertainment Law Group in the Minneapolis office of the Ballard Spahr LLP law firm, and Emmy Parsons, an associate in that Group.

==========================

[1] Xiong, Media coalition calls for immediate release of body camera footage in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 13, 2020); Assoc. Press, Media: Body Camera Video in Floyd Case Should Be Made Public, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2020).

[2] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com  (July 9, 2020).

[3] Quotations from the transcripts of the bodycam footage were included in Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal charges in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

 

Other Opinions About the U.S. Electoral College

A prior post discussed the July 6 Supreme Court decisions about the “faithless electors’ in the U.S. Electoral College for electing the president and vice president and initial reactions to those Supreme Court cases. Here are some additional reactions to those cases as well as other commentaries about the U.S.’ complicated system for election of a president and vice president.

Jesse Wegman[1]

Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and the author of a book about the Electoral College, rightly says these recent cases did not address the issue of the continued existence of that institution, which, he says,” is rotting American democracy from the inside out.” First, it potentially can award “the presidency to the candidate who earns fewer votes among the people as a whole — which violates the fundamental premise of majority rule.” Second, it violates “the constitutional mandate of ‘one person, one vote.’ In the presidential election, the value of your vote depends on where you live. If you live in one of the half-dozen or so ‘battleground’ states, it matters hugely. If you happen to live in a ‘safe state,’ as a vast majority of Americans do, it’s effectively irrelevant.”

The Electoral College was created in the late 18th century Constitution because its “framers worried that most voters — who rarely ventured far from home and had no easy way of getting information quickly — couldn’t know enough about national candidates to make an informed decision.” However, Wegman says, the College has never worked that way with the immediate formation of national political parties.

As a result, Wegman argues, “there is no remaining rationale for the Electoral College. What remains is a system that serves no purpose other than to erase the votes of 100 million Americans every four years, making them bystanders to the most consequential election of all.” In short, amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Wall Street Journal[2]

A Wall Street Journal editorial also points out that these new cases do not “address the most controversial question about the Electoral College, which is whether the U.S. should have one at all.”

The editorial, however, does not address that issue either. Instead, it discusses the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact whereby some states agree to grant their electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote and which presumably is valid under the Opinion of the Court. However, says the Journal, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion, points out that the Constitution in the last clause of Article I, Section 8, states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”

In any event, that compact currently has 16 members (15 states and the District of Columbia) with a total of 196 electoral votes and by its terms would go into effect when enough additional states join to constitute a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes).

Richard L. Hasen[3]

 Just before these Supreme Court decisions, Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of a leading book on problems of the U.S. election system, noted several problems with that system.

  • First, it “features deep fragmentation of governmental authority over elections. Not only does the United States use a highly decentralized and localized election system that gives many powers over national elections to state and local bodies, but also, even within the approximately 10,500 bodies expected to run the 2020 election, there is sometimes disagreement over who has decision making authority over voting rights decisions.”
  • Second, “protection of voting rights in the United States is marked by polarized and judicialized decision making.”
  • Third, U.S. “ constitutional protections for voting rights remain weak. The U.S. Constitution contains no affirmative right to vote. It speaks of voting rights mostly in the negative: thanks to a number of constitutional amendments, it is now illegal to bar someone from voting on the basis of race, gender, age of at least 18, or through the use of a poll tax.”
  • Fourth, this “decentralized, federalist approach to voting rights has led to a self-perpetuating system of voting inequality, where in some places you may be disenfranchised even if you do everything right.”

Therefore, Hasen proposes the following short-term remedies. “All states need to expand opportunities for online voter registration in time” for this November’s presidential election. . . . Congress needs to adequately fund additional expenses related to running an election during the pandemic. . . .  States need to form independent bipartisan task forces to conduct full and independent investigations into why areas with more poor voters and voters of color saw significant problems voting in person during the primaries.”

In addition, Hasen advocates for a new constitutional amendment that would “guarantee all adult citizens the right to vote in federal elections, establish a nonpartisan administrative body to run federal elections that would automatically register all eligible voters to vote, and impose basic standards of voting access and competency for state and local elections.

 Wilfred Codrington III [4]

Last year Codrington, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, pointed out a racist motivation for the creation of the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention.

“The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation.”

This racial impact affected the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, 73-65 in the Electoral College and “metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves,” according to a Yale Law School professor, Akhil Reed Amar.

In the 1876 presidential election, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote due to disputes about the status of some electors. An ad hoc commission ultimately awarded the disputed electors to Republican Rutherford Hayes with his agreeing to remove federal troops in the South that were intended to maintain order and protect black voters.

Max Boot[5]

Boot, an historian and Washington Post columnist, reports that he recently participated in a “war game” over a hypothetical narrow Biden victory in the Electoral College, 278-260, including narrow wins in three swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—where Republicans control both houses of their legislatures. Although all three states have Democratic governors, who usually certify election results, there is nothing to prevent the legislatures from certifying different results, especially if Trump “will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a ‘loser’” and if hypothetically he and his allies concocted allegations of election fraud in those three states. The resulting dispute over these three states and hence the results of the election could well end up in the Supreme Court, and who could predict how they might resolve the dispute, given what it did in the 2000 election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

A related concern is whether local, state and federal funding for the expenses of conducting the upcoming election in this pandemic will be adequate. This especially is true for the U.S. Postal Service with the anticipated mailing of election ballots.

