What Voting Should Be Like

“Hurray for democracy!” I shouted. A guy with a mustache and a hunter’s camo jacket who’d just dropped his ballot chuckled. Nearby, a bald man in a bright-colored sweatshirt leaned out of an SUV, taking pictures or video of a woman putting their ballots in the drop box outside the county courthouse. I’d left my wallet in the car but had my phone in hand so I could take pictures of the ballots going into the box.

See? There they go!

It took all of an hour from Dr. Bae bringing the mail in today, October 16th, eighteen days before the election, to my dropping the ballots in this box, the only delay being the time it took to do the research to make informed choices on some of the down-ballot races and local referenda and drive down into town.

For more than ten years, Washington state, where I live, has had all mail-in elections. Every registered voter receives a voter’s pamphlet a month before the election, in which candidates introduce themselves and cases for referenda or ballot initiatives are made and rebutted. Then, twenty days before the election, every registered voter is mailed a ballot, along with a tab to follow the vote as it’s collected and counted.

Look at this gorgeous thing.

It’s fucking awesome. Seriously, it’s so much better than vote in person, which I was happy to do when that’s what people did. But did I always do the research beforehand to make informed choices? No. I didn’t. And even if I had, who’s to say I’d have remembered it. No, it’s so much easier to crack open the voter’s guide, fire up the old internet machine, and take the time I need to make sure my voice is not only heard, but that it’s saying what I want it to say.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, there’s a paper trail. Actual, physical paper. The best guarantor of election security there is.

This year, voting was quick and easy. This year, it’s Democrats all the way down the ticket. Since my general rule is to always vote for the most liberal/progressive viable candidate, that’s most years. But if you’re reading this, and you aren’t voting Democrat all the way down (especially at the state and local level), please please please reconsider, just this one time. For all our sakes.

Today was the fastest turnaround I’ve ever done for getting my ballot in. I’m usually a late voter. Not because I’m a late decider — I’m too compulsively informed for that — but because I’m lazy and I suck at time management. This year is different, for reasons we’re all too painfully aware of. But either way, I had the privilege of getting my ballot, dropping what I was doing, and getting it filled out and dropped off as fast as I reasonably could. Like I said, I took only the time I needed to make sure I was voting what I actually want. But if I didn’t have that privilege? If, say, I was an essential worker who had a shift today, or on election day? If I only had five minutes here and there over the course of a week to do my research? If I couldn’t get my ballot in til the last minute? No big deal. It only has to be postmarked by November 3rd. I would not even need a stamp (though if you got one, use it; the Post Office could use some love right now).

Expanding the number of people voting is not only good for small-d democracy. It’s good for liberals and progressives of all stripes. Because it’s not true, as is said ad infinitum, that America is a center-right country. If it was, the Republicans wouldn’t need to do all the voter suppression, gerrymandering, vote stealing, and ratfucking they do. They’d just win, fair and square. But when things are fair and square, it’s the Democrats who win, because America’s center-left, or even left-wing now Covid and late-stage capitalism have worked us all over so fucking thoroughly.

We are the majority. It behooves us to make sure everyone votes, or can vote, for reasons both idealistic and partisan. It’s a win-win.

And if you’re looking for a good way to do it, mail-in balloting on the Washington model is a damned good place to start.

It’s Alright to Wish Donald Trump Ill

A lot of people I know are taking the high road with regard to Donald Trump’s Covid infection, and urging others to do the same. As someone who for the most part takes the high road myself, when it’s available, I applaud them, and agree: in general, it’s not good to wish others ill, or wish that someone would die.

(For my own part, I do not wish for Donald Trump to die of Coronavirus. I want him to die many years from now, broke and in prison for his life of crime, so he really has time to kick himself for all his mistakes. Barring that, I prefer he survive at least til November 4th of this year.)

That all said, Donald Trump is the exception that proves the rule. Or maybe the rule’s better understood as a guideline. Whatever. Donald Trump is not only a manifestation of almost everything that is worst in human nature, he has also done untold harm to more people than you or I or all our friends put together could count. He’s an abuser we’ve all been forced into a relationship with, and he’s hurt all of us, without caring or apology. His handling of the pandemic has not only killed two hundred thousand Americans and counting, it’s disrupted the lives, well-being, and livelihood of the whole goddamned country. It’s going to take decades to fix all the damage, if we even can, thanks to the judges that have been confirmed on his watch; either way it’s going to leave scars on our democracy and a lot of us with PTSD just from bearing witness to the whole tragicomic shit-show.

So yeah, it probably is better for your soul or whatever not to wish death or suffering on anyone, no matter how terrible they or the consequences of their freely-taken actions are. But as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to history’s monsters — and Donald Trump is one — you may excuse yourself from that particular aspiration, and wish the man a speedy rendezvous with his just desserts.

CONTEST!

Featured

I’ve made a lot of noise about politics over the years. I don’t know if any of it made much of a difference or not, but looking back it’s hard to escape the conclusion I could have done more. Sure, I make donations. I’ve even done some volunteer work (ask me about the time I had to tell two hundred people — one at a time, more or less — they couldn’t sit in the VIP section of a Ralph Nader event). But I wanted to do something more, and, bless my heart, I wanted it to be something particular to me and what I do.

