Tag Archives: voting

Do we value democracy?

A recent Guardian article got me thinking about how much people value democracy and what we expect out of it. The article, “Burst your bubble: five conservative articles for liberals to read as protests stymie Trump”, quoted a neoreactionary thinker who may have influenced Steve Bannon’s thinking. The quote, from “How I stopped believing in democracy,” is:

And, if our goal is really just the faithful execution of a trust, why assume that electoral suffrage of any sort is the most effective way to constitute it? . . . How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections? And which trust would you guess is more effectively exercised?

Yes, folks, in addition to the voter suppression we saw in the last election, there is a serious effort underway to eliminate voting altogether. The current president, cabinet, and Congress do, collectively, have the ability to seriously erode suffrage.

There is one and only barrier standing in their way: public opinion.

If we have a populace ready to take to the streets in support of universal suffrage–to copy the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement — then our right to vote cannot be taken away no matter what the federal government tries to do. This is the lesson history gives us.

Unfortunately, we don’t. The twenty-first century has seen a significant crisis of faith not only in our political leaders but also in the American people, according to a recent Gallup poll.

gallup-poll-faith-in-voting

From Gallup article “American’s Trust in Political Leaders, Public at New Lows,” September 21, 2016.

A study by the Pew Research center from November 2016 is even less optimistic, with only 34% of the public trusting the collective political wisdom of the American people.

Well, it’s easier to take away universal suffrage from people who don’t believe in it, and that’s why it’s under attack now.

What is to be done? I have three outrageous proposals. Think ’em over.

1. Push for universal suffrage

Our laws exclude plenty of people from voting: undocumented immigrants, felons, ex-convicts, people with the same names as felons and ex-convicts, people who live in areas with limited polling stations, and people who physically can’t leave their house to vote. Is that reasonable? If not, what can be done to change it?

You might be thinking I’m going too far. But consider. Aren’t ex-convicts supposed to have “paid their debt” to society? And don’t undocumented immigrants pay local taxes such as sales tax? And wasn’t the rallying cry of the American Revolution “No taxation without representation“?

Right now, when our system is broken, is the time to question everything.

2. Use democracy everywhere

By this I mean family meetings, book groups, PTA meetings. Be a democracy nerd. Anytime you’re in a group and an unofficial leader says, “Well, it looks like we have consensus. . .” just pipe up and say, “Why don’t we vote on this?” The main objection I see raised is “Oh, we don’t need all that fancy structure” and “It will take too much time.”

Actually, democracy, even in small groups, takes very little time and is efficient. A person starts off by saying, “I move that. . . .” This clarifies the proposal in everybody’s heads. Someone else says, “I second that.” If nobody seconds it, then obviously nobody else thinks it’s a good idea, and it will obviously fail a vote, so the group can drop it and move on.  Then somebody says, “All in favor . . . all against . . . all abstaining.” Count the results, and presto! You know what the group wants to do.

Actually it’s not quite like that. There’s room for discussion after the second and before the vote. That can take time, but chances are it will be quicker than its alternative. And if the discussion drags on past the point of usefulness, somebody can always say, “Call the question!” That means “Shut up and vote already!”

(Geeky interlude here. Technically, if you’re following the official Roberts Rules of Order, you have to vote on whether or not to call the question. In practice, I’ve found this makes people very confused, especially the ones that were still talking. Are we voting on whether to vote, or are we voting on the motion? Then the facilitator explains, but the people who just started talking after the question was asked are confused all over again. A trained facilitator will know when the room is ready to call for a vote, or another method can be used, like a thumbs-up/thumbs-down “temperature check.”)

3. Use democracy in the private sector

This is the most outrageous proposal at all. It brings us full circle to the quote from “How I stopped believing in democracy.” The author asked, “How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections?”

Well, why don’t workers have the right to vote at Google, or any other company?

If you’re looking at this question squinty-eyed and thinking “What in the heck is she on about?” then this is the time to notice that you’ve internalized a belief that the private sector–even nonprofits–should not be held accountable to the public interest. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true, but most people have not even thought about it.

