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!

what hasn’t changed

The last few years have been challenging for me and my family. As I have written in (many) posts, these personal challenges have been compounded by what is happening in the United States.

As I begin a busy week in caring for my family, the back drop is the horrifying news that United States has passed 20 million confirmed COVID cases with over 352,000 known deaths with COVID. It is immeasurably sad – and infuriating because we could have prevented a large share of these with good public health measures and accessible, timely medical care. There is hope for the coming months with vaccines becoming available and the incoming administration has a good team to improve the national pandemic response.

Unfortunately, the current president and many Congressional Republicans are still trying to prevent the duly elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from taking office as president and vice-president on January 20th. Over the weekend, an hour-long recording of a telephone call from the president to the secretary of state of Georgia and his legal counsel was released, in which the president repeatedly pressures and threatens them to change the certified election win of Joe Biden to a win for Trump. On Wednesday, both houses of Congress will meet to count the electoral college votes, which will be 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump. Nevertheless, over a hundred Republican members of the House of Representatives and a dozen Republican senators plan to challenge or vote against acceptance of the count from six states Biden won, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Given that dozens of court cases alleging fraud or procedural problems with the voting system have already been dismissed and the proper certifications by the states have been done, there are no real grounds for the objections and they will be defeated after hours of debate. That so many members of Congress are willing to violate their oath to uphold the Constitution and US law is frightening and disconcerting and does not bode well for passing needed legislation through Congress.

Yes, the change from 2020 to 2021 did not erase any existing problems, but we need to work toward rectifying them and making life better for people, not devolving into lies and blaming others.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/04/jusjojan-prompt-the-1st-fingertips/

Election Day

B and I baked an election day pie early this morning with an important message: VOTE! We did early voting last week and will be watching television coverage as the returns begin to come in this evening, by which time our tummies will be full of our fruits-of-the-forest pie. Today’s rendition is made with apples, raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.

early vote

This is the first presidential election year that New York State has had extensive in-person early voting. Because B, T, and I were planning to be out of the country on election day, we decided we would avail ourselves of that opportunity rather than voting absentee by mail, an option that was expanded this year to include fear of illness to protect people from exposure to coronavirus.

Across the country, there were long lines for early voting but no one knew how New York voters would respond. There was also no historic basis from which to plan. The first day of early voting was Saturday, October 24. We reasoned rightly the first weekend would be busy, so we planned to vote on Monday afternoon.

It was still very busy. It took us two and a half hours to vote, most of which was spent standing in a social distanced and masked outdoor line. Just as we were near the door into the library polling place, the line stalled. It turned out that one of the two ballot printing machines had stopped working, so the final check-in took longer, but all the election workers, volunteers, and people in line were very patient and respectful.

Because the lines were long, the county board of elections added more early voting hours so that wait times would be shorter.

I was glad to see so many here and across the country making themselves heard through their votes. The US has historically had low voter turnout and I’m hoping that the energy around voting this year will mark a new era of greater civic participation.

Our votes and voices are important. We all need to vote and make sure that our votes are counted. We also need to be patient while the counts are completed and certified.

It’s been a looooooong election season but it’s almost over. Stay strong, everyone!

One-Liner Wednesday: Vote!

A timely reminder that I saw on a bench when I was heading into the grocery store.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/21/one-liner-wednesday-pro-tip-for-the-grocery-store/

Another “week that was”

I’ve been meaning to write a post all week, but couldn’t settle my mind enough to do it.

Now it’s Saturday and I probably still have not settled my mind enough, but am plunging in regardless.

