Our Vote … In The Hands Of SCOTUS

Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina knows of what he speaks:  A Democrat, he was re-elected to a second term as governor in 2020. Before becoming governor, he served four terms as attorney general. He was a state senator for 10 years before that, including serving a few years as the majority leader. He also held a seat in the State House of Representatives earlier in his career.  And when he speaks, I think we should sit up and take note.  Yesterday, he spoke in the form of an OpEd in the New York Times on the subject of Moore v Harper, the case before the Supreme Court that could upend fair and honest elections in the U.S.  His views help clarify just what is at stake, and should be required reading!


North Carolina’s Governor Says a Fringe Claim Before the Supreme Court Would Upend Democracy

Governor Roy Cooper

05 December 2022

Over the past six months, the United States Supreme Court has handed down one misguided ruling after another, stripping Americans of the constitutional right to an abortion, curtailing the regulation of guns and industrial emissions, and muddying the divide between church and state. The people have protested. They’ve organized. And in 2022, they voted.

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the June decision on abortion, the majority wrote that “women are not without electoral or political power.” That’s one thing they got right, and Republicans found that out the hard way in the November midterm elections that they expected to win big. Now, however, the very ability to exercise electoral and political power at the ballot box is hanging in the balance in a case the court is scheduled to hear on Wednesday.

Moore v. Harper is a case from North Carolina that state and national Republicans are using to push an extreme legal premise known as the independent state legislature theory. While the United States Constitution delegates the authority to administer federal elections to the states, with Congress able to supersede those state decisions, proponents of this theory argue that state legislatures are vested with the exclusive power to run those elections. This view would leave no room for oversight by state courts and put the ability of governors to veto election-related legislation in doubt.

The court’s decision on this alarming argument could fundamentally reshape American democracy. Four justices have suggested that they are sympathetic to the theory. If the court endorses this doctrine, it would give state legislatures sole power over voting laws, congressional redistricting and potentially even the selection of presidential electors and the proper certification of election winners.

Indeed, the North Carolina Supreme Court, in a decision this year, said the theory that state courts are barred from reviewing a congressional redistricting plan was “repugnant to the sovereignty of states, the authority of state constitutions and the independence of state courts, and would produce absurd and dangerous consequences.”

You can look to North Carolina to see the potential for dire consequences. In 2010, Republicans took over the state legislature after the midterm elections. Since then, North Carolina has been ground zero for Republican attempts to manipulate elections. As the state’s attorney general and now governor since 2017, I’ve dealt with Republican legislative leaders as they advanced one scheme after another to manipulate elections while making it harder for populations they have targeted to vote.

These schemes robbed voters from the start to the end of an election: a voter ID requirement so strict that a college ID from the University of North Carolina isn’t good enough. No same-day registration during early voting. No provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct. Shorter early voting periods eliminated voting the Sunday before Election Day, a day when African American churches hold popular “souls to the polls” events.

Fortunately, these measures were stopped in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which described them as targeting African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

Republicans in the legislature have also gerrymandered districts in diabolical ways. In 2016, state Republicans drew a congressional redistricting map that favored Republicans 10 to 3. They did so, the Republican chairman of a legislative redistricting committee explained, “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

North Carolinians have relied on courts and my veto power as governor to foil many of these schemes. In 2022 a successful lawsuit in state court challenging a 2021 gerrymandered congressional map resulted in fair districts, splitting the state’s 14 districts (the state gained a district after the 2020 census) so that Democrats and Republicans each won seven seats in November’s elections. It seemed only right, given the nearly even divide between Democratic and Republican votes statewide. Republican efforts to avoid this result led to the Moore v. Harper appeal now before the Supreme Court.

As recently as 2019, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a majority opinion on partisan gerrymandering claims in Maryland and North Carolina that state courts were an appropriate venue to hear such cases but that those claims were political issues beyond the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Retreating from that position on the role of state courts would be a shocking leap backward that would undermine the checks and balances established in state constitutions across the country.

Republican leaders in the North Carolina legislature have shown us how the election process can be manipulated for partisan gain. And that’s what you can expect to see from state legislatures across the country if the court reverses course in this case.

Our democracy is a fragile ecosystem that requires checks and balances to survive. Giving state legislatures unfettered control over federal elections is not only a bad idea but also a blatant misreading of the Constitution. Don’t let the past decade of North Carolina voting law battles become a glimpse into the nation’s future.

Here, There, And Other Places — Voting

Here’s how it works in New Zealand per our NZ friend Barry …

* ease of voter registration. The law requires that everyone over the age 18 register on the electoral roll. However if you haven’t registered, you can do so when you go to vote. It only takes a few minutes.

* no queueing. Polling places are set up everywhere including churches, mosques, schools, community centres, shopping malls etc. I’ve voted every three years in every nation and local election since 1972 in four different electorates (voting districts) and I’ve never had to wait for more than five minutes, and those occasions were at peak times. .

* polling day is always on a Saturday as fewer people work on that day. Polling booths are open from 7am to 7pm on polling day and most are open every day in the two weeks prior to polling day

* you can vote outside of the electorate you’re registered in

* voter ID is not required, but bringing in the ID that is mailed out to every registered voter at the commencement of each election cycle will cut about a minute off the voting process.

