Attacks on the efficacy of voting by mail are attacks on people’s right to cast ballots: Lt. Governor

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II (D), joins Yahoo Finance to address news of federal agents being sent to Detroit and concerns surrounding mail-in voting.

Video Transcript

- So Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us today. I want to start on that point of federal law enforcement being sent to cities across the country. They've been clashing with Black Lives Matter protesters, and they're set to be sent to Detroit next. Now, in the-- in the announcement, excuse me-- Attorney General Barr said, quote, "We have extended Operation Legend to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee, three cities that have seen disturbing increases in violent crime, particularly homicides."

Now, I've listened to some of your interviews. You guys have said that you're exploring all options to prevent this. I mean, what options right now are on the table for Michigan, and do you actually think that you'll be able to prevent those federal agents from coming to a city of Detroit?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: Well, thank you for having me on the show with you today. And this is a really critical issue. You know, what we're concerned about is the prospect of President Trump and his administration inserting violence and increasing and escalating violence into any situation they touch, which is clearly the posture that they choose to take on a regular basis.

You know, there has always been law enforcement cooperation and coordination between local and federal officials, so to the extent that this is part of a natural operation partnership, then that's a different conversation. But if they are coming in to do the types of things that we have seen in Portland, where you have had, you know, what I would call very literal kidnappings, unmarked people snatching people from the street, putting them into unmarked vehicles, and taking them to god knows where, that's unacceptable. The people who've been demonstrating here in the state of Michigan and in the city of Detroit in particular, where I live and where I'm speaking with you from right now, they have so much respect for, frankly, what they're calling for, they're doing so in a peaceful, and nonviolent, and effective way.

Now, I know that our local law enforcement here in the city has been working hard to address some of both the fatal and nonfatal shootings. And I trust local law enforcement to tackle that, and I'm not actually clear that they need federal help.

- So you say that, you know, protests have been largely nonviolent. Why, then, do you think that the Detroit police chief James Craig recently said that Detroit actually has seen a spike in crime, largely because of coronavirus and recent protests?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: Well, I don't want to speak for the chief's analysis. But what I will say is that, you know, there have always been, sort of, seasonal changes when it comes to numbers. But what I want us to focus on is the fact that in order for us to really deliver public safety in our communities, we have to be focused on the types of investments we need to make in our communities.

And so, you know, as an administration, you know, we've been thinking about what we can make as far as investments with public health, not just in the context of COVID, but, frankly, broadly, access to that, but also access to other types of opportunities. What does it mean to have a summer jobs program in the summer of COVID-19? How can we connect people with opportunities and things that they could do in their community that are safe and also productive and constructive?

And so our administration is supposed to be focused on that while closing those health disparities. And we believe by doing those things, we'll deliver, really, what it means to be safe. Because people think about when they were their safest, it wasn't when they were policed. You're safest when you're invested in.

- I wanted to switch over and talk about the issue of mail fraud voting and President Trump saying that he would possibly postpone the elections. What is Michigan's game plan for election day? Are you gonna have polls open, or are they gonna be closed? Are you gonna do mail-in voting ballots? What are you gonna do?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: The president has been trying to set up the country for this okey-doke in trying to reject election results since the beginning, and that's because he is afraid that he is going to lose this election. He has threatened our our Secretary of State directly here in the state of Michigan for following not only the constitution of our state, but the will of the people of Michigan who voted in 2018 to expand no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to every voter in the State of Michigan in 2018 on the same ballot that I was elected Lieutenant Governor on.

So our plan is to make every voting option available to people. We've mailed every voter an absentee ballot application, and we hope that people will choose to vote safely and vote by mail. For those who cannot or may not want to, we will also have in-person options.

There will be nothing standing between you and your franchise except Donald Trump's misinformation in the state of Michigan. And we're working against that to combat that. And we believe, ultimately, that voters are gonna, you know, step up, because their democracy is too important to be lied to by Donald Trump.

- So Lieutenant Governor, I was actually reading an article a little bit earlier today that highlighted, specifically amongst the black community, the mistrust and the skepticism around mail-in voting and worried, frankly, about issues of disenfranchisement. I mean, what would you say to the voters of Michigan, black voters of Michigan particularly, that are concerned that, you know, if they do this mail-in ballot, if they do an absentee ballot, that their vote, frankly, is not going to be counted?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: Look, I hear that specifically. The reason-- I got into public life because I ran to be a local election administrator here in Detroit. I've heard those same concerns about the challenges of trusting what happens to your ballot after you put it in the mail.

What I'd offer is this. We've been expanding access, again, to absentee voting, which is gonna be by far the safest way to vote this election. And we don't think that people in Michigan should have to do what happened in other states, to choose between their democratic rights and their public health, in a pandemic that has impacted the black community much more disproportionately.

