Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Republican Party War Against Democracy Is Unending-- Democrats Need To Oppose Them For Real


Donna Edwards, champion for democracy when we really need one

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of LBJ signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Tuesday Ari Berman's new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, was published. The book is the story of the struggle for voting rights in America, from Reconstruction to the election of Barack Obama.

The National Journal outlined 5 of the worst attacks on voting rights from the right since George W. Bush stole the election of 2000:
1. Ohio 2004.

The only reason the 2000 election even ended up in the Supreme Court was because Florida’s purge of the voting rolls left 12,000 citizens, 44 percent of them African-American, unable to vote. “We did think it was outcome determinative,” the Civil Rights Commission reported. Democrats went into 2004 determined to not forget what had happened in Florida. But on Election Day in 2004, history repeated itself, Berman suggests.

Republicans in Ohio didn’t need to purge voting rolls or stop the count, they just needed to make sure that John Kerry’s voters didn’t have easy access to the polls. “Overwhelmingly Democratic precincts in Columbus received seventeen fewer voting machines in 2004 than 2000, while heavily Republican precincts got eight more machines.” The result? Democrats had to wait hours longer to vote than Republicans. In the end, an estimated 174,000 Ohioans left their lines before voting. Bush won the state by 118,000 votes.

2. Bush’s Department of Justice fires U.S. Attorneys for not inventing voter fraud.

Beginning in 2002, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, was on a mission to find voter fraud-- while massive mortgage and securities fraud that would lead to the financial crisis went largely unattended. In the end all they proved was that they’d been wasting their time. Of more than 300 million votes cast, they’d nailed 86 convictions. Not a single case involved voter impersonation or had swung an election. Meanwhile administration officials helped suppress an Ohio State/Rutgers University study that found voter ID laws reduced Latino turnout by 10 percent and black and Asian-American turnout by 6 percent in 2004. In other words, they worked just as conservatives had designed them to. Republican donors refused to accept that there was no evidence to justify new voting restrictions and demanded that someone be punished for not finding it. After the 2006 election, respected U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias — the basis for the character Tom Cruise played in A Few Good Men-- and John McKay were forced out of their jobs for failing to indict anyone for fraud Republicans were sure existed.

“It’s very frightening, and it doesn’t exist,” Iglesias said, comparing voting fraud to the bogeyman parents say is in the closet to keep kids in bed. “U.S. Attorneys have better things to do with their time than chasing voting fraud phantoms.”

3. Trying to steal the 2012 election-- and failing.

If Bush losing the popular vote proved access to the polls was a problem, Obama’s landslide election had proven it had become an epidemic. In 2011 and 2012, 27 new laws in 19 states, nearly all Republican, put new limits on voting. Voter ID laws backed by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were introduced in 37 states, all nearly identical. In addition, five states-- including the two crucial swing states with the worst records of voting integrity, Ohio and Florida-- cut early voting time. The Department of Justice used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states and counties to pre-clear all changes to voting laws, to prevent the most egregious attempts to suppress the vote. But if 2012 had been as close as 2004, as many suggested it would be, it wouldn’t have mattered. Voters in Florida reported that they were forced to wait several hours and often make two trips to the polls in order to vote. But a backlash to the new restrictions so baldly targeted at minorities resulted in their turnout rising over the 2008 election. For the first time ever, a higher percentage of black voters showed up at the polls than white.

4. Gutting the Voting Rights Act.

A major subplot in Berman’s book is Chief Justice John Roberts’ passion for limiting voting rights. And ironically, President Obama’s re-election helped him build that majority he needed to do it. In his majority decision for Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts praised the law, which he had claimed was constitutional during his confirmation hearing. “But history did not end in 1965,” he wrote. Deploying the logic of “equal sovereignty” that had not been used by the Court since the Dred Scott decision deprived all black people of citizenship, he gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by throwing out the formula used in Section 4. His argument was the formula, which allows for state counties that show a strong commitment to voting rights to opt out, was not reflective of current realities.

“These men never stood in unmovable lines,” John Lewis wrote in his reaction to the decision. “They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.”

5. Shelby opens the voter suppression floodgates. The speciousness of Roberts’ argument was proven by how several of the states freed from Section 5 immediately reacted to its gutting. Texas immediately put its voter ID law into effect. Pre-Shelby this had been blocked because over half a million Latinos lacked ID and might have to pay, adjusted for inflation, more than the poll taxes that had been outlawed by the VRA, just to secure the papers needed. North Carolina was already in the process of enacting the worst set of voter suppression laws since Reconstruction. After Shelby, it toughened its voter ID law to make it more restrictive than Texas’. Voters in 14 states faced new restrictions during the 2014 elections, the first without the full protection of the VRA since 1965 and, coincidentally, the election with the worst turnout since before World War II ended.