* it’s a simple process to register for postal voting and telephone voting and the vote(s) can be cast any time in the month prior to polling day. It’s also possible to nominate someone to vote on your behalf if your disability is such that you can not vote in person

Voter fraud is extremely rare and there never has been a coordinated attempt of voter fraud. Ease of voting takes priority over everything else as that is seen as absolutely vital for democracy.

Additionally gerrymandering does not occur as electoral boundaries are determined by an independent non political commission consisting of a high Court judge, the head of the Statistics Department, a number of other civil servants whose roles I don’t recall at this moment, and one person representing the governing political parties and one person representing the opposition parties.

Restrictions around voting that’s seen in some American states is unfathomable to us. The only restriction here is that it is an offense to display political party advertising of any type (including insignia, badges etc) on polling day.


And here’s how it works in Australia, per our Australian friend Andrea …

Every eligible person MUST vote. Because of that necessity, voting has been made as easy as possible. We always vote on a Saturday, so most people /can/ vote. We have voting booths in almost every school hall or community centre Australia wide, so there’s always a voting place near at hand. We also have postal ballots.

And we have consequences for not voting…but…the punishment for not voting is a $50 slap on the wrist!

We have no voter fraud as far as I know, and while Australians might grumble at having to make time to vote, we all DOT IT.

Are all Australians fully aware of the policies and issues of the day? Nope. Does majority rule always get it right? Nope. But at least there /is/ majority rule. Our country isn’t driven by extreme factions of either the left or the right because compulsory voting /moderates/ those extremes.

Is the US even aware of how far it’s drifting from the principles of democracy?????


And here’s how it works in the United States …

Well, never mind, for it varies so greatly from state-to-state and further varies depending on a) level of wealth, b) colour of skin, c) education level, d) age, e) length of toenails (okay, maybe I’m being a bit facetious with that last one).  But nowhere … NOWHERE in the United States is it as painless to cast a vote as it is in either New Zealand or Australia.  And it is getting more and more painful, time-consuming and difficult every year, at least in some states.  Voting in the U.S. is highly discriminatory in this, the year 2022, the 235th year since the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  This level of difficulty could explain the low voter turnout … often barely over 50% and often less than 50% in mid-term election years.

You’ll notice the spike in 2020 when, due to the pandemic, most states made postal voting available to more people.  This year, many of those concessions have been reversed, and most every state in the nation has imposed more restrictive measures including enhanced voter ID requirements, travel restrictions, fewer polling places (resulting in longer wait times), fewer drop boxes, purging voter registration lists, and much more.  A disabled, elderly person or a college student in some states has almost no chance of being able to make their voice heard.

Thanks to Barry and Andrea for showing us how a truly democratic voting system works.  We can hope that someday the people of this nation will put the good of the country ahead of their partisanship and demand that we make it easier rather than harder. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Now About Those Voting Rights …

Today I share with you the latest short piece from Robert Reich on how our voting rights are being trampled and the U.S. Supreme Court is helping trample them.


How to stop the Supreme Court from crushing voting rights while expanding the political rights of big money?

Should the Court be expanded, or is there another way?

I’m old enough to remember John F. Kennedy’s and Lyndon Johnson’s presidencies, and Earl Warren’s Supreme Court. They understood the ethical and constitutional necessity of strengthening democracy by constraining the rich and the bigoted, and protecting the votes of people of color and the poor. But starting with Ronald Reagan’s presidency and John Roberts’s Supreme Court, this responsibility has been turned upside down. Reagan loosened campaign finance laws and turned his back on voting rights, and the Roberts Court has made it harder for people of color and the poor to vote — while making it easier for the rich to flood our system with campaign money.

On Monday, a majority of the Supreme Court — all of them Republican appointees, three appointed by Trump — restored an Alabama congressional map that creates only one district favorable to a Black candidate. The Court thereby halted a decision made last month by three federal judges that threw that map out on the basis of the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finding that with a Black population accounting for 27 percent of the state’s population, Alabama should have created at least two districts with Black majorities or in which Black voters have an opportunity to select representatives they favor. The full case won’t be heard by the Supreme Court until next term, so the gerrymandered map will remain in place for the 2022 midterm elections.

This has been the pattern for the Republican Supreme Court. You’ll recall that in its 2013 decision Shelby County vs. Holder, a majority of the Court (again, Republican appointees) gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring states with histories of racial discrimination in voting (such as Alabama) to get approval from the Justice Department before making any changes in their voting laws.

But when it comes to money in politics, the Roberts Court doesn’t defer to legislators. It has continually overturned restrictions on how much wealthy people can contribute to political campaigns, beginning with its 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (that decision, again, by Republican appointees).

At a time in our nation’s history when democracy is under direct assault by the Trump Republican Party, this asymmetry in the Supreme Court’s decisions — constraining voting rights for people of color and the poor, while expanding the political rights of the moneyed interests — is especially unwarranted.