Standing Desk, Walnut and Cherry (photo: R. Smith)

Depending on how you found your way here, you may or may not know that in my other incarnation I am a self-taught woodworker who makes simple furniture out of scrap and salvaged materials, and that for some years now that’s how I’ve earned my living, such as I have.

So, my brilliant — or at least idiosyncratic — idea:

I’m going to run a contest, a raffle really, the prize being a small table, bookshelf, writing desk, or some such, designed and handmade by me. Chances are purchased by making donations to Democratic — ideally progressive — candidates for office in state and local-level races, with one entry for each $5 donation and an additional bonus entry for each candidate.

Example: Giving Candidate A $5 and Candidate B $10 earns a total of five chances: one for each candidate (2) and each $5 increment (3).

Table for Two, walnut and sapele

One of the ways things got as bad as they are is that Republicans swept the 2010 elections, particularly at the local and state level, where donation dollars go a lot farther than they do in the bigger federal campaigns. Like 2020, it was a Census year, and the winners got to draw congressional districts for the next ten years. We all saw how that’s worked out *gestures broadly at everything*.

If we want any chance of sane, science-driven, proactive governance in the face of a world simultaneously drowning and on fire, it’s gotta be Democrats all the way down the ticket this year, in numbers that can’t be denied. We’re good at giving at the national level. But we don’t always look to our own backyards. This is a chance to rectify that at a time where it’ll go the furthest and mean the most.

Coffee table, Jatoba

How to Enter: go to ActBlue and make your donation, then email the receipt to dt@dtfabs.com to enter. Entries will be accepted until Election Day.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! You can also earn chances by posting about candidates in the comment thread. Tell us who they are and why they deserve to be supported (keep it to a paragraph, if you can), and provide links to follow up to research and donate. Each one earns an entry.

(Feel free to chime in in favor of a candidate you like, but no credit for repeats. Sorry.)

Bar shelf, vintage cedar

What Do We Do When the Cosplay Paramilitaries Come?

Picture this. It’s November 3rd, Anytown USA. Or, if we’re not lucky, Everytown. The high school gym is full of voting machines, touchscreen for the most part. The masked and gloved volunteers have coffee and donuts, donated by moms whose kids now rehearse pandemic protocols along with their active shooter drills. The donuts have red, white, and blue sprinkles. There’s a special room where you can eat them, but everyone just lifts their mask up, changes gloves after. Almost everyone.

At 8am, polls will open. On the sidewalk outside, chalk marks stretch down the block, six feet apart. The air is crisp with autumn chill. There are still Halloween decorations on some of the houses, and the jack-o-lanterns are starting to sag. Candy wrappers turned inside out can be seen among the red and gold and brown of leaves just begun to rot in the gutters. So far the sky is clear, but the weatherman says storm’s a-coming.

By 7:30 early voters have begun to line up. Some of them like voting in person. Others just don’t trust the post office since the layoffs and budget cuts last month. They take their marks, chatting with neighbors or playing with their phones. Since the second spike, everyone wears a mask.

At 7:58 a cargo van pulls up and parks. Six men get out, who are also wearing masks, along with Kevlar vests, sunglasses, and AR-15s. Four have sidearms in holsters clipped to their belts. All six are white. They have armbands with American flags rendered in black and white and the words Election Security printed below. They line up across from the front of the line to get into the polling station, where they have a clear line of sight.

“Attention citizens!” says the leader, a bearded man of late middle age. He wears a ballcap from the Navy ship his father served on. “We are here to observe this polling station and make sure no voter fraud takes place! This is a peaceful action, and no lawful citizen exercising his rights is in danger!”

Phones are by ears now, as voters call 911 en masse. Harried operators and units available to respond are overwhelmed. This isn’t the only polling station where this is happening. This is a widespread, if uncoordinated effort, one telegraphed for weeks in the press and on the internet, but that has yet caught law enforcement and the media flat-footed come the day, because America is not the kind of place where things like this happen.

But it is now, and maybe it always was. 

***

Let’s get something straight before we go any further. The moment Donald Trump is no longer President, he will be indicted, arrested, and taken to jail. However far down the memory hole it’s fallen, the Mueller report by itself lays out a case in painstaking detail — the only reason it did not take the step of recommending prosecution is because of the Justice Department policy of not prosecuting a sitting President. Even if a Biden Justice Department were to reprise Obama’s mistake in not investigating and prosecuting his predecessor (Remember W’s war crimes? Good times), the state of New York is ready to go with racketeering and fraud and corrupt organization charges. Trump knows it, too. It drives every decision he makes.He’ll die in office or he’ll die in prison. And since he doesn’t care about anyone else in the world besides himself, he’ll do whatever it takes, up to and including inciting civic violence and unrest, to stay in office. No hesitation, no compunction. Hell, no forethought, even. His party has already started accepting and training volunteer poll watchers. If/when they decide to arm themselves, the party will throw up its hands and claim plausible deniability, and by the time the dust settles the election will be over and called.

