Chania Beach - thanks to the Athens Centre
Dear Mr/Ms Congressperson – When you next visit Greece, do get in touch with Dems Abroad! We’ll bend your ear about our concerns, and in return? We’ve got superb sea in summer, great skiing in winter, tasty roast lamb in the spring and, okay, a bit of chilly rain in autumn. And we also know some excellent, out of the way eateries. Let us know you’re coming, and we’ll arrange for you to meet some of our members. (They vote, you know!) We’ll help make it your most valuable vacation in recent memory!
VIP Visits and DAGR
For future reference, though possibly not concerning a presidential visit, we have learned that our lower place in the pecking order is not a new problem. First of all, local embassy staff is thrown into preparations for a visit over which they have only partial control. Other considerations are specified by the visiting VIP’s staff. That’s at least two potentially different sets of priorities.
There are also the concerns of local officials and interest groups. For instance, a group of local businessmen may value the opportunity to meet with potential investors. A social issue might mean visitors’ meeting with a government ministry or local voluntary organization working in the same field.
Although DAGR includes many members who are actively engaged in business or social welfare efforts, as a group we represent none of them. The Chair or Vice Chair, who have the titular job of representing us, may or may not know anything or anyone of interest to any given group of visitors.
This suggests development of a ‘meet n greet’ committee comprising some socially adept volunteers who could be called on to represent DAGR in particular interest areas.
We should add that opportunities to meet with any given visitor may or may not be worthwhile. A case in point was a House junket in 2015 and a reception for them that the DAGR Chair was invited to. While there were a couple of Dems in the group, it was headed by a GOP congressman. The visitors were closeted with the then-ambassador; the residence foyer was filled with well-dressed businessmen and some military in dress uniforms. Upon exiting their discussion with the ambassador, the visitors said a few words, were deluged by hopeful attendees and left within a few minutes for a tour of Souda base in Crete. Your Chair caught another taxi home, wondering why she’d been invited in the first place. Did the Dem members of the junket even realize their party rep was attending?
All this illustrates what is possibly the knottiest problem we face: potential visitors (and their staffs, schedulers, handlers) simply don’t know we’re here. The Executive Director of DA, the only staff position we have, is tasked with outreach to party and elected officials. Additionally, our DA members of the DNC raise our profile, as do our ‘door-knock’ visits. Whenever there’s a meeting in DC that Dems Abroad people attend, they schedule in these opportunities to meet and talk with elected officials.
Because of this, it was decided earlier this year, that the odd-year global AGMs would take place in Washington, with the even year AGMs alternating among the three regions, hosted by Country Committees around the world. So, every other year, a passel of Dems will be contacting our Congress-critters about our issue planks.
DA fits into the DNC like any other ‘state party.’ Consequently, our officers, especially the DPCA Chair, take part in meetings of Democratic state party chairs. This is another opportunity to introduce DA and to share our practices and concerns. Combined with our reps in the DNC, our Executive Director on the ground in DC, our state party participation, there’s also the huge uptick in global news coverage that Dems Abroad got during the Global Presidential Primary 2016. We made headlines, and then were all over the media and social media when Larry Sanders cast 70% of our votes for his brother at the Convention. It added immeasurably to DA’s growing support in the Congressional caucus for citizens abroad.
At the end of the day, though, it’s really up to us. That photo caption above the article suggests a possible approach. Make it your own. Then, write/email/PM/tweet your congressperson or other public officials in your home state. Write to interest groups. Or students, or professors that you’re still in touch with. Or business associates. Or members of the Greek-American community at home.
Let us know if you hear back from them, so we can arrange for other DAGR members to meet them while they’re here. Every contact helps. And before we know it, more of our friends and family at home will be informed of our concerns, more of our planks will find their way into the DNC platform, and more of them will be passed in legislation.
