Battle of the Ballot – opinion

Photo: the Ally

The election is less than 100 days away, and the polls are telling us that for now the Democrats are ahead. Joe Biden has a sizeable lead over Donald Trump, and many Republican-held Congressional and Senate seats are up for grabs. But the Democrats’ “lead” exists only in a snapshot, and is anything but a sure thing in our state.

There are three parts to an election: my side, your side, and who votes.  In big picture, historical terms, “who votes” is the one that counts, or more accurately, “who doesn’t vote.”

Trump and Nevada Republicans can read the tea-leaves. Their side is coming up short, and their only chance is to make 2020 a “who doesn’t vote” election. This is well within reach, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is having a devastating impact on the health and well-being of hourly, often lower-paid workers.

These include the unionized casino workers who comprise the most reliable Democratic voters in the state. The 90,000 members of the Culinary Workers Union, for example, are true difference makers in close elections.

A perfect storm is hitting these workers and their families, and it will only get worse. As service workers, they cannot work from home and are often in constant contact with the public. They are far more likely to contract the virus than the rest of the population. And they do not have the means to simply take time off if they don’t feel well, or because they’re afraid of getting sick. With limited access to expensive, comprehensive health care, they are more prone to the pre-existing conditions which magnify the ill-effects of the virus.

All this is layered over the extra hurdles these voters normally face, such as getting time off to vote, or arranging help with child care or other responsibilities that don’t disappear just because it’s election day.

We can hope things will be different in November, but any possibility of an economic recovery lies with controlling the pandemic—which so far seems completely out of reach.

The most vulnerable groups will still bear an inordinate share of sickness and death. Democratic-leaning workers will still be losing their health, jobs, and income. Their day to day lives will be shredded by the cascading physical and psychological toll of not being able to provide for their families and suffering hunger, eviction, or foreclosure. The discretionary parts of life—like voting—will go to the back of the line.

Unemployment insurance, union benefits, and other programs have mitigated some of these effects, but Republicans on the national level are clearly intent on limiting the federal government’s role in providing relief. In addition, they have filed a lawsuit to block Nevada’s newly enacted law allowing for vote by mail during the current health emergency.

Republicans are not only balking at helping with the basic problem, they are actively trying to block the one measure meant to protect the most fundamental element of our political process.

Republicans clearly feel vote by mail works to their disadvantage, although it should be noted—with respect to voters whose lives are in turmoil—even being at the same address where a ballot is sent, keeping track of it, filling it out, and then making sure it is submitted seems as fraught with potential missteps as showing up to vote in person.

Or the lawsuit is simply another way for Republicans to add to the confusion enveloping the election. They will almost certainly lose at the District Court level, but they will appeal—all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The case will hang like a cloud over the election. At any moment, some court somewhere could bring the whole thing to a screeching halt, with ballots in the mail, or still in the hands of voters who won’t know what to do with them.

The polls do not reflect the daunting task confronting the Democrats in Nevada and across the country. They need to somehow keep crucial groups of potential voters engaged and focused on the election, even as their lives disintegrate.

The Republicans, on the other hand, only have to apply their imaginations to adding to the chaos, piggy-backing on a relentless health and economic disaster. No one should doubt for a moment their potential for success.


Erich Obermayr is a columnist for the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his writing.