Memorial Day And Mail Voting – Ballots Not Bullets

May 23, 2020

By Mimi Kennedy, Board Member – Progressive Democrats of America


Memorial Day Weekend, COVID-19.

It’s summer’s kick-off, but we’re not gathering the way we usually do.

Still, we remember our war dead.

PDA was formed in 2004 to bring the peace movement inside the Democratic Party and push it to end the Iraq War. Our message was and still is Healthcare Not Warfare.

Since then, PDA realized we needed equal commitment to restoring honest elections. Progressive voices were growing stronger. But it grew harder to be heard at the ballot box.

2018 was a thrilling mid-term. But it’s 2020 – the year for the transfer of Executive power – and the squeeze is on again.

It is absolutely necessary to expand mail voting so that COVID-19 doesn’t kill people who do their civic duty in the fall if their only option is to wait in long lines and vote in person.

But the right is pushing back. Their usual cry of Voter Fraud now says mail voting is bad, though Republicans have pushed it for years to ensure their voters get a ballot.  Donald Trump is saying it’s terrible. Though he votes by mail. As usual, what’s fine for him is off-limits to ordinary Americans.

We can expect this pushback to grow hard through the fall, through Election Day and the counting afterward.  As progressives win the right to vote by mail using the COVID-19 excuse in many states, the right wing has to use any means necessary. And they’ll use their usual go-to- sowing doubt and confusion (the tactic common wisdom attributes to the devil.)

PDA won’t rest until we’ve equipped voters in every state to protect themselves and their votes.

To begin, we must protect the casting of the vote. To this end we asked election journalist Steve Rosenfeld to compile rules and regulations from every state about their registration deadlines and mail voting.

He came up with this chart, you can click this link or the image below to download:   “First Steps For Voters in 2020s Upcoming Elections.”

He’s adding states soon, but he began with those holding primaries from mid-May through mid-August. These states, he writes, “will establish benchmarks and raise warning signs for voting this fall.”

You’ll find deadlines for registration, and deadlines for absentee ballot application. You can see whether your state will send you a mail ballot without an excuse or whether you need an excuse (disability, military) and whether COVID-19 has been allowed as an excuse in your state. Texas courts have been fighting that out this month. A Fifth District decision just disallowed it, overturning a brilliant ruling from Judge () described as “blistering.” He ruled that having no immunity to a deadly virus easily spread at public gatherings was indeed a “physical condition” under Texas law that would prevent voters from going to the polls and require them to vote by mail.

The trap of provisional voting awaits voters who don’t know the rules or the deadlines or when to expect a ballot they’ve been sent. So does the ultimate voter suppression of not being allowed to vote at all.

More questions remain than are answered in this chart. And PDA members are enlisted to help, by calling their local elections officials (here’s a link to contact information for every state and local election official) to ask:

  • Can we register and apply for a mail ballot at the same time?
  • Can we update our registration information, online or in person, and apply for a mail ballot at the same time?
  • What happens if I don’t receive my mail ballot and go to vote in person? Will my record show that a mail ballot was sent so I’ll have to vote provisional because I can’t prove I didn’t use it? If I just don’t want to use the mail ballot but want to vote at the polls, do I have to bring in the unused mail ballot to surrender in order to avoid voting provisional?

You’d be surprised how few people know these answers. So go to the source. Then educate us.  Ignorance can defeat us, and the right wing will exploit that.

No question is dumb. PDA’s fearless National Field Coordinator, the late Judy Hess, asked a question of her Fresno Registrar that she feared was a dumb question. In fact, it uncovered a shady longtime practice that had to be corrected by state legislation!

For Steve’s most recent article, “Mail Voting Challenges.”