History in the Making

If America doesn’t succumb to right-wing authoritarianism in the relatively near future, historians will look back and say the former president’s biggest accomplishment was to undermine trust in our elections and make it popular in certain circles to try to rig the results (while all the while claiming to care deeply about majority rule).

Politico published an article today that got Democrats and democrats talking. Here’s the title and subtitle:

It’s going to be an army’: Tapes reveal [Republican] plan to contest elections

Placing operatives as poll workers and building a “hotline” to friendly attorneys are among the strategies to be deployed in Michigan and other swing states.

I didn’t want to read it, so won’t quote any more. But this summary came in tonight’s Crooked Media newsletter (which, by the way, is a good way to keep up with the day’s mostly bad news):

When Republicans don’t think anyone’s listening, they aren’t shy about their election-stealing plans. In official training meetings recorded over the course of the past year, Republicans outlined a scheme to, in effect, make the smooth administration of elections and the fair counting of votes impossible in key Democratic strongholds like Detroit, Michigan, either to create pretexts for overturning elections or even simply win on rigged initial counts. The idea is to install T____ loyalists and Big Lie conspiracy theorists—the trainees—as poll workers, and provide them a hotline to a national network of GOP lawyers and Republican district attorneys, in the hope of creating real-time chaos or even obtaining lawless orders to cease vote counting altogether. If Democrats have convened strategy sessions to discuss how to head off this kind of sabotage, I’d like someone to leak videotapes of them, too.

There was another item in the newsletter on a related topic:

Remember a few months ago when a federal judge opined that some of the materials D____ T____’s top coup lawyer, John Eastman, wanted to withhold from the January 6 committee contained evidence of felonies both men committed? Well, the main document in question is now public. It’s a memo from one of their underlings advising them against “allowing the Electoral Count Act to operate by its terms” and instead to have Vice President Mike Pence assert “the constitutional responsibility not just to open the votes, but to count them—including making judgments about what to do if there are conflicting votes.” By total coincidence, this is the same crew that immediately thereafter set about organizing a fraudulent slate of electors, to provide Pence the pretext for violating the law governing the peaceful transition of power. Seems pretty crime-y. By sheer coincidence, the [Republican National Committee] wants to distance itself from T____’s election lies during the public-hearing phase of the trial.

If future historians study all this, they’ll have plenty of primary sources to plow through.

“One Vice President Away From a Coup”

More journalists and Democratic politicians are focusing on the Republican attack on democracy, i.e. their efforts to insure that they win future elections, no matter how many votes they get. CNN quoted Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington:

We have to be Paul Revere every chance we get to let people know what is at risk and why it is at risk. . . . I don’t think you can be overly concerned about this. The American psyche has not recognized we were one vice president away from a coup.

The New York Times published an article about it on Saturday and another today:

From the second article:

American politics today is not really normal. It may instead be in the midst of a radical shift away from the democratic rules and traditions that have guided the country for a very long time.

An anti-democratic movement, inspired by D____ T____ but much larger than him, is making significant progress . . . . In the states that decide modern presidential elections, this movement has already changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. It has justified the changes with blatantly false statements claiming that Biden did not really win the 2020 election.

The movement has encountered surprisingly little opposition. Most leading Republican politicians have either looked the other way or supported the anti-democratic movement. In the House, Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from a leadership position because she called out T____’s lies.

The pushback within the Republican Party has been so weak that about 60 percent of Republican adults now tell pollsters that they believe the 2020 election was stolen — a view that’s simply wrong.

Most Democratic officials, for their part, have been focused on issues other than election security, like Covid-19 and the economy. It’s true that congressional Democrats have tried to pass a new voting rights bill, only to be stymied by Republican opposition and the filibuster. But these Democratic efforts have been sprawling and unfocused. They have included proposals — on voter-ID rules and mail-in ballots, for example — that are almost certainly less important than a federal law to block the overturning of elections, as The Times’s Nate Cohn has explained.

All of which has created a remarkable possibility: In the 2024 presidential election, Republican officials in at least one state may overturn a legitimate election result, citing fraud that does not exist, and award the state’s electoral votes to the Republican nominee. T____ tried to use this tactic in 2020, but local officials rebuffed him.

Since then, his supporters have launched a campaign — with the Orwellian name “Stop the Steal” — to ensure success next time. Steve Bannon has played a central role, using his podcast to encourage T____ supporters to take over positions in election administration, ProPublica has explained. . . . 

