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Edelman: Use your only weapon to defend democracy by voting this November | COMMENTARY

In 2013, all five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court took it upon themselves to give the Republican party a gift. They drove a dagger through the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing states with long histories of Jim Crow injustice to escape federal oversight of their election procedures. In her dissent to the majority ruling, Justice Ginsberg noted that the focus of Voting Rights Act had shifted from “first generation barriers to ballot access” to “second generation barriers” like blocking voter access to voting places.

The results of that wretched decision were predictable. The states freed from oversight introduced new and effective voter suppression methods designed specifically to disenfranchise the voters whom the Voting Rights Act protected, those who suffered “entrenched racial discrimination.”

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The Center for American Progress identified nine areas where voter turnout was held down, some by innocent administrative errors, others by active attempts to discriminate against certain groups of voters. While outrages like “how many jellybeans are in the jar” are no longer used to keep African Americans from voting, other techniques such as voting roll purges, intimidation and harassment, polling place closures and exceptionally long lines, and malfunctioning voting machines in minority precincts were used to deny thousands their constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.

In Georgia, the man in charge of running the election for governor was running for governor — do you think he might have had a conflict of interest? Kansas is another state where being a racial minority member is a handicap to voting. There was not a single polling place in Dodge City, whose voters are mostly minorities. They literally had to “get out of Dodge” to vote! Polling places were closed in minority districts across the state. And as in Georgia, the state’s top election official, Kris Kobach, won his party’s nomination for governor by a wafer-thin margin in which there were systemic voting irregularities favoring guess who — Kobach.

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Earlier this year, President Trump marked the start of the latest chapter in the Republican Party’s full-out assault on fair elections, saying that if Democrats were able to achieve full and fair voting, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” and “this will be the most corrupt election in history.” We saw the impact of COVID-19 on primary elections, and it wasn’t pretty. Massive delays affected in-person voting across the country, due to closings of many polling places. For example, Wisconsin’s Republican legislature forced Milwaukee, a Democratic city of more than a half-million, to limit itself to 5 polling stations in this year’s primary; it normally has 180.

The obvious and effective way to protect lives and make voting accessible is the time-tested, tied-and-true technique of voting by mail. It’s been used since the time of the Civil War, it’s virtually fraud-free, and people whose states have it like and use it. In other words, it is precisely what Trump wants to avoid. He has on multiple occasions tried to discredit vote-by-mail, even though that is how he voted.

Republican-controlled states like Oklahoma and Texas have made it difficult for their citizens to obtain absentee ballots. Trump has praised Florida’s vote-by-mail system, but the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black and Latino voters were more than twice as likely as white voters to have their mail-in ballots rejected. Maryland’s primaries had some pretty serious snags in mail-in voting in Baltimore, but we learned from them; even though Republican governor Hogan has made it much harder than it needs to be, our state’s citizens should work through his ill-considered road-blocks and vote by mail.

We know with certainty that Trump is waging war on the United States Postal Service; we can’t be sure why. But his attempts to strangle the postal service will most likely delay processing mail-in ballots. Trump would love to use that as an excuse to challenge the outcome of the election, likely a massive defeat for him. He has already broken with more than two centuries’ tradition in saying he would not necessarily accept the outcome of the election, calling it “rigged,” before even one vote is cast. Trump also sent a tweet wondering whether the election should be delayed, which cannot possibly help make the outcome more legitimate.

The foundation of American government is the absolute belief that our elections are fair. For the president to challenge the electoral process is a poison pill for our democracy. The surest antidote to his toxic attack on American institutions is for every one of us to vote. The greater the turnout, the more we can trust the results, no matter which candidate wins. If you call yourself a patriot, then, your action is clear. Our only weapon for defending democracy is the ballot. Use it.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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