Pinkerton: The Real Battle of 2020: Who Votes, and Who Counts

In this May 17, 2016, file photo, ballots are prepared for counting at Multnomah County election headquarters in Portland, Ore. The coronavirus has knocked presidential primaries back several weeks as officials worry about voters crowding into polling places. If the disease remains a hazard in November, Democrats say there's only …
Don Ryan/AP Photo

The Washington Post Sounds the Alarm

Published on the front page of the August 24 edition of The Washington Post, the headline was sure to grab the attention of every hardcore Democratic politico: “More than 500,000 mail ballots were rejected in the primaries. That could make the difference in battleground states this fall.”  As the article detailed, more than 534,000 primary votes, in 23 states, have been rejected for one reason or another, including more than 64,000 ballots in the three states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  

Lest Post readers somehow not get the message, the article spelled it out: Those were three states that Donald Trump unexpectedly carried four years ago, by a cumulative total of 80,000 votes, thereby giving him the presidency.  

Thus the Post’s message was clear: Democrats had better be alert to the possibility that Republicans—in particular, you know who—could win again.  As the newspaper put it: 

Election experts said that the combination of the hotly contested White House race and millions of first-time mail voters could lead to a record number of ballot rejections and trigger a searing legal war over which are valid—and who is the ultimate victor.

As the piece further noted, “Democrats and voting rights groups are now waging court battles to ensure that absentee ballots are not discarded on technicalities, pushing to require that ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted and to make signature-matching laws more voter-friendly.”  In fact, two states with Democratic governors, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, have recently decided to count ballots postmarked by Election Day but not received until afterward. 

In the meantime, Democrats are scoring legal victories, too: In Indiana, a federal judge ruled that election officials cannot reject ballots for dissimilar signatures without notifying the voter and giving him or her—aided, of course, by partisan allies—a chance to “cure” the ballot.  In fact, 20 states allow a voter to attempt to cure a faulty ballot so that it can be counted.   And in Texas, a judge ruled that citizens can register to vote online, dismissing the need for an actual paper trail. 

All these changes are alarming Republicans: “Overhauling the way Americans vote less than 80 days out will only spread chaos and confusion,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt told the Post.

So we can see: Beyond the ups and downs of the news cycle, the most important variable in this election—as it is in every election—is who votes, and who counts. What’s changed, this year, is the location of the main battlefield.  Changed, that is, from the familiar polling place in a fixed location to the new “territory” of the U.S. mail, as well as of other remote locations and venues. 

The Mail is the New Battlefield

According to FiveThirtyEight, virtually 100 percent of Americans can now vote by mail.  For those who are curious, the site provides a state-by-state breakdown of voting procedures: In 10 states, ballots will be automatically mailed to each voter (the Democratic governors of two of those states, California and New Jersey, made this change just in the past few weeks).  In 12 states, and the District of Columbia, applications for ballots will be automatically sent to each voter.  In 16 states, everyone can vote by mail if they wish, but nothing is automatically mailed to them. And in four states, voters can vote by mail only with a valid excuse (the pandemic doesn’t count).  As for the other states, they are are some hybrid of the preceding categories.

In other words, our traditional understanding of GOTV (Get Out The Vote), as something done on Election Day, is now being replaced by the realization that GOTV is now needed for Election Month, as the parties mobilize to get their voters to vote in various ways.  Indeed, in at least nine states, where voting starts in September, it’s Election Months.

Out of this new battlefield comes a new reality: Many traditional tools of electioneering—including campaign speeches, rallies, and TV advertising—mean a lot less than they once did.  What really matters is using the latest technology to speed up the process of identifying your voters and getting them to the polls.  And then, of course, making sure that their votes are counted properly. 

In the meantime, Democratic voices are telling their fellow Democrats that the GOP is up to no good, and that extraordinary measures must be taken in response.  Hence this headline in The Washington Post, “Republicans’ long-term vote heist matters more than Trump’s tantrums,” and this header in Rolling Stone, “The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election,” and this doozy in The Daily Beast, “This Is How Republicans Steal an Election, and Maybe Kill Some Dems in the Process.”  As we can gather: If this is what Democrats are reading about the election, then it’s likely that they are ready for anything, and ready to do anything.  

We might note that all those klaxon horns were sounded before the crescendo of concern about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, which led to the fireworks-y Congressional hearings on August 21 and August 24. 

