The Republicans’ Counterproductive VBM Suit

By Fred Snowflack | August 22, 2020

Insider NJ


I asked in this space a few days ago why Republicans so hate vote-by-mail.

A genuine answer to that is still elusive, but the fight is escalating with a recent federal suit by the Donald Trump reelection campaign, which was joined by the New Jersey Republican Party, to stop how Gov. Phil Murphy plans to conduct the Nov. 3 election.

If you think this seems counterproductive, you’re right.

Most studies of voting habits suggest older people lean Republican. Logically, those over 60 are also the most apprehensive about going to a crowded polling place in the face of COVID-19. So, by opposing voting by mail, aren’t Republicans trying to stymie their own voters?

But let’s put that aside and look at some of the issues raised in the suit.

On that score, there are problems right at the top. The suit mentions that the governor has ordered “universal vote-by-mail.”

But that is simply not true.  The term “universal” suggests voters will vote by mail or not at all.

In truth, there are other opinions.

One can take a completed ballot and deposit it in a “lock-box,” at least 10 of which are to be placed in every county. These boxes will have 24-hour security cameras.

Another option is to take the completed ballot to a polling place and hand it in.

And then, you can still go to a polling place on election day and vote. There will be at least one polling place open in every town. These votes will be considered “provisional,” because there will be no immediate way for poll workers to know an individual did not previously vote by mail. Checking provisional ballots – plus the counting of many, many vote-by-mail ballots – may mean a longer wait for results, but it’s hard to see that in itself as a legal issue.

Still, notwithstanding possible problems and delays, this is not “universal” vote-by-mail. It’s going to be a tough argument to claim that it is.

The suit also makes much of past irregularities in New Jersey with what used to be called “absentee ballots.”  And in a contemporary observation, it brings up Paterson where four people. including a councilman, have been criminally charged by the state with voter manipulation in May’s city election. That was a vote-by-mail election because of the virus.

The president has brought up Paterson himself. giving this embattled city the type of notoriety it doesn’t need.

But how far does that argument go?

Murphy has said with some logic that the Paterson experience actually helps his position. That’s because the alleged perpetrators were caught. So, the election they tried to fix was not fixed.

The plaintiffs, of course, argue that no one knows how many slimy politicians have engaged in similar chicanery without being caught.

No one disputes that long before computerized voting machines and COVID-19, politicians have used various methods – some ingenious, others crooked – to get votes for their candidate.

However, the issue in 2020 is balancing off the possibility of rampant fraud with the health crisis of the day.

The plaintiffs’ best point seems to be the assertion that the governor’s election executive order runs counter to his other actions.

The suit details a series of actions Murphy has taken to “reopen” the state as the impact of the virus in New Jersey decreases. These include such things as opening parks, outdoor dining, libraries, barber shops and allowing the limit on outdoor gatherings to rise to 500. The plaintiff’s point is simple – New Jersey is beating the virus.

So, the suit calls the governor’s election order a “stark departure” from a string of decisions going in the opposite direction. It’s a valid point.

But whatever the court decides, we must return to the original question.

Ever since voting-by-mail took hold in New Jersey a number of years ago, it’s been acknowledged even by Republicans that Democrats do it better. We’re not going to analyze here why that is so.

But it does prompt an observation and a question.

Rather than joining the suit, wouldn’t it be smarter for New Jersey Republicans to do a better job getting their supporters to vote-by-mail?

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