Rigged Elections and Delegitimized Democracy Increasing Polarization

 A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

New Orleans    The early warning signal was a report that 40% of recently surveyed Republicans already believed that ACORN was going to steal the election between Trump and Clinton. Yes, that’s down from the even higher percentages reported on other surveys since 2008 arguing that ACORN stole both elections for President Obama, but it’s still total falsehood and fantasy backed by not one iota of proof, not to mention the fact that ACORN has not operated in the United States since 2010, which seems to trouble none of these conspiratorialists in the least about such a zombie attack on election purity.

Now Trump partnered with the hate mongering, fact-adverse Breitbart bunch is putting out its first television advertisements with the subliminal headline, “Rigged,” flashing across the screen. Trump told his rallies in Pennsylvania that the polls were all corrupt and that the only way he could lose the election in Pennsylvania was if the election was stolen and the whole process was rigged. Normally, these would be tactics only associated with what we would usually call, “sore losers,” except that Trump seems to have virtually trademarked the word “loser,” and may not realize yet, as he undoubtedly will soon, how permanently that moniker will stick to him for the rest of his life, perhaps even in epic, historic terms.

If this were just about Trump, we could easily ignore his attempt to inoculate his fanboys and girls from what is increasingly seeming like the inevitable. The problem, as we have all sadly seen in the eight-year war by the right to delegitimize Obama, is that such a strategy is designed to polarize and erode democracy, which in the vicious circle of our political life, also paved the way for a Trump candidacy. Many will remember from his earliest days in office when President Obama, then a naïve democracy advocate, tried to remind the Congressional Republicans that he “had won the election,” believing that the mandate from the voters came with an understanding that some of his positions should be implemented in policy. We don’t believe any of that nonsense in Washington anymore that somehow the voters will deserves respect. It’s dog-eat-dog period, and the people take the hindmost, which is happening on a state-by-state basis where the rightwing has been able to work their will without restraint.

What does this augur? If Hillary Clinton prevails, will we once again watch her try to be bipartisan, as Obama did, and fail while the right quickly tries to reframe a defeat as not about them but about the flawed Trump candidacy?

Some are advancing the theory that the Senate could change hands if the Trump defeat continues on its current abysmal trajectory. A turnover of four or five seats would make the difference there for four years until 2020 when more Democratic seats are up for grabs, but that wouldn’t break through the logjam, even if it would hedge against our worst nightmares. For the House to flip, thirty or so seats would have to change, and most pundits are estimating only half of that will happen.

It’s depressing when the end of this polarized dysfunction still seems nowhere in sight, even as November’s outcome seems more and more inevitable.


Arizona is in Play in November and It Could Matter

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Rock Creek, Montana    Whenever a state is compared to Mississippi, it’s a sure fired signal there’s trouble coming, so I hunkered down to read an article in the recent New Yorker that referred to Arizona as “the Mississippi of the West.” Trust me, that’s not a complement, and trust me on this as well, Arizona has earned every piece of this putdown in the way that it has dealt with its Latino population, calling to mind in excruciating detail the way Mississippi has been infamous for its discrimination against African-Americans over the years.

No surprises, the article focused on the fact that there are huge efforts to register 75,000 Latinos to expand the voting pool. Most of the groups mentioned in the article are organizations we know well and have worked with at various times in the past in one way or another: Puente, Promise Arizona, and One Arizona. These are good people with deep commitments. There’s a real organizing community in Arizona, which makes it a pleasure to work there.

Given the fact there is always more turnout in a general election year, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump has gone out of his way to alienate the Hispanic population nationally, and especially along the border, this is an important peoples’ effort to make a difference and prevail despite incredible efforts by the state legislature to suppress voting access and create voting barriers. There isn’t a poll tax, but there’s’ almost everything else, including the kitchen sink that politicians have thrown in the way of voters. The recent scandal when polling places were reduced in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix the state’s population center where 40% of the electorate is Hispanic, to about one-third of what they had been, thereby creating huge lines and waiting periods is just one example. What’s at stake may not be the Presidential election, because there are other, larger battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania that will play a larger role, but to the degree that longtime Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, could lose his seat, affecting the Senate majority, and that arch nemesis Sheriff Arpaio could finally fall make this coming election worth watching.

Last time a joint effort called Adios Arpaio came very close to throwing the Sheriff out of office. This could be the time, but only if the registration effort succeeds and voter turnout is high. A recent effort, covered in the article, was successful statewide when all groups joined together to push through a ballot proposition that will reallocate $3.5 billion from the state’s land trust to the public-school system where 44% of the population is Latino. Importantly, the measure won by 20,000 votes.

Much of the article focused on Petra Falcon, a former Industrial Areas Foundation organizer and longtime activist in the state, who directs Promise Arizona. It was fun to read that she still uses the old Fred Ross house meetings as a regular part of their methodology. The piece didn’t paper over the fact that the Latino organizing community is not monolithic. The religiosity Falcon and her organization attach to the work is not shared as widely by other groups and her support for the Gang of Eight immigration compromise, roundly attacked by almost all other immigrant groups when proposed, puts her a bit out of step with others.