But what I say is we've actually offered expanded choices for where people can turn in their ballots in person as well. So if you fill out your ballot at home, you can go drop it off. I'm trying to model that behavior. My wife and I will be dropping off our ballots at a drop-off location in the city of Detroit rather than being concerned about the mail. Because what we have seen is those same people who are concerned about what happens with the ballot in the mail feel much more confident when they're able to take it to someone in person. So we're actually encouraging those efforts in a lot of parts of the state as well.

- So on the point of mail-in voting and, essentially, the allegations of fraud that the president has raised several times over these tweets-- I know we have one. Hopefully, the folks at home are able to see that there, what the president had been tweeting about fraud with mail-in voting. I do have to ask, because just here, you yourself, just a couple of years ago, three years ago, when you were running for Detroit Clerk, had alleged fraud in your election.

So I'm wondering if something has happened inside the state of Michigan that would alleviate any fears or concerns that the folks of Michigan, and also abroad across the country, might have around mail-in voting?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: No, so I certainly have alleged that ballots have been mishandled. I did not allege fraud, because frankly, voter fraud, especially by mail-in ballot, is something that happens less than people getting struck by lightning in the world. And so this really isn't-- this is a solution that doesn't have a problem.

And so I think that it's clear that attacks on the efficacy of voting by mail are attacks on people's right to cast ballots. And that's what the president is trying to do to intimidate people out of voting. And certainly, in the state of Michigan, we have protections in place to make sure that when people vote, there will be confidence in the system.

Our Secretary of State has implemented some very important systems. And we had a chance to practice this, actually, in our elections that happened in our state in May, in the jurisdictions that had elections during COVID-19, what it meant to see an increase in vote-by-mail, how we need to support our local election officials. And frankly, more of that support needs to come from the federal government.

If the Senate would pass the Heroes Act, there would be money in there for voting by mail that will go to local election administrators. We put up $256 million of state money for this purpose, and we need more support from the federal government to make sure that voting is safe, voting is trustworthy, and that people can have a chance to exercise their rights.

- So this election, also the protests that we've been talking about, I mean, all of this is happening with the pandemic as the background. And I want to ask you about your work with the task force that you've set up looking at the health disparity and the outcomes that we have been covering here now for months. And I wonder, really, what you're finding.

How-- I know it's a myriad issues that are going to be part of this, but do you think it's implicit bias? Do you think that it is access to health care? Is it health issues that people have? What are you finding in terms of why we have these big disparities?

GARLIN GILCHRIST: Well, let's take a step back and think about why we created this task force in the first place. We made a decision at the very beginning when COVID set foot on the United States shores, before it came to Michigan in a confirmed way, that we were going to track how this impacted different racial groups, ethnic minorities, because we know that there have been disparities for generations in our state and in our nation. So we were one of the first states to even report out these numbers when it comes to coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths. And so we had the numbers to support the fact that we needed to take a deeper look at this, and we were the first state to take a full-throated statewide approach to this problem.

We found three big categories of issues. One is that as we had constrained testing supply due to the Trump administration's lack of a national strategy and lack of interest in getting people tested, we had to look at why people weren't able to get tests. We had to ramp up our state supply chain on testing kits and infrastructure. And as we ramped that up, the task force made specific recommendations on protocol expansion to make sure that the most vulnerable people could get tested first so we didn't with more stories of black families begging doctors in Detroit or in Grand Rapids for tests and not being able to get them.

We also recognize-- your question of implicit bias-- that when you have a choice point, because of that constraint, when you are a medical professional put in this impossible position to choose who got a test and who didn't, there is an opportunity at every choice point for bias to be present. So that is why we both sent a letter to every medical professional informing them of the possibility of medical bias being present, and then we took it a step further a few weeks ago to actually start the rule-making process so that as a requirement of the renewal or the obtaining of a medical professional license in the state of Michigan, implicit bias training needed to be part of that.

The other two pieces, quickly, that we found were also just the types of jobs that black people and people of color are over-represented in happened to be those jobs that were working throughout this entire pandemic. People were putting themselves at risk being bus drivers, and sanitation workers, and front line health professionals, or the administrative staff that support our health care workers, utility workers, et cetera.

So we put in place workplace protocols for those types of job functions. And that's really important, because you can be protected at work when you have to go to work in a pandemic. You're less likely to bring the disease home to a member of your household.

And the last piece is that lack of connection to the health care system due to historic discrimination, the fact that there aren't even doctors in too many neighborhoods in Detroit that are accessible. So we worked on connecting people to primary care physicians to help them manage their COVID-19 treatment as well their long-term health.