This essay is for rank-and-file Democrats, which includes friends of mine. (Disclaimer: As many of you know, I’m not a Democrat; my politics are much further to the left. However, with this piece I am wishing you well.)
Many of you are focused on the 2020 election, which you hope Trump will lose. Of course. But you cannot trust the leadership of your party to do what it takes to make that happen.
If you are serious about putting a Democrat in the White House, you’ll need to do it yourselves, through dint of will and sweat of brow. It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s totally doable. But you need to get on the stick now, and that means educating yourself about the reality of your challenge, which has not been well publicized.
As you know, your candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3,000,000 votes. This is impressive given how unpopular she was as a personality. The good news for 2020 is that virtually anyone nominated from the Democratic fold this time around will have better numbers than her going in. Given that Trump’s approval rate is stalled in the low 40s and his disapproval remains in the mid-50s, it should be no problem to meet and exceed that margin in the popular vote again.
Of course, as you don’t need to be reminded, the 2016 outcome wasn’t decided by the popular vote. Yes, it’s a travesty that the results were decided by the electoral college—an arcane institution put into place to serve the interests of slaveowners (and whose descendants, in both blood and spirit, it is still serving)—but you’re not going to make it go away before 2020 (if ever) so you’ll just need to work with it.
Let’s look at the numbers. Trump eked out his 304 vote victory by winning three “battleground” states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Had Clinton taken them, her electoral total would have been 273 votes, rather than 227: three more than the required 270.
State : Electoral votes : Popular margin
MI : 16 : 10,704
PA : 20 : 44,292
WI : 10 : 22,748
So, Trump “won” with just 77,744 votes. That’s only 0.55% of the 13,967,421 votes cast in those states.
That’s nothing. If that were the whole story, then victory in 2020 would be as simple as flooding those states with volunteers to pound the pavement, knock on doors and register voters; surely the hatred for Trump is strong enough that sufficient people could be rounded up and bussed in for such a campaign. If the party’s national leadership didn’t bother to organize this effort (and there’s certainly no guarantee they would), then party activists could do it themselves, in cooperation with county and state level officials who care about their people.
But the electoral college is not the whole story.
The whole story involves uncounted ballots, voter suppression and other dirty tricks. Nothing that can’t be overcome, but you—rank-and-file Democrats—will have to face these challenges without the assistance of your national party leadership, who have shown no interest in addressing them.
Let’s look at some details.
Investigative journalist Greg Palast has been a bulldog on on these issues, and I rely heavily on his work for what follows. Palast began his muckraking during the 2000 Bush v. Gore debacle in Florida where he was one of several journalists who demonstrated that Gore would have won there if all the votes had been counted by the state (which they never were). Two months before the 2016 election, Palast released his film, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” and predicted that Trump would win by means of a Republican-connived theft. Post-election, he jumped into the fray, pursued the story relentlessly, and uncovered numerous cases of fraud—enough to change the results. His work is very well-documented but the implication—that US elections are not as free or fair as people would like to think—is a hot potato for both the mainstream media and the political establishment, including the Democratic party leadership, so we haven’t heard enough about it.
But you, Democratic rank-and-filer, can be more honest and forthright; you can educate yourself on what happened and what’s going on, the better to kick out the orange menace.
What went down in Michigan is a case study of malfeasance, and much of what happened there was repeated elsewhere.
At least 75,355 ballots were not counted there in 2016. What’s more, most of these were from Detroit and Flint, both majority Black cities (82+% and 55+% respectively). According to CNN exit polls, 92% of Black voters in Michigan voted for Hillary. So if half these uncounted ballots were cast by Black voters at that ratio, an additional 34,662 votes would have been tallied in Hillary’s column and given her the state by a margin of 23,958 votes.
