Amid a polarized climate, the 2020 presidential election is already unlike another other the US has seen. With Covid-19 still in full effect, political and public health officials are scrambling to address safe in-person voting protocols during a pandemic. Granted, the rates of infection are far lower now that the spring, the million dollar questions remain. Is voting in person safe? What is the risk of transmission for physically going into a polling place? Why is it getting harder to vote (both in person and via mail)?

It’s safer than you think

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, several states had just begun their primary elections in the spring. With relatively little general knowledge of Covid-19 at that time, Coronavirus fear was at its peak. Because of public health hesitation to vote in person and little awareness of mail in voting, voter turnout was generally low. However, several states carried out their primary elections as scheduled. Wisconsin, among many other states implemented safe, socially distant protocols. All poll workers were wearing surgical masks, provided hand sanitizers to all voters and wiped down all voting equipment using isopropyl alcohol wipes.

The state of Wisconsin performed a deconvolution-based method study to monitor SARS-CoV-2 infection rates throughout the primary election cycle. The data follows the rate of transmission from March 25th through April 18 (including the 2 week incubation period). The study suggests, “there is no evidence to date that there was a surge of infections attributable to the April 7, 2020 elections in Wisconsin.” The Covid-19 rate of positivity identified on April 7th, does not account for the many individuals with non-voting exposures. Meaning, those individuals exposed prior to voting, hence the potential inconsistencies with a population level analysis. 

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Fauci confirms; if individuals adhere to socially distancing protocols, masks and sanitize, voting in person is safe. Dr. Fauci compares the risk of Covid-19 in casting a vote in person to that of grocery shopping. In that, if done correctly as many states have done, the risk of transmission is relatively low. Bars, gyms, movie theaters, and all social gatherings remain the highest risk places. Of course, for those individuals who are at highest risk, the safest alternative is casting their vote by mail. 

Mail in voting fraud?

Trump questioning the integrity of the US election is old news. Despite being elected to the highest office, he continuously claims he lost the popular vote in 2016 because “millions of people voted illegally in person.” Now amid a pandemic, with legitimate reasons for states to expand mail in voting protocols, Trump has not only discouraged mail in voting efforts, but undermines the political process. Attorney General William Barr chimed in earlier this summer agreeing with the potential for widespread international interference and fraud. (Overlooking the Russian interference in the 2016 election all together). Even though the FBI and Justice Department have both insisted “they’ve seen no evidence of any foreign plot to counterfeit or forge mail ballots they’ve seen no evidence of any foreign plot to counterfeit or forge mail ballots.”

The expanded efforts include strict rules on postmarked dates and the timeframe for when votes are to be counted. Yes, because the majority of individuals are leaning towards casting a mail in vote, the winner of the 2020 election is not to be determined on election night, rather a couple days later. Trump claims this ‘waiting period’ will allow for democrats to fake votes. The chances of a small number of votes to be cast via mail on election day and still be counted, is present. However, is this the  same as ‘massive fraud’ as Donald Trump undoubtedly claims? No. 

War on the USPS (mail in vote)

As is the case for several agencies across the US government, the Trump administration announcing funding cuts for the US Postal Service (USPS) is no surprise. At such a critical time, it doesn’t come as too much of a shock considering this is the same man who has ridiculed USPS for years, calling them ‘a joke’ and Amazon’s ‘delivery boy’. Just one week ago, Trump opposed the Coronavirus relief bill organized by Democrats which included emergency funding for the USPS to equip state officials for mail in voting. Instead, Trump claims the USPS is simply “not equipped to have it.” The agency that has been around since the start of the US government, and employs over 600,000 individuals and carries this country; ‘not equipped.’ 

The Trump administration began laying the foundation to systematically dismantle the USPS back in spring, when the Covid-19 pandemic was still very much taking center stage. With his inexperience to pilot the US to safety in a pandemic, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy, major donor to his campaign, as US postmaster general. Afraid this inability will cost him the upcoming election, the Trump administration is casually suppressing the voice (vote) of America. 

The initial steps towards declaring war on the USPS began with appointing Louis DeJoy, Trump campaign donor and the new US postmaster general. The first step was to eliminate overtime pay for USPS workers, delaying delivery of mail. The next step was removing mail sorting machines. By withholding critical funding and confiscating equipment, Trump has deliberately made sure the USPS will not be equipped to handle mail in voting amid the pandemic. 

Voting Reality?

Republicans sole objective is to further sabotage the political process by making it harder to vote. Here are the facts:

  • Less 20% of Trump supporters plan on voting via mail compared to 60% of Biden supporters
    • Hence the urgency to cripple the mail-in infrastructure to block votes
  • In Wisconsin, a key battleground state, only 14% of Trump supporters are set to submit absentee ballots 
    • A controlled study in Wisconsin’s primary suggested the risk of Covid-19 in in-person voting to be minimal
  • Republicans win elections when (young) and people of color don’t vote

Upon rejecting the final stimulus package which included $400 million to expand voting protocols, Trump says “They had things – levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again

What does all this mean?

It is rather simple really. By making it harder to vote, Republicans want to protect their throne of lies led by Trump. It is no coincidence, majority southern states with Republican leadership, have the most stringent voting restrictions that largely affect  minorities. A typical ‘scare tactic’ designed to discourage individuals from voting amid the pandemic, either in person or via mail. Remember, voting in person is lower risk than attending schools, which Trump has aimlessly pushed to reopen in person. Once again he puts himself above the 180,000 American lives lost to gain cheap political points. The only solution is to turn out to vote safely either in person or via mail. Ensure your vote will be accounting for by requesting your ballot now. Feeling discouraged in US politics is normal, considering Covid019 is still lingering. Don’t be scared, vote.

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