What do you think is the biggest problem with American politics and our democracy? Do you think it’s partisanship, third parties, apathy, or general ignorance (or Russia)? I’ll agree with three of those factors, but the people who are stealing votes are the biggest threat to our democracy.
Why I am saying this now? Well, as I said last month, fair voting is one of my top two issues. Also, I fully intended to make this post sometime, but one post I viewed in particular pushed me to post this today.
Here’s a Recap:
I was responding to a meme CalicoJack posted in April about voting third-party. This is part 2 of my response to CalicoJack. As I was writing, I realized I needed to make two posts.
On Sunday, I talked about whether or not third-party voters were to blame for Trump’s victory. Many may say they were, but I explained why the numbers might not have add up the way we think they would.
In order to make my points in that post, I looked at the numbers in the “Rust Belt” states, but I stopped short at looking at voter suppression there. For this post, I’ll even throw in North Carolina and Florida, because those are two states Barack Obama won in 2008 and there were funny things going on in those states, too.
Here’s the Point of This Post.
Basically, I said a vote for Trump was a vote for Trump. But do you know how vote-stealing factored in the last election? Sometimes a vote against Trump was counted as one for him and other votes for him were manufactured.
It’s funny that Trump contends that 3 million people voted illegally and he created an Election Integrity Commission. Well, it’s not funny, but ironic and dangerous.
(One bit of irony is that Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s advisors, was registered to vote in at least two states. While it appears that he only voted in one, it speaks volumes that Trump had no concern over Bannon’s dual registration.)
While Trump’s obviously still butthurt over losing the popular vote, this commission only serves to make voting unreasonably harder for eligible voters — and making everyone more vulnerable to hackers. In short, this commission will do nothing to solve any of the problems the American system has, but only make it easier for sinister actors to disenfranchise Americans.
First, I’ll Explain Why ‘Voter Fraud’ Is Largely a Myth.
It happens, but it is nowhere near an epidemic. In fact, it’s minuscule.
Where did the concern over voter fraud start?
If most of us (who disliked George W. Bush one time or another, or still do) were asked to name the worst parts of his 8 years in the White House, most of us would name the following:
- The deficits he created via tax cuts and increased military spending.
- The (mismanagement of the) war in Afghanistan.
- The War in Iraq (or at least the mismanagement of it).
- Abu Ghraib.
- Guantanamo Bay.
- The Patriot Act.
- Anything else pertaining to the supposed “War on Terror.”
- The mismanagement of FEMA, especially with post-Katrina New Orleans.
- The No Child Let Behind Act.1
- The housing and financial crises.2
But most of us don’t know that his Justice Department was used to usher in the greatest attack on voting rights we’ve ever seen. This is a largely unreported aspect of W.’s tenure, but his Justice Department was the most politicized in history (at least before Trump).3
One of the first things W.’s Justice Department did was go after supposed “voter fraud.” U.S. Attorneys were instructed to find more cases of it, but very few cases overall were found and it was difficult to get convictions. (In fact, most instances of “voter fraud” were due to error and a misunderstanding how voter registration worked.) At the same time, attorneys who failed to comply or find enough (Democratic, with a capital “D”) cases of voter fraud were fired.4
For years, Republicans have claimed that voter fraud was a huge problem and used that contention as an excuse to “reform” the American voter system. In reality, they have been making it more difficult for certain voters to go to the polls, let alone have their votes by counted.
Let’s Look at How American Voters Are Disenfranchised.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on this topic lately, so I’m becoming well-versed in the ways voting rights are under attack. These problems were created and exacerbated during W’s tenure and after the 2013 Supreme Court decision to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act.
