Tag Archives: voting

With Few Watching, Republicans Have Put in Place New Poll Tax to Disenfranchise Voters

Preventing people from voting because they owe legal fees or court fines muzzle low-income Americans at a time in our nation’s history when the rich have more political power than ever.

More from Robert Reich at Common Dreams

Posted by Libergirl

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How states can fix the Electoral College and prevent future Trumps

If just two states had adopted runoffs to ensure that the winners reached 50%, as the Founders intended, we might have a different president.

Donald Trump amassed 101 Electoral College votes in states where he failed to win 50% of the popular vote. In each of these states, more voters voted for other candidates than for Trump, yet he received all the Electoral College votes. This windfall amounted to one-third of his total (304). Without it, he would have fallen 67 short of the 270 required to prevail.

Despite everything said about the 2016 election, insufficient attention has been paid to this basic fact. It means that while Trump technically achieved an Electoral College victory, he did so without genuinely receiving the support of the electorates in the states responsible for his Electoral College win. That is the opposite of what the architects of the Electoral College had in mind.

This point is different from the one about Hillary Clinton winning almost 3 million more votes nationally than Trump. That much-mentioned truth is irrelevant to how the Electoral College is supposed to work. It would matter if there were any realistic chance of replacing the Electoral College with something different, but there isn’t. And meanwhile, it blinds us to the problem that in 2016, the Electoral College did not function properly even according to its own logic. As long as we are stuck with the Electoral College, we should make it operate as intended.

This requires fixing the state laws that implement the Electoral College system. The good news is that each state already has the constitutional power to repair its own laws, without the need for three-quarters of the states agreeing to a constitutional amendment or some sort of multi-state compact that would not take effect until enough states sign on. If just a couple of states had adopted the necessary fix before last year, Clinton might be president now. To understand why, let’s review what went wrong, why it’s inconsistent with the Electoral College’s original intent, and how states already are empowered to remedy the defect.

Trump was able to win these states without a majority because there were more than two candidates on the ballot. Without Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in the mix, Clinton might have received more votes than Trump in some of these six states. If she had done so in just Florida and either Pennsylvania, Michigan, or North Carolina, that would have been enough for her to win the White House.

The Electoral College and majority winners

The Electoral College’s architects understood that an election with multiple candidates might produce a winner with under 50% of the votes, an outcome they wanted to avoid.  That’s why they insisted that to win a candidate must receive a majority, and not merely a plurality, of Electoral College votes. And if no candidate does, then a candidate must get the support of a majority, and not merely a plurality, of state delegations in the House of Representatives.

The Founding Fathers thought each state would take care to assure that a candidate could not receive its Electoral College votes without support from a majority of its voters. States initially complied with this expectation. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for example, if no candidate won a majority of the popular vote, the legislature would appoint the state’s electors. New Hampshire then switched to a runoff, in which voters cast a second round of ballots if no candidate received a majority in the first round.

Later, states moved to letting presidential candidates get all of a state’s Electoral College votes with only a plurality of popular votes. This was a mistake and inconsistent with the original vision.

Restoring majority rule

States can return to the original plan by adopting the same kind of runoff that New Hampshire had or, instead, a modern form of runoff that avoids the need for a second round of ballots. Known as instant-runoff voting, it enables voters to rank their preferences among multiple candidates. Had this been used last year, a voter could have ranked Stein first, Clinton second, and Johnson third (for example). These rankings make it possible to eliminate candidates with less support than others and then identify which remaining candidate is preferred by a majority of voters.

If just two states had adopted a runoff, it could have made the difference in which candidate became commander in chief. The highest reform priority between now and 2020 should be to convince battleground states — like Florida and Michigan, where voters can adopt reforms by initiative and thus bypass recalcitrant legislatures — to adopt whichever type of runoff they prefer.

The imperative is to prevent another president who wins the White House without really winning the support of the electorates in the states that determine the outcome. The Founding Fathers would see that as a subversion of the Electoral College system. So should we.

By Edward B. Foley/USAToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Proportional Representation Could Open Door to More Black Political Power

With the debate over gerrymandering making its way through the Supreme Court, and voter suppression very much a reality, the issue of fair representation for Black people remains in need of solutions. This as the Voting Rights Act has been defanged of its enforcement mechanisms, and the rights of Black voters remain compromised. These circumstances provide fertile ground for the concept of proportional representation.

What is proportional representation? Consider the current system of legislative representation in America, in which one person represents one district in a single-member winner-take-all electoral district based on geography. Known as a First Past The Post (FPTP) system, it is notorious for excluding racial minorities.  As Vox reported, although proportional representation may take various forms, there are a few popular proposals. For example, a party list system allocates seats based on the number of votes each party receives. This system has a track record of increasing inclusion of ethnic and racial minorities in South Africa, Indonesia and Namibia.

