Cartoon: Why Would Anyone Think The GOP Wants To Suppress The Vote?


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So this cartoon was written fairly recently,1 while the Trump administration’s Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, was seemingly ordering cutbacks, leading many people to worry that this was an attempt by Trump to make vote-by-mail ballots less likely to be counted.

This was my original idea for the final panel of this cartoon:

But I felt a lot of hesitation about that panel. Because while I was working on it, it was (and still is) a developing story. Is DeJoy actually trying to affect the elections? Or is he just trying to destroy a public service (he has investments in the Postal Service’s private industry competitors)? Or is he just an incompetent Trump crony thrust into a position he doesn’t understand (during hearings in the House, he seemed to know very little about the postal service, and claimed to not know who ordered the cutbacks)? All of these explanations seem possible.

And would anyone even remember this story a month or two from now?

I don’t want to spend a week or two working on a cartoon and then have it almost immediately be mooted by a changing news story. So even though I’d already put a lot of work into it, I almost didn’t finish this cartoon.

Then I read someone arguing that it’s unfair of accusing the GOP of trying to cripple the postal service to suppress voting, when they might have different (but also venal) motives. And I thought, if that’s true, whose fault is that?

The GOP has tried, again and again, to suppress the vote. If people are now quick to interpret what the GOP does as yet another attempt to suppress the vote, that’s entirely reasonable. It’s a reputation they’ve earned with considerable effort over many years.

And that’s a cartoon idea I feel a lot more confidence in.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows a gigantic man – as tall as a two-story house – speaking to a bunch of voters. The giant is wearing a collared white shirt, striped tie, suit vest, and pants. He is white and balding and middle-aged, but looks quite strong. He is cheerfully grinning in every panel.

PANEL 1

The giant is destroying a small building – wood and a piece of roof and a chimney flying in all directions – by stomping on it. We can see the remains of a big wooden sign, which says “VOTE HERE,” being snapped in two by his shoe. A couple of alarmed human-sized people are watching him do this.

GIANT: I closed 542 polling sites in minority neighborhoods – but I also closed 34 voting sites in white neighborhoods. So it’s perfectly fair!

PANEL 2

The giant is holding a piece of parchment, which says “Voting Rights Act” in big letters. In his other hand he holds a paintbrush, dripping red paint. There’s a can of red paint open on the ground near the giant’s feet. A gigantic “X” has been painted on the parchment, over “voting rights act.” Six human-sized people are watching, one of them filming with a smartphone.

GIANT: The law is from 1965! Who needs voting rights now?

PANEL 3

On a city sidewalk, the giant is standing holding a long roll of paper, with “Voter Rolls” written at the top. The long roll of paper is on fair. A red gas can is on the sidewalk near the giant’s feet. A couple of human-sized people are also on the sidewalk, looking angry and aghast.

GIANT: Gotta purge Black vot — I mean, bad voters.

PANEL 4

The giant is standing on a path in a public park, a giant axe held resting on one shoulder, shrugging. There are trees and a little pond. The giant is talking to several human-sized people, who are listening looking skeptical and annoyed. Again, one person is filming with their cell phone.

GIANT: How could you think I’d try to suppress the vote?

  1. Actually, this paragraph was written almost a month ago when I posted this cartoon on Patreon, so it’s a bit less recent now. []
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23 Responses to Cartoon: Why Would Anyone Think The GOP Wants To Suppress The Vote?

  1. 1
    Corso says:

    I have to admit, before reading the blurb under the comic, I had no idea what the axe was supposed to represent. My first thought was: “Is that supposed to be the governor of a state with a forestry industry, or something?” It makes more sense now.

    As to the topic of voter suppression…. America is weird. Most of my experience is with a Canadian system; We generally don’t vote by mail. We require voter identification. We regularly purge voting records. All of this is seen, here, as normal, healthy democracy in action, and I don’t know how to compare that to the American experience, because while it’s obviously different, and America’s left obviously have reasons to mistrust the intentions of their opponents, at the end of the day, I’m watching people act as if fundamental aspects of Democracy are somehow Democracy breaking.

    This latest thing with the post office…. I’m not going to defend Trump, that’s not my job, that’s not my political leaning, I don’t want to. But this idea that American Democracy depends on the post office is really strange to someone who spent four of my last ten years in Europe and got to witness in real time the reporting from EU countries that ended up either banning outright or vastly curtailing mail-in balloting because the systems did not work. It wasn’t so much a fraud problem as it was a spoilage problem, ballots invariably showed up too late, or not at all, or marred or marked in some way that wasn’t acceptable. And that’s replicable: New Jersey’s primary earlier this year saw 35,000 (about 1 in 4) ballots spoiled, and just last week the post office found 2000 extra ballots in a mislabeled bin.

