Democracy & Government

The One-State Election and the Vote Theft Gambit

Philadelphia is the birthplace of democracy. Will it die there, too?

The One-State Election and the Vote Theft Gambit

A person carries a placard stating "YOUR VOICE MATTERS" while wearing a "REGISTER TO VOTE" face mask while queueing outside of Philadelphia City Hall to cast his early voting ballot at the satellite polling station on October 27, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

This article is adapted from Unsanitized: The Election Daily Report put out by The American Prospect. You can find the original publication here.

First Ballot

After nearly two years, thousands of town halls and events, and billions of dollars, the 2020 presidential election is coming down to two states, and actually, one state. I know both candidates were in Florida yesterday, and Joe Biden can really wrap the election up early with a win there. But the entire Democratic ticket is spending the final weekend in Pennsylvania, because the election hinges on the Keystone state more than any other.

Pennsylvania is most likely to be the “tipping point” state in a close election, the state whose control will determine the outcome. National poll margins don’t matter as much as the poll margin in Pennsylvania, which the 538 forecast puts at about five points. That’s a meaningful lead but not an insurmountable one if the polls are off slightly.

And that’s why we have this unusually open strategy of trying to suppress the mail-in vote in Pennsylvania. It started with trying to suppress the mail, a strategy that has been successful. In Philadelphia, 42 percent of all first-class mail is being delivered in longer than five days, up from 13 percent in January. Central Pennsylvania has seen their service deteriorate as well. As we know, the theory was that Democrats would mail in ballots at higher rates, so a blanket slowdown would be more favorable to nick off some of the Democratic vote at the margins.

Then there’s the effort to stop absentee votes from being counted before Election Day, which is more of a narrative device to allow Trump to say he’s ahead in the count that night. This proved useful in 2000 to George W. Bush, as being able to say he was ahead in Florida allowed him to paint Gore as a sore loser for wanting all the votes to be counted. Delaying the absentee count is state law in Pennsylvania, and despite the large numbers of such votes this year nothing has been changed on that front. Local officials can’t even open the envelopes until the morning of November 3.

Next we have the timing of how late mail-in ballots can be accepted as legitimate. Republicans want all ballots arriving after 8pm on Election Day to not count. Democrats want and received an extension to November 6. (In California and other states, the ballot needs only to be postmarked by Election Day to count, which should be the national standard.) The Supreme Court hasn’t yet moved to alter Pennsylvania’s November 6 deadline, but it’s almost a trap, as the Court reserved the right to change the rules after the fact. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, told local election officials to segregate ballots that arrive after 8pm Election Day, anticipating Supreme Court Calvinball.

In order to intervene, the Court is pushing a radical reinterpretation of judicial review, substituting themselves as the authority over elections run by states. They’re using one word in the Constitution—“Legislatures”—to effectively invalidate judicial review at the state level, and then arrogate it to themselves, in the name of enabling the legislature’s will. It’s completely rotten.

Finally there’s the garden-variety voter intimidation, filming voters at drop boxes and early voting sites. This was expected after Republicans got the go-ahead to send monitors to the polls via a different court ruling. The story of Trump lawyers mining Instagram for photos of voting and using them in lawsuits is particularly outrageous.

There are other tactics as well, like the “naked ballot” issue (absentee ballots in Pennsylvania have to be sheathed in one envelope and then mailed in another to count) and signature matching. You know that Republicans are trying to steal the election because their politicians are starting to talk about how Democrats are trying to steal the election.

As ever, Trump has said the quiet parts loud, and this could be part of his downfall. One thing this very open display of suppression has done is to make everyone very knowledgeable about voting operations in their particular states. In Pennsylvania that translates into getting ballots in early and following the various other steps. To the extent there are late-arriving ballots they could be more Republican than expected. And turnout is likely to be much stronger than if one party wasn’t signaling the removal of fundamental rights. You can see the effort to chip away at the Democratic advantage at the margins, and then call victory in an attempt to shut down more counting. But you can also see how it might backfire.

That of course doesn’t make voter suppression a trifle. Every other November we hear Democratic politicians say they have to change laws for the next election to prevent long lines and threats to the franchise. This time there does need to be follow through.

Pandemic Watch

We hit a new high in coronavirus cases, with over 88,000 yesterday, and they’re coming in from across America, not any one cluster. With all those cases, the need for therapies and ultimately a vaccine are greater than ever, since the current political leadership is simply unwilling to do the work to mitigate the spread.

We have good and bad news on that front. Monoclonal antibodies really do seem to work as a therapy to reduce hospital visits; you know, the kind that President Trump got. But there are only 50,000 doses available, not nearly enough to handle the crush of demand. The same president who saw personally the impact of a life-saving drug has utterly failed at any policy to expand manufacturing, with all the same tools (the Defense Production Act, for example) at his disposal. Meanwhile, the vaccine timeline is slipping amid completely normal delays and hiccups, making the need for synthetic antibodies even more acute. This should be Joe Biden’s first order of business if he gets in the White House: make more antibodies.

Meanwhile, the practiced lie that there was ever a stimulus “deal” to be had between Nancy Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin finally disintegrated yesterday. An entire phalanx of press reported on every alleged move and twist in the stimulus story, manipulated by both sides of the negotiation into thinking something real was happening. It was all nonsense.

Days Until the Election


Today I Learned, Election Edition

David Dayen

David Dayen is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @ddayen.