David Rothkopf[6]

A lot of these current issues about the Electoral College are prompted by the outrageous conduct of our current president, Donald Trump, who is the “embodiment of the Founders’ worst fears.” So says David Rothkopf, a former professor of international affairs at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and a senior official in the Clinton Administration.

Rothkopf continues, Trump “has invited our enemies to interfere with our elections to help him win, then sought to do it again. He has misused federal resources, inappropriately elevated his own family members, and enriched his own businesses. He has repeatedly attacked the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. He has had infants thrown in cages and denied relief to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria at the cost of thousands of lives. He has gutted environmental protections and attacked alliances that the US spent decades building and maintaining. And now he has mismanaged the worst public health crisis in a hundred years, overseen the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and attempted to use the US military to crush legitimate protests on the streets of the capital.”

Moreover, “in the space of just a few days, . . . [Trump] was revealed to have endorsed concentration camps in China and to have again sought the assistance of a foreign adversary in winning a US election, was quoted as calling for the deaths and imprisonment of US journalists, defended the slave power traitors of the Confederacy, admitted that he suppressed testing during the pandemic because true data about the rate of infections would harm him politically, sought to fire more truthtellers in the administration and had his attorney general remove an official in charge of investigations into him and his supporters. He was reportedly briefed about a Russian scheme to place bounties on American and allied troops in Afghanistan, and not only did nothing about it but continued to act as an advocate for Putin. And so it goes on… before we even consider the many complaints about his character—his racism and misogyny, his ignorance and contempt for science and history, his lies, his narcissism, his vulgarity, his demagoguery. Has there ever been a public official in US history so unable to relate to others, show an emotion besides anger, or view the world through any means but his own self-interest?”

Conclusion

 Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College!

==========================

[1] Wegman, Can We Please Pick the President by Popular Vote Now? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020)

[2] Editorial, States and the Electoral College, W.S. J. (July 6, 2020); Kendall & Bravin, Supreme Court Rules States Can Prohibit Electors From Breaking Rank, W.S.J. (July 6, 2020); Astor & Stevens, Did the Popular Vote Just Get a Win at the Supreme Court? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020); National Popular Vote, nationalpopularvote.com.

[3] Hasen, Bring on the 28th Amendment, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020).  Since there are now 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, this article calls for a 28th amendment even though an existing non-profit organization has drafted and is promoting what it calls the 28th Amendment “to end the escalating influence of big money that dominates our elections . . . [by enabling} Americans to enact reasonable limits on campaign contributions and dark money political spending [and] reversing the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision.” (American Promise, The 28th Amendment.)

[4] Codrington, The Electoral College’s Racist Origins, The Atlantic  (Nov. 17, 2019); 1800 United States presidential election, Wikipedia.

[5] Boot, What if Trump loses but insists he won? Wash. Post (July 6, 2020); Reuters, ‘Epic failure’: U.S. Election Officials Warn of November Chaos Due to Budget Crunch, N.Y. Times (July 10, 2020); McCarthy & Jameel, The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?, propublica.org (June 15, 2020). See also Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2020).

[6] Rothkropf, “The Most Ignorant and Unfit’: What Made America’s Worst Ever Leader? N.Y. Rev. Books (July 3, 2020).

 

 

Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? 

Any country that claims to be a democracy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic should be taking steps to encourage maximum voter participation while protecting voters from risking their health. Such steps would include facilitating voter registration and maximizing the use of voting by mail. That seems self-evident. Yet it is not happening throughout the U.S., and, as is usual in our complex federal system, the rules governing this November’s U.S. election are complicated.[1]

Introduction

While every presidential election year brings an increase in voting rights litigation, the current pandemic has multiplied the number of lawsuits filed in the past 3½ months. Democrats and voting rights advocates are pursuing cases to make it easier to vote by mail, filing more than 60 lawsuits in 25 states.

These lawsuits “are now poised to shape the details of how roughly 130 million registered voters are able to cast ballots in upcoming contests.” However, “conflicting court decisions could exacerbate the differences in voters’ experiences at the ballot box in November. And as the fights play out, the uncertainty is further complicating election officials’ ability to prepare for the vote.”

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Dale Ho, who supervises its voting litigation, says, “I think it’s clear we have a potential disaster on our hands on Election Day if we can’t process as many votes as possible beforehand. The alarm bells are going off. It’s not just some sort of hypothetical as a problem — we’ve seen it as a problem multiple times. It will repeat in November. The question is how much and in how many places and how badly.”

A Democratic elections attorney, Marc Elias, agrees. “When the political branches fail to protect voting rights, it is left to the courts to do that. If the political branches were functioning the way they’re supposed to, you would have Republicans and Democrats agreeing to increase access to absentee voting. You’d be putting in place safeguards to make sure every eligible voter who casts a ballot has that ballot counted. . . . Unfortunately, the Republican Party is taking its cues from Donald Trump.”

