Tragic Clarity

Like so much else in the Trump era, yesterday’s insurrection was both shocking and predictable.  I literally gasped at the image of guns drawn at the doors of Congress, and it is impossible to view such a scene without feeling complete disorientation.  And yet this was also the logical and maybe even inevitable culmination of years of provocation, from a psychologically-damaged President who revels in division, disdains the norms of liberal democracy, and is literally incapable of perceiving any national interest distinct from his personal interest.

Fortunately, the rule of law ultimately prevailed.  The Capitol was secured, the coup sputtered out, the people’s business continued, Joe Biden will become President on January 20th, and America will move on from a poisonous four years.

Or will we?  While a change of President will unquestionably and thankfully remove the most clear and present danger to the Republic, our national pathologies are too deep for a single election to cure:

•  Nearly all of the people involved in yesterday’s insurrection, fed a steady diet of lies, truly think of themselves as American patriots acting in defense of democracy.  The media ecosystem that produces such a warped mindset will continue to churn out content, and the fears and grievances that leave so many people vulnerable to con men, conspiracy theories, and demagogues will likely intensify.  Can we find a way to break the closed loops of information that wall us into alternate realities, and can we engage our fellow citizens in a spirit of understanding, not judging the whole of their humanity by their worst actions and beliefs?  We cannot give up on a third of the country.

•  Stable democracies need healthy, viable center-right parties, and at present the United States doesn’t have one.  The Republican Party — especially its base and increasingly its elites — now more closely resembles autocratic movements in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland than its traditional center-right counterparts in western Europe.  Can we find a basis for partnership with and empowerment of responsible elected officials with a genuine commitment to democracy, even when we disagree with them profoundly on policy?

•  Our electoral institutions are broken.  As a measure of popular will, the Presidential election was not close.  But in the states that determined the electoral college outcome, it was razor thin.  A shift of just 44,000 votes — only about half the population of New Rochelle — would have delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump, and then we would be in a whole different sort of Constitutional crisis.  I struggle to imagine how I would accept the legitimacy of a President who lost by 7 million votes, and wonder how many folks on my side of the aisle would be tempted to storm the Capitol under those circumstances.  Can we repair our institutions, so that they affirm the people’s will instead of impeding it?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am genuinely relieved and even excited about the upcoming Inauguration and the possibility of national progress, especially given the outcomes in Georgia, which offer President-elect Biden a real chance to govern.  But we should have no illusions about the scale and depth of the challenges ahead, or the degree to which success depends on renewal of our culture as much as our government.  Yesterday’s shameful horrors have laid bare the threats to our democracy with tragic clarity.

 

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God Bless America

It’s over, and when all the votes are counted, Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the national popular vote will be in the range of four to five percentage points — slightly more than Obama’s margin over Romney and considerably more than Bush’s over Kerry.  I get that we choose our Presidents through the electoral college (although we shouldn’t), but let’s not fall into the trap of confusing the tabulation of electoral votes for an accurate measure of national will.  The choice of the American people is clear and unambiguous.

Like many Democrats, I eagerly wanted an even more sweeping repudiation of Donald Trump and a decisive Senate majority.  The outcome fell short of that standard and leaves me — just as in 2016 — disoriented by the political preferences of so many millions of my fellow citizens.

But for those of us who have spent the last four years fearing for our democracy, astonished by the normalization of hatred, self-absorption, and corruption, and perpetually wearied by anxiety, disbelief, and despair, it is an overwhelming relief today to take a full, clean breath, express pride once again in the next leader of our country, and feel a greater measure of hope for the future.

Hope is not naivete.  The conditions and attitudes that brought Donald Trump to the White House will not simply vanish, our democratic institutions remain fundamentally flawed, the President’s likely refusal to concede graciously (or concede at all) will complicate the peaceful transfer of power, and the intensity of feeling on both sides presages a difficult struggle to heal divisions and bring our nation together.  Hard work ahead.  Time to begin.  God bless America.