America’s Wake-Up Call — Voting & Voters — Part III

In Two weeks ago, we looked at the reasons people give for not voting, and in last Wednesday’s post, we looked at the demographics … who isn’t voting, and why.  When we put those two together, we see why some people aren’t voting, for the system is designed to make it difficult for them.  In this, the final post on voters not voting, we will look at some ways to effect change.  There are actually three distinct groups of non-voters:  those who are at least partly disenfranchised, for whom the system has made voting a difficult task, those who are either too lazy or apathetic to stir themselves to vote.  The solutions are different for each of these groups, so we need to look at them separately.  But first, a disclaimer.  There is no panacea, no simple, single solution that will all of a sudden solve the problem of nearly half the eligible voters failing to vote.  We must find a multitude of small steps that all contribute toward bringing us closer to the goal.

Registration

The first step in the process of voting is to register.  At present, the onus for registering lies solely with the voter. Every state’s registration rules are a bit different.  In 37 states, one can register online, but in the other 13, registration must be done in person.  For many, this means taking time off work, and possibly difficulties finding transportation.  Online registration is a great idea, but it needs to be made well-known to all, for many are not aware that it is possible, or how to begin the process.There are ways to remind people:  workplaces and churches could place posters reminding people to register and listing places, such as DMV as well as the website.  Schools could send home flyers reminding parents to register.  And to be really proactive, districts could mail registration forms to all homes in the district.  Another, even better idea is automatic registration, such as is used in countries like Canada and Germany where voter turnout rates are in the 90 percentile range.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, and 19 states have introduced automatic registration proposals in 2018. In addition, the New Jersey Legislature passed automatic voter registration on April 12th, and the bill is awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature.”

Registration may well be half the battle and some combination of the above ideas would likely have a significant impact on voter turnout.

The Disenfranchised

This group consists of people who are typically lower income or minorities, for whom just getting through the day and feeding their family is hard.  State regulations have made the process of voting harder for these people by closing polling stations in their neighborhoods, shortening the hours of polling stations, and requiring a driver’s license or other state-issued identification that they may not have.  The solution is simple, right?  But with the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is no longer a requirement for federal oversight, and the states are largely free to do whatever they want, within certain boundaries.  Section 5 needs desperately to be reinstated, but that will not likely happen soon, if ever.  Meanwhile?

With a republican majority in Congress, it is unlikely that legislation to help make voting easier for the disenfranchised would fly, for those it would benefit are more likely to vote for a democrat.  One partial solution is what happened in Pennsylvania recently, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s district map must be re-drawn in order to be more fair.  The ruling was unsuccessfully challenged by republican lawmakers, and the map has been redrawn.  While gerrymandered maps are not technically a barrier to voting, in the sense that they may cause polling stations to be farther from a person’s home or workplace and thus require greater travel time, the reality is that they can be a barrier.  I would like to see the Supreme Courts in every state follow the lead of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

One thing that many of us can do is actually help people get to their polling places.  There are many volunteers who spend the entire election day driving elderly people and others without transportation to and from the polling stations.  A reader of this blog left me this comment when I first published this post in April 2018:

“I have a listing of homeowners and rental units in the town in which I live..and together with other “ladies” from the Resist Movement in OK, go door to door and hand out voter registration papers..we will offer to assist in filling them out, and we then offer a ride to the polling places on voting days. You’d be amazed how many do not vote because they thought they “weren’t allowed to vote” after having misdemeanor convictions!”

I just wanted to hug this lady!!!  She is doing something to make the world a better place, and to her, my thumbs are all up!

Other measures that have proven helpful in getting voters to the polls include:

  • Early voting, which allows any qualified voter to cast a ballot during a specified period prior to the actual election day.
  • Absentee voting, whereby voters may request an absentee ballot and return it either by mail or in person, with or without an excuse. Presently, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow absentee voting without needing an excuse, 20 others require an excuse.
  • All-mail voting, where a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary). Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado currently use all-mail voting.  Funny story about this … I periodically make comments to my girls about projects I am working on, usually unsolicited and out of the blue.  As I was working on this one, I asked the girls if they were aware that 3 states actually had all-mail voting.  Daughter Chris’ jaw dropped to the ground, thinking I meant “all-male” voting!

early voting map

Voter Apathy

Those who are simply either too lazy, don’t care, don’t like the candidates, or believe that it is a lost cause, may be the most challenging to get to the polls.  To do so will require a plethora of different things, starting with voter education, and involving large amounts of motivating and inspiring techniques.  Unfortunately, these constitute the largest group, some 65% of all the non-voters.  This translates into roughly 58.2 million people!

While I personally believed … still believe … that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president, I admit that she came with some baggage, and was not a particularly ‘lovable’ candidate, did not run an inspired campaign.  Thus, in 2016, it is understandable that many did not like either candidate.  But how to convince these people that it is better to vote for the lesser of two evils than to simply shrug their shoulders and stay at home watching television?

I think the starting point must be in education.  According to Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University in New York City, it is up to parents and teachers to stress just how important it is.  Common sense, yes?