Common Cause’s director of voting and elections, Sylvia Albert, said decisions about how to handle voting during a pandemic are not easy but “have to be made.” She added,“There is no waiting it out,” noting that as more time passes, the shorter the window for educating voters about any changes becomes. “As a state legislator, as a secretary of state, as a governor, you are responsible for ensuring that voters can access the ballot. By not moving ahead, they’re really abdicating their responsibility to the voters.”

President Trump’s Opposition to Mail Voting

The principal cause of the problem of this election is President Trump, who has made it clear that he is determined to curtail access to mail ballots, claiming without evidence that their use leads to widespread fraud. “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” the president said in June in an interview with Politico. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits . . . I think it puts the election at risk.” As a result, the GOP is pushing to limit the expansion of voting by mail, backed by a $20 million Republican National Committee effort and help from conservative groups.

However, there is no evidence that mail voting leads to the kind of massive fraud Trump has described. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found that cases of potential fraud have been exceedingly rare in states that conduct voting exclusively by mail.

Nevertheless, with “Republican governors under pressure from President Trump not to expand voting by mail and many legislatures adjourned for the year or deadlocked along party lines, changes in the coming months are likely to come through court decisions.” As a result, this blogger fears that the Trump Administration will do anything and everything to try to steal this year’s presidential election.

Fortunately former Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, has come out against Trump on this (and other) issues. He says,“absentee voting has been around since the Civil War and . . ., increasingly, states both red and blue are not just allowing but also encouraging citizens to vote by mail.”[2]

Indeed, Weld says, “Public support for voting-by-mail was in place long before the novel coronavirus came along. In the past week, Colorado and Utah conducted successful, smooth primary elections almost entirely by mail, with strong turnouts and no need for voters to stand in unhealthy lines. For a highly contested June 23 primary, Kentucky’s Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state worked together to make absentee voting less cumbersome. It worked, and turnout was at near-record levels. . . . The only problems Kentucky encountered resulted from the covid-19-driven consolidation of in-person, Election Day polling places.”

Weld also notes that public opinion polls show nearly 80 percent of voters support giving all voters the option of voting in person or voting absentee. That includes a majority of Republicans — the president’s paranoia notwithstanding.”[3]

Therefore, Weld concludes, “To my fellow Republicans, I plead with you to not follow Trump off this cliff. A political party that brands itself as the party of exclusion, disregard for citizens’ safety and thinly veiled vote suppression is not a party with a future.”

 State Developments on Mail Voting

Here is an attempted analysis of where at least some of the states stand on rules for the November 3, 2020 election.

Alabama. Because of the virus, Alabama officials are allowing any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in the upcoming election without having to cite a valid reason. In  a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups citing coronavirus dangers, Birmingham-based U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon on June 15 struke down a requirement for absentee voters to submit a copy of a photo ID and to have their ballots signed off by two witnesses or a notary public as well as lifting a statewide ban on curbside voting at polling places. The judge said he would permit willing counties to allow drive-up voting, but he stopped short of requiring such an accommodation. This order was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on July 2, the U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4,  reversed that order for the July 14 primary runoff election for the U.S. Senate between Jeff Sesssions and Tommy Tuberville.[4]

California, Nebraska (counties < 10,000) and North Dakota provide counties the option to conduct all voting by mail. In addition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Dem.) ordered election officials to proactively send absentee ballots to all active registered voters in the state for the general election. This move drew fierce opposition from the right, including a lawsuit from the Republican National Committee, but the change subsequently was authorized by a new state law.[5]

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington authorize all voting by mail. “For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.”[6]

District of Columbia. It will send absentee ballots to all registered voters.

Georgia. The GOP Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot request forms to voters for the June 9 primaries. The Republican House Speaker, however, warned that expanded absentee voting could lead to fraud, and a state House committee approved a measure that would bar the mailing of absentee request forms for the fall, but the bill failed to pass before the legislature adjourned. The Georgia Secretary of State, however, already had said his office lacked funds to send ballot request applications for the general election, even though,

“By a wide margin, voters on both sides of the political spectrum agree that sending absentee applications to all active voters was the safest and best thing our office could do to protect our voters at the peak of COVID-19.”

Illinois and Michigan. This year these states will mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.

Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds (Rep.) signed a bill into law that will require the secretary of state to seek legislative approval to send absentee ballot request forms to voters before November. This was seen as a rebuke to Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State, who mailed the forms to voters for the primary last month, resulting in a new turnout record for a June primary in the state.

Massachusetts. For the rest of this year this commonwealth has chosen to abandon its requirement for an excuse for an absentee ballot.

