By Lance Chilton
Democrats want more people to have the chance to vote, including in the primary election scheduled here for June 2. Republicans want fewer people to vote. It’s as simple as that. Our president tweeted “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting, [which] doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” He has also said that if there were an expansion of early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” The US has had plenty of experience, bad experience, denying the vote to, for example, African-Americans, women, Native Americans, felons…
As with so much that our president says, the claim that vote-by-mail is harmful to Republicans is not true. According to a New York Times article, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/10/us/politics/vote-by-mail.html, voting by mail does increase turnout, as the 2019 Albuquerque school board election, conducted entirely by mail, showed. It gives voters more time to consider their votes. But it does not favor one party over another.
On April 7, after a US Supreme Court decision disallowed an all-mail-in election or a delayed election, Wisconsin voters were left with two choices: Apply for an absentee ballot that might never arrive or stand in line during an epidemic to vote in person despite physical distancing rules. In heavily-minority, heavily-Democratic Milwaukee, there were only five polling places; the other 184 usually available in the city were never opened because poll workers declined to risk their health by doing so – after all, as of April 13, 88 Milwaukeeans had died of COVID-19. So poll workers and potential voters were being realistic, not paranoid. People who felt it important to vote stood six feet apart in long lines, gloved and masked; others waited at home for absentee ballots that never arrived. The results are in: Voter suppression worked, especially in Milwaukee, where primary vote totals from 2020 were 35 per cent lower than in 2016; in the rest of the state, vote totals were also down, but only by 25 per cent. Democrats should take considerable hope from the fact that despite that, the liberal candidate for State Supreme Court, Jill Karofsky, beat the conservative incumbent Daniel Kelly, with more than 55 percent of the statewide vote in a test of strength in that swing state.
Restricting the franchise in Wisconsin is just one of the ways in which the system in that state is rigged; gerrymandering is another. All on the Line, an organization attempting to make redistricting fair this time around, indicates that, while in Wisconsin, 54% of the total 2018 votes for the legislature were for Democrats, 64% of the seats in the legislature went to Republicans. But more on gerrymandering at another time…
Here in New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver requested from the New Mexico Supreme Court permission to stage an all mail-in primary election this year, like the successful all-mailed Albuquerque Public School Board election in 2019 but made more urgent because of the infection danger in in-person voting.
The NM State Supreme Court, on April 14, decided unanimously that it does not have constitutional authority to do that. Ms. Toulouse Oliver, a prominent Democrat, has striven for years, previously as Bernalillo County Clerk and now as our New Mexico Secretary of State, to expand the franchise; Steve Pearce, the Republican state chair and former US representative, cloaks his attempt to disenfranchise voters as avoiding fraud. That’s about as credible as someone else’s claim that building a wall along our southern border will keep out the coronavirus. Twenty-seven of the state’s 33 county clerks agreed with Ms. Toulouse Oliver, as did Governor Luján Grisham, who said through her counsel that she could not risk the spreading infection that an emergency legislative meeting to consider the issue (and the pressing state fiscal problems) might bring.
Don’t take a chance on being infected while waiting in line to vote! Request an absentee ballot today through the Secretary of State’s website: https://portal.sos.state.nm.us/OVR/WebPages/AbsenteeApplication.aspx. Vote one way or the other, but stay safe.