The manner in which states show democratic erosion tendencies differs today than in the past. Democratic erosion today is much more gradual. According to Nancy Bermeo, pre- election day manipulations are a common characteristic of democratic erosion (Bermeo 2016). Today in the United States, one can argue that the upcoming election has not only been manipulated, it is under direct attack. In this blog post, I will evaluate the different ways the United States presidential election is being jeopardized, and how the coronavirus pandemic has heightened these issues. Some topics I will discuss include an influx of absentee ballot requests, a decrease in the number of polling places, under-informed voters, and the continuing struggle of following the CDC’s coronavirus guidelines while voting. I argue that incumbents are using the pandemic to their advantage- such as not investing in the USPS, shutting down polling stations and ensuring election dates are not postponed even if this means jeopardizing the safety of voters. For these reasons, voters are ultimately being suppressed by current decision makers.
To begin, President Donald Trump’s attack on the United States Postal Service is a form of voter suppression. After qualifying for an absentee ballot, voters are supposed to send their official absentee balloting material in the mail to their designated city clerk office, authorized by the United States Postal Service. According to this CBS News video, democrats requested an amount of money to support the USPS that President Donald Trump refused to support. He is against voting absentee because, “they can be forged, they can be captured, they can be taken” (Trump 13 August 2020). Due to COVID-19, the amount of mail in ballots is projected to increase largely. Donald Trump has admitted that the post office needs more money to process this increase in mail-in ballots. A lack of absentee voting would benefit President Trump’s political agenda. The president has failed to react to the request for more USPS funding and has blattonly admitted that he will not support the influx of absentee ballots- all for his own agenda. President Trump is aware that many people will not be able to vote in person, for an abundance of reasons, so by limiting access to absentee voting, he is using the pandemic to suppress voters.
To continue, a recent election in the state of Wisconsin demonstrated that the government is failing to support its voters in these unprecedented times. According to an evaluation of Wisconsin’s April election, Author Miles Parks of NPR wrote, “unlike more than a dozen other states, Wisconsin plowed ahead with the April 7 election in the face of the coronavirus pandemic after the intervention of the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court” (Parks 2020). I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and was there during this election, and the conditions were astounding. These conditions included, “shuttered polling places, a statewide stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines” (Parks 2020). Specifically in Milwaukee, “the city consolidated its 180 polling places down to five” (Parks 2020). In some cases, voters waited more than 6 hours to cast their vote.
Another major part of the issue, in addition to limited polling places, was the last minute changes to the election. Governor Tony Evers tried to postpone the election to a later date, but the state Supreme Court and eventually the United States Supreme Court did not allow for this to occur. The night before the election, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explained, “Wisconsin voters will head to the polls Tuesday after Gov. Tony Evers failed to shut down Tuesday’s election in a historic last- minute move that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court” (Beck and Marley 2020). Surprisingly, after the election there seemed to be little to no impact on voter turnout. But, this does not prove there was no voter suppression. Current political decision makers did not provide a safe and welcoming election for Wisconsin voters. A lack of polling places is a serious issue- especially in a pandemic. Not only did the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court cause confusion with changing the election date more than once, they also knew voting in person was dangerous- even more so with the lack of polling places causing longer lines and more densely crowded stations. Because of these reasons, many voters could have been deterred from showing up. This is once again another example of how current political decision makers tried to suppress these voters using the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a very difficult obstacle not only for voters to overcome, but for decision makers. Ensuring that voters have a safe and attainable way to vote has always been a topic of discussion, but COVID- 19 has heightened the debate. Certain incumbents are able to benefit off of a lower voter turnout. Some leaders may try to hamper voter registration, limit mail in voting, and make voting in person a hassle- and the examples of the USPS and the recent Wisconsin election showed how they used the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage.
It is impossible to know the intentions of decision makers- that is, whether their intentions were in the best interest of voters or not. It is possible that President Trump is actually trying to limit the amount of fraudulent ballots. However, one could argue he could do this by investing more into the process of voting by mail to increase the accuracy and better the system. One can also argue that the conservative Supreme Court of Wisconsin overturned Governor Ever’s attempt to postpone the election to honor the integrity of the election- but they did jeopardize the safety of all voters voting in person. Whether or not leaders were acting in the best interest of their citizens, it is clear voters were suppressed. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic assisted current incumbents with means of suppressing. These trends are contributing to the United States of America’s democratic erosion.