Regarding distribution of tickets to President Obama’s speech, 27 Nov, 2016
Members of the DAGR ExCom, after a week in planning and another of discussion as to the contents, sent a letter to the Athens Embassy, re the distribution of invitations to President Obama’s speech on Nov 16. While some would have preferred stronger language, the majority felt a ‘soft complaint’ pointing to ‘improved cooperation in the future’ would be acceptable by the wide range of members we represent. Though we had hoped we could recommend members’ sending the letter on to their elected officials, the letter is not without some controversy.* You may want to consider it carefully before hitting the share button. – K. Lee, Chair
To the Honorable Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Greece
Dear Ambassador Pyatt,
We, members of the Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) Executive Committee, would like to share with you the very mixed feelings of our over-1000 members, regarding President Obama’s recent visit to Greece and the distribution of invitations to attend his remarks event at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
The visit, almost everyone agrees, was a great success. Obama came, conferred, dined, toured, spoke, inspired and left. He showed understanding of the difficulties Greeks have experienced over the past six years and support for their sacrifices. The optics, as we now call appearances, were positive. His remarks about Democracy in its birthplace, on Wednesday, were eloquent and better received than almost any American pronouncement in our recollection.
However, our experience of the visit defines two matters that we think could stand some improvement.
First, DAGR officially learned of the planned visit via the local press. While you are new to the Embassy here, the lack of liaison on upcoming VIP visits is, unfortunately, not new.
Second, DAGR was not invited to attend the remarks event until the 11th hour, and then, we received only one ticket. While we were getting word of this school’s or that business interest’s bulk invitations, our members were inquiring if we had tickets to pass out. These inquiries came from high-end contributors to both of Obama’s campaigns and from just-plain members who love and respect this President and many of whom had also given hundreds of hours to the 2008, 2012, and 2016 campaigns. We were forced up until late Monday night to tell them we had no tickets. On Tuesday morning, we could tell them, with some embarrassment, that we had one invitation and the Chair would be using it.
Had we had 10 or 20 invitations, as some organizations in Athens received, we would have been faced with finding an equitable way to distribute them. That would have been a welcome problem! As it was, we shared our frustration with members. We let them know that Democrats Abroad had been waiting by the phone along with Republicans Overseas and other organizations that represent Americans here in Greece. We used the experience to urge their help in growing our membership even more and becoming a voice that could not be ignored.
It is not in our ‘portfolio’ to investigate why this near-slight occurred, though the question has been raised by a number of members. We understand that as a political party committee, even the one that supported the Obama and Clinton campaigns, favoritism in regards a publicly funded trip is inappropriate and should not be expected. We also realize that there can be directives from Washington such as ‘fill the room with young faces,’ and that fulfilling all the considerations may mean some of us are disappointed. That said, the distribution of invitations occurred in such a way that our members, taxpayers who help fund the President’s travel, wondered why their inclusion was a low priority.
We would like to develop better cooperation with the Embassy and with the schedulers for upcoming visits by American officials. DAGR promoted the Embassy’s Vote Casting party in October, at some expense to our own get-out-the-vote time and efforts. But, it was a good model for future shared activity. We would also like to be a better conduit to the Embassy for issues of particular concern to American citizens living in Greece. We would like to be kept in the loop, to be cultivated, to be involved in future Embassy-sponsored activities, to work together as multipliers to help promote American values and interests in Greece.
We are prepared to discuss all of this with you, at your convenience, and to define ways in which we can further our relationship with the Embassy.
Undersigned members of the Democrats Abroad Greece Executive Committee, 2015-17:
Karen Lee, Chair
Steve Medeiros, Vice Chair
Charity Moschopoulos, Secretary
Alexandra Jelkes, Counsel
James Katsinis, At-Large Representative
Amalia Kalogridakis, At-Large Representative
Marion Kavallieros, Athens Chapter Chair
Christine Lewis, Athens Chapter Representative
John Lewis, Thessaloniki Chapter Representative
* The letter was sent to the Ambassador via his personal assistant and to Consul General Rosemary Maccray, in whose purview falls American Citizen Services. It was also cc’d to DA international Chair Katie Solon, who expressed concern that we had not consulted her in its preparation, as she had sent her own note supporting our cause, to the Ambassador on the night of Nov 14. She noted that the mention of member-donors and taxpayers might not have been of priority concern in invitation decisions and, therefore, not appropriate in the letter. We have replied, mea culpa, to the DA Chair. We also sent a note to CG, offering to discuss the letter. Ms Maccray replied that they appreciated our feedback.
