We Finally Reached the Closing Chapter of Our Flawed and Corrupted Electoral Process: Donald Trump's Presidency Has Been Ratified
The arcane Electoral College met in statehouses across America and ratified Donald Trump's presidency on Monday, despite throngs of protests and last-minute attempts urging 40 or so GOP electors to seek an alternative for the country’s good.
This was the closing chapter in a presidential election filled with anti-democratic features, the most recent being the elevation to the presidency of a candidate who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. But that’s hardly the only breakdown in a process ordinary citizens are raised to revere and soldiers are sent overseas to defend.
A week ago, the most basic element of fair play seen in every sporting event—the replay to assess close calls; in elections, a verifiable recount—was trashed. The Green Party's Jill Stein would not have raised millions in small donations for a recount if voters were satisfied Trump had won fair and square. What ensued was not even a bad mirage, because all the ballots were not counted in verifiable ways in Wisconsin. It was even worse in Michigan, where Republicans stopped the recount though not before showcasing institutional racism, with 59 percent of Detroit’s precincts barred from recounting. Lest anyone think this is only a GOP problem, Democrat-run Pennsylvania was as obstructionist as Republican-run Michigan.
American elections are filled with anti-democratic features from the get-go. Roll back the process to before the presidential race and you have a gridlock-filled federal government that due to partisan redistricting keeps the House red, even though Democrats routinely win the national popular vote in congressional elections. That same gerrymandering exists at the state legislative level, and continues with off-season partisan voter purges. Fast-forward and there are all the barriers to getting a ballot, which fly in the face of many states making voter registration easier—which it is, via online portals. But that doesn’t stop voter ID laws from discouraging turnout among students and people of color, or curtailing early voting, or moving longtime polling places, and so on.
Go back to last spring’s primaries, where state parties blocked last-minute attempts for voters to participate—like New York State’s registration deadline that occurred six months before the vote. Or the party-run presidential caucuses, like in Iowa, where the raw vote results were not given out, because in all likelihood Bernie Sanders won before rural areas were awarded proportionately more delegates to the nominating process's next stage. Then there’s the voting machinery itself, computerized black boxes we are instructed to trust, even though most can’t or won’t be audited or have their vote counts verified.
That electoral landscape has two recurring themes that transcend specific slights and injustices. The first is that the process intentionally pre-empts citizens from voting in too many ways. And second, when it comes to verifying results, it allows procedural rules to block evidence-based efforts to inform the public about what happened.
People who want to blame the candidates might heed the bigger picture. Start with GOP-led felon disenfranchisement. If Florida’s 1.5 million residents who have felony records—many non-violent and drug-related—had their voting rights restored after their sentences, you can bet Trump would not have won Florida by 113,000 votes. If Georgia’s 250,000 ex-felons could vote, it would have been a presidential swing state. This is no accident on the part of Republicans; it is a serious, cynical and intentional decision to shape the electorate so they can retain political power.
Democrats and progressives need to understand what they are fighting against, and it’s not clear that they do. The truism by Carl von Clausewitz, the 18th-century Prussian general and military theorist, that “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” has been turned on its head. Today, Republican electioneering and governing can all too often be seen as politics being a continuation of war by other means. Look at what the GOP did last week in North Carolina: After the incumbent Republican governor lost (while falsely accusing Democrats of cheating), the GOP-majority legislature passed new laws limiting the incoming powers of a Democratic governor-elect and reconstituted county election boards giving the GOP members a rotating chairmanship in even-numbered years, when elections are held. That is a political coup.
There is no evidence to suggest that the incoming Trump administration will be much different from North Carolina’s GOP, exercising power for their own agenda. Democrats are not going to get the federal government they want, or the judiciary they want, or a foreign policy they want unless they realize how disadvantaged they are in a system where Republicans routinely throw the first punch and benefit from it. That means Democrats have to win by a lot, not by a little, to get to the starting line of rewriting more egalitarian rules.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.85 million votes, or 2.1 percent, but that wasn’t enough. She needed 100,000 additional votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Barack Obama won the popular vote against Mitt Romney in 2012 by more than 5 million votes, which was 3.1 percent of the turnout. He won in 2008 against John McCain by 10 million votes or more than 6 percent. There’s no such thing as winning the presidency by 50 percent plus one, not when the process is filled with micro- and macro-aggressions disadvantaging and discouraging eligible voters.
It’s an open question whether American institutions will withstand the coming assault from Trump’s pro-privatization, anti-regulatory, anti-safety net administration. The country has a long way to go to unravel the electoral advantages Republicans have installed at federal and state levels. The price the country will pay for America’s deeply flawed systems of elections will become apparent soon enough.