Monday, November 25, 2013

How Republicans rig the game

This is scary stuff from Rolling Stone magazine:
As the nation recovers from the Republican shutdown of government [this was first published Nov. 11], the question Americans should be asking is not "Why did the GOP do that to us?" but "Why were they even relevant in the first place?" So dramatically have the demographic and electoral tides in this country turned against the Republican Party that, in a representative democracy worthy of the designation, the Grand Old Party should be watching from the sidelines and licking its wounds. Not only did Barack Obama win a second term in an electoral landslide in 2012, but he is also just the fourth president in a century to have won two elections with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. What's more, the party controls 55 seats in the Senate, and Democratic candidates for the House received well over a million more votes than their Republican counterparts in the election last year. And yet, John Boehner still wields the gavel in the House and Republican resistance remains a defining force in the Senate, frustrating Obama's ambitious agenda.

How is this possible? National Republicans have waged an unrelenting campaign to exploit every weakness and anachronism in our electoral system. Through a combination of hyperpartisan redistricting of the House, unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate and racist voter suppression in the states, today's GOP has locked in political power that it could never have secured on a level playing field.

Despite the fact that Republican Congressional can didates received nearly 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic candidates last November, the Republicans lost only eight seats from their historic 2010 romp, allowing them to preserve a fat 33-seat edge in the House.

(source - cartoonist?)

There are plenty of details in the article - far too many to post here - so I recommend that you read it all. I'll just post a few things here. For example, this line struck me:
In past elections, a gentleman's agreement prevailed among sitting politicians of both parties that redistricting would keep them safe.

Frankly, it's taken far too long for Democrats to realize that Republicans don't care about preserving America's traditional institutions. For all that they call themselves "conservative," they're actually radicals willing to destroy anything which doesn't immediately benefit them. That's hardly "conservative."

But many Democratic politicians are conservative, especially the old men (and women) in the U.S. Senate, where it's taken them much too long to recognize what they're dealing with.
At the time of the constitutional convention in 1787, the most populous state, Virginia, counted nearly 10 times the free population of Delaware. Yet both would have the same number of senators. In the more than two centuries since, America has expanded, and its population became concentrated, in ways the founders could have scarcely imagined – rendering the original 10:1 standard quaint. Today, the population of California outpaces Wyoming's by a ratio of 65:1. This extreme example underscores a nationwide trend: Half of the U.S. population now resides in just nine states. Which is to say that the other 50 percent of Americans control 82 votes in the U.S. Senate.

This state of affairs would be shocking enough if the Senate were governed by majority rule. But since 2007, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has subjected the daily business of the chamber to the filibuster, which means that legislation cannot advance and a presidential nominee can't be confirmed without a supermajority of 60 votes. Republicans have used this parliamentary roadblock to stop greenhouse-gas regulations, stall the DREAM Act and delay judicial confirmations.

The filibuster adds an undemocratic overlay to a chamber that is already rankly undemocratic. In today's Senate, 41 small-state Republicans can mount a filibuster on behalf of 28 percent of the country. And the departure from historical practice is shocking: LBJ faced one filibuster as Senate majority leader. Harry Reid, the current majority leader, has faced more than 430. Nearly half the filibusters of executive-branch nominations in the nation's history – 16 of 36 – have occurred under Obama.

Finally - finally - Senate Democrats have started to nibble away at these undemocratic filibusters (which are not part of the U.S. Constitution). But it has taken them far, far too long. And make no mistake, despite all that talk about "the nuclear option," filibusters remain. They haven't been eliminated entirely.

If Republicans are crazy, Democrats are timid. It's a frustrating combination!

Here are a few more excerpts:
Explicit racial gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. So Hofeller used a proxy for race, redrawing boundaries by identifying the wards where President Obama received the highest returns in 2008. According to court documents, this approach "allowed black voters to be carved apart from their white neighbors and friends, on a block-by-block basis." ...

The triumphant GOP made no effort to conceal these machinations. "REDMAP's effect on the 2012 election is plain," reads a post-election RSLC report. "Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates . . . but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress." In Wisconsin, where $1.1 million in RSLC cash helped flip both chambers of the state legislature, empowering union-busting governor Scott Walker, Republicans prevailed by a five-to-three margin in House seats despite losing the popular vote by more than 43,000. In Ohio, only 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Republicans, but thanks to maps drawn in a Columbus-area Doubletree Hotel, referred to by GOP operatives in court documents as "the bunker," John Boehner's home-state delegation swings 12-4 for the GOP. ...

Republicans aren't finished in their campaign to rig the political system. The party has been seeking to carry over its built-in advantage in the House into a new edge in presidential elections. In a project with the explicit blessing of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a half-dozen Republican-dominated legislatures in states that swing blue in presidential elections have advanced proposals to abandon the winner-take-all standard in the Electoral College. ...

In a true democracy, citizens could depend on the courts to overturn partisan schemes to subvert the will of the governed. But here, too, Republicans are winning. ...

