by Rob Callahan
You know what the worst part about this election was? I ended up kind of agreeing with Donald Trump: “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” It’s not just the electoral college, mind you, and I wouldn’t call it a full-blown disaster. Also, I’m wagering Trump felt differently in 2000 when George W. Bush lost the popular vote but went on to win the White House. (Although barely. The vote was 5-4 as I recall.)
Still, there are plenty of other problems with the way our country plays the voting game. In part, it’s that a lot of the players are using illegal cheat codes. In another part, it’s that we’re playing Fallout 3, but on a NES. In yet another part, it’s that some players are using new iMacs while others have an Apple II. Still others only get a slide rule.
Anyway, that was the worst part. And the best part, you ask? I had fewer trolls for Facebook friends come Wednesday morning.
The biggest “Well, duh!” moment was when people finally started to realize that Nate Silver is really Neo.
(I’m here all day. Try the veal. But seriously, folks…)
So while Donald Trump, Ted Nugent and Victoria Jackson work on shedding whatever last vestiges of relevance they may have had, let’s accept that it’s finally over and stop dwelling on why we voted one way or another. Let’s simply examine how we voted. Or didn’t. Or couldn’t.
Election Day: The Nation’s Most Highly Attended Historical Reenactment
This was the first time in twelve years that voting has been anything close to convenient for me. In the past, getting permission from one pointy-haired boss or another to go out and exercise my civic duty (or right, or privilege, or mindless act of conformity depending who you ask) was like pulling teeth.
And that’s how a lot of us live, by the by. This time around, I was contracting for people who actually sent out a company-wide email to let everyone know that they could arrange time off to vote. “This is nice,” I thought. “This is how the other half of the 99% live.” If you have one of those jobs, for one of those bosses, then well done by you. For the rest of us, though, Tuesday is a pretty bad day to try and sneak off the job. At its best, it’s inconvenient.
At one time, though, it was considered the most convenient time for an American citizen to vote. That was back when an American citizen typically had to wait until the harvest was in, then spend all of Monday riding his horse and buggy to the polls, vote on Tuesday and be done in time for the Wednesday market. He couldn’t leave the farm any earlier in the week because you weren’t allowed to ride your buggy on the Lord’s day, apparently. So what’s good enough for Victorian era farmers ought to be good enough for the 21st Century too, right?
Too Many Dungeon Masters, Not Enough Players
Times have changed quite a bit since 1840, though, and the middle of the week is a tough time to get away now. Some visionary states have compensated by allowing early voting on one or more weekends leading up to the big day. Some visionary partisan saboteurs have compensated for said compensating by canceling the early voting. Then partisan saboteurs from the other side have compensated for the compensating compensation by extending early voting hours, but only in the counties where they expect to win.
None of which is new. The same thing went on in Missouri circa 2000, but we were too busy staring at Florida in stunned disbelief to notice.
As David Frum, writing for CNN, points out: “[in most other democracies] Politicians of one party do not set voting schedules to favor their side and harm the other. Politicians do not move around voting places to gain advantages for themselves or to disadvantage their opponents. In fact, in almost no other country do politicians have any say in the administration of elections at all.”
But Republicans and Democrats alike consistently change the rules at the last minute in favor of their own parties, which is a bit like changing your own job description to “take naps at cubicle and look at Facebook all day” five minutes into your performance review. It just wouldn’t fly anywhere but in the realm of politics.
Let Me Magna Doodle That For You
In general, you can probably expect the citizens of any given state to vote a number of Democrats and Republicans into other elected positions that’s roughly on par with the way they voted for president. That is unless you redraw the borders of each district to weigh it down with cities, towns and neighborhoods who tend to lean strongly in favor of your party. Gerrymandering, a tradition as time-honored as the voting dead, accomplishes just that.
The practice used to be a mere nuisance by which parties would stretch a district’s borders a little this way or that in order to strengthen their support in districts that probably would’ve voted for them anyway. It didn’t stay that way, though. Once politicians realized that you can turn entire blue states red and vice versa, simply by drawing up crazy squiggly-lined borders, gerrymanderlust became an epidemic as rampant among congressmen as dysentery among Victorian era farmers.
The pattern in heavily gerrymandered states where Obama won by a few points (let’s call them roughly purple states) fits this model. In Pennsylvania, for instance, 5 of 13 districts elected blue representatives. In Ohio, 4 of 14. Yet a bit over half of these states’ citizens voted to the left for president. In states that lend themselves less readily to this type of tweaking, the districts’ numbers fell roughly in line with the state’s. Take Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire.
That this goes on is widely known. No one denies it. In 2010, they even bragged about it, as if they were just daring each other to try and cross over yet another line in the sand.
The Phantom Poll Booth
The thing about all of the alleged voter fraud we were facing is that it just wasn’t real. I made that argument on my own blog the other day, as others did more eloquently elsewhere, and I was roundly retorted at with accusations about anti-Americanism, naïvety and socialism. Because believing in actual math and statistical data over make believe fears is what constitutes socialism these days. Just ask that stalwart champion of the socialist agenda and hater of all things Capitalist: Forbes Magazine.
What stirred up the paranoid Zeitgeist in the first place wasn’t any actual measurable fraud. Rather, it was a handful of moneyed troublemakers who’ve realized two important things. First, if you’ve got the money, you can buy social and political unrest for your own amusement. Second, being a real dick is actually pretty gratifying. Hans von Spakovsky, who is widely credited as the man behind the voter fraud myth, and Catherine Engelbrecht, whose voter watchdog group now faces fraud charges of their own, are two such people. The list goes on. The Koch Brothers aren’t shy about what they do. For that matter, Donald Trump seems to be desperate to join their camp, but he’s hardly the billionaire mastermind type. He’d probably barely make it as a henchman.
The big problem with the fraud fable is that it drums up support for preemptive denial of eligible citizens’ rights to vote. That denial may come indirectly, as voter ID measures restrict access for many of our elderly, disabled and transportationally challenged citizens. It may also manifest directly, as in the case of voters who are deemed possibly maybe somewhat likely to commit fraud ahead of time, who must then try to contest their charges in court and hope it’s all worked out before election day. The procedure is said to be not unlike a Klingon court of law, only they’re going after minorities instead of Kirk. In other words, if they suspect you might be thinking about committing voter fraud, you’re kind of guilty until proven innocent.