Maryland's barriers to voting are few compared to some other states, but that doesn't mean we should be complacent. And in states where voting IS hard, we might consider how to help our friends and their neighbors get their votes counted. See where our state falls in the rankings, easiest to hardest.
/By Woody Woodruff <> PM BlogSpace ReportI/ It sometimes seems pesky to get your ballot cast in Maryland. If you mail your ballot you increasingly have to worry that it might not get to election officials in time, because GOP and other activists are tracking down courts that might cut state officials off from considering ballots slowed by “economies” decreed by USPS’s pro-Trump postmaster general. That might send you off looking for a local drop box to leave your ballot in instead, and there are a gracious plenty of those in most of our state’s counties.
If you are voting in Texas, though, you might be frustrated by the small number of drop boxes available. By decree of the governor, there’s only one per county. If you know someone in, say Houston, you might feel we actually have it pretty good in Maryland, voting-wise. We don’t have to have an excuse to get a mail-in ballot (formerly “absentee”).
The Brennan Center for Justice, which has consistently urged more federal laws to protect some voting rights that are vulnerable at the state and local level, nevertheless says the 2020 election is less endangered by the GOP’s stampede to court than some are loudly fearing, because: “The election system is decentralized.
Every state is in charge of running its own elections. There are downsides to this method, since some states do it better or worse than others, but it also makes it extraordinarily difficult for a president to impose his or her will on all of them,” the Brennan Center reports.
This means, of course, that as Election Day approaches voters in many states are struggling to cast their ballots, despite the wider use of mail ballots and early in-person voting. In the DMV we are better off than most, though the real breakthroughs of automatic registration with an opt-out capability and ranked-choice voting are still out of reach of local voters.
Voter suppression – with a longer history than just the Trump era, of course – may be fueling an angry acceleration of turnout in the communities historically suppressed the most severely.
Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election made the state a poster, well, a billboard for voter suppression at a professional level. Black voters found themselves purged from the rolls, “forcing them to fill out confusing provisional ballots on Election Day. Others stayed home altogether and — after watching Democrat Stacey Abrams lose the gubernatorial race by fewer than 60,000 votes — regretted that decision.”
As the Peach State now edges toward swing-state status, “Voters interviewed by POLITICO said anger over perceived voter suppression tactics is fueling their eagerness to cast early ballots. And indeed, Georgians are voting in numbers never seen before in the state’s history. Since Oct. 12, the first day of early voting, a staggering 2.7 million voters have cast a ballot — a nearly 110 percent increase from 2016. Beyond that, Democrats are organizing caravans, volunteering as election workers and serving as poll watchers. This level of enthusiasm is also a reflection of apprehension about the election: Voters here are turning out in waves, reported Politico’s Maya King Oct. 25.
The state has responded to long lines and long waits at the early-voting polls with buses filled with voting booths and 300 machines in a sports/concert arena. Lines are shortening, as are wait times. And “Early voting among Georgians under 40 is more than three times what it was in 2016, as nearly 600,000 young voters in the state have cast a ballot, according to the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group that registers new voters.”
Overdoing it in Georgia, as happened in 2018, seems to have brought a reaction that’s bringing change, as we see above.
A “cost of voting index” developed by researchers at two US universities and one in Wuhan, China shows a catchy map and lists the states where voting is hardest and easiest. Using the map, Marylanders can suss out which states’ voters could use their help and support.
Among states where it is easy to vote, Maryland is number five, bettered only by Washington state, Oregon, Utah and Illinois. Top states for voting have features in common: “Factors that help make voting convenient include online voter registration, early voting, mail-in voting, being able to register as late as Election Day and automatic voter registration of citizens who are eligible to vote,” says the index.
Maybe the reader won’t be surprised that the states where voting is hardest are an inverted “Y” starting in Indiana and heading south – Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas in the western leg and Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia toward the Atlantic. The surprising outlier in the list of voter-suppressing states is New Hampshire. Texas is proclaimed as the worst state for voters by the home-state Texas Tribune, As the newspaper notes, if a Texas voter is sick and wants an absentee ballot, the voter needs – a doctor’s note. Not surprising, the Tribune notes, that the state has one of the lowest turnout percentages among all the others.
And the state’s powers-that-be are unabashedly digging in their heels. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott by decree limited ballot drop boxes to one per county, meaning Houston’s Harris County has one box for six million people. He is still fighting over it in court; at this writing he had won the most recent round.
And just this morning (Wednesday) the WaPo reported on the latest outrages under the headline Coronavirus cases are surging again. These states have refused to loosen rules on who can vote by mail.
States do change their laws, and move up and down the ladder of state voting pluses and minuses. Our neighbor Virginia, for instance, was at No. 49 in 2016 but had risen to No. 12 by 2020. On the other hand another neighbor, West Virginia, tumbled from No. 16 to No. 35 in those same four years. Georgia’s current moves to make voting easier, if they become permanent law, should move the state up from its current next-to-last (49th) position on the cost of voting index. It had dropped from a 2016 rank of 35, presumably because of the overt voter suppression surrounding the 2018 gubernatorial election (see above).
So Marylanders who are relaxing about how their state will go in the presidential tally, and with no statewide races to soak up oxygen, can focus on the down-ballot races for city government and school boards. (See our Progressive Maryland endorsements).
Those same Marylanders, on the other hand, may be quite uneasy about how the presidential race will play out nationally. So those who have those jitters might consider who among their friends and family live in one of those hard-to-vote states, and get on the phone to chat them up about Georgia’s sudden surge of voters and what is motivating them. Or you might be alert to the many organizations that are phone-banking or texting other states to remind people that they can overcome even the more onorous forms of voter suppression. They shouldn't have to, but if they get angry enough about it, as in Georgia, they can be unstoppable.
Nothing is more likely to make you want to do something than finding out somebody wants to stop you.