“Changing The Way The Votes Are Counted”: Republicans Revive Bold Scheme To Rig Presidential Elections
After Republicans failed to capture the White House in 2012, they dusted off a tried-and-true plan to improve their future electoral prospects. No, they wouldn’t moderate their views or expand their appeal to win votes. They would just change the way that the votes are counted!
The plan: to rig the electoral college with the ultimate goal of squeaking out a Republican presidential win, even in an increasingly challenging electoral landscape.
Here’s how it was supposed to work.
Before the 2010 election, Republican strategists focused energy and resources on gaining control of state legislatures, and succeeded in flipping party control of legislative chambers in blue states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This allowed Republican legislatures to draw congressional districts, gerrymandering their states to ensure future Republican gains even in states where Democrats tend to win statewide.
GOP strategists then took it a step further. What if Republicans used their control over these blue states and their favorably gerrymandered electoral maps to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections?
Under the Constitution, each state determines how it will distribute its electoral votes to presidential candidates. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a “winner take all” system, in which the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all of its electoral votes. The Republican plan would keep the “winner take all” system in big, solidly red states like Texas. But it would change it in big, blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, ensuring that a Democratic candidate who wins the popular vote in the state doesn’t go home with all of its electoral votes.
For instance, under the plan originally proposed in Pennsylvania after the 2012 election, which would have divided the state’s electoral votes up by gerrymandered congressional districts, Mitt Romney would have won 13 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, despite having lost the state’s popular vote. Last year, the Republican-controlled state house in the presidential swing state of Virginia put forward a plan to do something similar. If the Virginia plan had been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have carried away nine of the state’s 13 electoral vote, despite having lost the state’s popular vote to Barack Obama.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the goal of the scheme clear when he endorsed it last year, saying, “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.”
The proposals in Pennsylvania and Virginia sank after groups like People For the American Way got out the word and residents realized the proposals were part of a blatant political ploy. But this month, the scheme was resurrected in Michigan, where a Republican state lawmaker is proposing his own plan to dilute the power of his state’s reliably Democratic electoral college block. Under the plan introduced by Rep. Pete Lund, Michigan’s electoral votes would be distributed according to a formula tied to the popular vote. It’s not as blatant as the original Pennsylvania and Virginia proposals were, but it has the same goal: If it had been in effect in the last presidential election, it would have cut President Obama’s electoral total in Michigan down to 12 from 16.
These plans can initially seem reasonable, even to progressives, many of whom are wary of the electoral college system. But this isn’t a good-government plan to change the way our presidential elections are conducted. It’s a targeted plot to get more electoral votes for Republicans, even when they’re losing the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that these plans have often been quietly introduced in lame duck sessions, when voters are paying less attention. These measures, if allowed to be passed quickly in a few states with little debate and attention, could have national implications and change American political history.
Voters should be allowed to pick their politicians. But this is yet another case of politicians trying to pick their voters. Like with voter suppression schemes and extreme gerrymandering, the GOP is trying to change the rules of the game for their own benefit. Voters can’t let them get away with it.
By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, November 20, 2014
“Don’t Be Fooled, The GOP Wants Impeachment”: A Litmus Test To Separate Constitutional Conservatives From RINO’s
In Washington, the conversation about impeachment is preceded by a conversation about a conversation about impeachment.
Democrats say Republicans are bring up the I-word to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings for high crimes and misdemeanors after the November elections; Republicans say this is nonsense—it is Democrats who are fanning these Clintonian flames in order to paint the GOP as out of touch and energize their base. “A scam,” House Speaker John Boehner called it. A ploy, Karl Rove labeled impeachment talk in his Wall Street Journal column, by a cynical president trying to distract from his failed agenda.
Rove and the Republicans do have a point. Congressional Democrats have used any chatter about impeaching President Obama as their own personal cash register, sending out a slew of fundraising emails warning of an imminent trial. Conservatives have noted a recent study that found that MSNBC mentioned impeachment 448 times in July—that’s once every 22 minutes—while the subject came up just 95 times on Fox News during the same time period.
But travel outside the Beltway, and the conversation about impeachment is far from abstract. In fact, in the remaining Republican primaries across the country, the issue is front-and-center, with GOP candidates signaling that they are more likely than their opponents to remove Obama from the Oval Office.
“I would certainly vote for impeachment,” said Joshua Joel Tucker, a computer systems analyst running for Congress in southeast Kansas against incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the August 5 primary. “If you look up the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, one of them is malfeasance, which is basically not doing the job you are supposed to do. And I don’t think anybody could say that Obama is doing the job he is supposed to do.”