By contrast, in an alternative vote system each state is a single district with various members, rather than various districts each represented by one member. Voters rank the candidates for office, with a formula determining which of the candidates capture the fixed number of seats. Under mixed-member proportional (MMP) systems such as those in Germany and New Zealand, voters cast two votes: one for the party of their choice, and the second for the representative of their choice. When New Zealand adopted its system in 1996, the Maori members of Parliament doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent, and increased to 22 percent in 2014. Pacific Islander MPs increased from 3 percent of Parliament in 1996 to 6 percent in 2014, and Asian MPs grew from 1 percent to 4 percent.

Another system used in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, local elections in Scotland and in the Australian Senate is the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which allows people to vote for a team of legislators rather by ranking them in order of preference. The voter places a number “1” next to their favorite candidate, a “2” next to their second-favorite candidate, and so on. STV eliminates the concerns over vote splitting or tactical voting, and increases the chances of electing independent candidates for office, as voters choose among candidates rather than parties.

Advocates of proportional representation note that it is a solution to gerrymandering, which is the drawing of legislative district boundaries for the benefit of one political party and to entrench its power. Both major political parties engage in the practice, but the Republicans have used it to their advantage over Democrats in recent years, including in 2016 races for the U.S. House and state house and assembly seats. Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans control a majority of state houses and Congress. Although one forecast has the Democrats receiving 54 percent of the votes in the 2018 House election, they would win a mere 49 percent of the seats.

Nonwhite and women lawmakers are each less than 20 percent of Congress, while the Republican caucus in both the House and Senate is nearly exclusively white, and mostly white men, for that matter. The impact of gerrymandering — which allows politicians to select their voters rather than the other way around — dilutes nonwhite votes.

The effect of gerrymandering is evident in the South, where the sizable population of Black people is not reflected in the congressional delegations and state houses, in which the power of white conservative men is amplified, and Black voters have little to no political power. For example, non-Hispanic whites are 53 percent of the population of Georgia, while Blacks are 32 percent, Latinos are 9 percent, and Asians are 4 percent. Yet, of the 14 House districts in Georgia, white Republicans occupy 10 of these seats (71 percent), and Black Democrats hold the remaining four. Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators are white Republicans, and the state legislature is 72 percent white, 25 percent Black and 1 percent Latino.

In North Carolina, where whites are 63 percent of the state population, Blacks are 22 percent and Latinos 9 percent, only two of the state’s 13 members of Congress are Black, while 11 are white men, and 10 are white Republican men. Both U.S. senators are white Republicans. Whites are 79 percent of the state legislature, Blacks are 20 percent and Latinos 1 percent.

The population of Mississippi is 57 percent white and 38 percent Black, but its entire delegation of two senators and four members of Congress are white Republicans, except for one Black Democrat in the House. The state legislature is 71 percent white and 28 percent Black.

Alabama is two-thirds white and 27 percent Black, according to the Census, but six of its seven House members are white Republicans — the seventh is a Black woman and a Democrat — and its senators are white Republican men. Alabama’s state legislators are three-quarters white and 24 percent Black.

Under a system of proportional representation, Black voters would have more fair and equal representation in city councils, and state legislatures, Congress, and with an amendment to the Constitution, the Senate. James Madison advocated for proportional representation in the Senate, which small states opposed.

With a party list system, Black people in Alabama and North Carolina could each gain an additional seat in Congress, and increase their presence in their respective state assemblies. Proportional representation would transform politics in Georgia, a state which may very well be on its way to becoming a purple and eventually a blue state — and a majority-nonwhite state — due to demographic changes. Under a party list system, for example, Black Democratic voters, in coalition with Latinos, Asians and progressive whites, could increase their representation in Congress by at least two members, possibly even taking over half of the Georgia’s congressional delegation. Georgia could also gain its first Black U.S. senator if elections for the upper house were governed by proportional representation. Similarly, Blacks and other nonwhite Georgians could capture nearly half of the state legislature.

Mississippi is the blackest state in the U.S. in terms of its percentage of African-Americans, and also the most conservative state, where race and party affiliation are highly correlated. If the state adopted a party list system, the Black electorate could gain one additional member of Congress — possibly its first Black senator since Reconstruction — and would increase its number of combined seats in both houses of the state legislature from approximately 49 to 66, out of 174 total seats.