    What I think is going to happen, and what I’m kind of afraid of is that Democrats are probably going to be more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, and if even only 5% of mail in ballots end up spoiled, then it’s just another thumb on the scale. If Trump wins this election, or even if Biden wins, but the win is narrow, then hold on to your butts, because it’s going to be a wicked four years.

  2. 2
    Görkem says:

    @Corso: I know how you feel, I come from/have lived in countries where this is also uncontroversial. The difference is, marginalised Americans do not trust the government (specifically, the state governments) to do this in a non-partisan way, and it is much harder for marginalised Americans to re-register. On the other hand, the non-American experience of mail-in voting is not necessarily that negative, it is used on a large scale in Australia, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, etc etc.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Corso, it’s like someone in a town with a good police force being puzzled because people in another country, with a corrupt police force, talk about police corruption like it’s a problem.

    I’m not against all voter roll purges; I’m against badly designed and partisan voter roll purges. I’m not against voter ID implacably; I am against badly designed and partisan voter ID regulations.

    (Although I think you’re being very local in your worldview to suggest that voter ID is a “fundamental aspect of democracy”; voter ID is not universal, either in the US or among all democracies. The idea that it’s not a real democracy if some method of authenticating votes other than voter ID is used seems like it would be difficult to support logically.)

    Vote by mail has worked very well in Oregon (and other places, as Gorkem pointed out) for years, and in-person voting is hardly immune to votes being spoiled. (Americans can think of the “hanging chads” issue in the 2000 Florida election, for example). And there are non-spoilage ways that in-person voting can prevent people from voting (for example, unreasonably distant voting locations, exorbitantly long lines, etc.) No method of voting is perfect, but vote by mail can work as well or better than other systems.

  4. 4
    Görkem says:

    I can kind of see where Corso is coming from – it is possible that the current generation of activists may internalise a conviction that voter ID is innately bad, or voting list purges are innately bad, so that in some hypothetical future where the US government actually can be trusted to carry these out with an acceptable degree of incompetence, there will be obstacles. But if that happens, it is definitely a problem of success – even if a useful voter ID ordinance cannot be implemented in some hypothetical future due to resistance from the people and demographics currently resisting it for very good reasons, that will be a smaller problem than the current problem by several orders of magnitude.

    So I guess it is not necessarily worthless to note in passing that these things are not innately bad, but that shouldn’t stop us from standing with those groups currently opposing them.

  5. 5
    Görkem says:

    Also – re voter ID – most countries that have rigid voter ID systems also have a single, universally accessible identity document that all citizens/residents are required to hold and that is issued for free. The problem with the proposed US las is that they require people to have something that is not easy to get, particularly for marginalised groups or individuals. And it’s quite striking that the conservatives who advocate strict voter ID law are usually also against the idea of a universal ID document of the sort used in most European countries.

  6. 6
    Mookie says:

    Corso,
    Not knowing the history of the relationship between USPS and US conservatives is fine, but it’d be useful to understand that it pre-dates this election cycle and mailed ballots, in general. One of the touchstones of these hostilities within the GOP hinges on the concept of postal banking, which financial and lending institutions and other private entities, and now rival corporate postal and package delivery interests, pay good money to lobby against. This is coupled with the general line, sincere or not, adopted by that party that public goods are bad and undesirable because they’re not “profitable,” a state of affairs in the case of the USPS the GOP lawmakers personally orchestrated beginning with 1960s “reform,” decentralization, and the introduction of committees and governing boards occupied by appointees coming from the private, corporate sector with a political economic agenda rather than postal veterans and non-partisan bureaucrats.

    This process culminated in merging the former aspiration with two other conservative pre-occupations: shrinking public employment and undercutting the unions that represent and protect that workforce.

    Also, it’s a touch weird to me, in the context of one of our country’s last remaining vestiges of social services, to mention nations with, by comparison, more and better social services. Our national postal system was, for some countries, an unparalleled model but even that reality should be tempered by the fact that for decades certain communities within the US have, now or at one time, been systematically deprived of the benefits, including its laudable efficiency, the USPS has traditionally had to offer. That other countries may never have achieved our proven level of success with respect to mail ballots is neither here nor there. States govern elections; perhaps that is part of the reason.

