Tag Archives: voting

It Isn’t Just Hanging Chads…

Americans are slowly becoming aware of the ways in which partisan redistricting and vote suppression are torpedoing the democratic ideal of “one person, one vote.” In the absence of something egregious like Florida’s “hanging chads,” however, we are still less likely to recognize the partisan effects of ballot design.

A recent article from the Washington Post focused on that issue.

It’s a political truism: The candidate whose name appears first on the ballot has an advantage over the competitors listed below. That’s not just folklore — numerous studies around the country have shown that candidates who are listed first receive more votes. The advantage is so marked that in Illinois, one of several states where ballot position is based on the order of filing, candidates wait in line overnight to gain the top spot.

I can attest to the accuracy of those studies. When I first became politically active (back in the Ice Age), Indiana awarded ballot positions alphabetically. A gentleman who had changed his name to Aaocker was a perennial candidate for a number of offices. He always ran in Republican primaries (back then, Marion County was solidly Republican), where turnout was lower, and he could be counted on to skim some 2000 votes from the others on the ballot.

I’ve lost track of Indiana’s current approach to ballot placement–I leave it to a reader to enlighten us–but ballot order is a state decision, and it varies widely from state to state. In November, a federal court blocked a ballot order law in Florida; that law automatically gave the top position in every race to the candidate of the last-elected governor’s party.

As a result of that law, Republican candidates have been listed first in every race on every ballot in the state for the last two decades. In 2016, Donald Trump’s name appeared before Hillary Clinton’s. In 2018, Ron DeSantis was listed above Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race, and Rick Scott was listed above Bill Nelson in the election for U.S. Senate.

The court found that first place on the ballot was worth five percentage points, and noted that Trump had defeated Clinton by just over one percentage point, that DeSantis won by four-tenths of a point, and Scott beat Nelson by just one-tenth of a point.

Florida Republicans are appealing the decision.

As the article points out, if the appeal is successful, we will face a situation not unlike redistricting; just as states manipulate district lines to advance partisan interests, states will approach ballot design from a similarly partisan perspective.

Without any judicial check, changing election rules for partisan advantage will become a tool for both parties. For example, the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia could provide that Democratic candidates are listed first and Republican candidates are listed third. New Jersey could pass a law allowing Democratic candidates to be listed first with their party affiliation but limiting all other candidates to an alphabetical order without any party identification. New York could retain straight-ticket voting for Democrats but not for Republicans. Massachusetts could allow longer voting hours for registered Democrats than Republicans.

The fact that voters go to the polls so unprepared that they vote for the first name on a ballot’s list is depressing. When good government organizations urge people to vote, they are really encouraging them to cast an informed vote. But–as in so many areas of contemporary life–there’s a wide gap between the real and the ideal.

Allowing partisans to use that gap to undermine the choices of voters who are informed is cheating. But good sportsmanship is so last century….

 

A Day Of Reckoning…..

Americans go to the polls today. When those polls close, and the results are announced, we’ll know whether we live in the America whose motto is e pluribus unum or Trump’s “Christian” America (note quotation marks) that wants to be White again.

Paul Krugman often speaks truth to power, and his recent column in the New York Times  pulled no punches.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a wave of hate crimes. Just in the past few days, bombs were mailed to a number of prominent Democrats, plus CNN. Then, a gunman massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Meanwhile, another gunman killed two African-Americans at a Louisville supermarket, after first trying unsuccessfully to break into a black church— if he had gotten there an hour earlier, we would probably have had another mass murder.

All of these hate crimes seem clearly linked to the climate of paranoia and racism deliberately fostered by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress and the media.

Killing black people is an old American tradition, but it is experiencing a revival in the Trump era.

Krugman titled his column “Hate is on the ballot next week,” pointing out that the perpetrator of the synagogue massacre had been motivated by a widespread Neo-Nazi conspiracy theory that was part and parcel of Trump’s despicable attacks on the would-be immigrants who are still some 900 miles from our Southern border.

The fearmongers aren’t just portraying a small group of frightened, hungry people still far from the United States border as a looming invasion. They have also been systematically implying that Jews are somehow behind the whole thing. There’s a straight line from Fox News coverage of the caravan to the Tree of Life massacre.

The main target of Krugman’s ire was what he termed “whataboutism” and “bothsidesism”–a refusal to distinguish Republican White Nationalism from Democratic garden-variety bullshit.

False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

This election season, arguing for equivalence takes real effort. Republicans haven’t even tried to dampen the racist rhetoric being spewed by many of their candidates, or hide their efforts at vote suppression. In a column that in many ways echoed Krugman’s, Michelle Goldberg focused on the Governor’s race in Georgia.

Right now America is tearing itself apart as an embittered white conservative minority clings to power, terrified at being swamped by a new multiracial polyglot majority. The divide feels especially stark in Georgia, where the midterm election is a battle between Trumpist reaction and the multicultural America whose emergence the right is trying, at all costs, to forestall.

Abrams’ Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, is the Georgia secretary of state–an office responsible for overseeing the election in which he is a candidate.

