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Friday, January 21, 2022

One Year of President Biden


President Biden took office a year ago this week. Just days after he was elected president, two prevailing expectations were that 1) the GOP would control the Senate and that 2) the pandemic would soon fade (the Pfizer vaccine announcement was two days after Joe Biden was projected winner). At the time, I also predicted that, because of these twin expectations, Biden would find political success in foreign policy, immigration, and COVID management – things he could control. With Mitch McConnell calling the shots on the Senate floor, I thought there’s no way anything happens in Congress. 


Life and events had a different plan. Democrats unexpectedly won the Georgia runoffs and thus the Senate. Despite hundreds of millions of vaccinations that have saved many lives, COVID variants rage on frustratingly. Foreign policy has proven to be a political weakness as Biden was faulted by voters for his handling of Afghanistan. Immigration has been Biden’s worst issue, in my view because he has continued some Trump-era anti-asylum policies. While Biden has fallen short on Build Back Better and voting rights, he’s had astonishing success on confirming judges and passing two pieces of landmark economic legislation – because Democrats control the Senate. 


Biden likes to say that he’s “a great respecter of fate” and that fate has “intervened” in ways he didn’t expect in his life. This theme has emerged in his presidential journey too. Life and events have often had different plans for him. 


If you had told me years ago that Biden would succeed in passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure despite Joe Manchin being the 50th Senator he needed, I would’ve said you’re crazy. Oddly, President Trump signing the CARES Act helped to change the debate. Democrats felt like they could do things like the American Rescue Plan and not face electoral blowback. After COVID emerged, Biden reimagined his campaign to be bolder. He has delivered with ARP and the bipartisan infrastructure law. 


But fate intervened in the election itself to change just how bold Biden could be. I wrote in October 2020 that he could end up doing a bunch of stuff on wages and labor rights and climate that he just hasn’t been able to so far. That’s because the elections were far closer than expected and he didn’t win as many Senate seats as anticipated in June-October 2020. As such, he has been forced to tame his ambitions. 


To be honest, that he’s made as much progress on Capitol Hill as he has is incredible in it of itself. Manchin and Sinema have supported all of his judges, ARP, the infrastructure law, Juneteenth as a federal holiday, and are on the cusp of voting for much climate and education spending (yes, after they watered down the rest of BBB). The alternative, the one that again just 14 months ago was the expectation, was McConnell controlling the floor. None of these items would be even in consideration.


Life and events, fate as it will, have most intervened recently in ways that have damaged Biden’s approval rating. Variants got in the way of declaring independence from the virus. The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan despite predictions from Biden that they wouldn’t. Inflation took a toll on people’s finances. Voters don’t blame Biden for these problems and they largely agree with his underlying policies on these issues. But we’ve gone through an emotional whiplash, a roller coaster as we thought we could breathe easy in spring and summer 2021 but now we’re exhausted all over again.


It doesn’t matter politically that voters correctly think supply chain issues and the pandemic have caused inflation, not Biden’s COVID relief spending. As long as inflation remains elevated, he’ll suffer – even as he takes concrete steps now to lower it. It doesn’t matter politically that voters don’t blame him for variants or that they support many of his wise mitigation measures. As long as the pandemic rages, he suffers because of the pandemic fatigue we feel. It doesn’t matter politically that voters correctly think he was right to withdraw from Afghanistan or that they think the situation there would’ve been almost impossible for any administration to control. As long as those images from the withdrawal remain in the public’s mind, he’ll suffer in his popularity.


However, fate and life and events can intervene soon in positive ways. ARP made it so many people this tax season can expect much more generous credits. Those refunds should soon hit people’s pockets. Antiviral pills will become more widely available soon. That’ll hasten the pandemic’s end, as Dr. Scott Gottlieb said recently. Impressive antitrust policies from Biden’s DOJ and FTC may soon yield results in reducing prices.


Where that leaves us within a year in is that things are in flux. Biden is in a rough political position now. It may not always be that way. Fate has a way of intervening. To the extent Biden can control things, of course he should. He should cancel student loan debt, mandate vaccines for air and train travel, and enact more aggressive climate regulations. 


