It’s All in the Delivery: the USPS and Voting

by: Subaita Rahman

Lately, amongst the throes of social distancing, voter fraud, and mail-in ballots, some certain familiar shorts-clad people have taken center stage: the United States Postal Service. 

The USPS has been the center of heated discussion these past few months, with the looming questions of voting during a pandemic and having a socially-distanced election, especially with concerns of funding and voter fraud. The President, in particular, verbalized some of these concerns by threatening to cut funding from the USPS earlier this year, made even more complicated by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who just so happens to be a major Trump donor with strong ties to the Republican party, and his recent efforts to cut costs before the end of USPS’ fiscal year on September 30. Additionally, the USPS just announced major changes in its leadership, which could mean delays of paychecks, medicine deliveries, and of course, mail-in ballots for voters, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer in a letter sent to DeJoy.

We’ve been hearing a lot about how USPS is on the brink of going under, but it’s important to recognize that there’s more to the story. DeJoy claims to put forward these changes in order to reduce costs and help the USPS “capture new revenue”, even though the USPS doesn’t operate for profit. Additionally, Trump claims that Congress will need to give $25 billion in order to build up the USPS again, which is proven to be untrue. One thing we need to ask is, does the USPS even need more money?

Earlier this year it was said that the USPS would run out of money by late September, but with the new surge of pandemic-related shipping, that date has been rolled back to March 2021. Still, in this era of digital ordering and big competitors, it’s no secret that the USPS has to put up a fight to keep up. Though Amazon and FedEx are both competition and colleagues of the USPS and each other, both are growing at a pace where soon they might not need the USPS’s infrastructure anymore. This makes their current frenemy status a little awkward, considering they’re the USPS’s biggest source of revenue. 

However, what critics are worried about is that throwing a fat blank check at the USPS won’t help. At the moment, the USPS’s main method for survival has been to slow their roll and close down certain boxes and stations to not lose any more money. Instead, the Congressional measures and the motions from DeJoy require them to continue delivering on days when they won’t have business, keep open underutilized offices, and refrain from raising prices to support themselves, all while cutting down on overtime and benefits. In short, by not allowing them to cut down, they’re forcing the USPS to steadily bleed out by performing as if nothing’s happening, which can cause some serious damage. 

These changes will, of course, influence voting. If the USPS is forced to be more inefficient, their capacity to deal with the surge of ballots is weakened and mail-in voting could be delayed, which could absolutely affect the outcome of the upcoming election. We’re on the verge of having an election unlike any other in American history, with each state taking some stance on normalizing a postal vote.

One big concern shared by both parties is the opportunity for voter fraud. As we already know, mail-in ballots slow down the election process by a lot of time, which is generally a source of unease, especially in such a charged election. Additionally, there are a handful of ways to have your ballot not count, including signs of it being wet, or forgetting a signature on the envelope; election officials expressed that so far nearly 20% of all mail-in votes had to be discarded for similar reasons, and according to an analysis by NPR, nearly 550,000 votes were discarded in this year’s presidential primaries. In September, the U.S. Department of Justice shared an instance where nine military votes were discarded, seven of which were cast for Trump, and while there were no signs of the discards being intentional, this example has been referenced plenty in the argument against the validity and integrity of mail-in voting.

Yet, many studies show that voter fraud occurrences are remarkably low, perhaps because of this rigorous standard. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice conducted in 2017, the rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004% and 0.0009%. Similar studies show only four instances of official voter fraud in 2016, and very low numbers overall in the history of mail-in voting.

However, as mentioned earlier, we’re in unprecedented times, and postal voting of this volume has never happened before. There have been instances of voter tampering already, involving misleading ballot boxes, isolated cases of fraud like the Republican candidate tampered with voting papers in the 2018 North Carolina primary, and cases from New York and New Jersey earlier this year eventually leading to two Democratic councilors being charged for alleged fraud after a post box was found stuffed with hundreds of ballots. So, while instances are low, they’re certainly not impossible, which can be cause for plenty of concern.

Still, there are safeguards and provisions in place to prevent people from stealing or impersonating other votes, including required signatures on envelopes and checking that the ballots came from your registered address, which are implemented for all postal votes, absentee or not. With all this in mind, the least we can do is make sure that our vote can count. 