Last week, Rolling Stone obtained audio of Kemp telling donors of his “concern” about what might happen in Georgia “if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.” As the secretary of state overseeing his own election, he’s taken steps to make that harder. His office has frozen new voter registrations for minor discrepancies with official records, and, starting in 2012, purged around 1.5 million people from the voter rolls — some simply because they didn’t vote in previous elections.

It isn’t a coincidence that the vast majority of registrations Kemp found “questionable” were from African-Americans.

Kemp is the candidate of aggrieved whiteness. During the primary, he ran an ad boasting that he drives a big truck “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.” (That would be kidnapping.) A person who claimed to be a Kemp canvasser recently wrote on the racist website VDare, “I know everything I need to know about what happens when blacks are in charge from Detroit, Haiti, South Africa, etc.” Kemp cannot be blamed for the words of his volunteers, but he’s made little discernible effort to distance himself from bigots. This month he posed for a photograph with a white nationalist fan in a T-shirt saying, “Allah is not God, and Mohammad is not his prophet.”

It’s no accident that Trump has emboldened the haters. His intent has become so obvious that last week, Florida’s former Republican state chairman called him out for an outrageous anti-immigrant ad.

“You are a despicable divider; the worse social poison to afflict our country in decades,” Cardenas wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning. “This ad, and your full approval of it, will condemn you and your bigoted legacy forever in the annals of America’s history books.”

Voters aren’t going to the polls today to choose between candidates or parties. They are choosing between incompatible versions of America.

About That Swamp…And Your Vote

Early voting is now underway in most states; here in Indianapolis–thanks to Common Cause and the pro bono efforts of local attorney and all-around good guy Bill Groth–we have nearly as many satellite voting sites as our rural, Republican neighbors. Preliminary reports are that those sites have been flooded with early voters.

This is one of those years where most voters have made up their minds weeks, if not months, ahead. But just in case anyone reading this is tempted to send a less-than-emphatic message to the current iteration of the once Grand Old Party, let me remind you of the “quality” of the people in the Trump Administration, and the fact that electing any Republican to any position in any level of government is an endorsement of the “best people” that constitute Trump’s Swamp.

Who did they get to vet these people? Rod Blagojevich?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is plagued by scandals — facing about a dozen different investigations of his conduct — but he may have found a solution to his oversight woes: replacing the person investigating him with a political stooge.

Subsequent reports suggest this particular appointment was reversed, but the fact that Zinke tried this stunt simply confirms his sleaziness. Of course, he has lots of company. CNN recently published a compendium of cabinet scandals and embarrassments.

The term “embattled” has now been thrown around so often in news coverage of Trump Cabinet secretaries’ assorted foibles, it’s practically been fused to the front of some of their titles. The President himself, perhaps for variety’s sake, referred to Jeff Sessions in a tweet last year as his “beleaguered” attorney general.

 

Some of the alleged (and confirmed) transgressions have been more damaging than others. The White House’s handling of the Rob Porter scandal might have been its darkest episode, an ethical failure leavened by bureaucratic incompetence. Mostly though, the administration’s scandals and embarrassments have been characterized less by furtive malfeasance than some kind of open disdain for (or ignorance of) basic ethical standards (or a lack of due diligence).

That lede was followed by a rundown of some of the most glaring “embarrassments,” from the nomination of White House doctor Ronny Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (he withdrew after reports emerged of his excessive drinking, creating a “toxic” work environment, handing out prescription pain medications without proper documentation, wrecking a government vehicle after a going-away party, and drunkenly banging on the door of a female colleague during an overseas trip) to the multiple transgressions that led to Scott Pruitt’s resignation from his position destroying the EPA, to Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set, to White House Secretary Rob Porter’s penchant for domestic violence, to Tom Price’s pricey flying habits. And much, much more.

It’s a long list–an inclusive one would make a much too-long post– and the ethical problems continue to mount. Vox suggests that the administration is unable to clean house because the President himself is too “soaked in scandal.” As the story says,

But inside the Donald Trump White House, grifters, abusers, racists, and harassers still get hired; they lurk around the Oval Office after they’ve been found out; and even in the rare instance where they’re forced out, it’s only grudgingly.

We have an administration that is setting a new (low) level for corruption; a racist President who proudly proclaims his Nationalism; and a GOP controlled Congress that is at best feckless and at worst in active collaboration with the criminals and thugs in the administration.

A vote for any Republican–no matter how unconnected that person might be to the Trumpists’ constant affronts to democracy and the Constitution–will be seen as an endorsement of the GOP’s corruption and White Nationalism.

Is that unfair to local candidates who may be nice people? Yes. But it’s necessary. We can go back to being fair when we get our country back.

Really, NRA?

A friend recently sent me a questionnaire he’d received from the NRA, along with a fundraising appeal warning that the November elections will “threaten your gun rights,” and explaining that the organization needs your money in order to protect its “pro-freedom” agenda. (I wonder when they’ll explain why that “pro-freedom agenda” required that they collaborate with Russian operatives…but I digress.)

The letter also disses all those polls showing widespread public support for background checks and other modest gun-control measures. (“Fake news!”)