When President Obama showed higher energy in December 2014 after lower approval ratings in much of the year,  he bounced back as he took action of his own on immigration and climate. At the same time, much as we have learned as a country there are things we cannot control, the President has learned the same. What happens next is anyone guess. Perhaps the last couple of years has taught us, more than anything, that a few days or weeks even can be a lifetime where matters radically alter. Stay tuned. 






 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Harry Reid was an American political icon

Rest in peace, former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. I really admired Reid.


He was first elected in the ‘86 midterms, part of Dems’ strong year in Reagan’s 2nd midterm when they took back the Senate. He grew up poor in Searchlight, became a boxer, and stared down the mafia famously as Nevada gambling commissioner (it got physical!) 


He went on to become Senate Democratic Leader at a critical time. After 2004, Dems were dispirited when Bush was reelected and the GOP not only grew their congressional majorities but also knocked out the Senate Dem leader himself: Tom Daschle in his own seat. Reid stepped into the void and he and Pelosi helped Dems recapture majorities in 2006. Reid then began a remarkable 8 years as majority leader.


Reid was no-holds-barred. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He called Bush a loser (though they worked together on TARP), he revealed Romney paid no taxes at one point (Jon Huntsman’s dad told him this apparently), he called Boehner a dictator in the House (Boehner then told him to go fuck yourself, in the White House no less). But most notably in speaking his mind, albeit privately here, he told Barack Obama in 2006 to run for president. He came to “love the man,” as he told David Axelrod.


They worked together to achieve great things, starting with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Recovery Act. The ACA is here to stay because Reid got all 60 Senate Dems on Christmas Eve 2009 to pass the legislation. He held his fragile coalition together again for Dodd-Frank, the new START treaty, and, to his everlasting personal credit because he brought it to the floor without full White House certainty it’d pass: the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.


He did all of this and more while weathering sometimes brutal political fights at home. He won more comfortably in years good for Dems (‘86 and ‘92) but also survived very narrowly in 1998, won in 2004 despite Bush winning Nevada the same day, and in his final electoral triumph, he won in a somewhat upset fashion in 2010 against Tea Partier Sharron Angle. In that final campaign, he wasn’t afraid to deploy Obama even though Obama was unpopular at the time. He rallied the base and he didn’t take anything for granted.


Even after Democrats lost control of the House and thus no longer had a trifecta, Reid ensured from 2011-2015 that a Democratic Senate could get progress done. He got the votes finally for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 in the Senate but alas was stopped by Boehner in the House. In other areas, where he could truly make things happen, he did; most importantly, that happened on presidential appointments. Reid hastened the end of the filibuster as he and Obama and Biden got filibuster reform done to make an exception for non-SCOTUS judicial nominees and executive appointments. Consequently, Obama got some great CFPB, EPA, NLRB, Labor Department appointees, Surgeon General, and more confirmed. He also got many federal judges confirmed in this crucial period.


As he left office in 2016, Reid ensured his mark would be felt politically still. He helped pave the way for his successor Catherine Cortez-Masto win a hotly contested race. He organized to turn out voters for Hillary Clinton in that year’s critical Nevada caucus. Four years later, he endorsed Joe Biden, despite their differences on the fiscal cliff deal, right before Super Tuesday in a flurry of endorsements Biden got. In some small way, Reid ensured his impact was still felt four years after retiring. 


With millions more insured, consumers armed with more rights, and people able to serve openly, our country is a better place because of Harry Reid.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Mr. Popular, At an Inflection Point









So far, President Biden – a little more than six months into his tenure – has managed to stay popular and pursue mostly popular policies. His job approval rating on average has consistently hovered between 51 to 55 percent. Recent public opinion polling in crucial swing states show his approval is roughly around the same level in those states as well.

As for his programs, the American Rescue Plan Act, the infrastructure agreement, and his handling of COVID all poll well. Other pursuits, such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the American Families Plan proposals, also are popular. As various journalists and pundits have observed, Biden, with some notable exceptions, has heavily invested in appealing to the median voter. The President is focused on doing popular, populist things to keep his popularity afloat and thus long-term help his party and the larger progressive agenda. 