I don’t know the answers, but somehow we must find ways to convince these 58.2 million people that their vote counts, that they make a difference, but not sitting home on their patooties.  Talk to friends who say they don’t care.  Join a volunteer group that is going door-to-door talking to people.  Sport a t-shirt with your favourite candidate (I still wear my Obama t-shirt!!!), put a bumper sticker on your car.  Help people to better understand the issues, the candidates.

A recent quote I saw in the New York Times seems apropos:

To many African-American voters in Alabama, Cecil said, “Donald Trump is the living embodiment of the idea that voting doesn’t matter.” Trump is profoundly unfit to be a president — a congenital liar and racist who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. And yet president he is.

This is, I think, one of the biggest hurdles, and while I disagree with the thought process, I understand it.

Conclusion

Given our current system, we will not likely achieve 90% turnout, but I think we can damn well do better than 56%, especially given that those who voted in 2016 were a majority of wealthy, white people, leaving behind a large portion of the citizens, equally important citizens, of this nation.  Because of the results, we have all but lost our voice in our government.  Sure, you can write and call your members of Congress, but I haven’t had a personalized response yet, and I’m never even sure if they hear, but I’m sure they don’t care.  Until November 3rd, and then they will care.  We must send a message, but in order to do so, we all need to speak.  Let’s help make sure more people vote this year.  Let’s all do a few things within our own circle of friends, family & neighbors:

  • Make sure they are registered. If they aren’t offer to help with filling out forms, taking them to register if they cannot do so online.
  • Help them understand the issues and what each candidate stands for.
  • Keep talking about how very important it is that everyone get out and vote, without necessarily pushing a specific candidate.
  • Volunteer to drive people to the polling stations on November 3rd.

It is up to We The People, for we cannot rely on the government to work toward increasing voter turnout.  We need some new blood … let’s make it happen, folks!

America’s Wake-Up Call — Table of Contents

Discord & Dissension — Table of Contents

America’s Wake-Up Call – Voting & Voters — Part II

Last Wednesday, we began with Part I of our three-part reprisal from earlier posts in February & March.  One of the biggest hurdles to free and fair elections in this country are those who don’t vote for one reason or another.  It is always important, for our vote is our voice, but this year so much is riding on the election in November that we felt it was important … nay, critical … to re-post this series about why people don’t vote.


Only 67% of all eligible voters are even registered to vote.  That is only two out of every three adults.  In last week’s post, we looked at the reasons people gave for not voting, some of which were ludicrous, such as “forgot”, “weather”, and “too busy”.  But there are some legitimate reasons that people do not vote.  To understand these, I think it is important to look at some of the demographics of the non-voters.

Race

Among white voters, 73.5% of eligible voters did actually vote in 2016.  But minorities were much less likely to vote, with only 69.7% of African-Americans, 59.4% of Latinos, and the lowest group being Asians at 55.3%.

Age

Not surprisingly, the percentage of eligible voters who vote increases with age:

Age 18 to 24       58.5%

Age 25 to 34       66.4%

Age 35 to 44       69.9%

Age 45 to 54       73.5%

Age 55 to 64       76.6%

Age 65 to 74       78.1%

Age 75 or older 76.6%

But, after the February 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting,  the percentage of young voters voting took a significant leap in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Education

There is absolutely nothing surprising in this set of statistics:

Less than high school graduate  50.5%

High school graduate      64.1%

Some college     75.3%

Bachelor’s degree            81.2%

Advanced degree            85.8%

Income

Again, no real surprises here:

Less than $20,000           63.7%

$20,000 to $29,999          67.1%

$30,000 to $39,999          71.1%

$40,000 to $49,999          72.6%

$50,000 to $74,999          78.2%

$75,000 to $99,999          81.9%

$100,000 and over          79.6%

While this one isn’t surprising, it is disturbing, for the very people who most need fairness from our government are the least likely to vote to make a difference.

Taken together, when we look at the demographics, look at who is and who isn’t voting, is it any wonder that we currently have a government that is “Of the wealthy white people, By the wealthy white people, and For the wealthy white people”?  They are the ones who vote!

All of the above statistics are understandable when put into context.  There are a number of things that have led to the disenfranchisement of lower income and minority voters.  Consider gerrymandering, redistricting states so that most minorities are grouped into as few as districts as possible so as to be given a much weaker voice than their white counterparts.  I have shared this graphic before, but it is still the clearest, most understandable explanation of how gerrymandering can change the outcome of an election:And then there are the various efforts by many states to make it more difficult for lower income and minorities to vote, such as shortening the hours that polls are open, and closing polling places in poorer or predominantly minority areas. Twenty states do not allow a person convicted of a felony to vote while serving a sentence or while on probation.  Two states, Florida and Virginia, permanently disallow convicted felons voting privileges.

In some cases, voter I.D. may be difficult to obtain.  Consider these cases:

A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before. – New York Times, 10 March 2018

In 1965, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the single most important piece of legislation to come from the Civil Rights movement.  It eliminated certain barriers to voting, such as literacy testing and other requirements that denied many blacks the right to vote.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act precluded certain states and districts that had a history of disenfranchising blacks, from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving pre-approval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C.  But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.  Chief Justice John Roberts said, essentially, that times had changed and the Court believed racial discrimination was no longer the problem it was in the 1960s.  I wonder if he would still say that today?  Almost immediately on the heels of this ruling, Texas announced new voter identification laws and redistricting maps.  Other states in the South followed suit.

