Tag Archives: vote suppression

Florida, Felons And The Franchise

According to The Guardian, voter disenfranchisement is an American tradition.

It’s hard to dispute that charge when we find ourselves in the middle of vicious–and very public– attempts to suppress the upcoming vote: an assault on both vote-by-mail and the Post Office that would deliver absentee ballots, enthusiastic and none-too-careful “purges” of state voter rolls, and of course the continued insistence that “Voter ID” documentation is needed to prevent (virtually non-existent) in-person voter fraud.

But it’s hard to beat the obscene shenanigans of the Florida GOP, which has used every mechanism in its power to defeat the expressed will of citizens who voted to return the franchise to formerly incarcerated citizens. The Guardian provided background:

Civil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people.

Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?

The Guardian article proceeds to lay out the history of felon disenfranchisement, going all the way back to ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe and then through history, up to and including the Supreme Court’s refusal to find that either the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution forbid the practice. The history also laid out the way in which the drug war–which Michelle Alexander showed decisively was a new form of Jim Crow–was cited to justify the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals  who “just coincidentally” were overwhelmingly African-American.

In 2018, Florida voters passed “Amendment 4”, a measure that would restore the franchise to up to 1.4 million ex-felons. That ballot initiative, the Guardian noted, was one of the most significant voting rights victories for this population in decades.

So what happened?

Republican legislators passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay court fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. Critics of the law have called this payment requirement a modern-day poll tax. In July of 2020 the supreme court ruled in favor of the legislature, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to vote in the upcoming election.

As NPR reported last month,

The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a lower court order that likely will prevent hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida from voting in the November election. It is the fourth time that the court has refused to intervene to protect voting rights this year.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, white Americans have begun (belatedly) to recognize how many of our policies are motivated by racial animus–and how many of those policies end up hurting everyone, not just their intended victims.

When it comes to voting rights, the GOP’s sustained effort to depress the votes of urban dwellers, people of color and poor people is both an admission and an attack: an admission that the party cannot win “fair and square,” and an attack on the majority rule that is the essence of a democratic system.

 

The Real Objection To Vote By Mail

I have some truly brilliant Facebook friends who regularly enlighten me.

For example, I have been puzzled by the degree of opposition displayed by Trump Republicans to voting by mail. The research shows pretty conclusively that vote by mail  doesn’t benefit either party (although it does increase turnout, and there are those who believe that larger turnout benefits Democrats.) It just seemed odd that the Trumpers would get so hysterical– and spend so much time and energy– fighting mail-in ballots.

Now I understand.

One of my Facebook Friends is David Honig, an Indiana lawyer whose posts are always informed and perceptive. However, his post this week–in which he answered the “why” question–was especially brilliant, because he cut through all the speculation and explained what is really motivating Republican opposition to vote by mail.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities telling them the election has been rescheduled, or their polling place changed, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities on election day, telling voters to relax, the Democrat has already won, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, calling out the “Militia” to intimidate voters won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, a “random” road block near a black neighborhood on election day won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, closing down the polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods, and leaving the only polling place miles from the populace, without any public transportation, won’t work.

As David argues–pretty persuasively– this isn’t about managing expectations, or creating an argument about errors in the vote in the event of a close Trump loss. This is about Republicans not being able to use their usual tactics– their time-honored strategies to suppress minority turnout on election day–to eke out a win. (The links will take you to recent examples of those tactics.)

GOP opposition is about the fact that vote-by-mail would eliminate most of the cheating we actually see every election.

As one of my sons pointed out in a comment, an additional problem Republicans have with voting by mail is that it returns the system to good old-fashioned paper. Voting by mail, with paper ballots, eliminates concerns about computer hacking and (with many of the newer voting machines) the lack of paper backup.

With “vote by mail” there is a paper trail that can be checked for accuracy in the event of a dispute or recount.

Ironically, it turns our that the arguments about vote by mail actually are arguments about voter fraud– just not in the way Republicans are framing it.  Vote by mail is a way of preventing fraud–preventing games the GOP has perfected and played for years–preventing voter suppression tactics that are every bit as fraudulent as casting an unauthorized or impermissible ballot. When we talk about rigging an election, these are the methods that have been used for years to do the rigging.

Ultimately, vote by mail isn’t just about preventing the spread of disease, or about accommodating the schedules of working folks, or even about facilitating the casting of more thoughtful and considered ballots, although it will do all of those things. It’s about keeping elections honest.

I just didn’t see it before.