These ballots were not counted because they were unreadable by machines. When the oval next to a candidate’s name on the paper ballot was not filled in correctly—i.e., it was checked or was marked with red ink—the machine did not register it and the ballot was set aside. In other cases, no voter error occurred and the machines simply didn’t work. Writes Palast:
How come more ballots were uncounted in Detroit and Flint than in the white ‘burbs and rural counties? Are the machines themselves racist? No, but they are old, and in some cases, busted. An astonishing 87 machines broke down in Detroit, responsible for counting tens of thousands of ballots. Many more were simply faulty and uncalibrated… How did Detroit end up with the crap machines? Detroit is bankrupt, so every expenditure must be approved by “emergency” overlords appointed by the Republican governor. The GOP operatives refused the city’s pre-election pleas to fix and replace the busted machines.
“We had the rollout [of new machines] in our budget,” Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said. “No money was appropriated by the state.”
Same in Flint. GOP state officials cut the budget for water service there, resulting in the contamination of the city’s water supply with lead. The budget cuts also poisoned the presidential race.
As Palast notes, the human eye is easily capable of identifying a red oval or a check mark as the voter’s intent and tallying it appropriately. The post-election recount in Michigan (kickstarted by Green Party candidate, Jill Stein) would have done just that but the full process was not allowed to go forth. Palast, again:
But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stymied Stein’s human eye count. The Republican pol issued an order saying that no one could look at the ballots cast in precincts where the number of votes and voters did not match—exactly the places where you’d want to look for the missing votes. He also ordered a ban on counting ballots from precincts where the seals on the machines had been broken – in other words, where there is evidence of tampering.
Such naked partisanship was not limited to Michigan:
This story was repeated in Wisconsin, which uses the same Opti-Scan system as Michigan. There, the uncounted votes, sometimes called “spoiled” or “invalidated” ballots, were concentrated in Black-majority Milwaukee… GOP state officials authorized Milwaukee County to recount simply by running the ballots through the same blind machines. Not surprisingly, this instant replay produced the same questionable result.
Do you see what happened? Black people still can’t vote. I repeat: Black people still can’t vote. How is this not a big deal? In fact, it’s a scandal of epic proportions. That it hasn’t received the press it deserves speaks to the racism of the media.
Are you mad yet? I hope so, but it gets worse.
Arguably the biggest component of the 2016 election theft by the Republicans happened before a single ballot was cast. The Interstate Crosscheck system was devised by Kris Kobach, a Republican Secretary of State in Kansas. Its ostensible purpose was to prevent people from voting or registering to vote in more than one state, although documented instances of this crime are exceedingly rare–in fact, out of 1 billion votes cast, only 31 credible instances of double-voting have been identified. In actuality, Crosscheck was used to purge voters from state rolls on a basis that disproportionally affected Blacks, Latinos and Muslims, all of whom are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans.
An eye-popping 449,092 Michiganders are on the Crosscheck suspect list. The list, which my team uncovered in an investigation for Rolling Stone, cost at least 50,000 of the state’s voters their registrations… The “double voters” are found by simply matching first and last names. Michael Bernard Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Anthony Brown. Michael Timothy Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Johnnie Brown.
In the Keystone State, Interstate Crosscheck listed 344,000 voters as suspect; in North Carolina: 589,000; Arizona: 258,000, Colorado: 769,436, Nevada 90,000, Illinois 500,000. Altogether, 28 states used Crosscheck and over 7,000,000 voters were deemed suspect on extremely flimsy pretenses. (You can view the full list of states and the number of suspect voters here.)
You don’t have to believe Palast alone. A study authored by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Penn Universities which examined Crosscheck records estimated that the best possible performance expected from the program would result in the purging of 300 voters for every 1 voter who is possibly—possibly—dubious, with a good chance that this single instance was a clerical error.
As bad as Crosscheck is, and as pervasive its reach was in 2016, it is not an unstoppable behemoth. Palast, teaming up with other organizations, has been suing various states to expose their wrongdoing and pressure them to drop the program. By April of this year, ten states had ceased using Crosscheck, including Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Illinois. <> These efforts can be supported and expanded by regular citizens pitching in. That’s who’s doing it now, and they’d appreciate the help. Check out the Palast Investigative Fund.
Don’t expect the DNC to lift a finger. So far, they have been uninterested. This one is up to the people to push.
