The Kansas City Star, Aug. 17

It’s been two weeks since the U.S. Postal Service informed Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office that Missouri voters are going to have to post mail-in ballots at least a full week before Election Day to make sure they arrive in time to be counted.

Yet we only heard about this after reporters contacted his office on Friday to see if Ashcroft had by any chance gotten the same letter that Pennsylvania officials had received. The director of the Kansas City Election Board said he had heard nothing about it, either.

When Pennsylvania officials received that message, they responded by petitioning their state Supreme Court to extend the voting deadline. As they should have, to avoid disenfranchising any voters.

Ashcroft has not only done nothing of the sort, but said in a statement, “This is a non-issue in Missouri. You can vote safely in person on Election Day, and we have already proven that three times in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.”

There is no comparison between turnout in local and primary elections and a presidential year general election. Missouri is currently a COVID-19 red zone, and neither Ashcroft nor anyone else can know how safe in-person voting will be in November.

Ashcroft has made Missouri much less reliant on the U.S. Postal Service, he says, by extending the period during which voters can request a mail-in ballot, and allowing voters to do that by email. And he has often told the story of a St. Louis woman who mailed her ballot for a municipal election six days before Election Day. Her ballot took 14 days to arrive.

Only, an anecdote and an official warning from the U.S. Postal Service are two different things. And how again is all of this a non-issue in Missouri?

We’ll never know when or even if Ashcroft would have filled us in about the July 31 letter from Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president for the USPS, which said that the Postal Service “cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate for the requirements of state election law.” Under current Missouri law, ballots that haven’t been received by Election Day, which is November 3, just won’t count. Officials in 46 states and D.C. received such letters.

According to Ashcroft’s own anecdote, even mailing in a ballot a week before Election Day might not be enough, so why not follow Pennsylvania’s example and make sure those ballots count?

All of this would be fishy enough on its own, but it came just a day after President Donald Trump said in front of God, Maria Bartiromo and her Fox Business Network audience that he doesn’t support either election aid for states or emergency funding for the Postal Service to make sure all ballots are counted. Why? Because, he says, Democratic mail-in ballots are suspect.

“The reason the post office needs that much money,” he told White House reporters on Thursday, “is they have all of these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere and nobody knows from where and where they’re going.”

That’s false. Trump, who has himself requested a mail-in ballot in Florida, keeps claiming without any evidence that mail-in voting will lead to massive voter fraud. Since he claimed massive fraud even when he won, also without any evidence, we’ll be hearing fraud charges regardless.

The safeguards in place for the mail-in voting he opposes are the same as for the mail-in absentee voting he supports: Florida, he says “has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor. Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott, two great governors. They’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida is different from other states.” Not really, though Florida has no-excuse absentee voting, which Republicans in Missouri and elsewhere have opposed.

To make voting by mail even harder, Louis DeJoy, the longtime GOP fundraiser and top Trump donor the president appointed to serve as postmaster general, has ordered the removal of mailboxes and mail sorting machines all over the country. That’s also happened in Missouri and Kansas, for vague reasons that supposedly involve making the U.S. Postal Service more efficient, though what’s happened so far is just the opposite. Four such machines have been removed this summer from post offices in Kansas City.

It’s illegal for anyone connected to the Postal Service to willfully delay the mail, and DeJoy has only acknowledged that “there have been unintended consequences related to these efforts” — efforts to cut costs, he means — “that have impacted overall service levels.” What a coincidence.

Also coincidentally, the Republican National Committee is spending millions to fight the expansion of mail-in voting, even in the middle of a pandemic, and is preparing to challenge every possible mail-in Democratic ballot. Conservative lobbies are on the case, too. Charles Koch has been waging war on the USPS for decades.

As the Kansas City Democrat, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, said, “The country is watching in slow motion the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service.”

Yet most Republicans have just kept walking as older Americans suffer needlessly because they’re not getting their prescription drugs and other necessities delivered on time. If this is an unintended consequence, DeJoy should be fired for incompetence. If he’s delaying the mail on purpose, he should be fired for breaking the law.

Democratic Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, whose mother works for the Postal Service, has called for his ouster. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely, as long as he’s doing exactly what the president wants by effectively undermining the mail service ahead of the election.

But Davids also said this: “What we need right now is for our Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate to make sure that they’re informing the president just how important the Postal Service is, and I’ve not seen that.”

Neither have we, and even now, that’s stunning.

Last month, Vanity Fair reported that the Trump administration had been planning a strong, coordinated national response to COVID-19 until Jared Kushner’s private working group became convinced that the pandemic was going to hit blue states far harder than red ones, so never mind. But it didn’t work out that way, did it?

Slowing the mail in hopes of delaying Democratic ballots is not only just as indifferent to human life, but just as unlikely to impact only Joe Biden supporters.

On Friday, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s office said he’s been trying for months to schedule a meeting with DeJoy but hasn’t been able to. DeJoy is too busy trashing mail processing machines to meet with a U.S. senator from his own party?

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt did tell reporters he supports some additional money to help the states “do our best to be sure that the November elections are held safely and results are available.” And it’s true that, as Blunt also said, every day’s delay in reaching a COVID-19 relief bill deal will make those funds less effective, because the injection of cash is needed now.

That’s why members of the House and Senate should be in Washington working on a deal instead of at home on break until after Labor Day. On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called House members back to D.C. to vote on a bill that would protect the USPS.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts told reporters he had no comment on funding for the U.S. Postal Service. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has only said that delays in the mail ahead of an election are unacceptable. So why don’t Republicans support the emergency funding that would make the unacceptable impossible?