In the neighboring 4th District, incumbent Mike Pompeo and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt are locked in a fierce battle in which, according to one local newspaper, the need to impeach the president seems to be the only thing they can agree on.
At a recent forum, Pompeo said that the president had engaged in “absolute overreach.” “If such a bill were introduced, I would [vote to impeach]” he said, while Tiahrt said that Obama had broken the law” and proudly noted his votes during his previous turn in Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton.
And in the race for a U.S. Senate seat there, a spokesman for Milton Wolf, the Tea Party-backed doctor challenging longtime lawmaker Pat Roberts, refused to rule out the prospect of impeachment, saying that it would depend on which specific articles passed the House.
“If it is determined that the president violated his oath of office, that would certainly justify impeachment proceedings,” the spokesman said.
But it is not just in deep-red states like Kansas where impeachment talk is a campaign topic. Candidates up and down blue state Michigan have brought it up, and it has become something of a litmus test to separate “constitutional conservatives” from “RINO,” according to Matthew Shepard, a Tea Party leader from the central part of the state.
“True conservatives are mentioning it. And if Congress had any gumption they would have taken care of this by now.”
Indeed, Michigan’s 7th District, in the southern part of the state, is represented by Tim Walberg, who has been calling for Obama’s impeachment since back in 2010, when he said that such a move could force the president to release his birth certificate. His opponent in the August 5 primary, Tea Party-backed Douglas Radcliffe North, floated impeachment in his video announcing his candidacy.
Also in the Wolverine State, Kerry Bentivolio, a first-term congressman and former reindeer farmer, told a gathering of Republicans last year that it would “be a dream come true” to impeach Obama. Alan Arcand, a garage owner in the Upper Peninsula who is challenging incumbent Congressman Dan Benishek, told the The Daily Beast that Congress should hold off on impeaching the president for now—until Attorney General Eric Holder is impeached first.
“The way I see it, if we can’t hold Eric Holder accountable, how are we going to hold Barack Obama accountable?” he said. “This Congress should be held accountable. They are letting these people do whatever they want.”
The impeachment issue is driving campaign narratives even in the relatively liberal precincts of New England. In a race to take on Democratic incumbent Ann Kuster, both Republicans have said that Congress should explore whether or not to impeach Obama, with front-runner Marilinda Garcia telling a town hall meeting just this week that the president ignored “the separation of powers, through executive actions, executive privileges,” and that he was “completely in violation of his constitutional rights and obligations.”
“If it’s an impeachable offense as the process will show, then every member of Congress is also sworn to uphold that and needs to vote appropriately,” Garcia added.
This is not to suggest that should any of these candidates win, that Obama is in danger of impeachment. Republicans are aware of what happened in 1998, when they pushed to impeach Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a move that backfired on them and led to lesser-than-expected Democratic losses at the ballot box.
And besides, as Arcand, one of the few interviewed for this story to urge caution, put it, “If we do that, then it will just mean we got Joe Biden as president.”
By: David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, August 1, 2014
When the United States Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in higher education Tuesday, the justices weren’t just endorsing similar bans in seven other states and inviting future ones. They were, fundamentally, continuing a painful conversation among themselves, and between themselves and the rest of us, on the topic of race in America.
It is a conversation that has been ongoing in its present iteration since the Court’s ideological core shifted to the right almost a decade ago, following the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in July 2005. She was replaced by a far more conservative jurist, Justice Samuel Alito, the Court’s center of gravity then shifted from Justice O’Connor to the more conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the ascent of Chief Justice John Roberts, who replaced his friend and mentor Chief Justice William Rehnquist, made the Court’s transition complete.
And it’s a conversation that, judging from the past few related decisions, isn’t bridging the racial divide in this country but rather splintering it further apart. The Court’s ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend would not have happened 10 years ago. We know this because Justice O’Connor herself, in Grutter v. Bollinger, another case out of Michigan, crafted a 5-4 ruling that gave such remedial programs another shaky decade of life. But now they are as good as dead and, as Justice John Paul Stevens said in another context, the Court’s majority didn’t even have the courtesy to give them a proper burial.
Instead, they will be killed over time by what Justice Anthony Kennedy labeled as the procedural necessity of allowing state voters to impose their will upon minorities. We aren’t ruling on the merits of affirmative action, the justice wrote, instead we are merely allowing the voters of Michigan to render their own judgment about affirmative action. And even though that action commands university administrators not to consider race as a factor in admissions, and even though everyone understands that the Michigan measure was passed to preclude what supporters called “racial preferences,” this democratic choice somehow does not offend equal protection principles under the Constitution.
