Two political parties playing two entirely different games. One attempts to win by obeying the law. The other changes the rules on the fly. Such is the luxury of being in power and believing that winning at all cost is justified.
Two Parties, Two Games
How do you win a game requiring the most votes when your party is in the minority and, for the most part, your candidates are less popular than those of the opposition?
If you are Republican, you play a different game — one defined by changing the playing field, artificially controlling the number of members of Congress and, very importantly, making it difficult for people supporting the opposition to vote. It is not a game defined by integrity and honor, but it is a game that can be profitable. And the Republican Party has been using it to win elections and control state legislatures and Congress for years.
Changing the playing field. Elections are won at the local level. No party knows that better than the Republican Party. For many years, it has engaged aggressively in a process known as ‘gerrymandering,’ in which a district’s boundaries are reconfigured to benefit one party over the other.¹ History buffs will know that the term, originally ‘Gerry-mander,’ derives its name from Massachusetts’s governor Elbridge Gerry who, in 1812, redrew a district so misshapen that it looked like a salamander. This type of redistricting takes place in the United States every ten years immediately after a census, since each district typically requires an equal number of voters. Done effectively, the redrawing of a district’s boundaries can change its voting majority from one party to another. In much of the 20th and 21st centuries, it has been used by the Republican party to turn a Democratic majority, typically in more densely populated urban and suburban areas, to a Republican majority. This, in turn, allows the party to increase the likelihood of controlling the district at the state and federal legislative levels. Which is where all the political action is. Given that we have just completed a census, look for gerrymandering efforts to begin in earnest soon. Our bet is that each will be driven by a Republican. Because that’s how they roll.
Artificially controlling the House of Representatives. As mandated by the Constitution, every ten years the federal government conducts a systematic count of every individual living in the United States and where each person lives. The two-fold purpose of the decennial census is to apportion both representatives to Congress and taxes. The greater the number of residents, the higher the number of federal representatives to the House and the greater apportionment of tax money for essentials like schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. The intent is an accurate count of all residents — regardless of their legal or U.S. citizenship status — to ensure appropriate allotment of seats in the House of Representatives and financial support.²
One way to win the game of politics is to control Congress. One way to control Congress is to undercount the number of individuals living in the country, especially in urban areas where more Democrats tend to live. The Republican administration is doing that at this very moment, in broad daylight.
For reasons not fully explained or validated, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross decided in July to end the 2020 census a month early, on September 30 rather than on October 31.³ Regardless of the rationale, ending the census early would have at least one potentially profound effect: undercounting the number of people living in the United States and where those people live. The negative impact would be felt disproportionately in urban areas, especially inner cities, where population density is highest and where accurate counts are more difficult to achieve. And, in general, where more Democrats than Republicans live.
Following Ross’s decision, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh issued a preliminary injunction ordering that the census extend to October 31. In defiance of the injunction, Ross announced that the count would continue only until October 5.⁴ Despite the court decision, the census ended well before October 31. So much for law and order.
Who loses if the count is not complete, not accurate? Democrats, who tend to have a higher percentage of inner city populations. And cities, which tend to have more Democrats than Republicans living in them. An undercounting of U.S. residents will likely reduce the number of districts with a Democrat majority and will lower the funding the federal government provides to cities for essentials, like public schools, hospitals and public works. Gerrymandering will take care of the rest.
You know who wins. And who loses.
Suppressing the vote. A highly effective way to win when in the minority and when your candidates are not as popular as their opponents is to make it more difficult for the opposition to vote. This, despite voting being, arguably, the most patriotic thing we do. The Republicans are brilliant at suppressing the vote. They are the masters of it. So good are they at keeping Democrats from the polls, so brazen are they in their prowess, so great is their pride, so consistent are their successes, that they do not feel the need to pretend otherwise. Need fewer people of color to vote? Not a problem. Need fewer young people to vote? Easy, too easy. Need fewer lower income people to vote? A Republican specialty. In the upcoming election, want fewer White suburban Democratic women at the polls? Learn from the pros.