No wonder the Trumpublicans oppose it.

Well–For Once, He’s Been Honest, Even If Accidentally

As if being confined to our homes–or worse, going to essential jobs and worrying whether we were inevitably going to contract the Coronavirus–wasn’t stressful enough, those of us who follow such things watch in frustration as the Trump Administration reverses environmental protections and amasses powers the Constitution previously denied to the Executive branch.

Not to mention increasing worries about the upcoming election.

It is beginning to look as if  mandatory social distancing will extend right through what should be campaign season, and disrupt the ability of millions of Americans to vote in November. Republicans may have demonstrated their utter inability to govern in the public interest, but political observers are well aware of their consummate skills in vote suppression–their ability to use any disruption, any excuse, to keep people from the polls.

The one bright spot is the jaw-dropping idiocy of Trump himself. (As a friend frequently reminds me, just think how much more harm he could do if he had an IQ or was even minimally competent.) As the Guardian recently reported, 

Donald Trump admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party.

The president made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Democrats had proposed the measures as part of the coronavirus stimulus. They ultimately were not included in the $2.2tn final package, which included only $400m to states to help them run elections.

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.

Talking Points Memo also commented on the admission.

You’re not supposed to say the quiet parts out loud, Mr. President!

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump told the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” that House Democrats had tried to include “crazy” proposals in the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed last week, including measures aimed at easing the voting process for Americans during the coronavirus outbreak.

It isn’t that We the People have been unaware that the country has millions more Democrats than Republicans. The Electoral College is fiercely defended by GOP operatives who know that it gives disproportionate influence to rural Republicans; thanks to GOP gerrymandering, Republicans dominated Congress after the 2016 election despite receiving a million and a half fewer votes than Democrats–in 2018, in order to overcome that advantage and retake control of the House, Democrats had to win by staggering percentages.

This isn’t new. The Guardian  went back to 1980.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist, said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

In the wake of the Depression, Americans demanded changes to governance that shaped the America most of us grew up in. The GOP has fought most of those changes–especially those that strengthened the social safety net–and has relied heavily on voter apathy and the party’s ability to suppress the votes of minorities and poorer Americans to erase them.

There really is no debate about what sorts of policies the majority of Americans want–or about the tactics Republicans intend to employ to ensure that those policies never get implemented. Trump has admitted what every sentient person already knew.

The unanswered question is: will the current pandemic be as much of a wake-up call as the Depression?

 

 

 

Winner Take All

In Indianapolis, early voting for the upcoming municipal elections just commenced, and my husband and I dutifully cast our ballots in advance of election day.

After all, we could be hit by a bus or otherwise “snuffed out” between now and the actual date of the election. This way, we’re sure our votes for Mayor and City-County Council will count.

Unlike our votes for President.

Each time we participate in the democratic process, I am reminded of all the ways in which that process has become less democratic. Voter suppression, voter I.D. laws, polls closing at 6:00 pm–there are numerous ways that the Republican super-majority in our state has made casting a vote onerous for everyone, but especially for the minority and working-class folks who tend to vote Democratic.

Indiana isn’t alone. There are so many ways that the party that controls a statehouse can erase the votes of citizens in the opposing party–at least, in Presidential contests. The most pernicious–and probably least understood–is “winner take all.”

A recent op-ed from the New York Times explains.

The column began with a discussion of the Electoral College, and the changes in the way it works–especially the manner in which we choose Electors– since it was first conceived by Alexander Hamilton. But as the author noted, today’s Electors aren’t the problem.

What really disregards the will of the people is the winner-take-all rule currently used by every state but Maine and Nebraska. Giving all electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote erases the votes of citizens in the political minority — say, the 4.5 million people who voted for Donald Trump in California, or the 3.9 million who voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. Nationwide, this was the fate of 55 million people in 2016, or 42 percent of the country’s electorate.

The winner-take-all rule encourages campaigns to focus on closely divided battleground states, where a swing of even a few hundred votes can move a huge bloc of electors — creating presidents out of popular-vote losers, like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. This violates the central democratic (or, if you prefer, republican) premises of political equality and majority rule.

What most people don’t realize is that the winner-take-all rule exists nowhere in the Constitution. It’s a pure creation of the states. They can award their electors by congressional district, as Maine and Nebraska do, or in proportion to the state’s popular vote, as several states have considered.

Or, of course, states could award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote, which would be the result of enough states signing on to the National Vote Compact.

