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Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:45

How Do We Get Our Voting Rights Back?

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If enough states constituting a majority of the electors -- 270 -- sign on, it would guarantee the presidency goes to the candidate winning the most popular votes nationwide.If enough states constituting a majority of the electors -- 270 -- sign on to the National Popular Vote bill, it would guarantee the presidency goes to the candidate winning the most popular votes nationwide. (Photo: Keith Ivey)PATRICIA JACKSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Voter suppression is cloaked in many forms. Rev. William Barber, of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, understands voter suppression, "Voter suppression hacked our democracy long before any Russian agents meddled in America's elections." In 2013, the conservative-led Supreme Court eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act and opened the gates for states to enact their own voter suppression laws. In a 5-to-4 vote, the Court gave nine states, mostly in the South, the power to change their election laws without prior advance federal approval. The approval clause in the act countered "Jim Crow" state and local laws. Since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, a total of 34 states have laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. It takes us back to the "Jim Crow" days.

Additional voter suppression came with closures of early voting, the elimination of voting places, breakdowns in voting machines, and long waiting lines. On election day, 2016, states like Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina had 868 fewer polling places. Thirty-two new voter identification laws were in force by 2016, the first presidential election after the major change in our Voting Rights Act. Prior to the 2016 election, Samer Khalaf, the president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, expressed concern. "We are concerned that this year (2016) is going to be the worst year ever when it comes to voter suppression at the polls for Arab-Americans, Muslim Americans and those perceived to be either Arab or Muslim."

A Republican strategy begun in 2010 culminated in their 2013 takeover of the House of Representatives. Curiously, links to the Republican State Leadership Committee document, "How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013", now yields only the notice, "page cannot be found".

The report credits gerrymandered maps in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin with helping Republicans to overcome a 2012 popular-vote deficit. In Michigan, there were over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, yet a 9-5 Republican delegation was sent to Congress. Gerrymandering explains how House Democrats get a majority of the popular vote and a minority of the congressional seats.

It only cost Republicans $30 million to gerrymander congressional blue states districts through their redistricting of state legislatures. The Koch Brothers have engineered control of state legislature elections, as well as governors, with their extensive supply of funding from membership in The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).The Council includes corporate CEOs and many of our legislators − schooled, wined, and dined in ALEC conventions. In secret meetings, corporate members craft "model bills" and provide legislators a template for rubber-stamping ALEC legislation. When Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin (R-56) introduced (HM 685), she forgot to remove Alec’s mission statement before submitting it.  ALEC currently promotes legislation to do away with our 17th Amendment.

Hacked and Misled

The 2000 election "hanging chads" fiasco in Florida netted a $3 billion federal investment in electronic voting machines with touch screens and ballot-scanners to solve voting issues. The largest manufacturer of these systems was Diebold, Inc. In one of their systems a software bug in North Carolina's 2002 general election deleted 436 electronic ballots from six paperless machines in two counties. In 2004, Diebold voting machines, exposed Ohio’s 2004 presidential election to machine irregularities. The possibility that California elections were exposed to hackers was also raised that year. In 2004, Matt Damschroder, Ohio Republican, accepted a $10,000 check made to the Franklin County Republican Party from a former Diebold contractor. A 2011 report revealed several ways these systems could be hacked, even remotely.

At its 2017 DEF CON convention, hackers in attendance and security investigators claimed to have found major vulnerabilities or breached every voting machine and system present. According to cyber security and privacy researcher Bruce Schneier,we are not checking voting machines for forensic evidence of hacking. Schneier believes there are already good voting systems in place in some states, like Minnesota. These, like those in California, are hand-filled-in, submitted into optical scan readers and provide a paper ballot. Every voter has a verifiable paper trail and a receipt. "It’s one of the tools we know that works."

Fixing It

Perhaps it all goes back to the Constitution and the founding fathers. There were no founding mothers, no Native Americans or Black or Brown people.  From the beginning, the founding fathers codified their control of the document they pitched as true democracy. Historian, Charles Beard, in his book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, reveals the majority of these founders to be wealthy land owners, holders of enslaved people, and merchants. The Constitution was constructed to maintain their power. One relic example being the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is defined in the Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, and in the 12th Amendment. When the founders drafted the Constitution in 1787, the crucial decision on how our votes are still counted was cemented.  Election of our president by popular vote was replaced by a proposal by James Madison, that "Negroes" in the South presented a   "difficulty … of a serious nature."  Instead he proposed what became the Electoral College system used to this day. His proposition for the Electoral College included the "three-fifths compromise," where black people could be counted as three-fifths of a person, instead of a whole. This clause guaranteed the South's determination to preserve its political power and the institution of slavery.

As Paul Finkelman, professor at University of Saskatchewan in Canada, points out, the Electoral College’s three-fifths clause elected Thomas Jefferson as President, who owned more than a hundred slaves, defeating John Adams who was opposed to slavery. There have been four presidents not elected by the people’s popular votes but by the Electoral College, most egregiously the 2016 selection of Donald Trump.  

Ending the Electoral College method of electing our President won’t take a Constitutional amendment. The Constitution, Article II, states "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress."  State legislators can sign on to the National Popular Vote bill (NPV). If enough states constituting a majority of the electors -- 270 -- sign on, it would guarantee the presidency goes to the candidate winning the most popular votes nationwide. Currently in the Electoral College many states laws give all their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes within that state. With only 1% more of the votes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan Trump got all their electoral votes.

Overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling allowing corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, will help eliminate those coffers of money used to suppress voting. Congressman Deutch (D FL) Representative,  "The Democracy is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable."

Alternative Voting Systems

Automatic Voter Registration Acts have passed in eight states, the District of Columbia and thirty-two other states have proposals for 2017.  H.R. 2840, theAutomatic Voter Registration Act, would automatically register people to vote when applying for a driver’s license, for public services, enroll in college, or become a naturalized citizen.

Ranked voting is already in use in some cities and states. TheFair Representation Act (HR 3057) gives voters of all backgrounds and political alliances the power to elect all U.S. House members by ranked-choice voting in new Such a system would dislodge gerrymandering now perpetuated by one-party dominance of legislative redistricting.

Other systems to strengthen all minority groups' voting power were suggested by Lani Guinier President Clinton’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in April 1993. He withdrew her nomination under a barrage of negative press from conservative journalists and Republican Senators calling her a "quota queen". In fact, Ms. Guinier opposed racial quotas. Lani Guinier believed in proportional representation, a cumulative voting system.

The Trumped up "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity", a ruse that somehow millions of voters voted illegally, was set in motion to entrench more voter suppression tactics. A New York University Law School study proved allegations of widespread voter fraud to be baseless. As of July 5, 2017, forty-four states had refused to turn over voter information to the commission. The commission that will not be investigating true threats to our voting system, or that the 2016 election was decided by 80,000 votes in just three states.

With Jefferson Beauregard "Secession" as Attorney General, will there be investigations of any the civil rights violations of disenfranchised voters − predominately people of color, youth, people with disabilities, and seniors, or the 6.1 million people branded as felons −  still incarcerated or on probation?

The probe into Russia’s possible interference with our 2016 election moves along with Robert Mueller as special counsel and several committee investigations in Congress. If we hope to elect progressive representatives, to take back our democracy in the 2018 election and beyond, our efforts must focus on ending all forms suppressing fair and equal access to our right to vote.

 Visit independent Vote Smart and engage in protecting voting rights.

Patricia Jackson is a community activist and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.