By Jay Hansen
(Originally posted September 23rd, 2011)
Here in the United States, we tend not to really give any heed to claims of rigged elections. This is largely because here in America we’re used to having honest actors run polls, as we have for generations now. A rigged election, particularly at the federal level, is something unheard of in recent United States history. Sadly, we may be witnessing the end of such days of honesty and fidelity to the American democracy because of recent decisions of the GOP as a national organization and enacted at the state level.
In 2010, Republicans not only won at the federal level by reclaiming the House of Representatives, but they won significantly on the state level. Republicans haven’t control this many state legislatures since 1928, having won 19 previously Democratic ones. As the hyperlinked story reveals, this gave Republicans considerable power in gerrymandering after the 2010 census, as whatever party is in control for redistricting will always gerrymander to their advantage. This in and of itself is hardly “rigging” elections, as both parties have histories of doing it and largely goes unnoticed in the long-term of American politics.
But along with gerrymandering the crap out of the United States, Republicans took things a step further. States like Oklahoma passed strict voter ID laws, requiring either a voter ID card or photo identification to be presented at the polls before they be allowed to vote. When this question was brought to the voters of Oklahoma, I wrote this short piece on it (along with other pieces for each state question);
[State Question 746] would require photo ID or voter registration cards every time an Oklahoman wants to vote. Look, I go by an old adage here; if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Are we really having a problem in Oklahoma that this would solve? On top of that, it could discourage, slow down, or even prevent voters from showing up because of the extra level of complexity. Do you have any idea how many people actually carry their voter ID cards in their wallets? Or even know where they are? The League of Women Voters and the American Association of Retired People argue that nearly 78,000 Oklahoma voters could be negatively affected by this measure. That’s plenty of reason for me to vote no on it.
On top of alienating voting groups in society such as the elderly, the young, students, minorities and low-income voters (all whom lean Democratic), many Republican-controlled states took action in conjunction with ID requirement laws to further complicate things. Wisconsin’s deplorable Governor Walker shut down several DMV offices in his state in an attempt to “save money.” DMV offices are where such photo IDs, now required to vote, are issued, and Governor Walker cherry-picked the offices he wanted to shut down. Every office he shut down was in a Democratic district, making it more difficult for the people of that district to get the necessary ID they now need to vote because of GOP-backed legislation requiring it.
Are you starting to see a pattern?
22 states either had or were considering laws requiring some sort of extra identification in order to vote. This number rose to 34 states by September for voter ID laws alone. 11% of the total US voting population does not have photo identification. 18% of young voters and 18% of elderly voters do not have photo ID, and 25% of African American voters in this nation have no photo ID. By passing photo ID required legislation, in one push, the GOP could manage to eliminate a whole quarter of the African American voting population. It’s been well known for a while now (as my last source indicated) that the lower the voter turn out in an election, the better the Republican Party does on average. This created an incentive for their party to prevent people from voting and to sabotage democracy by supporting and passing laws and legislation at the state level that Bill Clinton likened to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes.
Republicans justify this by saying there has been a drastic increase in investigations of voter fraud. This is true, but those investigations turned up little to nothing. A survey in Ohio discovered the actual rate of voter fraud is 44-one-millionths of a percent (.00004%). Also, these investigations were only launched because of illegal, unethical political pressure the Bush Administration, particularly Karl Rove, put on US attorneys. While the investigations turned up almost nothing, the Republicans could use the investigation as a chance to turn around and cite a “massive explosion” of investigation into voter fraud, not specifying that the investigations found nothing, which is more than enough to get the average uninformed voter concerned. It was all orchestrated for purely political reasons through underhanded, unethical practices and used as an excuse to pass legislation that prevented people from voting and corrupted democracy, and it was done entirely by the GOP as a national organization.
This is a key element to what is going on in the nation right now. Republican Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania has recently proposed a reform to how his state’s electoral votes are counted in presidential elections. Right now, his state is in the majority of states that has a winner-take-all system, and the Governor wants to switch it to a percentage system where candidates win electoral votes based on the congressional districts they win, and the overall winner of the popular vote gets two bonus votes for each Senator. Only two states in the nation use this system; Maine and Nebraska.
The winner-take-all system was the original one, where if a candidate wins just a simple majority (over 50%) of the popular vote in the state, they get the entirety of the state’s electoral votes. For example, say a state was worth 10 electoral votes (2 Senators, 8 Representatives in the House), and the Republican candidate won 53% of the popular vote in that state. He would then win 100% of the electoral votes of that state, despite that there were entire districts of the state and 47% of the state’s population as a whole who did not vote for him. This major flaw in the Electoral College has lead to a candidate winning the Presidential Election despite winning less than half of the nation’s popular vote three times in history (the 2000, 1888, and 1876 Presidential Elections). It also might be worth noting that each time this flaw in the college “occurred” a Republican won the election.
I would support this reform if it was introduced at the federal level. The Electoral College distorts democracy and is a derelict from a time where voters weren’t educated or informed enough to make decisions on their own. This was part of the reasoning for having an electoral college; people would vote for more educated officials to “vote for them,” in a matter of speaking. Now though, this reasoning is completely defeated with advent of the internet, 24 hour news stations, and mass media in general. Today, the Electoral College can cause more harm than good. The problem with reforming it state by state is that it will disrupt presidential elections even further by having some states considered “battleground” states have their votes divided among both candidates. Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes, for example, went to Obama in 2008 after he won 54.7% of the state popular vote. It was a clear victory over McCain by more than 10% points, which is huge in politics. Governor Corbett’s plan would have given Obama only 11 votes, and McCain 9.
At first I thought calling this one piece of legislation “rigging” the election questionable. The ideology behind it of reforming the Electoral College was sound and just, and I even agreed with it, though I was still hesitant to do so at the state level. It would splinter what has otherwise been a rather solidly blue state for the past several elections in half, but if it was in the name of true progress, I may have been willing to accept it.
Then came troubling, and very revealing, news.
As I pointed out earlier, Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that operate by the more logical and democratic rules where electoral votes are split based on districts won by each candidate. Nebraska is a solidly red state, and currently has a Republican Governor. The GOP in Nebraska decided to reform how their own votes are counted in Presidential elections.
Can you see where this is going?
The state of Nebraska wants to regress how they vote back to the less functional and less democratic Electoral College that nearly all other states use, from which Pennsylvania’s Republican governor wants to move away. Pennsylvania is a blue-leaning battleground state; splitting its votes among both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President would greatly benefit the Republican Party. Nebraska is a solid red state, but divides its votes up among Democratic and Republican candidates, leading to Obama getting a whole one vote from the state in 2008. If Nebraska reverted back to the old format of winner-take-all it would also benefit the Republican Party in Presidential Elections.
This is how Republicans want to rig elections. Even putting aside all the incriminating evidence at the beginning of this article; these last two news stories about Pennsylvania and Nebraska alone go to show a nation-wide effort on the part of the Republican Party to rig the 2012 Election and future Presidential Elections by making a map that favors their party through gerrymandering, regressing what little progress has been made on fixing the defunct Electoral College, and heinous Jim Crow-esque laws that will deny countless Americans their right to vote, including a whole quarter of the African American population if Republicans get their way. The story about Nebraska was the missing link for the severity of the situation to really click in my mind and for me to truly grasp just how far Republicans will go, just how far the GOP political machine will go at the national level, and just how many ethics and virtues of America and democracy they’re willing to violate for just a little more power and a little more money. When I said Republicans are actively seeking to sabotage the government a few weeks ago, I had no idea how right I was.
God help us all.