Also unthinkable before the Roberts Court kicked into gear would have been its Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder to strike down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. And it would be a mistake today not to connect that ruling to the one in Schuette. They are different sides of the same coin. Shelby County told white politicians in the South that they could now more freely change voting rules to make it harder for minorities to vote. Tuesday’s decision tells white voters that they can move via the ballot box to restrict remedies designed to help minority students and, by extension, communities of color. In each case, the Court sought to somehow extract race out of racial problems.
In Shelby County, the Court’s majority refused to acknowledge the will of the people as expressed through Congress, which repeatedly had renewed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act with large bipartisan majorities. Yet in Schuette, the Court’s majority rushed to embrace the will of the people of Michigan as expressed in their rejection of affirmative action. Contradiction? Sure. But what these cases have in common is clear: this Court is hostile to the idea that the nation’s racial problems are going to be resolved by policies and programs that treat the races differently. This is what the Chief Justice means when he says, as he did in 2007, that “the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.”
In a perfect world– a post-racial world, you might say—the Chief Justice would be absolutely correct. But the problem with his formula is that he seeks to declare it at a time when there is still in this country widespread discrimination, official and otherwise, based upon race. It is present in our criminal justice systems. It is present still in our election systems. It is present economically and politically even though, as conservatives like the Chief Justice like to point out, far more minorities participate in the political process then did half a century ago. And so the idea that now is the time to stop reflecting this reality in constitutional doctrine is to me a dubious one. “Enough is enough,” the essence of Justice Antonin Scalia’s argument, is neither a solution nor a just way in which to end the experiment in racial justice we’ve experienced in America for the past 50 years. Enough may be enough for white Americans. But it’s not nearly enough for citizens of color.
And this surely is what Justice Sotomayor had in mind when she wrote her dissent in Schuette. What is the role of the federal judiciary if not to protect the rights of minorities against the tyranny of majority rule?
The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.
This is the language that future historians will cite when they cite this cynical decision and this troubling era in America’s racial history. What’s the best evidence that the Supreme Court has it all wrong? Just consider how the two Americas, the two solitudes, reacted to the news of Schuette. The Chief Justice, in his short and defensive concurrence, accused Justice Sotomayor of “doing more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.” But to Justice Sotomayor, and to those who share her view, there is no debate. It’s already over. And the side that usually wins in America clearly has won again.
By: Andrew Cohen, Fellow, The Brennan Center For Justice at New York University School of Law; April 23, 2014
Affirmative action has opened doors for disadvantaged minorities and made this a fairer, more equal society. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts apparently wants no more of that.
This week’s big ruling — upholding a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans public universities from considering race in admissions — claims to leave affirmative action alive, if on life support. But the court’s opinion, ignoring precedent and denying reality, can be read only as an invitation for other states to follow suit.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s thundering dissent should be required reading. She sees what the court is doing and isn’t afraid to call out her colleagues on the disingenuous claim that the ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is limited in scope. It has implications that go beyond college admissions to other areas, such as voting rights, where majorities seek to trample minority rights.
By “rights,” I mean not affirmative action but the principle, upheld repeatedly by the court, that the political process should be a level playing field. In Michigan, with the high court’s blessing, anyone who wants to advocate for affirmative action is at a disadvantage. Instead of banning the policy outright — which would at least be honest — the court paints it with a bull’s-eye and strips it of defenses.
The case involves the University of Michigan — my alma mater, by the way — which has spent nearly two decades trying to defend taking race into account, as one of many factors, in deciding admissions.
The university is governed by an elected board of regents, some of whose members have campaigned on their views for or against affirmative action. Opponents of what they call “racial preferences” tried but failed to elect enough like-minded regents to end the practice, so they proposed an amendment to the state constitution that says Michigan’s public universities “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” Voters approved the measure in 2006 by a wide margin.
This may sound reasonable, even admirable, but here’s the problem: With the amendment, voters changed the political process in a way that unfairly burdens racial minorities.
There was, after all, an existing process for influencing the university’s admissions policies. You could lobby the regents. You could run ads to pressure the board. You could campaign for board candidates who shared your views. You could run to become a regent yourself.
You can still do any of these things if you want to influence the university’s admissions policies in any other way — if you want, say, more places reserved for “legacy” applicants who are the sons and daughters of alumni. But if you want to influence the board in favor of race-sensitive admissions, you have only one option: an onerous, expensive and almost surely futile attempt to amend the state constitution yet again.
As Sotomayor wrote , “The effect . . . is that a white graduate of a public Michigan university who wishes to pass his historical privilege on to his children may freely lobby the board of that university in favor of an expanded legacy admissions policy, whereas a black Michigander who was denied the opportunity to attend that very university cannot lobby the board in favor of a policy that might give his children a chance that he never had.”