These times are confusing, but there are a few measures to take to ensure a smooth voting experience. If you are eligible to vote, please be sure to double-check the last day for you to register (October 19 in California) and mail in your ballot. Also, here are some ways to make sure your vote gets counted. Go out there and vote – not even Dursley can stop you!

Young Money

By Subaita Rahman

Considering the political climate of where we are, chances are high that you’ve already been given the spiel of the importance of young voter turnout in at least one of your classes (or if not, you might be taking the wrong classes). Illustrated by the fact that young people account for half the eligible voting population, yet show up at alarmingly low rates (less than 20% of us voted in 2016), it’s clear that many feel disillusioned by our influence in the polls, because in the grand scale of things, how much difference can one person make? In truth, the real tried and tested question here is the sheer power of one age demographic showing up to the polls, and the answers speak for themselves.

So far, the presence of young voters in elections have made huge differences in the direction campaigns have been heading. Barack Obama’s presidency was arguably made possible largely by the young voters at the time choosing to show their enthusiasm for his campaign and presidency; in 2008, 66% of young voters under 30 voted for Obama, making the disparity between age demographics the largest it’s been since 1972. Similarly, his popularity with young voters did him great favors again in 2012, as the majority of the 22 million young voters who chose to show up decisively won him crucial states like Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 

Now, I’m sure many of us can agree that some of the most amusing (and sometimes simultaneously the cringiest) things on the internet are the desperate attempts of corporations and prominent figures trying to be relatable to the youth. Though these attempts sometimes miss the mark, it does say a lot that an entire marketing team is probably behind the decision of running a Hamburger Helper Twitter account (and apparently, mixtape?). This urgency is carried over in politics as well; Tom Steyer, a Democratic philanthropist active in clean energy and climate change action who just recently dropped out of the race, aimed to spend $4 million on ads targeting young voters. We are the first people they’re trying to reach on the internet, with Sanders and Bloomberg spending the most targeting people aged 18-34 on Facebook. As weird as it is to see Tik Toks on gun control and economic inequality, you have to acknowledge why they’re trying so hard to speak our language.

We can also see a few examples of low youth voter turnout inevitably worked against the interest of young people, a more recent popular example being on Brexit. When the U.K. voted to leave the EU earlier last year in a 52% to 48% vote, even though an overwhelming majority of young voters chose to stay in the EU, simply not enough of them voted. According to the BBC, while 90% of voters aged 65 and older voted, only around 64% of 18-24-year-olds voted (still significantly higher than American youth turnout). Because of this, conversations on economic equity, healthcare, and job security are now resurfacing and less secure than ever, and it will affect the younger demographic disproportionately higher.

The truth is, the outcomes of elections like the upcoming presidential election or Brexit make the biggest difference on us in particular. Historically, the Great Recession hit young populations more than anyone else back in 2008 and beyond: student debt issues skyrocketed, newly entering professionals struggled to find their footing, and homeownership dropped significantly. Think about where we’ll be in four years; many of us will be graduated, looking at graduate school or careers, maybe even houses and families. Even if you think you don’t care now, you will have plenty of reason to care within the next four years, or even within the next few months as responses to things like viral disease prevention and gun control resurface. With all the attempts to reach the young demographic and the decisive outcomes we’ve influenced in recent elections, it’s no wonder those seeking power often take our opinions and influence more seriously than even we do. The least we can do at this point is to show what we actually want.

To find your polling station or check on registration status, be sure to visit https://www.vote.org/ . See you on Tuesday!

College Student Learns How to Read

By Subaita Rahman

My biggest motivation to start working in the library this summer and school year, besides the comfort of being able to listen to music and occasionally do my homework during work, was the hope that I would rediscover my love for books. 

Like many others’, my child and preteen years were full of incessant, almost fanatical reading, especially with series like Harry Potter (my favorite indie series) and Percy Jackson (which deserved better!). It came to the point where I adopted characters and their houses, traits, factions, etc. as literal personality traits, and anyone who knew me in sixth grade can attest to just how obnoxious that was, but also how weirdly passionate I was about devouring books and immediately looking towards the next one. 

Then came college reading. *cue audience groan*

To be perfectly clear, this article is being written by someone who will probably never be fully caught up on class reading; I am pretty much always flying by the seat of my pants in terms of understanding the dozens of pages of theses and academic papers I’m supposed to have read before lecture or discussion. You could say it’s kind of fun, kind of thrilling (it’s not). Nonetheless, this seems to be working for me to some extent, which is why I passively remain in this weird limbo of knowing there is always reading and catching up to be done but also lacking any sort of drive to finish it. I comfort myself by assuming that there are probably many of us out there, but I also wouldn’t impose this advice on anyone else, as I most likely will be in deep regret in six weeks. But I digress.