Our voting rights landscape, Berman notes, now resembles the period before 1965. The first Reconstruction fell to violence legitimized by the Supreme Court. Whether our second reconstruction meets the same demise depends on the enduring strength of the remaining sections of the law, and the hopes of fixing it before conservatives construct permanent legislative and judicial majorities that make it possible. And while demographics may be on the side of the ascendant, the cunning effectiveness of a movement so delusional that it can only process failure as fraud presents a fearsome opposition.

“How many of you are going to leave here and remember the blood of the martyrs?” William J. Barber, the architect of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement that rose up in part to oppose the right’s attack on voting rights, asked a crowd in 2014.
Republican gerrymandering has also been a direct assault on democracy. Unfortunately, so has Democratic Party gerrymandering. Yes, both contemptible establishment parties do it, which is why it's been impossible to get rid of. Sure, sure, the Republicans are worse-- or more ruthless-- but when Democrats get the chance, as they did in Illinois and Maryland last go-round, they didn't hesitate. You almost never find a Democrat willing to stand up to their own party's gerrymandering schemes. In fact, many-- think state Senator Debbie Wasserman Schultz for example-- are happy to give the advantage to Republicans so long as they can guarantee their own invincible district boundaries. 

But one rare Democrat who has stood up against her own party's gerrymandering is Donna Edwards (D-MD).
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) is breaking with other Democrats again over redistricting, saying she’s open to an independent commission proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

“I have long supported redistricting reforms to end the damage partisan gerrymandering does to our democracy,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to reviewing Governor Hogan’s announcement to see whether it is truly independent of partisan politics.”

All but one of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are held by Democrats, thanks in part to boundaries drawn by Democratic leadership after the 2010 Census. Hogan is creating an 11-member panel to recommend a new process. The Maryland Democratic Party says the lines shouldn’t be redrawn until there’s nationwide agreement on reform.

Edwards, as she has in the past, disagreed with her fellow Democrats.

“It’s not going to change the balance in the state,” Edwards said of redistricting reform in an interview Thursday, given Maryland’s overwhelmingly Democratic population, “but it will be fairer to people.”

At the same time, she said, any new process should take into account contiguity and minority representation.

Her Democratic primary opponent in the race for Maryland’s open Senate seat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, took a more cautious line. He told Hogan he was “open to reviewing your proposal,” but echoed his fellow Democrats in saying “it makes more sense to have one set of nonpartisan rules for the entire country rather than a state-by-state approach.

”Edwards noted that her opposition to the Maryland political map drawn by Democrats in 2011 is “no secret.” She said at the time that the map disadvantaged minority voters by dividing Montgomery County into three districts represented by white men. Democratic critics, who attacked her for discussing maps with Republicans, said her real concern was keeping her own district safe.

Van Hollen, a former state lawmaker with close ties to Democrats in Annapolis, went along with that plan although it also carved up his district.
If you'd like to help make sure it's progressive icon Edwards, not establishment hack Van Hollen, who moves up to the Senate next year, here's a page where you can help.

UPDATE: Michigan

Today the Detroit Free Press editorial board chimed in on the full frontal assault against democracy that gerrymandering has become.
The existing system is designed for exploitation. Districts are drawn every 10 years, after the U.S. census. The official count of the country’s population determines how many members each state sends to the U.S. House, but the Michigan Legislature decides each district’s boundaries, for both federal and state seats.

That means the party in power-- right now, the Michigan GOP-- has a field day.

For the party in control of the map-making, the main objective is to herd the opposing party’s voters into the fewest legislative districts possible while spreading its own party’s voters as evenly as possible among the remaining districts.

If a drop in population means a congressional seat must be eliminated, it comes from the other team’s territory. Borders are stretched to pit incumbents from the opposing party against each other. Whenever possible, districts are drawn to be “safe”-- in other words, with a sufficient percentage of voters from the dominant party’s voters in order to keep its incumbent legislators in office.

It’s called gerrymandering, and it’s not pretty.

And it’s how, in a state with two Democratic senators, that’s voted for Democratic presidential candidates by substantial margins in national elections since 1992, that the Legislature is dominated by the Republican Party, and how nine Republicans and just five Democrats represent Michigan in the U.S. House.

...Both parties have proved willing to manipulate the redistricting process. Because the GOP dominated the last round, Democrats would likely benefit the most if districts were redrawn along more neutral lines.

But-- and this is something Republicans who oppose redistricting reform should consider carefully-- it won’t be that way forever. And when Dems are back on top, which seems to happen cyclically in Michigan, a neutral process would protect Republicans from Democratic reapportionment mischief.

The American system is built on the notion that no single party or branch of government should reign unchecked. Political parties represent diverse and often opposing viewpoints; citizens are best served when those parties find common ground, not when one party runs roughshod over the other.

Changing the way we draw our districts would end the cycle, and ensure that Michigan’s elected officeholders are more representative of their constituents.

If we can make it happen.

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At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand with Rep. Edwards. Maryland has been badly gerrymandered. The fact that Democrats did it doesn't make it less anti-democratic. I will gladly give up pseudo-Democrat John Delaney for, say, union member and veteran teacher - and throwback Maryland Republican - Terry Baker.


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