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.”

Base vs Base?

In the New York Times, Philip Klein says the incumbent president will “relish” a clash between two bases in the electorates. 

The country as a whole does not contain two equally sized blocks of voters that disagree over the policies that divide Klein’s “bases.” 

Most Americans do not want the government shut down, do not think we need to recreate the division of East and West Berlin along the border with Mexico, and do want the government to pay attention to the bear market, the risks of missile deployment in North Korea and the threat to security, peace and democracy in war-torn areas of the globe. 

Klein’s “bases” happen to be roughly equally numerous in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, at least as of the 2016 election. It is only because the presidential selection system makes the pluralities in these states determinative of who wins 270 electors that any incumbent president can “relish” the current fault lines in American politics. 

Real Third Parties Should Matter

If a presidential candidate had to win the national vote in order to get 270 electors then a third party with substantial support across the country could make an impact on politics.  

In a truly national election Ross Perot in 1992 would have campaigned across the country in pursuit of a minimum of 34% of the vote. At the very least if he got more votes, he would have moved the Republican and Democratic parties to closer alignment with his views. 

The Populist, Progressive, and Bull Moose Parties of 19th and 20th centuries too might have become enduring presences if the system required them to build national bases.

But the presidential selection system gives third parties spoiler roles instead of a chance to make a real contribution to ideological debate.    

Who knows after all what Nader now stands for? All we know is that he changed the outcome in 2000. But why? To what end? A real third party can shift the course of political thinking. That matters more than flipping a particular election. 

A national popular vote for electing the president can lead to healthy evolution of thinking in all political parties. 

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…”

Third Parties—Not Fun

Third parties thrive in parliamentary systems but in the United States they are usually important only if they change the plurality in a swing state in the general presidential election. Any third party can frustrate the will of the majority of the people by slicing off a few percent of the votes as Ralph Nader clearly did in Florida in 2000, thereby giving the presidency to George W. Bush. 

I was friendly with the future president in college and I can testify that he never expected Nader to make him president.  

I was part of a group that tried to persuade Nader to drop out in 2000. He knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to help Bush win in order to prove that there was no difference between the two parties. The logic was lost on me. 

 But as Nader proved, the existing presidential selection system gives great negative power to an American third party. I fully expect that dark money at some point will fabricate third parties out of whole cloth with the specific purpose of repeating the story of Florida 2000 in the half dozen swing states that matter under the current system. 

This tactic might be tried in 2020. 

What’s up with Kansas 

According to this, some Republicans politicians in Kansas are switching to the Democratic Party in the hope of finding a political group that has moderate views.  In the long and unusual history of the two-party system in the United States a core truth is that each party has to be centered close to the middle. In order to compete in every state and on a national level each of the two parties must comprise multiple factions. A party that becomes too leftist or too far rightist will shed loyalists to the other party. 

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. 

Legitimacy Comes From Voters

This isn’t totally right: “Questioning Trump’s legitimacy is basically the birtherism of the left,” said Christopher Buskirk, publisher of American Greatness, a conservative website. “Illegitimacy is just where both left and right are going these days when they lose elections. We don’t have a shared consensus on what the institutions of government should do, and that makes it harder for partisans to accept the outcome of elections.”

Legitimacy in every country that holds elections to pick its political leader comes from high participation in voting, with all votes counted equally, and the winner being the one who gets the most votes.  

That’s why President Trump is right to favor a national vote to choose the president.

Battleground versus Ignored

In 2016 there were 13 states in which both campaigns bought advertising or the final election result was within two percentage points on election day. In these so-called battleground states, 47.5 million out of 72.4 million eligible citizens voted, or 65.6%

But in the non-battleground states in 2016, 89.2 million out of 158.2 eligible citizens voted, or 56.4%. So when the campaigns advertised, opened local offices, tried to get out the vote, they drove participation up from 56.4% to 65.6%, an increase of 16.3%. 

An increase in voting of 16.3% when the campaigns seek the votes: a big number.

Senate Votes to Require Political Nonprofits to Reveal Donors

If passed, the bill would reverse a Trump administration policy allowing nonprofits to keep the identity of their donors secret. From the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.):

“These dark money forces are a threat to our democracy, and they must be reined in. Today’s action sheds more light on the wealthy few who are trying to buy our elections and drown out the voices of regular folks. We must wrestle our country back and continue to bring transparency and accountability back to political campaigns.”

If They Asked Me

A Republican interested in running statewide in, say, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, or Michigan, would be well-advised to support a plan that compelled the presidential candidates to compete nationally for every vote. There are two reasons at least: (a) Most voters want a guarantee that the person who wins the national vote always to become president. The way to do this is to have some electors awarded from at least some states to the winner of the national vote. (b) The Republican party needs to build a big tent that attracts multiple factions and groups in order to be a majority-supported party. If the party commits to winning the national vote, it will be a big tent party.

Make Your State Matter

Because the presidential selection system currently consists of independent simultaneous statewide votes, state politicians in a single state logically conclude their actions will have little effect on the presidential election’s outcome in other states. 

Republican legislators in North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin can act against the apparent desire of the majority of voters in last month’s election without worrying about the effect on their party’s ability to win a national popular vote — because no such vote ever matters. 

But things would be different if some states awarded some electors to the national vote winner. Then state officials in both parties (for the first time in American history) would have a ballot-based reason to be concerned about the reaction to their conduct from fellow Americans across the whole country. Anti-democratic moves by either party in any state might shift public opinion against that party in other states. Notorious bad actions by either party even in a single state then might cost the party a national popular vote majority and as a result lose the presidency. 

The anachronistic notion that what happens in a single state stays in that state would be eradicated. If the national popular vote mattered then the actions of officials in a single state might be subjected to meaningful judgment in the court of national public opinion. 

Former Senators Argue that the Senate Must Stand in Defense of Democracy

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, a bipartisan group of former senators “urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest” in this difficult time in our history.