Just ask Stacey Abrams, any of her supporters, or at least a half dozen other candidates in 2018 who lost due to voter suppression. Abrams, an African-American, lost her Georgia gubernatorial bid to Republican Brian Kemp who, as secretary of state, was responsible for elections and voter registration. His office was responsible for the cancellation of 1.4 million voter registrations between 2012 and 2018, with approximately 700,000 in 2017 alone. On a single night in July 2017, a half million voters had their registrations cancelled.⁵ According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, election-law experts said that this ‘may represent the largest mass disenfranchisement in U.S. history.’⁶ By early 2018, in excess of 53,000 voter registration applications had been put on hold by Kemp’s office. More than 75% belonged to non-White applicants. Kemp’s office was later found guilty of violating the Help America Vote Act before and immediately following the election. No matter. Abrams lost the election by 50,000 votes. Brian Kemp is the governor of Georgia.
Abrams’ story is just one among far too many. Ask the largely-Hispanic population of Dodge City, Kansas, who attempted to get to the sole polling place that had been relocated to a site 12 miles out of town just prior to the November 2018 election by Ford county clerk Debbie Cox, a Republican.⁷ One polling place, 12 miles out of town, over a mile from the nearest public transportation for 12,000 registered voters. A shameless attempt to prevent lower-income people of color from voting.
Voter suppression takes many forms, each tailored to the situation. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lists the following as the most oft-practiced and most effective:⁸
- Laws requiring identification, typically a government-issued photo ID (e.g., driver’s license). It is estimated that upwards of 21 million eligible voters do not have a government-issued photo ID. Laws requiring ID, which did not exist before 2006, disproportionately depress voting among people of color and lower-income individuals and can reduce voter turnout by 2–3 percent. Often, this is enough to win an election. Now, 36 states have such laws.⁹ The Republicans are thorough.
- Voter registration restrictions. This is a common approach to voter suppression. It may involve the requirement that an individual prove citizenship during the voter registration process, limiting the time in which one can register to vote, and/or forcing individuals to register long before an election. In the 2016 presidential election, upwards of 90,000 New Yorkers were unable to vote because their applications were received after the deadline, which was 25 days before the election. The heavily-Democratic state had, according to the ACLU, the eighth-worst turnout rate in the country.
- Purging voter rolls. While it is appropriate to clean voter rolls in advance of an election, some states choose to purge their rolls in a flagrant attempt to disenfranchise voters. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly 16 million individuals had been removed as eligible voters between 2014 and 2016 and that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination had significantly higher purge rates.¹⁰ Brian Kemp rode to the governor’s office in 2018 by way of his draconian purging of Georgia’s voter rolls.
Add to these diabolical voter suppression methods Texas Republican governor Greg Abbot’s recent edict to reduce voter drop-off locations to one per county for the upcoming 2020 presidential election, where one notable county with a Democratic majority is larger than Rhode Island.¹¹ Or the administration’s dismantling of the United States Postal Service to impair mail-in voting.¹² Or the reduction of the number of polling places throughout the country, especially in urban areas, to increase wait times. Or the president’s frequent completely unfounded claims of voter fraud as he attempts to invalidate the eventual outcome of the election. Or his statements about the possibility of him not respecting the election’s results.¹³ Or his repeated suggestion to his supporters that they act as ‘observers’ at polling sites on election day to prevent suspected foul play by Democrats.¹⁴ All are designed to demoralize potential voters and dissuade them from voting. And, sadly, all are bound to be successful in suppressing at least some of the vote.
This is how you increase your chances of winning when you are a minority party, have less-appealing candidates, have no true commitment to the Constitution or, for that matter, no real belief in democracy, with no sense of right or wrong, and without being in possession of a fully-functioning conscience. You play a different game, with rules crafted to suit your party. You overlook that quaint idea that voting is patriotic, that each voice is important, that every vote matters. This concept, the essence of democracy, is clearly not embraced by the Republican Party. Because, based on their behavior, it is all-too apparent that, to them, the ends justify the means. No matter how undemocratic, how unethical, how unconscionable. Because that is, indeed, how they roll.
There’s only one way to beat them at their game. Vote. Encourage everyone you know to vote. Tell them their life and the lives of their family and friends depend on it. Tell them the future of democracy as we know it depends on it. If possible, vote now. If not, make a plan to vote on November 3. Be sure to vote for those who respect, protect and celebrate this most fundamental, most patriotic, most American right. And when you do cast your ballot, do so with pride. By voting, you’ve already won. Because in this country, every voice does matter, every vote does count. Yours included.