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“A Rational Outcome Can’t Be Taken For Granted”: Democrats, Don’t Celebrate Trump’s Nomination. Fear it.

I know the polls say Donald Trump cannot win. But what if we are looking at the wrong poll question?

What if Trump’s overwhelming negatives don’t matter? Or, to put it another way, what if the country’s negatives matter more?

Right now, about 6 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 36 percent view him positively.

But the country is faring even worse. In the most recent average of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics, 26.9 percent of Americans think the nation is headed in the right direction and 64.9 percent think we are heading down the wrong track.

So what if even voters who respect Hillary Clinton’s competence reject her as the embodiment of business as usual? And what if even voters who do not like Trump’s bigotry or bluster care more that he will, in their view, shake things up?

Sure, these voters might tell themselves, he may be crude, or inconsistent, or ill-informed. He may insult women and Hispanics and other groups. But it’s part of a shtick. He probably doesn’t mean half of it. He’s just an entertainer. The desire to send a message of disgust or disapproval, in other words, could lead voters to overlook, discount, wish away or excuse many Trump sins.

Meanwhile, Clinton cannot shake free of the status quo. You may remember how this bedeviled Al Gore when he asked voters to give the Democratic Party a third straight presidential term in 2000. The vice president managed to achieve the worst of both worlds, alienating Bill Clinton and his most ardent supporters without establishing himself as an entirely new brand.

Unlike Gore, Hillary Clinton is not an incumbent. But she is no less associated with the establishment, having served as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state over the past quarter-century. Even if she were inclined to do so, she could not afford to distance herself from President Obama, whose backers she will need to turn out in large numbers.

I know there is an element of irrationality in these fears. I understand that not every dissatisfied American will vote for Trump.

About two-thirds of the country may think we are on the wrong track, after all, but Obama’s approval rating is 51 percent and rising.

Meanwhile, only 4.7 percent of eligible voters have actually cast a ballot for Trump in the party nomination process so far, as an analysis by FairVote shows. Many of the remaining 95.3 percent, no matter how unhappy most are with the performance of their government, will take their responsibility seriously enough that they will not vote for someone who casually threatens the faith and credit of the United States, breezily posits the merits of nuclear proliferation and cheerfully espouses torture as an instrument of U.S. policy.

Republicans are divided, the economy is improving, the demographics are increasingly in Democrats’ favor. The likeliest result of a Trump nomination is a Republican washout up and down the ballot.

I do get all that.

Still, when I hear smart people explaining why Trump cannot win, all I can think is: Aren’t you the ones who told us that he couldn’t top 30 percent, and then 40 percent, and then 50 percent in the Republican primaries? Weren’t you confident that he was finished after he called Mexicans rapists, and insulted prisoners of war, and dished out a menstruation insult?

Did you predict his nomination? If not, we don’t want to hear your certainty about his November defeat.

Nor is it reassuring to read how happy the Clinton camp must be to be facing such a weak opponent. They need to be running scared — smart, but scared — now and for the next six months.

I do have faith in the American voter, I really do. But when two-thirds of the country is unhappy, a rational outcome can’t be taken for granted.


By: Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post, May 8, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, General Election 2016 | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Just The Way They Do Business”: The Conservative Go-For-Broke Legal Strategy Suffers A Blow

These days, conservatives don’t suffer too many unanimous defeats at the Supreme Court, even in its currently unsettled status. But that’s what happened today, when the Court handed down an 8-0 ruling in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott, which had the potential to upend an understanding of democratic representation that has existed for two centuries, and give Republicans a way to tilt elections significantly in their favor before anyone even casts a vote.

The conservatives lost. But losing cases like this one is part of the way they do business. With a (usually) friendly Supreme Court, in recent years they’ve employed a strategy of maximal legal audacity, one that has yielded tremendous benefits to their cause.