Other Examples of Republican-Sponsored Disenfranchisement
The list of shenanigans the Republicans have been pulling is long. A few lowlights:
- The 2013 gutting of Voting Rights Act: A case paid for by a Republican billionaire went all the way to the Supreme Court, where a key provision of the legislation was struck down: jurisdictions with known histories of racist policies were relieved of the requirement to vet any changes to their voting laws with the federal Justice Department. In a bitter irony, Clarence Thomas was the deciding vote in the 5-4 case. President Obama, with a degree in constitutional law, offered no remedy. Soon after, disenfranchisement ramped up across the nation, hitting people of color the hardest.
- “Purge-by-postcard”: In this method, states mail postcards to voters to “verify” their addresses and if the postcards are not returned, the voter’s registration is canceled. According to Palast, who spoke with direct mail experts and referenced Census research, postcard mailings are not an accurate method of confirming personal information. Return rates vary significantly by income and race, with wealthier, older whites responding more than poorer, younger households and people of color. Additionally, 12% of such mailings “simply go astray.” Republicans are surely aware of who they are casting out this way.
In this way 340,134 voters were falsely purged from the rolls in Georgia in 2017 by Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. After sending out postcards, Kemp removed over 530,000 voters, claiming they had moved. The Palast Investigative Fund hired experts to go over this list and found that 340,134 were still living at the same addresses. Additionally, several thousand were illegally struck for moving within the same county, which is against the law; intra-county moves do not require re-registration for voting. Kemp won his bid for Georgia governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who blames her defeat on the voter purges. Through ongoing legal action, the Palast Investigative Fund hopes to restore all these voters their rights by the 2020 election.
- Voter ID laws: Republican lawmakers present these laws as a means of discouraging voter fraud, but their true intent–and actual results–are to disenfranchise voters who are less likely to have a state-issued photo ID. Such people include students, the elderly, the poor and people of color, many or even most of whom lean to the Democrats. Many of these laws have been based on bills written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is responsible for pushing other reactionary legislation (i.e., against immigrants, worker rights, and the environment, and favoring mandatory sentencing, privatization of public services and deregulation). (See alecexposed.org)
- Votes not counted: Writes Palast:
The nasty little secret of US elections, is that we don’t count all the votes. In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and all over America [in 2016]-there were a massive number of votes that were simply rejected, invalidated, and spoiled. They were simply, not counted. Officially, in a typical presidential election, at least three million votes end up rejected, often for picayune, absurd reasons.
The rejects fall into three big categories: provisional ballots rejected, absentee and mail-in ballots invalidated and in-precinct votes “spoiled,” spit out by a machine or thrown out by a human reader as unreadable or mis-marked.
The process of deciding which ballots to count is undeniably partisan. Palast, again:
Hillary Clinton only won one swing state, Virginia, notably, the only one where the vote count was controlled by Democrats. She lost all swing states-Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida-where the GOP set the rules for counting these ballots and their hacks acted as the judge and jury on whether a ballot should be counted.
Clearly, what we have here is deliberate, repeated election theft by Republicans, who apparently can’t win national office without cheating. They have been nothing if not creative and diligent in their efforts, and so far they have not been adequately challenged.
Summing it up: What To Do
In short—my Democratic friends—you’ve got to make sure your people can vote and you’ve got to make sure their votes are counted. This is essential. Without ensuring these two things, preaching about the importance of voting is really hollow.
Your party leadership isn’t going to pursue this. May I remind you that the DNC can’t even be trusted to run an honest primary among its own candidates. This is no conspiracy theory. No less a source than the New York Times revealed (if grudgingly) that Sanders was given short shrift by party leadership in 2016. (For more details, see In These Times and Truthdig.) Riggers aren’t going to oppose rigging.
We have Trump because Republicans stole the election. Not because young people didn’t turn out to vote. Not because of third party “spoilers.” Not because of foreign interference. Hillary won by nearly three million votes and was denied office only because of outright partisan fraud in a handful of states.
If Trump holds on to office after 2020, it won’t be because he won. It will be because he stole it again.
This is your mission, Democratic rank-and-filers, if you choose to accept it: stop waiting for your leadership to do the right thing. They’re not going to. Get out there and do it yourself. Take that hatred for Trump and turn it into meaningful action. Don’t just complain—throw the bum out!