The main battlegrounds are swing states where Republicans control the state legislature, like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Republicans control these legislatures because of both gerrymandered districts and Democratic weakness outside of major metro areas . . . The Constitution lets state legislatures set the rules for choosing presidential electors.

“None of this is happening behind closed doors,” Jamelle Bouie, a Times columnist, recently wrote. “We are headed for a crisis of some sort. When it comes, we can be shocked that it is actually happening, but we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Here is an overview of recent developments:

Arizona. Republican legislators have passed a law taking away authority over election lawsuits from the secretary of state, who’s now a Democrat, and giving it to the attorney general, a Republican. Legislators are debating another bill that would allow them to revoke election certification “by majority vote at any time before the presidential inauguration.”

Georgia. Last year, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, helped stop T____’s attempts to reverse the result. State legislators in Georgia have since weakened his powers, and a T____-backed candidate is running to replace Raffensperger next year. Republicans have also passed a law that gives a commission they control the power to remove local election officials.

Michigan. Kristina Karamo, a T____-endorsed candidate who has repeated the lie that the 2020 elections were fraudulent, is running for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections. (Republican candidates are running on similar messages in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere, according to ABC News.)

Pennsylvania. Republicans are trying to amend the state’s Constitution to make the secretary of state an elected position, rather than one that the governor appoints. Pennsylvania is also one of the states where T____ allies — like Stephen Lindemuth, who attended the Jan. 6 rally that turned into an attack on Congress — have won local races to oversee elections.

Wisconsin. Senator Ron Johnson is urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to take full control of federal elections. Doing so could remove the governor, currently a Democrat, from the process, and weaken the bipartisan state elections commission.

The new anti-democratic movement may still fail. This year, for example, Republican legislators in seven states proposed bills that would have given partisan officials a direct ability to change election results. None of the bills passed.

Arguably the most important figures on this issue are Republican officials and voters who believe in democracy and are uncomfortable with using raw political power to overturn an election result. . . . 

Unquote.

Meanwhile, Sen. Manchin of West Virginia, who claims to be a Democrat, is meeting tomorrow with a group of Democratic senators trying to reform the filibuster in order to protect voting rights:

Voting-rights advocates want to see if Manchin would be open to a “carve-out” to the Senate’s filibuster rule for voting rights legislation. The idea gained more urgency for voting rights advocates after the chamber approved a “one-time exception” to its rules to approve a debt-limit increase by a simple majority vote.

We Can All Ignore the Next 18 Months

Thousands of articles will be written. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. There will be interviews and debates. There will be speeches and rallies. There will be polls and predictions. Strategies and personalities will be analyzed. Policies will even be discussed.

We can safely ignore it all.

The only question regarding the presidential election in November 2016 is whether we should elect a Republican or Democrat. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you already know how to vote.

Paul Krugman explained why last month:

As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

To paraphrase the differences Krugman points out:

Any Democrat elected will try to maintain or strengthen Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Any Republican will try to do the opposite.

Any Democrat will seek to maintain or increase taxes on the wealthy. Any Republican will do the opposite.

Any Democrat will try to preserve regulations on Wall Street and the big banks (she or he might even try to break up banks that are “too big to fail”). Any Republican won’t.

Any Democrat will try to limit global warming and make it easier for immigrants to become citizens. It’s pretty clear that any Republican won’t.

I’ll add that any Democrat will try to stimulate the economy and create jobs by increasing infrastructure spending. You can count on any Republican to protect the wealthy at all costs.

And any Democrat will nominate reasonable people to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, well, how do you feel about Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas? 

Professor Krugman continues:

Now, some people won’t want to acknowledge that the choices in the 2016 election are as stark as I’ve asserted. Political commentators who specialize in covering personalities rather than issues will balk at the assertion that their alleged area of expertise matters not at all. Self-proclaimed centrists will look for a middle ground that doesn’t actually exist. And as a result, we’ll hear many assertions that the candidates don’t really mean what they say. There will, however, be an asymmetry in the way this supposed gap between rhetoric and real views is presented.

On one side, suppose that Ms. Clinton is indeed the Democratic nominee. If so, you can be sure that she’ll be accused, early and often, of insincerity, of not being the populist progressive she claims to be.

On the other side, suppose that the Republican nominee is a supposed moderate like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. In either case we’d be sure to hear many assertions from political pundits that the candidate doesn’t believe a lot of what he says. But in their cases this alleged insincerity would be presented as a virtue, not a vice — sure, Mr. Bush is saying crazy things about health care and climate change, but he doesn’t really mean it, and he’d be reasonable once in office. Just like his brother.