So far, I can think of 12 basic ways some people are being disenfranchised. They are:
- Voter ID Laws
- Changing Party Affiliation
- Voter Purges
- Felon Restrictions
- Contracting Polling Places
- Changing Polling Locations
- Getting Rid of Early Voting Opportunities
- Tampering with Voting Totals
- Getting Rid of Exit Polling
- Not Allowing (Full) Recounts
- Keeping Third Parties and Independents out of the Process
Gerrymandering is an old tactic used by both parties to make some districts safer than other. This has been done by political parties for many decades. It first got its name in 1812 after redistricting in one Massachusetts district took on the shape of a salamander. Today, there are some ugly, nonsensical districts being drawn, in order to keep certain people in power despite changing demographics.
How is gerrymandering done?
Well, every ten or so years, legislative bodies are responsible for redrawing legislative districts. The process follows the constitutionally mandated national Census, which counts the number of people in the country. Lawmakers are instructed to adjust district lines based on local, city, and county populations.
If done properly, district lines should be representational, allow for district sizes to be proportional. However, our political parties have taken over this process in order make sure their districts are safe or to allow more politicians from their ranks to take over certain states. In a state like Wisconsin, there are more Republican lawmakers elected, although more voters are Democrats. The same is true for Massachusetts, but reverse the parties.
But overall, Republican gerrymandering has been more effective. Since 2009, they have regained control of both Houses of Congress and they had a 33-seat majority if the House of Representatives despite being outpolled by Democrats by 1.4 million votes across the country.
In numerous instances, districts are also drawn based along racial lines. Texas was called out for this recently; there was another instance when Tom Delay was a Texas congressman. North Carolina was just called out by the Supreme Court and Clarence Thomas agreed that NC’s districts were drawn to disenfranchise people of color there!
2. Voter ID Laws
Voter ID laws emerged from George W. Bush’s Justice Department. Hans von Spakovsky, who worked in the Civil Rights Division, was the progenitor of the “voter fraud” lie and he laid the groundwork for the first voter ID law in Georgia.
Voter ID laws are mainly aimed at keeping minorities from the polls since they are the least likely to carry (specific forms of) identification. And these laws essentially serve as poll taxes, since it costs money to obtain identification.
Since the laws are to serve as barriers, is it any surprise the states which pass these laws provide no way to issue free or discounted ID’s? But authorities in these states go several steps further. In some states, DMV officers are either shuttered or have their schedules shortened.
In Sauk County, WI, there is at least one office that is only open every fifth Wednesday of the month.
In other states, some authorities may then ask for someone’s birth certificates. If voters then show those, the women might be asked why their last names don’t match!
3. Changing Party Affiliations
In 2016, there were numerous accounts of voters’ party affiliations being changed. This kept millions from participating in caucuses and primaries.
In Iowa, where voters in congressional primaries may change party affiliation on the day of the election, the rules are different for caucuses. There were reports of voters attending the caucuses, only to find out they were changed from Democrats to Republicans.
There were similar reports coming out of Arizona, California, and New York, among other states.
4. Voter Purges
Over the years, people have been purged from the voting rolls due to mismatches and other flawed systems. In some cases, the voter purges were deliberate.
This past year, hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters were wiped off the rolls. This happened in “red” states like North Carolina and even “blue” states, in New York and California.
But 1 million more were taken off voter rolls due to a program called Interstate Crosscheck. Last year, Greg Palast wrote a piece for Rolling Stone in which he discussed how crosscheck works.
In short, the program takes names (first, middle, last) and compares them to names across states. Birth dates and the last four of each voter’s social security number are compared, as well.
In all, 28 states were participating in the program, but states like Oregon dropped out of the program because of its deep flaws. For example, someone named James Eldon Brown could be knocked off the rolls even if his “match,” is someone else with the name James Alton Brown.
As Palast explains, the process is purposely flawed. It often targets people of color, who are less likely than white voters to look at election mail, let alone upon election notices. (If someone is singled out by the process, they are often sent mail to confirm their place of residence.)
In some cases, some voters are given provisional ballots. This was a creation of Karl Rove. However, those are rarely counted.
