Jul 272012

Trying to rig elections is an attempted rape of the republic, taking power without legitimately receiving the consent of the governed.  Gaming the electoral system to shift the outcome even slightly is an affront to the basic principles of democracy underlying our representative republic, the same cherished ideas that thousands have died fighting for.  People need to start getting angry about this instead of thinking, “Oh, well, if it helps my team win, I don’t really care.”  Imagine a code of electoral sportsmanship written by Tonya Harding (here’s the link, confused millennials).

Tampering with the connection between citizens and their representatives severely undermines what it means to be a republic.  Our elections are the connection.  Chip away at enough of this connection and the republic established by the constitution is gone.  To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff: “In a republican democracy, voters choose their politicians; in America, politicians choose their voters.”

Elections are imporant, because that’s how we measure the consent of the governed.  Where have we heard that before?  Here, in the frickin’ Declaration of Independence (not to be confused with the Declaration of Frickin’ Independence):

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

That’s right; the ever-glorified founders didn’t like it when ole King George got too cute messing with the consent of the governed, so they ended up starting a little war we’ve all heard about.  When that war was over, they they created a government by writing another well-loved document, the U.S. Constitution.  It contains these nuggets:

Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

Article IV, Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

Article VI: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution

Amendment XV: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Amendment XIX: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Amendment XXIV: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

Amendment XXVI: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Despite all of that, you should be horrified to hear, the Supreme Court has not found that people have a federal constitutional right to vote.  The standard is that if the state chooses to allow voting, the government cannot impede your vote using certain methods:  discrimination based on race, sex, age, poll tax, etc.  Other restrictions can stand with relatively minor justifications.

Right now it seems as if the Republican Party is leading the way — by being more desperate and/or crafty — in coming up with electorate shaping schemes.  I’m not letting the Democrats off the hook here.  The Democratic Party has for years been a willing co-perpetrator of the now traditional abomination known as partisan gerrymandering.  Besides, generally the Democratic Party is either too weak or stupid to come up with these creative, aggressive, and shameless election tinkering schemes.

What prompted this increasing Republcan backlash against small-r republicanism?  It seems the GOP has seen the writing on the wall about demographics:  The future electorate is increasingly leaning towards the Democrats.  To continue to have a chance to win, they are making a strategic decision to tinker with the election process.  Make it harder for people to vote, so only the most agitated will make the effort to cast a ballot.  Secondly, shape the process to allow Republican allies to have greater opportunity to have a bigger impact on how the citizens vote (See Citizens United).   

Even if the reforms appear to have a minor impact on the electorate, it only takes a few hundred — sometimes even a few dozen — votes to determine the outcome in some races.  Here are some ways they are making it harder for people to vote.

Restricting Voter Registration:  A Florida law required groups conducting voter registration to turn in registration forms within 48 hours or else face a $1,000 per day fine.  That law has been blocked by a federal judge, and groups have resumed their work in Florida.  Inactive for several months, they are well behind the registration pace of 2008.

Rolling Back Early Voting:  Ohio’s new law, enacted by Republican controlled legislature and signed by John Kasich  “ends in-person early voting for most Ohioans on the Friday evening before the Tuesday election, while allowing military and overseas voters to cast ballots in person until Monday.”

Purging Voter Rolls:  Topping the list is Florida, where Republican governor Rick Scott is determined to eradicate the threat of non-citizens voting at any cost, but his favored cost is “accidentally” locking out would-be Democratic voters who happen to have foreign-sounding names. 

Now with access to Homeland Security database, Florida can send a letter to everyone who has a name that matches.  Imagine having the Latino equivalent of John Smith on the list.  Three or four may be illegally registered to vote, but hundreds may be forced to rebut the presumption that they can’t vote.  This appeal process takes more effort than simply showing up to vote.  It’s reasonable to expect some voters might think it is not worth the effort to find their “papers” and take additional steps to be eligible to vote.  Some people just won’t have the time for this nonsense, and the deadline is rapidly approaching.  With the election so close, knocking out a few probable-Democratic voters could prove the difference in the results. 

Governor Scott’s ability to enforce the purge may face some resistance at the local level.  For example:

“It clearly is partisan and political, but actually, there is no purge going on at the moment,” said Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee. “Unless the quality of the information we receive from the state gives us a reasonable belief that it is accurate, we don’t actually have to do anything.” Sancho, an independent who is harshly critical of Republican voting-restriction efforts, predicted he and many of his fellow clerks would simply refuse to implement voter removals out of concern the evidence wasn’t sufficient.”

That act of defiance set of my legal-spidey-sense.  In another Florida recount scenario, I could see Romney’s attorneys filing suit about whether these votes should count absent further proof of citizenship citing the refusal of supervisors to use the purge lists.

