Posts Tagged ‘ elections ’

Republicans attempt to rig the next election

After two large back-to-back Presidential losses, Republicans have started looking around to try to find ways to put one of their own in the White House in four years. One way of doing this would be to try to adopt more moderate and popular positions that appeal to America’s median voter. But that would mean…becoming more sensible and moderate, so the GOP isn’t interested. Instead, many plan to go with option two: trying to rig the next election so that even if America doesn’t vote for Marco Rubio in 2016, it won’t matter and he will win anyway.

Reince Priebus

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the RNC


They will do this by messing with our arcane Electoral College system in selective states. Right now, the candidate who wins a majority of the votes in Pennsylvania wins all of PA’s 20 electoral votes. Get 270 electoral votes  and you win the Presidency. Yes, this system is weird and cooky and it would be much easier to just give the Presidency to the person who gets the most votes across the country. But Republicans aren’t trying to fix this quirk. They’re trying to make it worse.


Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee has just endorsed a scheme that would instead award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district in only Democratic states. This ploy would still ensure that the Republican nominee got all 38 of Texas’ electoral votes, but would only give a Democrat 7 of 16 electoral votes in Michigan, even if they win the state handily, as Obama did this last time. That’s right. Republicans could lose Michigan by 10 points and STILL get a majority (9) of the state’s electoral votes under this vote-stealing technique.

Crucially, Republicans are only proposing to do this in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. These are states that Obama won last year but that also have Republicans controlling their state governments. If this proposed system had been in place in 2012, Obama could have lost the Presidency even as he won the national popular vote by 4 points.

Republicans can do this because of the big wins they scored in the all-important 2010 mid-term elections. This win (their only winning cycle since 2004) gave them control of the state governments in most swing states. Crucially, this let them re-draw congressional districts in their states so there are no longer more than a handful of competitive congressional elections in our most closely divided states. And now that Republicans have decided that Pennsylvania, a blue state, will always have 5 Democratic and 13 Republican representatives, they want to make sure that no matter how the people vote, their votes always count for the Republican!

These proposed changes are, quite literally, the greatest threats to democracy in America. These proposals have no redeeming qualities. They are simply to make sure Republicans have a huge advantage when electing the next President.


Long-term electoral trends in the United States

Its time to take a break from the rough-and-tumble of everyday politics to take a wide look at our political system. This post will tell you what our government is likely to look like for the foreseeable future. There are many factors which determine who makes up our government, and I’ll break down the know-able factors here and tell you which party is likely to control the government over the next decade or so. We’ll look at the Presidency, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.

The Presidency

The US President is chosen by the Electoral College, which gives roughly proportional votes to the winner in (almost) every state. Importantly, the person who wins the nation-wide popular vote  is almost always the winner of  the Electoral College vote. These votes are close mirrors of each other, so it is important to look at the overall national voting trends when determining how future Presidential elections will play out.

National voting trends favor the Democrats. Democrats are overwhelmingly the party of young and minority voters, while Republicans are the favorite of white and elderly voters. Research shows that voters tend to stick with whatever party they join at their first vote. It also shows that “age cohorts acquire a propensity to vote or not to vote that proves ‘sticky’ over time.” (PDF, page 19) These facts suggest that young voters, whose turnout was especially high and especially Democratic in 2006-2008 (and looks to be close to the same this year), will continue to vote often and vote Democratic in the future. (more after the break) Continue reading

How to Fix Congress, the list

The two main goals of Congressional reform should be to reduce partisanship in Congress and to make Congress more effective by requiring less cooperation between increasingly antagonistic parties. In addition to ending gerrymandering and lengthening the terms for US representatives, the best ways to fix Congress are:

1. Adopt an “open” primary system, where the top two candidates, regardless of party, go on to compete in the general election.