5. Felon Restrictions
Depending on the state, not all felons or ex-convicts are allowed to vote. While this might seem fair to many people, it’s sinister when you look at how many people are behind bars and who this negatively impacts.
Since African-Americans are disproportionally arrested and convicted, this affects them more than any other group. In the state of Florida alone, 23% (nearly a quarter) of black men are barred from voting. They must ask the governor for clemency, which they are very unlikely to get.
I ask: Shouldn’t American ex-convicts have their rights restored if they did their time? And what’s the real harm in allowing all American convicts to vote? More than 2 million people are behind bars and not all of them are American, so our convicts make up less than 1% of the population.
6. Contracting Polling Places
Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision, most of the states which were formally under intense scrutiny went wild with their attempts to make it harder for certain people to vote. Their tactics include contracting the number of polling places.
By contracting polling places, that means some people will have to travel longer distances to vote. Or they will have to stand in longer lines in order to vote.
This was a factor in the 2004 election, especially in black Ohio neighborhoods.
This was also a factor in the 2016 election. By the start of that year, 868 polling places were contracted across the South. Some states even went further by reducing hours. This had the “desired” effect in North Carolina, where the participation by black voters went down from 2012.
7. Changing Polling Place Locations
In addition to contracting polling places, others are moved. This is done in order to inconvenience, confuse, or intimidate voters.
This year in Georgia, a polling place in a black neighborhood was moved near a police station. There were also some voting machines being stolen ahead of the first round of that special election.
8. Getting Rid of Early Voting Opportunities
Some states get rid of early voting opportunities. Black voters like to take advantage of those opportunities, so those are often in jeopardy, depending on the state.
Want to know why Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s devious political strategist flipped his lid on Election Night 2012?
He flipped out because early voting opportunities became a point of contention in Ohio in 2012. Obama successfully fought to get early voting opportunities for those other than military veterans restored there (but he ultimately did not need the state to beat Romney that year).
9. Tampering with Voting Machines, Ballots, and Voter Tabulation Machines
This is one reason I have never called George W. Bush a president. I remember the 2000 election very well and altered votes were part of the problem.
If you have ever seen “Hacking Democracy” featuring Bev Harris, you’ll know what I mean.
The truth is, our voting machines (ones which voters use and the ones to tabulate votes) are vulnerable. They can be hacked remotely or an operator can tamper with the software.
For example, Diebold makes machines for both purposes, but these types of machines have been banned in European countries. That’s because the machines use proprietary software, which means election officials and forensic specialists are barred from examining them.
Since 2000, there have been reports of vote-flipping. This was true in 2008, when some votes were said to go from Obama to McCain. This was also true eight years later, when some votes when from Clinton to Trump.
In 2000, the voter totals did not add up, particularly in Florida. In Fallucia County alone, Al Gore was given -16,700 votes. (Yes, that is a negative number and the difference more than eclipses the 537 margin given to Bush that year.)
10. Getting Rid of Exit-Polling Data
You might not know this, but not all states have exit polling. I remember seeing how customary these were in years past, but for some reason they were all but abandoned in nearly half of all states. In total, only 28 states conducted some form of exit polling on Election Night 2016.
We need exit polls so we can gauge how many people voted and see who won in primaries and general elections before official tallies. And both sets of results need to be compared?
Why is that?
When American election watchers go to other countries, they rely on exit polls and compare them to official results. And there is a strict threshold of a 1-2% difference between the sets of data. If the polls show one result and the official margin of victory differs by more than 1-2%, watchers suspect there was tampering.
Numerous nonprofits hold the same standard for American elections.
Now, if there are not enough exit polls in states, we lose one clue as to what may have gone on with the tabulation. However, it wasn’t much better before, because pollsters usually updated results to match the official ones, thus defeating the purpose.
11. Not Allowing (Full) Recounts
This has long been a problem and it was illustrated yet again this past year.
What Happened in Florida?
