Mapping the 2016 Election

As the president and his co-conspirators plumb even deeper depths of evil and stupidity, it’s worth reminding ourselves how a serious candidate for Worst Person in the World got his new job. A good way to start is to take a look at this new map from the xkcd site. Each little blue person represents roughly 250,000 people who voted for Clinton. Each little red person represents the same number who voted for the evil, stupid guy. (There are also a few little gray people who represent third-party voters.)


As you can see, the blue voters are clustered on the coasts and around Chicago. The red voters are spread more evenly around the country. There are 263 blue people vs. 252 red people. That roughly corresponds to the fact that Clinton got 66 million votes while her opponent got 63 million.

Since the United States tries to follow its 228-year old Constitution, however, each state actually held its own separate presidential election. Unfortunately, the Terrible Person won more states (30 to 20 for Clinton), including many of the relatively empty states in the western part of the country. Since almost all of those separate elections were and continue to be “winner-take-all”, whoever won a given state received all of that state’s “electoral” votes, no matter how large or small their margin of victory was. 

Thus, Clinton got 55 electoral votes for winning California by a very large margin and the Worst Candidate got 46 electoral votes for winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by very small margins. (Which shows that if you want to become president, it’s better to win lots of states, even by very small margins, instead of winning fewer states, even by very large margins.)

So, after all the electoral votes from all the states were added up, the Very Stable Genius won a big victory in the “Electoral College” (304 electoral votes to 227) and an important new job, despite getting three million fewer votes nationwide.

If nothing else, next time you see a map like the one below, showing who won America’s 3,000 counties, keep in mind that it’s a poor way to represent an election, assuming the election is based on people voting, not cows or tumbleweeds.


You Can Spare a Few Dollars to Lobby the Electoral College

Politico reports that full-page advertisements are running in several newspapers encouraging Republicans in the Electoral College to vote against the Orange Menace. The advertisements are being paid for by a Go Fund Me campaign that’s raised more than $250,000 so far. You can make a donation here. The complete text of the advertisement, entitled “Letter To Electors”, is available here. 

From that “Letter to Electors”:

Never in our Republic’s history has there been a President-apparent comparable to [the Orange Menace]. His inauguration would present a grave and continual threat to the Constitution, to domestic tranquility, and to international stability…

We place country before party in imploring you, our fellow Americans, to investigate and deliberate. We stand with you as you exercise your conscience and give profound consideration to the consequences of your vote. We affirm your right and your duty to do so free from intimidation, and urge you to cast your ballot for a person with the temperament, integrity and commitment to Constitutional principles necessary in a President.

In doing so, know that you enjoy the support of millions of Americans.

If you’re thinking about contributing, do it today. The Electoral College votes on Monday, December 19th.

How We Got Here & What To Do

It’s so strange, but I haven’t woken from this nightmare yet. And it’s so realistic, in one sense of that word.

But seriously, Charles Pierce of Esquire has written the best explanation I’ve seen of how we got to this bizarre, dangerous point in our history. It’s called “Russia’s Interference in This Election Should Not Be a Surprise: This kind of thing has been a long time coming”. 

I wish every adult would read it, because it was written for adults, the millions of Americans who are grown up enough and rational enough to perceive reality and then take responsibility for their own and other people’s lives.

If, for example, the 306 Republicans in the Electoral College read it, at least 37 of them might do their duty next Tuesday. They would vote for someone else and let the House of Representatives make the final decision. Otherwise, December 19, 2016 (it’s only one week away) will join the other dates in American history that live in infamy.

So please read Mr. Pierce’s article now. Here it is. It won’t take more than a few minutes.

As Mr. Pierce says, this is the starkest challenge to a free people that has arisen in our lifetimes. So what shall we do?

The first thing you might do is remind the Republican electors of their responsibility to defend the Constitution and protect the United States of America. One patriotic American has created a website with instructions on how to do exactly that. It’s called Direct Election. The site has lots of tools, including letters already addressed to 273 of the 306 Republican electors (the others were hard to locate).

I’m going to start mailing a letter myself, maybe something like this:

Dear …

If you are planning to vote for Mr. Trump on December 19th, or feel obligated to do so, please don’t.

Mr. Trump isn’t a real Republican. He’s not even a real Democrat. He is a dangerous, psychologically-damaged con man who must never become President of our great nation. 

I won’t ask you to vote for a specific person. But I do respectfully ask that you vote for someone other than Mr. Trump. By doing so, you will perform your solemn duty to protect the Constitution and the United States of America.

