Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Apr 15, 2020 in Stuff You Should Know

Voting: She’s Got a Plan for That

It seems that there’s no area of our lives that the global COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t touched–and that includes voting. In the wake of the outbreak, several states were forced to make decisions about postponing or altering their voting system in order to keep people safe from infection. Often, these decisions were hotly contested (such as in Wisconsin) or happened at the last minute, confusing potential voters (such as in Ohio). But with a presidential election less than seven months away, figuring out how to vote in the time of coronavirus needs to be a priority.

It should come as no surprise that if there’s a problem to be solved, former presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. In this case, the problem is the 2020 election cycle. Her plan involves putting $4 billion in funding toward new elections; requiring a thirty-day in-person early voting period; and sending a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the country (not just those voters who apply for one, as is currently the case) with a prepaid envelope. She also wants to get rid of some antiquated voting requirements, pause the purging of voting records during the pandemic, and create tools that would allow citizens to track their ballots.

Her ultimate goal is to have elections be more universal from state to state, with the federal government overseeing them–in other words, she (along with most Democratic leaders) believes that the voting process should look the same in South Carolina, for example, as in South Dakota. But Republican leaders disagree, saying that they believe states should be allowed to have control over their own elections. 

What Do You Think? In your opinion, should the federal government oversee elections, or should each state be in charge of their own? Why?

The Coronavirus Gender Gap

In the United States, it’s not news that women make less money than men do for the same work – especially if they are women of color. But far from leveling the economic playing field, the recent coronavirus pandemic has actually worsened the gender gap. In general, women are losing their jobs more often than men are: early statistics show that 60% of the nation’s fifteen million job cuts so far have been to women.

Usually, in a recession, the reverse is true: men are more likely to lose their jobs than women. So why is this happening now? Because women are more likely than men to work in the kinds of service industries that were the first to shut down, such as hotels, bars, restaurants, salons, and retail. Also, most single-parent households are run by women. Now that children are home from school all day, women must find a way to balance work and childcare. Those who find themselves out of work may have to postpone their job search until after children are back in school–which might be months from now.

Economic hardship is not the only challenge women are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who have kept their jobs may be at greater risk of infection: 70 percent of the world’s health care workforce is women. The United Nations has also warned that shelter-in-place orders will lead to a drastic rise in cases of domestic and intimate partner violence. Many states have cut women’s access to reproductive health care during the crisis. And because most political leaders are men, women’s voices aren’t often represented when decisions are being made about how to deal with the virus.

None of this is to say that men have it easy. The longer the economic shutdown drags on, the more men will lose their jobs as well. And economics aside, men are more likely than women to become severely ill or die after contracting the virus. Experts say that this could be for biological reasons, but there could also be a social component: infected men may wait longer than women to seek medical attention.

Dig Deeper If Americans have lost 15,000 jobs so far, and 60 percent of those job losses have been for women, roughly how many women have lost their jobs? If this trend continues, then if 20,000 Americans ultimately lose their jobs because of the pandemic, how many of these will be women?

The End of Mail?

Have you ever heard the expression “the mail must go through”? But what if it . . . doesn’t? The COVID-19 pandemic has hit some professions harder than others, and unfortunately, the U.S. postal service is one that’s really hurting. In fact, it’s possible that the postal service could lose as much as 60 percent of its revenue by the end of the year. That’s because it was already suffering, and now, with businesses and restaurants shut down, no one is sending advertisements through the mail anymore. (Have you noticed that you’ve been receiving a lot less junk mail lately?)

The postal service recently received a $10 billion loan from the federal government when Congress passed its $2 trillion emergency bill. But that’s not enough to bail the post office out. A loan only buys a small amount of time and will need to be paid back eventually. If things continue as they have been, however, the postal service will likely run out of money by June, and will no longer be able to provide its services. This would be devastating because the postal service doesn’t just deliver letters; think of all of the medications that are delivered to peoples’ homes through the mail. Not to mention the implications that such a change would have on voting via absentee ballot.

The president has indicated (at least once) that he would be fine with letting the postal service run out of money and then privatizing it–meaning, letting a private company control the mail. But that could mean that people who live in rural or out-of-the-way areas might not receive mail, or would have to pay more for the service. The U.S. postal service also has about half a million employees, making it one of the largest employers in the country. And as if having to worry about the future of their jobs weren’t enough, those postal service employees are currently operating without masks or gloves.

Dig Deeper What are the origins of the U.S. postal service? When–and why–was it established? Use Internet resources to help you determine an answer.

“Zoombombing”

Chances are that a few months ago, you’d never heard of Zoom. But you probably spend a fair amount of time on it now. In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the free video conferencing service has become so popular that “Zoom University” merchandise is now available online–a reference to the fact that most U.S. colleges and universities have shut down their in-person classes in favor of online learning. It’s even been used for virtual weddings, protests, public meetings, and informal gatherings of friends and family. To get a sense of how wildly popular it has become: according to the company, ten million people used the app on a daily basis in December. But in March, that number had skyrocketed to a whopping 200 million people.

man sitting at a desk, holding a cell phone and videoconferencing with another man on his laptop
How many video conferences have you been in during the last 30 days? Credit: Image Source

Zoom is used so often because it is free and easy to use (all you have to do to join a meeting is click a single link). But this simplicity of use also has a drawback: it’s easy for outsiders to join meetings and post inappropriate content. This sort of hijacking of Zoom meetings even has a name: “Zoombombing.” Because of this, Zoom is upping its security game.

The company has hired an outside security adviser and has pledged to do a better job prioritizing security. Law enforcement has agreed to prosecute “zoombombings.” But even so, many school districts and companies have banned the use of Zoom in favor of other, more secure online meeting applications.

Dig Deeper While Zoom has its flaws, it’s still used by many millions of people every day. Use online resources to help you compile a list of five things Zoom users can do to make their meetings more secure.