Missouri. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, the Missouri Legislature adopted a statute expanding voting by mail during the pandemic, while retaining the statutory requirement for a notarization of the ballot with the legitimacy of that requirement still being litigated under a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court.[7]

Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign recently sued to stop voters from using drop boxes to return completed absentee ballots and block ballots from being counted if they do not arrive inside the provided secrecy envelope. The Complaint alleged that mail voting “provides fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.” The Democratic Party obviously is opposing this lawsuit

Tennessee. Last month a Nashville judge ruled that any eligible voter who is concerned about contracting covid-19 at a polling place may cast an absentee ballot this fall, even though state law would typically require that voter to qualify using an excuse. The state Supreme Court declined last week to stay that decision after a request from Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Texas. The Texas Democratic Party and several voters sued in federal court to allow all eligible Texas voters to vote by mail, at least during the coronavirus pandemic, on the ground that the state’s over-65 age limitation for such voting allegedly was unconstitutional, which contention was upheld by a trial court’s injunction, but reversed by the appellate court with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th rejecting an emergency appeal by the plaintiffs and remanding the case to the appellate court. (Justice Sotomayor urged the appellate court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election”).[8]

Wisconsin. On June 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that after more than three years, Wisconsin must reinstate several Republican-backed voting restrictions, including limits on early voting. The original GOP policies were struck down in 2016 for discriminating against minority voters, a conclusion the appellate panel rejected this week.[9]

Guarding Legitimacy of this Year’s Presidential Election

Great concern over the integrity of this presidential election has been expressed by William A. Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, a former policy advisor to President Clinton and a Wall Street Journal columnist.  He said, “After a quarter-century of toxic division, our democracy is imperiled. A contested election could tip the U.S. into a devastating crisis of legitimacy, a prospect that every patriot must regard with dismay.”[10]

Therefore, Galston suggested four ways to minimize the risks in this upcoming election.

First, “To reduce pressure on the mail-in option, localities must provide the fullest possible opportunity to vote in person, as New York University law professor Richard A. Pildes has argued. This means increasing the number of polling places while expanding opportunities for early voting. Many elderly poll workers will be reluctant to do the job this year; large numbers of younger Americans should be recruited and trained to replace them. Schools should continue to serve as polling places, as they have for decades, and Election Day should be a school holiday.”

Second, “states should do what they can to facilitate the fastest possible count of mail-in ballots. Mr. Pildes recommends processing the mail-in ballots that arrive before Election Day so that they can be tallied in time for the results to be included in the count soon after the polls close, a procedure that California now employs. Other states—including Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—would have to change their laws to permit this, and they should.”

Third, “As Nathaniel Persily, a co-director of the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project points out, the media have a crucial role to play as well. Reporters should educate themselves and the public about the all but certain delay in the vote count that the flood of mail-in ballots will entail. Above all, media organizations should resist the urge to call the election ahead of their competitors and instead wait until enough ballots have been tallied to know the result with confidence. In the past, ill-judged early calls of key states have sown confusion. This year, the consequences could be far worse.”

Fourth, “America’s elder statesmen must do all they can to ensure election integrity. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush should spearhead the formation of a bipartisan committee including respected figures such as former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, along with lawyers and election experts from both parties who have served in previous presidential campaigns. Committee staff should be ready to investigate charges of fraud as soon as they arise and observe the counting of mail-in ballots if asked. Committee leaders should announce their findings as quickly as accuracy permits and stand united in their defense.”

Such a committee’s “most important tasks would be meetings soon after Labor Day with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These leaders should be asked for a public pledge to stand together against unsubstantiated claims that the election has been stolen and to do their utmost to persuade elected officials in their respective parties to stand with them.”

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above litigation, the Supreme Court still has to resolve two cases about so-called “faithless” electors in the Electoral College that actually elects the President. Presumably decisions in those two cases will come down this coming week and will be discussed in a future post.[11]

Another future post will examine ways to create stronger voting rights from Richard L. Hasen, Professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”

Comments to this post for corrections and supplementation for new developments are earnestly solicited.

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[1] See generally Viebeck, Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020).

[2] Weld, Please, Republicans don’t join Trump’s crusade against voting-by-mail, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020). See also Strauss, ‘We’ve got to do something’: Republican rebels come together to take on Trump, Guardian (July 2, 2020).

[3] See also Brennan Center for Justice, Americans of All Stripes Want a Mail Ballot Option.

[4] Liptak, Splitting 5-4, Supreme Court Grants Alabama’s Request to Restore Voting Restrictions, N.Y. Times (July 2, 2020); Gerstein, Supreme Court blocks judge’s order loosening Alabama voting requirements due to virus, Politico (July 2, 2020).

[5] National Conf. State Legislatures, All-Mail Elections (aka Vote-By-Mail).

[6] Ibid.

[7] ACLU, Press Release: Court Rules Lawsuit To Allow All Missourians to Vote By Mail Without a Notary During Covid-19 Can Proceed (June 23, 2020).

[8] Liptak, Supreme Court Turns down Request to Allow All Texans to Vote by Mail, N.Y.Times (June 26, 2020); Assoc. Press, Supreme Court doesn’t wade into mail-in voting battle, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020); Barnes, Supreme Court won’t force Texans to allow absentee ballots for all voters, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020).