The effects of this governing are mostly positive from a policy standpoint. The $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan was ambitious legislation. The law represented the single most significant first-round economic policy of a Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. On that front, Biden is clearly learning from his predecessors and getting great advice, including from his left-leaning Council of Economic Advisers. In this realm, popular policies also happen to be good policy. My former boss, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, said as much all the time, in the reverse that is (“good policy is good politics”). It applies all the same here as Americans embrace the stimulus checks, money for vaccines and testing, the Child Tax Credit expansion, and anti-trust policies. The same can be said about Biden’s proposals on infrastructure and climate, education, and family support. These policies are anti-poverty and justice-oriented and also are popular. It is a win-win. 

Similarly, on his handling of COVID, Biden has been competent and strategic. His administration’s vaccine rollout has been impressive; it hit a snag earlier this month because of the hold out unvaccinated but now, numbers are picking up again. The administration has earned high support from the public for working to get the virus under control. The decision to require vaccination of federal employees is a strong move too that demonstrates decisive leadership. 

However, within these areas somewhat but mostly in other realms, Biden now is facing possible crises that could put his popularity at risk but where he has the potential to be courageous, polls be damned. Biden himself often lauds his former boss, President Obama for taking bold action that was unpopular at the time but paid off in the long run (such as, the ACA and the auto rescue).   It is these moments forthcoming that will truly test the leadership potential of Biden and his principles.

For instance, just hours ago, the CDC eviction moratorium expired. Biden has said he won’t extend it (he did extend moratoriums on federally backed housing days ago). He blamed it on Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence in a Supreme Court decision that allowed the moratorium to stay until Biden’s precious extension until July 31. Kavanaugh wrote that, as the pivotal fifth vote there, he believes a further extension warrants an act of Congress. Biden has called on Congress to extend the moratorium now but the ask was remarkably last-minute. Congress spectacularly failed to do so too. There is blame to go around here, including on states and localities that haven’t distributed this aid, but Biden could certainly be more forceful here. If he truly was invested in protecting people from hardship, he would call on the House to reconvene now. He would urge the Senate Democrats to create an emergency exception to the filibuster for this moratorium to allow this to go forward now. He may get blowback from landlords and it is uncertain how it’ll all play politically. But it’s the right thing to do and even long term it may pay off politically.

With regard to the Delta variant specifically, Biden could go even further and require proof of vaccination to enter federal buildings or get on an airplane abroad. That decision may risk some anger but it would be worthwhile for public safety – so, again, something that long-term could pay off politically.

On foreign policy, Biden has struggled to reenter the Iran Deal. The administration may be worried about angering moderate Democrats in Congress and/or the effects politically of a deal the GOP is sure to eagerly attack if it happens before the midterms. But the price of inaction is greater as it means potential conflict which would be undesirable. Long-term, the goal of prosperity at home and peace abroad would pay off politically too.

On voting rights, Biden is trying to be delicate on the filibuster as he moves his domestic agenda on economic matters through Congress. He may be resistant to pushing too strong for the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act now and for pushing for a filibuster exception there. He may worry about how that’ll affect his perception among Senators Manchin and Sinema and if the Democrats will appear to be “power grabbing,” or whatever it is the conservative media will say. But there is no better example here of how a certain action will be both good policy and good long term politics. Passing this legislation would ensure that we can go after partisan gerrymandering and regressive laws. If we don’t do it all, as Ari Berman recently pointed out, the GOP, through these measures alone, could regain political power.

On immigration, Biden is facing the most headwinds politically because his refugee admissions policy is unpopular and there is a false perception that the border is “insecure.” The reality sadly is that the administration has continued to invoke public health authority, on shaky grounds, to expel migrant families and single adults. At some point, Biden will have to, on these fronts, actually show leadership in bringing forth 125,000 refugees a year – as he initially stated – and in welcoming asylum seekers. He can make the forceful case to the public that these policies are for the benefit of all of us. As an old, white, moderate seeming man, he can help shape public opinion here as he is not seen by many voters as particularly threatening. He has a prime chance to use his privilege for good. 

