Television critics know the idiom “jumping the shark” well, which comes from a 1977 episode of “Happy Days,” where Fonzie inexplicably jumps over a captive shark on water skis while wearing swim shorts and his trademark leather jacket – while serving no real purpose other than … well … jumping over a shark on water skis. Since that moment, “jumping the shark” has been applied to any show or movie that has done something outrageous or unbelievable in the scope of its own universe in an attempt to generate discussion or repair hemorrhaging viewership.
Needless to say, if “Life on Earth” were an intergalactic sitcom, any self-respecting extraterrestrial audience member wouldn’t be clamoring for Season 2021 after the absurd, shark-jump-filled year that has defined Season 2020.
After a relatively normal start – despite a new lead character from Season 2016 who has consistently rewritten the show universe’s well-established rules week in and week out – Season 2020 launched a pandemic narrative that uprooted the status quo even further. It then tacked on widespread social unrest and unprecedented economic uncertainty. In a final sigh-inducing twist, the main character finally caught the disease he had mocked publicly since its inception only to suffer no serious consequences from it and continue with the same laissez-faire attitude about it after his recovery.
As if all that wasn’t unbelievable enough, 2020 also happens to be the year where that controversial main character faces potential defeat in an incredibly consequential election. And since the “Life on Earth” showrunners chose a pandemic as the plot-driving element of conflict for the season, this also guarantees heightened drama during and after the election. Compelling drama, sure, but so unrealistic! What convenient timing, Earth producers!
We’ll drop the analogy at this point – but the premise remains unfortunately truthful. So many chaotic elements are colliding ahead of November 3 that it seems reality itself has jumped the shark. But in this case, there's no Henry Winkler, the shark isn’t caged and there’s no script for how the stunt will end.
The pandemic has necessitated the ability for millions of Americans to vote by mail – something that should be completely and inarguably supported by anybody who actually cares about having a safe and effective election. Unfortunately, that is not the approach that has been taken by President Trump and establishment Republicans – who see voting by mail as a detriment to their re-election chances rather than an essential part of the democratic process in the midst of a global health crisis.
Despite having no evidence to back such a monumental claim up, their rallying cry – which is now also coming straight from the mouth of the Attorney General of the United States – has become that voting by mail will open the floodgates of corruption and potential voter fraud. If you want to do your own research, the New York Times Magazine recently published a painstaking report that showed without question how there is no basis for that claim in reality.
Add to the mix that the Trump Administration has taken multiple steps to defund and delegitimize the nonpartisan Post Office – including appointing a director with a direct conflict of interest – and the concern is that voting by mail will become a complete disaster that allows President Trump to delegitimize the process entirely, and possibly not accept the results of an election that winds up declaring him the loser.
In our small corner of the country, a coalition of voting rights advocates are trying to get Governor Raimondo to commit to allowing vote by mail ballots to be counted up to three days following the election so long as they were postmarked by election day. Such a provision already exists for deployed military members and Rhode Islanders living overseas, so why not for regular Rhode Islanders amidst an unprecedented health crisis?
There is no legitimate reason to not provide this additional time to ensure that all Rhode Island voters can have their voices heard – especially when there is legitimate reason to be doubtful that the Post Office will be equipped to adequately handle the increased burden of what will undoubtedly be the most mail-in ballots in Rhode Island history. Thousands of potential votes could be lost if this step is not taken.
The fundamental right to vote and choose our leaders through an election is too much of a foundational pillar to allow even a few Rhode Islanders to be disenfranchised due to circumstances outside their control. Governor, we join the growing chorus of voices asking for the three-day extension for counting mail-in votes.