After all, the Electoral College was designed to forestall the election of a person unfit to be President. That includes anyone who puts his own financial interests or the interests of a foreign power ahead of ours. We need someone who loves America and is both willing and able to fulfill the responsibilities of the job. 

I respectfully submit that Mr. Trump is not such a man. The evidence, including his behavior since winning the election, is clear. You are now our only hope. Thirty-seven of you can let the House of Representatives choose a qualified person. More of you working together can determine who is President. Please vote for anyone else on December 19th.

Please note that any state laws that say an elector must vote a certain way are most likely unconstitutional. Furthermore, thousands of concerned citizens stand ready to pay for any legal fees or fines you might incur, and there are lawyers who have pledged to provide free legal services to any electors who face legal consequences for voting their conscience.

Thank you for reading this letter.

Sincerely yours, and God bless America, …

Assuming the Electoral College fails to do its duty next week, there are other things to do.

First, Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, offers a “Twenty-Point Guide to Defending Democracy Under a T—p Presidency”. The first item on his list is:

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

Second, Thomas Geoghagan, a Chicago labor lawyer and author, describes “Four Things We the People Can Do About Our Unjust Voting System and a President Trump”. Three of his four suggestions require legislative action. One would involve states with Democratic majorities agreeing to an interstate compact: 

This interstate compact … would be a quasi-constitution—a model for what the whole country should have. 

Such a compact might include, for example:

  • A ban on partisan redistricting of U.S. House and state legislature positions.
  • A right to healthcare.
  • A commitment to carry out their share of what the U.S. committed to in the Paris global warming accords.
  • A bill of rights for employees, including a right not to be terminated except for just cause.
  • A formula for a just level of funding for public education.
  • A comprehensive system of background checks for gun purchases.

Mr. Geoghagan concludes:

Since each of the above is an act that the state itself would be free to take, an interstate compact would not infringe on federal sovereignty —or require approval of Congress under Article I, section 10. 

Let one part of America, at least, be a city on a hill.

Finally! A Small Crack in the Dam!

A Republican member of the Electoral College has publicly announced that he will not vote for the Orange Menace! Let him be the first of many.

Mr. Christopher Suprun of Texas explains his reasoning here. His conclusion:

The election of the next president is not yet a done deal. Electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative, an honorable and qualified man or woman such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I pray my fellow electors will do their job and join with me in discovering who that person should be.

Fifteen years ago, I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On Dec. 19, I will do it again.

Because the United States has never faced a domestic enemy as dangerous as you know who.

And as obviously dangerous. The two most shocking events in my lifetime have been (1) forty million Americans voting for T—p and (2) the destruction of the World Trade Center. In that order.

It’s Supposed To Be One Person, One Vote

I can’t remember a less thankful Thanksgiving than last week’s. It’s hard to be grateful for ordinary well-being when the government’s executive branch is undergoing a hostile takeover. And it’s a hostile takeover by a gang of crooks, incompetents, bigots and cranks, otherwise known as the President-elect, his cabinet and his senior staff.

So it’s as good a time as any to review the rotten state of American democracy. We can even consider how we might fix it. (I say “we” because “they” live off the rot.)

British journalist Mehdi Hasan summarizes several ways in which our political system sucks:

#1:  We don’t have a national election. We have 51 separate elections. That’s how a woman who gets 65.0 million votes (and counting) can lose to a monster who gets 62.6 million. Those 51 contests result in 538 people being elected to the Electoral College. Those 538 people will select the new President on December 19.

#2: Our political campaigns take months and months and cost more per capita than in any other country. Most of the money goes to round-the-clock TV advertisements in key states (see #1). Those of who live in the rest of the country are taken for granted. 

#3: Relatively few of us vote. The last time 60% of the voting age population voted was in 1968. Most developed countries do much better.

#4: Rather than making it easier to vote, states run by Republicans are making it more difficult. The goal of this “voter suppression” is to stop as many Democrats as possible, especially African Americans, from voting. 

#5: Local politicians, not independent commissions, fix the boundaries of Congressional districts once every ten years. They put as many voters of the other party as possible in bizarrely-shaped districts while creating dependable majorities for their own party in the other districts. This process of “gerrymandering” – which the Republicans did so well in 2010 – helps explain why members of the House of Representatives hardly ever lose their jobs (97% were reelected this year). 

Mr. Hasan concludes:

Is this really what we define as democracy? Or is this, to quote the president-elect, a “rigged” system? Rigged not against Trump and the Republicans but against the poor, against ethnic minorities, against Democrats but, above all else, against basic democratic norms and principles and pretty simple notions of equality and fairness?