Referring back to last Wednesday’s post, we looked at some of the reasons people gave for not voting.  When we look at the 6% who said they did not vote due to ‘registration problems’, or the 2.7% who claimed ‘inconvenient polling place’, or the 2.6% who said they had ‘transportation problems’, perhaps we can understand those reasons.  Consider the single mom who is not allowed to take time off work, so she goes to vote after work. The polling station in her neighborhood closed last year, so she now has to take a bus to her new polling place 45 minutes away from where she works.  Meanwhile, her children are home alone with nobody to cook their supper, or supervise them.  What would you do?

It is obvious that there are some people who do not vote with good reason.  We need to find solutions to the barriers for minorities and others who are truly disenfranchised.  We also need to find ways to inspire and motivate those who make excuses not to vote, to convince them that their vote is crucial.  And we need to make voting more accessible to all.  In Part III, we will take a look at some things that may contribute to increasing the numbers of people who vote.  There is no single panacea, but I believe there are a number of things that can be done at the federal and state levels, as well as by people like me and you, people who care about our country.  Stay tuned …

America’s Wake-Up Call — Table of Contents

Discord & Dissension — Table of Contents

On The Lies About Voter Fraud …

Looking at the fiasco that was Georgia’s primary election last Tuesday, one cannot help wondering what is going to happen across the nation on November 3rd.  There are so many ways in which the Republican Party has worked tirelessly to disenfranchise certain groups of voters that we must question the fairness of any national election.  November’s election may well be the most important that has ever taken place in the history of this nation, and it may be the one that decides the future of the nation … whether we retain our Constitutional government or trade it for a dictatorship.

In addition to the gerrymandering that caused Trump to gain enough electoral votes to be ushered into the White House after the 2016 election, various states have put into place other restrictive measures, such as closing polling places, voter ID laws, and more.  Add to that the pandemic that is still killing more than a thousand people in this country almost every day, and you can see that mail-in voting is absolutely essential if we are to have anything approaching a free and fair election.  Mail-in voting would negate many of the restrictive rules that disenfranchise so many voters, particularly among the poor and minorities, and it would prevent the sort of fiasco we saw in Georgia on Tuesday.

And yet, Trump and his enablers are doing everything in their power to stop mail-in voting, including destroying the United States Postal Service (USPS).  One of the tactics they are using is claiming that voter fraud is rampant in states where mail-in voting is used.  Today, I give you Robert Reich’s answer to their false claims …

Five Long Months Ahead …

The 2016 election was not a fair and honest election.  If it had been, we would be writing about President Hillary Clinton today.  The election was “rigged”, to use Trump’s own terminology, in ways almost too numerous to count.  Gerrymandering takes top billing, as evidenced by the fact that Hillary Clinton won the election by nearly 3 million votes, yet because of gerrymandered districts, Trump ‘won’ the electoral college.  Other means of disenfranchising poor and minority voters came into play, as did propaganda by Russian entities, as well as Trump’s own dirty campaign.

Our own intelligence agencies tell us that the Russians have been spreading disinformation and propaganda for over a year now, gerrymandered districts have only been re-districted in two states that I’m aware of.  Add to that the crisis of the year, the coronavirus pandemic and … well, how could we possibly have a fair and honest election?  Most states are looking to a mail-in voting system, partial or complete, in November, but Donald Trump is jumping up and down, shrieking at the top of his lungs that it would be unfair to him.  No evidence, just … well, Donnie knows that if states have mail-in voting, people cannot be stopped at the polls, will not have to travel long distances to vote, and in short … far more people are likely to vote if they can do so from the comfort and security of their own home.  Increasing voter turnout is not what Trump wants … can you guess why?  Because those people who are typically disenfranchised are poor and minority voters who would be most inclined to vote for a democrat, the party that believes in putting people first, ahead of profit.

In 2016, only 55.7% of eligible voters actually cast a vote.  Barely over half!  I’ve discussed before the reasons.  Since 1972, the highest voter turnout was in 2008 when people were excited to have an African-American running for office, but even then the percentage of eligible voters that voted was only 58.2%.

Last week, Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from states that switched to mail-in voting, specifically Nevada and Michigan.  Presumably, he figured out that he cannot do that without congressional approval … perhaps one of his overpriced advisors or lawyers told him, so now he has taken a different approach.

“The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and “force” people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”

Now, you and I know he’s so full of hot air he should be flying by now.  But … there is a very real danger in his spew.  According to former head of DOJ’s civil rights division, Vanita Gupta …

“He is planting the seeds for delegitimizing the election if he loses.  It’s from the playbook. It’ll get more intense as he gets more freaked out.”