Having separate primaries for Democrats and Republicans usually leads to the most extreme Democrat and the most extreme Republican facing off in the general election. This obviously means that whoever wins the general election will be a shrill partisan from one side. In an “open” primary system, all possible candidates would compete together in a single primary and the two highest vote-getters would then face off in the general election. This system would give moderates a chance to compete, instead of mostly forcing them out of elections.

For instance, if there was an open primary system in place in 2010, moderate Senator Bob Bennett of Utah would not have been forced out in the Republican primary, only to be replaced on the ballot by extreme conservative Mike Lee. Likewise, Charlie Crist, the moderate Republican governor of Florida, had to run for the Senate as an independent because it was clear that hard-line Tea Party supporter Marco Rubio was going to win the Republican primary. Both Crist and Bennett would have easily won an open primary and probably the general election as well. Obviously, Congress would be a better place if it had more moderates who better represent the majority of Americans.

2. End the filibuster

The filibuster is a very technical term and process but here’s what you need to know: it makes everything you learned about the Senate in high school civics class meaningless. Instead of bills needing 51 votes (or 50 votes plus the Vice President) to pass into law, the filibuster makes it so that 60 votes are necessary for anything to pass through the Senate. Instead of  being an opportunity for the two parties to work together to pass moderate bills acceptable to both sides of the aisle, the filibuster is just used by the minority party to block anything the majority wants to do.

Because a party almost never controls 60 votes in the Senate, the filibuster acts as a minority party’s veto over legislation and appointments. The filibuster gives a minority party power without responsibility. After all, the minority won’t  be blamed if legislation fails to pass, or a problem goes unsolved, they will be rewarded! The minority party has the incentive to see the majority party fail. And yes, perversely, that means that it is in the minority party’s interest to see the country fail (a bad economy or the existence of other big problems mean the majority party will be punished at the ballot box). The filibuster gives the minority party the ability and the incentive to stop responsible action on behalf of the country. The filibuster makes sure that no one can solve our country’s problems.

3. Remove some powers from Congress

This probably would not be necessary if the above reforms pass, but failing that, this would be a good step. If Congress remains a dysfunctional, bickering body, then the only way to keep our government moving is to take powers away from it. America does not benefit from Congressional inaction, as Ezra Klein explains. It is not in the country’s interest to have a third of our federal judge’s benches sitting empty because a mere 41 Senators want to filibuster all of the President’s nominees. Likewise, we need people to be appointed to the Federal Reserve board (seeing as we are in an economic crisis and the Fed controls our money supply and interest rates) but we can’t even get a Nobel prize winner past the filibustering Republicans (literally).

It is not necessary for Congress to have some powers, either because  the chance of mischief  is too great (the debt ceiling) or because partisanship will gum up necessary governmental functions (the appointment process). We should eliminate Congressional votes on the debt ceiling (no other country has one) and we should cut in half the number of federal positions that have to be confirmed by the Senate (there are currently over a thousand that  need confirmation, which is down from former highs).

4. Give Congressmen back the power to earmark money for their districts.

This may seem counter-intuitive, from everything else I’ve said, but hear me out. Earmarks have, for the time being, been done away with because  they were labelled as “pork barrel” spending by their opponents. The problem with earmarks wasn’t that they cost us a lot of money (they didn’t) but that in the past they were ways for Congressmen to secretly slip in funds for their own pet projects. But they also fulfilled a valuable role. They undermined partisanship.

Congressmen tend to know their districts well and are somewhat good judges of the constituents’ needs. Earmarks allowed Congressmen to redirect funds in individual ways for their district. Making a valuable and personalized action on behalf of their home state or district helped to tie a Congressman to his voters. This makes that Senator or Congressman less beholden to corporations or the vested interests in Washington for campaign cash and political support.

The answer is to make earmarks more transparent and open and to hold Congressmen accountable for bad ones, not to get rid of them entirely. Right now, Congressmen just lobbying behind closed doors to try to convince bureaucrats to funnel money to their district. Why not just let Congressman do it openly and directly?