I’ve written often about how disconcerting and bizarre it is to be living in the United States in 2020. The national government is dysfunctional, although I am fortunate to be living in New York State with a competent governor, Andrew Cuomo, so there is some sense of stability, despite the public health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

The sad news on the national pandemic front this week was surpassing seven millions known cases. This comes on the heels of passing 200,000 known COVID deaths, which means that the United States, with about 4% of the world’s population, has suffered about 20% of global deaths. This is a result of the incompetence of the president and his administration. The staggering news this week is that the administration is saying that they could overrule the Food and Drug Administration and grant an emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine even if the FDA does not feel that there is enough data yet to show that the vaccine is safe and effective. The president has been hinting about having a vaccine approved before the November third election, even though phase three trials only began in the United States in July. (My spouse, daughter, and I are part of the Pfizer vaccine study. You can find my posts about it by using the search box here at Top of JC’s Mind.) This threat of political interference from the White House comes on top of recent revelations that political appointees have interfered with what the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish on their official website and the stunning statements by Olivia Troye, a national security specialist who until recently served on the staff of Vice-President Mike Pence and was assigned to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

This week also saw the public memorials for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was a remembrance service at the Supreme Court to open two days of public viewing there, followed by a service and a day of lying in state at the Capitol building where Congress meets. She was the first woman and the first person of the Jewish faith to be so honored. Her burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery next week, after the conclusion of the High Holy Days. Meanwhile, the president and Republican senators are intent on rushing through a replacement even though the election is so close. This is against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish that the president elected in November choose her successor and against the path that those same Republican senators took when Justice Scalia died in early 2016, when the election was much further away.

What has been most disheartening is that Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others in the administration has increased their rhetoric about the unfairness of the election itself. Even though absentee voting by mail is a long-established, safe, and secure practice in the United States, they are trying to say it is a source of wide-spread fraud. It is not! The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local election officials have said over and over that they have procedures in place to verify ballots and that election fraud is exceedingly rare and small-scale when it has occurred.

There will likely be many, many more citizens voting by mail this year because the public health risk of crowded polling stations has led millions of people who would ordinarily have voted on election day to request absentee ballots. Because of state laws, most of these ballots that arrive by mail or by delivery to election boards will not be counted until after election day. This means that, absent a clear landslide victory, the winner won’t be known for some number of days after the election. People will need to be patient while votes are counted and certified.

Trump has seized on the delay, intimating that not knowing the outcome immediately means that there is fraud. What it really means is that each state is carefully following their rules to ensure a full and free count. The count could have proceeded more quickly if the Senate had passed and the president signed the House’s HEROES Act, which included money to help states with additional machinery, training, and staff to deal with the expected increase in mail-in ballots. Instead, the Trump administration further gummed up the system by slowing mail delivery, which caused problems in the primaries in some states by delaying election mail so much that ballots were thrown out for arriving too late.

The presidential election system in the US is complicated. The winner is not necessarily the one who wins the popular vote, but depends on the winner of each state and how many members of Congress they have. This gives more power to small states and was how Trump became president even though he lost the popular vote by three million. There are reports that Trump and Barr are looking at a scenario where they would file court cases to try to throw out absentee ballots and allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to choose Republican electors, even if Biden wins the vote within the state. The level of corruption involved is staggering.

Meanwhile, the president is giving away the plan by refusing to say there would be a peaceful transfer of power, intimating that “the ballots are a disaster.” Trump and the Republicans also seems to be in a hurry to have nine justices on the Supreme Court so that there wouldn’t be a tie if the election lands there as the 2000 Bush-Gore race did.

It seems that the president’s re-election strategy isn’t to convince the majority of citizens to vote for him but to find loopholes to stay in power even though the majority want Biden to become president. It’s especially terrifying because the president’s rhetoric has become even more disconnected from reality. He tells his supporters lies about Biden’s positions on issues. He encourages violence against those who disagree with him and says that he will give legal protection to those who are caught in wrongdoing on his behalf. And, by the way, Russia and other state actors are also throwing misinformation into the mix.

Almost five hundred national security experts endorsed Joe Biden this week, saying that the current president is not up to “the enormous responsibilities of his office.” It’s hard to conclude otherwise when I look at the millions of folks who are suffering from COVID impacts, injustice, hunger, and lack of livelihood. That there might be election shenanigans that continue the Trump presidency is more than I can bear to contemplate.

Votes for Women!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, recognizing women’s right to vote. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It had taken many decades to pass the amendment. Generations of women who had worked toward it died before they were able to legally cast a ballot. Many black women continued to be denied voting rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shamefully, part of the Congressional enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and some states have enacted discriminatory practices. The House of Representatives has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to address these issues, but Sen. Mitch McConnell has not brought it up to a vote in the Senate. A brief overview of the bill can be found here.

