Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell is no stranger to voicing opposition to President Trump. The coronavirus pandemic has given him an opportunity to publicly criticize the president again – this time for his opposition to mail-in ballots on a widespread, nationwide basis.
A narrative is developing among those in The Resistance that voter suppression is running rampant in the United States and it is at the hands of Republicans. For example, Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton have made that argument for several years now after losing elections themselves. It is an excuse used by election losers – if only more people could have had access to voting, they would have won. It’s an excuse for sore losers.
When President Trump threatened to halt federal funding to two states earlier this week over the distribution of absentee ballots, Michigan and Nevada, Bill Russell posted a response on Twitter.
Hello @realDonaldTrump there is a good reason for #VoteByMail not sure if you have heard of #coronavirus #COVIDー19 or better known as a #pandemic bit I don’t want to risk my life to #vote ! @MSNBC @CNN
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) May 21, 2020
Jumping into the political fray isn’t unusual for Russell – as a matter of fact, his Twitter bio begins with “Civil rights activist”. After the original tweet, he posted a clarification. His concern is all about safety at polling places due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
To clarify, #VoteByMail should be available to all eligible voters. To @realDonaldTrump & others who say if we can go shop we should stand in line to vote, I don’t go out! I worry for my wife every time she has to run errands & I am grateful she has a strict protocol to stay safe https://t.co/1ymIYsfym2
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) May 22, 2020
By making it personal, though, Russell defeats his reason to criticize Trump. He says he doesn’t want to risk death in order to vote. Well, Bill Russell is 86 years old and literally any state will allow him to vote by mail because of his advanced age. He doesn’t have to risk his life. I’m not sure how old his wife is but I assume she is exempt from having to vote in person, too.
We know that those over age 60 are most at-risk for the coronavirus. While deaths in all age categories are continuing to fall, according to the latest chart from the CDC, with the week ending of May 16, ages 85 years and older has the most deaths, followed by 75- 84 years old, and 65 to 74 years old. This is a main reason that we have been told from the beginning to justify a countrywide lockdown – do it for the older people in your life, keep the elderly safe, and flatten the curve. If it is necessary for November, mail-in voting is a good solution for older voters. Bill Russell already has that option. His hyperbole was for effect. Russell likes drama, it seems.
Throughout the Trump years, Russell has been at the ready to post tweets blasting the president. When Trump was in the midst of the NFL controversy with athletes taking a knee on the field during the National Anthem, Russell donned his Medal of Freedom (presented to him by President Obama in 2011) and posed on his knee on Twitter, in support of social justice. He also responded to Trump’s sh**hole comment with a slavery reference. And he has comforted others criticized by Trump by saying it’s “the biggest compliment” to come under fire from the president. You get the picture.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board published an opinion piece about mail-in voting Friday. It points to the potential nightmare scenario if all states go to mail-in voting. Before the coronavirus pandemic, only 5 states had a mail-in voting system in place – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The WSJ points out that in the Heroes Act passed in the House, some of the standard problems of mail-in ballots are actually enabled by Democrats. Issues like late arrivals of ballots in the mail and the likelihood of ballot harvesting are two such problems.
The worst of this nightmare can be avoided. As states extend mail voting, they should tighten deadlines and ban ballot harvesting. The push for all-mail voting is relentlessly focused on ballot access, which is important. But ensuring ballot integrity is crucial for public confidence in election outcomes and, ultimately, for democratic legitimacy.
Democrats in Congress want to go the other direction. The Heroes Act, passed by the House this month, would mandate the counting of late ballots postmarked before Election Day, with a uniform 10 days to cure bad signatures. The bill also says that states “shall permit a voter to designate any person to return a voted and sealed absentee ballot,” on the sole condition that canvassers not be paid per vote. In effect it would impose ballot harvesting nationwide.
At best, mass mail voting is a roll of the dice, calculated against the grim reality of the pandemic. If the country is lucky, the 2020 election, whoever wins, won’t be decided by a whisker. Then as the coronavirus is tamed, the temporary measures should end. For ballot security and democratic legitimacy, it’s hard to beat going to the polls on Election Day.
If the number of first-timers using mail-in ballots vastly increases in November, the number of errors commonly made by voters will increase, too. Signatures will be questioned if they do not match signatures on file, ballots will be returned late in the mail, and all of these incidents will be challenged. State election officials are not prepared to be overwhelmed by such an increase in mail-in voting. Republicans speak out that ballot security and election integrity are crucial in free elections. Ballot harvesting is ripe for corruption. As the Wall Street Journal op-ed suggests, all of the potential problems can be avoided during the coronavirus pandemic. Any temporary measures put into place due to the pandemic should end after the pandemic eases up. There is no substitute for in-person voting to insure ballot security and democratic legitimacy.