So far, Biden has overall performed well politically and in policy, especially on the economy and COVID on the whole. Moving forward though, he’ll have to make more difficult decisions that may momentarily put his popularity at risk but would be good for the country and even still be advantageous politically. How he proceeds in the future will determine the fate of his presidency.

 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The case for Joe Biden and the future liberals want


"This is the future that liberals want" has circulated for years as an Internet joke that liberals embraced. What is the future liberals want or that we can hope for in the best case of a Biden presidency? 

Think that it is late 2021: COVID-19 is under control, President Trump's harmful executive actions (particularly on immigration) have been reversed, and a range of progressive legislation has been signed into law. That is the future we can envision with a Joe Biden administration and a Democratic Congress.

Imagine the bill-signing ceremonies where a President Biden is signing into law: the HEROES Act and  giving the pens to essential workers, a $15 minimum wage (indexed to inflation with an end to the tipped minimum wage) and giving the pens to Fight for 15 activists, the PRO Act and giving the pens to labor organizers, the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights and giving the pens to domestic workers and their allies in the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and giving the pens to voting rights advocates, the Justice in Policing Act and giving the pens to Black Lives Matter leaders, the DREAM Act and giving the pens to immigration activists, the Equality Act and giving the pens to LGBTQ rights activists, universal background checks and an assault weapons ban and other gun safety provisions while giving the pens to the Parkland kids and Gabby Giffords and Sandy Hook families, expansion of health insurance through a public option and lowering the Medicare age to 60 and giving the pens to patient advocates and other reformers, 12 weeks of paid family leave and giving the pens to family leave activists, a massive infrastructure package and giving the pens to public transportation advocates, and a $2 trillion clean energy plan and giving the pens to Sunrise Movement leaders.

Before Biden does any of these things, he will hopefully do as promised on two key emergency fronts: 1) call Dr. Fauci, implement his recommendations, and institute a national mask mandate to the extent possible and 2) immediately pass legislation that either institutes a nominal $1 penalty for lack of insurance under the Affordable Care Act or fully repeals the technically-still-in-place individual mandate so that the current suit against the ACA becomes moot.

Think of it all as LBJ 2.0 (without a Vietnam War-like quagmire); I'm hardly the first person to make the comparison. Biden could very well likely emerge, like Lyndon B. Johnson, as an unlikely face and vessel through which major change happens. Dr. King and John Lewis helped convince LBJ to get the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act done despite Johnson's past record on civil rights after all. Since the summer, Vice President Biden has increasingly met the moment in taking on a more listening-based, somber, serious approach to our nation's various inequities. We saw such leadership on display in his criminal justice reform speech in Philadelphia, in his COVID-19 roundtables, and in his defense in the last debate of higher wages and spending to boost social services and the economy.

If you are doubtful that Biden will follow through on these promises, consider that presidents often carry out or try to carry out policies that they campaign on in their elections. We can expect activists to hold his feet to the fire as well. 

That is what happened under Biden's former running mate, Barack Obama, who delivered on economic stimulus, health care, financial regulation, LGBTQ rights, relief for the Dreamers, and diplomacy with Cuba and Iran -- but not until after activists prodded him to do so on many fronts. We can and should expect such a relationship between activists and a Biden administration because we've already seen such a dynamic in Biden's own general election campaign. His policies on items like climate action have already been shaped by activists; there is no reason to expect this will not also be the case in a Biden presidency.

The point of all of this focus on activists is that, as Biden himself has said, it is not about Joe Biden. There are negative aspects of his career and personal behavior that are troubling. I should note too at the same time there are uniquely positive aspects of his career that speak well to how he'll handle this particular moment.

Ultimately, it is not Biden's past that is most important here. It is the future liberals want, that we should all want, that is at stake. With Joe Biden in the White House (and let's be real, this is a binary choice between either Biden or Trump) and Democrats in control of Congress, the future can be written by progressive activists, by civil rights advocates, by frontline workers, and by all of us. 