[9] Earlier this year there was federal court litigation over the Wisconsin primary election that lead to counting of ballots that had been mailed no later than election day. (See these posts and comments to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin Primary Election (April 10, 2020); Comment: More Criticism of Republican Strategy of Limiting Voting (April 12, 2020; Comment: More Comments on Wisconsin Election (April 13, 2020); Comment: Surprising Results in Wisconsin Election (April 14, 2020); Commnet: George F. Will’s Opinion on Voting By Mail (VBM) (April 15, 2020); Comment: Emerging Battles Over Changing State Election Laws (April 15, 2020); Comment: New York Times Editorial on Wisconsin Election (April 20, 2020; Comment: Thousands of Wisconsin Absentee Ballots Counted After Election Day (May 3, 2020).

[10] Galston, How to Prevent an Electoral Crisis, W.S.J. (June 30, 2020).

[11] Liptak, Supreme Court Seems Ready to Curb ‘Faithless Electors,’ N.Y. Times (May 13, 2020); Wegman, The Electoral College Is a Confusing Mess, N.Y.Times (May 13, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

==================================

[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

==============================

[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 15): Declining U.S. Gross Domestic Product 

On April 29, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of the year declined at a 4.8% annual rate. “That is the first decline since 2014, and the worst quarterly contraction since the country was in a deep recession more than a decade    ago.” [1]

Moreover, “Economists widely expect the Commerce Department to revise the first quarter figure even lower as more data becomes available. Goldman Sachs says the true decline was likely over 8 percent. JPMorgan Chase says it was likely over 11 percent.”

Most of this quarter that ended on March 31 “came before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns and layoffs. Economists expect figures from the current quarter to show G.D.P. contracting at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.” As the Wall Street Journal stated, this number “indicated the economy is sliding toward a near-certain recession and signaled the end of the longest economic expansion on record.”

“Many economists [already] have said the pandemic has put the U.S. in a recession. The number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits in recent weeks, at more than 26 million, points to an unprecedented wave of layoffs, and readings on consumer and business activity are showing record declines.”

Conclusion

These numbers confirm what everyone in the U.S. (and the rest of the world) already knows. The pandemic has caused and will continue to cause enormous economic pain in the U.S. and around the world.

==============================

[1] The U.S. economy contracted by the most since the great recession,,N.Y. Times (April 29, 2020); Torry, U.S. Economy Shrank at 4.8% Pace in first Quarter, W.S.J. (April 29, 2020); Long, U.S. economy shrank 4.8 percent in first quarter, the biggest decline since the Great Recession, Wash. Post (April 29, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 14): Reading and Writing  

This Pandemic Journal is a means of recording how this blogger is living through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Its entries cover a wide range of  topics: reflections on the pandemic’s development; reflections on politicians’’ policies and statements about the pandemic; reactions to analyses of the pandemic by journalists; personal things to do.

I spend a lot of time keeping up on the news by reading the hard-copy of the local newspaper (StarTribune) and other news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Diario de Cuba, Granma (from Cuba), New York Review of Books, HuffPost, Politico, Atlantic, CNN, State Department, and others from time to time.

So far at least, I have not had time to read books. An exception is Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman.” Surprisingly I had difficulties with the book that has resulted in a lengthy essay about the book that soon will be added as a regular post.

 

Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s Primary Election

On Tuesday, April 7, the State of Wisconsin held a primary election in the midst of this Pandemic. Previously the State’s Democratic Governor,      , attempted to recognize the impact of the Pandemic on in-person voting by encouraging voting by mail through modifying the rules for the submission and counting of votes by mail, but the Republican-controlled state legislature objected to those changes. This led to litigation. Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 6, by a 5-4 decision, granted the Republican National Committee’s application for a stay of the U.S. district court’s preliminary injunction requiring the State to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7 (the date of the in-person voting).[1]

This post will examine that Supreme Court decision and the reactions thereto by the New York Times and the Washington Post) and by the Wall Street Journal. This blog post will conlclude by adding its comments to all of this.

The Lower Courts’ Decisions[2]

In early March several individual Wisconsin voters, community organizations and the state and national Democratic parties brought three  lawsuits  in a federal district court in Wisconsin against members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission seeking several forms of relief, all aimed at easing the effects of the pandemic on the upcoming election. The state and national Republican parties intervened as defendants, and on March 28, the federal court consolidated the three cases. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court entered a preliminary injunction extending the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots from April 2 to April 3 and also extending the deadline for election officials to receive completed absentee ballots from April 7 to April 13 (regardless of the postmark date). The preliminary injunction also barred the Elections Commission and election inspectors from releasing any report of the in-person polling before April 13.

The Elections Commission did not challenge the preliminary injunction, but the intervenors (the national and state Republican parties) appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for a stay of the preliminary injunction’s extension of the deadline for returning absentee ballots. However, on April 3, the Seventh Circuit denied such a stay, but granted the application for intervention by the Wisconsin Legislature.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Proceedings

On April 4, the intervenors (state and national Republican parties and Wisconsin Legislature)  filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction insofar as it required the State to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7 (the day of the election). [3]

The next day (April 5) the Democratic National Party filed its response followed by the Republican National Committee’s  reply. [4]

The very next day (April 6) the Supreme court issued its Per Curium majority opinion. This opinion was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The Majority Opinion. This opinion started by claiming, “The question before the Court is a narrow, technical questions about the absentee ballot process . . . whether absentee ballots now must be mailed and postmarked by election day, Tuesday, April 7, as state law would necessarily require, or instead by mailed and postmarked after election day, so long as they are received by Monday, April 13.”

