Racial Justice Demands That Every Vote Is Counted (ep. 126)

November 5, 2020
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The Trump campaign is pursuing legal challenges in battleground states as the pathways to President Trump’s reelection narrow. These challenges involve attempts to stop or challenge the vote count. And because of the record number of mail-in ballots cast during the pandemic, the votes affected are disproportionately those of mail-in ballots. 91.6 million Americans requested a mail-in ballot. And what’s noteworthy about the high volume of mail-in ballots is that any attempt to discount them would not only cast a blow to our democracy, it would disenfranchise communities of color. Joining us to discuss are Lucia Tian, ACLU's Chief Analytics Officer, and Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia's Executive Director.

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[00:02:04] From the ACLU, this is At Liberty. I’m Molly Kaplan, your host.

The Trump campaign is pursuing legal challenges in battleground states as the pathways to President Trump’s reelection narrow. These challenges involve attempts to stop or challenge the vote count. And because of the record number of mail-in ballots cast during the pandemic, the votes affected are disproportionately those of mail-in ballots. 91.6 million Americans requested a mail-in ballot.

NEWS ANCHOR 1 Across the country, county registrars are in overdrive processing the record-breaking number of mail-in ballots.

NEWS ANCHOR 2: The Trump campaign filing a lot of lawsuits since the election and these deal mostly with the vote count, particularly in states that are close or that Trump is behind, believe they may be able to catch up.

[00:02:04] And what’s noteworthy about the high volume of mail-in ballots is that any attempt to discount them would not only cast a blow to our democracy, it would disenfranchise communities of color.

Counting every mail-in ballot is at heart a matter of racial justice. We know this because last week the ACLU’s analytics team published a report showing that communities of color voted by mail at higher rates than white people in key counties in the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

To help us understand these numbers, we talked to Lucia Tian, ACLU’s Chief Analytics Officer.

[00:02:04] So I think as, as most folks are aware, this is a very special year when it comes to the election with the COVID-19 crisis, a lot more people, a lot more voters are choosing to vote by mail. And that is true in critical states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia, where historically there hasn't been as much vote by mail as this year. The other pattern that we're seeing in the vote by mail is that, and this is from survey results prior to the election leading up to the election in those four states, we're seeing that people of color are planning to vote by mail at much higher rates than white people. And so it's even more important, given the volume of vote by mail and given the way that communities of color are planning to use the by mail vote, that we count every single mail-in ballot this year.

[00:04:25] And I want to get into specifically what your report looked at. You and the team examined four battleground states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. It's almost like you knew what we were going to experience before it happened. How did you come to those four states and how did you predict some of what we're seeing now?

[00:04:54] Yeah, we really chose to focus on those four states for a couple of reasons. First, those are some states that are really critical or often seen as battleground states in the election. And what that means is that there's extra scrutiny and also extra danger of those states being targeted for any activity that would discount the mail-in vote in any way, whether that is stopping the count, whether that is an extra high rejection rate or things like that. And those are just really important states to begin with. Second, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are three states where the absentee vote is not counted until really late. So there are some states where, you know, absentee ballots go in and pre-processing is allowed to happen almost immediately or at some date before Election Day. But in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, those are three states where absentee ballots are not allowed to be processed until Election Day or just before Election Day. And so we knew that those are states where the absentee ballot would be counted late, which is what we're seeing play out now where the Election Day in-person vote is mostly already being reported in those states. And what's outstanding is then the absentee ballot.

[00:06:31] By extension, the fact that those ballots are left to count makes them vulnerable. For example, President Trump has already called to stop counting ballots. And some of the reason why this report seems so important to me is that those ballots are representative of communities of color and who have a history of being disenfranchised.

[00:06:56] That's right. And that's really what we wanted to, to avoid by putting out this report and really informing people that, that in order to not disenfranchise those voters from communities that have been historically disenfranchised, we really need to make sure every every vote is counted.

[00:07:18] And another piece of context, I think is really helpful in this, which is when you count the mail in ballots, it's actually a pretty prolonged process and it takes longer -- we learned actually from another podcast we recorded -- to tabulate the mail-in ballots than it does the in-person ballots, which is a much more straightforward process than having, by contrast to unseal envelopes, compare signatures, all that kind of thing in some cases. So there is a time issue that we sort of saw the writing on the wall here.

[00:07:51] Yeah, that's absolutely right.

[00:07:54] I'm curious, once you selected the four states, what was the process you used to project who would be using these mail-in ballots?

[00:08:04] Yes, so we relied on a series of surveys that was fielded by YouGov, a very reputable political pollster, over the couple of months before the election. It was a tracking survey that asked questions about voters’ demographic information, obviously, but also their vote intent, whether they plan to vote in the upcoming general election and their vote method intent, so how they plan to vote. And in that data, what we saw very clearly is that white voters were, were reporting and intent to vote by mail at lower rates than people of, of color among the set of people that, that said they intended to vote in the 2020 general.

[00:10:09] And actually, as I understand right now, you and the team are reconciling the projection with some of the actual data. Can you talk about your findings so far?

[00:10:18] Part of the goal of this report is to really help us also identify which counties are the most important to keep an eye on. So not just at the state level, but at the county level, where the mail-in vote has a real potential to impact the outcome of the election at all different levels and where the, the racial gap in mail-in voting is the largest and those two are very strongly correlated. The counties that where the mail and vote really matters for the outcome are exactly those counties where the people of color are voting in large numbers by mail. In terms of validation, what we're looking at is the county level results, at least in Pennsylvania and Georgia. We don't have this kind of breakout right now in Michigan and Wisconsin. But in Pennsylvania and Georgia, what we do have is county level results by vote method. So we can kind of see where our projections are landing. And I would say we're, we're pretty much right in the ballpark across all counties, at the county level. In Georgia, we are slightly under, our model was underpredicting the impact of vote by mail. And in Pennsylvania, I think our model was slightly over predicting. But, but we're pretty, we're pretty much right in the ballpark.

