Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Why Democrats have to work harder to win

As Markos of Daily Kos points out:

... Republicans engage in voter disenfranchisement and fake news because they can't win fights where everyone is informed and votes

He's right. The disinformation part of the problem I'll leave to the legions of pundits who do that sort of work. It's hard to combat Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting, but we do have the advantage of being culturally attuned to the younger mass audience, as well as usually right on program and policy.

But I do want to lay out the structural problems we can't solve (quickly) which must be recognized and then highlight several projects to enhance voting opportunities. These are right in themselves and also improve Democrats' chances in a less-than-equitable voting environment.

Federalism:
The essential federal compromise which gives lightly populated states the same number of Senators as large states makes it very difficult for Democrats to win a majority the Senate, at least so long as Dems aren't competitive in many less populous states. This framework was the price paid for getting all the quite different states on board in 1787 during the writing of the Constitution. We're stuck with the result which means that, proportionally, each member of the upper house of the California state legislature represents more than 300,000 more constituents than both of the two federal Senators from Wyoming. That doesn't seem right in a "one person, one vote" country, but it is the fact.

In 2018, 10 Democratic Senators are running in states won by the Republicans in 2016, while only 2 Republicans are running in states (Nevada and New Hampshire) where Clinton squeaked by. It's not a foregone conclusion that Democrats will lose all these seats: Trump is president, Democrats are fired up, and at the moment all these Dems have slight polling leads against as yet undefined challengers. (Incumbency is a strong force.) But even in good Democratic years, Senate contests will be tough for Democrats.

Gerrymandering
The House of Representatives is also tough. Politicians of both parties have always tried to draw districts so as to maximize the advantages for whoever controlled the process. But after the 2010 census, Republicans in states where they controlled the drawing of district lines worked strategically to use the far more precise data now available about voters to make sure they squeezed out every House (and state legislative) seat they could. Democrats were far less aggressive, often being willing to compromise during the line drawing for incumbent protection. As a result, Democrats can win the national popular vote, as they did in 2012 and 2016, without coming close to winning a majority in the House. The system is producing "democratic" results which would seem to imply more Democrats being elected, but as currently allowed by the courts, that isn't happening.

Gerrymandering is being challenged in the Supreme Court during the next term. Some very smart people have attempted to create statistical models which reveal that the game has been rigged compared to expectations on the basis of simple comparisons to how many people in a state voted for which party. You can see some of this at the link. It is hard to believe that either the Supremes or the country at large is numerate enough to accept this evidence, but the Princeton Gerrymandering Project has given it their best shot.

Voter suppression/disenfranchisement
Given their structural advantages, you'd think the Republicans would be confident they could win going forward. But they sure don't act that way; they act as if they think if everyone voted, they'd be out on their asses. And polling supports that Republican fear. So it is very important for Republicans to make voting as difficult as possible for poor people, people of color and young people, all constituencies likely to vote Democratic if they vote. (Note: for all the focus on older Rust Belt whites who loved them some MakingAmericaWhiteAgain, voters making less than $50K voted for Clinton; it was middle and upper income whites who put Trump in office.)

Where they control states, Republicans make registration difficult, impose burdensome and expensive voter identification requirements, reduce voting hours and polling places, restrict early voting and vote-by-mail, and generally do all they can to make voting hard and unpleasant.

Who is fighting disenfranchisement?
  • In the courts where many state and local cases are being fought, frequent voting rights litigants include the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the ACLU, as well as various state based groups.
  • Let America Vote, led by former Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Jason Kander and very much out of the Obama/Organizing for America lineage, is active wherever voting rights are under threat -- most everywhere if we can believe this map from their website. They promise to engage individuals in the struggle locally where possible, as well as through the internet.
  • VoteRiders takes aim at defanging voter identification laws that might disenfranchise some eligible people: they help potential voters get the right ID for their state. In particular, they provide an accurate list of ID requirements by state in printable form in English and Spanish. This seems simple, but it involves painstaking, necessary research.
It seems the fight to ensure voting rights is never over; the people who like things just fine the way they are never want everyone to have their chance to cast a ballot. So the struggle goes on.

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