Tag Archives: turnout

Voter Turnout

A good friend and former colleague of mine moved back to Canada a few years ago, to accept a prestigious position. (I say “back” because he was originally from Canada. He’d married a U.S.Citizen, obtained joint citizenship, and for many years was a highly respected bioethicist at U.S. institutions of higher education.) We continue to correspond, and in the wake of Canada’s recent election, he sent me a column from a Canadian newspaper, bemoaning that election’s low turnout.

He also sent the results of a Google search for turnout percentages in both the U.S. and Canada. (You know what’s coming, don’t you??) Here’s a portion of his message:

I did find it charming that the article bemoaning low Canadian turnout (which this year was a historical low at ~58%) is still significantly higher than in the US. 
 
Apart from the Trump v Hilary election in 2016 when it was 50%, the last time US voter turnout was above 50% was in 1912 if I am reading the charts correctly. 
 
Worth pondering, eh?

The newspaper article quoted Canadian political observers on the possible reasons for what the Canadians considered “depressed” turnout. The pandemic was one possibility, and attitudes about the need for this particular election were also mentioned. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

“We’ve historically had really high trust in our democratic institutions, in our election process … and I think that the challenges that they faced in this election are going to take some time to rebuild confidence in our elections.”

That prompted me to consider just where we are in today’s U.S. If turnout depends upon trust in the integrity of the electoral system, what can we expect in the wake of the GOP’s Trumpian assault on that integrity?

If a decision to vote requires trust– trust that one’s vote will count, trust that the election is being honestly run, trust that there is a meaningful difference between the candidates for office, trust that the people who’ve earned your vote will do their best to follow through on their promised agendas–what happens when a significant portion of the GOP believes, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that voter fraud is rampant and the 2020 election was rigged?

It isn’t just trust in the administration of elections–trust in government has been steadily ebbing in the US. The evidence goes well beyond our pathetic voter turnout figures. If that meant that we could count on a direct correspondence between low turnout and the distrust that has led to virulently anti-government sentiment, we might expect a lot of Republicans to stay home in 2022 and 2024 (and from my perspective, that would be a very good thing).

But of course, it’s never that simple.

One of the regular readers of this blog sent me a You Tube interview between a scholar with the Humphrey School of the University of Minnesota and  Stan Greenberg, the former Yale professor who’s been a Democratic pollster pretty much forever. Greenberg explained Trump’s 2016 win by pointing out that his racist appeal had generated turnout from people who’d never before voted—and according to his research, those previous non-voters remain engaged.

Evidently, they do have trust–trust that the current iteration of the GOP will protect White Christian dominance.

One of the oldest and truest rules of politics is that turnout is everything. It doesn’t matter how many Americans agree with party A or party B–as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

The only way to ensure robust turnout of voters for what is currently the only sane party is for the Democrats to pass their agenda–especially the expansive infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill–and demonstrate that government can work, that Democrats can be trusted, that the right to participate in democratic deliberation via the ballot box can be protected.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Democrats are right about everything, only that they are currently the only sane option. We are truly at an inflection point, and constitutional government is in the cross-hairs.

Meanwhile, the Earth keeps warming, the GOP is now entirely the party of the batshit crazies, and I am very afraid that the Democrats will be unable to control their circular firing squad.

The world my grandchildren will inherit looks very scary….

 

 

This S**t’s Getting Real

Okay–as multiple sources have now reported, Donald Trump is refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he should lose.

For months now, Democrats have warned and worried about the prospect of Trump simply  rejecting election results and proclaiming himself the winner– regardless of the vote tally. There have been credible reports of mail slowdowns, enlistment of “volunteers” prepared to intimidate voters at the polls, and similar suppression tactics.

Now, a carefully-researched article from the  Atlantic has raised the stakes.

Barton Gellman writes that the Trump team is creating a plan to “work around” those pesky actual  vote results in battleground states. If Biden wins a Red swing state,  its GOP-run state legislature would announce that the vote was tainted and appoint Republican electors instead of the Democratic electors who won. (They would insist they were protecting the will of the people from those who were trying to rig an election.)

