Elections

California Fights Back

Flickr/ Neon Tommy
Last fall, California voters were confronted with two major and hotly-contested ballot measures—Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal (Proposition 30) to raise taxes on the rich to end the state’s chronic budget shortfalls, and a conservative initiative (Proposition 32) which would have curtailed unions’ ability to spend their treasuries on political campaigns. Proposition 30 passed and Proposition 32 was soundly defeated, but they had to overcome a joint, well-funded campaign by rightwing interests to prevail. As we reported in the January-February issue of the Prospect, the anti-30, pro-32 campaign received an $11 million contribution a few weeks before the election whose source could not be traced. The money came into the campaign from an Arizona-based 501c4—a “social welfare” organization that spends its funds on political campaigns but is not required to list the source of its funding. Under public pressure and in response to a court order, the Arizona group did reveal shortly before...

Arizona versus the Right to Vote

Flickr/Wally Gobetz
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state. Arizona couldn't verify his naturalization number and erroneously identified his driver's license as belonging to a non-citizen. Gonzalez's case has reached the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 200 on Monday. The Court should rule that Arizona's burdensome requirements are inconsistent with federal law and therefore illegal. The Supreme Court has dealt with Republican legislators' attempts to suppress voting before. In a highly dubious 2008 decision , the Supreme Court found that an Indiana statute—requiring a show of ID before hitting the ballot box—was not unconstitutional on its face, although it left open the...

Republicans for Election Reform?

Flickr/Joseph Holmes
Election reformers were expecting big things from this year’s State of the Union address. They knew that President Barack Obama had invited 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Floridian who’d waited three hours to cast her ballot. They had heard him acknowledge the many folks who stood in long lines when he ad-libbed in his election-night speech, “We have to fix that.” They were encouraged when he subsequently acknowledged the need for a broad range of fixes to the broken system. Hopes for an ambitious reform package were high. But Obama’s big reveal seemed less than inspiring: a bipartisan commission to study the problem. This is indeed a promising moment for bipartisan election reform, but that reform isn’t likely to come from Washington. Instead, it’s likely to emerge from the states where party lines on election reform are beginning to blur. This year, new laws to improve elections and expand voting may pass not only in blue states like New...

What We'll Be Talking about in 2016

AP Photo/Mark Hirsch
Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now … although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet. While the identity of the next Democratic and Republican nominees is important, what’s even more important is what they intend to do if elected. Indeed: the nomination process is important because it’s how parties sort out their differences and make decisions about who they are, and what kinds of public policy they support. Moreover, the nomination process is the best chance for groups and individuals within the party to have a chance of affecting what the party will do if it wins. In general elections with huge electorates, there’s not much one person can do that makes any difference. In...

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick
Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick M assachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair. And then Democrats blew the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January 2010, when Scott Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley. This occurred in a state that reliably votes Democratic for president, and hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. Despite the Democratic sentiments of Massachusetts voters, the institutional party has often seemed dysfunctional, decrepit, and not welcoming of new blood. In this odd history, however, one fact screams out. The two big statewide winners of recent decades were complete outsiders—Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren...

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

Making Voting Constitutional

Our governing document creates no right to vote. It’s time it did.

(AP Photo)
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite In Fairfax County, Virginia, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Fairfax County is a Washington suburb with more than 1 million residents and is the biggest battleground in Virginia, which is a key swing state in Tuesday’s presidential election. E arly last year, when Attorney General Eric Holder took a strong stand against voter-identification laws, he emphasized how much they violate core American ideals. “What we are talking here is a constitutional right,” he said. “This is not a privilege. The right to vote is something that is fundamental to who we are as Americans. We have people who have given their lives—people have sacrificed a great deal in order for people to have the right to vote. It’s what distinguishes the United States from most other countries.” The problem is Eric Holder is wrong. Unlike citizens in every other advanced democracy—and many...

Leave Julia Alone!

Obama campaign
The life of Julia at age 27 In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way. It was silly, simple fodder that should have faded quickly amid the deluge of media noise. Except conservatives took it as the symbol of all that is wrong...

Red to Purple to Blue

America's electoral map has changed to the Democrats' advantage—and it's going to change a whole lot more. 

A t this moment in American politics, we can count on a few things in presidential elections: The Northeast will vote for the Democrat. The Southeast will vote for the Republican. Both parties will fight for the Midwest and the Southwest. Democrats will be able to count on the West Coast. This geographic breakdown has been in place for more than a decade, but it’s a relatively new configuration in presidential politics. As recently as 1976, the electoral map was different. In that year, the Republican candidate, Gerald Ford, won California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Jersey, Michigan, and Rhode Island, while the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter, won the industrial Midwest and every state of the former Confederacy aside from Virginia. The Democratic strongholds in 1976 were part of a venerable coalition with strong historical roots. The Democrats had been the party of the South since before the Civil War, and with the addition of support from African Americans and the Northeast...