In short, not all votes in Florida were counted. If you remember the election, you remember hearing about chads. There were hanging chads and pregnant chads. The point is, it was difficult for people to recount those votes, although most choices could be determined.
Regardless, the recount was sabotaged in a variety of ways.
- A mob was ordered to storm a county office where volunteers were looking at ballots.
- The Republican-aligned Supreme Court intervened and essentially delayed the recount, not allowing it to be finished before the votes had to be submitted and certified.
- Governor Jeb Bush ordered his Secretary of State, Kathryn Harris, to only take the number of votes that gave his brother the advantage.
Basically, Gore actually won that state.
What Happened Last Year?
I mentioned this in a previous post, but the recount this year was hampered by partisan actors. Let’s review and delve a little deeper:
In Michigan (where Trump was declared the winner by 10,704 votes), 75,000 votes were lost because those ballots were treated as “spoiled.” A spoiled ballot is one that is marked as having no clear vote for a candidate. However, since many of the machines used to tabulate votes are outdated and prone to miscalculations, votes are missed. In many cases, this could be rectified by a manual count of votes.
This wasn’t allowed to happen in Michigan for two reasons. One, Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate and the one who called for a recount in three states, was told by a district judge that she was not the “aggrieved party.” Two, Bill Schuette, the secretary of state who pushed for this conclusion, was a Trump ally.
In Pennsylvania, a recount would need the cooperation from the makers of the voting machines there. Since there is no paper trail on those machines, a forensic specialist would need clearance to investigate if votes were tampered there.
In Wisconsin (where Trump was given a 22,177 vote edge), there were more votes for president than there were people who voted. When election officials in the state were alerted to that discrepancy, they just deleted votes without much discussion. Should those votes have been deleted, and what else was affected?
12. Keeping Third Parties and Independents out of the Process
Many of the rules that govern presidential elections and the press serve to hold up the two-party process. Consider the following:
The two major parties are automatically given $10 million to start each presidential election cycle, since they garner at least 5% of the popular vote.
Also, the two major parties run their primary processes thorough our elections system. Third party candidates (especially for president) are decided through conventions.
Third-party and independent candidates then have to fight to get on state ballots. In 2004, Nader ran again but he faced lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee just to be on the ballot. In 2016, Jill Stein wasn’t immediately on the ballot in all 50 states. But this time last year, she was only on the ballot in 23 states to start.
Additionally, the press is more likely to cover major party candidates while denigrating others. They are aided by a debate system that essentially only allows the nominees from the major parties.
From 1976-1984, presidential debates were hosted by the Women’s League of Voters. That changed when the Commission on Presidential Debates was created. This commission is only controlled by the two major parties.
As it currently stands, each presidential candidate has to poll at 15% just to get to one of the three big presidential debates. Since the two major parties are assured at least 40% in polls, it’s highly unlikely one third-party candidate, let alone two, will be able to talk to a national audience.
If that isn’t bad enough, both the Democrats and Republicans run the elections in their states. They go through secretaries of state and registrars, partisan positions.
All of the above are points of contention with a growing number of American voters.
About the Electoral College
I would say the Electoral College plays one of the biggest roles in keeping third parties out. Although some of our forefathers, like George Washington, were opposed to the creation of political parties they were a natural outgrowth of our election system.
We have a duopoly of parties because we have a democratic republic, meaning our president is determined by who garners a majority of Electors (currently 270). If the EC was abolished, then the top vote-getter — in the first past the pole system or a run-off — would be the winner. In that case, a third-party candidate would be able to compete.
Ironically, our forefathers didn’t want a direct democracy and felt the EC would serve as a way of safeguarding the populace from an unfit person as president. The Electors were allowed to vote however they wanted, regardless of their states’ results. But ever since, 27 states have made it a law that Electors could only follow the official states results, thus assuring either a Democrat or Republican holds that office.
Now, Let Me Ask Democrats …
Do you think the Republicans are dangerous? Well, by going after third parties and propping up the two parties, Democrats are helping Republicans keep their power and take even more. At the same time, both parties are moving farther to the right.