There’s a lot more detail, but such shenanigans would undoubtedly spawn litigation that would end up at the Supreme Court. Which explains the GOP’s frantic effort to confirm a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg right away.

 The New Yorker is one of several outlets reporting on Trump’s admission of that motive:

One thing you cannot accuse Donald Trump of is trying to disguise his nefarious intentions. For months now, legal experts and Democratic campaign officials have warned that he may reject the results of this year’s election and pronounce himself the victor regardless of the vote tally. On Tuesday, Trump virtually confirmed that this is his plan. He also indicated that rushing through the appointment of another conservative to the Supreme Court is a key element of his strategy to stay in the White House.

The only thing that can short-circuit Trump’s subversion of American democracy is an absolutely massive turnout for Democrats on Election Day. That’s why my husband and I will mask up and vote early. That’s also why my youngest son just sent a contribution to “We Got The Vote” This is the organization raising money to pay off the fines of former felons in Florida so that they can vote in this election.

As most of you reading this probably know, in a Florida referendum, voters approved a change of law to allow former felons to vote. Republicans who control the Florida legislature and Florida’s despicable  Governor refused to implement the mandated change, passing a measure that prevents ex-felons from voting until they pay off whatever fines they still owe .(Can we spell “poll tax”?) This is particularly egregious because not only are many ex-offenders unable to raise that money, the State of Florida doesn’t have the institutional capacity to tell them what they owe.

The organization “We Got the Vote” is raising money to pay off fines so ex-felons can vote. (As a nice “reward” for sending them money, they are a tax-exempt nonprofit, so donations are fully tax deductible.unlike political donations.)

Michael Bloomberg’s political operation recently raised more than $16 million from supporters and foundations to pay the court fines and fees for more than 30,000 Black and Latino voters in Florida with felonies, allowing them to vote in the upcoming election–and the Republican AG immediately launched an “investigation,” citing “potential election law violations.”

That donation didn’t constitute a violation of anything other than GOP electoral prospects, but as my son pointed out, that $16 million was only enough to cover some 32,000 voters– out of an estimated 700,000. Since Florida votes are going to be critically important this year–Trump can’t win without Florida–this seems like a good investment for those of us trying to increase turnout.

And turnout is definitely the name of the game this year. COVID or no COVID, Americans need to vote early. In states that count absentee ballots before Election Day–a list of states that doesn’t include Indiana–that means getting those ballots in ASAP. In places like Indiana that don’t start counting mailed-in ballots until Election Day, we need to put on our masks and find an early-voting site.

The only thing that will defeat the intended theft of this election is massive blue turnout.

Women To The Rescue

In the period between the 2016 election and the 2018 midterms, Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol published a fascinating study. (A quick and dirty google search failed to find the link–if someone has it, please provide it in the comments.) She and a graduate student studied resistance groups that had emerged outside dependably blue cities and coastal areas, and found that they defied the common clichés. Most were based in suburbs or smaller cities, they weren’t particularly leftist, and most were run by middle-aged and older women who hadn’t been politically active before Trump’s victory jolted them out of complacency.

They were predominantly middle-class women’s networks, although with some men in them, and Skocpol predicted that, if the Democrats took the House in 2018, they would be a major reason.

I thought of that research when I received a lengthy email from a reader of this blog, telling me about just such a group here in red Indiana. She said that her particular story had started “on that awful day in November of 2016, when we all woke up in a fetal position…” She had quit her job of 17 years, and devoted herself full-time to bringing women in her local community in northwest Indiana together. Their initial efforts met with frustration.

In 2018, some ran for office, many ran for Precinct Committee Chair.  We all ran for State Convention Delegate.  We had a grand day out, demanding the Dem party establish a Women’s Caucus with voting rights on the SCC.  We navigated the convoluted system with no help from the party, and got a resolution passed and included in the platform package approved by the entire delegation.  Our posse was walking on air for a few weeks when we were informed by the State Chair that there would be no Women’s Caucus.  The Chair took a lesson from legislative committee chairs who listen to compelling testimony on popular bills, then decide not to take a vote.