Harvard law professor Lani Guinier has long been a champion of the concept, which is found in most the world’s democracies and ensures the minority has at least some representation. Guinier has also maintained that proportional representation would encourage participation, genuine debate and inclusion — as opposed to tokenism —which race-conscious districts, she argues, do not achieve. Guinier was lambasted for her ideas, which Republicans and moderate Democrats dismissed in 1993 as a quota system when Bill Clinton torpedoed her nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

While Guinier was characterized as a radical for her voting rights positions, the inadequacies of the current political system — which only magnifies white supremacist power — suggest the nation must consider a bold alternative. Although proportional representation is not a panacea for the myriad problems in U.S. government, its electoral system or its politics, it would prove responsive to the needs of the underrepresented, those such as Black voters who have been denied access to power and whose interests have not been served.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Democrats Appear to Have a Race Problem

The month after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he made a point to thank African-Americans for not showing up to vote.

“They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary,” he said at a rally in Hershey, Pa. “They didn’t come out. And that was a big . So, thank you to the African American community.”

Trump’s comments, like so many of his other racially charged statements, drew widespread criticism. Yet, six months after his passive-aggressive display of gratitude to the Black community, the media continues to point the finger at African-Americans for the Democratic Party’s failures.

Just last week, the political website FiveThirtyEight published an article taking aim at African-Americans for not turning out for the Democratic Party like they did when Obama was on the ballot. The piece, written by Republican digital strategist Patrick Ruffini, suggests that the future of the Democratic Party hinges on the Black electorate.

“In 2016, turnout among whites was up across the country, and in highly educated areas like the Sixth District in the suburbs of Atlanta,” Ruffini wrote. “This redounded to Democrats’ advantage. At the same time, Black turnout was down precipitously, from 66 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016. This Black-white turnout gap continued in the first round of Georgia’s special election, where the Democrats got impressive turnout levels from all races and ethnicities — except African-Americans.”

But the reality of the situation is far more complex. Ruffini conveniently overlooks the role voter suppression efforts, such as voter ID laws and the disenfranchisement of felons, played in lowering the number of Black voters. A 2016 study on voter suppression from the University of California, San Diego, found that voter ID laws widen the racial voting gap.

“For Latinos in the general election, the predicted gap from whites doubled from 5.3 points in states without strict photo ID laws to 11.9 in states with strict photo ID laws,” the study found. “The predicted Latino-white gap almost tripled from 5.0 points to 13.3 in primaries. Likewise, for African-Americans, the predicted gap in primaries almost doubled from 4.8 points to 8.5 points.”

But voter suppression and the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act aren’t the only issues Ruffini ignores. He also disregards whether Democrats have met the needs of African-American voters. And to top it off, he may be over blowing what he describes as a “precipitous” drop in Blacks at the polls. According to the Washington Post, African-Americans made up 12 percent of the electorate in 2016. That’s a drop of just 1 percent from 2012, when Obama was up for reelection. So, even if the sheer number of Blacks at the polls wasn’t as high as it was in 2012, the African-American community did turn out to vote in numbers proportional to their share of the electorate and the U.S. population generally.

It’s also worth noting that a broad spectrum of Americans so loathed Trump and Clinton alike that millions showed up to the ballot booth only to skip voting for president. Since the 2016 presidential election, the media has focused on the performance of Democrats in congressional races across the country, casting Black voters as the demographic who can make or break these races. For example, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently ran the following headline for a piece about whether Democrat Jon Osoff could win Georgia’s Sixth District runoff race: “A worry for Jon Ossoff in the Sixth: Will black voters show up?

The authors offer a demographic breakdown of Blacks in the three counties that make up the Sixth District: Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb.

“Black voters are most numerous in DeKalb, where they make up 16 percent of that part of the Sixth,” they note. “African-Americans make up 12 percent of voters in the Fulton-Sixth. Sixteen and 12 percent may be small shares, but they’ll be essential if Ossoff is to pull off a victory on June 20.”

In other words, if Osoff loses, African-Americans will be to blame if a lower number of them show up than did to such races during the Obama years. Blacks as a group—94 percent of Black women and 80 percent of Black men—voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. In contrast, whites of all socioeconomic backgrounds backed Trump. Wouldn’t it be logical to focus on Democrats’ efforts to reach out to subgroups of white voters, such as evangelicals, women and seniors? But that would interfere with the press’s routine scapegoating of African-American voters. They’ve been criticized for everything from voting for Obama “just because he’s Black” to living on the Democratic plantation to California’s 2008 gay marriage ban.