Holy Anachronism, Batman!
When Article 2 was written into the US Constitution, eligible American voters lived far apart and news travelled slowly. The Founding Fathers, fearing voters might not know the men running for top national office, arranged for more knowledgeable insiders to help make the decision. As means of communication improved, the initial reason for the Electoral College lost justification, but other perks remained, and the institution lived on.
The 21st Century is a different animal. Communications are broad and almost instantaneous. Newspapers, television and ubiquitous social media sites spread information at the speed of electrons. Almost every voter is privy to the full biography and current merits (or deficiencies) of any given candidate. In recent decades, we have seen two races in which the candidate won a plurality in the popular vote, but failed to get enough Electoral College votes. Accordingly, the demand for ‘direct democracy’ in the national race has also grown.
There are at least three ways the Electoral College can be defanged or dismantled and the Presidential ticket elected by popular vote alone:
There has only been one, THE Constitutional Convention at which the current US Constitution was passed. To call another requires two-thirds (34 of 50) to send a request to Congress to call one. That possibility looms larger with additional Republican wins in statehouses in this year. Indeed, they’ve been studying the possibility formally since 2013. The problem with this way of striking down the Electoral College is that a Convention is not limited to the one issue that triggers it. Once convened, the lawmakers can literally re-write the Constitution, removing things they don’t like and adding a few we may not like. CNN lays out the details of what it all might mean, ending with a quote from Karla Jones, director for international affairs for ALEC: "The chances of a convention running away, so to speak, are minimal." You believe anything from ALEC, and we’ve got a bridge you might like to buy!
A less drastic approach might be another Amendment to the Constitution, that is, a modification to the Constitution, on one matter only. Apart from a Convention, an amendment has to be passed by two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate. It is then sent to the states for ratification. It must be ratified by three-quarters (now 38) of the states, either by their legislatures or by special ‘ratifying conventions.’
Retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, introduced legislation after the election which would scrap the Electoral College. Her bill calls for an amendment to the Constitution that would end the Electoral College system.
National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC)
The National Popular Vote interstate compact would not take effect until enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). Under the compact, the winner would be the candidate who received the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) on Election Day. When the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the national popular vote winner would receive all of the electoral votes of the enacting states. And that would be sufficient to allow the popular winner to also be the Electoral College victor. Until enough states sign on, those who support it would still operate under their current laws.
Of the three methods here, the most likely to succeed in the near term is the third, the NPVIC. Democrats at the state level will almost all support it. And backers point out that it may also attract Republicans who care about fairness. A constitutional amendment is the next best bet, but it takes longer in the best of times and will be harder to pass through a GOP-dominated Congress. A Convention is to be avoided, given the current conservative dominance in Congress and sentiment in some parts of the electorate. It would open a huge can of worms and could even give authoritarians the opportunity to limit freedom of speech, assembly and press, among other rights held in high regard.
1 - Voter Suppression
… especially on the weekend, allows working people to avoid long lines that prevent them from getting to work on time. Curtailing early voting, and in some states, local absentee mail-in voting, disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos, who may also be less well off, have limited transportation choices and be more likely to vote Democratic. After the Tea Party sweep in the 2010 midterms, early voting was cut back in several states, among them the key ‘battleground states’ of Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio.
… strikes names from the registered voter rolls. Names may be purged because they are the same as a convicted felon (in states that disenfranchise them). Or because they match the name of a voter in another jurisdiction. This 2014 Slate report revealed the GOP funded Operation Crosscheck, a computer program that compared first and last names but not middle names or suffixes. Targeted names were those associated with Democratic voters. The voter may not know until they arrive at the polling place and are forced to vote a provisional ballot.
