United States President Donald Trump and the Republicans are planning to sabotage the November election in order to throw it into chaos.
They hope to use this to keep Trump in power and the Senate with a Republican majority.
They plan to do this by two campaigns. One is to undermine the postal service to make counting of postal votes as difficult as possible. This will cause a delay in announcing the winner by days, weeks or longer. Trump has already stated that if there are such delays, he will not recognise the outcome if he loses.
A possible outcome will be court challenges by the Republicans and Democrats over the results.
The New York Times’ front-page article on August 9 referred to the disputed outcome in the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, where the Supreme Court intervened. In a divided vote, that intervention resulted in the election of George W Bush as president over Al Gore. The court’s decision gave Bush enough votes in the Electoral College to put him one vote more than a majority in the College, although Gore won the popular vote.
“The stormy once-in-a-lifetime Florida recount battle that polarised the nation in 2000 and left the Supreme Court to decide the presidency may soon look like a high school student council election compared to what could be coming after this November’s election,” the article began.
A dozen Floridas
“Imagine not just another Florida, but a dozen Floridas. Not just one set of lawsuits but a vast array of them. And instead of two restrained candidates staying out of sight and leaving the fight to surrogates, a sitting president of the United States unleashing ALL CAPS Twitter blasts from the Oval Office, while seeking ways to use the power of his office to intervene.
“The possibility of an ugly November — and perhaps even December and January — has emerged more starkly in recent days as President Trump complains that the election will be rigged and Democrats accuse him of trying to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Trump’s argument about “the most rigged election in history” centres on the unfounded charge that postal ballots will be corrupted in states with Democratic governors, while in states with Republican governors, such as Florida, postal ballots will be counted honestly.
It is true that it will take longer to count postal ballots than it would to count ballots cast in-person at voting sites. Expectations are that many more will use postal voting than in previous elections to avoid exposure to COVID-19. So the counting will not be over on the evening of November 3. Trump insists that the winner must be known that evening, setting the stage for him to reject the outcome if he is losing.
Even before the COVID crisis, the US Postal Service was in deep financial crisis because of onerous laws put in place by both the Democrats and Republicans, which forced the service to fully pre-fund, within 10 years, the healthcare costs for its future retirees for 75 years into the future — something no other government agency or private corporation is required to do. In effect, the service is required to write a $5.5 billion cheque to Treasury each September 30.
The pandemic put even greater strain on the postal service, as many people use the mail to obtain goods online — including medicine — which they normally would buy in person.
In recent negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans over new economic spending, the Republicans vetoed a Democrat proposal for $25 billion for the postal service to cover part of its additional expenditures resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Sabotage the postal service
In May, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. DeJoy was a major donor ($1.2 million) to Trump’s election campaign, and was in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention before his appointment.
DeJoy and his wife also hold as much as $75 million in investments in private competitors or contractors of the Postal Service.
Since taking office, DeJoy has instituted cost-cutting measures that have slowed down the delivery of the mail. There’s now a days-long backlog of mail across the country. This comes as Trump continues to claim that the post office can’t handle the increase in postal ballots.
Recently, DeJoy disrupted the postal service by reassigning or firing senior executives who run its day-to-day operations.
Oregon Congress representative Peter Defazio said: “This is nothing less than Donald Trump and his political cronies trying to steal the election by blocking or delaying vote-by-mail.
“Trump has sued states to try and block vote-by-mail. That won’t work. But he’s going to try and stop the mail from being delivered. This is outrageous.”
American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein told Democracy Now!: “Any policy that slows down the mail runs counter to everything a postal worker stands for. We’re completely opposed to these policies that are delaying mail.
“We work under a law that says, ‘prompt, reliable and efficient service’. ‘Prompt’ means quickly.
“It’s a demoralising thing to postal workers, who are out on the front lines of the pandemic as essential workers, connecting the country in these difficult and challenging times, to then be told to delay mail.”
One of the cost-cutting measures DeJoy has implemented has been to ban overtime.
“Here we are in a COVID world. Forty-thousand postal workers have been quarantined since March, over 2500 sick,” said Dimondstein.
“Overtime is necessary to plug these holes. So the lack of overtime further slows the mail.”
Trump’s immediate goal is to undermine postal voting. But his longer-range goal is to break up the postal service and sell it to private corporations.
In addition to sabotaging the postal service, the second way the Trump forces will influence the election is voter suppression.
The heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority, in a five to four decision.
Gone are the provisions that required states that had a history of suppressing Black voters in the “Jim Crow” (segregation) era to have federal approval before enacting any new voting rights laws.
Since then, Republican-controlled states in the South and elsewhere have enacted many restrictions upheld by the Supreme Court aimed at Black voters, using various subterfuges reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws and arbitrary rulings.
The NYT pointed out that the 2013 ruling “prompted many states controlled by Republicans to enact voter ID laws, roll back early voting and purge voter registration lists”.
An example of an arbitrary ruling was to drastically reduce the number of polling booths in predominately Black communities in Georgia in the 2018 elections. This was upheld by the Supreme Court after being challenged.
Since April, the court has issued four more rulings in cases from Alabama, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin, which restricted postal votes, disproportionately affecting Black and Latino voters.
In April, the court majority ruled that a federal judge should not have extended the deadline for some postal votes in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote: “The court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.
Ginsberg said the court majority had put voters in an unacceptable position: “Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their and others’ safety, or they will lose the right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
In July, the court blocked a trial judge’s order that would have made it easier to use postal ballots in an Alabama primary. In another ruling, the court declined to reinstate a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed all Texas voters — not just those 65 or older — to submit their ballots by mail given the health crisis.
In 2018, voters in Florida, by referendum, extended the right to vote for felons after they serve their sentences (Florida had previously denied them the right to vote for the rest of their lives). The Republican-controlled state government then passed a law that said that such ex-felons had to first pay back earlier court fines and fees with interest, before they could vote, which effectively denied them the right to vote.
The Supreme Court ruled that Florida could do that. Since Blacks and Latinos are the large majority of those imprisoned under the program of mass incarceration, they are the most affected.
If it turns out that — in spite of efforts to suppress minority votes and sabotage of mail-in voting — Trump is declared the loser, it remains to be seen how or if he will carry out his threats to not accept that outcome, and what that will mean.
But, it is certain that we could face a grave threat to bourgeois democracy, however weak it already is.