Waiting Four Years Won’t Bring Change
Americans concerned about Donald Trump speak optimistically about 2018 and 2020, but the time of free, fair and verifiable Federal elections has passed.
Despite Trump’s daily lies, connections to Putin and ongoing Constitutional violations, Republicans in Congress continue to completely support him. While they work to dismantle the Federal Election Assistance Commission, Republican state legislators are increasing efforts at voter suppression.
These steps build on the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision weakening the Voter Rights Act and the manipulation of Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck, called “wildly successful” at suppressing legitimate voters in 2016.
There’s no reason to think that we will be able to trust election results from red states and battleground states in the future.
But the story of voter suppression and distorting the will of the people is old. Certainly, the United States denied the right of blacks and women to vote for more than a century but let’s just even look at recent history. Our generation has been especially passive, acquiescing to obvious injustices.
For example, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes and for second time in 16 years, the electoral college determined the presidency over the will of the people. Let’s review what happened in 2000 and 2004.
The 2000 Election: Bush v. Gore
In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote nationally by 543,816 votes. The race came down to Florida. Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris did everything she could to disrupt the state’s recount. In fact, we don’t know who won in Florida or who should have won the electoral college because the Republican majority Supreme Court stopped the recount. Gore accepted the outcome as did the country.
One result of our acquiescence was President Bush’s $2 trillion quagmire in Iraq, “expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest” and untold human suffering. Meanwhile, the U.S. struggles with infrastructure, education and healthcare costs domestically.
Still, many people don’t know or remember that Republican tactics in the 2004 election led to an similarly questionable outcome.
The 2004 Election: Bush v. Kerry
In 2004, the electoral college margin was determined by Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, a state Bush won by 118, 601 votes over John Kerry.
While that seems like a reasonable margin, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell did everything he could to disrupt voter registration and voter access, targeting minority voters and districts likely to turn out for Kerry.
Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. – Common Dreams
A month prior to Ohio’s registration deadline, Blackwell pronounced that forms needed to be submitted on eighty-pound unwaxed white paper stock, similar to a typical postcard or they would be invalid. Blackwell also violated important elements of The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).
ElectionLawBlog provides a succinct summary of problems Ohio voters faced. And, the DNC issued a comprehensive report: DNC 2004 Ohio Elections Report (pdf).
One result of the 2004 election was Bush’s lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court of right wing corporatist justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Our failure to fight for election audits in Ohio has resulted in an ongoing generation of injustices.
The Impact of Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering is the process of mapping state electoral districts in ways that optimize the number of safe seats for the majority party.
As reported by FairVote, in 2012, Barack Obama won 52% of the national two-party vote, but he only carried 22% of counties. While about 52% of voters wanted a Democratic House and Democratic candidates won more than a million more votes, Republicans won a comfortable majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
Gerrymandering has also nearly eliminated statesmanship and compromise because as unrestricted campaign finance positions party loyalists in safe seats around the country, there is simply no need to compromise.
Gerrymandered seats are so safe that Republicans in more than 200 districts are avoiding town halls where voters would have had a chance to ask them about their failure to act against Trump.
When does gerrymandering distort the people’s will to an extent where we no longer have a democracy? The answer is now. It’s past time to abolish gerrymandering.
Unregulated Money in Politics
Most of us know the impacts on elections by unrestrained campaign spending by largely unregulated political action committees (PACs). A lot of this was unleashed by the slim majority 5-4 decision enabled by Roberts and Alito on Citizens United (a decision the ACLU advocated for).
With stronger resistance to the 2004 election results, we might have more campaign finance regulation and a completely different political environment. Instead, we have Trump and a Republican dominated Congress.
We Can’t Wait for Elections
Free, fair and verifiable elections require a robust democracy and state and federal governments that honor transparency, accountability and a regard for scientific fact.
Some will argue we have never had a true democracy in the United States because of our history of slavery, discrimination or the electoral college’s detachment from the popular will. But, until recently we were moving towards a stable republic that generally represented the choice of the people. This is no longer true.
Relying on elections and the path we are on under Trump and this GOP controlled Congress, Trump’s fraudulent “re-election” is a foregone conclusion. To expect anything different is delusional.
In fact, leveraging their election manipulations, the GOP is only one state legislature away from being able to amend the Constitution.
We’ve been relatively passive about voting rights and elections for too long. Great damage has been done. We can’t just wait for future elections to stop Trump and the Republican party. They will never implement unified democracy reforms and a Voter Bill of Rights is needed.
Instead, we need to accelerate efforts to seek out our levers of power, the power in Blue States, women and our popular majority. We’ll write more not this soon.