... this summer, the Supreme Court not only vacated these Texas rulings, it gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, ending federal "preclearance" of election law in the old Confederacy. Texas lawmakers continue to wrangle over redistricting. But the state's voter-ID law went into effect this October. Those without state-issued photo ID – gun permits are valid, college IDs are not – can seek out a special voting card, but must first pay a de facto poll tax of $22 to secure a birth certificate and then travel as far as 250 miles to apply at a state motor-vehicle office. As many as 1.4 million Texas voters are currently barred from polls because they lack the required identification. At last count, the state had issued exactly 41 special voter-ID cards.

Such trickery has come to define the GOP's approach to federal elections where Republicans can no longer prevail in a fair fight. Strict voter-ID laws have now been passed in more than a dozen states, most recently North Carolina. There, a county-­level Republican Party Executive Committee member named Don Yelton recently committed a gaffe of truth-telling, admitting on national television that the driving purpose of the state's voter-ID law is to "kick the Democrats in the butt." If the law disenfranchises college students without photo IDs or "hurts a bunch of lazy blacks," Yelton said, "so be it."

As this article concludes, demographics are favoring the Democrats,... over the long-term. But in the short-term, this could get worse before it gets better. Republicans are getting more and more hysterical as they become a smaller minority of the population, and they're becoming even more determined to hold on to power, any way they can.

Most Americans don't pay any attention to this stuff. And Democrats are notoriously bad at actually voting, especially in non-presidential years (like next year). Republicans tend to be older, whiter, and angrier,... and they vote.

Plus, if you make it harder to vote, as Republicans are doing to Democratic-leaning constituencies, many people won't bother - especially when they're not very reliable voters in the first place. Demographics may favor the Democrats, but that's over the long-term, and we still have to survive the short-term before we can even get there.

Plus, the consequences live on long afterwards.We always knew that George W. Bush would have to leave office after eight years, but we're still suffering from his presidency, and we will be for decades yet to come. And that's just if we can keep another George W. Bush from taking office in the meantime!


toto said...

By 2016, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).
Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.
Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 32 state legislative chambers in 21 states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 10 jurisdictions with 136 electoral votes – 50.4% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

WCG said...

Toto, a national popular vote is not without its problems. (Admittedly, the current system has problems, too.)

The current system encourages a two-party system. Many of us have to compromise right from the start, and we're often faced with voting against the candidate we dislike the most, since we really don't like either one very much.

When people ignore how our system works, they end up actually helping the candidate they despise the most. (Without Ralph Nader voters in Florida, in 2000, we wouldn't have been stuck with George W. Bush as president.) So that keeps most people grumbling, but going along with it.

And you know, compromise isn't such a bad thing. Indeed, it's the essence of our democratic system. When one party or another gets too extreme, it usually gets punished at the ballot box. (I don't know why it has taken so long when it comes to today's Republican Party, but I suspect that that's just a lingering effect of racism.)

But what happens if we go to a direct vote, where a mere plurality elects the president? Well, then you could vote for the person you really wanted, which would be great,... except that it would end up splintering the vote (especially among progressives, I suspect, since conservatives find it much easier to march in lockstep).

We'd end up with a minority of Americans, not a majority, electing every president. And that would mean that there'd be no pressure towards the center. Indeed, a large minority - like racist whites - might well stick together better than average voters, thus electing an extremist to the White House.

This is one of the reasons our Founding Fathers didn't go with a direct popular vote in the first place, I suspect, and I don't know what we could do about it. With a direct popular vote, we'd be far more likely to elect extremists who were really only supported by a minority of Americans.

And, as I say, right-wingers would likely benefit, since they regularly march in lockstep, whereas liberals usually have trouble even facing in the same direction.

A two-party system has worked pretty well in America for most of two centuries. I have to be cautious about changing that, even inadvertently. So I think this is too simplistic a fix, especially when you don't need a majority to elect the President of the United States.

toto said...

With the current system of electing the President, no state requires that a presidential candidate receive anything more than the most popular votes in order to receive all of the state's electoral votes.

Not a single legislative bill has been introduced in any state legislature in recent decades (among the more than 100,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year period by the nation's 7,300 state legislators) proposing to change the existing universal practice of the states to award electoral votes to the candidate who receives a plurality (as opposed to absolute majority) of the votes (statewide or district-wide). There is no evidence of any public sentiment in favor of imposing such a requirement.

If an Electoral College type of arrangement were essential for avoiding a proliferation of candidates and people being elected with low percentages of the vote, we should see evidence of these conjectured outcomes in elections that do not employ such an arrangement. In elections in which the winner is the candidate receiving the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction served by that office, historical evidence shows that there is no massive proliferation of third-party candidates and candidates do not win with small percentages. For example, in 905 elections for governor in the last 60 years, the winning candidate received more than 50% of the vote in over 91% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 45% of the vote in 98% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 40% of the vote in 99% of the elections. No winning candidate received less than 35% of the popular vote.

Since 1824 there have been 16 presidential elections in which a candidate was elected or reelected without gaining a majority of the popular vote.-- including Lincoln (1860), Wilson (1912 and 1916), Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992 and 1996).