If the Compact cannot reach its target of signatory states having a total of 270 Electoral Votes, my own preference would be a proportionate allocation. If 60% of the votes are cast for candidate A, candidate A gets 60% of the state’s electoral votes–not 100%. People in the political minority in a state would suddenly have an incentive to vote–an incentive that doesn’t exist now. A presidential vote by a Democrat in Indiana or a Republican in California simply doesn’t count.

Allocating votes by Congressional District risks replicating the major flaw of today’s Electoral College–awarding disproportionate weight to less-populated rural areas. (Thanks to population shifts since the Constitution was ratified, today’s Electoral College effectively makes every rural vote worth one and a third of every urban vote.)

The problem is, to work properly, all states would have to make the change to proportional allocation–and that won’t happen. So we’re stuck.

Until we figure a way to get rid of the Electoral College, we will continue to have Presidents elected by–and answerable to–a minority of the voters. I don’t know what you call that, but it isn’t democracy.

 

The First Order Of Election Business

Americans may not have settled on a candidate to oppose the madman in the White House, but there is widespread agreement that the 2020 election will be a critical test of our national character.

It will also be a test of our electoral structures. Just how democratic are our elections? How easily rigged?

I’m not even talking about the threat of Russian interference. I’m talking about the glaringly obvious susceptibility of our elections to corruption–gerrymandering, of course, but also voter ID laws, and other vote suppression tactics.

It took the Guardian rather than an American news operation to do a front-page story on research by the Brennan Center.

US election jurisdictions with histories of egregious voter discrimination have been purging voter rolls at a rate 40% beyond the national average, according to a watchdog report released on Thursday.

At least 17 million voters were purged nationwide between 2016 and 2018, according to a studyby the Brennan Center for Justice. The number was basically unchanged from the previous two-year period.

While the rate of voter purges elsewhere has declined slowly, jurisdictions released from federal oversight by a watershed 2013 supreme court ruling had purge rates “significantly higher” than jurisdictions not previously subjected to oversight, the Brennan Center found in a previous report.

That trend has continued, the watchdog said, with the disproportionate purging of voters resulting in an estimated 1.1 million fewer voters between 2016 and 2018.

It will come as no surprise that the increase in purges began almost immediately after Shelby County v Holder in 2013, a decision that eviscerated the section of the Voting Rights Act that had subjected counties with histories of voter discrimination to federal oversight. The ruling was incredibly naive–it reminded me of Lee Hamilton’s comment that the Supreme Court needs fewer graduates of elite law schools and more justices who’d run for county sheriff. It simply ignored evidence of contemporary voter suppression tactics– strict voter identification laws, partisan gerrymandering and aggressive voter purges.

Voter roll purges are regularly undertaken to account for voters who move or die. But critics say that aggressive and unfair purges of voter rolls in recent years – such as a purge of 107,000 voters in Georgia in 2017 by the then secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who was subsequently elected governor by the electorate he had culled – have warped democracy.

“As the country prepares for the 2020 election, election administrators should take steps to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot next November,” the Brennan Center said in a statement. “Election day is often too late to discover that a person has been wrongfully purged.”

The Brennan Center study points to the critical importance of Stacy Abrams’ new initiative. (Abrams, of course, was the Georgia gubernatorial candidate cheated out of a likely win by Brian Kemp.) As The Atlantic  has reported

Stacey Abrams was catapulted into the national spotlight in 2018, when the former state representative came within 54,000 votes of winning the Georgia governor’s race, in an election marred by extensive reports of voter suppression. But despite the wave of calls urging her to parlay that political stardom into a presidential (or Senate) bid, Abrams will instead focus on fighting voter suppression through a new initiative called Fair Fight 2020, which, as she put it, aims to“make certain that no one has to go through in 2020 what we went through in 2018.” …

“I think what her experience this past year revealed was, regardless of how dynamic of a candidate you are, how much mobilization that you implement—particularly to mobilize voters who may not vote regularly and could not or have not voted at all—the effort to suppress the vote was, in her case, insurmountable,” says Pearl Dowe, a professor of political science and African American studies at Emory University. “I think it would be a mistake for any presidential candidate not to think about it.”

American voters–and the American media–regularly focus on personalities, polls and other “horse race” metrics, giving short shrift to the systemic environment that all too often determines outcomes– and even shorter shrift to coverage of partisans who game those systems.

It isn’t just the anti-democratic Electoral College.

If Americans somehow manage to overwhelm these anti-democratic processes–if we manage to elect rational, ethical policymakers committed to fair elections, they’ll have their work cut out for them.