… are great, when they work. They allow the voter to register his/her choices. Then, the registration problem can then be corrected after Election Day. Voters may bring the necessary documents (or IDs) to voting officials within a certain time. But if the problem is nt resolved, the vote is lost.
… is all the doom and gloom we hear in the media prior to the election. It’s important for citizens to know that vote suppression tactics are being used. But, while that should make voters more determined than ever to make sure their vote is honored, it can also discourage them from trying.
… is a variation on bad news. Beyond the idea that their voting effort may well be useless is the spectre of being confronted at the polls by thugs from the ‘other side.’ The prospect of being challenged or involved in a nearby scuffle can make the faint-of-heart afraid to go near the polling station. Thugs don’t have to show up. All they need is the news report that says they might.
2 - Conduct of the Election Process
Elections can be skewed at the polls in several ways. Most of them have been tried this year in various parts of the country, particularly those controlled by Republicans. While unforeseen problems can accidentally cause disruptions to the process, what we’re talking about here is meddling designed to impede certain voters.
In a suburban area, most people get around to conduct their business by car. So, a polling place would need to have easy access and ample parking. In an urban area, especially one with many low-income residents, the polling place should be within walking distance or accessible by public transport. In either case, if it’s hard for voters to reach the polling place, they’re less likely to vote.
Following the Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby v Holder, 2013), a number southern states reduced the number of polling places. By November 2016, the total eliminated had risen to 868, many in areas that promised a close presidential race. This particularly impacted voters of color.
Long waits in line
Fewer polling places, besides being less easy to reach, can also mean more voters at each and longer waits to vote. Remember Arizona in the March primary? There were five-hour waits in line in some precincts. The elderly and infirm can’t stand in line an hour or more. Neither can people who have to get to work or home to relieve a babysitter.
Few or badly distributed voting machines
Even if there are enough polling places, lack of equipment or staff inside can cause delays. In Franklin County, OH, in 2004, Clintonville voters waited up to three hours. Clintonville is a mixed-ethnic, working class, usually Democratic area near the Ohio State campus. Across town, in Upper Arlington, a high-income suburb that leans Republican, voters were in and out in ten minutes. This year, similar problems were reported in Maricopa County, AZ … home of the infamous, now-former Sheriff Joe “Pink Underwear” Arapaio.
If voters are given partial or wrong information, they may lose their franchise. Rightly or wrongly, they may be told their voting place has moved. They may be sent to another location, or given a provisional ballot that may or may not be counted. They may hear they need a photo ID, when none is required. Poll workers may give a provisional ballot but, by ignorance or design, not tell the voter essential information about documentation needed to verify their registration. Changes in state laws, even if overturned by the courts, may stick in voters’ minds, adding further confusion.
If your polling place is ‘abroad’
For voters abroad, the situation can be more confusing. Voters in the US, at least, live within one state and have to contend with its rules, only. Overseas, information handed out to voters often tries to generalize as much as possible to cover all states. However, deadlines and rules about obtaining and returning registration forms and ballots may differ widely.
And worse, consider the case for Democrats Abroad. The same online platform, votefromabroad.org (VFA) can be used to fill and print out an application for registration and request for ballot and also to join DA. It’s simple, really, just one more click on the screen.
But some voters still don’t realize that the two processes are separate. Joining DA doesn’t register one to vote. Registering with one’s home state to vote, even in a Democratic primary, doesn’t automatically ‘join’ the voter to DA. And non-members … don’t get the very informative emails and reminders from their country committees.
3 - Hacking the Vote
Convincing voters they needn’t bother or scaring them with threats of intimidation or making them wait in long lines or simply confusing them is all rather old hat. The modern way to steal an election is simply to hack the vote without anyone knowing. And that’s been with us since 2000, possibly in the planning a bit before that.
In Florida, there were butterfly ballots (where the vote lozenge didn’t line up with the candidate on the opposite page) and hanging chads (where the little hole-puncher thingy didn’t punch completely … and the optical marks reader thingy thought the cardboard was still covering the hole). You’ll forgive this technical explanation.
