At another time and space, political bosses would welcome inclement weather as nature’s way of tamping down voter turnout. It was called “organization weather.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for whatever reason, has created his own perfect storm. It’s called chaos, or, for minimalists, confusion.
By now, political boss Irv Kovens, rejoicing and smiling around his nine-inch Cuban, would be flipping through his handwritten 3×5 file cards to decide how much money he’d allot to each of Baltimore’s precincts. Then, for kicks, he’d follow it up with a round of intense bargaining over the worth of each worker. Finally, finished business – payday in “walk-around money.”
Kovens likely would place phone calls to major domo Peter O’Malley, in Prince George’s County – and other local partners, though not supreme equals – to make certain everything was in order for the coming election. Others around the state received similar feel-good calls.
James H. “Jack” Pollack, who wrested power earlier from the Irish bosses, would be emptying a safe deposit box of its cash for distribution to his city-wide army of trenchermen who’d be manning the polls from dawn to dusk on Election Day.
It was always a question of how much money actually made it from Pollack’s strong-box, via middlemen couriers, to the precinct workers. Pollack had a way of finding out, and the punishment for holdouts could be harsh.
The week before, with much fanfare and hoopla, Pollack would dispatch an armored truck to a downtown printing shop to load up his sample ballots – many of them unlikely scrabbles of names called “bobtail ballots” – to be passed out at polling places. Instructions to poll-workers to follow.
Sen. Harry “Soft Shoes” McGuirk motivated his muldoons from the Stonewall Democratic Club – and its 19 Sixth District affiliates — with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to fan out across South Baltimore and get out the vote – their vote.
And to the east, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., affectionately known as “Old Tommy”, could predict to the precise vote by how much his favored candidate(s) would win. Once, his forecast was off by a single vote in his home Little Italy precinct. Asked what happened, Old Tommy said: “I’ll find that sonofabitch.”
Old Tommy’s sidekick, Councilman Domenic “Mimi” DiPietro, anchored the old 26th Ward for the D’Alesandro organization, and Mimi’s legendary midday campaign marches along Eastern Avenue, in Highlandtown, trailed by an entourage of loyalists and honored guests, were a validation of candidates in East Baltimore.
On one such political meet-and-greet, the profane Mimi stopped a group of teenage girls: “Say hello to the governor,” Mimi said. One girl resisted. “Look, you little bitch, when I tell you to say hello to the governor, you say hello. Now say hello.”
And the labor unions – the AFL-CIO and the Building Trades Unions – readied their sound trucks, mounted with speakers and papered with chosen candidates’ posters and banners, for all-day, get-out-the-vote bullhorn announcements throughout the main drags and side streets of Baltimore.
Across the city and throughout the state, those with ties to the central political organization, or machine, would be rejoicing over the unfolding of events today, lacing up their marching boots for the many trips to the few polling places open for voting.
This election season is a political boss’s dream. Who knew that Hogan, a Republican yet, was a machine politician and an organization boss, if only in action and demeanor and not in actual fact.
Or, similarly, President Trump, the desperate despot.
Do not fret. There will be an election. By Hogan’s decree, and after grudging resolution of a snarky exchange between the governor and the State Board of Elections, the broad outlines of the general election have been drawn, but the details remain vague and unsettled.
There’ll be early voting, beginning Oct. 26 and up to the day before the Nov. 3 election day, about the only certainty so far. There’ll be 127 drop-off boxes, but where? And are they safe? There’ll be 360 actual polling places for those who want to vote in person, all in public schools. But which ones? This is hundreds short of the usual 1,800-2,000 in-person polling places in ordinary times.
The election judge system is a victim of supply and demand. Many of the elderly retirees who provide the bulk of the election judge pool are reluctant to mingle at the polls, or even undergo the requisite day of training, because of their vulnerability to the infectious virus bug.
And here’s the cropper: There’ll be mail-in applications for absentee ballots sent to every voter instead of the proposed mail-in ballot sent to each of the 4 million registered voters for those who choose to use them. It would have been so easy. And a lot less expensive.
