Two scenes of voter suppression—a fancy word for cheating—are unfolding right now in Pennsylvania.
In one, Trump-flag-flying thugs drive semi trucks around a Democrat-leaning voting place, stereos blaring so loud that people inside can’t hear each other. In another, state Republicans huddle in a smoke-filled room, telling the Supreme Court why absentee ballots must be received by Nov. 3, not just postmarked.
In a way, the scenes are different. One is obvious, the other more subtle. But in the end, they’re about the same thing: Republicans really do not want people to vote—not the wrong people, anyway. So they’re trying to cheat to stop them from voting, or to stop their votes from being counted.
The Supreme Court case in question, now called Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, actually began in a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Democrats. They alleged, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania agreed, that the state’s rule that mail-in ballots be received by Election Day violated a provision of the Pennsylvania State Constitution that, “Elections shall be free and equal.”
The reason? COVID-19. With unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots being cast, and with documented delays on the part of the Postal Service, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the Nov. 3 deadline would effectively disenfranchise thousands of Pennsylvanians in violation of the state constitution.
At the same time, federal law requires that election day be the same across the country. So, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the deadline three days, unless evidence (i.e. a postmark) showed the ballot was mailed after Nov. 3.
What could possibly be the harm of such a modest extension?
You won’t believe me if I tell you what the Pennsylvania Republicans’ brief says, so I’ll quote it for you directly instead:
“Take, for example, the voter who signed their ballot on Election Day, saw national election night returns, and dropped their ballot in the mailbox that evening or the next morning. If that ballot arrived with an illegible postmark – perhaps smeared in the rain that Wednesday or Thursday during the delivery and processing procedures – it would be counted under the state Supreme Court’s decision. Or perhaps that same ballot did not receive a postmark because of the pre-paid postage on the envelope.”
That’s right: at the heart of this Supreme Court appeal and a god-knows-how-expensive effort to throw out hundreds or perhaps thousands of ballots is a concern about postmarks getting smeared in the rain.
Now, if you believe that, I’ve got a Ben Franklin Bridge I’d like to sell you.
No, obviously, the Pennsylvania Republican Party is not aghast at the possibility of a wet mail sack in Pittsburgh. They’re rightly terrified that this whole election will be a washout. And that the more people can vote, the more they’ll vote for Joe Biden.
On Monday, Oct. 19, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on whether to stay the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order, which would mean a return to the Nov. 3 receipt deadline. But since the Court tied, the stay was denied, the rule (which had already been implemented anyway) stayed in effect, the Nov. 6 receipt deadline stood, and everyone thought the case was over.
Until Saturday, Oct. 24, that is, when the Pennsylvania GOP returned to the Court and said that, if you won’t stay the order, won’t you please hear the entire case within the next couple of days so that we can still throw out those ballots on Nov. 4, please pretty please?
That is, to put it mildly, highly unusual.
Even on expedited review, it’s flat-out insane to think that the Supreme Court would accept briefs and hear arguments on a case within a week, rendering an opinion just in time for an election now only nine days away.
So what are the Pennsylvania Republicans thinking? Three letters: A, C, B.
After a series of failed procedural shenanigans by Democrats, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is going to become Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Monday. Yes, it’s an appalling disgrace, a travesty of hypocrisy, a prioritizing of politics over public health, and a desperate rearguard effort to somehow slow the pace of cultural change in America—but it’s also a done deal.
And since Justice Barrett can go from nomination to confirmation in less time than it takes to brew a gallon of kombucha, maybe she can be seated on the Court, find some law clerks ASAP, and burst into the Zoom conference on Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, out of breath, hair disheveled… but just in time to cast the fifth vote to hear the case after all.
Of course, like Justice Barrett’s confirmation itself, that would send me to my thesaurus in search of synonyms for words like unprecedented, outrageous, and illegitimate. It would boggle the mind and upset the stomach. But it just might happen.
If it does, her Supreme Court career—which will likely last through the 2050s—will be off to an appropriately pathetic start. We all know that, just like past cases about gerrymandering, alleged voter fraud, and all manner of voter suppression, nothing the Republican side says is true. There is no voter fraud crisis, no matter how many times Tucker Carlson says there is. Mail-in ballots do not endanger the integrity of the election. And no, postmarks don’t get smudged in the rain.
Because none of this is what these cases are really about.
At the end of the day, they’re really about a desperate attempt to preserve minority rule—just like Justice Barrett’s confirmation on the one hand, and those music-blasting Trumpkins on the other. The Republican party has hitched its wagon to the Trump train, barreling off a demographic cliff while hooting noisily about (white) American greatness. They know that if they don’t change course after this fiasco is over, they’re never going to win another national election. So now they’re just trying to cheat.
It really is as simple as that.