This case was a relatively low-profile part of a comprehensive conservative assault on voting rights — or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it an assault on the ease with which people who are more likely to vote Democratic can obtain representation at the ballot box. The question was about how state legislative districts are drawn, and the principle of “one person, one vote.” We’ve long had a legal consensus that all districts in a state have to be approximately the same size, to give everyone equal representation; a state legislature can’t draw one district to include a million people and another district to include only a thousand (although you might point out that we do have a legislative body that violates this principle; it’s called the United States Senate, where Wyoming gets one senator for every 300,000 residents and California gets one senator for every 20 million residents).

The plaintiffs in Evenwell argued that instead of using population to draw district lines, states should use the number of eligible voters. Apart from the fact that we know population numbers fairly precisely because of the census, and we have no such precision regarding eligible voters, that would exclude huge swaths of the public. You might immediately think of undocumented immigrants, but counting only eligible voters would also mean excluding people with green cards on their way to citizenship, children, and those who have had their voting rights taken away because of a criminal conviction. In practice, drawing districts this way would almost inevitably mean taking power away from urban areas more likely to vote Democratic and sending power to rural areas more likely to vote Republican. Which was of course the whole point.

This case was a real long shot from the beginning, as you might gather from the fact that the conservative activists who filed it were suing the state of Texas, which is controlled by Republicans and is not exactly enthusiastic about ensuring everyone’s voting rights (the state’s incredibly restrictive voter ID law is still working its way through the courts). The problem they ran into came from the fact that the lawsuit alleged not that a state may draw districts based on the number of eligible voters and not the population, but that it must draw districts that way. That was the only way for them to file the suit, since they were trying to force Texas to change how it was drawing districts.

Since Texas had chosen to use population, just as every other state does and always has, in order to force a change the plaintiffs wanted that method declared unconstitutional. If they had prevailed, that could have meant that every state legislative district in the country would have had to be redrawn. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the ruling, “As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote.”

About the legal audacity I mentioned before: As unlikely as this case may have been to succeed, it’s another reminder of how legally aggressive the right has been lately. Again and again, whether it’s about voting rights or the Affordable Care Act or some other issue, they’ve come up with some novel legal theory that at first gets dismissed as completely absurd, then begins to sound mainstream as conservatives see an opportunity to gain a victory and rally around it. Even if they ultimately lose in court, the controversy can open up new legal and political avenues that hadn’t been evident before.

They lost today, and if you get Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor that your claim is bogus, you know you’ve gone pretty far. But this case leaves an open question, which is whether a state can switch to an eligible-voter count in order to draw its districts if it chooses. No state has chosen to do that, but don’t be surprised if now that the issue has gotten some attention, conservative Republican legislators in deep-red states — particularly those with large numbers of Latino immigrants — start proposing it. I’d keep my eye on Texas.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Republicans, SCOTUS, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Goal Is To Limit Representation”: The Conservatives Who Gutted The Voting Rights Act Are Now Challenging ‘One Person, One Vote’

Ed Blum, who brought the case that led to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, is now going after the historic principle of “one person, one vote.” The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, Blum’s latest case, which challenges the drawing of state Senate districts in Texas. The obscure case could have major ramifications for political representation.

Blum first began attacking the Voting Rights Act after losing a Houston congressional race to a black Democrat in 1992 and founded the Project on Fair Representation in 2005 to challenge the constitutionality of the VRA. The Evenwel case doesn’t deal directly with the VRA but on how districts should be calculated. Since the Supreme Court’s 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision, districts have been drawn based on the total population of an area. Blum instead wants lines to be drawn based only on eligible voters—excluding children, inmates, non-citizens, etc. from counting toward representation.

If that happened, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative, rather than younger, more diverse, more urban, and more liberal. “It would be a power shift almost perfectly calibrated to benefit the Republican party,” explains University of Texas law professor Joey Fishkin. “The losers would be urban areas with lots of children and lots of racially diverse immigrants. The winners would be older, whiter, more suburban, and rural areas. It would be a power shift on a scale American redistricting law has not seen since the 1960s. While not nearly as dramatic as the original reapportionment revolution, it would require every map in every state to be redrawn, with the same general pattern of winners and losers.”