The upshot was that the country was convinced it needed to modernize. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was passed, and money was set aside to help state voting authorities enter the modern age of direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.
Like a smart phone, these DREs would be touch-screen and everyone could use them. They could be adjusted for people with physical impairments. They could be connected to local networks or the Internet and vote tallies could speed across the ether to Vote Central at the TV networks. There, highly skilled news presenters could open up the state map on touchscreen video walls and show us where this county or that was 83% reported. And much more.
Some states were already set up by the 2002 midterms, but it wasn’t until the 2004 general election that we saw the real power of the DRE. Florida seemed to have got its holes punched and life was good. Ohio got punched, too. And there, Kerry’s lead of 51-49 at about 11 pm suddenly became a Bush lead of 51-49. A few nerdy types had taken screen shots before and after the TV video walls uniformly showed Bush winning. The screen shots told a story but did not overturn the election.
The world gasped in disbelief. Americans were voting that dullard, neo-con warmonger in for a 2nd term?
The Greens and Libs in Ohio, as Jill Stein has just announced again this year, chipped in to demand and pay for a recount. The Democrats politely sat it out. The Republican Secretary of State of Ohio, Ken Blackwell, who was coincidentally the head of the state’s Re-Elect Bush committee, declared Bush the winner.
And, indeed, the recount supported his call. The DREs, unfortunately, had no paper trail, that is, nothing to re-count except the electronic tallies. And the digits agreed that Bush had won. A number of vote-integrity groups – Black Box Voting, Verified Voting, National Voting Rights Institute -- sprang up and began trying to prove something was amiss and how it worked.
It’s been 12 years now, and quite a lot has been learned. First of all, a well-purloined election doesn’t use just one big grab. It’s the sum of a little here, a little there that does the job. And as Zachary Quinto, at Verified Voting, points out, suspicion that the vote is hacked may be the biggest threat to democracy. It gives us the idea that voting is futile. Why bother?
But that’s not the whole story. Experts are on top of the potential threats, advising states ahead of time, checking the veracity of the results, and demanding re-counts where results indicate possible problems.
Here’s what they look for:
Anomalies only a nerd could love
Experts crunch the numbers. If, for instance, Trump wins big in counties using DREs but Clinton wins where they use paper ballots, it may suggest the machines are rigged. More innocently, it may mean a wealthy county that leans GOP has digital voting and a poorer area that leans Dem still uses mechanical machines. Either way, it indicates a need to investigate. Only five states are all-digital; in other states these DRE-paper disparities may show up.
Ageing DREs, calibration problems
Likewise, one or two machines in a polling station may record high for one candidate while the other 10 or so show the opponent winning. Many DREs were bought with HAVA funds and haven’t been replaced. They have to be calibrated so that a finger-touch here actually records the candidate the voter intends to choose. Older machines may be less reliable. So, calibration might be checked if results differ significantly from what’s expected in a given precinct, or from exit poll predictions.
Malware in the machines
Malware, that is a destructive computer algorithm, can be introduced into an individual machine that will then ‘flip’ all of its votes from one candidate to another. Smart malware won’t flip every vote, just a few every so often. Hardly noticeable. Machines that are not well-guarded can be opened and ‘loaded’ in just a few minutes. Some canny cyber-security professors and their students at Princeton have been finding the flaws since the late 1990’s. The problems go beyond the machines to the software that aggregates the totals, and even the OMRs that read those chad-punched paper ballots.
Networked to share
If you want a really fast tally for those TV video walls, you can connect all the DRE’s to a network that shoots the final count off to the state’s central election control. Of course, it’s a two-way street. If tallies can go out, viruses can also come in, and the malware in one machine can spread to all the machines in a network. A few states, such as Georgia, have heeded the warning and taken their machines off of networks.