    Also, with respect to your instincts about voting patterns and means in 2020, the data from past elections are instructive and contradictory; GOP voters have always benefitted from the “friendly” and universal opportunities early voting and mail ballots represent, and have widely taken advantage of them, versus hostile and selective limitations, like ID and the decision to label ballots “provisional” which target, systematically, certain voters.

  7. 7
    Görkem says:

    “States govern elections; perhaps that is part of the reason.”

    I think this is a big part of why the USA struggles to manage elections where other countries do not. We often hear that the USA is so geographically diverse and massive that a national electoral management system is impossible but I think this is a just an excuse.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    I figure that if the election is close the apparent losing candidate will take the election to court in a few States challenging the basis upon which 10,000’s of ballots in each State will have been – or not have been – tossed due to them having been ruled irregular/spoiled/received too late/etc.

    Either way, Sen. Cruz’s statement that we are going to need 9 Justices on the Supreme Court to decide this election without a hung court has merit in my eyes. Because unless there’s a blowout, which I don’t anticipate, this election is going to the Supreme Court. And the count itself will take a week or two.

    This also points out one favorable aspect of the Electoral College. A contested Presidential election can be limited to recounting/reconsidering ballots in one or a few States instead of needing a nation-wide recount.

  9. 9
    Görkem says:

    “unless there’s a blowout, which I don’t anticipate, this election is going to the Supreme Court”

    And we know which way the Court will rule, don’t we Ron

  10. 10
    Corso says:

    @9

    I don’t. I think this is a fear on the part of Democrats in America, but it’s one of those political (the word I was going to use here was “lies” but that’s too strong) things that people tell themselves regarding politics that may or may not be true, but are treated it as if they are because it riles up the right base, or it reinforces our previously existing biases, or because we’re scared.

    Stepping back from the American example, here in Manitoba we currently have a Conservative provincial government (State House and Governor would be equivalent), during the last two elections, the NDP (labour party) told the electorate that if elected, the Conservatives would privatize Manitoba Hydro (province run crown corporation that’s responsible for most of the province’s electricity). I had my doubts, no one really wants Hydro privatized, and if they did, they’d probably never form government again. Brian Pallister, the conservative leader said, explicitly, multiple times, that a Conservative government would not privatize Hydro. Well, 7 years ago, the Conservatives won a substantial majority, mostly as a rejection of the NDP leader than the support of the Conservative (I have to admit, that was my protest vote too) and low and behold: 7 years later, supermajority all the way: MB Hydro is still a crown corporation and that does not look like it’s going to change.

    Now were the NDP lying? Were they afraid? Was it political banter? a “Debate”? Some version of “My opponent will do something if elected” followed by your opponent winning and not doing that thing is almost per se part of political reality in the current cycles, but we really never call it on the mendacity that it is.

    Will they rule on the election fallout with partisan intentions? I doubt it. It bears note that both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have broken with the Conservative Bloc since being confirmed.

  11. 11
    Görkem says:

    Gorsuch and Kavanaugh’s defections have been on cases that are generally low importance to the movement conservatives constituency who got them elected to the court. “Who gets to be the President” is the very opposite of a low importance case. The idea that a 6-3 Supreme Court will find that Biden is the President is ludicrous.

    I don’t think the Manitoba example is really that relevant. I could quote numerous examples from other countries that aren’t America that would suggest partisanship will happen, but they wouldn’t be relevant either.

  12. 12
    questining says:

    I’m not against all voter roll purges; I’m against badly designed and partisan voter roll purges. I’m not against voter ID implacably; I am against badly designed and partisan voter ID regulations.

    Can you explain a purge that would work and that you would support?
    Can you explain a voter ID that would work and that you would support?

  13. 13
    Corso says:

    @12

    I can’t speak for Amp, but on the ID front in particular, I think that a better system would be one that guarantees a quick and either cheap or free process to replace ID cards. That’s the standard in most places that require voter ID, which includes all the countries I’ve lived in.

    I think part of the problem in the states is that as opposed to a national election, you basically have 50 state elections that compile into a national election, so the process is incredibly inefficient and neurotically inconsistent across the board. I don’t know how to address that short of a constitutional amendment, because your constitution precludes Federal oversight… And good luck getting enough consensus for that.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Briefly:

    1) Voter roll purges.