There are a lot of big books around the house I’ve been meaning to get to. If you have any time-consuming projects you’ve been putting off, the next 18 months will be a great time to get going.

Krugman’s whole column is here.

The Criminals Who Poison Our Elections

Anybody with the sense God gave a goose understands that Republican efforts to stamp out voter fraud are really an attempt to reduce the number of Democratic voters. Here’s what’s been happening in Georgia:

[The Republican] Secretary of State publicly accused the New Georgia Project in September of submitting fraudulent registration forms. A subsequent investigation found just 25 confirmed forgeries out of more than 85,000 forms—a fraud rate of about 3/100ths of 1 percent [in decimal terms, that’s a rate of 0.000294].

Meanwhile, a group of civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit claiming that thousands of registration forms submitted this summer still haven’t been recorded in Georgia’s voter database, “nearly all of them belonging to people of color in the Democratic-leaning regions around Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus”. State and county officials, however, said they have already processed all of the applications sent to them by the October 6 registration deadline, and anyway, there is no state law that requires properly-submitted registrations to be processed by any particular date. A local judge has declined to intervene, citing a lack of proof that the registrations have gone missing.

Then there is this detailed report from Al Jazeera America:

Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb…

At the heart of this voter-roll scrub is the Interstate Crosscheck program, which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names. Officials say that these names represent legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.

How does this Crosscheck program work? You can appear on the list as a suspected felon if your first and last name matches the first and last name of someone who voted in another state:

The actual lists show that not only are middle names commonly mismatched and suffix discrepancies ignored [such as Jr. or Sr.], even birthdates don’t seem to have been taken into account. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected.

A statistical analysis revealed that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans appear on the list much more often than their percentage of the population would indicate, while white Americans appear less often. The reason is that there is less variety in the names of certain ethnic groups, and among those groups are African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, groups that all tend to vote for Democrats. (By the way, you can enter your own name at the Al Jazeera America site and see if you’re right to vote may be challenged.)

If you’ve watched enough Fox News, you might conclude that the hordes of Democrats who poison our elections by illegally voting in more than one state don’t use the same birthdates or Social Security numbers when they register to vote in this state and that, so why bother matching on those criteria?

Or you might infer that America does indeed have a criminal element bent on interfering with the electoral process. Unfortunately, the most crafty and dangerous members of this criminal conspiracy are Republican officials whose job it is to administer elections.

PS — Paul Krugman wrote an excellent column the other day called “Plutocrats Against Democracy”. I suggest reading the whole thing, which isn’t very long. It ends this way:

But now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy.

Professor Krugman is an optimist. He thinks the plutocrats haven’t already won.

Vote, You Apathetic Bastards, Or Else!

Journalist Matt Bai makes a convincing argument here in favor of the U.S. following Australia’s example and requiring citizens to vote. Australia instituted compulsory voting in 1925 after a turnout of 59% in their previous election. Last year, Australia’s turnout was 93%. Our turnout was 58% in our last presidential election and 41% in our last midterm election (the one that determined every seat in the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate, various governors, state senators, mayors, etc.).

Australia isn’t the only country with compulsory voting. It’s especially popular in South America, where Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay penalize people who don’t vote.

If you don’t vote in Australia, you have to explain why or else pay a fine of about $20. If you don’t pay the fine, you might end up in court, be fined $170 and have a criminal conviction entered against you. Of course, it’s possible to submit a ballot without voting for anyone. Abstention is legal, but failing to cast a ballot isn’t. (The Australian Election Commission answers questions here.)

Bai considers various arguments against compulsory voting. For example, voting is too difficult for some people now – we’d have to make it easier if it was compulsory (which we should do even if it isn’t compulsory). Another obvious argument is that it would be an infringement on individual rights (imagine the outrage from Fox News!) – so abstain if you want to.

One big argument he doesn’t consider is that we shouldn’t encourage anyone to vote if they don’t care who wins. Many Americans aren’t interested in politics, for whatever reason. Others are interested but think there’s no real difference between the two major parties. Unfortunately, people in the first group aren’t paying attention and neither are people in the second group.

The fact is that in order for a democracy to accurately reflect the will of the majority, people need to vote, even if that means showing up (or mailing in or logging on) and stating “no preference”. If America is going to be a democracy, we need to register our opinions. If we won’t do it voluntarily, we should suffer some consequences. Those of us who vote are already suffering consequences because non-voters don’t vote.