If there is one thing academic researchers and legitimate political pollsters know, it is that the way you frame survey questions is critical: if you are trying to obtain an accurate reading of the public pulse, questions cannot be suggestive or loaded.

Of course, if political candidates and advocacy organizations were interested in accurate results, they’d hire a reputable pollster. The “surveys” and “polls” we all receive from various candidates and organizations are transparent efforts to separate us from our money; they are intended to push our buttons, not inquire about our opinions.

And the NRA has mastered the art of button-pushing. A few examples:

“Do you agree with the politicians and Hollywood elites who say the NRA is a terrorist organization?”

“Do you support a sweeping ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns?”

“Should law-abiding Americans be forced to undergo a background check?”

“Should the federal government limit your ability to defend yourself and your family by banning magazines with more than 10 rounds?”

“Should the federal government be able to register and track all firearms in the U.S. and retain personal information about those who lawfully possess them?”

“Would you ever knowingly vote for a candidate for Congress who supports new anti-gun restrictions as part of his or her agenda?”

There’s more, of course, but these “poll questions” should give you a flavor of the rest.

Before you laugh at the transparency of these formulations or dismiss the obviousness of the propaganda, it may be worth thinking about the political psychology behind the choice of words employed in what was an expensive mailing. Remember, these “polls” go to NRA members (including the friend who shared this), not to the general public–and although reputable surveys suggest that the majority of those members are far more reasonable than the organization’s leadership, they are still likely to be favorably disposed to the NRA’s mission.

They aren’t likely to be favorably disposed to “Hollywood elites.” They are very likely to resent being called a terrorist organization.

The framing of the support/no support questions is patently dishonest, but very effective. Do you favor a “sweeping” ban? Do you want the government “forcing” “law-abiding” citizens to do anything? Surely you are already worried that the surveillance state is keeping tabs on everyone, and you don’t want them “retaining your personal information.”

I’m sure you are leery of Congressional candidates who make gun control part of an (obviously nefarious) “agenda.”

The big problem with special interest organizations like the NRA isn’t that they represent majority opinion. They don’t–not even close. They are effective because their issues are so salient to the minority of people who do agree with them. (This is also true of anti-choice  and other single-issue voters.)

Because they care deeply about their particular issue, (and generally, not about many–or any–others) they vote. Reliably. And as a result, they exercise far more influence than their numbers would otherwise entitle them to. That’s one reason why the recent arrest of a Russian operative who used the NRA as her conduit to the Trump Administration and  Republicans in Congress was so alarming.

My single issue in November is the defeat of Trump enablers. It’s pretty salient to me….

 

 

 

If Demographics Are Destiny…..

The most encouraging headline I’ve come across lately was on a Brookings Institution study titled “Trump Owns a Shrinking Republican Party.”

It’s worth remembering the central point of the study when we read that a majority of Republicans remain adamant in their support of Trump–that’s a majority of a smaller and smaller number of voters.

The opening paragraphs of the report confront the puzzle of Trump’s disinterest in what has typically been the first goal of political candidates and parties alike: expanding one’s base.

Most American presidents come into office seeking to expand their support beyond their most loyal voters. But among the many peculiarities of the Trump presidency is his lack of interest in expanding his base, a fact that is even more surprising for someone who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million and carried his key electoral college states by less than 100,000 votes. The story of Trump and his base has two sides.

The first “side” is what is most often reported: the devotion of Trump’s base. These are the people who would vote for him even if he shot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue, as he famously boasted.

Loyalty to Trump among the Republican base is looking so strong that it led Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a Trump critic who is not running again, to tell reporters “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is.  (As regular readers of this blog know–I have some fairly strong and not at all complimentary opinions about why people join that cult.)

The other “side” of the equation is the continuing erosion of party identification, especially Republican identification.

As the following graph of Gallup polls indicates, both political parties find themselves less popular now than they did in 2004 with a substantial rise in those who identify as independents. For the Democrats, party identification peaked in Obama’s first term and then dropped in his second term. For Republicans, party identification took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump’s election.

How can we explain what looks to be a long-term decline for the Republican brand? Age, for one thing. From the beginning of the Trump administration the oldest Americans, those aged 50 and over, have consistently given Trump his highest approval ratings while young people aged 18–29 have consistently given him his lowest approval ratings.

The study concludes–not unreasonably–that a political party unable to attract young people, especially when a generation is as big as the Millennial generation, is not a party with a very bright future.

But it isn’t only young people. We don’t have data–at least, I’m unaware of any–that gives us a handle on the numbers of disaffected “old guard” Republicans, the good-government, civic-minded folks I used to work with, who are horrified by what their party has become. The Steve Schmidts and other high-profile “never Trumpers” are only the tip of that iceberg.

Of course, the GOP establishment is aware of these demographics; those dwindling numbers are the impetus for the party’s constant efforts to rig the system–to gerrymander, impose draconian voter ID requirements, purge registration rolls and generally do whatever they can to suppress turnout.

They know that members of the cult will vote, no matter what. If the rest of us–however numerous– don’t, the current (profoundly unAmerican) iteration of what used to be a Grand Old Party will retain power.

You don’t have to love the Democrats to find that prospect a chilling one.