What does it tell us when leading Democrats are more upset about allegations of Russian election-rigging than they are about Republican election-rigging? After all, American oligarchs like the Koch Brothers have no more right to undermine our democracy than Russian oligarchs do.
GOP voting laws systematically discriminate against minority voters and working people. Yes, leading Democrats have lodged pro forma protests against them, but they should be shouting about it from the rooftops. They seem more comfortable challenging Russians than they do challenging a party that’s undermining the electoral process much closer to home.
Maybe voters in places like North Carolina and Texas were “hacked” by the wrong people.
The CIA said last week that the Russian government was trying to help Trump win. They certainly stood to gain, as Trump’s Secretary of State pick proves. But even if that proves true – something that shouldn’t be taken on faith, given the agency’s track record – it’s not likely to change the election outcome. That would take a wave of Republican electors and House members switching sides.
And if it isn’t proven – if the CIA don’t offer any hard evidence, or if its evidence is weak – many Americans may conclude that we still have a fully functioning democracy. That would be tragic, because we don’t.
Like so much liberal debate, this hue and cry over Russia focuses exclusively on the presidential race. But Clinton-centric conspiracy talk doesn’t explain the loss of Democratic power up and down the ticket. The Democratic Party has lost the presidency and both houses of Congress, and only holds 18 governors’ seats. Republicans also hold overwhelming power in state legislatures.
Russian electoral sabotage can’t help us understand that. But Republican electoral sabotage can, and does.
It’s a conspiracy in plain sight. It came out of the woodwork as soon as the conservative Supreme Court majority struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Two hours after the ruling was announced, Texas’ Republican Attorney General issued a statement re-implementing a voter ID law and redistricting plan that had been blocked because they targeted voters of color.
A recent analysis showed that photo ID laws have had a drastic effect on democracy. They’ve reduced the Latino vote by 10.8 percent and the mixed-race vote by 12.8 percent. They doubled the participation gap between whites and Latinos, to 11.9 percent, and nearly doubled the participation gap between whites and African Americans, to 8.9 percent. They reduced Democratic voter turnout by 7.7 percent, while reducing Republican turnout by a smaller 4.6 percent. That almost certainly threw some down-ballot elections to the Republicans.
These laws are supposedly intended to prevent voter impersonation fraud, which Republicans claim is a widespread problem. But a study of 1 billion votes found only 31 cases of it.
Voter ID laws are the modern-day version of Jim Crow laws like poll taxes and “literacy tests,” as courts have increasingly recognized. These laws are popular, but they’re profoundly undemocratic. Surely Democrats can make an effective case against them – once they find the courage and common sense to fight them.
Other kinds of Republican laws have had the same racist effect. North Carolina’s sweeping vote overhaul — the so-called “monster” law — aggressively suppressed the African-American vote. Was that deliberate? The Washington Post reviewed Republican legislators’ emails and other evidence, and the result is damning. Republicans asked for reports that showed that African Americans and other minorities were more likely to vote in the first week of early voting, use out-of-precinct voting, and vote without ID. Then, as the Post reports:
“Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID …”
Turns out that these self-described “defenders of the Constitution” are surprisingly comfortable undermining its 14th and 15th amendments.
Author David Daley documented the GOP assault on democracy. In his book, Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, Daley writes of “new mapping technologies so exact that they’re re-sorted and resegregated Americans.” Unless state laws are changed, gerrymandering will ensure the Republicans’ lock on Congress for the foreseeable future, no matter what most voters want.
What about the presidency? Turnout for voters who are black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) was down this year by nearly 400,000 in five key Rust Belt states.
Voter suppression is systematic. Lower-income voters from all groups are discouraged from voting by our lack of an automatic voter registration process, and by the fact that voting takes place on a work day. Voters are purged from the rolls through caging, wrongful purges, and “no match no vote.” Long waits times suppress future vote participation and discriminate against minority and lower-income voters.
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Democrats should propose comprehensive pro-democracy reforms, and then explain why Republicans are blocking them.
Why don’t they? Are they afraid they’ll lose the white vote? Lower-income white voters are being deterred by these restrictions too – including, in all likelihood, the 4.6 percent of Republican voters effectively disenfranchised by voter ID laws.
Democrats who rail at Russia should be equally outraged that the United States ranks only 47th on a ranking of 139 nations for “electoral integrity.” The report found that:
“In the United States, the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 Congressional elections were ranked worst of any long-established democracy, especially on campaign finance and electoral registration.”
Clinton supporter Paul Krugman argues that, in Krugman’s tweeted words, “Faced with subversion of American democracy by foreign govt and rogue FBI, ‘Hillary should have run a better campaign’ (is) not a good response.”
That’s a false choice, and a dangerous one. Many factors affected the outcome. The Republicans’ antidemocratic voter strategy probably had a greater influence on the election than WikiLeaks did. Other factors certainly included Clinton’s lackluster candidacy (yes, she should have run a better campaign), economic conditions for many voters (including those who didn’t go to the polls), and FBI Director Comey’s actions.
When key states are decided by so few votes, many things will prove decisive.
But Democrats are losing ground at all electoral levels. It would be tragic if the Russian charges stifled all discussion about how to change that. But then, that’s what charges like these are often meant to do: suppress meaningful debate, and turn constructive criticism into collaboration with the enemy.
The Clinton team weighed in on the Russia question in support of ten electors (nine of them Democrats) who want a briefing on Russia’s involvement before they vote. They’re entitled to that. But do Democrats really want to ground their fight for democracy on the Electoral College – an institution they were decrying as undemocratic as recently as last week? That only makes sense if they have hard proof that the outcome was changed by the Russians.
And do they really want to cite Alexander Hamilton, as the ten electors did in their statement? Granted, Hamilton’s had a recent surge in popularity, but he was democracy’s greatest skeptic among the Founders.
(On hearing someone describe himself as “a friend of the people,” Hamilton reportedly slammed his hand on the table and said: “Your people, Sir, is a great beast.”)
Democrats should be pushing for more democracy, not less.
By all means, let’s find out what the Russians did and didn’t do. Hold hearings. Declassify as much information as possible. The people deserve to know.
But every charge of electoral subversion that can’t be proven will weaken the case for the ones that can. If Democrats want to challenge the electoral outcome, it would be better to do it on behalf of the minority and lower-income voters disenfranchised by Republican lawmakers. That’s a charge we can prove.
Some Democrats are calling other Americans “traitors” and “Putinites,” based on unsubstantiated allegations from the same intelligence agencies that told us there were weapons of mass destruction. We’ve been down that road before and it leads nowhere. The search for simplistic answers is a distraction from the hard work that lies ahead, the many-faceted work of building a party and a movement.
We can’t resolve the Russian question without more answers, but we can fix what we already know is broken. Investigate Putin. But democracy, like charity, begins at home.