Lack of paper trail
Under pressure from vote-integrity advocates, many jurisdictions have added voter-verified paper ‘audit’ trails to their machines. One simple way is a print-out, not unlike a cash register tape, locked securely within the DRE. Visible through a little glass window, the tape shows the current vote. The voter can check his/her vote has been recorded correctly before hitting the ‘finished voting’ button. The tape can be checked against the electronic tally if a recount is called.
Safeguards turned off
Modifying an existing machine can be costly. Some jurisdictions opted for other methods. Swing state Ohio, for instance, has an ‘audit camera’ above the machine. It records the screen the voter sees ... IF it’s turned on. This year, the Republican Secretary of State John Husted said it wasn’t necessary to use the cameras. A suit was brought. The Republican-appointed judge decided with Husted. Clinton lost by 454,000 votes, well over the ‘close’ election that in Ohio law triggers an automatic recount. In any case, without a paper trail or audit camera shots, a re-count is pointless. Investigative journalist Greg Palast had a lot to say about this and other potential problems before the election. Only a few in the media paid much attention. Coiffure and emails were juicier news.
Exit polls only accurate in 3rd world
Exit polls are used by election integrity teams around the world. They are considered the gold standard, highly accurate, in proving that an election has been conducted fairly. In the US, however, they’re called into question. David Pakman’s show has a lively talk about this.
And when they vary widely from the official outcomes, attempts are made to excuse the ‘error.’ A 2008 Forbes article, referencing the 2004 election, is a good example. Somehow, the random sample specified by a computer must have been weighted toward Kerry voters. So, the exit polls predicted a Kerry win. Was random sampling not random? Go figure.
Where does all this leave us? A recount is being filed in Wisconsin by Jill Stein, Green Party, whose website says a Pennsylvania recount has also been funded and they’re moving on the money needed for one in Michigan. The combined difference is just over 100,000 votes.
Recounts may show the popular vote is much closer or may even award one or more of these states to Clinton. In the first case, it would justify more Electors breaking their pledges for Trump. In the second case, the Electoral College makeup would change in favor of Clinton. She needs Pennsylvania and either of the other two.
The prospect of changing the election results is both heady and scary. In light of Clinton’s unprecedented 2-million popular vote lead, it seems only fair. With another just-awful name added to the Trump cabinet each day, it seems downright crucial. On the other hand, the potentially violent reaction of Trump’s extreme alt-right fans is unsettling, and a few urge letting well enough alone, aka ‘appeasement.’ We can click more petitions and send money to fund recounts, or not. It’s a matter, like voting, for each of us to weigh and decide.
Might the November 2016 election have been rigged? Apart from Trump’s avowal to challenge the results, relatively little attention was paid in the mainstream media before the election. On the Dem side, the reaction was, “Yeah, right, but not against you!” After all, the polls pointed to a likely Clinton win. Possibly a landslide!
November 9 brought its harsh truth. Clinton had lost. While some leaped to explain why voters had rejected her, others looked ahead to what a Trump presidency would mean. A few sought ways to prevent it.
The first ‘uprising’ took its outrage to the streets, for the most part peacefully and amid jeers from the Trump side of ‘It’s over! Get used to it!’
The next wave petitioned the Electoral College to do its job, i.e. choose the most suitable candidate as President when they meet on Dec 19. Three days after the election, over 3 million had signed. As of today, there are 4.6 million signatures and counting, with growing justification. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has surpassed 2 million, and votes are still being tallied in a few states. Clinton has 64,223,958 votes, compared to Trump’s 62,206,395 votes.
However, many of these votes are in populous, blue states whose Electors have already been pledged to Clinton. Still, the original two Electors who said they will not vote for Trump have been joined by four more. They need 37 to change the outcome, and those other 31 will be more inclined to break their pledge, paying a lousy $1000 fine for the pleasure, if they have just a little more justification.
This is where ‘integrity of the vote’ comes in. The opportunity to correct anomalies occupies a small window between final tallies and certification of the vote by each state. Some states, Wisconsin, for instance, have deadlines for challenging the vote.