In Georgia, we are awaiting the final counts in areas like DeKalb and Fulton, counties that voted in high rates by mail. Polls suggested it would be close.

But the fight to count all ballots in Georgia predates this election.

[00:02:28] Even before this election, this COVID-19 election, African-Americans actually used mail-in ballots at higher rates than white Georgians.

That’s Andrea Young, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia and a fierce defender of racial justice.

One reason for that is probably that in our rural areas it's very difficult to get around. And so voting in person is very challenging for low income people in rural areas. And but in this case, there was a big push on mail-in voting to protect people's health. The African-American community in Georgia has been extremely hard hit by COVID-19. Black Georgians and brown Georgians, for that matter, bear the brunt of being both front line workers, being essential workers, having the highest rates of COVID and the highest rates of death from COVID. So COVID-19 is a very, very serious matter for, for African-American Georgians, Georgians of color. And so that's, so this year, nearly 1.5 million ballots were cast by mail, which is a huge proportion of, I think, what ultimately was five million votes cast. So the mail-in vote this year was a tremendous, tremendous part of the overall total.

[00:03:55] And Andrea, how do we frame any potential discussion of disenfranchisement of communities of color in Georgia within a much larger historical frame? Of course, there was the Stacey Abrams election in 2018, but even going further back, you know, you have such a reservoir of knowledge in Georgia from your experiences, I think from your dad's experience, who is, if I'm recalling correctly, was the mayor of of Atlanta for a period of time, is along with a much longer resume. How can you frame the discussion of disenfranchisement within this larger historical context?

[00:04:36] Right. Sure. So the legacy of disenfranchisement of especially black Americans in Georgia, you know, I mean, is a vestige of slavery. You know, there was a brief moment after reconstruction when African-Americans participated politically when the 15th Amendment was passed and there was reconstruction, there was a brief opportunity to vote. African-Americans were in elective office, served in Congress. So my father was the first African-American elected to Congress since Reconstruction. So we've seen you know, we've seen voter suppression result in essentially taking away the right to vote in the black community.

[00:05:21] As recently as the 1950s, my dad did voter registration and it prompted a Klan rally. So, you know, so this, this other violence related to that, the violence related to voting, the intimidation, the white primaries, you know, again, where, you know, African-Americans weren't even allowed to participate in what was then the Democratic primary, the gerrymandering, which continues to this very day. The the voter I.D. requirements, which were instituted recently, where you have to have a government issued photo I.D. knowing that, that disproportionately excludes African-Americans from voting because, of course, you don't need a driver's license if you can't afford a car. So they're just you know, it's a, it is 9persistent. We don't have same day registration and all of these, you know, tthere's just a historical and a current, you know, pressure against African, full African-American participation in the political process in Georgia.

[00:06:40] You know, we've got an ACLU. We've made a lot of progress. ACLU has been at this in Georgia for 60 years, and we're still fighting. You know, the level of voting that we saw this year is a direct result of the efforts of ACLU and other partners to, to fight back against voter suppression.

[00:07:04] And I'm curious, as we plot for the next minutes, hours, days, how do we keep the conversation alive, that any attempt to interfere with mail in ballots counting it is will target communities of color that this is at its heart, not just a partisan issue, but a racial justice issue?

[00:07:26] Yeah, I mean, it is you know, it's got to be kept in a top of mind that, you know, communities that the communities in Fulton County, in DeKalb County, which is where these votes are outstanding, are areas of African-American influence. I mean, these are some of actually some of the most, you know, affluent and productive members of society, of our society.

[00:07:57] But it does not prevent, you know, a lot of the battle in Georgia, you know, is frankly, it is racial. And even where all issues are, the issues are equivalent and you still find this racial discrepancy, which is the legacy of our, you know, I mean, Racial Discrimination active, legally government sanctioned discrimination is something that is quite recent in our community and it still is still is perpetuated in power sharing and economic opportunity, you know, in how schools are funded. You know, the legacy of racial segregation in this community is still very much apparent and. And it is it you just can't talk about Georgia without understanding that history.

[00:09:00] Of what the plan is in Georgia, what the plan is to make sure that every single vote is counted, that nobody is disenfranchised, that, that the populace of voting people will be as diverse as humanly possible.

[00:09:14] Yeah, well, you know, the planning, of course, started months and months and months ago. And ACLU and our partners and the NAACP, Fair Fight. And we have all been working together and planning together and messaging together that every vote counts and every vote matters. And we continue to do that. We are prepared for litigation if that's necessary. We are prepared for social action if that's necessary, which we are already, I think, doing communications to try to get our congressional delegation know, along with ACLU National, to come out, you know, for the, for this basic principle that every vote counts and every every vote that is cast must be counted. So we are you know, we are working collaboratively in this community. And will we will persist.

[00:10:15] You know, the Southern Collective of the ACLU had a saying in this election, hope vote, advocate. So even so, you have to advocate for the voting. And then once the voting is completed, we still have to advocate for the issues that matter in our communities. And that's always been what we were prepared to do and that's what we will do.

[00:10:37] Well, Andrea, thank you so much for joining us. I want to let you get back to the work that needs to be done ahead, but it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Thanks to Lucia Tian and Andrea Young for joining us and thanks to YOU for listening. If you’d like to support the effort to ensure all votes are counted you can visit www.aclu.org/liberty.

Until next week, stay strong everyone.

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