As this sabotage becomes more undeniable, it’s looking more and more like an election in which every voter who possibly can is going to need to mask up and show up in person to cast a ballot. Then we’re going to have to be prepared for a long and contentious wait for results, even if this is not what democracy is supposed to look like.


The Emporia Gazette, Aug. 15

Look, I get it. Masks aren’t fun. They are annoying, hot, scratchy, make it literally pointless to apply our favorite shade of lipstick, and no matter how cute the fabric is, they are not (and never will be) fashionable to wear. Ever.

I also get that there is a tremendous amount of debate about the efficacy of wearing a cloth mask to stop the spread of disease. Aside from N95s, it’s pretty difficult to unequivocally claim that cloth masks are the answer to curbing COVID numbers. The debate is real.

There. Those are my disclaimers.

But then, there’s this:

Who wants their kids back in their school building every day?

Who wants to cheer on their favorite football team from a stadium crammed with other screaming fans?

Who wants to meet friends at a local restaurant without the awkwardness of face coverings, 6-foot guidelines, and caution tape blocking off adjacent tables?

If your answer, “I do!” to any of the above, then, we have to wear our masks.

I know for many people it seems like a contradiction in terms to give up your freedom in order to gain your freedom. But that’s how it works, folks. That’s the country we live in.

And actually, it’s nothing new. We’ve been living under governmental mandates, rules, and regulations since we were born — since our nation was born. The thing is, it works so well for us that we don’t even realize that that structure of governance is there. We live in the land of the free because of them.

It’s nice to be able to jump in your car, roll the top down, and — in the words of the Doobie Brothers — “fly down the highway with your foot on the floor,” isn’t it?

That’s because we have laws that keep traffic moving in the same direction, speed limits that keep us safe, and highway regulations that, for the common good, keep things civil on the roadways.

Or take that vehicle, for example, the one you saved you hard-earned money for, the one you’ve actually named because you love it so much. You can sleep easy at night knowing it’s tucked inside your garage and your neighbor isn’t going to come over and just drive it off into the sunset and call it theirs — at least not without some serious consequences.

That’s because there are laws on the books that prohibit that kind of barbaric behavior.

Or take your prescription medicines, the ones that keep your child’s asthma under control, your cholesterol from clogging your arteries, or your loved-ones heart condition from getting worse. We take those for granted too, don’t we?

That’s because the FDA has regulations that tightly control the drug market in the U.S., ensuring we have safe medicines on the market, ones that help us, not kill us. Thank goodness! It sounds crazy, but I’m certainly thankful we don’t have the “freedom” to concoct our own potions at home and sell them to sick or dying friends under the guise of “medicine.”

It’s a privilege to live in the “land of the free,” but it’s easy to forget that the only reason we can do so is because of the laws that allow it.

And wearing a mask is no different. With a sick nation, not much else is really possible.

The 17th-century English political-theorist John Locke wrote, “Where there is no law, there is no freedom,” a premise that our founding fathers used to build our nation upon nearly 250 years ago.

And he was right. True freedom isn’t the absence of law, it’s because of it.

Abiding by the state mandate to wear masks in public places isn’t an infringement on our freedoms. On the contrary, it’s a tool to give us back the freedom of life as we knew it. I don’t know anyone who would agree that a nation under the grip of disease and death is anything close to living a life of freedom. We are seeing it happen right now, in front of our own eyes.

I want life to go back to the good ole’ days before COVID took over. And I don’t know anyone in their right mind who doesn’t.

So instead of thrusting this nation into more of a state of shutdown for even one more minute, can we all just agree that the biggest threat to our freedom is this pandemic — not the wearing of masks.

In the name of the life we all used to know and love, please mask up.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 16

We use it to conduct business, stay connected and informed, do schoolwork, pay bills and, yes, occasionally entertain ourselves.

There’s no avoiding it: Use of the Internet is no longer a luxury but rather a necessity of daily life.

It’s a critical tool, even more so in a world of social distancing. However, not everyone in the sunflower state is connected to the web.

The Kansas Broadband Map, released last year by the nonprofit Connected Nation, showed that 3.5% of the state’s population, or 90,000 residents, lack internet access. This is a real problem especially in the more rural parts of our state.

In our view, no Kansan should be denied access to this tool.

So imagine for a second a Kansas with a better connection. Could that mean more business through e-commerce? Better access to health care through telehealth? Faster surfing speeds making learning about that actor, coach or politician come quicker? Less lag on video calls or streaming services? It’s an emphatic yes.

And it’s no longer theoretical. We’re heading that way.

Last week, the state’s Finance Council approved the use of $60 million in grants to build up the Kansas’ broadband infrastructure.

The money, Andrew Bahl reported, will come from the state’s allotment of federal CARES Act funding and will be funneled out in two separate grant programs. One, a $50 million pot, will aim to bolster internet speeds in underserved areas, while the remaining $10 million is designed to specifically help low-income residents.

It’s about time we as a state invested in our state’s broadband.

Kansas Commerce Secretary Dave Toland said more broadband access was “the most important economic development issue of our time.”

“For the first time, the state of Kansas has the resources to do something about broadband, rather than just talk and study, as we have for 20 years,” Toland said.

He couldn’t be more correct and we’re excited to see what comes of it. Kansas has a long history of innovative thinkers, business owners and commercial successes. Maybe the next Pizza Hut, White Castle, Boeing or Sprint will come about because of this initial investment.

Because this money has to be spent within the year we’re likely to see some improvements very soon, too.

We appreciate the efforts made by the Finance Council members and we understand this is just a first step. There will be more work to come, but for a moment let’s celebrate the investment we’re making in Kansas.

The internet is a wonderful tool that allows us to connect with the outside world without ever leaving our spot. It educates us, helps us stay healthy, entertains us and gets us the stuff we need, but most importantly, it connects us.