US election: rigging the vote

 by Joe Tyler

Philly SAVE OUR POSTAL SERVICE Rally, 23 June 2020

The flimsy foundations of US democracy are being tested to breaking point by the Trump administration in the run-up to the 3 November election. Amid political and economic crises, the administration is desperate to maintain power, even as sections of the ruling class look to the more dependable reactionary Joe Biden.

In July, Trump suggested delaying the election, and has claimed he ‘deserves’ a third term in office, violating the US constitution’s two-term limit, because he says the 2016 election was spied upon. Trump repeatedly says he will not accept electoral defeat. Asked on 23 September whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election, Trump replied, ‘We’re going to have to see what happens. You know I have been complaining very strongly about the [postal] ballots. And the ballots are a disaster.’ Senior figures in the Trump campaign have called on supporters to arm and prepare for retributory violence. They are using methods of overt and covert voter suppression.

The June 2020 Georgia primary vote indicated what could be in store for November. More than 200 polling precincts, mainly in ethnic minority districts, were closed; polling centres opened late; there were insufficient ballot papers; voter rolls had been purged; selected people, mainly from poor and ethnic minority communities, were forced to produce ID. In Wisconsin, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, postal ballot requests went unanswered. Ballot papers that were posted stacked up uncounted.

In August, it emerged that the United States Postal Service (USPS) had removed 671 sorting machines. The Washington Post reported that the postal service planned to remove around 10% of its entire sorting capability. 72% of the machines were in areas where Hillary Clinton won most votes in 2016.

Postmaster-general (and Trump mega-donor) Louis DeJoy, appointed in May, has implemented cost-saving policies in order to modify the ‘organisational structure’ of the USPS. Besides decommissioning sorting machines, DeJoy prohibited staff overtime, reduced office hours, and delayed post if it was not processed by a set time. After a public outcry, the USPS was forced to temporarily stop these alterations by federal judge Stanley Bastian. Bastian called DeJoy’s proposed changes a ‘politically motivated’ attack on the postal service, aiming to interrupt the election and disenfranchise voters. Nevertheless, DeJoy declined to reinstate the 671 machines already decommissioned.

Trump brazenly admitted on 13 August that his administration’s blockage of a proposed $25bn stimulus to the USPS was intended to undermine postal voting: ‘If we don’t make a deal [for funding] that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting.’ Many states require ballots to be submitted by election day, regardless of when they were posted – otherwise they are discounted. Sabotaging the USPS’ ability to sort ballots will affect many people who want to vote safely by post.

Intimidation

Trump’s election team have also called for an ‘army’ of volunteer ‘poll-watchers’, ostensibly to prevent electoral fraud – but in reality to attract reactionary militia to intimidate and suppress working class, migrant and minority voters in key swing states. The Guardian reported that in some states these poll-watchers will be able to challenge people’s eligibility to vote, pulling them aside to check their ID (which is not a legal requirement) – as well overseeing the postal ballot count.

Trump condemns the Democratic vote as being made up of immigrants voting illegally. In 2016, after defeating Hillary Clinton but losing the popular vote, he claimed between three to five million votes against him were from non-citizens, organised by the Democrats. The clear message: working class immigrant and minority voters will be singled out for intimidation and prevented from voting.

Systematic racism

The US has a long history of combining racist terror, the Ku Klux Klan, lynching etc, with administrative measures to stop black people voting. States instituted measures such as poll taxes and literacy tests to stop the poor and minorities getting to vote. It took the sustained mass action of the Civil Rights Movement in city streets across the US to break down these discriminatory laws in the 1960s.

Modern voter suppression usually takes a less overt form. Voter ID laws are, for example, effectively a form of poll tax targeting minority people, who must pay for documents proving they are citizens. However, since 2018, with the lifting of the 1982 Consent Decree by federal judges, Republicans can drop all pretence and organise street harassment. The decree was agreed after a lawsuit following the 1981 New Jersey Governor’s election, where the Republicans organised a ‘Task Force’ made up of armed off-duty police officers and security guards. These private police, under the guise of stopping voter fraud, openly intimidated and turned away black and Hispanic voters. Under the terms of the 1982 Decree, the Republicans agreed they would not arrange independent poll-watchers without court approval. Now that the decree has been lifted, the Trump campaign is preparing to send hired thugs back into the streets.

While street harassment works to physically impede people from casting their votes, the racist US justice system works to disenfranchise felons and ex-felons. This disproportionately affects black and minority people. Most states restrict offenders from voting while incarcerated. Many states disenfranchise felons for life, while only two (Maine and Vermont) do not restrict the voting rights of prisoners at all. 6.1 million people in the US are barred from voting because they are prisoners or have been to prison. Due to disproportionate targeting of black and minority people by police, one in 13 African Americans are unable to vote because they are in prison or ex-prisoners, compared to one in 56 non-black people.

Today, voter fraud in the US is rarer than being struck by lightning. The Washington Post reported exactly four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s obsession with voter fraud is not based on the desire to ensure a free and fair election – but to win an unfair election, by whatever means will work.

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