Demographically, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is wider than it has ever been. “House Republicans are still 87 percent white male, compared to 43 percent of House Democrats—the widest gap we’ve ever seen,” explains Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report. “In terms of composition of districts, the median GOP district is 76% white, while the median Dem district is 49% white—again, the widest gap we’ve ever seen. Overall, the median House district is 68% white, compared to 63% for the nation as a whole.”

This representation gap explains why Republican officials are pushing new voting restrictions like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, which disproportionately impact minority voters and seek to make the electorate smaller and whiter. A victory for Blum’s side in Evenwel would make districts across the country even less representative of the country as a whole.

Blum claims to be fighting for race neutrality but he’s often done the bidding of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement and Republican Party. As I reported in 2013:

His Project on Fair Representation is exclusively funded by Donors Trust, a consortium of conservative funders that might be the most influential organization you’ve never heard of. Donors Trust doled out $22 million to a Who’s Who of influential conservative groups in 2010, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafted mock voter ID laws and a raft of controversial state-based legislation; the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Koch brothers’ main public policy arm…Donors Trust has received seven-figure donations from virtually every top conservative donor, including $5.2 million since 2005 from Charles Koch’s Knowledge and Progress Fund. (The structure of Donors Trust allows wealthy conservative donors like Koch to disguise much of their giving.)

From 2006 to 2011, Blum received $1.2 million from Donors Trust, which allowed him to retain the services of Wiley Rein, the firm that unsuccessfully defended Ohio’s and Florida’s attempts to restrict early voting in federal court last year. As a “special program fund” of the tax-exempt Donors Trust, Blum’s group does not have to disclose which funders of Donors Trust are giving him money, but he has identified two of them: the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust. The Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation paid for billboards in minority communities in Milwaukee during the 2010 election with the ominous message “Voter Fraud Is a Felony!”, which voting rights groups denounced as voter suppression. Both Bradley and Searle have given six-figure donations to ALEC in recent years, and Bradley funded a think tank in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, that hyped discredited claims of voter fraud to justify the state’s voter ID law.

The challenge in Evenwel isn’t so different from the gutting of the VRA or new laws restricting voting rights. The goal is to limit representation, make it harder for some to participate in the political process and to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

CORRECTION: Blum says, “The Project on Fair Representation hasn’t been affiliated with Donors Trust for nearly 6 months; we are now a 501 (c) (3) so our donors will be disclosed according to the regulations that apply to all public charities.”


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, May 28, 2015

May 30, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Ed Blum, Evenwel v Abott, Redistricting | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Should Voting Be A Choice?”: Voter Non-Participation Is A Giant Pimple On The Face Of American Democracy

President Obama gave a rather unusual answer to a question about money in politics during an event in Cleveland this week. His antidote for the burgeoning influence of fat stacks of Supreme Court-sanctioned cash on elections was fairly simple: make everyone vote.

“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” he said, adding that voting was mandatory in other countries. Universal participation would “counteract money more than anything.”

He might have a point.

Voter participation–or, more accurately, non-participation–is a giant pimple on the face of American democracy, one that the U.S. been unable to pop since the 1960s.

Every two years, an average of 56 percent of eligible voters (PDF) participate in their own self-governance, weighed heavily towards presidential contests. Midterms usually draw around 40 percent, putting 2014’s dismal effort only slightly below average.

Line that up next to other industrialized democracies and it’s not pretty. Great Britain usually gets around three quarters of its population to the polls in national elections.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy and modern geopolitical punchline, gets 86 percent. Australia’s citizens turn out in droves, averaging a 95 percent turnout down under.

How do the Aussies do it? Quite simply, they make their citizens vote–or at least show up.

They are forced to register, forced to appear at a polling station on Election Day, and forced to at least make a mark on the ballot paper. By law, they don’t actually have to choose a candidate or party, but you’d imagine the phrase “might as well” applies here.

Australia, cited by the president in his Wednesday remarks, is not the only country with compulsory voting, and not the only one to see strong turnout. Argentina has it, and usually sees around 85 percent participation. Brazil does too, and usually turns out at a rate around 80 percent. All of these are enforced compulsory systems: that is, there is a penalty (normally a fine) if a citizen cannot reasonably explain why they did not vote.

