The Brennan Center for Justice provides a handy chart of states that do not widely use voting by mail. The states in which less than 3 percent of voters use voting-by-mail vote overwhelmingly Republican in presidential elections — Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas. In Kentucky, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is on the ballot. Should older voters disproportionately stay away from the polls, his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, may benefit. Likewise, swing or possibly swing states such as Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina have between 3 and 6 percent of their votes cast by mail. Again, if older and more conservative voters are hardest hit by covid-19 and decide to stay home in greater numbers, the beneficiaries in the presidential and Senate races in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina are likely to be Democrats.
Back to the more fundamental problem: Trump, lacking the filter most Republican operators have, blurts out the unseemly truth that the more people who vote, the worse Republicans will do. It is no wonder that Republicans — who disproportionately rely on the shrinking portion of the electorate that is white and older — have shifted into high gear since the Shelby County v. Holder decision invalidating “pre-clearance” in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They need to extend the dominance of white voters as the electorate becomes more diverse and less amenable to messages of white resentment, antagonism toward government, racism and xenophobia.
As was the case in the litigation against the administration’s travel bans, Trump’s own words are the best evidence of the underlying motives of right-wing actions. In those cases, Trump let on that the real reason for his travel ban was to exclude Muslims. Now, he confesses that the party needs to keep voting levels down or face devastating losses. It is nothing less than a confession that voting suppression is essential to the Republican Party’s survival.
In a Zoom conference call with Democratic Party insiders, Anita Dunn, senior adviser to former vice president Joe Biden, called Trump’s remarks “a moment of truth about Republicans’ attitudes about voting in the last 10 years.” As she noted, this sentiment amounts to: “Oh, no! We can’t have all these people voting.”
Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me that Trump’s comment “amounts to a confession that these Republicans at least, know they rule by ignorance, fear and withdrawal from political participation and not by popular consent.” He points out, “It’s more than slightly terrifying to hear Trump and his enablers admit that their opposition to voting by mail and other efforts to reconcile political participation with pandemic-induced physical separation isn’t any concern about hacking or any other source of potential manipulation of voting processes but simply the fear of an empowered and awakened public.” He adds, “The sick irony of a populism that fears the people and overtly relies on voter suppression for its survival seems to be lost on that bunch.”
As voting-rights groups press states and file lawsuits to compel them to prepare for covid-19 and make voting-by-mail more accessible, Trump’s statement should be powerful evidence for their arguments: The opposition to voting-by-mail is designed to suppress the vote — specifically to suppress the votes of non-white, Democratic voters.
As Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center observes, “At least Trump does us the favor of avoiding pious warnings about imaginary voter fraud. He doesn’t even repeat his absurd earlier claims of millions of illegal voters. He says plainly, the more people vote, the worse it will be for him politically. That’s an utterly illegitimate posture for a political leader to have in a democracy.” He continues, “It suggests he is worried about a verdict from the full electorate at the ballot box.”
If the courts have any doubt, they can ask Trump.