Election integrity encompasses three distinct areas.
conduct of the election process
- integrity in recording and counting the vote
2016 was the first election in 50 years not fully covered by the Voting Rights Act. Parts of the VRA were struck down by the US Supreme Court, on arguments that election access was now a done-deal for minority votes in what had been ‘Jim Crow’ states. Said states, at least those under Republican governors and legislatures, set about reconstructing roadblocks for minority voters.
The Electoral College has graduated. Last month, it was that annoying extra step between the election and the inaugural. No one bothered to understand it.
Today, calls to discard it have revived in liberal circles, but not before we see if we can’t use it for the purpose it was put into the Constitution.
In the late 18th century, it was felt that “ordinary Americans across a vast continent would lack sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates.” [TIME Magazine] So, Article 2 of the Constitution, which sets out the Executive branch, left the final decision to a body of more knowledgeable men.
How it worked initially
The Electors in each state – the same number as its total of House and Senate seats – met to register their choice. The winners in each state then constituted a national field of vote getters. From among these, the candidate receiving the most votes became president and the second most, the vice president.
This method was similar to today’s winner-take-all situation (in 48 of 50 states). However, it meant that the president and vice president might be of different political persuasion.
The rise of political parties
In the early years of the Republic, there were no political parties, but this was changing rapidly at the turn of the 19th century. In 1803, the 12thAmendment was passed. Seeing the rise of parties, it allowed each one to designate a joint ticket of president and vice president.
Also, in those early years, the sense of ‘state sovereignty’ was much stronger than it is now, after two centuries of ‘one nation indivisible.’ Large and small states do not necessarily have different interests. However, interests do vary according to region – north vs south, coastal vs inland – and the types of production and economy location dictates. State laws develop to protect these interests.
States’ rights and slavery
While less discussed in civics classes, an alternative explanation for the Electoral College has to do with slavery. Northern states were more industrialized, with more citizens in more densely populated cities and towns. Southern states might have as many people, but over half a million were slaves, who could not vote.
In apportioning the number of Electors, they worked out a deal where slaves were counted as three fifths of a person. This gave more weight to slave states and acted as a buffer against abolitionist sentiments already growing in the North. In return, it the southern slave owners’ continued to support the Union.
After slavery was abolished, the College lived on. By this time, political forces in the various states had found other uses for the influence it generated and had little interest in having a direct popular vote for president and vice president.
The Electoral College Today
The details of who must certify what to whom make dry reading. In broad strokes, when we vote for President & Vice President, we are actually voting for the Electors pledged to that ticket of a particular party. Some states list the Electors by name on the ballot; others just show the candidates.
In Maine and Nebraska, the Electors are apportioned to the direct popular vote. In round numbers for ease of understanding, if a state had 10 Electors, and one ticket gets 60% of the vote, they would get six Electors. The second party ticket, say with 30% of the vote, would get three. And maybe a third party’s ticket gets 10% or one Elector.
The other 48 states are currently winner-take-all. Consider the difference. A largely inland, rural state with 20 Electoral votes, such as Pennsylvania, produces a 49-48% finish. All 20 Electors go to the winning ticket, Trump-Pence. A big coastal state with over twice the population – like California – gives all 55 of its Electors to Clinton-Kaine with a 61-33% landslide. But they don’t get any more Electors.
It’s impressive, but no matter how big the landslide in one state, if there are many small states favoring the opponent, the Electoral College may be pledged to elect the loser of the popular vote. [NY Times].
Faithless Electors? Moral Electors!
The thing many people didn’t realize till a certain petition started going around last week is that the Electors are not absolutely bound to vote as they are pledged. They can break the faith, although they will have to pay a fine for doing so. Their mandate, remember, is to choose the best person for the very weighty job of US President.
Already, two have said they intend to do that. According to Bi-Partisan Report (which, really, is a bit partisan) ‘Washington state elector Bret Chiafalo and Colorado elector Michael Baca have launched what they call “Moral Electors” in an attempt to persuade their colleagues to dump Trump along with them before he can officially take office. The lucky number of fellow Electors' support needed to block Trump from gaining the presidency is 37.’