Important for the majority of the Court was the fact that the plaintiffs did not seek a preliminary injunction extending the deadline for mailing of absentee ballots. More importantly, the district court’s order “contravened this Court’s precedents” that have “repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.” (Emphasis added for the unintended ironical use of the word “ordinarily.”)

The majority opinion then criticized the dissent, which will be discussed after the dissenting opinion is summarized.

The Dissenting Opinion . The dissent was authored by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Associate Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

This opinion emphasized the importance of this primary election for U.S. president and many state positions in the context of the “COVID-19 pandemic” having become a “public health crisis” and the Governor’s March 24th ordering “Wisconsinites to stay home until April 24 to slow the spread of the disease.As a result, “an unprecedented number of Wisconsin voters—at the encouragement of public officials—have turned to voting absentee. . . . Accommodating the surge of absentee ballot requests has heavily burdened election officials, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots requested but not promptly mailed to voters.” (Emphasis added.)

In response, according to the dissent, after an evidentiary hearing, the district “court concluded that the existing deadlines for absentee voting would unconstitutionally burden Wisconsin citizens’ right to vote.,” and therefore entered the preliminary injunction. (Emphasis added.)

Justice Ginsburg then  pointed out that the Supreme court’s majority “requires absentee voters to postmark their ballots by election day, April 7—i.e., tomorrow—even if they did not receive their ballots by that date.” This “will result in massive disenfranchisement. A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline.” (Emphasis added.)

The dissent continued, The majority opinion’s “suggestion that the current situation is not ‘substantially different’ from ‘an ordinary election’ boggles the mind.” (Emphasis added.)

The majority opinion claims that the plaintiffs in the district court did not ask for an injunction allowing ballots postmarked after April 7, but Justice Ginsburg pointed out that “the plaintiffs specifically requested that remedy at the preliminary-injunction hearing in view of the ever-increasing demand for absentee ballots.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, “The concerns advanced by the Court and the applicants pale in comparison to the risk that tens of thousands of voters will be disenfranchised. Ensuring an opportunity for the people of Wisconsin to exercise their votes should be our paramount concern.” (Emphasis added.)

The majority opinion is “wrong” to claim that this case presents a “narrow, technical question.” Instead, “The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so.” Under the majority opinion, “that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance—to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation” (Emphasis added.)

The Majority’s Response to the Dissent. This opinion asserts that before the preliminary injunction “the deadline for [election officials’] receiving ballots was already extended to accommodate Wisconsin voters, from April 7 to April 13. Again, that extension has the effect of extending the date for a voter to mail the ballot from, in effect, Saturday, April 4, to Tuesday, April 7. That extension was designed to ensure that the voters of Wisconsin can cast their ballots and have their votes count.” The preliminary injunction’s allowing “voters to mail their ballots after election day . . . is extraordinary relief and would fundamentally alter the nature of the election by allowing voting for six additional days after the election.”

Reactions to Supreme Court’s Decision[5]

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board and columnists as well as New York Times’ columnists unanimously criticized the Supreme Court’s decision. (The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board, however, supported that decision.)

The Post’s editorial pointed out that polling places in Milwaukee had been reduced from 180 to 5, causing “lines [of voters] snaked for blocks, with waits reported to be up to three hours long.” As a result, “plenty of people chose not to vote.” In contrast, “voters in Republican-leaning areas of the state reportedly had a far easier time.” The editorial also noted, “ When people are in line at a polling place at closing time, judges order the polls to stay open. It should have been the same for people who got in line properly for an absentee ballot. The conservative justices’ lack of concern for these thousands of voters will only encourage speculation that their motivation was partisan.”

The most stinging commentary was provided by the Post’s Jennifer Rubin. She noted the irony of the majority’s opinion that delaying the date for return of the absentee ballots “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” Yes, Rubin said, “it would make it safer (fewer people would have to risk exposing themselves to the coronavirus at the polls) and would encourage more participation.”  This decision “is among the most irresponsible and anti-democratic in recent memory.” She also quoted Michael J. Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House,       , who said,, “the emerging debacle surrounding the Wisconsin primary demonstrates the crucial need to take strong measures to protect elections during the eCOVIS-19 pandemic.” Finally, “Republican politicians and conservative justices will not shy from making voting difficult, dangerous and confusing. Their highest goal is not robust elections, but elections in which fewer voters turnout.. . . [Such] motives (think, suppress voting) are obnoxious and anti-democratic.”

Another Post columnist, E.J. Dionne Jr., said that President Trump had made clear that “for Republicans voter suppression is part of the party’s game plan.” Under a Democratic proposal for federal financing of nation-wide mail-in voting, Trump said, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” He also recently tweeted that voting by mail “for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

Linda Greenhouse, who has spent four decades studying and writing about the Supreme Court for the New York Times, said, “I’ve rarely seen a development as disheartening as this one: a squirrelly, intellectually dishonest lecture in the form of an unsigned majority opinion . . . about how ‘this court has repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.’” (Emphasis added.)