**So how do you get involved and what do you need to know?**  (Updated 10/29/20)

IN PENNSYLVANIA: You had until (up to and including) Tuesday, October 27 to either apply for a mail ballot (here) or go to an early in person voting site (such as your county elections office) to vote on a mail ballot right there and then.

But: if you have applied for but haven't received your mail ballot yet and you're nervous it won't arrive by or before Election Day, you may be able to cancel your existing mail ballot that is technically on its way and instead go in and vote on a replacement ballot at your county elections office or, at least in Philadelphia, at a satellite office up to and including Monday, November 2.

If you have your mail ballot in hand already, please return it promptly to an official county election drop box or at your county elections office on or before Election Day, November 3. 

Make sure your ballot is filled out in blue or black ink consistently throughout, that it is sealed in the "official election ballot" secrecy envelope, and that that envelope is then sealed in the larger declaration envelope and that you sign and date (with the date you signed it!) the back of the declaration envelope before you return it!

Your mail ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day! Ideally, it also should be received by then by your county elections office though the U.S. Supreme Court so far has let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that stated that your mail ballot will count if it's postmarked by Election Day so long as it is received by 5 PM on Friday, November 6. For now though, please just get it done ASAP.

If you wish to forfeit your mail ballot and vote in person instead, please bring your mail ballot package with you on Election Day to your polling place and ask that they spoil your mail ballot and you can vote in person on a traditional machine. 

If you do not get your mail ballot by Election Day (or you lose or forget it for whatever reason before November 3), you can go to your polling place (check where it will be here!) and vote on a provisional ballot. There is no reason it will not count. 

Of course, if you just wish to vote in person on Election Day regardless of all of this, you can do so on November 3 between 7 am and 8 pm. You have the right to vote if you are in line at 8 PM. You do not need to show ID unless it's your first time voting in that election district (your voter card or photo ID or driver's license are among acceptable forms of ID). Make sure to check where your polling place is here as it may have changed.

If you live anywhere else, please go to iwillvote.com to find out how and where you can vote!

HOW TO GET INVOLVED: Go to https://joebiden.com/take-action/ to find out how you can volunteer in these final days to help get the Biden/Harris ticket over the finish line. In Pennsylvania specifically, if you want to join me in phone banking in what is arguably the most important state in the whole election, you can sign up to phone bank during the week here or during the final weekend here.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Creating a narrative when one doesn't exist





Earlier today, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell baselessly stated that the Biden campaign has "to be worried about the violence in Kenosha playing into the larger message of the RNC." She warned that the "law and order message is taking" and can "resonate with voters." The Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman breathlessly declared that "Trump is far better off talking about [Kenosha imagery]...than COVID" and "Biden is going to need to confront it head on." 

Meanwhile, The New York Times, in classic Times fashion, rushed this week to run a story on how the Kenosha protests are supposedly changing swing voter attitudes as the article quoted various voters but provided no empirical evidence. Axios also recently ran a mostly data-free article that warned Trump could win again with no new polling trend or other detailed warning sign. 

It's possible the pundits will be right. It's possible President Trump will see some political benefit, including in Wisconsin, from this week's developments in Kenosha. But until we see any hard data in presidential race polling in Wisconsin that reflects that, we really don't know. All of these aforementioned assertions are based not on facts or real evidence but rather in amorphous feeling, concern-trolling, and vague caricatures these pundits have of average voters.

In 2016, many of these DC media voices underrated the President's chances but now they're falling over themselves trying to overcompensate for that by constantly searching for any narrative that might show Trump in a more competitive position than reality shows. 

So far, the average of public opinion polling in Wisconsin shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a 5.9% lead as he stands at 49.2% share of the vote. In the other most critical swing states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona -- Biden enjoys leads of 5.3%, 7.6%, and 3.7%, respectively, and he is at 48-50% in all three states. 

While swing state polling underestimated Trump support in 2016, those same polls also showed an unusually large number of undecided voters, Hillary Clinton was in the low-to-mid 40s, and well-known third-party candidates were on the ballot. Today, none of those items are true. 