    Unlike voter ID, keeping voter rolls updated by removing people who have moved or died is actually necessary. A well-designed voter purge should purge people based on reliable information that they’ve moved (for example, they’re on the post office’s database of people who have turned in change of address forms), plus three successive postcards mailed to the old name and address with a notice and multiple easy ways to respond if the person says they still live at the address. And taking people off the rolls should never be preemptive; names should be removed at the end of the process, not at the start.

    There should also be automatic voter registration – if the government goes through the whole process and determines that Joan Verawang Smith has indeed moved from district 1 to district 2, they should not just remove JVS from district 1’s voter rolls, but add her to district 2’s.

    No names should be purged due to not have voted in previous elections. No one’s name should be purged based solely on unreliable evidence, such as “we sent them a letter and received no reply.”

    Similar precautions should be taken with people believed dead.

    2. Voter ID

    Purging the rolls is necessary, and so I favor that. Voter ID is an unneeded solution to an imaginary problem, and so even the best-designed voter ID system is still a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

    But if we must have Voter ID at the polls, we should also have:

    1) A national ID card, automatically issued by the government to every citizen, and accepted as voter ID. (This doesn’t foreclose states from continuing to accept other forms of ID, like drivers licenses; but the national ID card would have to be added to their list of acceptable IDs.)

    2) An easy means to replace lost ID and update current ID – which means spending money on hiring and training workers whose jobs will be to facilitate every citizen having an ID, including walking people through every single step of the process, rather than an understaffed inhuman bureaucracy who will in effect be a barrier to getting ID. This needs to be available in many languages.

    3) A truly annoying and intrusive system for reminding people, multiple times, of when IDs need to be updated, with easy instructions.

    4) Voter ID checks should be done at random – say, out of every 20 people, 1 will be randomly chosen to be checked. This is because when poll workers are left to their own devices about who is asked for ID, they ask hispanic and Black voters at higher rates than white voters.

    5) Automatic voter registration of everyone who has an ID and will be 18 or older next election day.

    Any costs involved with the national ID should be borne by the government, not by the voter (b/c otherwise it’s effectively a poll tax).

    Both voter ID and voter roll purges would need to be supplemented by a rigorous provisional voting system. Without that, it’s not a good system.

    I think that would about do it.

  15. 15
    Görkem says:

    “Voter ID is an unneeded solution to an imaginary problem”

    Having said that, would you say that it is the case outside the USA too? Or are you assuming that countries that have voter ID actually need it? Because it is pretty common in other countries (largely because the apparatus to get everybody a national ID card already exists) and exists even in countries where electoral fraud is a marginal problem (like Japan and Germany). I know you are mostly interested in the USA but your statement here is very strong, strong enough that to me it opens up the possibility that you are not just talking about the USA – would you say that, in the same way the USA doesn’t need to bring in voter ID, countries that have it should at the very least seriously look at whether or not it is actually needed? To take the countries I am most familiar with (Japan and Germany) there is no significant call to end the voter ID system, even among those groups most concerned with the problems of the embattled minorities who would be most likely be the ones being hurt by such a system – is that an oversight on their part?

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    I’m afraid this is going to be a disappointing answer, Gorkem, but I honestly have no idea.

    I would suspect that the more corrupt a country is – that is, the more officials routinely take bribes, to the extent that ordinary small businesspeople routinely include paying bribes when they plan their budgets – the more voter ID might actually serve a purpose. I’m not sure if that’s true, though. I could easily see it the other way – the more corrupt a country is, the less good voter ID can do because there will be more loopholes.

    I doubt voter ID serves much of a purpose in countries like Denmark and Belgium – first-world countries with relatively low corruption. But it could be that I’m just ignorant, and there’s some aspect of their systems that would make in-person voter fraud a significant problem if they didn’t have voter ID laws.

  17. 17
    Görkem says:

    Yeah, fair enough, I know it is a difficult question and is asking you to leap out of context, but I thought I might as well ask.

  18. 18
    Corso says:

    It’s an interesting question…. Could the places that have voter ID conduct free and fair elections without Voter ID? Sure.

    But would doing away with Voter ID make a more or less free and fair election? I’d argue less.

    Voter ID is designed to make sure that the people who are voting are actually eligible to vote. Are ineligible voters a huge problem? I kind of doubt it, but the real answer is that we don’t know. Voter Fraud, particularly in places without voter ID, seems like the kind of thing that would be almost impossible to catch. If you disagree with that, I’d be interested to know what you think the process would be to catch someone intentionally casting an illegitimate ballot. The cases where we do catch voter fraud seem to be instances of particularly egregious behavior, or dumb luck.