“How could they say that,” according to Greenhouse, when “[p}eople shouldn’t ordinarily be afraid of catching a deadly virus when exercising their right to vote. Half the poll-worker shifts in the city of Madison are not ordinarily vacant, abandoned by a work force composed mostly of people at high risk because of their age.” And “Milwaukee voters are not ordinarily reduced to using only five polling places. [Voters and poll workers do not ordinarily hazmat suits.]  And the number of requests for absentee ballots in Milwaukee doesn’t ordinarily grow by a factor of 10, leading to a huge backlog for processing and mailing.” (Emphases added.)

Greenhouse concluded by asserting the Court’s majority was “unwilling to do what they could to help” the Wisconsin election by rejecting the Republicans’ challenge to “the common-sense solution that a federal judge had devised with the support of the officials who actually had to carry out the election.” That majority’s decision “raises the question whether the empowered conservative majority has the situational awareness to navigate the dire situation that faces the country, and whether it can avoid further displays of raw partisanship that threaten to inflict lasting institutional damage on the court itself. It’s a moment that calls on everyone in a position of power to display vision and a generosity of spirit.”  (Emphasis added.)

In addition,, some of the commentators had suggestions for improving election laws.

The previously mentioned E.J. Dionne suggested that “Congress must pass legislation as part of the next economic rescue package that will require mail-in ballots in every state and finance the effort with federal money” and that “Biden and Sanders . . . should hold a joint video news conference with Sens. Elizabeth Warner . . and Amy Klobuchar  . . .on behalf of Warren’s comprehensive bill to provide $4 billion for postage free mail ballots . . .  [and] a ban on onerous voting requirements, hazard pay for poll workers and an end to voter purges at a moment when it will be hard for voters to defend their rights.”  Finally Dionne advocated Liberals to press for “remedies (such as expanding the size of the court0 to battle both conservative court-packing and right-wing judicial activism.”

Richard Hasen,  Professor of Law and Political Science at University of California at Irvine School of Law, said, “[S]tates need to be prepared to thwart and prosecute any attempts to tamper with ballots. . . . states should send an application for an absentee ballot to every voter listed on voting rolls. . . .Voters should also be allowed to request absentee ballots online. . . . States should also prevent the unlimited collection of absentee ballots by private individuals . . . . some voters who need assistance getting their votes to the U.S. mail or to a state collection box . . . . Absentee voters should be told if their ballots are being rejected for technical reasons — such as a purported mismatched signature — and have the chance to cure the problem and have their ballot counted.”

David Byler, a data analyst and political columnist focusing on elections, polling, demographics and statistics, offered these thoughts. “We should keep one feature of this messy Wisconsin election around: a slower process for reporting results. . . .This restriction made for a relatively muted election night: Reporters weren’t live-tweeting votes as they came in, quickly writing takes on how to interpret the race or trying to spin out a second-day story. . . . Ramping up vote-by-mail would extend the franchise, help virus-proof our system and make the process more psychologically bearable.”

John Hickenlooper, a former mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado and current candidate for the U.S. Senate, described his state’s successful voting from home for the last six years as a model for reforming other jurisdictions’ election laws. “Every eligible Colorado voter receives a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, and after marking their choices from the comfort of their own home, voters mail the ballot back or deposit it at one of the hundreds of drop-off locations around the state (and put on their “I Voted” sticker). We also make it possible for voters to register through Election Day, and to vote in person. Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.”

In addition, Hickenlooper says, “In Colorado, election officials conduct rigorous risk-limiting audits after elections. They also use a centralized database to compare signatures in the voter file with those on ballot envelopes and track ballot returns to keep an eye out for any possible irregularities. And, of course, one advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.”  This system has increased voter turnout by 3.3% and saved about $6 per voter from reduced printing, labor and other costs. In its first year it increased turnout of unlikely voters (younger and low-propensity voters) by 20 %.

The lone contrary voice on these issues from prominent mainline newspapers was the Wall Street Journal’s editorial, which said the Supreme Court “rightly reversed a district judge’s last-minute order that would have allowed Wisconsin ballots to be cast after the election was legally over. The confusing episode is a reminder that, even in a pandemic, steps as grave as rewriting voting rules should be up to elected representatives and not freelanced by judges.”

Conclusion

Needless to say, this blogger agrees with the Washington Post and New York Times. Voting by U.S. citizens is an unalienable right and needs to be encouraged and protected, not suppressed. This especially is true during times that are not ordinary, like the current pandemic.

==================================

 

[1] Opinions, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., No. 19A1016 (U.S. Sup. Ct. April 6, 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Emergency Application for Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm, (No. 19A1016, U.S. Sup. Ct. April 4,  2020).

[4]   Response to Application for Emergency Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm (No. 19A1016  (U.S. Sup. Ct. April 5, 2020); Reply in Support of Emergency Application for Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm (No. 19A1016 U.S. Sup Ct. April 5, 2020).