Because of the centennial, there have been a number of documentaries and news features about women’s suffrage in the United States, as well as articles and editorials. We have seen striking visual reminders of the struggle, such as the women in Congress wearing white for the State of the Union address, because white was the color that many suffragists wore during their marches and demonstrations. [A side note on wearing white: When I was a member of the Smith College Glee Club, we wore white when we performed. I don’t know if this tradition sprang from the suffrage movement or not. After I graduated in 1982, the Glee Club moved to wearing all black, but I admit that I still miss the striking sight of a group of young women blazing onto the stage wearing white.]

Because of the pandemic and the current civil and voting rights struggles, the commemorations of the ratification of the 19th amendment will be somewhat muted. I’m remembering, though, the 75th anniversary, which was a special event for me.

I live in upstate New York, a couple of hours drive from Seneca Falls, home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of a mostly female, mostly Catholic group called Sarah’s Circle. We met for prayer and discussion on a regular basis and occasionally took part in public events. We decided to take part in the parade and other events in Seneca Falls. We marched wearing matching shirts with our logo, designed by one of our members, on the front:

The back read “Can We Talk” because, at that time, an instruction had come down from the Vatican forbidding even the discussion of women’s ordination.

This did not deter the members of Sarah’s Circle from still speaking up about women’s ordination, but we were trying to appeal to members of the hierarchy to speak with us about it. A number of the our members who felt called to ordination wore Roman collars with their shirts. At the time, I did not feel that call personally so I did not add the collar. As we marched, we sang women’s suffrage verses that one of our members had written to familiar hymn tunes.

It was an inspiring day, filled with joy, hope, and thanksgiving. We had no idea that, twenty-five years later, there would still be such a struggle for fair voting and for equal rights and opportunity. May this centennial commemoration energize us to continue to speak out and vote for those who will uphold the voting and civil rights and the dignity of every person. May we also defend vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris from sexist and racist attacks.

We’ve come a long way in one hundred years, but not nearly as far as we should have.

Biden/Harris

A few days ago, former vice-president of the United States Joe Biden announced that he has chosen Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Their nomination will be formally adopted at the Democratic convention, which will be held virtually this week.

Choosing Sen. Harris to run for vice-president is historic. She is the first woman of color nominated by a major political party, the first black woman, and the first Asian-American woman. She has experience in the judicial branch as a district attorney and attorney general in California, executive experience as attorney general in our most populous state, and national legislative experience as a Senator. She was part of the astonishingly large and diverse group running for the Democratic presidential nomination, so she has been part of national campaigning and debates. The daughter of immigrants, her mom from India and her dad from Jamaica, who met at civil rights rallies, she has a compelling personal story. She graduated from a historically black college and belongs to a strong black sorority.

I should be excited and energized about the ticket, but I’m not.

Let me be clear that I am 100% committed to voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and hope and pray that they have the opportunity to govern and begin to guide the country out of the stifling morass in which we currently find ourselves. I’m looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of US women’s suffrage with, at long last, the election of a woman to national executive office. As someone with family members who have roots in Africa and Asia, I appreciate the value of seeing a BIPOC woman in a position of executive leadership in the United States.

But I’m not excited.

Some people have described the ticket as a “dream ticket” for Democrats, but I’m not a Democrat. I’m an independent who is a progressive. My dream ticket from the people running in the Democratic field was Elizabeth Warren/Julian Castro, which would have been a historic ticket in different ways. Many people thought they were too progressive to be elected, but the pandemic and ensuing economic disaster have highlighted the issues of income inequality, gaps in our health care system and social safety net, and the impacts of systemic racism, sexism, immigration status, state residency, rural/suburban/urban residency, etc. on the lives of individuals and families. Biden and Harris are both moderates, but the circumstances at the moment and, increasingly, the will of the electorate will probably make their governing style more progressive. As others have pointed out, many elements of #BuildBackBetter are similar to the Green New Deal, melding climate/environmental/social justice with economic rejuvenation.