As loyal Democrats, Blacks are definitely an influential voting bloc, but the finger pointing at African-Americans when elections don’t turn out a certain way needs to stop. African-Americans remain underwhelmed by how Democrats have responded to police killings of Blacks, groomed leaders of color in their party and their internal hiring practices. When Kamala Harris won her U.S. Senate race last November, she became only the second Black woman to serve in the role and the 10th Black. In December, Senate Democrats faced criticism when it came to light that most of their senior staffers are white. This isn’t a good look, especially when Blacks overall face higher rates of unemployment than other racial groups.

Rather than blaming Blacks for not turning out for Democrats in numbers as high as they did for historic elections in 2008 and 2012, it would be wise for the media to focus on how Democrats are serving the needs of African-Americans. Don’t criticize Blacks for not turning out en masse. Ask what’s in it for them if they do.

By Nadra Nittle/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Court fines and fees: Another barrier to North Carolina’s ballot box

How much money do you have to pay before you cast your ballot on Election Day?

Image result for court fees
Image: myfloridalaw.com

For most North Carolinians, the answer might seem obvious: none. As the cornerstone of our democracy, voting is supposed to be fair, accessible – and free. But for an increasing number of North Carolinians, the right to vote can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

How is that possible? The answer is because North Carolina denies the right to vote to people who have felony convictions but cannot afford to pay their court costs, even if they have satisfied all other probation requirements.

Thanks to an ever-growing system of mandatory fines and fees, those caught up in the criminal justice system can be forced to pay anywhere from $40 to hundreds of dollars a month for the cost of their court administration, jail fees, probation, electronic monitoring, drug testing, even community service – and more. If they are unable to pay, they face a penalty fee for nonpayment, increasing their fees and lengthening their probation period.

These costs have increased substantially over time. In 1999, the base cost a person would pay for a superior court date was $106. Today the base cost is $198 with the potential to grow to more than $10,000 in serious cases as additional penalties snowball. Even if they have served all the terms of their sentence, even if they have had no probation violations, low-income people often remain on probation simply because they are low-income. And in far too many North Carolina courts, judges will not conduct hearings on a person’s inability to pay, as is required by law.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

One of Africa’s longest-serving strongmen has been kicked out of office

Yesterday’s man. Image: Reuters/Thierry Gouegnon)

After 22 years in power, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh will no longer be president. According to the country’s electoral commission, Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow, the main opposition candidate, by 50,000 votes in the presidential election held yesterday. The surprising result was met with relief by Gambians, who took to social media after internet services were restored in the country following a shutdown before and throughout voting.

Alieu Fatty @alisimon10

Today I am very happy to witness the end of tyranny in The Gambia. The people took our country back. Welcome new #GAMBIA!

More from Quartz

Posted by Libergirl

Obama, conceding no fault, struggles to explain Trump’s rise

President Barack Obama pointed Tuesday to fears of globalization, economic uncertainty, suspicion of elites — anything but his own performance — as he grasped for ways to explain the unexpected rise of Donald Trump.

Image result for obama in greece
Image: Reuters

Opening his final overseas trip as president, Obama acknowledged he was surprised by Trump’s victory — and said it stemmed from deep-seated anxieties among working-class Americans that government must do better to address. But, he added paradoxically: “That’s been my agenda for the last eight years.”

“People seem to think I did a pretty good job,” Obama told reporters, citing his strong approval numbers. “So there is this mismatch, I think, between frustration and anger.”

Obama’s diagnosis of what went wrong for Hillary Clinton and Democrats offered little in the way of a road map for Democrats to avoid a similar fate in future elections. Democrats reeling from their resounding defeat last week are divided about what went wrong and even more divided about how to fix it.

In a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Obama said his proposals on jobs, education and infrastructure would have helped the same voters whose frustration drove Trump’s success at the polls — if only they’d been implemented.

“The problem was I couldn’t convince the Republican Congress to pass a lot of them,” Obama said.

It was also the clearest sign yet that the president did not accept Trump’s election as a repudiation of his policies, despite Trump’s ardent rejection of nearly every piece of Obama’s legacy.

Obama’s words are being watched closely by world leaders who see parallels between Trump’s election and the rise of far-right movements in their own countries amid continued economic anxiety. After Athens, Obama planned visits to Germany and Peru.

Obama’s visit sparked large protests in central Athens, prompting riot police to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse about 3,000 left-wing marchers after they tried to enter an area declared off-limits to demonstrators. No injuries or arrests were reported.

Obama seemed skeptical that “the new prescriptions being offered” would satisfy voters’ restlessness.

At home, Obama’s party is split as it tries to come to terms with Trump’s win. Some Democrats are pushing for an immediate and concerted effort to block Trump at all costs, while others want an internal shakeup and new direction aimed at winning back support among working-class voters.

More from Tampa Bay Times

Posted by Libergirl