Democrats Living in Glass Houses 

Yet for all the Democratic rock-throwing at Republicans, there’s an irony here: namely, that it’s the Democrats who have had the most trouble accurately counting votes—in their own events. 

It was just on February 3 of this year that the Democrats held their presidential caucus in Iowa.  And immediately, the vote count was a calamity of non-results and nonsensical totals.  Breitbart News was all over that fiasco; as reporter David Ng wrote on February 4:

The Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses are being called a disaster, a nightmare, and an epic fail.  In the subsequent round of finger-pointing, a consensus scapegoat has emerged—a mobile app paid for by the Iowa Democratic Party that was supposed to collect and report the results of Monday night’s vote.

It seems that the mobile app to do the counting was developed by a Democratic-donor-funded tech company called—get this—Shadow, Inc. (later given a less suspicious sounding name, BlueLink). 

Going into the Iowa caucus, most observers thought that Sen. Bernie Sanders had the most momentum, although, of course, Sanders also had plenty of enemies—including, it seems, inside the counting apparatus.  And this counting apparatus, we can add, was all the more convoluted and opaque because the Iowa Democratic Party said that it wasn’t really counting human votes, but rather, instead, statistically conjured-up delegate equivalents. 

And so it was, lo and behold, that Pete Buttigieg, a Silicon Valley darling, won two more “delegates” than Sanders, even though Sanders had won the popular vote.  

Immediately, the Sanders campaign cried foul.  The national co-chair, Nina Turner, declared of the weird counting, “It does look fairly intentional.”  She added that the people of Iowa “were robbed… It was really wrong.”

In fact, the vote count wasn’t “certified” until February 29, nearly four weeks after the caucusing, with Buttigieg named as the narrow winner.   As a writer for the socialist magazine Jacobin wrote of the shadowy results, “No matter how much the centrist journalists and opinion-makers may want to obfuscate it, the results were clear.  Say it with me: Bernie won.” 

As a consequence, the irregularities of the too-Silicon-by half vote-counting cast a, well, dark shadow over the Iowa caucus.  That is, given that they had access to the vaunted high-tech of Silicon Valley and elsewhere, how could the Democrats have failed to get a good and accurate count?  Was it just a snafu?   Or was it something more . . . intentional?  As liberal New York magazine headlined it,  “The Democratic Party’s Crisis of Legitimacy May Be Just Beginning,” 

We can further observe that the Democrats’ problems have been more extensive than just February’s Iowa voting:   

In May, a Democratic primary election in Paterson, NJ, mostly conducted by mail, was so rife with mail fraud that a judge ruled that a whole new election would have to be held.  (And speaking of New Jersey, on August 29, The New York Post ran the “confessions” of a purported Democratic vote-fraudster in the Garden State who specialized in mail-in-ballot fraud.  The allegations are anonymous and thus unprovable as of yet; however, the tipster provided so much information that it seems certain that his or her identity will soon come spilling out, and then we’ll all be able to better judge whether or not the allegations are true.)

Then, another Democratic primary, in New York’s 12th Congressional district, covering Manhattan and other parts of New York City, was held on June 23, and yet the winner was not announced until August 4.  (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, defeated her challenger, Suraj Patel, and was thus renominated.)

It seems that of the 93,000 ballots cast in that primary, a full 65,000 were cast by mail.  And interestingly, of these 65,000 mailed-in-ballots, a full 13,000 were rejected—that’s a 20 percent rejection rate. 

We might pause to ask: What does it mean if 20 percent of the mail-in votes are faulty?  Could that number apply to general elections, as well as primaries?  

Or, of course, we could further ask, What does it mean if a whopping 72 percent of the mail-in votes are faulty?   That was the percentage reached in Michigan’s largest city, according to The Detroit News.  In the Motor City, authorities found that 72 percent of mail-in ballots could not be matched to the right address, and 46 percent of all ballots (including those cast on election day), could not be properly identified.

The November Mail War 

Of course, now that most primaries are in the rear-view mirror, the question of the general election is looming into view.  And here the news is, shall we say, curious, indicating that the skirmishes of the primary season will be nothing compared to real war for November.  

On August 6 came the report that a DC-based group calling itself the Center for Voter Information, run by a partisan Democrat, had mailed out more than 500,000 absentee-ballot applications that hadn’t been asked for. This incident caught the eye of President Trump, who took note of it in an August 10 press briefing:  

Half a million incorrect ballot applications sent all over the state of Virginia to many people that weren’t living.  They had some sent to pets—dogs.  This is what we’re going to get into, and it’s going to be a disaster.