More importantly though, on this election, everyone in Arizona is united and that could mean something great for the whole country and speed up the process of taking the Mississippi out of Arizona in the future.


Some Voting Suppression Being Stopped

voter-id-laws-2015Rock Creek, Montana   Luckily in some states, we’re still finding that the law is thankfully on our side.

We’ve mourned the fact that in Kansas they are standing with their arms folded in front of the door holding the ballot box for thousands despite losing in court at every turn, as Republicans led by their rabid Secretary of State spuriously attempt to block some 13,000 or more citizens from the right to vote at least in local and statewide elections where they are just outside the boundaries of the law. We would call it shameless, except that it is all a raw political calculus of maintaining power, literally by hook or crock.

In Texas for the fourth time in about five years voter ID laws have been overturned, this time by the arch conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which says something about how brazen and transparent their disregard for the simple and equal access of a voter’s right to the ballot was. Even though holding the ID laws unconstitutional they essentially sent it back to the state without exactly overruling, but instead demanding that they come up with alternate procedures to allow largely lower income and minority voters some viable alternative to allow them to vote. Suggestions included accepting alternative forms of identification that were more common and less discriminatory. Some may remember that a student ID was not satisfactory as identification for voting in Texas, but for some strange reason a gun license was hunky dory. They also suggested the voting registration card itself, sent dutifully to the registered voter at their home would also be satisfactory, because remember this blatant effort to deny voting access was to voters already ready and able to vote and duly registered and certified by the state. Finally, they even suggested, as Louisiana and other states even allow, that a voter could sign an affidavit certifying their identity, if lacking any other identification, and then proceed to vote. None of this is a perfect solution for an almost unheard of infraction, but at least Texas has been stopped from disenfranchising lower income and minority voters once again until they come up with something newer and less obvious.

Now comes an even more telling smack down of the North Carolina ID law in almost record speed. A federal appeals court, this time the Fourth, not the Fifth, struck down North Carolina’s voter identification requirement, upending voting procedures in this crucial, battleground state slightly more than three months before Election Day. “In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the [lower] court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” the Fourth Circuit panel said of the district court ruling that upheld the law passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.” The appeals court added later, “Faced with this record, we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

Finally, a court didn’t play footsy with the situation and hit the nail on the head. They saw discrimination and unmasked it without bothering to spend much time or trouble dissecting the rationalizations by the legislature. These are three significant victories, but it is hard to believe that they will stem the tide of so many efforts in so many other states to do anything possible to deprive the vote of minorities, Hispanics, and African-Americans. The message is clear that they the courts know they are up to no good, but this seems to be a contest for survival for the Republicans in many states who are more than willing to shred any democratic pretense in their efforts to remain in power by any means possible.


Finally, A Full-Throated Call for Universal Voter Registration

electiondayvoting_getty011213New Orleans   Well, now we’re talking!  Finally, we may see find some politicians speaking up and taking a chance on more democracy, rather than just hoping for more rich people and campaign donations.

In a speech at Texas Southern University, a largely African-American institution in Houston, where she was getting an award of some kind, Hillary Clinton, in the current pole position for the Democratic nomination for President called for universal voter registration.  Simple as that, just like Selective Service and a million other big data intrusions, when someone turns 18-years old, bam, they are registered to vote.

As we’ve advocated here, there, and everywhere for years, there’s only one real reform that will cure all of the problems of voter registration and the mishmash and mayhem that states and local jurisdictions have made out of the process, and that’s automatic registration.  I’m sure it’s too much to acknowledge the irony that we both claim to be a democracy in the USA, yet then seem to do everything possible to keep people from being able to register and from being able to vote.  Oregon took the smaller step of registering people when they got their driver’s licenses and, whoops, added 300,000 voters.

Clinton also called for some action on that front from all reports of her remarks.  She advocated a 20-day early voting period, including nights and weekends for goodness sakes.  In those states where it’s allowed, 40% or more of the votes are coming in early.  For good measure she even threw in some remarks about finally allowing former felons to vote after they had paid their debt to society, but I’m sure that’s a bridge too far at this point, so I won’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Truth is, we need universal registration and compulsory voting, and if not compulsory, something that is so easy that it would be inescapable and unavoidable.

But, here’s the rub.  Even though it is great news that big dog democrats might finally be coming out for making it easier to register and vote, as long as they are half-stepping and the other party wants to do the exact opposite and that party happens to control both houses of Congress, we’re just pitching words at a wall.  The Republicans want to hold onto what they have, and they understand full well that even though economic trends have been going their way, demographic trends are moving against them, so a day of reckoning is coming.  Their interest is expressed clearly:  put up barriers, restrict access to voting, discourage new voters, and make registration more cumbersome and difficult.

Maybe some states will get the message and open up the rolls and the voting booths, if there’s enough shouting, but otherwise it’s going to take picks, shovels, and dynamite to dig out the opposition to more democratic access to voting in America, and not some speeches every blue moon when some politicians remember that votes are actually counted every four years or so.


Please enjoy Alive in that Sound by Lace & Lead.  Thanks to KABF.