Unfortunately, this general difficulty of me to find motivation to read and understand these unnecessarily difficult academic papers has now become my primary (and only) reading experience now, which could not be more different than the passion I had growing up. A sense of guilt might come over when thinking about reading recreationally, because it’s assumed that if I were to read, it would be better for me to spend time reading the pieces I have to read first, i.e. my class assignments. What happens is I usually spend the exact same time I could’ve spent reading on another form of distraction that is probably much less fulfilling. And now, I’m used to having such a short attention span from these forms of distractions and media that even recreational books have been harder and harder for me to fully dive into again.

I’m here to say that we (okay, pretty much just I) have to accept two basic truths:

  1. There will always be something to do for your classes. 
  2. You’ll also always have something to distract you by (aka, free time being made whether you planned on it or not)

Frankly, I find that it’s okay to accept that some of your time will be wasted (which is also a topic for another time), and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we’ll be more comfortable with picking up a fun book than picking up our phone for “5 min of scrolling” that inevitably turns into 30. The book may be a more obvious diversion of attention from what’s productive (as I very much encourage not reading something academic unless it truly interests you), but I don’t need to sit here and tell you how helpful breaks in studying can be. Let’s at least make them breaks we can be happy to have taken. 

P.S. I did actually read more this summer, thank you for asking.

C’s Get Degrees

By Subaita Rahman

I came to Cal knowing I was going to switch my major. I didn’t know to what, nor could I really pinpoint why, but I just knew I didn’t want to settle until I felt truly content with what I was studying.

Here, a year and a half later, about to declare my major as Political Economy, I’m trying to think back to what feeling I was looking for when I made my first switch into L&S from CNR. I don’t think I’ve found it, but frankly I have to say I’m glad about that.

I’ve realized that finding a field of study where I come in feeling 100% comfortable might not exactly be possible, but more importantly shouldn’t be the goal. Growth is good, challenge is good, and I’ve found a little bit of uneasiness allowed me to keep my mind open to possibilities and not have tunnel vision over a goal, which has so far left me pleasantly surprised with what I can find out there. So, with this in mind, I’ve learned to accept a sort of positive lack of comfort in what I was doing, and a sense that even if I might not love something 100% right now, I probably will get close to that eventually, because I love it just enough for now. And with that, I clutch my declaration forms a little harder.

However, certain discomfort can come from a tougher place to crack, and this is where much more growth had to occur.

As a woman, I find it’s easy for me to feel out of my depth in a room of majority-male upper-division classes for my major, or to be easily bummed by lower grades due to a strange need for me to prove to myself and to who-else-knows that I deserve a spot to excel, too. If you hear your own thoughts here, you’re not being dramatic – actual research indicates that women are more likely to feel discouraged and drop out from a B- grade in a class than their male peers, and to take it into account more heavily when considering long-term career decisions. Statistics points to women spending more time studying and being disproportionately affected by a desire to get straight A’s in a subject they’re choosing to major in, further cementing this tendency to drop out of a major when this desired result isn’t achieved.

Maybe you’ve witnessed this yourself, too – the feeling of self-doubt that comes when you pull a B in your introductory Econ class, wondering if you should really stick around when, to you, you don’t even seem to be all that great at it. Meanwhile, maybe the guy down your hall is taking his B as a green-light to go forth and prosper, enough of an indication that he’s not half-bad at what he’s doing and can skate by the next Econ class.

And it’s true: he’s not half-bad at it, and neither are you. Whether this is a feminist issue or a personal issue over not feeling welcome or feeling unnatural pressure in the field you’re going into, it’s okay to lower the standard for yourself if you feel it’s worth it in the long run. The “C’s get degrees” mindset might not be totally universal, but it’s still worth it to keep in mind that B’s and C’s will not doom you, either. There are actual, legitimate barriers for women in so many fields, be it systematic or social, and the knowledge of this is psyching us out too early. Be kind to yourself, because you still need someone on your side.

(And as a tip, it might be useful to start carrying the confidence of an underqualified man during an interview in your own outlook, too. If they’re so ready to accept mediocrity, why can’t we?)