This isn’t a time for denial or deflection. The American political system is broken. Far from being the “world’s greatest democracy”, … representative democracy in the United States seems further hollowed out with every election cycle.

In fact, Mr. Hasan left out one of the worst failures of American politics. Some votes count more than others. We give lip service to the principle of One Person, One Vote, but the Constitution gives precedence to states with smaller populations. Small states are over-represented in the U.S. Senate, which determines who will be on the Supreme Court, and in the Electoral College, which determines who will be President.

Throw in the effects of geography and gerrymandering, and even the House of Representatives fails to meet the One Person, One Vote standard. This year, the Republicans beat the Democrats in House races by 61.5 million to 58.3 million. Ideally, that should translate into a slim 223-212 majority for the Republicans, not the 241-194 majority the Republicans will actually have. 

Not only do the residents of small states have excessive representation in the Federal government, but so do white voters. That’s because the smallest states have fewer minorities. From The Progressive:

The states with the fewest minorities (Idaho, New Hampshire, Nebraska, [etc.]) represent a total electoral college block of thirty-seven electoral votes. Based on their actual population, however, they should only be getting twenty electoral college votes…. 

Meanwhile, if we add up the ten states with the largest minority populations (California, Texas, Florida, [etc.]), we find that, based on population, they should be getting 276 electoral votes. In reality, though, they only get 240…

The problem is that not only do states vary greatly on who has access to the ballot box but, assuming you have successfully cleared the bureaucratic hurdles to get a voter ID card, waited in line for several hours, and cleared all the other voter suppression tactics and actually voted in your state, the [Federal] system itself is tilted in favor of certain states and certain voters.

So, borrowing a phrase from one or two Russian revolutionaries, what is to be done? How can we make America more democratic and, as a result, more Democratic? It sure won’t be easy. All right wing ideologies, from the 18th century on, have had a common theme. They fear that their power is at risk, so they fight like hell to maintain their position in the hierarchy. But let’s think about how we might reform the system anyway.  

A few years ago, the political scientist Norman Ornstein proposed a Voting Rights Act for the 21st century (that was soon after the Republicans on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act for the 20th century). He recommended, among other things:

  • The Federal government would create a standardized, personalized ballot that everyone would use to vote for President and members of Congress.
  • The Social Security Administration would issue a modern photo ID to everyone with a Social Security number (which these days means every U.S. citizen). If you had one of these ID’s and were 18 or older, you would be eligible to vote.
  • The government would allow weekend voting at any local polling place, with early voting the week before [why not have polling stations in every U.S. post office, for example?].

Mr. Ornstein didn’t mention the problem of making sure votes are properly counted, but that would be an obvious improvement too. For example, David Dill, a professor of computer science, founded the Verified Voting Foundation. He explains here how easy it would be to interfere with one of our elections. Professor Dill proposes, therefore, that: 

We need to audit computers by manually examining randomly selected paper ballots and comparing the results to machine results. Audits require a voter-verified paper ballot, which the voter inspects to confirm that his or her selections have been correctly and indelibly recorded… Auditing methods have recently been devised that are much more efficient than those used in any state. It is important that audits be performed on every contest in every election, so that citizens do not have to request manual recounts to feel confident about election results. With high-quality audits, it is very unlikely that election fraud will go undetected whether perpetrated by another country or a political party.

There is no reason we can’t implement these measures before the 2020 elections. As a nation, we need to recognize the urgency of the task, to overcome the political and organizational obstacles that have impeded progress.

Finally, there are three other reforms that hardly need mentioning.

The Electoral College was meant to protect small states and slave-owning states back in the 18th century. It still has one valid purpose: the members of the Electoral College can stop a truly unqualified or dangerous person from becoming President. (Small states get more than enough protection from the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court.) If, however, the Electoral College allows T—p to become President, there is no reason to think it will ever fulfill its remaining purpose. That means we need to either amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College or make the damn thing superfluous (the latter option is the goal of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which I wrote about earlier this month).

A second obvious reform is to institute a less partisan way of designing Congressional districts, that is, to limit the effect of gerrymandering. Yesterday, three Federal judges ordered North Carolina to redraw its legislative districts and hold a special, more representative election next year. Non-partisan commissions can do a better job at drawing district lines than politicians and their cronies. So can software, as described here, for example.

Of course, the last obvious change we need to make is campaign finance reform. Rich people and corporations should not exert exorbitant influence in a democracy. As the saying goes, it’s supposed to be One Person, One Vote, not One Dollar, One Vote.  Now all we have to do is convince, replace, out-vote or out-maneuver the right-wing reactionaries who stand in our way.