And, FYI, with the current system, it could only take winning a plurality of the popular vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 23% of the nation's votes.

toto said...

National Popular Vote ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

National Popular Vote did not invent popular elections. Having election results determined by the candidate getting the most individual votes is not some scary, untested idea loaded with unintended consequences.

It adds up votes of all voters in each state and the candidate with the most popular votes from the states wins

After more than 10,000 statewide elections in the past two hundred years, there is no evidence of any tendency toward a proliferation of third-party candidates in elections in which the winner is simply the candidate receiving the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction served by the office. No such tendency has emerged in other jurisdictions, such as congressional districts or state legislative districts. There is no evidence or reason to expect the emergence of some unique new political dynamic that would promote multiple candidacies if the President were elected in the same manner as every other elected official in the United States.

Based on historical evidence, there is far more fragmentation of the vote under the current state-by-state system of electing the President than in elections in which the winner is simply the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the jurisdiction involved.

Under the current state-by-state system of electing the President (in which the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote wins all of the state's electoral votes), minor-party candidates have significantly affected the outcome in six (40%) of the 15 presidential elections in the past 60 years (namely the 1948, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections). The reason that the current system has encouraged so many minor-party candidates and so much fragmentation of the vote is that a presidential candidate with no hope of winning a plurality of the votes nationwide has 51 separate opportunities to shop around for particular states where he can affect electoral votes or where he might win outright. Thus, under the current system, segregationists such as Strom Thurmond (1948) or George Wallace (1968) won electoral votes in numerous Southern states, although they had no chance of receiving the most popular votes nationwide. In addition, candidates such as John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and 1996), and Ralph Nader (2000) did not win a plurality of the popular vote in any state, but managed to affect the outcome by switching electoral votes in numerous particular states.

toto said...

The indefensible reality is that more than 99% of campaign attention was showered on voters in just ten states in 2012- and that in today's political climate, the swing states have become increasingly fewer and fixed.

Even in the recent handful of states where a presidential vote matters to the candidates, the value of a vote is different.

Where you live should not determine how much, if at all, your vote matters.

National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate. In 2012, 56,256,178 (44%) of the 128,954,498 voters had their vote diverted by the winner-take-all rule to a candidate they opposed (namely, their state’s first-place candidate).

And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don't matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

A candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation's 57 (1 in 14 = 7%) presidential elections. The precariousness of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes is highlighted by the fact that a shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 15 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 7 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012). 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore's lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes. In 2012, a shift of 214,390 popular votes in four states would have elected Mitt Romney, despite President Obama’s nationwide lead of 4,966,945 votes.

With National Popular Vote, elections wouldn't be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

When and where voters matter, then so do the issues they care about most.

toto said...

Anyone who supports the current presidential election system, believing it is what the Founders intended and that it is in the Constitution, is mistaken. The current presidential election system does not function, at all, the way that the Founders thought that it would.

Supporters of National Popular Vote find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse the current electoral system where 80% of the states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant. 10 of the original 13 states are ignored now. Four out of five Americans were ignored in the 2012 presidential election. After being nominated, Obama visited just eight closely divided battleground states, and Romney visited only 10. These 10 states accounted for 98% of the $940 million spent on campaign advertising. In 2008, presidential campaigns spent 98% of their resources in just 15 battleground states, where they were not hopelessly behind or safely ahead, and could win the bare plurality of the vote to win all of the state’s electoral votes. Now the majority of Americans, in small, medium-small, average, and large states are ignored. Virtually none of the small states receive any attention. None of the 10 most rural states is a battleground state. 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX are ignored. That’s over 85 million voters, 200 million Americans. Once the conventions are over, presidential candidates now don’t visit or spend resources in 80% of the states. Candidates know the Republican is going to win in safe red states, and the Democrat will win in safe blue states, so they are ignored.

States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election.

Part of the genius of the Founding Fathers was allowing for change as needed. When they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t give us the right to vote, or establish state-by-state winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes, or establish any method, for how states should award electoral votes. Fortunately, the Constitution allowed state legislatures to enact laws allowing people to vote and how to award electoral votes.

WCG said...

Um, that first line isn't correct, I'm afraid. I'm from Nebraska, and we split our electoral votes in 2008. But that's not particularly important.

And I don't know if bills have been introduced, but Republicans in several states have proposed changing the presidential election laws in those blue-leaning states, in order to give Republican candidates an advantage.

Again, that's not important in this discussion. You make some good points (and you're even more long-winded than I am, which is quite impressive!).

As long as the presidential election is the way it is, I'm not sure that statewide elections are evidence of anything much (since the two parties are probably maintained by the presidential system). But I'm not sure they aren't, either.

The fact is, I'm just not sure. You are absolutely right about the problems with the current system, at least. And even if there are problems with direct popular vote, they'd have to be really exceptional to be worse than our current problems. I admit that.

I guess I'm just cautious, is all. But thanks for the comments. As I say, you make some good points.