It’s true that in the primary mail-in voting was enormously popular but problematic. There were printing errors and delays in counting, for example, but the reward was the record participation in voting.
Against the backdrop of a triple-header — deadly pandemic, economic collapse and social unrest — it was reasonable to expect that voting would be made as convenient as possible, especially by a governor who received national recognition for his management of the state through the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
And now, to add to the consternation, the Post Office has notified 46 states and the District of Columbia that it may be unable to deliver mail-in ballots in time to be counted, according to a report in The Washington Post.
But Hogan’s stubbornness and his sudden resistance to universal mail-in voting puts him on a parallel track with Trump, who has characterized the Democrats’ preferred method as “rigged” and “fraud.” Trump has attacked mail-in voting at least 80 times since March, according to a running tally by the Post.
But as usual with Trump, there is no evidence whatever that fraud is associated with mail-in voting or that there is any widespread fraud associated with voting of any kind in America.
The only fraud associated with mail-in voting is Trump’s attempt to undermine it.
Hogan’s motives might be as simple as tossing some protein to the hard-liners at the edges of his party (which is where most Republicans are located these days.)
But Trump has finally revealed his true sentiment about mail-in voting: He’s against it because Democrats favor it. And he is thwarting election aid to the states to depress voter participation by Democrats.
He has avowed that he is deliberately blocking funds for the Post Office because mail-in voting is something the Democrats want. Trump claimed that Democrats have requested $3.5 billion for universal mail-in voting and $25 billion for the Post Office – all at the same time Trump’s hatchet-man, Louis DeJoy, Trump’s newly appointed postmaster general – is gutting the Postal Service and deliberately delaying mail delivery.
Trump’s sabotaging of the Post Office delivery system also snarls work-a-day commerce and most Americans’ financial arrangements – mortgage payments, condominium fees, car payments, property tax payments, credit card bills, etc., all of which carry stiff penalties and costly charges for late payments. But try telling creditors tardy payments are Trump’s fault. Better still, send the bills for late charges and penalties to Trump. At its worst, the mail slowdown could begin to affect individual credit ratings.
Earlier, Trump had argued simply that the heavy volume of mail-in ballots would overwhelm the Post Office, that it would be unable to collect and deliver the ballots on time for the election deadline. There are 180 million registered voters in America, according to The Washington Post. In the 2016 election 140 million voters cast ballots.
Yet following the distribution of economic impact checks earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service, at taxpayer expense, mailed out 130 million letters over Trump’s signature in the hope that he’d get credit for the bonus payment. The Post Office had no problem delivering the 130 million pieces of mail. That’s only 10 million letters fewer than the number of people who voted in 2016. (P.S. The stimulus payment was authorized by Congress.)
And let us not forget that Trump has voted twice in Florida by mail, which, he said, is OK because Florida has a Republican governor. At about the same time, the White House took legal action to block mail-in voting in Nevada because the state has a Democratic governor in what is considered a swing state.
Trump plans to vote again in Florida (presumably for himself) by requested absentee ballot – a distinction he makes from mail-in ballots, contrasting what he considers the legitimacy of one with the unproven fraudulence of the other.
Trump has marshaled the full might of the executive branch to suppress voter participation in any way he can, with the connivance of his legal toady, Attorney General William Barr. At the polls he knows he’s a goner.
He views the Electoral College as his only chance of survival, and he’s hoping to replicate his victory of 2016 when he patched together enough swing-state electors to win even though Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by 2.8 million votes.
Trump has also made it a point that mail-in ballots would belabor and delay the count so that the winner for president might not be known for weeks. Not to worry, Mr. President. You have until 11:59 A.M., on January. 20, 2021, to pack and vacate the premises or be frog-marched out of the White House when the clock strikes noon. The Constitution is clear on that.
Whatever Hogan’s bizarre notions, he seems to want it both ways – limits on social interaction in daily life to contain the spread of the virus, but jamming the polls with voters at election time with the danger of contagion and infection.
Vote safely and in good health, citizens, despite efforts to muffle the voice of the people.