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Early Voting Begins Saturday

Early voting begins this Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. New Rochelle’s early voting station is located behind City Hall at 90 Beaufort Place. At this same location, completed absentee ballots can be dropped off at an official secure ballot box. Absentee ballots can also be returned or mailed to the Board of Elections in White Plains, and, of course, you can still vote in person as usual on Election Day. For early voting hours and additional information, please visit newrochelleny.com/elections.

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Register to Vote

 

Today is National Voter Registration Day — an important reminder to be sure you are prepared to vote in this year’s election.  You can find links to voter registration forms and also information about different ways to cast your ballot safely, with deadlines for each, by visiting newrochelleny.com/elections. You can also visit vote411.org for helpful, non-partisan tips from the League of Women Voters. The last day to register is October 9, so don’t delay.

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Our Democracy is Broken

This article from Ron Brownstein points out an important and disturbing fact.  If Republicans succeed this year in seating a new Justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a majority of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by Presidents who lost the popular vote and confirmed by Senators representing less than half the country.  Decades of Supreme Court decisions — not to mention countless other laws and executive actions — will flow from the flawed, deeply undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College, which now routinely permit the few to rule over the many.

That’s not how things are supposed to work. Democratic institutions are supposed to provide for the orderly conversion of majority will into public policy, while also protecting minority rights. The stability and success of democracy depends on all sides perceiving this process as just; the winners demonstrating restraint in the knowledge that power is impermanent, the losers accepting government action as legitimate, even when they disagree with the specifics.

By contrast, America is suffering today from something like a national auto-immune disorder, with the core principle of majority rule coming under assault from the very electoral and legislative institutions that are supposed to protect it.  Our democracy is broken.

What’s more, it’s broken in ways that warp the character of our two major parties. In a healthy system, parties would work symmetrically to change minds and win votes within a democratic framework to which they are equally committed.  Instead, one party is frighteningly open to authoritarianism and voter suppression, perceiving its partisan interests to be in conflict with democratic norms. The other is increasingly disillusioned and desperate, as its voters become functionally disenfranchised.

What’s the answer?  Here are some possibilities:

•  Popular Election of the President

•  Ranked-Choice Voting

•  Election of the Senate by National Party List

•  Fixed Terms for the Supreme Court

Fundamental Constitutional reforms like these are sometimes thought to be radical solutions, but, given the present crisis, defense of the status quo strikes me as more radical and dangerous by far.  Our democracy will not survive a persistent and widening gap between popular will and the exercise of power.

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How to Vote

This year, we have the choice of voting in-person on Election Day, voting in-person at an early voting site, or voting by mail/absentee.  I had planned to write a post describing these options in greater detail, but because Assemblywoman Amy Paulin did exactly that in a recent email, I have the luxury of simply copying and pasting her words.  Many thanks to Amy for her excellent and comprehensive round-up.  Whichever option you choose, be absolutely certain to cast a ballot!  Take it away, Amy . . .

 


Mail-In (Absentee Ballot) Voting

How to Request an Absentee Ballot

  • To receive an Absentee Ballot, a voter must submit a request/application. Voters can begin requesting Absentee Ballots immediately. Voters requesting an Absentee Ballot due to risk of contraction of COVID-19 should check the box for “temporary illness or physical disability.”
  • In most cases, if you submitted an Absentee Ballot application for the June 23rd Primary, you will need to submit a new application, even if you checked the “general election” box on your original application.
  • You can download the Absentee Ballot Application from the Board of Elections
  • For Westchester County voters, the Absentee Ballot application may be submitted
    • By email to BOE-WestAbsentee@westchestergov.com by Tuesday, October 27th;
    • By fax to (914) 995-7753 or (914) 995-3190 by Tuesday, October 27th;
    • By mail to the Westchester County Board of Elections, 25 Quarropas Street, White Plains, NY 10601, postmarked no later than Tuesday, October 27th; or
    • In person at the Westchester County Board of Elections, 25 Quarropas Street, White Plains, NY 10601 by Monday, November 2nd.
  • Additionally, New York State has launched an online Absentee Ballot Application Portal. Since the portal has never been used before, I cannot vouch for its effectiveness, but those wishing to use the portal can find it at https://absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov/.
  • Do not wait to apply for an Absentee Ballot! Despite the posted deadlines, the County Board of Elections will have many ballots to process, and the post office has advised that they cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots applied for less than 15 days before the election (Monday, October 19th).
  • After an application is received and processed, ballots will be mailed out beginning September 18th.