In 2016, we heard Trump claim that if he lost, it would be because the election was ‘rigged’ (he seems to like that word a lot, doesn’t he?)  After he won the electoral college, he still claimed the election was ‘rigged’ because his ego couldn’t handle the fact that he had lost the election (popular vote).  If you’ll recall, there were threats of violence among the more radical of his supporters if he were to lose.  Nothing we’re seeing today should surprise us, but …

The danger is greater this year than in 2016 because there is more at stake.  First, it is highly unusual for an incumbent to lose his second term, and it would be as a slap in the face to Trump, who sees himself as the greatest president other than Abraham Lincoln.  Second, while Attorney General William Barr has declared Trump to be ‘above the law’ during his tenure in office … that protection goes away at noon on January 20th 2021 if Trump loses the election.  He is, at that point, an average citizen (albeit a wealthy one with Secret Service protection) and it is not at all unreasonable to think he will face a barrage of lawsuits, likely criminal charges, once he leaves office.

And, of course, there is Trump’s faithful following, mostly either wealthy businessmen who stand to gain under Trump, and evangelicals who will put up with just about anything as long as he promises them he will tear down the wall of separation between church and state, will nominate judges who will strike down the likes of Roe v Wade and Obergefell v Hodges, further shredding civil rights in this nation.  One of his loyal evangelical lapdogs, Rick Wiles, claims that …

“If they take him out, there’s gonna be violence in America. That’s all there is to it….However he leaves, there’s going to be violence in America…There are people in this country — veterans, there are cowboys, mountain men — I mean guys that know how to fight. And they’re going to make a decision that the people who did this to Donald Trump are not going to get away with it. And they’re gonna hunt ’em down.”

Stupid?  Sure … you and I know that, but sadly there are some who think violence is the answer.  It never … NEVER is, but these people carry big guns because they know no other way to make a point, to carry on a civil discourse.

Five months left until election day, folks.  This promises to be the single most contentious election in our lifetimes, mainly because one of the candidates and his party is the most contentious candidate in our lifetimes.  Other factors, such as being in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we’ve never experienced add to the drama.  I cannot even begin to imagine the atrocities and rhetoric that will be spewed by Trump and the GOP, but I do know it will escalate over the coming months.  Steel yourself, be prepared, don’t let Trump’s rhetoric and the garbage you hear on off-the-wall websites and Fox “News” deter you.  Keep your eye on the ball.  We cannot afford to completely ignore Trump’s hate speech, but we must not let it weaken our resolve to oust him in November.

If I Were In Charge Of This Circus …

Like most of you, I’ve been living in a tumbler of emotions lately, between the daily onslaught of Trumptanic lies, and the up/down/up/down of the democratic primary season.  Add into that the coronavirus and the blatant lies & cover-ups by our administration, and … whew.  We’re tired, we’re exhausted, we’re depressed.  This is not the nation we used to live in, is not the nation we want to live in, is not a nation we recognize.  And so, sometimes we just have to stop for a minute, tune out and let the quiet wash over us, give ourselves time to … breathe, to think.

My thoughts led me down a path … wondering, what would I change if suddenly I were ‘in charge’, if I had the power to effect changes that would end some of the problems this nation faces today.  Where would I even start?

In the movie The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, based on the true story of the Von Trapp family in Austria, one of the songs starts …

♫ Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start ♫

The very beginning, in this case, seems to be the very process that gives us our elected officials all the way up to the very highest office in the land, the presidency.  In the past few decades, the process has been reduced to a factor of who can gather the most money.  This is wrong.  Money is not what’s most important here … the person who has the most wealthy friends, or who can promise his way into garnering the largest contributions is not … NOT the one most qualified for the job.

I don’t want a damn rich politician, nor do I want one who has promised my life away to the rich bitches running the big corporations in order to get elected.

So, for starters I would take the money out of elections.  No campaign contributions over $100, and no contributions at all from lobbying groups such as the NRA or corporations such as fossil fuel or Big Pharma companies.  Nothing.  Private donations up to $100 only.  Media outlets shall give equal air time to the two major candidates in every contest.  So, for example, if ABC News gives a 30-second spot to Mitch McConnell, they must also give a 30-second spot to Amy McGrath, his democratic opponent.

Every utterance a candidate makes will be checked by non-partisan fact checkers and a daily tally will be published in every major media outlet.

Election seasons currently last from inauguration day until four years later.  This is bullshit for a number of reasons.  First, the politician is not doing the people’s work, but instead is campaigning for a full four years.  Second, it is expensive … and more so when you consider that the people are paying for round-the-clock security for the incumbents to flit about the country holding rallies, kissing babies and shaking hands.  Third, it is exhausting to we the people.  We don’t want to see these candidates’ faces on our screens 24/7 for four bloody years! Election seasons will begin on March 1st of the election year, primaries & caucuses will be complete by June 30th, and the respective party’s national conventions held in July.  The candidates can then campaign for three months until election day … plenty of time for them to sicken and disgust us with their rhetoric.  No political ads in the form of email, USPS mail, phone calls, television/radio/internet ads, or political rallies will be allowed prior to the March 1st date.  Violators will be automatically removed from the ballot, no questions asked.

