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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Military voting

Photo by The U.S. Army/ CC BY 2.0

When President Donald Trump demands that we "get rid of the ballots," everyone knows exactly what he means. Since last spring, the aspiring tinpot dictator in the White House has spit out daily tweets full of falsehoods about mail ballots, which he calls "awful," "terrible" and "ripe for FRAUD." He pretends to draw a distinction between mail-in ballots and absentee ballots — the method used by him and many others in the White House to vote — but in actual practice, there is no such difference.

Among the malignant effects of that Trump dictate would be the disenfranchisement of millions of American soldiers, their families and other military personnel when the time comes to vote.


It is precisely because so many of our troops and their spouses cast their ballots by mail that we know how safe, secure and generally free from fraud such voting is. As Trump intensified his campaign against mail-in voting, a chorus of former defense officials and retired military officers spoke up against his conspiratorial nonsense.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recalled that he voted by mail for the first time as a young soldier and had observed the process ever since as a political leader and later in the Pentagon.

"I voted while sitting on top of a tank in Vietnam," Hagel told the military publication Task and Purpose. "A lot of guys that I knew in Vietnam were old enough to vote and voted by absentee ballot. I never heard of any problems. I never heard about any issues or anybody charging there was fraud, waste, or abuse in any process that involves voting absentee by mail." As many officers noted sardonically, the system dates back to the Civil War — and nobody worried much about fraud until Trump suddenly realized that he's losing this election.

Should Trump succeed in persuading Republican election officials to discard mail ballots as supposedly being tainted by fraud, they will have to exclude the vast majority of military votes. According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, more than two-thirds of those in military service who voted in the 2018 midterms submitted their absentee ballots by mail. Election officials sent more than 655,000 ballots to military and overseas voters two years ago and got more than 344,000 back — of which only 6 percent were rejected for any reason.

Twenty years ago, the question of counting military ballots arose during the catastrophic recount in Florida. With a razor-thin margin between Al Gore and George W. Bush that would determine the national election's outcome, some Democratic lawyers sought to disqualify hundreds of absentee ballots that had arrived late from overseas. When the Bush team realized that the ballots to be discarded came from military bases, their reaction was explosive — and they weren't alone. The suggestion that military votes would be thrown out was so toxic that Gore's running mate, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, repudiated his own legal team on national television.

Back then, and ever since, the assumption was always that military voters are conservative and, therefore, Republican (although as retired Gen. Wes Clark once observed, no institution in American life is more thoroughly "socialist" in caring for its constituents than the United States armed forces). But with the advent of Donald Trump, that may no longer be a smart bet.

The most recent poll released by the Military Times in August showed a small lead for Joe Biden among military households — a "massive shift" from the 20-point lead that Trump enjoyed among those same voters in 2016. Moreover, there is an increasing sense of disgust with Commander Bonespurs in the military. The same poll found no less than 42 percent saying they "strongly disapprove" of his performance as president. (Perhaps they've figured out that he's trying to stop them from voting.)

Will Republicans who once expressed outrage over the notion that military votes would not be counted — because they arrived after a legal deadline — now let Trump get away with tossing them out because of a bogus suspicion of "fraud"? Yes, because most of them are cowards, not patriots.

But we can hope that among officers and troops, the courage to stand up for the Constitution will remain strong — and that their strength will inspire at least some Republicans to put country first.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.