Union leaders back vote by mail
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other top labor leaders are backing vote-by-mail and applauded the funds allocated by the House Democrats' latest stimulus bill for establishing postal election systems. | AP photos

WASHINGTON—Top union leaders, marshaled by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, are backing the $3.6 billion in the House Democrats’ stimulus bill to pay states to establish vote-by-mail systems—and the measure’s mandate requiring states to do so.

But whether the unionists’ statements, plus wide public support for the idea, will be enough to sway either President Donald Trump or the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s ruling Republicans, remains to be seen. Both Trump and the GOP lawmakers fear that the more people vote, as Trump put it, the more the Republicans lose at the polls.

The vote-by-mail money is part of the $3 trillion House version of the economic stimulus bill passed last Friday. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., its Senate sponsor, joined Trumka and four union presidents on a May 13 telephone press conference to push it.

Congress needs to pass it now, Klobuchar said, so states have enough time to set up and test-run their vote-by-mail registrations, procedures, and systems.

Vote-by-mail will help “the front-line workers—the nurses, those who are driving trucks and in grocery stores and others, who are working from home and have kids there” due to shelter-in-place policies the coronavirus pandemic mandated, Klobuchar said. Those voters also don’t want to risk their health or lives to the virus’s community spread by waiting in voter lines. Her measure has some GOP support, from governors.

In the 2018 off-year election, turnout as a percentage of eligible voters zoomed, especially in those states with vote-by-mail, such as Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and California. It also rose hugely in states such as Minnesota and Illinois, which have same-day voter registration. Younger voters and women in particular cast ballots.

And the high turnout, combined with a horde of progressive female candidates seeking U.S. House seats, and anger against Trump and the GOP—even before the coronavirus pandemic hit—combined to produce an enormous shift of House seats to Democrats, along with control and election of a number of pro-worker lawmakers.

State legislative and gubernatorial votes saw similar results, except in states, like Georgia and Florida, with rampant GOP-pushed voter suppression efforts, heavily gerrymandered legislatures, or both.

All this will make enacting vote-by-mail the first top cause of Labor 2020, the AFL-CIO’s election effort, Trumka said. “In the middle of a global pandemic, we must make it easier to vote than ever before,” he explained. The $3.6 billion for vote-by-mail and $25 billion more for the Postal Service—so carriers can deliver and pick up ballots, along with other mail—“are investments in our democracy.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders pointed out the bias of foes of vote by mail against both workers and people of color. “Of the ten states that have the strictest ‘voter ID’ laws”—the now-generic name for all sorts of voter suppression—“nine are right-to-work states,” he said. RTW laws, a favorite corporate and right-wing cause, deprive unions of funds by letting workers use union services without paying one red cent for them.

And those states also “want to muzzle poor people and people of color,” said Saunders, who is African American. The GOP and vote-by-mail foes “can’t win on the merits, so they game the system.”

Trump vehemently opposes vote-by-mail and his aide/son-in-law, Jared Kushner recently suggested in Time magazine that “I don’t know if we’re even going to have an election,” said Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher.

Trump himself, before the pandemic hit, mused about calling off the vote and just taking a second, third, or even fourth term in the White House.

“We will have an election,” she declared. “And we have to ensure our elections are free, fair, and open to all. That’s why this” vote-by-mail “is so important.”

“It’s critically important every eligible voter be able to cast their ballot this November,” concluded Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.