Elections will be held on the first Sunday of November.  That’s right … I said Sunday.  Tuesday is a ridiculous day for elections … people do work for a living, y’know!  Sunday is perfect … few people are required to work on Sunday, so most everybody has the opportunity to go to the polls.  All polls will be required to open at 10:00 a.m. and stay open until 7:00 p.m.  No polls will close early, open late, or close altogether.  Public transportation will run on a weekday schedule on election day, to provide the maximum opportunity to voters who do not have their own transportation to get to the polls.

Every single state will have no excuse absentee voting.  Registration will be automatic upon any of the following:  a) renewal of driver’s license or public identification; b) filing of state tax return; c) enrollment in any school or university.  Other potential voters will be able to register online with proper proof of identification such as driver’s license or identification number, birth certificate number, or social security number.  No registered voters will be removed from the voter rolls until there is credible evidence that the person has either, a) died, or b) moved to a different state.

Finally, districting and the Electoral College will cease to exist for the purpose of presidential elections.  Districts may remain, for the time being, for the purpose of electing representatives to the House of Representatives, and for the purpose of determining each state’s votes based on population density, but for president, each state will tally the popular votes without consideration of districts, and that state’s votes, as determined by current standards per representation based on population density, will go to the candidate with the most popular votes.  Period.  At the end of the day, there will be no need for an electoral college, for there will be no districts and each state will vote according to the will of the people.

So, for example, California has 55 electoral votes based on their population.  If there are 8,753,788 votes for Joe Biden, and 4,483,810 for Donald Trump, then California’s 55 electoral votes go to Joe Biden.  Period.  There is no other option, the districts do not matter.  Biden wins California.  This is fair, in that the states receive a number of votes based on population, and in that there is no difference between the vote of a black person in the ghetto and a rich, white person in Hollywood Hills.  One person, one vote.  Period.

Whew.  I did not know I had so much of this to say about that!  But folks, every single thing I have said here is more fair than the system we have today.  Today, if you are a minority, you will have a harder time even being able to vote, and once you do, your vote is likely diluted due to gerrymandered districts.  If you are a student or a senior citizen, it will be harder for you to vote.  If you are a single, working mom, it will be damn near impossible for you to vote.

From time to time, I may be back with other things I might change “if I were in charge”.  It’s a good way to clear the mind, to categorize the things we take issue with, and to think about a better way of doing things.  The world is not perfect, this country is far from perfect, and people are not perfect, so we will always have a flawed system, but … I really think we could make it better if we all tried.

Discord & Dissension – Part V – Corruption

Today, Jeff tackles corruption in our political system — what and where, why and how — and reminds us why it is going to be so important that we vote in November to remove the most corrupt politicians ever from office. Thank you, Jeff, for this very comprehensive post!

On The Fence Voters

Continuing the project that Jill and I started a few weeks back, I’d like to take a look at a subject that encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our politics today.

What is corruption? According to Merriam Webster, corruption is dishonest or illegal behavior by powerful people, such as government officials or police officers; an inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (such as bribery).

Sound familiar? The fate of our politics in 2020 has never been more perilous. We’re now in the midst of perhaps the most corrupt administration in history, whose leader was impeached by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

It seems every time you turn around, someone in power is doing something he or she shouldn’t. When folks obtain a level of power in our society, especially in the Washington D.C. political world, the lure to keep…

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Discord & Dissension – Part IV (c) – Voting & Voters

In Friday’s post, we looked at the reasons people give for not voting, and in Saturday’s post, we looked at the demographics … who isn’t voting, and why.  When we put those two together, we see why some people aren’t voting, for the system is designed to make it difficult for them.  In this, the final post of the week on voters not voting, we will look at some ways to effect change.  There are actually two distinct groups of non-voters:  those who are at least partly disenfranchised, for whom the system has made voting a difficult task, and those who are either too lazy or apathetic to stir themselves to vote.  The solutions are different for each of these groups, so we need to look at them separately.  But first, a disclaimer.  There is no panacea, no simple, single solution that will all of a sudden solve the problem of nearly half the eligible voters failing to vote.  We must find a multitude of small steps that all contribute toward bringing us closer to the goal.

Registration

The first step in the process of voting is to register.  At present, the onus for registering lies solely with the voter. Every state’s registration rules are a bit different.  In 37 states, one can register online, but in the other 13, registration must be done in person.  For many, this means taking time off work, and possibly difficulties finding transportation.  Online registration is a great idea, but it needs to be made well-known to all, for many are not aware that it is possible, or how to begin the process.There are ways to remind people:  workplaces and churches could place posters reminding people to register and listing places, such as DMV as well as the website.  Schools could send home flyers reminding parents to register.  And to be really proactive, districts could mail registration forms to all homes in the district.  Another, even better idea is automatic registration, such as is used in countries like Canada and Germany where voter turnout rates are in the 90 percentile range.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, and 19 states have introduced automatic registration proposals in 2018. In addition, the New Jersey Legislature passed automatic voter registration on April 12th, and the bill is awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature.”

Registration may well be half the battle and some combination of the above ideas would likely have a significant impact on voter turnout.

