Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Final Thoughts on Give Us the Ballot

There were several parts of Ari Berman's Give Us the Ballot that I couldn't fit into my main post. So here are the stragglers.

First, a semi-local angle. After Bloody Sunday in Selma, March 1965, “Wisconsinites walked fifty-four miles from Beloit to Madison, the same distance as Selma to Montgomery” (page 22).

As I read the book, I tried to understand the thinking of people like Abigail Thernstrom, John Roberts, Edward Blum, and others who have opposed the Voting Rights Act over the past few decades.

They say it’s not just naked political power grabbing for the Republican Party (though it may be). No, they say they’re trying to achieve a color-blind society. And the only way to stop discriminating on the basis of race, as Roberts wrote in a 2007 Supreme Court decision, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. They think the VRA was like a curfew imposed after a riot — just a short-term policy that should end as soon as possible.

This idea of color-blindness, while fine as a final goal, avoids the reality of where we started and where we still are. The real goal is equity, which would be color-blind, but as an effect rather than a cause. It makes me think of this cartoon that illustrates the difference between equality and equity, which has circulated on social media:

That they can't see this makes me think they're suffering from a bit of motivated reasoning that happens to serve the interests of the Republican party.

William Bradford Reynolds, Reagan's chief of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, had this to say about Supreme Court Justice William Brennan: his "radical egalitarianism [is] perhaps the major threat to individual liberty" in the U.S. (page 174). What does that even mean?

There were several spots in the book where I was reminded of the current insistence (by people like Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich) that facts don't matter, that it's more important to consider people's "feelings" on topics like the crime rate or how well the economy is doing. The argument for voter ID often rests on feelings as well. Proponents want to "restore confidence" in the election process, even though they are the ones who have undermined confidence in the first place. That phrase comes up several times in the book (during testimony in Texas, page 259, and again in North Carolina, page 290):

"We call this restoring confidence in government," said the North Carolina speaker of the house, Thom Tillis, an ALEC legislator of the year in 2011. "There is some evidence of voter fraud, but that's not the primary reason for doing this. There are a lot of people who are just concerned with the potential risk of fraud" (emphasis added).
The unquantifiable feelings of white Republicans are what matters, rather than the quantifiably tiny amount of in-person voter fraud (two out of 20 million votes cast in six North Carolina elections, for instance), or the much larger, quantifiable effect on many people who won't be able to vote under the voter ID laws that have been passed.

Republicans actually used words like "tainted" and "abused" to describe early voting. They say that it gives "one group an advantage over another" (page 296). Their only evidence for that advantage is that more Democrats voters use it than Republicans, and more blacks than whites. The lack of logic is astounding.

These facts from Texas reinforce my discomfort with that state:
Texas gained 4.3 million new residents from 2000 to 2010, and 90 percent of that growth game from minority residents. Because of the population increase, the state gained four congressional seats following the 2010 census. Yet under the redistricting maps drawn by Texas Republicans in 2011, the number of majority-minority districts actually declined, from 11 to 10. Three of the four new seats went instead to white Republicans. The League of Women Voters called the plan "the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the restricting proposals by lawmakers so far this year" (pages 265-266).

Give Us the Ballot got me to thinking about my ideal election law (to go with my ideal society, still in progress). Here's what I've got so far:

My ideal election law
  • Standardize election methods across the country. 
  • Make voter registration easy: at the DMV, online, and as preregistration at school a year or two before voting age. Or, better yet, make it automatic. (That's if we can't somehow move to mandatory voting.)
  • Allow felons to vote as soon as they are released from prison, even if they're still on probation or parole (or, ideally, allow them to vote while incarcerated, as is done in Maine and Vermont).
  • Count incarcerated people at their last address, rather than their prison address, for apportionment.
  • Allow same-day registration when voting (whether on election day or at early voting).
  • Allow early in-person voting for several weeks, including Sundays.
  • Accept ballots cast out of precinct if the voter has waited at an incorrect precinct.
  • Standardize the number of registered voters per precinct so that wait times are as close to equal as possible.
  • Balance the number of staff at the polls across all precincts, maintaining bipartisan representation among the staff.
  • Increase the security of mail-in ballots so they cannot be as easily manipulated as they are now.
  • Require all balloting systems to include a paper trail (nothing all-electronic).
  • Don’t move polling places without good reason between elections. Only change if the location is no longer available, or found to be not accessible.
I would also be in favor of ranked choice voting. For the presidential election, I would decrease the length of the process to under a year. Even January is too early to start, but I could live with that.

And all of these ideas don't even mention campaign finance reform. I would ban private money in elections (whether from the candidates' own funds directly or third parties) and move to completely public financing.

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