As has been relentlessly noted by experts at FiveThirtyEight and elsewhere, Biden also has far better favorability ratings than Clinton and his national lead has been more robust and more stable. There are also far more 2016-non-voter/2020-Biden and 2016-Trump/2020-Biden voters than there are non-voter/Trump + Clinton/Trump voters despite Axios' discussion of Trump possibly attracting rural, white working-class voters who didn't vote for Trump in 2016.

None of these statistics are presented here to encourage complacency. The stakes of this election are obviously enormous. We know all too well the feeling of certainty that a Democratic presidential nominee seemed to have it in the bag against Donald Trump only to then unexpectedly lose to him. 

Rather, these statistics and these facts are presented to cut against the media-created narrative that Trump has suddenly found an opening. Voters overwhelmingly prefer Biden to Trump on handling of race relations. It's clear too that Trump's words and actions on this front have only hurt his campaign so far this year.

Reporters like Mitchell create their own narratives (that the Trump message "is taking") and then declare that a narrative has been formed (political scientists have written about this phenomenon). They then construct a whole arc and a booming perception that was not there before; the media did exactly this successfully with the Clinton email story in fact. They take Trump's bait on issues like this so easily that it makes you worry more that the media constructing these false narratives will do more to help Trump than the actual events on the ground

It is this same media-driven fear-mongering, based in their flawed perception of the average Wisconsin voter, that dominated the Democratic primary campaign. In CNN and MSNBC analyses of the primary debates throughout 2019 into early 2020, pundits warned that Democratic candidates lest not move too far left at risk of offending the sensibilities of The Wisconsin Voter (TM). Meanwhile, there apparently, in their view, is no consequence to Trump spewing absolute vile that does actually offend voters he is actively losing

So as these pundits sounded the alarm on proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, they created narratives about the supposed unpopularity and political risks of these ideas. They claimed The Wisconsin Voter would be turned off by such radicalism. 

As such, these same media-created narratives helped drive down support for those proposals. As support for these ideas declined, so too did support for progressive candidates in the primary. Subsequently, Democratic primary voters concerned about "electability" (and worried about The Wisconsin Voter) backed Joe Biden. 

Fast forward now to the general election and we're seeing the same media bed-wetting, "Dems in disarray" coverage applied unfortunately to Black Lives Matter protests. Never mind the outrageous injustice Jacob Blake was subjected to and how that should be at the forefront of our attention. Instead, media figures aim for provocation and for focus on what The Wisconsin Voter will think (but not Black Wisconsin voters concerned about their lives, mind you, whose turnout will be critical this fall). 

So far, the data does not back them up here. However, by creating narratives that didn't exist before and then declaring them emerging narratives, the media may succeed in bringing about that very electoral result of which they warn. Let's hope not. The best case scenario, as a friend noted to me this week, is that it does not lull us into complacency about the election.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

With 100 days left until the 2020 election, it's clearer than ever that Pennsylvania's voting laws need to improve

All views expressed here are my own and made entirely on my own behalf.

Register to vote in PA here (deadline is 10/19): https://www.votespa.com/Register-to-Vote/Pages/How-to-Register-to-Vote.aspx

Apply for a mail ballot in PA here (deadline is 10/27): https://www.votespa.com/Voting-in-PA/Pages/Mail-and-Absentee-Ballot.aspx

Sign up to do voter protection or poll watching work in PA here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfnTCfu_qnh4kJhWQyXKC-8pzSDXAWyTXYAXniem0JpSGBEsg/viewform


With 100 days left until Election Day 2020, many states and localities are scrambling to figure out how to handle voting in a pandemic. The necessity and surge of mail-in voting in many communities has overwhelmed some municipalities that have never administered an election like this in the past. At the same time, what has also become clear is just how inaccessible voting is for many Americans.

We mourned civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis' passing last week as a country. But we have never fully lived up to his vision of fair, just, and equitable voting laws for all Americans. Of course, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented massive progress in this struggle. As Lewis himself continually implored though, the work did not end there.

