October 25, 2020
Pennsylvania politicians go topless to warn voters: don't mail in 'naked ballots' whether you’re voting for Trump or Biden.
Bethany Hallam thought the best way to dress up her message that votes are in danger of not being counted in the vital swing state of Pennsylvania was to strip it down to the basics, so she did – literally.
“Do you want to get naked to save democracy?” fellow Allegheny county council member Olivia Bennett said Hallam asked her a few days ago.
“I said: OK!” Bennett recalled, laughing.
The two councilwomen recruited a third “badass”, state representative-elect Emily Kinkead, and posed for the camera, shedding their clothes and then posting the results on social media with their breasts hidden behind images of the “secrecy envelope” being sent out to Pennsylvanians along with their ballots for postal voting.
If voters mail in their ballot without putting it first in the secrecy envelope and then putting that inside the outer, addressed envelope, the authorities will not count the vote and it will be discarded as a “naked ballot”. So Hallam and her allies wanted to warn voters of the threat.
With Pennsylvania not normally allowing mass mail-in voting, and with the arcane rule about the extra envelope, officials warn that up to 100,000 votes mailed in the state during this coronavirus pandemic could end up being invalidated as naked ballots.
As every ballot matters in a vital swing state with super-thin voting margins Hallam hit on the drastic idea of getting nude herself to highlight the issue.
“Immediately when I heard the term naked ballots, and being a woman in the male-dominated environment of politics, where they are always trying to control our bodies, I thought, ‘Why not take some control back? And also get the voters’ attention,” Hallam told the Guardian.
“Races are sometimes decided by a handful of votes,” she said.
Hallam said she had fun posing joyfully for her campaign to make every vote count.
“It was empowering. And to stand alongside two other badass elected officials that I enjoy working with … we were having a blast and also helping voters,” she said.
Hallam said some other Democrats have pledged to join in, some more elected women have planned to pose for similar pictures on Monday and, later in the week, some men. She’s extended the invitation to Republicans, but none has taken her up on it yet. And she wants the general public to join in.
Since she, Bennett and Kinkead posted on a variety of social media platforms on Saturday more than a million people have viewed the posts.
There have been many supportive comments but of course some backlash.
Hallam said some guy called her parents’ home at 2am saying, “Your daughter’s tits are all over the internet”, which, technically, they aren’t.
“And someone posted, ‘I hope you socialist sluts get raped’,” Hallam said.
The women were neither surprised nor shaken.
Some have commented on Bennett’s visible tattoo of Tinkerbell flying over the logo of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bennett explained that she has always loved Disney and is a lifelong super fan of the Steelers, but added she’s been boycotting the NFL for four years since the league froze out Colin Kaepernick for his campaign to take a knee during the national anthem before games in order to highlight racism and police brutality.
Meanwhile, she said she didn’t hesitate when Hallam asked her to disrobe for her no-naked-ballots drive.
The two councilwomen often work together on their shared priority policies around criminal justice reform and police accountability, protecting the environment, promoting LGBTQ equality and protecting workers’ rights.
Hallam beat out a 20-year council incumbent last year, running on a progressive platform, and also her experience as a millennial in recovery from drug dependency, which stemmed from being prescribed opioids for back-to-back sports injuries as a high schooler, and later spending time behind bars, including six months in county jail, for related offenses.
Hallam said their naked ballots campaign is especially important right now because Pennsylvania primary races earlier this year allowed naked ballots to be counted, but then the state supreme court ruled that in November’s election, ballots not mailed in the additional secrecy envelope would not be counted.
Hallam said: “It’s confusing unless you read the small print, and no-one does that. So I had an idea … ”
Democracy is in peril ...
... ahead of this year’s US election. The Trump administration and its supporters are waging an aggressive campaign to discredit and suppress mail-in voting – a crucial method in the midst of a pandemic.
This is one of a number of attempts to suppress the votes of Americans – something that has been a stain on US democracy for decades. The Voting Rights Act was passed 55 years ago to undo a web of restrictions designed to block Black Americans from the ballot box. Now, seven years after that law was gutted by the supreme court, the president is actively threatening a free and fair election.
Through our Fight to vote project, the Guardian has pledged to put voter suppression at the center of our 2020 coverage. This election will impact every facet of American life. But it will not be a genuine exercise in democracy if American voters are stopped from participating in it.
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