If third parties were allowed to fairly compete, that might force the Democrats to move more to the left and take up more populist positions. They might even peel off self-proclaimed conservatives by appealing to the issues (like wages, jobs, and health care) that most Americans can get behind.
The Commission on Election Integrity Is a Farce and I’ll Tell You Why.
On the surface, this commission was borne out of Trump’s need to reconcile his electoral victory with the fact that fewer people actually voted for him overall. However, there are other forces working behind the scenes to take advantage of Trump’s ego and ignorance.
For starters, Kris Kobach was named as the head of the commission. Remember what I said about Crosscheck above? Well, this was his baby.
One of Kobach’s first order of business was to send a bunch letters to secretaries of state. This is part of the letter sent to John Merrill, Alabama’s Secretary of State:
In addition, in order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly-available voter roll data for Alabama, including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictiions, information regarding voter registration in any state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.
That is very specific information, which could in turn be used to shut some voters out. Gee, I wonder what will happen to Democratic voters. This is Crosscheck on steroids!
On top of that, the information could be stolen and lead to more instances of fraud and stolen identities.
And over 40 secretaries of state (including Kobach in Kansas) refused to comply.
But That’s Not All …
Concerned voters contacted the Election Integrity Commission by sending emails to the commission’s email address. Many were profanity laced, but there was a general concern over the security of voter information. (When the Kris Koback contacted the secretaries of state) he asked for the names, phone numbers, addresses, and voting history of voters. He also said the commission “needed” partial Social Security numbers and to know people’s party affiliation.
Now, the Americans who contacted the Election Integrity Commission via email were basically doxxed on Thursday, July 13. In what could be called cruel irony (if it wasn’t deliberate), the White House released 112 pages of emails sent by the voters most concerned with security and privacy risks, complete with the personal information of these voters (including their names, home addresses, phone numbers, and places of employment). Normally, this type of information would be redacted when messages were shared, but it looks like the White House is sending a clear message to dissenters.
Most federal agencies that collect public comments have guidelines. Agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission show information like the full comments, names, email addresses, and the state/country of residence for commenters. However, these agencies warn people before opening up public commenting periods and releasing that information.
Marc Lotter, Press Secretary to Mike Pence, said the comments to the EIC were released according to guidelines published by the Federal Register on July 5. However, by The Washington Post’s count, approximately half the comments which were released so far were sent prior to that date.
As you can see, there is so much going on with our elections that you cannot pin the results on just one factor, let along third-party voting. The American election system is broken, and that is also a reason fewer people vote overall.
People talk about Americans losing confidence in the election system. What I’ve shown here are legitimate reasons why. At the same time, people are chided for picking this candidate or another candidate, but many are unsure their vote will even be counted.
- The No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2004. The act called for a four-year plan for public high schools which put a lot of weight behind test scores. Schools that failed to bring up test scores after two years were labeled as “failing schools.” After the fourth year, those schools could have their funds taken away, be shut down or parents would have the option of sending their children to other, higher-ranked schools. This law led to a proliferation of charter schools, which also took funds away from public institutions.
- The housing and financial crises were already developing before George W. Bush even moved into the White House. For one thing, the Graham-Leech-Blyley Act was made into law in 1998. This officially deregulated the financial market, which eventually led to both crises, which exploded in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
- Much of electoral malfeasance during the George W. Bush years was orchestrated by Karl Rove, a Republican strategist. He had an eye on the Electoral College and gerrymandering, two things that have helped the Republicans over the years.
- In Bush’s DoJ, there were far more political appointments than there had been in previous years, and they were there to displace the career lawyers. Among them was the aforementioned Hans von Spakovsky.
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Ovalle, David. “Trump strategist Bannon won’t be charged in Miami voter registration probe.” Miami Herald. 30 Mar 2017. Web. <http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article141688599.html>.
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