What Democracy Lost in 2012

Illustrations by John Ritter
*/ John Ritter L ast November 7, a syndicated cartoon made the rounds in progressive circles. Drawn by Signe Wilkinson, it showed a battered, bruised, patched-up Uncle Sam defiantly flexing his biceps and flashing the dazed grin of a fighter who’d survived a vicious knockdown and prevailed in 15 rounds. The caption, “Democracy Wins,” became a popular meme amid the liberal euphoria that broke out on election night. President Barack Obama had been re-elected, Karl Rove had been embarrassed on national television, and the Sheldon Adelsons and National Rifle Associations of the world had thrown hundreds of millions of dollars down the toilet. Voter suppression had not kept blacks and Latinos from the polls. Citizens United had not done its worst. Democracy had been tried and tested, and emerged banged up but miraculously intact. Liberals had earned their moment of giddiness. But the assumption that “democracy won” because Obama won and Democrats carried the U.S. Senate is flat wrong...

Will the GOP Vote-Rigging Effort Invite a Backlash?

This must not stand.
Over the last 12 years (since the Florida debacle of 2000), I've argued repeatedly that politics in America is characterized by an Audacity Gap. It may not hold in every situation and every controversy, but most of the time, Republicans are willing take actions both small (shouting at the president that he's a liar during the State of the Union) and large (filibustering everything or holding the economy hostage over the debt ceiling) that Democrats are far too timid to even consider. Often it occurs when Republicans decide to violate a norm of how business had been done previously, safe in the knowledge that since what's at issue is a norm and not a rule, there's really nothing to stop them. As I put it some time ago, Republicans are the party of "Yes we can," while Democrats are the party of "Maybe we shouldn't." It doesn't always work to Republicans' advantage, but much of the time it does. When it works, it's often because the public doesn't know, doesn't understand, or doesn't...

Elected by 32 Donors, for 32 Donors

Flickr/ Tax Credits
When was the last time you contributed $1,000 to a political candidate or cause? If you’re like most people, the answer is “Never—if I have that kind of money it’s in the college savings account.” Well, candidates for the U.S. Senate this election got nearly 64 percent of the money they raised from individuals in contributions of at least $1,000—from just four one-hundredths of one percent of the population. Billion-Dollar Democracy , the latest Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of the role of money in the 2012 elections, reveals what most Americans already know: political power in America is concentrated in the hands of an elite fraction of the populace—threatening the very concept of government of, by, and for the people. Running for federal office means spending your days and nights courting a very narrow set of very rich donors who have the power to fuel your campaign or turn off the lights. Add the post- Citizens United Super PACs to the equation and big money dominance...

Where Are They Now?

Catching up with Americans Elect

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File
In last year’s March issue of the Prospect , I profiled Americans Elect—an extravagantly funded but terminally confused organization that sought to create a centrist third party in American politics by funding signature-gathering operations in every state to qualify a presidential candidate for the ballot and creating an online primary in which people who affiliated the party could choose its nominee. As no major, or even prominent minor, political figures chose to throw their hats into Americans Elect’s ring, however, the effort was aborted—but not before the organization had raised roughly $40 million, chiefly from donors it declined to identify. (Like many super PACs, the group claimed a 501c4 “social welfare organization” status, which enables it to conceal its funders’ identities.) An online list of the organization’s “Leadership,” however, revealed that many of its leaders were, like the group’s founder, Peter Ackerman, hedge fund managers or other varieties of Wall Street rich...

Playing Constitutional Hardball with the Electoral College

Flickr / Politics for Misfits
Republicans are playing Constitutional hardball again. It’s a dangerous game. The GOP may attempt to rig the Electoral College by changing the electoral vote allocation in GOP-controlled states which voted for Barack Obama. The idea would be to shift from the normal winner-take-all plan to something that would split the votes in those states. Ideally, from the Republican point of view, every Republican state would be winner-take-all while all Democratic states would be split more or less evenly, making it almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. All of that, as obviously undemocratic as it is , would be perfectly Constitutional; the Constitution leaves every state in charge of how to choose its electors. The idea should be not be seen as a stand-alone. Instead, it’s best thought of as one of a set of schemes Republicans have advanced over the last 20 years. It includes the establishment of the 60-vote Senate; mid-decade redistricting in Texas after Republicans took...

When Majorities Don't Mean Control

(Flickr/ johan weiland)
In the Empire State, winning elections doesn’t always translate into power it seems. Next year, Democrats will likely have a majority of seats in the state’s upper chamber. But they aren’t likely to control it. It’s one of the stranger outcomes of the latest election. Just getting a majority of seats was impressive. Since 1965, the Democrats only controlled the chamber once, in the 2009-2010 session. The party had conceded easy victories, agreeing to a deal in which the GOP drew Senate districts in exchange for a more favorable Democratic map in the state Assembly. But in the end, they had a lot to celebrate. Two Democratic incumbents held their seats against tough challenges, while an open seat in Rochester, previously held by the GOP, switched hands. Perhaps most exciting for the long-suffering party, in the “super Jewish” district, former Councilman Simcha Felder beat the incumbent senator with a commanding 67 percent. In total, Democrats have a 31-30 majority, with two races still...

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