The U.S. Supreme Court's dangerously anti-democratic Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 opened the door for states, where disenfranchisement historically undermined democratic elections, to enact sweeping, restrictive voting laws. That Congress, in response to this ruling, has yet to pass any restoration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (including a new map to establish which states should get pre-approval from the Justice Department) is a shameful reflection on our democracy.

Sometimes though, the barriers to voting can be more pernicious and mundane than the kinds of restrictions that the Shelby County decision allowed to happen. Here in Pennsylvania, though we never saw our voter ID law enacted, we still suffer from inequities that give us election results that do not always reflect the true intent of the people.

For instance, Pennsylvania has no in-person early voting. In many other states, even traditionally red states, voters can actually go to their polling place weeks before Election Day and cast a ballot and avoid the long lines of Election Day itself. Not only are long lines a concern that can be avoided possibly with early voting but also many citizens may have important personal, professional, or medical obligations on the day of the election that would make it hard for them to vote on the day itself.

Pennsylvania also lacks same-day voter registration, another feature that some red states even enjoy. The benefit of same-day registration is that it can ease access to voting and increase turnout. Pennsylvanians who often work time-consuming, demanding jobs to make ends meet as they work to meet their individual and family obligations may overlook the need to initially register or change their registration if they move. Same-day registration can help ease those burdens so that more citizens have a greater ability to exercise their rights.

In Pennsylvania, generally speaking, if you vote by mail, your ballot must be received by the county bureau of elections by the close of polls on Election Day -- a difficult task if your ballot was not even delivered until the day before, as happened to many voters in the primary. Election Day itself is also not a state holiday so many workers may find it impractical to vote in the 7 am to 8 pm hours.

Unlike a handful of states that moved in the right direction, Pennsylvania also lacks automatic voter registration. Thus, citizens have yet another barrier to being able to exercise their right to vote as they must go through the registration process.

It is true that Pennsylvania very recently has made great strides in improving voting access. Act 77, passed in 2019, makes it such that any Pennsylvania voter, no excuse needed, can apply for a mail ballot.  You can also now apply for mail ballots online. Governor Wolf, during the primary, extended the deadline for some counties for mail ballots to be received after Election Day itself.

You can also now, thanks to the Wolf administration, register to vote online. Under Act 77, counties also have set up drop-off locations for mail ballots that are set up for several days before the election; they also can have mechanisms in place at their elections offices to allow people to walk in and vote via mail ballot right there and then at the county elections office.

However, these reforms are insufficient. If we want to honor John Lewis' legacy and protect the integrity of our democratic process, we can do more to make voting fairer and more accessible. That way, we can have a more representative government that is truly reflective of its people. The core principle of consent of the governed is at the heart of the American democratic experiment.

John Lewis understood this and his commitment to equality for all people underpinned his activism. We must embody that same activism in pushing our state legislature in Pennsylvania to enact greater reforms. One way we can see to it that that happens is by electing progressive candidates on November 3 who will advance such policies. With 100 days out, our work is cut out for us but the possibilities are as exciting as ever.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

If you had to relive any holiday every single day of the year, which holiday would it be?

Today is Groundhog Day, an annual uniquely Pennsylvania tradition. For what it's worth, Punxsutawney Phil has predicted early spring. The holiday is also the subject of the beloved 1993 film Groundhog Day. In the film, weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is forced to relive the same exact Groundhog Day every single day. That got me thinking: if you had to relive a holiday (any holiday) every single day of the year, which holiday would you choose?

Personally, I would choose the Fourth of July. It is my second favorite holiday (after Christmas) after all. The weather is usually sunny and warm, the food is delicious (BBQ, burgers, hot dogs, etc.), there is freedom to spend the day with family or friends, there is not as much heightened expectation of happiness as there is with other major holidays, and it is a beautiful celebration of our country. If I had to pick a second choice, it would probably be Christmas Eve, which I have previously described here as the best day of the year.

When I have asked this question to friends, Fourth of July has been a frequent response. Thanksgiving understandably has been a popular response as well given the amazing food and the universality of the holiday. Friends have also noted that they would at least pick a holiday where they do not have classes or work. So I pose the question now to my readers: which holiday would you choose to relieve every day of the year if you had to pick one?