I’m steeling myself for the continuing onslaught of sexist and racist attacks directed at Sen. Harris. There is already a ridiculous attempt to say that Harris isn’t qualified to run because her parents were immigrants; the Constitution is very clear that the president must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen. Kamala Harris was born in California. End of story.

I think the biggest reason, though, that I’m not excited is that I’m too overwhelmed with anxiety. The president and the Republican party are putting up as many roadblocks as possible to having a free and fair election from interfering with the postal service to unjustly purging voter rolls to closing polling places in neighborhoods with more people of color or Democrats to court challenges against state rules to make it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic. We also know that Russia, China, and other countries are interfering in our election process and helping to spread disinformation. The administration is acting in increasingly authoritarian ways, trying to silence critics, violating freedom of speech and of the press, and violently attacking peaceful protesters. They have removed dedicated civil servants without cause, including the inspectors general who investigate allegations of wrongdoing within the executive branch departments. People are suffering from the pandemic and the economic fallout and the Republican Congressional leadership and the administration are not doing anything to help those most affected; while the richest people and companies in the country are doing well, most people are struggling.

When the votes are counted and Biden and Harris have been elected, that is when I will be be excited. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I can to spread the truth about the candidates and make sure that my vote and all the votes are counted accurately.

SoCS: on conditions in the US

I don’t know how much more of this we can take.

“We” refers here to the United States.

This past week, we surpassed 150,000 COVID deaths and the virus is out of control in a number of states, including our three most populous. California has now passed the half million mark for cases – and the real number infected is, no doubt, much higher because mild or asymptomatic cases are unlikely to be found. There is some hope on the vaccine front with some Phase III trials beginning – the one I’m signed up for will start in August, I hope – but, even if one or more are successful, it will take months and months for enough doses to be available globally to quash the pandemic. Meanwhile, here in the US, there is still no national strategy and people are suffering because of it. Even states like mine (New York) who worked hard to get out case numbers way down are under threat of resurgence from infected people visiting our state, returning home from traveling, or coming back to our many colleges and universities. It’s terrifying.

On Thursday, the nation had an opportunity to reflect on love and justice and service. Rep. John Lewis, a central figure in the civil rights movement who went on to champion the rights of all people who suffered discrimination and prejudice – and the planet itself – was honored with a truly beautiful funeral service. Reflections were offered by clergy, family, friends, staff, colleagues, and all four former presidents, Jimmy Carter in writing and Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama in person. President Obama gave the main eulogy, which was also a call to action for justice and for voting rights, a cause which John Lewis literally bled for, was jailed for, and supported passionately for decades. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to re-name a voting rights bill that they had passed earlier after John Lewis. (OK, Mitch McConnell. Time to get it to the Senate and pass it into law.) Sadly, this law is needed after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act originally passed in the 1960s, reasoning (wrongly) that the country was past discriminatory voting practices. Since then, many states have re-implemented practices that limit ballot access for citizens based on age, race, income level, location, and other factors.

To point out the threat to voting and election integrity – yes, there is also evidence of foreign election interference, as if the domestic problems weren’t bad enough – the same day as the funeral, the president floated the idea via Twitter that our November 3rd national election should be postponed. The date of the election is set by Congressional law, though, so the president can’t change it. Fortunately, even the Republicans in Congress said that the election date will not be changed. I also think there would be civil unrest if it was tried.

Still, the election is under threat from forces within the government. Each state is responsible for running its own election, but the pandemic has made in-person voting more complicated and dangerous. States are moving to make greater use of their absentee voting systems, but these usually rely on the postal service, which the president is undermining through inadequate funding and a new crony leading the postal service who is changing policy to slow service. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to allocate funds to the states and the postal service so that our election can be fair, free, and safe, but Sen. McConnell has refused to bring the bill to the Senate for a vote. His own proposal doesn’t address election integrity at all. It also doesn’t address aid to states – and it was over two months after the House passed their bill before he even put out his proposal.

