So Democrats should do all they can to put political pressure on those GOP lawmakers over this issue. The best outcome of this would be that Republicans do more to help scale up vote-by-mail, for the good of the country. But if they won’t, they should at least pay a political price for that failure.
I’m told that Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general who now heads a Democratic voting rights group, is set to begin making the case to Democrats in Congress and at the party committees that it’s time for Democratic lawmakers and congressional candidates to lean a lot harder into this issue.
What’s at stake is whether the next round of economic assistance from Congress will include measures to build out vote-by-mail. The rescue package that recently passed the House included a mandate that states and jurisdictions declaring an emergency must mail absentee ballots to all eligible voters, and accept all mailed-in ballots postmarked by Election Day.
That bill also included some $3.6 billion in funding to help states scale up for vote-by-mail, which untold numbers of voters will try to avail themselves of this fall amid the pandemic.
To understand how some Democrats view this issue, see this polling memo that those groups are circulating among Capitol Hill Democrats and party strategists. In a survey of voters in a dozen battleground states and/or states with competitive Senate and House races, it found that 69 percent support expanding vote-by-mail and early voting options.
That polling also tested a message that frames vote-by-mail as making it “easier for people to vote who may not be comfortable going to a polling place because of the coronavirus,” which expanded support to 73 percent. And the memo recommends castigating opposition to vote-by-mail as “jeopardizing public health.”
“The American people correctly view this as a health issue, not a partisan one,” Holder said in a statement sent to me. “Elected officials should listen to their constituents: It’s time to expand options to vote safely in every state.”
You should always treat partisan polling with skepticism. But these findings are in sync with public polls. A recent Post/ABC News poll found that 65 percent of Americans support “making it easier” to vote by mail.
Tiffany Muller, the president of Let America Vote, points out that Republicans who are opposing vote-by-mail are, in effect, helping Trump “suppress the vote.” After all, Trump has blithely admitted that vote-by-mail will hurt Republicans in the elections, which is to say, it will hurt him. That’s why he opposes it.
“We will continue to push the issue, and if Republicans in the Senate keep standing in the way, they will pay a political price,” Muller said.
So these groups hope, anyway. And they hope Democrats will push the issue as well — as hard as possible.
The aforementioned Post poll also found that 61 percent of Republican respondents oppose making vote-by-mail easier. Trump has been claiming that vote-by-mail will be riddled with fraud, and has even raged that the upcoming election will be stolen in this fashion:
Trump’s public raging over vote-by-mail also serves the purpose of spreading doubts about the legitimacy of the election’s outcome. And it lays the groundwork for him to claim that he has prevailed (even if he’s trailing on Election Day) pending the counting of mail-in ballots, which could take days, spreading maximal chaos and disruption.
Indeed, election law expert Rick Hasen points out that failure to adequately fund vote-by-mail in the states will also make such chaos more likely.
“If Congress doesn’t adequately fund vote by mail, the burden will fall more heavily on states and counties, who are more likely to make errors and disenfranchise voters without adequate resources,” Hasen tells me.
Trump thinks chaos is his friend, of course, which only makes it less likely that Republican lawmakers — who as a party are already prone to pushing voter fraud fictions and efforts to make voting harder — will do the right thing here.
We have to hope they will. But if they don’t, Democrats shouldn’t hesitate to extract a major political price for it.