Voting Rights

Majority of Americans Support Getting Rid of Electoral College

The widespread discontent with the Electoral College has recently gone from a slow, constant simmer to a full-on boil.

Making Every Vote Count weighed in on Hardball with Chris Matthews tonight, as CEO Reed Hundt joined the show to discuss the system’s inequities.


The Biggest Threat to Democracy is up to the States to Fix

The Democratic House has passed a massive election reform bill, HR 1:

The sweeping bill is aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, cracking down on lobbying, and expanding voting rights for Americans by implementing provisions like automatic voter registration.

This bill would go a long way to restoring the voting rights of U.S. citizens.  However, it will probably never even get a vote in the Senate.  And HR 1 does not even address the reason that most Americans’ votes don’t count in the presidential election: the Electoral College.  Unless you happen to live in a swing state, your vote is either taken for granted or ignored. 

But there is some good news.  States have the power to allocate their electoral votes in any way they chose.  If the states pass a law that pledges their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, candidates will campaign for every vote everywhere and every vote will count equally.


Voting Holiday

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says that making election day a national holiday is a “power grab” by the Democrats.

This idea is not about giving power to the Democrats. It is about giving power to the people. Right on.

Everyone in elected office legitimately holds their position only because they have obtained the consent of the governed. That is conveyed by voting. The more people who vote, the more the consent is validated. 

 It is weird for Senator McConnell to complain about democracy when the administration he helps so much is trying to unseat the leader of Venezuela on the grounds that he did not legitimately obtain the consent of his governed through a fair election

Declaring election day a holiday makes it easier for people to give their consent to Senator McConnell exercising power over them, but it also celebrates that act of democracy. I particularly like the idea of combining Veterans Day with Election Day because soldiers fought and died for democracy. 


Colorado State Senate Passes National Popular Vote Bill

On January 29, Colorado’s Senate passed a bill that would add Colorado to the list of 11 states plus D.C. to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Currently, the Compact has 172 electors that will be pledged to the winner of the national popular vote if states with a total of 270 electoral votes join the Compact.  

The Colorado bill will now go to the state’s House for consideration.  If passed, Colorado would add its 9 electoral votes to the tally.


Not Quite

“[T]he minority share of the electorate is growing,” and this favors the Democrats, assert Levitsky & Ziblatt. They then explain that the Republican response has been to limit participation by, inter alia, pushing for voter ID laws. These have “only a modest effect on turnout. But a modest effect can be decisive in close elections…” Pages 183-85.

Two comments.

First, increase in minority participation may be important to the national popular vote, but of course that is irrelevant to the question of who wins the presidency. The increase in minorities in the overall population arguably has motivated Republicans to vote for their nominee in swing states more than it has favored Democrats in swing states.

Second, the “modest effect” is especially critical in swing states. In a national popular vote system, voter ID laws would not matter much because their “modest effect” would be unlikely to alter the outcome.


The Presidential Selection System Magnifies Threats to Fair Elections

In an article describing the influence of voting machine lobbyists in Georgia, the New Yorker explains: 

“The practice of democracy begins with casting votes; its integrity depends on the inclusivity of the franchise and the accurate recording of its will. Georgia turns out to be a prime example of how voting-system venders, in partnership with elected officials, can jeopardize the democratic process by influencing municipalities to buy proprietary, inscrutable voting devices that are infinitely less secure than paper-ballot systems that cost three times less.”

In 2016, 77,704 voters in three states flipped the election from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump.  That’s just 0.057% of all votes cast.  In our winner-take-all system where a small number of states determine the president, we are incredibly vulnerable to election manipulation.


Supreme Court Mischaracterized: They Got FDR and the 19th Amendment Wrong

The Supreme Court was designed to be profoundly anti-democratic. As a result, it inevitably can become an instrument for anti-democratic forces to use in order to create a rule of law that is neither desired nor supported by the majority of Americans.

In “How Democracies Die,” Professors Levitsky and Ziblatt at page 119 condemn Franklin Roosevelt for wanting to change the size of the Court in order to appoint justices less inclined to kill legislation that the vast majority of Americans thought necessary to respond to the Great Depression. Roosevelt was on the side of democracy. The professors wrongly characterize him as contributing to the erosion of norms essential to the working of democracy.

It should also be noted that the Supreme Court ought to have term limits and a strong and public ethics code in order to mitigate its anti-democratic character.

On page 125 they claim the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 gave women the right to vote, and exemplified “bipartisan cooperation.” This amendment was not ratified by the requisite number of states until Tennessee barely adopted it in 1920 (not 1919). It exemplified, if anything, regional white male hostility to any threat to the hegemony of this demographic. As the map below, from Wikipedia, shows, the red and orange states had no or very limited suffrage for women in elections at every level prior to the Nineteenth Amendment:

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In general, regional differences have characterized all efforts to extend the franchise. This is the case with efforts to cause the national vote winner always to become president.


Voters Across the Country Reject Gerrymandering

In 2018, voters in four states—Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah—approved ballot measures limiting partisan redistricting.  But lawmakers from both parties are resisting these efforts for reform:

“Even as voters and courts vigorously rejected the practice this year, politicians in some states are doing their best to remain in control of the redistricting process. Critics argue that amounts to letting politicians pick their own voters.”