    But why might validation of voting eligibility be important? It’s a matter of fairness, and trust in the system. And frankly, I think that we all kind of get that, even on the left: Unions make damn sure that the people voting on CBAs are members, as an example. The problem, I think, is America has been so Godawful at actually allowing legitimate voters the ballot, that fraud seems like a quaint problem in comparison, and therefore people view enfranchisement as more important than fraud. I think I agree with the priorities, but that doesn’t mean voter ID is a bad system, it just means that America might not be capable of operating it.

  19. 19
    Ampersand says:

    The cases where we do catch voter fraud seem to be instances of particularly egregious behavior, or dumb luck.

    I’m sure there are cases of one-off in person voting fraud that can’t be detected. For example, Charlie’s father Linus died yesterday, so Charlie votes twice, once in his own name and once in his father’s, knowing that the death is too recent to have led to his father being removed from voter rolls. More often, people vote by accident – for example, an ex-felon who has served his time, didn’t know that ex-felons can’t vote in her state, and was able to register to vote through a fluke. (Although actually, that kind of bad voting can be detected, so never mind).

    Significant in-person voter fraud – the kind Republicans always talk about, with busloads of people brought in across the border from another state (or Mexico) and being driven from polling station to polling station, pretending to be people they’re not – is basically impossible to pull off.

    You’d first have to have a budget to pay all those people. And you have to be able to find them – people sketchy enough to do this for you, but smart and trustworthy enough not to accidentally or purposely talk.

    Then, you’d have to have a list, not just of registered voters who have died or moved out of state – but you’d have to have a list of such people who haven’t been stricken from the voter rolls. Otherwise you’d be doing tons of double-votes which would be detected.

    Or you could just have people vote willy-nilly from a paid-for mailing list of people who live in the zip codes you want. But then you’ll be sending busloads of people to vote, and many or most of them will end up trying to vote as people who aren’t registered to vote, as people who are marked as dead or changed address, or as people who are marked as having already voted. That’s a guarantee of having at least some of your workers caught and arrested.

    And even if they aren’t caught, it would be obvious what happened from the voter records suddenly showing dozens or hundreds of people voting twice.

    The rules vary from state to state, but even states that don’t require picture ID usually require voters to sign in – and those signatures are checked against the signature on record if any irregularities show up or are suspected. Most also require some sort of proof of address – a utility bill with your address on it, for example – and you can’t just claim to be homeless, if you’re pretending to be someone whose voter registration shows they have an address. So now you need to forge a ton of documents and train your fakes to forge signatures, and how the hell did you find out what the real signatures look like, anyway?

    I guess you could make a conspiracy like that seem like it would work if you’re writing a novel. But in real life, it’s not going to happen.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    Oh, and what happens when one of your busload of fake voters goes up to the poll worker, and the poll worker knows the real-life person your worker is imitating? Poll workers and voters are in the same community, and you’re repeating this again and again and again, if you’re busing people from polling place to polling place, so even if it’s a 1/100 chance sooner or later it’ll happen.

  21. 21
    Ampersand says:

    Here’s a list of academic studies, court cases, and government investigations (including ones run by Republicans) which found no evidence of wide-scale voting fraud.

  22. 22
    Görkem says:

    I guess that is why I ask the question – if the USA is able to avoid significant voter fraud without a voter ID system, it seems to at least raise the possibility that countries that are in similar situations could do the same, and thus avoid the expense and hassle of voter ID systems.

    Almost all of these countries have minimised the expense and hassle by piggy backing on an existing ID system rather than designing one specifically for voting. But there is nothing preventing Germany (for example) from saying “Hey you no longer need to show your national ID when voting”. It would only make life easy for a small % of people, but if you can help them at no cost, why not?

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    To be clear, most states require some sort of evidence of identity when people vote. There are only a few states where all that’s asked for is stating your name.

    The controversy is over “strict” voter ID laws. Most states don’t have the kind of strict ID system republicans want, where there are only a handful of acceptable IDs – so, for example, a bank statement with your name and address, or a student ID, won’t be accepted.

    (There are also differences in the provisional ballot requirements. In most states, if you don’t have ID, you can vote via a provisional ballot and sign an affidavit, and if your signature and other info checks out the vote will eventually be counted. But in strict ID states, the voter is required to make a second trip on a later day, this time going to a specific office that may be miles away, in order for their provisional ballot to be counted.)

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