During the impeachment and trial, Republicans kept saying that “the people should decide the fate of the president at the ballot box.” They should be ensuring that we can do that safely, securely, and freely, not putting up roadblocks. If they are confident in their positions on the issues, they should be eager to have the vote. This looks like they know they have failed in their obligations to protect and defend the people and the Constitution and realize they can only hold onto power by cheating and deceiving.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there is more bad news on the economic front. The GDP declined at its highest rate since such things started to be calculated over 150 years ago. (GDP=Gross Domestic Product) Because the pandemic is so bad, many businesses are needing to close or scale back, so many more people are unemployed. Some who had thought they were temporarily unemployed are now permanently unemployed because their businesses that they owned or worked for are closing for good. Because the federal government isn’t helping the states, we are also facing a wave of layoffs of state and local workers. Unlike the federal government, most states are required to have balanced budgets. Their tax revenues are way down, so their budgets are broken. This can mean layoffs for police, public hospital workers, teachers, public works employees, and other essential workers that are needed even more now. This will make unemployment worse and cause more demand for anti-poverty programs – for which there is already inadequate funding. Oh, and the additional federal funds of $600/week that were added to state unemployment checks in the CARES Act this spring end this week. The House bill that passed in mid-May would extend them until January; McConnell’s new proposal cuts them way down.

Most economists advocate the federal government injecting much more money into the economy to keep it afloat until the pandemic ends. The very real fear is that what is happening now – with the CARES Act programs ending with nothing to replace them (or next to nothing) – that the steep recession will turn into an economic depression. Evictions and foreclosures, many of which had been forestalled by prior legislation, will likely accelerate, leading to an increase is homelessness and, possibly, bankruptcy for landlords who no longer have tenants. People may have even more problems finding food. There are already strains on both public and charitable food resources. Our health care system, which was already broken, will be even more overwhelmed.

I try to be realistic.

It’s hard, though, not to think that we are going to see more and more and more suffering in the months ahead.

As a nation, we need to summon more courage, more intelligence, more compassion, more reason to chart a path to restore peace, justice, and good health. I guess “restore” is the wrong word. We need to establish those things for everyone.

And we need to have the freedom to vote.

***** Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “more.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/31/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-1-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Applying the past to 2020

While it has been flying under the radar a bit in this cataclysmic year, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, recognizing women’s right to vote.

B, T, and I recently watched a four-hour documentary on PBS, entitled The Vote. (At the moment, you can stream it for free by following the link.) It was a reminder to me of the long struggle to secure the vote for all women in the US and how interwoven it was with issues of religion, abolition, temperance, racism, property rights, wealth, war, and social mores. The derisive and/or violent reaction to the nearly always peaceful demonstrations that the women undertook seems frighteningly current.

T and I also saw Gloria: A Life, a docu-play based on the life of Gloria Steinem. The performance was filmed with the audience there, the first act as a play and the second act a discussion with the audience featuring Gloria Steinem herself. Like Steinem and Betty Friedan, I am an alumna of Smith College; while there I had taken an early women’s studies course, before the formation of an academic department of women/gender studies. By the time I was a teen, the Second Wave of feminism was well underway, so I recognized many of the names of Steinem’s feminist activist-colleagues. Early on in the play, there is a tribute to the many women of color who were leaders in the movement. One of the strange phenomenon that happened was that, even early on, the press would disproportionately cover and feature Steinem, marginalizing other leaders, especially those of color. This has led to the enduring false impression that Second Wave feminism was a white middle-class movement, when it was in reality what would now be termed “intersectional.” It drew together women’s rights with issues of race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender expression, union/labor rights, violence, medical care, and more.

This was particularly striking at this time when we see activists who had been working on issues in isolation now drawing together in this time of pandemic and outcry for social and racial justice. We see them supporting each other and crafting policy proposals to address the common good. I am so encouraged to see the #BuildBackBetter movement put forward plans that take into account historic racism, marginalization, discrimination, oppression, environmental degradation, unfair wages, etc. and take steps to redress the wrongs and put in place an equitable, fair, safe, and comprehensive system.

2020 has been immeasurably difficult, but we all have the opportunity to make a better future. Let’s go! The United States needs to live up to its highest ideals and join with the world community to heal the planet and all its inhabitants.