Requiring Photo ID:  Requiring voters to show government-issued photo ID is the most visible scheme because it seems so obviously targeted at a group that is heavily Democratic.  Any doubt that this is politically motivated is erased by the new Texas law (also currently in litigation) allowing voters to use military-issued ID and concealed carry gun permits, but not state college photo ID.

Want more proof?  Ask Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai.  Turazi recently described his party’s successful passage of a new voter ID law:  “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”  I bet he got reprimanded for that one. “The first rule of Rigged-Election Club> is you don’t talk about Rigged-Election Club.

Since this is just a partisan ploy, let’s try to predict the next voter selection/suppression effort after everyone has their ID.  How about this:  disabled voters tend to lean Democratic.  When that knowledge becomes more widespread, expect GOP officials when asked about efforts to install or repair ramps at polling places to respond, “We just don’t have the money.”  If nudist voters show a tendency to vote Democratic, expect the spread of “No shirt, no shoes, no vote” laws.

Voter Suppression Map via CampusProgress.org

Yes, voter fraud exists, but it is nowhere near as rampant as they want us to think.  Voter ID laws are like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.  They spout a noble goal of wanting to get the fly, but what they really want to do is smash a chunk of your wall.  Stopping a handful of potential fraudsters (and what a huge impact they would have on an election) at the cost of burdening thousands of innocent voters and disenfranchising hundreds — cracking down on voter fraud causes collateral damage that could win the election, costing the integrity of the republic. 

This strategy of implementing election skewing schemes is a treasonous usurpation, striking at the core of what it means to be a republic.  These are the desperate acts of a dying party that can’t win in a system where power is given to those with support of the majority of voters; instead of working to win over the public, it just alters the system.  This is republic rape:  taking power without the consent of the people.  If you have to cheat, you don’t deserve to win.  It is neither a legitimate nor honorable victory.

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Jun 082012

This week’s Wisconsin recall election inspired me to examine the phenomenon of working class folks supporting the destruction of unions.

The argument I hear the most is that it is somehow unfair that people in union jobs get job security and “cushy” benefits, while other nonunion workers don’t.

This argument is bizarre. Because you don’t have those benefits, they say, it is obvious and only fair that those union folks shouldn’t have them either. NO, NO, NO, you idiots!  Instead of demanding they be taken away from others, why don’t you demand them for yourself. You deserve the benefits, too. This is like saying that because someone stole your car, your neighbor shouldn’t get to keep his car either.

Many people are susceptible to being persuaded by this nonsense because of their emotional loyalty to their partisan team. This makes them generally adverse to facts and very likely to believe and regurgitate whatever the team’s opinion leaders say.

The only mildly reasonable argument against unions I’ve read concerning the Walker recall is that public employee unions operate in a tainted collective bargaining process because they negotiate with elected officials. Thus the public unions have undue influence over the management side of the equation because they can pour money into campaigns. The argument goes further (salt in the wound) that the politician/manager no longer puts the interests of the shareholder first, who in this case is all of the taxpayers. So they argue unions get public employees unfair access to tax dollars.

This, perhaps the best argument union-crushers have, is a flawed position. If you ban public employee unions it doesn’t solve the problem you are concerned about. In fact, it might make that problem worse. First, without a union, public employees would feel more insecure about their position and more individuals would become politically active without having a union to do it for them.

Second, banning unions won’t stop the employees from having the ability to dump money into a campaign. We have this thing called the First Amendment. Employees are free to associate and work together in the political process. They could set up a PAC, perhaps more easily than a union.  Now, under Citizens United, they could set up a Super PAC and spend unlimited dollars in favor of a particular candidate.

So long as elected officials are in the position of employer, the employees will use the political process to pursue wokers’ interests.

How did the working class get turned against unions? It looks like the anti-union crowd tapped into partisan loyalty, jealousy, and ignorance to set up the divide-and-conquer approach to weaken the power of labor. I wonder how long it will take them to marshal support to repeal the 13th Amendment.

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Apr 192012

The most important race in the 2012 election might not be the quest for the White House. The control of the Senate appears up for grabs this year, and the effectiveness of the next administration is limited by which party holds the majority.

It is possible that the margin for gaining the Senate majority is one seat. Today, Angus King, the Independent former governor of Maine, is heavily favored to win that state’s open Senate seat. Right now he has not declared whether he will caucus with the Democratic or Republican parties for the sake of determining the majority. I say for the good of the country he should maintain this position through the election. Here’s why.

If the margin in the Senate ends up being exactly one seat, Senator-elect King would be in a great position. King should, on behalf of the American people, demand three things in exchange for his vote to swing the majority:

1. Filibuster reform,
2. A vote on a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, and
3. the Senate Majority leader post.

The third one is primarily a check against any shenanigans to undermine the first two.  Just these three items would make it much easier to enact subsequent pro-small-d democratic reforms that would make America’s democratic republic more responsive to its citizens again.