The rebuff led to the establishment of a state-wide organization: 25 Women for 2020. The invitation to participate begins as follows, and explains the purpose of the new organization:

 You are cordially invited to participate in 25 Women for 2020, an Indiana-wide network of Democratic women candidates running for the Indiana House and Senate.

An Historic Opportunity

2018 was a landmark year. 45 Democratic women ran for the Indiana state legislature. Only 18 won their seats, but the other 27 gained invaluable experience and name recognition, positioning them for success in 2020.

The electoral prospects of this cohort of candidates will help and be helped by a spirited and consequential Presidential election. The Democratic candidate will need the mobilization of voters in every corner of Indiana; and women Democratic candidates will be well-served by the political optimism and enthusiasm which only a Presidential race can bring.

Participation in the 25 Women for 2020 Network will bring you the support of other women who are facing many of the same challenges as you. Each will bring their experience, knowledge, understanding, and support to make ALL members of the Network much stronger. The Network staff, Board of Directors, and Advisory Board Members will bring their experience and expertise to further support the strength of the Network and each candidate’s campaigns.

The network promises to provide “open, supportive and effective peer support” to those candidates. They have a website, and a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Politically-active Hoosiers can appreciate the multiple barriers these Democratic women face in a gerrymandered, rurally-dominated state. But even the candidates who do not prevail will motivate turnout among Democratic voters in 2020, and test the limits of Trumpification in the state.

Women’s groups like this one were key to Democratic victories in 2018, and they will be critically important in 2020. They deserve all the support we can give them.

 

 

 

The Non-Abstract Effects Of Gerrymandering

It’s hard not to be bitter in the wake of the Supreme Court’s intellectually dishonest refusal to protect the legitimacy of democratic governance.

For one thing, over the past couple of years, as I have delved more deeply into the research, I’ve discovered that gerrymandering–aka partisan redistricting–does more than skew election results. A lot more.

I’ve previously pointed out that here in Indiana, where partisan redistricting has carved up metropolitan areas and subordinated urban populations to rural ones, gerrymandering has given us distribution formulas favoring rural areas over cities when divvying up dollars for roads and schools, among other inequities.

And a recent article in The Guardian has connected gerrymandering to the recent spate of radical abortion laws.

Fifty-four thousand votes out of nearly 4 million. That’s what separated Stacey Abrams from Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, a sign of how closely contested this once reliably red, southern state has become.

Earlier this month, however, Georgia’s legislature responded to the state’s closely divided political climate not with thoughtful compromise but by passing one of the most restrictive abortion bansin the United States.

An April poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 70% of Georgians support the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion. The new state ban is opposedby 48% of Georgians and supported by only 43%. So why would the legislature enact such an extreme measure?

For that matter, why would Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and other states establish similar “fetal heartbeat” laws that are far more restrictive than their constituents support?

One important answer is gerrymandering: redistricting voting districts to give the party in power an edge – making it almost impossible for the other side to win a majority of seats, even with a majority of votes. Sophisticated geo-mapping software and voluminous voter data turned this ancient art into a hi-tech science when the US redistricted after the 2010 census.

Give credit where it’s due: the GOP has been far more adept at using these new tools than the Democrats (probably because Republicans recognize that they are increasingly a minority party and must cheat if they are going to win).

As the Guardian reports, gerrymandering has allowed the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. Gerrymandering thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.

Despite lacking any mandate for an extreme agenda in a closely divided nation, Republican lawmakers have pushed through new voting restrictions, anti-labor laws, the emergency manager bill that led to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and now, these strict abortion bans. Electorally, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it.

The article outlined evidence of extreme gerrymandering in several states where legislatures have passed laws not supported by voters.

