By Donnell Drinks, Election Protection Coordinator, ACLU of Pennsylvania
Donald Trump is doing everything he can to stop Americans from deciding his fate as president on November 3, even as he tries to rally his base with brazen appeals to white supremacists in press briefings, campaign rallies, and his Twitter feed.
His campaign has successfully blocked almost a million Florida voters from exercising their franchise because they can’t pay court fines and fees. And Trump’s newly-appointed postmaster general is trying to dismantle the postal service, which would limit access to mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that mail delivery has been two-to-three weeks late recently in some city neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, here in the crucial state of Pennsylvania, which he won in 2016, the Trump campaign is suing to prevent voters from being able to simply drop off their mail-in ballots in drop boxes, which some counties made available to voters during the June primary. Drop boxes would allow for an additional way for voters to ensure that they can vote safely and have their ballots counted, even as the Trump administration moves to weaken the U.S. Postal Service.
That’s why ACLU-PA is part of an all-star team of voting rights advocates trying to stop Trump from restricting Pennsylvanians’ ability to vote. With co-counsel from Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center, the national ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, and the law firm WilmerHale, we are representing the interests of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and several individual voters — to intervene to help the commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s 67 counties defend against the Trump Campaign’s lawsuit seeking to make it harder for voters to vote safely.
And last week, the court agreed, which means that we will be a party to the arguments in this important case. If voting rights are at risk, we and our co-counsel and our clients will be there to defend them.
If Trump succeeds in this lawsuit, the efforts of local officials to ease voters’ ability to submit their ballots will be undercut, and Pennsylvanians will have a more difficult time voting. Trump knows, or should know, that voting in person increases the possibility of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, and some voters might stay home instead of taking that risk. That’s voter suppression 101. We should be making voting easier during this pandemic, not more difficult.
Historically, voter suppression tactics have been aimed squarely at Black Americans. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black communities across the nation. Here in Pennsylvania, Black people have accounted for almost a quarter of the commonwealth’s COVID-19 deaths, despite making up only about 11 percent of the population.
Black people already have every reason to suspect foul play by powerful people. Suppressing voters by forcing them to choose between casting their ballot and protecting their personal safety is a tactic that has been used in this country, predominantly to prevent Black Americans from voting, since the Jim Crow era.
Nobody should have to risk their life to participate in our democracy.
In this election, Pennsylvanians will have choices for how they cast their vote. They can vote by mail. (Our advice: Apply early. And submit your ballot early.) Or they can mask up and go to the polls. However you vote, we’re not going to let Donald Trump stop us from exercising that fundamental right.