And let’s face it. There’s a small but hardcore segment of the population that’s just dying to get out there and intimidate their fellow Americans with their long guns and body armor. Some of them got a taste for it in Iraq or Afghanistan, some in law enforcement. Some of them are just concerned about the oppression white men and Christians face in these disturbingly diverse, increasingly dis-United States. At least a few just really want to shoot somebody. 

What they all want is to bring America back to its roots, its foundation. Its fundamental state, if you will. In which only white men can vote, and everyone else remembers their place and stays in it. They might even, through the private prison industry, reprise something like slavery. How else are we supposed to compete with cheap labor from China?

First, though, they have to cement their lock on power. They have to suppress enough votes to carry one more election. If they can do that, they can lock down the courts and gerrymander districts for another decade after the Census, and secure the White Christian Man at the top of the food chain for the rest of history. Which won’t be long, because these jokers are going to handle climate change about as well as they’ve handled Coronavirus, in that they’ll actively make it worse and a lot of people and species will die unnecessarily as a result.

But they don’t believe in climate change, or they don’t care, or they just can’t see how it matters if it’s not them and theirs on top of shit mountain, watching their turds tumble down on those who God loves a little less.

***

Do I really think people will show up with guns to intimidate voters? Who the fuck knows in this crazy crap-shoot world? But I know the GOP has been willing to engage in wholesale voter roll purges, and make it super-hard for the wrong voters to register, and draw gerrymandered districts that should be prosecuted as crimes against geometry and that strain even partisan credulousness in their purpose-built geographic contortions. I know the Presdent’s son-in-law, de facto chief of staff, and fellow overprivileged incompetent failure Jared Kushner has already floated the idea of delaying the November election.

I also know that somewhere around 40% of Americans are on board for all of it, the demographic rump of white Christian Americans who like the way things used to be and love Trump for the fact of his unapologetic entitlement and privilege, which permits them to really let their freak flag fly in public. Between their aggrievement and gun collections and the Trump mafia’s legal jeopardy the second they’re voted out of power (when, mark my words, the Republicans who endorsed and enabled them will forget they ever knew such vulgar buffoons and get on to squawking about the deficit again), I think it makes it likelier than not that at least some places we see armed vigilantes like the ones I’ve described up above.

For the record, I’d love to be wrong about this.

***

So what happens when the armbands show up, the vigilantes and cosplay paramilitaries and irregulars in an undeclared war, men with guns and body armor and the unshakeable conviction of their own rightness? What are we going to do?

If all we’re relying on is the courage of individual voters then we’re doing a disservice to democracy, our country, and our chance of hauling this timeline back on the rails, of bending the arc of history back a little more toward justice and maybe saving some of the ecosphere for our descendents, who are going to judge the living shit out of us and have every right to do so.

Back to our hypothetical polling station, where the chill in the air has more to do with the presence of self-appointed poll-watchers kitted out for urban warfare than the time of year and tilt of Earth on its axis. What kind of response are we hoping for? Should we try and field counter-paramilitaries? Try the good guy with a gun thing? Doesn’t that make us like them? Would it even work?

Maybe we should just call the cops and hope for the best. Of course, the same elements ready to drag us back in time at gunpoint have spent the last couple decades infiltrating law enforcement. Either way, it’s not like the cops have been doing much when the vigilantes and cosplay paramilitaries show up to protest at state capitols. I don’t think we can count on them, and I sure as fuck wouldn’t recommend it to voters of color.

So what, then?

***

It’s 8:04 when six bikes pull up. The riders are masked for pandemic protection, but instead of guns they’ve got cameras. They take pictures of the armed vigilantes — in homes across the country, activists and internet sleuths work to identify them and publish their names when they get a match. Other riders have cameras that upload video straight to the cloud. The armbands still have the guns, but now they know the world is watching. There’ll be a record of anything they do or say tagged to their identity.

Will these Recording Angels stop the men with guns? Hard to say. But people are a lot less likely to commit crimes and atrocities when they know other people are watching. And when individuals are identified, and the consequences of their actions can be correctly assigned, they become a whole lot less likely to go all Kristallnacht on a polling place. Accountability is a hell of a thing.

In the story I’m telling, the vigilantes lose their nerve pretty quick. Because their power only derives from their guns, and despite that tingle in your balls you get when you pick up a loaded firearm, the power it gives you is entirely situational and not as great or wide-ranging as you might think. The six load up in their cargo van, and democracy carries on. 

The election is decided by voters and not men with guns and a bunch of privilege and inequality to protect at the expense of everyone else and the planet we live on. It’s as happy an ending as we’re likely to get these fucking days.

***

One last thing: if we don’t want the above scenario to play out — if we don’t want paramilitary vigilantes showing up at polling places for the purpose of voter intimidation in the guise of election security — then we’d better have our response prepared in advance. Volunteers, money, some degree of coordination, the technical infrastructure built in advance. Just like we know they plan to come loaded for bear, we need them to know we plan to come loaded for democracy.

I’m willing to bet if they know we’re serious, they won’t even show up. They are, many of them, cowards after all. That’s why they have to carry their guns in public in the first place.