How to Return a Completed Absentee Ballot

  • Completed Absentee Ballots must be returned by mail or in person using one of the following methods.
    • By mail, either with a postmark dated no later than Tuesday, November 3rd or without a postmark and received by the Board of Elections no later than Wednesday, November 4th.
    • In person at the Westchester County Board of Elections no later than Tuesday, November 3rd at the close of polls (9:00 pm).
    • In person at any Westchester County Early Voting poll site during voting hours between Saturday, October 24th and Sunday, November 1st. Dates and times for Early Voting poll sites are listed below. If you drop off your Absentee Ballot at an Early Voting poll site, you will not be required to wait in line.
    • In person at any Westchester County Election Day poll site on Tuesday, November 3rd. If you drop off your Absentee Ballot at an Election Day poll site, you will not be required to wait in line.

Note on In-Person Voting After Requesting an Absentee Ballot

  • All voters who request an Absentee Ballot are still eligible to vote in person, either using Early Voting or on Election Day. This includes voters who never receive their Absentee Ballot or voters who are worried that their returned Absentee Ballot will not arrive in time at the Board of Elections. If a voter does mail a completed Absentee Ballot and also votes in person, only the in-person vote will count. That voter’s Absentee Ballot would be set aside during the counting process.

In-Person Voting

Election Day – Tuesday, November 3rd

  • In-Person Voting will occur on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm. On Election Day, voters must vote at their assigned poll site.

Early Voting – Saturday, October 24th through Sunday, November 1st

  • All registered voters may choose to vote Early instead of on Election Day. Registered voters in Westchester County may vote at ANY of the 17 Early Voting poll sites listed below during any of the following days and hours.
  • Early Voting Hours
    • Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 from noon until 5 p.m.
    • Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 from noon until 5 p.m.
    • Monday, Oct. 26, 2020 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
    • Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 from noon until 8 p.m.
    • Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
    • Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 from noon until 8 p.m.
    • Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
    • Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 from noon until 5 p.m.
    • Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 from noon until 5 p.m.
  • Early Voting Poll Sites – voters may vote at ANY site
    • Eastchester Public Library, 11 Oakridge Place, Eastchester, NY 10709
    • New Rochelle City Hall Annex – 90 Beaufort Place, New Rochelle, NY 10801
    • Westchester County Board of Elections, 25 Quarropas Street, White Plains, NY 10601
    • Dobbs Ferry Village Hall, 112 Main Street, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522
    • Greenburgh Town Hall, 177 Hillside Avenue, White Plains, NY 10607
    • Veterans Memorial Building, 210 Halstead Avenue, Harrison, NY 10528
    • Pound Ridge Town House, 179 Westchester Avenue, Pound Ridge, NY 10576
    • Mamaroneck Town Center, 740 W. Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck, NY 10543
    • Mt. Kisco Memorial Complex at Leonard Park, 1 Wallace Drive, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549
    • Mt. Pleasant Community Center, 125 Lozza Drive, Valhalla, NY 10595
    • Mt. Vernon City Hall, 1 Roosevelt Square, Mt. Vernon, NY 10550
    • Joseph G. Caputo Community Center, 95 Broadway, Ossining, NY 10562
    • Peekskill Nutrition Center – Neighborhood Center, 4 Nelson Avenue, Peekskill, NY 10566
    • Somers Town House, 335 Route 202, Somers, NY 10589
    • Grinton I. Will Library, 1500 Central Park Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10710
    • Riverfront Library, One Larkin Center, Yonkers, NY 10701
    • Yorktown Cultural Center, 1974 Commerce Street, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

Register to Vote

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