[5] Editorial, Wisconsin Republican leaders put voters in an impossible position, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Rubin, Wisconsin shows the fragility of democracy, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); E.J. Dionne, Jr., What we learned from Wisconsin, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Marcus, Wisconsin’s debacle may be the most infuriating of the coronavirus failures, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Waldman, Wisconsin’s election nightmare is a preview of what could happen in November, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Olsen, There’s plenty of room to compromise on mail-in voting. Get it done, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Byler, The Wisconsin election was a mess. But there’s one element of it worth emulating, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Hickenlooper, We’ve been voting at home for six years in my state. It’s time to do it nationally, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Hasen, Trump is wrong about the dangers of absentee ballots, Wash. Post (April 9, 2020); Editorial, You Shouldn’t Have to Risk Your Life to Vote, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020); Greenhouse, The Supreme Court Fails Us, N.Y. Times (April 9, 2020); Assoc. Press, In Wisconsin, Missing Absentees Spur Questions and Anger, N.Y. Times (April 9, 2020) ;Boule, The G.O.P. Has Turned Voting in Person Into a Death Threat, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2020) (“There is no part of the Republican Party — not its president in the White House, not its leadership in Congress, not its conservative allies on the Supreme Court, not its interest groups or its affiliated media — that has an interest in or commitment to a fair, equal and expansive democracy.”); Douglas, Yes, Wisconsin Republicans used the pandemic to stop people from voting, Guardian (April 9, 2020) (Douglas, a professor at Amherst College: “Wisconsin, once a thriving crucible of progressive politics, has turned into a vanguard of the Republican assault on democracy.”); Editorial, Wisconsin’s Election Confusion, W.S.J. (April 7, 2020).

 

 

 

U.S. Needs More Democratization

A New York Times article by Ezra Klein makes a strong argument for the United States needing more democratization in order to depolarize American politics.[1]

He starts this analysis with the assertion that the current polarization of U.S. politics is due to ideological changes: “the Democratic Party has moved left, and the Republican Party has moved right. But more fundamentally, those changes are compositional: Democrats have become more diverse, urban, young and secular, and the Republican Party has turned itself into a vehicle for whiter, older, more Christian and more rural voters.”

As a result, “Democrats can’t win running the kinds of campaigns and deploying the kinds of tactics that succeed for Republicans. . . . [Democrats] can move to the left — and they are — but they can’t abandon the center or, given the geography of American politics, the center-right, and still hold power. Democrats are modestly, but importantly, restrained by diversity and democracy. Republicans are not.”

In addition, the two parties’ voters differ in what sources of information they respect and listen to. Democrats trusted “22 of the 30 sources, including center-right outlets like The Wall Street Journal. Republicans trusted only seven of the 30 sources, with PBS, the BBC and The Wall Street Journal the only mainstream outlets with significant trust.” (The other trusted sources, for Republicans were, big surprise, Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.)

Even though Democrats have won the recent total popular vote in elections for the U.S. presidency, the U.S. Senate and the U.S.House of Representatives, the Republicans currently control the presidency, the Senate and a majority of governorships. This is due to the structure of the U.S. government which “counts states and districts rather than people, and the G.O.P.’s more rural coalition has a geographic advantage that offsets its popular disadvantage.”

This Republican advantage, however, may be temporary.  Republicans “represent a shrinking constituency that holds vast political power. That has injected an almost manic urgency into their strategy. Behind the party’s tactical extremism lurks an apocalyptic sense of political stakes.”

Klein, therefore, concludes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization,” including “proportional representation and campaign finance reform; . . .[making] voter registration automatic and. . . [giving] Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico the political representation they deserve.” This would compel the Republican Party to become a “more moderate and diverse party.” However, “precisely because the Republican Party sees deepening democracy as a threat to its future, it will use the power it holds to block any moves in that direction.”

Without such changes, Klein argues, the U.S. will face “ a legitimacy crisis that could threaten the very foundation of our political system. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70 percent of America will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of America will be represented by 70 senators.”

Conclusion

Klein is right to call for the need for more democratization of the U.S. electoral system.

But while mentioning the U.S. system’s favoring land and districts over people, he does not attack directly those features that do just that: the Electoral College for electing the U.S. president, the allocation of two U.S. senators to each state regardless of population and state legislatures creating the boundaries for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yes, this would require amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which may be next to impossible, but they should be mentioned.

Alex Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board, however, points out one facet of the  Electoral College: whether the individuals selected by the political parties are legally obligated to vote for that party’s successful candidate in the popular election when the 536 electors meet about six weeks after the popular election. Indeed, that very issue is now under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court in two related cases from the federal appellate court in Colorado and a state court in Washington State. In the federal case, the court held that the founders clearly intended for electors to act independently and vote according to their consciences, not to the dictates of any political party. Once a state appoints an elector, the lower court said, its power over that elector ends. They cannot punish someone, or replace him or her, for voting a certain way. This issue, says Wegman, raises the more important question, why do we have to have the Electoral College?[2]

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[1] Klein, Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, N. Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2020). Klein is an American journalist, blogger, and political commentator who co-founded Vox, where he is currently editor-at-large. He was previously a blogger and columnist for The Washington Post and an associate editor of The American Prospect. He has served as a contributor to Bloomberg News and MSNBC. (Ezra Klein, Wikipedia.)

[2] Wegman, Why Do We Have an Electoral College, Again?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2020).