Vote-By-Mail: A Call for National Action to Expand Democracy and Put Republicans on Defense

In politics, if you are playing defense, you are losing.” – Unknown

Republicans know that from a policy standpoint, they don’t have much to offer the average voter. They excel at attracting small, but zealous, groups of people like gun lovers, fetus protectors, racists, and the corporate elite. When it comes to larger groups such as the middle class, the poor, women, the young, minorities, moderates, and those that care for the environment, Republicans have virtually no past or future policies to brag about. Knowing this, conservative pioneer Paul Weyrich (founder of Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, and ALEC), stated in 1980, “Our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down” (the above link goes to a 40-second video of this unbelievably honest statement).

In the past 10 years, Republicans have finally embraced Mr. Weyrich’s sentiment. Republicans have very clearly shifted their focus away from winning hearts and minds to dismantling institutions and organizations that Democrats rely upon to succeed in elections. When Republicans take office now, their primary goal is not to advance a political agenda, but to utilize every lever in their power to make sure power never slips from their grasp.

These efforts can be broken up into three categories: (1) union-busting, (2) gerrymandering, and (3) voter suppression.

The decimation of unions in this country is well documented. In 1979, 28.3% of all workers belonged to a union. Today that number is 11.3 percent, and just 6.7% in the private sector. Republicans, recognizing that unions were a tremendous factor in moving the poor and middle-class to vote, and support a Democratic ground game, declared war on unions. This has taken the form of “right to work” laws—which Martin Luther King, Jr. fairly called a “false slogan.” And more recently we see conservative governors across this country, most notably Scott Walker, taking every measure possible to weaken public employee unions. There is also a general malaise in government with respect to enforcing our current labor laws that prohibit employers from threatening or retaliating against workers who try to form a union. Every time a union is prohibited from forming, busted, or weakened, workers receive a pay cut and Republicans gain an electoral advantage.

On the gerrymandering front, Republicans have performed nothing short of a mathematical miracle for themselves. As I discussed a while ago on this blog, in the states of Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—four states that either lean Democratic (PA & MI) or are split evenly between the parties (NC & OH), Republicans have drawn lines in such an effective way that they control 44 of the state’s 61 seats. To put it another way, in a population with many more Democrats than Republicans, Democrats control just 28% of the legislative seats. Meanwhile, Democrats in Democratic-strongholds like California have given up the ability to counteract Republican gerrymandering with Democratic gerrymandering by turning the process of gerrymandering over to a commission equally split between Democrats and Republicans. The result of this is an election like 2010 where Democrats in the U.S. House received 1.2 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans won control of the U.S.  House by 33 seats.

The third prong of Republicans’ attack on Democrats and democracy is to make it harder for people to vote by: passing photo ID laws to vote; eliminating days to vote; ending same-day registration; paying for billboards to scare minorities from voting; purging voter rolls of validly registered voters; tea-party poll watchers to intimidate minority voters; and repeatedly providing too few voting machines to minority neighborhoods, creating long lines and making it impossible for some to vote. These things are all done in the name of eliminating voter fraud, but as study after study shows, the idea of widespread voter fraud is a myth. While cases of voter fraud have been found across the country, it has never been enough to come close to sway any election, and this makes sense. Individual voter fraud is an irrational crime to commit. It is a felony (meaning those who get caught face serious consequences), and the odds of any one person influencing an election by voting multiple times is astronomically small. With that said, the debate over voter fraud is a smokescreen. When caught in moments of honesty, conservative leaders admit the true reason for these “vote fraud” measures is to reduce voter turnout—particularly of Democratic voters such as minorities and the young.

Republicans have enjoyed tremendous fruit from their efforts. The Democrats’ response to all of this has been aimed at whining shining a light on these horrific practices by Republicans. This light-shining by Democrats has been futile and done little to stop the conservative steam roll. As stated at the top of this article, if a political party is on defense, it is losing. Democrats need to give up the defensive posture and go on the offensive. Here is how they do it.

Nationwide, voter turnout was at the lowest levels we have seen in over 70 years. In all but a few states, voter turnout was below 50%. At the bottom was Indiana, with a shockingly low voter turnout of just 28%! While there are certainly many reasons for this, there can be no questions that Republicans’ cynical efforts of voter suppression played a role.

One state though, was a shining example of success. In this state, voter turnout was 69.5%. There were no long lines to vote in minority neighborhoods. No voters were intimidated at the polls. No one was turned away for not having a photo ID. The state uses actual ballots so that if a recount is needed, it can reliably be performed. And there have been no reports of voter fraud. In case you are wondering, the state I speak of is my own: Oregon. So how did Oregon do it?

Oregon votes entirely via vote by mail and has done so since 1998, and Oregonians love it. A poll taken in 2003 found that vote-by-mail was supported by 81% of Oregonians (85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans).  And what is not to love? You receive your ballot a few weeks before Election Day. When you have the time to vote, you sit down with your cup of joe in a quiet place, read your voters’ pamphlet, and conduct all of the research you like. Once you have done all the research you want to do, you fill out your ballot and drop it off at an election site or mail it in. There is no need to take time off work, wait in line, or be caught in a voting booth wishing you had more information. And perhaps best of all, it promotes democracy and an active citizenry.

So again, here is how Democrats, progressives, and supporters of democracy can and need to go on the offensive: stop trying to shame Republicans (which some would say is an impossible task) into stopping their voter-suppression efforts and instead focus our efforts on bringing vote-by-mail to all 50 states. Think offense.

You may ask yourself, “How can Democrats hope to pass a bill like this when Republicans control at least one branch of government in 45 states and control every branch of government in 30(!) states?” The answer is direct democracy. There are 27 states that have some form of direct democracy, such as the citizen referendum or ballot initiative. This list includes significant swing states like Nevada, Missouri, Ohio, and Florida.

When the not-so-novel idea of nationwide voter-by-mail occurred to me, I began looking for national and state organizations pushing for this. I found none. I also began looking for an organization such as ALEC that has drafted model legislation for the states to use and implement vote-by-mail in their own states. Again, nothing. Why? We should have people in every one of these states collecting signatures to put vote-by-mail on the ballot. As this past election taught us, when people are asked to vote for a policy directly (rather than a representative), they are pretty good at voting for what they want. For there to be no organization pushing for widespread vote-by mail, is a failure of our political system. Who has the power to start a movement like this? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’d like to find one very soon. Here is my offer to help.

– Dylan

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