At best, President Trump and his minions are engaged in one of the most brazen and far-reaching voter suppression schemes of the modern era. At worst, depending on how it evolves, they might be hatching a plot that could morph into outright election theft. What we can say without hesitation is that Trump is trying to profoundly corrupt the election right now, as we speak.
Does Joe Biden have a plan for that?
As it happens, a Biden plan is taking shape behind the scenes — a multifaceted strategy designed to deal both with Trump’s efforts to suppress the vote via attacks on vote-by-mail and with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s ongoing operational slowdowns.
The Biden campaign has quietly undertaken its own investigation of DeJoy’s changes at the U.S. Postal Service, which are producing widespread delays in mail delivery around the country, by talking to numerous experts on how elections, vote-by-mail and the post office really function.
The Biden camp’s conclusion is that these changes, if allowed to stand, could very well have a profound impact on the election’s outcome. That mirrors the anger of many Democrats over news that the USPS sent letters to 46 states warning that it can’t guarantee delivering all mail ballots in time to be counted.
But that’s not all Biden advisers have concluded. Indeed, the other conclusions they reached offer cause for a different sort of worry.
A hidden goal of Trump’s scheme
Robert Bauer, the veteran election lawyer and senior adviser to the Biden campaign, told me the Biden team has come to believe Trump’s efforts have two goals. The obvious one: DeJoy’s changes could introduce chaos into the delivery of mail ballots, potentially disenfranchising untold numbers of voters, particularly in states where ballots that are postmarked before Election Day but arrive after won’t count.
“There is no possible justification for these operational changes, two months before the election,” Bauer told me.
House Democrats have called on DeJoy to reverse these changes and testify to Congress. They’ve demanded documents designed to probe their true nature and rationale. But the fear that they could impact the election is shared by some Republican officials.
The second goal behind Trump’s efforts is more subtle, but the Biden camp thinks it’s critical: By constantly (and falsely) attacking vote-by-mail as riddled with fraud, Trump and his allies are trying to dissuade people from using it at all, by persuading them their own ballots won’t be counted and by casting a pall of confusion over the whole process.
“Trump believes that his unfounded claims about mail voting are enough to discourage voters — that he can use the presidential ‘bully pulpit’ to achieve vote suppression,” Bauer said.
In this assessment, the effort to get people to give up on mail voting is a second effort at voter suppression — since they might also be reluctant to vote in person amid pandemic conditions — layered on top of the more obvious effort to delay mail ballots.
Trump himself has unwittingly confirmed this. When Trump abruptly claimed vote-by-mail in Florida won’t be fraudulent and encouraged voters to use it, he revealed a fear that in a place where he thinks mail balloting will benefit him (senior-heavy Florida), his ongoing attacks might indeed discourage its use.
Big expenditures on educating voters
To remedy this, the Biden campaign tells me it’s planning massive expenditures in educating voters about mail balloting, with two goals: To get people to initiate the vote-by-mail process as early as possible and follow it through, and to inform people that mail balloting is secure.
“We are investing heavily in making sure voters understand what he is trying to do and are not deterred by falsehoods,” Bauer said, adding that this will include “urging voters to obtain and cast their ballots early, early, early.”
Another crucial piece of the Biden response is supporting litigation currently underway in many swing states against state laws that invalidate ballots postmarked before Election Day that arrive after. Trump has repeatedly telegraphed that he will declare later-arriving ballots fraudulent, and he’s banking on those laws to ensure they aren’t counted.
“We will continue to fight for this common sense protection of the right to vote,” Bauer said.
USPS can get this done — if it wants to
There’s another crucial nuance here. Trump has repeatedly said he won’t agree to increased funding for USPS, while admitting this funding is needed to ensure the counting of ballots (which he himself has said must inevitably be illegitimate). He has admitted the corrupt part out loud.
Meanwhile, USPS has stated that its reorganization moves — which are leading to the delays — are necessary precisely because of its fiscal straits. Whatever DeJoy’s motives, which appear murky, USPS itself is warning that delays could impact mail balloting, in keeping with what Trump openly wants.
But the Biden campaign is now trying to draw attention to the fact that USPS actually does have the organizational and fiscal capacity to deliver all mail ballots on time, provided these new operational changes aren’t permitted to get in the way.
In other words, the lack of funding that Trump himself is responsible for is no excuse for delaying delivery of mail ballots. Democrats should continue to push for more funding, but if it doesn’t materialize, that in no way justifies these organizational moves right at this moment, given pandemic-fueled demand for both increased mail balloting and medicine delivery.
“The USPS definitely can handle this year’s heavy volume of mail-in ballots,” Bauer said. “But USPS leadership must allow the postal professionals and dedicated letter carriers to do their jobs.”
It may be that only a sustained public pressure campaign can force DeJoy to desist from creating these delays. Democrats were slow to join this effort, but they now appear engaged, and the Biden camp appears committed to a recognition of how extraordinarily high the stakes really are.
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