In Ohio, the article pointed to “zero evidence” that voters hold extreme opinions on abortion, and noted that polls show more voters opposed to that state’s new “heartbeat” bill than supportive of it. A University of Chicago study showed that barely half the total vote in Ohio gave Republicans more than 63% of the seats– simply because the maps were “surgically designed” to ensure that few seats would be competitive.

There’s a lot more data, and I encourage you to click through and read the entire article. But (as I have repeated endlessly) the bottom line is simple: the only way to overcome the unfair advantage Republicans have built for themselves is massive turnout. As I posted yesterday, unusually high turnout in the 2018 elections was enough in many districts to overcome built-in advantages as high as 5-8 points.

We need to remind discouraged voters that gerrymandering is based upon prior voting behavior. If people who rarely or never vote show up at the polls, a significant number of supposedly safe seats can change hands.

It has never been more important to get out the vote. America’s future–and that of our children and grandchildren–depends upon it.

Rerun

Facebook has a feature dubbed “your memories.” A couple of days ago, it reminded me of a blog I posted a year ago about voter turnout. I have never repeated a post before, but as we count down to critically important May and November elections, I think this one is worth re-running. (It was titled, “It’s The Turnout, Stupid!”)

_____________________

Do references to “President” Trump make you wonder how we ended up with a Congress and an Administration so wildly at odds with what survey research tells us the majority of Americans want?

This paragraph from a recent Vox article really says it all:

A general poll doesn’t reflect voters very much anymore. A general poll would have had Donald Trump losing substantially and the Democrats winning the House. About 45 percent of people in general polls don’t vote at all. What you saw in the election was that Republican voters came out at a very high rate. They got high turnout from non-minority people from small towns.

There are multiple reasons people fail to vote. There is, of course, deliberate suppression via “Voter ID” laws , restrictions of early voting periods and purposely inconvenient placement of polling places.

Gerrymandering, as I have pointed out numerous times before, is a major disincentive; why go to the polls when the overwhelming  number of contests aren’t really contested?

And of course, there are the holdover mechanisms from days when transportation and communication technologies were very different–state, rather than national control of everything from registration to the hours the polls are open, voting on a Tuesday, when most of us have to work, rather than on a weekend or a day designated as a national holiday, etc.

The Vox paragraph illustrates the repeated and frustrating phenomenon of widespread public antagonism to proposed legislation that nevertheless passes easily, or support for measures that repeatedly fail. If vote totals equaled poll results–that is, if everyone who responded to an opinion survey voted–our political environment would be dramatically different.

Americans being who we are, we are extremely unlikely to require voting, as they do in Australia. (Those who fail to cast a ballot pay a fine.) We can’t even pass measures to make voting easier. I personally favor “vote by mail” systems like the ones in Oregon and Washington State; thay save taxpayer dollars, deter (already minuscule) voter fraud, and increase turnout. They also give voters time to research ballot issues in order to cast informed votes. (Informed votes! What a thought….)

If the millions of Americans who have been energized (okay, enraged) by Trump’s election want to really turn things around, the single most important thing they can do is register people who have not previously voted, and follow up by doing whatever it takes to get them to cast ballots.

Voter ID laws a problem? Be sure everyone you register has ID. Polls and times inconvenient? Help them vote early or drive them to their polling place.

Gerrymandering a disincentive? First make sure that someone is opposing every incumbent, no matter how lopsided the district, and then help people who haven’t previously voted get to the polls. Those gerrymandered district lines are based upon prior turnout statistics; on how people who voted in that district previously cast their ballots. If even half of those who have been non-voters started going to the polls, a lot of so-called “safe” districts wouldn’t be so safe.

Not voting, it turns out, is a vote for the status quo. There are a lot of Americans who are cynical and dissatisfied with the status quo who don’t realize that the plutocrats and autocrats they criticize are enabled by–and counting on– their continued lack of involvement.

If everyone who has found his or her inner activist would pledge to find and register three to five people who haven’t previously voted, and do what it takes to get them to the polls, it would change America.