early and often

Trump Wants to Make America Vote Like It’s the 1960s

Voters line up under a morning moon on Election Day 2020 to cast their ballots in Stinesville, Indiana. Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In his signature incoherent manner, Donald Trump has begun articulating some new policies he intends to implement if he’s reelected in 2024, though he has yet to officially declare his candidacy. As explained by the Washington Post’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Trump has recently identified six “new ideas” that would vastly expand presidential and federal prerogatives at the expense of state and local autonomy, civil liberties, and constitutional governance. Probably the flashiest and most alarming of these proposals are his plans to use the National Guard or the military to suppress crime or disorder in “Democrat” cities around the county and his interest in abolishing civil-service protections for federal employees so he can replace “deep state” bureaucrats with loyal MAGA folk.

But closest to his heart, as measured by his incessant talk about the subject for years, is his goal of federalizing elections to make voting less convenient. At the recent CPAC event in Dallas, Trump was brief and to the point on his vision of the perfect election system: “Our goal should be same-day voting with only paper ballots. That should be our goal. Only paper.” As Arnsdorf notes, that would be a pretty radical change from the current system:

Requiring everyone to vote on one day would upend elections across the country. Forty-six states and D.C. allow early in-person voting, and 35 and D.C. permit voting by mail without an excuse, including eight that automatically send mail ballots to voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The move would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for additional equipment and staff, according to Tammy Patrick, a former elections official in Maricopa County, Ariz., who is now an adviser with the Democracy Fund, an independent group supporting election administrators. Limiting voting to Election Day would also lead to hours-long lines at polls, she said.

This would frustrate Trump’s professed desire for winners and losers to be determined on Election Night because paper ballots take longer to count and traditional polling places would struggle to accommodate so much in-person voting. But speed is a secondary concern; he’s primarily focused on his entirely unsubstantiated belief that voting by mail, in-person early voting, and voting on electronic machines are highly vulnerable to fraud and manipulation.

At CPAC, Trump didn’t say how exactly this proposal to take voting back to the 1960s or earlier would be implemented. But since the “abuses” he has long complained of are supposedly occurring mostly in states where Democrats either control state government or have enough leverage to keep Republicans from banning the voting-convenience measures, you have to figure a federal ban is what he has in mind. That would be ironic, of course, since he and the rest of his party have gotten into the habit of opposing anything like federal voting-rights legislation on states’-rights grounds. “Stopping the steal” is presumably a more urgent national priority than voting rights.

But that self-contradiction does expose the very different attitudes of the two major parties when it comes to voting. Democrats typically view voting as a right that should be exercised as easily as possible. Republicans under Trump’s leadership view voting as a privilege that should be zealously guarded against those who can’t affirmatively prove their eligibility on demand or who aren’t able or willing to stand in long lines on Election Day under the watchful eyes of professional intimidators. All the fatuous talk these days of the GOP being the party of the working class is hard to square with its determination to maintain a throwback system of voting that makes it hard for working people to cast ballots during restricted hours on a weekday. But there can be little doubt that Trump is serious about this particular “reform”; he even has his supporters in Arizona, a state that pioneered no-excuse absentee voting in 1991 under GOP leadership, parroting the “Election Day only” mantra. Too bad if that doesn’t work for you, voters.

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Trump Wants to Make America Vote Like It’s the 1960s