I can’t keep up with all the different ways Donald Trump is trying to steal the upcoming presidential election. And I can’t keep track of all the ways he is trying to undermine faith in the election so that he can declare himself the winner even if he loses.
As of this writing, Trump’s proposed election-rigging schemes have ranged from delaying the election because of Covid-19 (which he can’t do) to declaring a winner by the end of election night, even if votes remain to be counted (which he also can’t do). He has insisted that mail-in voting increases the likelihood of fraud (which it does not), and he, along with his partner in corruption Bill Barr, have told Trump voters to vote twice (which is fraud). Meanwhile, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has crippled the Postal Service to the point that people fear their mail-in votes won’t get to their local Board of Elections in time to be counted, while courts have refused to extend deadlines to request, receive, and submit absentee ballots. Trump and Barr have even suggested sending armed goons to voting locations to “secure” the vote, which is a clear indication that they intend to engage in voter intimidation on Election Day.
And I’m writing this in September! I can’t imagine what Trump will have said to undermine the election between the time I finish this sentence and the time you read it.
There isn’t a lot Democrats can do to prevent Trump’s assault on democracy. They’ve given dire warnings, but at this point the warnings are a little bit like a smoke alarm going off after a house has burned to a crisp. They’ve held congressional oversight hearings, but they’re not going to impeach anybody, and anybody they did impeach would be acquitted by the craven and complicit Republican Senate. They’ve tried to get the mainstream media to correct Trump’s lies, but the presidential stenographers employed by many news outlets long ago decided that access was more valuable than the US system of self-government.
So we are stuck in a difficult spot. Instead of a concrete solution to stop Trump from stealing an election he is unlikely to win fairly, we’re left living out the plot of the movie Major League: As Tom Berenger’s character says when he learns that his team’s owner is planning to tank the team so she can move it to a new city, “I guess there’s only one thing left to do…. Win the whole fuckin’ thing.”
Theoretically, it’s possible. But the only way to win the whole effing thing is if people overcome the urge to procrastinate and vote before Election Day. If we don’t, Trump has too many avenues to engage in shenanigans. To counteract that, we need to vote early—and in person, if possible.
Not everybody can vote in person, of course. I’m not a Republican, which means I don’t believe Grandma needs to risk death in order to win an election. The most you can reasonably ask of a person for whom going to the polls is too dangerous is to request and return an absentee ballot. But if your state offers early in-person voting and it’s safe for you to do so, you should.
There are different kinds of early in-person voting, depending on the state. Some offer in-person absentee voting. That means you go to a designated location (usually the county Board of Elections office), sign in with an election official, fill out your absentee ballot, and then hand it to a poll worker. Other states offer plain old early in-person voting, which is just like regular Election Day voting but earlier. And some states offer both, depending on how early a person is trying to vote.
Either option is good. The benefits of regular early in-person voting are obvious: Polling locations are likely to be less crowded, and you can be sure your vote is tabulated by Election Day. But in-person absentee voting is also useful. Even if your state won’t count ballots until Election Day, voting in person ensures that your ballot will be there by then, thus avoiding any postal delays. It gives voters the confidence that an actual person received their vote. And it lessens the chances that poll workers will be overwhelmed on Election Day.
The most important benefit of in-person absentee voting is that it reduces the chance that Trumpy election officials will throw away your ballot because of a clerical mistake, lateness, or an allegation of a mismatched signature.
Stanford Law School professor Nate Persily put it this way: “In all likelihood, half a million mail ballots will go uncounted in this election due to lateness, missing signatures, signature mismatches, and other problems. We need to make sure that number does not grow to a million votes lost.”
We already know which voters are disproportionately affected by these kinds of issues. A Healthy Elections Project report written by MIT researcher Diana Cao shows that in Florida’s 2020 primaries, 1.3 percent of mail-in votes were not counted. When the uncounted ballots are broken down by age and race, skews become apparent. Over 3.5 percent of ballots from voters ages 18 to 29 were rejected, and over 2 percent of the ballots from Black voters and another 2 percent from Hispanic voters.
In-person absentee voting starts in September in some states. New Jersey allows in-person absentee voting at county Board of Elections offices starting September 19. Some California counties get going October 5. By October 19, states with more than half of the electoral votes will offer in-person absentee voting, and some states will have moved to regular early voting by then.
The November 3 election is the show; it’s the performative civic engagement our carnival barker of a president believes he can manipulate to his advantage. The real election, the real fight to get voters to the polls to save our democracy, has already begun.