Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Not-So-Secret Push to Purge Democrat Voters

As the last presidential election reflects, a conservative Republican candidate can almost never win an election based on a popular vote. The same is true for state offices and Congressional districts in most of the states with large urban populations. Simply put, the majority of America is no longer comprised of white traditionalists… the bulwark of the Republican constituency. If popular voting were the rule (it’s clearly not), they would have to sway Democrats to their side to win that popular vote. As we shall later, the upcoming battleground just might be the 2020 U.S. Census – the legal determinant of Congressional districting – where Republicans are figuring out how to negate the obvious.
But as we know, Congressional and state districts are not determined by mandatory objective criteria, rather by state legislative bodies. The Census may provide a determination of how many representatives-per-state get allocated towards the House, but the state gets to determine how those votes are implemented by defining district borders. The Constitution specifically provides “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” That the vast majority of states are dominated by Republican legislatures and most with GOP governors has led to so many conservative states’ adopting laws that very specifically focus on maximizing white traditionalists and minimizing any demographic that would likely vote Democrat.
The acceptance of this long-standing political manipulation, repeatedly evident with recent presidential elections where the popular vote was usurped by the Electoral College (which is based on those districts), was first labeled “Gerrymandering” in an 1812 Massachusetts election. A political cartoon noted that the artificially-drawn district, favoring incumbent Governor Elbridge Gerry and his anti-Federalist cronies, looked a lot like a salamander. The right to redistrict has long been held as the reward for victorious parties to perpetuate their victory. Just garden-variety American politics. But in this era of out-spoken anger, crude personal attacks in so many of our elections, fury at the “mainstream media,” white backlash and what seems to be irreconcilable polarization, the GOP is hell-bent on taking every step it can to disenfranchise non-white, non-traditionalist voters. They cannot let popular, one person-one vote take effect.
Here’s how gerrymandering works (reflected in the above map): “The party in power typically wants to remain in power and keep the opposing party from winning seats. In many areas, this has led to bizarrely shaped electoral districts. Some are ‘packed’ with voters from that state's minority party, to prevent voters in an area from winning more than one seat. Elsewhere, deliberately ‘cracked’ voting blocs are spread across multiple districts to diffuse their influence and make their party less competitive.”, November 22, 2016. But until fairly recently – citing both the above constitutional mandate and the fact that courts are ill-equipped to supervise and implement redistricting – courts have been loath to usurp state-determined electoral districts.
But the rather consistent efforts of Republican conservatives to marginalize non-GOP voters has ignited a new level of judicial review. Republicans tried, and failed under such scrutiny, to declare as unconstitutional, non-partisan voter-elected redistricting commissions. Later, North Carolina got slammed twice in such judicial reviews.
First, the Supreme Court let stand (refused to hear the case) a federal appeals court that struck down that state’s voter ID requirements saying that the law targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” The N.C. legislative leaders pledged they would pass new ID laws until they got their way. Then came the second slam. On May 22nd, “[isn Cooper,  Governor of North Carolina vs. Harris, the] U.S. Supreme Court … ruled that Republicans in North Carolina unlawfully took race into consideration when drawing congressional district boundaries [specifically the 1st and 12th districts depicted in the above map], concentrating black voters in an improper bid to diminish their statewide political clout.
“The justices upheld a lower court's February 2016 ruling that threw out two majority-black U.S. House of Representatives districts because Republican lawmakers improperly used race as a factor when redrawing the legislative map after the 2010 census.”, May 22nd.  But again, the N.C. legislature claimed that this decision clearly usurped the constitutional mandate that states determine their own districts. The court did not, however, suggest it would itself redraw those districts.
And it’s not as if we no longer have an objective measure of how to draw Congressional districts. For example, Moon Duchin (an associate professor of Mathematics at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts) has defined a geometrically-based algorithm that can plot physical distances within a proposed district, factoring in relevant Census data, and objectively determine whether such district is in fact gerrymandered. Will the GOP-dominated legislatures get the message? Probably not.
“The Supreme Court's refusal to breathe new life into North Carolina's sweeping voter identification law might be just a temporary victory for civil rights groups… Republican-led states are continuing to enact new voter ID measures and other voting restrictions, and the Supreme Court's newly reconstituted conservative majority, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch, could make the court less likely to invalidate the laws based on claims under the federal Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.” Associated Press, May 16th.
Obsessed with having lost the popular vote, and despite overwhelming evidence that voter fraud is almost non-existent in this country, Donald Trump appears to be focused on repressing non-GOP voters under the fraudulent cry of “voter fraud.” “Voter fraud has been an issue the president has evidenced some interest in. As a candidate, Trump began questioning election results back in the fall of 2016. He repeatedly claimed the 2016 presidential election was ‘going to be rigged’ months before voters hit the polls, and after questioned whether he would have won the popular vote ‘if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’ (Based on most reliable sources, Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes.)” Christopher Coble on, May 15th.
So in early May, Donald Trump signed an executive order “creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate voting processes and registration for federal elections. Ostensibly, this commission will root out past voter fraud and advise the Oval Office on measures to prevent it in the future.” Coble. Effectively, this commission has been charged to find fraud and sustain the president’s view. Presumably, such findings – unsustainable in any objective sense – will undoubtedly be used to support new minority-restrictive voter ID efforts that are plainly focused on enhancing Republican voting power.
But all of the above pales in comparison to a much bigger effort: to hamper the ability of the U.S. Census to make an accurate count of demographic reality… by seriously underfunding the Census Bureau. The Census is also the basis for the allocation of federal funds to the states. Based on numerous and credible academic studies, we know what the 2020 results should be.
But, by cutting off the necessary Congressional budgetary support for the Bureau, it is very like that too many non-GOP people will of necessity be under-counted. Frustrated with the Trump administration’s defunding, thirty-year Census Bureau veteran, Director John Thompson, resigned without explanation effective at the end of June. In April, Congress rejected the Bureau’s request for much of its requested increased funding to implement software systems upgrades.
Donald Trump, who has consistently challenged government statistics (calling them “fake” numbers), gets to appoint Thompson’s successor. Further, just think how a simple tweet from the president denigrating any Census data that countered his imagined and desired result would seriously undermine that agency’s credibility, particularly with Trump’s “fake news”-obsessed base.
It seems that reaching out and identifying the poor and lower-on-the-economic-ladder ethnic and racial minorities is far more labor intensive (read: expensive) than tallying the much-easier-to-reach-and-identify white mainstream.
Add that to the possible impact of that new Trump appointee: “There are concerns that whoever is tapped may politicize the Census, says Bruce Bartlett, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It’s up to the director, after all, to decide how much effort should be put into tracking down hard-to-find populations. And if he or she makes choice that wind up, say, excluding minorities, that could unfairly ‘shift representation and money from blue states to red states,’ Bartlett says.” Time, Volume 189, No 20, May 2017 at page 18. Could this one simply pass and slip under our radar? I guess it’s up to all of us to raise a cry for fairness and equal voter access for all Americans.
And if Democrats think this will all work out in their favor, without a serious recalibration of their priorities, they need a reality check. Even after admittedly body-slamming a pretty innocuous reporter for a British newspaper the day before a special election to replace Montana’s only representative in the House, Republican Greg Gianforte crushed his Democratic opponent, Rob Quist, by seven percentage points. I should mention that Steve Bullock, Montana’s governor, is a Democrat who, in 2012, won 87% of the vote. Read the tea leaves, Dems!
I’m Peter Dekom, and if you think you are living in a representative democracy, think again!

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