States Don’t Have to Wait for Congress to Save Democracy

H.R. 1, the Democrats’ hugely ambitions election reform bill “would go an enormous way toward repairing our badly broken democracy,” Rick Hasen writes:

“Among the provisions affecting voting and voting rights are those requiring online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration for voting in federal elections; a requirement to use independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts in each state; limitations on voter purges; an end to felon disenfranchisement for federal elections; protection against intimidation and false information surrounding elections; improved access to voting by persons with disabilities; a set of improved cybersecurity standards around voting and voting systems, including a requirement that all voting systems produce a paper trail for auditing and checking results; and a ban on a state’s chief election officer engaging in political activities connected to federal offices.”

However, most everyone agrees that given the Republican-held Senate and presidency, this bill will not pass, at least not any time soon.  But states can go a long way to saving democracy by designating their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  If they do, presidential candidates will have to appeal to all voters, not just the select few in closely-contested states.


Congress Considers Major Electoral Reforms

Nicholas Stephanopoulos for Election Law Blog examines a House bill that addresses partisan gerrymandering:

 “[H.R. 1 marks] the first time that proposals like automatic voter registration, redistricting commissions, and multiple-match public financing have been endorsed by a majority of that body. If Democrats win unified control of Washington in 2020, it’s also likely that some or all of H.R. 1 will become law. If that happens, it would be a development of earthshaking significance, at least as important as the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 or the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974.”


Florida Governor-Elect Seeks to Delay Implementation of Voting Rights Restoration

In November 2018, Florida voted to re-enfranchise more than 1.4 million people who had completed felony sentences. However:

“Opponents, including Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, say before the amendment can be implemented, the legislature needs to pass a bill to clarify its terms and fulfill its intent. Supporters say it should be implemented immediately. The disagreement is generating confusion and the threat of lawsuits.”

—Wall Street Journal


Lessons from Venezuela

At page 4 of “How Democracies Die” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt outline Hugo Chavez’s rise to autocratic power in sad, broken Venezuela. They note that in 2012 he was re-elected in a contest that was “free but not fair.” Yet they fail to acknowledge that the American presidential selection system also is “free” without being “fair.” There is nothing fair about a system that conducts a national vote in which the candidates ignore more than 80% of the population, and the winner does not need a national plurality.


How Democracies Die: Some Comments

Among other things, “How Democracies Die” has one of the best covers of any 2018 book. In the substantive parts of the short, compelling book, Harvard Government Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have sketched an important jeremiad against anti-democratic, authoritarian tendencies – risks to the American democracy that they say are all too real. But, as this blog will show, they have committed some real howlers by failing to assess the way the presidential selection system contributes to the risks they warn about.


The Majority of Countries are Now Democratic

From the Pew Research Center:

“As of the end of 2016, 97 out of 167 countries (58%) with populations of at least 500,000 were democracies, and only 21 (13%) were autocracies, both post-World War II records . . . Broadly speaking, the share of democracies among the world’s governments has been on an upward trend since the mid-1970s.”


North Carolina Officials Warned of Election Fraud in January 2017

From the Washington Post:

“North Carolina state election officials told federal prosecutors in January 2017 that they found evidence of efforts to manipulate the absentee ballot vote in rural Bladen County in the 2016 election and warned that such activities ‘will likely continue for future elections’ if not addressed…”

A Half-Century Ago

When I graduated college 50 years ago next year, a constitutional amendment to replace the electoral system with direct, popular vote nearly passed. President Richard Nixon supported it. So did the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters among many other groups. It was blocked in 1970 by a filibuster led by southern senators. 

They had a lot to lose if black people in the south could cast votes for president that mattered. These votes could be joined with votes of those everywhere in the country who sympathized with the civil rights claims of black people. The white advantage in presidential selection could be lost. As everyone knows, that same grip on power was transferred from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The irony is that the Democrats in the south would have been better off with the popular vote method of choosing the president. 


Progressive Activists Defeat Democrats' Gerrymandering Proposal

From Slate:

“As Democratic legislators barreled toward a December vote, New Jersey’s progressive community rallied against the proposal. A huge coalition of grassroots activists, union leaders, voting rights advocates, and racial justice proponents objected to the amendment. More than 100 activists and academics—representing a broad range of organizations, including the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and the League of Women Voters—testified against the amendment. They held press conferences and protests to shame Democratic leaders and demand real reform. It worked: On Saturday, Democratic legislators backed away from the amendment, canceling a Monday vote and effectively killing it.


The Disappointment of the Reconstruction Amendments

The 14th Amendment turned the three-fifths compromise into a five-fifths concession. Former slaves were fully counted as citizens for purposes of allocating House seats, and thus electors in the Electoral College. When Reconstruction failed and Jim Crow laws denied black people access to the ballot, the white southerners ended up with increased power in Congress and over the selection of the president.

If black people did succeed in voting, despite all obstacles, then their votes for anyone but the choice of the white majority were discarded under the "unit rule."

The Electoral College system was a tool of repression against former slaves and their descendants in the south through history until even today.