Now, none of those three are examples of ideal democratic outcomes at present, but at least they have robust participation. The United States faces a formidable participation gap, partly because, quite frankly, not enough people care.

But the U.S. has also been doing all the wrong things, policy-wise, for decades.

Rather than make it easier to vote, lawmakers here have been putting up barriers to participation.

New York and Ohio eliminated same-day voter registration in 1965 and 1977 respectively. According to political scientist Marjorie Random Hershey, turnout dropped by 7 percent in the subsequent elections and between 3 and 5 percent over the longer term (PDF). Many states have imposed early closing dates for registration, and if there were no closing date (in other words, same-day registration), some experts “estimate that…turnout would increase by 6.1 percent” across the nation. Early voting has also been scaled back in a number of states, including Ohio and North Carolina, where 7 in 10 black Americans vote early.

Then there are Voter ID laws, passed to combat the largely mythical phenomenon known as voter fraud.

To start, voter fraud does not exist in any significant sense. Out of the 197 million votes cast in federal elections between 2000 and 2005, only 26 (yes, twenty-six) votes eventually resulted in convictions for voter fraud. That is .00000013 percent, and it indicates that no one committing voter fraud could have affected any federal election in any way during that time.

Yet eight states have strict photo ID requirements to vote, and a further six have strict non-photo ID policies. And these policies can suppress the vote.

Hershey’s study cites Vercellotti and Anderson’s (2006), which found that “non-photo and photo ID rules were associated with lower turnout in 2004, in the range of 3 to 4 percent.” Laws enacted in Kansas and Tennessee dropped turnout by 2 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. Texas’s policies, some of the most restrictive in the nation, were also heavily scrutinized after the 2014 election.

All of these figures are across the demographic board, leaving aside that these policies have been accused of being partisan and discriminatory, disproportionately affecting minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Voter ID is just the latest in a long line of counterproductive policies when it comes to the ballot box. The suppression numbers associated are not huge, but there is a pile-on effect.

That’s because the decision to vote is an economic one. There’s an element of civic duty or pride, sure, but the individual essentially conducts a cost–benefit analysis with regard to how they spend their time and money. The more obstacles that are put in the way of voter participation, from restricting early voting to banning voting out-of-district to requiring IDs (which cost time and money to procure), the higher the opportunity cost and the fewer people will vote.

The end result is that the laws and regulations governing voting in some states are thoroughly undemocratic.

Thankfully, though, the U.S. is not some sort of uniformly hopeless electoral dystopia. Some states are making progress. Oregon, along with more recent converts Washington and Colorado (the Civic-Minded Stoner Bloc) has conducted all mail-in voting for years. All enjoyed turnouts of 64 percent turnout or higher in 2012, well above the national average, with Colorado at 71 percent.

This week, Oregon crossed into new territory in its efforts to get out the vote. Under the new policy, all eligible voters will be registered automatically unless they opt out. Now the Oregon secretary of state’s office will mail all voting-age citizens a ballot 20 days before any election. They need only send it back with a few marks of a pen.

Oregon’s is a step in the right direction, emphasizing ease of voting over mandates. Compulsory voting does not hold all the answers–though some political scientists credit it with as much as double-digit gains in turnout percentage–and there are other ways to avoid ghastly-looking turnout numbers. After all, Britain and Greece are doing just fine without it. Belgium, where mandatory voting policies have not been enforced since 2003, averages 90 percent turnout.

Though it would likely bring more people to the polls, it’s not immediately clear how, as the president says, mandatory voting would combat money’s influence on American politics. Maybe he’s hoping that the few people whose lives aren’t consumed by political advertisements in the run-up to Election Day–that is, who don’t own a TV or computer–would show up. Maybe his roots in community organizing tell him there’s strength in numbers, that there’s power to be found in the kind of mass participation by informed citizens that is simply lacking today.


By: Jack Holmes, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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