Without a doubt, Donald Trump is the single greatest threat to a free and fair election in 2020. And yet, in her campaign to maintain her hold on the office, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman keeps tip-toeing around this bedrock issue.
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In an ad running on cable right now, for instance, the Wyman campaign has Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson saying, "When national politics threatened to delay the post office, Kim Wyman defended our voting rights by passing an emergency rule to ensure voters got their ballots on time."
"National politics" didn't threaten to delay the post office. Donald Trump installed one of his mega-donors, Louis DeJoy, as the Postmaster General. DeJoy then implemented a series of policies that led to major delays at the United States Postal Service. He was only stopped after Attorneys General sued and a federal judge blocked those policies.
Claiming that "national politics" threatened USPS delays when the Trump administration did so in "an intentional effort on the part of the current Administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state, and federal elections," according to a federal judge, only serves to obscure the problem. That kind of talk also encourages voters to see "national politics" as a hopeless gridlock over which they have no power, which isn't exactly the kind of rhetoric one wants to hear from elections officials.
At the Wahkiakum County Republican and Democratic Virtual Debates earlier this week, Wyman talked about instating security measures for mailing ballots so that "when someone like the President takes a shot at it, you can actually defend it."
No one like the President is attacking mail-in voting. The President is attacking mail-in voting. As my colleague Charles Mudede wrote this morning, Trump isn't just attacking vote-by-mail, he's attacking democracy itself.
During the first presidential debate on Tuesday, when Americans traditionally crawl out from beneath their rocks and start paying attention to the elections, he called for his supporters to intimidate voters at the polls, and spread at least 11 lies, by CNN's count, about mail-in voting. In the last few months, he has called for law enforcement at the polls. At rallies, he has repeated ad nauseam false statements about mail-in voting. And, in case you've somehow forgotten, he has yet to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, directly blaming his potential loss on the outcome of a fairly conducted election. "Get rid of the ballots, and you'll have a very—you'll have a very peaceful—there won't be a transfer, frankly, there'll be a continuation," he said.
Every time Wyman's challenger, Rep. Gael Tarleton, demands she loudly and specifically condemn these attacks, Wyman counters by arguing that she's defended mail-in voting in newspapers and on the radio across the country, and that she must project neutrality in order to inspire among all voters confidence in the integrity of our electoral process.
This attempt to maintain nonpartisan rhetoric as the state's chief elections officer makes sense at first blush. Setting aside the fact that the Supreme Court put George W. Bush in office the first time, and the fact that Trump sits in the White House despite losing the popular vote, politicizing the process we use to elect politicians risks undermining faith in that process, which could lead to vast swaths of the country rejecting the outcome of an election, which would be bad.
But trying not to piss off Trump supporters and remaining nonpartisan are two different things. There's nothing partisan about condemning Trump for spreading lies about mail-in voting. Doing so would simply serve as the appropriate response to blatant and constant attacks on democracy. Imagine how much more faith the country would have in its voting system if every Secretary of State, including Wyman, condemned the President every time he leveled an attack against the systems they were elected or appointed to uphold. Aside from just being the right thing to do, such a display would amount to a pretty powerful show of nonpartisanship.
Issuing those condemnations, however, would piss off the voters Wyman needs to get elected. And so she won't do it. Of course, the tragedy Wyman's dealing with is that Trump's voters will only believe the results if he tells them to. He's running a cult of personality over here, not a party. So no matter how careful Wyman is not to directly condemn the President for his false attacks on mail-in voting, she ultimately has little say over whether she's seen as impartial or not, which is all the more reason to do the right thing.