Other Republicans, too, see the trouble ahead.  Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, speaking to Breitbart News’ Alex Marlow on August 24, contrasted the new approach of voting to the old mechanism of physically going to the polling place: 

We know that that ballot is going to that person, but that is an entirely different issue than universal mail-in ballots where just hundreds of millions, tens of millions of ballots are just randomly mailed out to people without any checks and balances, and then they’re collected without any ID.  That is an ingredient for absolute disaster and fraud in every way. 

Interestingly, it wasn’t that long ago that Democrats, too, worried about the integrity of mail-in-voting.  For instance, on October 7, 2012, a headline in The New York Times read, “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises.”  As renegade Democratic Mickey Kaus commented:

Weird how the @NYTimes forgets its own (excellent) reporting: “Yet votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show.”

Yet in the meantime, Democrats are doubling down on making sure that vote-by-mail works, at least for them.  Recently, Politico headlined a long piece, “Inside the Democratic Party’s plan to prevent vote-by-mail disaster.”  The article detailed the efforts of the party, and its many deep-pocketed allies, to win the November mail war.  For instance, Priorities USA is spending $24 million on “voter mobilization.”  And Fair Fight, founded by failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, is operating in 17 states.   And then there’s NextGen America, which is targeting younger voters.  And so on.  

Also, let’s not forget a group with the unsubtle name of Stop Republicans.  It wasn’t mentioned in the article itself, but this author saw an ad for it in the body of the Politico article, seeking funding for a nationwide vote-by-mail scheme.   

Against this massed Democratic throw-weight, Politico reported that the  Republican National Committee has assembled a $20 million war chest for legal fights, aimed at stopping the Democrats’ push to further allow ballots received after the obvious election-day deadline.  In addition, Republicans will be opposing the Democrats as they seek to expand the ability of third parties to collect and turn in voters’ sealed absentee ballots.  As the piece noted, Republicans label this “ballot harvesting,” while Democrats like to call it, fondly,  “community collection.” 

Now, the National Basketball Association is joining in.  Just last week, the NBA reached an agreement with its players’ association to convert franchise-owned-and-operated arenas into voting facilities.  Thus we see the formation of a new “social justice coalition, made up of players, coaches and owners.”

In the meantime, more changes are coming.  On August 28, the Virginia state senate voted, on a party-line basis, to allow local registrars to set up new “drop off  boxes” to collect ballots independent of the U.S.  Postal Service.  In the words of a Republican opponent, State Senator Steve Newman, these changes:

Would allow an individual to go door-to-door and collect your votes and then they would have the opportunity, if they desire, to take them to their homes, to take them back to their headquarters, before deciding whether or not they’re going to drop them into a ballot box.

Similar changes are being made all over the country, spearheaded by Democratic governors in New York and Pennsylvania, and by local officials in Harris County (Houston, TX). 

In the meantime, fearful that Joe Biden’s lead is shrinking as the law-and-order issue starts to bite, the Democrats are steeling themselves for the fight ahead—and that’s a fight that may go on well past Election Day.  

Thus Hillary Clinton is counseling a strategy for the Democrats to carry on the struggle even if Biden seems to have lost on November 3.  As she put it, “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually, I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch.”  Okay, so Donald Trump has said pretty much the same thing about the election, and yet in Hillary’s quote we can see the essence of the Democrats’ strategy of legal and technological mobilization, aimed at making sure that the vote is counted, their way: 

We have to have poll workers, and I urge people who are able to be a poll worker.  We have to have our own teams of people to counter the force of intimidation that the Republicans and Trump are going to put outside polling places.  This is a big organizational challenge.

As an aside, one wonders how Democratic poll watchers will react if Antifia shows up on Election Day.  Will the costumed goons be encouraged to vote?  Or will they be urged merely to guard against Republicans? 

As we have seen, smart Republicans know the struggle ahead, and they are prepared, too—and so the epic electoral battle is joined. 

In the meantime, GOPers with long memories might think back to the 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush was not declared the victor until December 12 of that year—a full five weeks after Election Day.  

Moreover, Republicans with really long memories might think back to the 1876 presidential election, in which the victory of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes wasn’t decided until March 2, 1877—after nearly four months of counting, haggling, wheeling, and dealing.  

With such precedents in mind, it’s quite possible that the presidential election of 2020 could become the presidential struggle of 2020 and 2021. 

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