If stacking the deck in this manner is acceptable in university admissions, why not in voting rights? Sotomayor’s dissent recounted the long history of attempts by majorities to change the political process in order to deny racial and ethnic minorities the chance to achieve their goals. The court has recognized a duty to protect the process rights of minorities — until now, apparently.
Once Sotomayor dispensed with the other side’s legal arguments, the court’s first Hispanic justice — she is of Puerto Rican descent — gets personal.
Race matters, she wrote, “for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away.”
She went on, “Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’ . . . Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’ ”
To young people of color, the Roberts court replied: Maybe you don’t.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 24, 2014
Someone reading about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action — and by extension similar measures passed by voters in California, Texas, Florida and Washington — might develop the misimpression that affirmative action is on the wane. In fact, it’s alive and well: Public and private colleges routinely give preferential treatment to children of alumni.
If you have kids, or plan on having them someday, you know that acceptance rates at elite colleges are at historic lows. Stanford led the stingy pack, admitting but 5 percent of applicants, with Harvard and Yale trailing close behind at 5.9 percent and 6.3 percent respectively.
For “legacies,” the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. Reviewing admission data from 30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic.
At Harvard, my alma mater, the legacy acceptance rate is 30 percent, which is not an unusual number at elite colleges. That’s roughly five times the overall rate.
The disparity is so great it makes the most sense to conceptualize college applications to elite colleges as two separate competitions: one for children whose parents are legacies, the other for children whose parents aren’t.
Admissions officers will hasten to tell you that in a meritocracy many legacies would get in anyway. Let’s pause to consider the usefulness of the term “meritocracy” in a system where the deck is stacked at every level in favor of rich, white students before conceding the premise. It’s surely true that many children of alumni are brilliant, hard-working and deserving of a seat at a top college. That’s quite different from saying the system is fair. In 2003, Harvard’s admissions dean said that the SAT scores of legacy admits were “just two points below the school’s overall average.” These are students who have enjoyed a lifetime of advantage. We’d expect them to have outperformed nonlegacies, at least by a bit, and yet they’ve done slightly worse.
Reasonable minds can differ on the morality and wisdom of race-based affirmative action. Where I teach, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is about as egalitarian as institutions come, I’ve seen firsthand what the data show: College is a ticket out of poverty, and exposing young men and women to diverse classmates and role models raises the ceiling on what they believe is possible for themselves. That said, I acknowledge the desire for a colorblind, meritocratic society as an honorable position. But how can anyone defend making an exception for children of alumni?
One needn’t have a dog in this hunt to be troubled by legacy. It’s disastrous public policy. Because of legacy admissions, elite colleges look almost nothing like America. Consider these facts: To be a 1 percenter, a family needs an annual income of approximately $390,000. When the Harvard Crimson surveyed this year’s freshman class, 14 percent of respondents reported annual family income above $500,000. Another 15 percent came from families making more than $250,000 per year. Only 20 percent reported incomes less than $65,000. This is the amount below which Harvard will allow a student to go free of charge. It’s also just above the national median family income. So, at least as many Harvard students come from families in the top 1 percent as the bottom 50 percent. Of course this says nothing of middle-class families, for whom private college is now essentially unaffordable.
These facts will trouble any parent of modest means, but it’s time to recognize this as an American problem. Together with environmental destruction, social inequality is the defining failure of our generation. The richest .01 percent of American families possess 11.1 percent of the national wealth, but 22 percent of American children live in poverty.
There are only two ways this gets better. One is a huge reformation of the tax structure. The other is improved access to higher education. Few investments yield a greater return than a college degree. Education has great potential to combat inequality, but progress simply isn’t possible if legacy persists.
To justify this practice there would need to be, in lawyer language, a compelling justification. There is none. Elite colleges defend legacy as necessary to fund-raising. It isn’t. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor M.I.T. considers legacy. Their prestige is intact, they attract great students, and they have ample endowments. Moreover, technology has transformed fund-raising. Presidential candidates raise money through grass-roots campaigns; colleges can, too.
Legacy evolved largely as a doctrine to legitimize the exclusion of Jews from elite schools. It endures today as a mechanism for reinforcing inequality, with particularly harsh consequences for Asians, and fundamentally contradicts the rhetoric of access in which elite colleges routinely engage.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia collectively have endowments of about $100 billion. They have the means to end this abhorrent practice with a stroke of a pen and the financial resources to endure whatever uncertainty ensues. Just a hunch, but I think the economically diverse students admitted to these great colleges would be successful and generous to their alma maters, not in the hope of securing their child a place in a class, but out of genuine appreciation of a legacy of equal access.
By: Evan J. Mandery, Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Op-Ed Contributor, The New york Times, April 24, 2014