The petition for this move is up on Change.org and has already garnered over 4.3 million signatures. That’s a record! It doesn’t mean they’ll get the necessary other 35 Electors. But it’s definitely in the ‘nothing ventured; nothing gained’ category.
It’s a gamble
At the very least, this many and more signatures send a strong message to the Trump administration that they may not want to run rough-shod over Obamacare, Social Security, hard-won LGBTQ and gender rights, labor and the environment.
If successful, this petition might hand the presidency back to Clinton come December. That would be unprecedented. And it might turn those snarky troll comments on the blog sites into nasty, even physical reactions from the currently gloating Trump supporters.
It is a decision not to be taken lightly. But it may also be seen as citizens using one of the many opportunities for correction and redress that are built into the US legal system.
Still, most of the ‘official’ responses to the 2016 outcome have called for cool heads, warm hearts, forgiveness and re-unification of the factions in US society. As noted in an earlier article, the rhetoric is pure Gandhi. This petition is his march to the sea.
– Karen Lee, DAGR Chair
For more details about Electoral College history -
“The Real Reason for the Electoral College Exists,” Akhil Reed Amar, TIME Magazine, Nov. 10, 2016. http://time.com/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/
Long, detailed info from Wikipedia
Grab a pencil (or calculator) and play around with the percentages -
2016 Election Results, interactive map, NY Times
State of play, moves to reverse the EC vote
Petition for Electoral College to vote for Hillary
Click for yourself if you’re of a mind. Share widely, too!
A post-election note from the DAGR Chair
It’s been five days since the Election. You haven’t heard much from your ExCom and you may be wondering if we’ve slunk away, tail between legs, embarrassed in defeat.
Okay, it did take a couple of days to recover from what we now think of as elect-lag. Staying up all night -- and dragging home if that all-nighter was at an outside event -- followed by another hour or so of BBC or CNN to catch the last bad news takes a toll. Floppy body, mush mind!
Then the need to reach out takes over, and the phone, email, web articles and Facebook frenzy kicks in. Share the grief! Perform the post mortem! Sign a petition!
Do what you will, it’s still surreal!
If you, like me, get your TV English news from BBC, you may be struck this weekend by the notion that Trump may not be such a bad choice after all. And it comes back to you that during the campaign, you noticed they hadn’t seemed sufficiently terrified of him. Now, THAT’s surreal!
Otherwise, reactions are mixed. Some of us just want to accept it and move on. Fair enough! It’s been an exhausting campaign. Others -- and I’m in this camp -- unload our angst by increasing activity and encouraging others to do the same.
There are a lot of options for action now. We’re trying as quickly as possible to get some ideas up on the DA website > Greece > News page. US and state laws provide many remedies, and they fall into a logical sequence.
track your own ballot and make sure it’s counted
monitor and make sure your state’s vote count is accurate
petition the Electoral College to elect the popular vote winner
draw stateside friends into the discussion in social media and emails
organize our DAGR country plan and timeline for 2017
help decide if we should go to an inaugural party or hold an anti-inaugural
bone up on the issues a Trump presidency is likely to attack
read about voter suppression in ‘red’ states once VRA was curtailed
advocate for the National Popular Vote Compact in your home state
That may seem like a lot of work, and some like No. 3 have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. But each action has its own optimal time and unique rewards.
Know that by participating in any or all of these actions, we’ll deepen our knowledge of our system. That means we’ll be better prepared to hold the line on crucial programs (e.g. Social Security) and fight off future assaults on voter enfranchisement.
Of major importance, especially by social media, we can reach out and support those energetic, young, first-time voters who got slapped down. We can encourage them and offer something constructive to do when the weather goes cold and street protests peter out.
ExCom will be meeting soon to assess our performance past and our road ahead. We’ll also put up a survey to learn what you’d like to do as a member of DAGR and what you think the Party as a whole should do.
For now, our approach is the one Elizabeth Warren, among others, shared this week.
Karen Lee, Chair