The Disenfranchised

This group consists of people who are typically lower income or minorities, for whom just getting through the day and feeding their family is hard.  State regulations have made the process of voting harder for these people by closing polling stations in their neighborhoods, shortening the hours of polling stations, and requiring a driver’s license or other state-issued identification that they may not have.  The solution is simple, right?  But with the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is no longer a requirement for federal oversight, and the states are largely free to do whatever they want, within certain boundaries.  Section 5 needs desperately to be reinstated, but that will not likely happen soon, if ever.  Meanwhile?

With a republican majority in Congress, it is unlikely that legislation to help make voting easier for the disenfranchised would fly, for those it would benefit are more likely to vote democrat.  One partial solution is what happened in Pennsylvania recently, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s district map must be re-drawn in order to be more fair.  The ruling was unsuccessfully challenged by republican lawmakers, and the map has been redrawn.  While gerrymandered maps are not technically a barrier to voting, in the sense that they may cause polling stations to be farther from a person’s home or workplace and thus require greater travel time, the reality is that they can be a barrier.  I would like to see the Supreme Courts in every state follow the lead of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

One thing that many of us can do is actually help people get to their polling places.  There are many volunteers who spend the entire election day driving elderly people and others without transportation to and from the polling stations.  A reader of this blog left me this comment when I first published this post in April 2018:

“I have a listing of homeowners and rental units in the town in which I live..and together with other “ladies” from the Resist Movement in OK, go door to door and hand out voter registration papers..we will offer to assist in filling them out, and we then offer a ride to the polling places on voting days. You’d be amazed how many do not vote because they thought they “weren’t allowed to vote” after having misdemeanor convictions!”

I just wanted to hug this lady!!!  She is doing something to make the world a better place, and to her, my thumbs are all up!

Other measures that have proven helpful in getting voters to the polls include:

  • Early voting, which allows any qualified voter to cast a ballot during a specified period prior to the actual election day.
  • Absentee voting, whereby voters may request an absentee ballot and return it either by mail or in person, with or without an excuse. Presently, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow absentee voting without needing an excuse, 20 others require an excuse.
  • All-mail voting, where a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary). Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado currently use all-mail voting.  Funny story about this … I periodically make comments to my girls about projects I am working on, usually unsolicited and out of the blue.  As I was working on this one, I asked the girls if they were aware that 3 states actually had all-mail voting.  Daughter Chris’ jaw dropped to the ground, thinking I meant “all-male” voting!

early voting map

Voter Apathy

Those who are simply either too lazy, don’t care, don’t like the candidates, or believe that it is a lost cause, may be the most challenging to get to the polls.  To do so will require a plethora of different things, starting with voter education, and involving large amounts of motivating and inspiring techniques.  Unfortunately, these constitute the largest group, some 65% of all the non-voters.  This translates into roughly 58.2 million people!

While I personally believed … still believe … that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president, I admit that she came with some baggage, and was not a particularly ‘lovable’ candidate, did not run an inspired campaign.  Thus, in 2016, it is understandable that many did not like either candidate.  But how to convince these people that it is better to vote for the lesser of two evils than to simply shrug their shoulders and stay at home watching television?

I think the starting point must be in education.  According to Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University in New York City, it is up to parents and teachers to stress just how important it is.  Common sense, yes?

I don’t know the answers, but somehow we must find ways to convince these 58.2 million people that their vote counts, that they make a difference, but not sitting home on their patooties.  Talk to friends who say they don’t care.  Join a volunteer group that is going door-to-door talking to people.  Sport a t-shirt with your favourite candidate (I still wear my Obama t-shirt!!!), put a bumper sticker on your car.  Help people to better understand the issues, the candidates.

A recent quote I saw in the New York Times seems apropos:

To many African-American voters in Alabama, Cecil said, “Donald Trump is the living embodiment of the idea that voting doesn’t matter.” Trump is profoundly unfit to be a president — a congenital liar and racist who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. And yet president he is.

This is, I think, one of the biggest hurdles, and while I disagree with the thought process, I understand it.

Conclusion

Given our current system, we will not likely achieve 90% turnout, but I think we can damn well do better than 56%, especially given that those who voted in 2016 were a majority of wealthy, white people, leaving behind a large portion of the citizens, equally important citizens, of this nation.  Because of the results, we have all but lost our voice in our government.  Sure, you can write and call your members of Congress, but I haven’t had a personalized response yet, and I’m never even sure if they hear, but I’m sure they don’t care.  Until November 3rd, and then they will care.  We must send a message, but in order to do so, we all need to speak.  Let’s help make sure more people vote this year.  Let’s all do a few things within our own circle of friends, family & neighbors:

  • Make sure they are registered. If they aren’t offer to help with filling out forms, taking them to register if they cannot do so online.
  • Help them understand the issues and what each candidate stands for.
  • Keep talking about how very important it is that everyone get out and vote, without necessarily pushing a specific candidate.
  • Volunteer to drive people to the polling stations on November 3rd.

It is up to We The People, for we cannot rely on the government to work toward increasing voter turnout.  We need some new blood … let’s make it happen, folks!

This concludes this week’s segment in three parts of Discord & Dissension.  Jeff has been on vacation the last two weeks, but he is back home now and working diligently on Part V of our project that will be published on Friday … so stay tuned!  Your comments and suggestions are always welcome!