WASHINGTON (PAI)—Top union leaders, marshalled by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, are backing the $3.6 billion in the House Democrats’ stimulus bill to pay states to establish vote-by-mail systems – and the measure’s mandate they do so.
But whether the unionists’ statements, plus wide public support for the idea, will be enough to sway either GOP President Donald Trump or the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s ruling Republicans, remains to be seen. Both Trump and the solons fear that the more people vote, as Trump put, the more the Republicans lose at the polls.
Vote-by-mail money is in the $3 trillion House Democratic economic stimulus bill, potentially scheduled for a vote on May 15. Senate sponsor Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., joined Trumka and union presidents on a May 13 telephone press conference to push it.
Congress needs to pass it now, Klobuchar said, so states have enough time to set up and test-run their vote-by-mail registrations, procedures and systems.
Vote-by-mail will help “the front-line workers – the nurses, those who are driving trucks and in grocery stores and others, who are working from home and have kids there” due to shelter-in-place policies the coronavirus pandemic mandated, Klobuchar said. Voters also don’t want to risk health or lives to the virus’s community spread by waiting in long lines.
That’s what happened in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, she noted. The GOP-run state lawmakers forced voters to stand and 72 voters and one election judge got sick. By contrast, 1.1 million mail ballots swamped Badger State election officials beforehand.
That’s no surprise. In the 2018 off-year election, turnout as a percentage of eligible voters zoomed, especially in those states with vote-by-mail, such as Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and California. It also rose substantially in states such as Minnesota and Illinois, which have same-day voter registration. Younger voters and women in particular cast ballots.
And the high turnout, combined with a horde of progressive female candidates seeking U.S. House seats, and anger against Trump and the GOP – even before the
coronavirus pandemic hit – combined to produce an enormous shift of House seats to Democrats, along with House control and election of a horde of pro-worker lawmakers.
State legislative and gubernatorial votes saw similar results, except in states – like Georgia and Florida – with rampant GOP-pushed voter suppression efforts, heavily gerrymandered legislatures, or both.
All this makes enacting vote-by-mail the first top cause of Labor 2020, its election effort, Trumka said. “In the middle of a global pandemic, we must make it easier to vote than ever before,” he explained. The $3.6 billion for vote-by-mail and $25 billion more for the Postal Service – so carriers can deliver and pick up ballots, along with other mail – “are investments in our democracy.” Even GOP governors in Ohio and New Hampshire agree, Klobuchar said.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders pointed out the bias of foes of vote by mail against both workers and people of color. “Of the ten states that have the strictest ‘voter ID’ laws” – the now-generic name for all sorts of voter suppression – “nine are right-to-work states.” RTW laws, a favorite corporate and right-wing cause, deprive unions of funds by letting workers use union services without paying one red cent for them.
Those states also “want to muzzle poor people and people of color,” said Saunders. Foes “can’t win on the merits, so they game the system.” Vote-by-mail stops such tactics. Trump vehemently opposes vote-by-mail and his top aide/son-in-law, Jared Kushner, recently suggested in Time magazine that “I don’t know if we’re even going to have an election,” said Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher.
Trump himself, before the pandemic hit, suggested during a speech in the Pittsburgh area calling off the vote and giving him a second, third or even fourth term in the White House.
“We will have an election,” Weingarten retorted. “And we have to ensure our elections are free, fair and open to all. That’s why” vote-by-mail “is so important.”