New York voting

Georgia has already passed laws restricting voting access. Texas, Florida, and a raft of other states are considering similar bills.

When voting rights advocates complain, officials say that they aren’t really tightening access to the ballot. They are making their laws more like New York’s and New York is a liberal state, so the measures they are taking must be okay.

One major problem: New York, where I have lived most of my adult life, is way behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making registering and voting fair, accessible, and convenient.

While we do have voter registration and address change available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait time between registering and actually being able to vote is long. This also applies to changes in party registration, which affects access to primaries, which are closed. (A closed primary means that only those who have previously registered with that party are allowed to vote. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, political independents could request a ballot for any party they wished on voting day, fill it out, hand it in, and then have their name removed from the party list, going back to their independent status.) I would love to have same-day registration as some states do. A voter can then cast a provisional ballot which will be counted as soon as eligibility is verified.

Many states have long had no-excuse absentee voting or extensive vote by mail options. New York has not. Absentee ballots were restricted to those who would be out of town on election day and those who were physically unable to get to the polls. In 2020, people were allowed to check the box for illness/disability for fear of contracting COVID, so the basic structure of absentee voting is still intact. One useful option we do have is that one can file as having a permanent illness/disability and an absentee ballot will automatically be mailed to you for every future election. This has been very helpful to my parents and my friends who are elders.

2020 was the first presidential election in New York State with early in-person voting at centralized locations. Previously, the only way to vote in person before election day was to go to the county Board of Elections office, request a ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. The early voting period was October 24-November 1, with election day being November third. In our county, the lines were long. We waited about three hours in line to vote; our county lengthened the hours available after a few days to cut the waiting times. As it turned out, we could have waited to vote on election day as our planned trip to visit family in the UK was cancelled the day before we were to leave, so we were in town on Nov. 3rd. Many states have much more extensive early voting periods, beginning several weeks before election day.

One thing that New York had been good about was having long hours on election day. Polls were open from 6 AM through 9 PM. Anyone who was in line by 9 PM could remain to vote, no matter what time that actually occurred.

New York has also been very slow with counting votes. Absentee votes couldn’t be counted for at least a week after election day. In some cases, the waiting period was closer to two weeks. While the presidential outcome was clear, some races were not officially certified for weeks after the election. The most severe was our Congressional district, which resulted in our representative not being sworn in until February 11th.

New York is continuing to pass legislation to make voting more accessible. Meanwhile, these other states that are claiming to be “keeping up with liberal New York” are in reality making vote more burdensome for their citizens. They are also adding ridiculous things like making it a crime to give food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

So remember, the next time you hear some politician crow about making their voting system more like New York’s, it is probably not a good thing.

The various shenanigans that are going on with states restricting voting access points out the necessity for action at the federal level. I am hoping that the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will be passed by Congress for President Biden to sign into law. Taken together, these would ensure equal access to the ballot for all citizens, no matter where they live. It would be even better if the bill to make Washington DC a state is adopted so that the 700,000 people that live there finally have votes in Congress.

Every citizen deserves representation and an equal opportunity to vote!

Where am I?

Yesterday, June 1, 2020, was one of the darkest and most frightening days of my almost sixty years as a citizen of the United States.

President Trump is pressuring governors to use the US military against protesters in their states and is threatening to use the military, beyond the National Guard which is under the jurisdiction of each governor, within the states if the governors refuse. To do this, he would have to invoke the Insurrection Act, which, in the rare instances in which it has been used, has only been applied to a small, specific area for particular isolated incident. If the president tries to invoke this act across different states and regions, is he surmising that a widespread insurrection is underway? The Cambridge Dictionary defines insurrection as “an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by violence.” This is not at all what is happening. Even if you add civil unrest as a possible cause, the vast majority of the country is seeing non-violent protests, which are within our rights to free speech and assembly. The limited amount of violence and destruction/theft of property are matters for local law enforcement, sometimes aided by the state’s National Guard, if the governor sees fit to use them.

The president seems to think that his bravado makes him look strong, but the opposite is true. His resorting to such threats shows how weak he is as a leader that he cannot talk to the nation to calm the situation and take effective action to address the injustices that have so many millions across the country taking to the streets.

The most horrifying part of yesterday was that the area near the White House was cleared of protesters so that the president could go to a nearby church for a photo op. These protesters were non-violent and the curfew had not yet taken effect when they were attacked with teargas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and physical violence. Clergy and volunteers who had been offering water, snacks, and assistance to the protesters throughout the day were also driven from the area.

These actions ordered by the president violated the free speech and freedom of assembly rights from our Constitution, as well as interfering with the religious expression of those who were there to serve others to fulfill the calling of their faith. The president also did not inform the clergy of St. John’s or the Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde that he would be clearing the church grounds and using their sacred space for a photo op. Rev. Budde and other Christian faith leaders have objected to the president’s actions and rhetoric, pointing out that he is espousing views antithetically opposed to the tenets of Christianity.

Donald Trump has no moral authority whatsoever. He says that he wants “law and order” while himself violating the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold.

I am afraid of what will come next. I don’t have a vivid enough imagination to envision what will happen beyond the pandemic, injustice, and widespread suffering we have all around us.

We need competent and compassionate national leadership as soon as possible. There are millions of us all over the country ready to embark on the gargantuan task of building back a country worthy of our highest ideals of equality, unity, peace, and community.

The US and climate

I did not want to have to write this post.

I listened with dismay to DT’s Rose Garden address yesterday, astonished at the level of misunderstanding of climate science, domestic and international economics, and the Paris climate agreement in evidence.

While the president made it seem that the United States is immediately leaving the Paris accord, that is not the case. There is a three year period starting in November, 2016 during which no signatory may exit the agreement. The one-year period in which the separation would occur can’t start until then, so the earliest date that the United States could officially leave would be Nov. 4, 2020, the day after our next presidential election. A lot can happen in three and a half years and my hope is that the United States will never officially withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Even without the federal government’s leadership, many of the states, cities, companies, and individuals in the US will be continuing reductions in carbon emissions and promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over sixty mayors of large cities declared their intention to follow the climate agreement. The governors of New York, California, and Washington have started an initiative for states to continue working on their clean energy goals. Many companies, large and small, are committed to renewable energy sources for their operations. Many families, like mine, are weatherizing their homes, using energy efficient appliances and lighting, buying solar panels, and driving hybrid or all-electric vehicles like our Chevy Bolt.

The majority of the people of the United States believe in the Paris accord and will continue to work alongside the nations of the world to combat climate change. I hope we will soon return to official federal-level participation. It would not be the first time that the administration has had to backpedal after an unwise decision.