Is King likely to take this bold position? He is aware of and concerned about the defects of the current election process.

For example, he signed off on an amicus brief submitted in a Supreme Court case concerning Arizona’s public financing system which included a plan for triggered matching funds, Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. The brief stated:

Amici believe that a robust public financing system is vital for democracy, so that candidates’ dependence on private funders does not render government beholden to those with the deepest pockets, so that a variety of voices may be heard by the public, and so that public service and participation in public debate do not become inaccessible for all but a privileged few.

Governor King contributed significantly to both his campaigns, funding slightly over 50% of the first. Maine’s Clean Elections Act, which is very similar to Arizona’s, including a matching provision similar to the one challenged here, was passed by referendum during his first term, going into effect during his second. Governor King initially had some concerns about taxpayer-funded public financing. However, having had a close-up view of its effectiveness, and having seen no chilling effect on political speech, he has come to believe that it is one of the most important ways to protect democracy from the power of special interests.

King agrees with policy goal of the bold move, so the question left is: Does he have the guts? Maybe some Mainers out there can give us some insight about King’s intestinal fortitude. If it is still unclear that he would, maybe someone should start an online petition to pressure him to stand up for the rest of us and repair our American form of democracy.

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Apr 062012

It looks like Romney is the inevitable Republican nominee, so it’s a good time to jump ahead with some thoughts on the Obama-Romney matchup.
Barring a black swan event, Obama wins easily.  Romney is just a poor candidate.  (It’s not often you get to hear Romney described as “poor.”).  In fact, in some black swan scenarios, I can’t even see him beating Biden.  Policy positions aside, I’m still getting a Kerry vibe from this guy:  Living his whole life in the 1% makes it harder for him give a sense that he connects with the “Average American” and can be a leader of all Americans.  He’s been running for president since 2005 and has developed the phony campaign persona that screams “Vote for me, because I really, really want to be president!”  You can’t accuse him of being “all sizzle, and no steak,” because he’s got neither.
But let’s step back and look at the last couple of times we’ve had an incumbent president taking on a challenger.


Electoral Vote


Popular Vote %

2004 Bush43 over Kerry




1996 Clinton over Dole




1992 Clinton over Bush41




1984 Reagan over Mondale




1980 Reagan over Carter




It’s hard to find a similar scenario in the recent past. Bush-Kerry might be closest fit, with a relatively unpopular incumbent against a weak challenger in a two-way race. The storyline will be quite different than eight years ago with the increase in polarization and the unstable economy, so it may not be a useful comparison to predict an outcome.
Some will point to Obama’s job approval rating as an indicator of his likelihood of re-election. I think this is moderately effective at best.  Gallup lists a comparison of approval ratings of incumbents seeking re-election at a similar point in the cycle. As of the beginning of April, Obama’s 46% is better than Bush41 (41%), Carter (39%), Truman (36%), and is just below Ford’s 48%. Though the numbers are comparable, I think Obama is in better shape. Bush41 had a popular third party candidate perched on the center-right; Obama has no comparable third party vote siphon. Carter faced Reagan; Obama faces Romney. Truman won. Ford had the cloud of Watergate over his incompetent administration; Obama’s incompetencies are virtually scandal-free.
I don’t think the approval rating offers much an indication in the case of Obama. The assumption the mainstream media and popular pundits want you to make is that the 54% who disapprove of his job performance are going to vote for the Republican nominee. Simply put, many who disapprove of his job performance agree with Obama’s intentions but are disappointed in his execution, and these folks would think Romney administration would be much worse from a policy perspective.  Just because people are sour on Obama doesn’t mean that they are going to vote for the Republican nominee. If they vote, they’ll likely hold their noses and touch the screen for Obama (maybe they’ll wear gloves to feel less dirty).
Obama will win, easily but not a landslide somewhere between the 2004 and 2008 margins of victory. If there is a third party entrant on the right, it will be a landslide. Despite the weak opposing candidate, an Obama victory in 2012 will be closer than it should be for a few major reasons.
1. Romney is the candidate of the .01%, and given Citizens United, we’ll see what unlimited funding can do for an otherwise weak campaign.
2. Obama’s base is less enthusiastic than in 2008. It will only cost him a few votes, but a lot fewer hard-working volunteers and small donations will be joining his campaign this time.
3. The historic factor is gone. This assumes the tired Hillary-Biden swap rumor does not happen. Turnout in 2008 was undoubtedly increased by the goal of electing the country’s first black president. Some of these folks won’t show up to vote this time, but I bet the haters will be back.
The wildcard might be the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Right now they are not showing much enthusiasm for Romney. I’m not sure putting a token Tea Party darling on the ticket in the VP slot will be enough. The traditional Republican base would just fall in line, we’ll see if the Tea Party faction is really any different. In the end, their hatred of Obama might be enough to get them to sell out their beliefs and vote for Romney.

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