Voter and Community Suppression Coming to United Kingdom

biteLondon    Talking to someone in the United Kingdom the other day, they made a comment that any new “bad” idea in the USA germinates for a couple of years and then pops up in a modified form in Britain.  Yikes!

One good, bad example can be found in the new voter suppression policies that are debuting next year in time for the national elections.  Previously, the head of a household could automatically register everyone under the roof.  In the name of “reform,” the Conservative government turned the tables with a lot of fancy rationalizations all of which mean that now everyone has to individually register to vote.  Who gets hurt?  Who do you think?  Young voters, old voters, tenants, lower income families and others that don’t have the time, money, information, and so forth to crawl over the obstacles deliberately put in their path to be able to vote.  And, what does it matter, as conservatives in all countries say, they probably didn’t want to vote that much anyway?!?

The unions have collectively funded some social media and networking efforts to try to get younger voters to register.  One is called “Bite the Ballot “for example.  The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also has a collective effort for the labor in this area.  Individual unions say they are working to register their own members.  Having lived through the USA experience, I worry that the impact of not launching a massive effort to simply assure that everyone maintains their right to vote will mean an increasing gap that will be harder to bridge later once the impact is realized.  One official told me that if Labour returns to power, then they will get rid of this, but that’s a big bunch of “if’s,” and the point of voter suppression is likely to also be a factor in any future success of progressive governing coalitions.

The other new “twist” coming to the United Kingdom are called the “gagging” rules by progressives.  Individual committees for nonprofits are limited in expenditures in a race to about 5000 pounds and nationally to about 20000 pounds.  The rules are complicated.  I know, since I’ve read them!  There are also various provisions to “chill” the rights of nonprofits to participate even in campaigning for change.  If the commission determines that an organization is campaigning for a position that is aligned to or espoused by a political party, then the organization would be forced to limit its voice on the issue to the ceilings prescribed which is why they are speaking of such groups being gagged.  Charities and other so-called “third sector” groups are wringing their hands, especially because unlike a union or an ACORN, they don’t have members per se.  From what I could tell – and gather in conversations thus far – there still are no particular limits on communications to your direct membership about issues, so unions are not as affected directly though they are in terms of general issues and community issues where they and others would want to communicate with the public.

This is all new stuff in the UK.  Unions don’t have political action committees for example.  Community-based organizations are not as familiar with “independent expenditure committees” and the other hurdles US organizations have had to learn to jump.  Lawyers are no doubt working overtime on all sides of the political spectrum.

The learning process is going to be painful!



White People Power

nyt-southern-fold-600x365New Orleans    Reading the papers this morning, I could see the future, and it was very scary!

The New York Times was speculating in the wake of the Republicans beat down of the Democrats in the midterm elections about where the Republicans might find a path to victory at the presidential level that has seemed to increasingly elude them with the changing demographics of the United States. Not to put too fine a point on it, but surprising no one, the path leads right through white people.

Yes, I know you thought it was already all about white people, didn’t you? Well, here they come again.

Even as the majority in the United States tends increasingly towards minorities and white people become the largest minority in the country, they are steadily becoming their own monolithic voting bloc. When the statisticians analyzed the path to electoral power in some of the elections where there were surprises, like Iowa, they found that rural white voters, even those that had been traditionally Democratic voters were going Republican now. Additional information indicates that the same conundrum exists in the Southern states which are now leeching themselves of Democratic Party representatives. The traditional political rule-of-thumb had been that if a Democrat in the South got 40% of the white vote, then with huge support among African-Americans and solid support among Latinos, they would win. Now it appears that Democratic candidates are lucky to be able to figure the math at 30% and are only winning 25%.

It gets worse!

Where Democrats and many Republicans had assumed the presidential electorate was stacked heavily in their favor with a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and women, this white people power thing is a problem. Experts are noting that too many of the soothsayers were discounting the fact that President Obama in his two victories actually polled very well among whites outside of the South and in rural areas, especially in the northeast and Pacific states. A Democratic candidate would have to do about as well with whites to hold that coalition together even with the increased voter turnout that comes with a presidential election.

So the bottom line is that rather than it being a laugh line that the Republicans are a party of old, white men, this could be their ticket into the White House, especially if they have a candidate who doesn’t stink with Latino voters, who are more conservative than African-Americans, and make the mistake of wearing their misogyny on their sleeves.

It could happen, despite the numbers. We always knew in New Orleans that even with a solid 65% African-American majority that a conservative African-American that appealed to the business community and could pull 90% of the whites and a third of the black vote could win, and that’s how we got C. Ray Nagin as mayor for two terms. A Republican candidate like Jeb Bush or Mark Rubio who wasn’t crazy and polarizing could erode Latino support and confuse some of the other voting blocs with the big “if” being whether they could get through the primaries. A Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton, who many have already conceded the nomination, could make it tricky because of her age with young voters, her baggage with all voters, and the 10-year hiatus on whether or not she could erode the white people power bloc of the Republicans.

Nothing looks easy for anyone today going into the 2016 contest. We’ve lived with white people power for years in the United States, so the notion that it could be back will provoke many screams in the night from sound sleepers throughout the country.