The thing is, when we work eight or more hours a day and every meeting we attend has a boss managing the discussion and making all the decisions, we come to expect that even in meetings we hold outside of work. (This goes back to my outrageous proposal #2.) We expect to be powerless everywhere. But what if it was the other way around? What if the public was powerful everywhere instead?

 

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Democracy. Use it or lose it. Our choice.

voting-is-people-power

– Kristin

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Election fraud

There’s a debate within the U.S. about whether or not “voter fraud” happened. Did millions of people vote illegally, or is that just another lie? This is the wrong question to ask. It’s taking a big-picture problem and framing one small issue, in order to divide and mislead voters.

It also hides the fact that voters broadly agree on one thing: we want fair elections. The president is calling for a massive investigation of elections but such an investigation will likely exclude:

  • voter suppression — denying eligible citizens the right to vote
  • gerrymandering — dividing up districts in ways favorable to incumbents, and
  • election machines that can be hacked

There’s a lot at stake here. People are pinning their hopes on the 2018 midterm elections, but if we don’t keep a close eye on these three issues, those midterm elections won’t be free or fair. In fact, at the same time as Tromp is stealing center stage on the news, a House committee voted to eliminate the independent election commission because it is “fluff.” (Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian about it.)

So what do we do?

Step one: Pay close attention to language used by the media. If our news sources are talking about “voter fraud,” call them on it. Use a different term, like “election fraud” — one that won’t narrow the issue.

Step two: Get informed and talk to our friends and neighbors. And by the way, if we’re sharing news, let’s look for the most neutral sources possible. A conservative neighbor is no more likely to believe The Nation, for example, than I am to believe Breitbart.

Step three: pick our news sources deliberately rather than waiting to see what new and sensational terror comes through our social media. We should control our viewing of news, not the other way around.

Further Reading

Here are a few quick sources for further reading about ways elections can be compromised:

A Bloomburg Businessweek article on voter suppression, published before the election. These are the words of a senior official in the Tromp campaign:

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

A New York Times article that discusses the background of partisan gerrymandering:

A panel of three federal judges said on Monday that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts to favor Republicans was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the first such ruling in three decades of pitched legal battles over the issue.

Federal courts have struck down gerrymanders on racial grounds, but not on grounds that they unfairly give advantage to a political party — the more common form of gerrymandering. The case could now go directly to the Supreme Court, where its fate may rest with a single justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, who has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it.

That particular case focused on gerrymandering that unfairly favored Republicans, but the article asks us to rethink whether it’s a good idea to let incumbents of either party should have control of redistricting.

CBS article on whether election machines can be hacked:

Roughly 70 percent of states in the U.S. use some form of electronic voting. Hackers told CBS News that problems with electronic voting machines have been around for years. The machines and the software are old and antiquated. But now with millions heading to the polls in three months, security experts are sounding the alarm, reports CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.

As a counterpoint, the federal Election Assistance Commission says it certifies voting systems:

The Election Assistance Commission told CBS News that it ensures all voting systems are vigorously tested against security standards and that systems certified by the EAC are not connected to the Internet.

But guess what? That’s the exact same Election Assistance Commission the House Republicans committee just voted to eliminate.

No voter, from either side of the aisle, should support that!

cats voting

 

– Kristin

On voting or not voting

Today’s the ballot deadline for primaries in Seattle. I’m voting.

Every time ballots come due, somebody starts arguing about whether or not people should vote. Somebody says, “If you don’t vote, you’ve lost your moral right to complain.” That’s unfair. People who don’t vote aren’t lacking in morality — they have a different morality. They think it’s pointless because the choices presented to them are all bad. Or because voting is rigged (and, in some places, it is.) Then on the other hand, somebody says, “If voting accomplished anything, it would be illegal.” To that I would say, “Yes, and sometimes it is.”

My personal view is that the power of the vote increases as voting gets more and more local. For instance, voting for the president of the U.S. has little effect unless you’re in a swing state. And the choices are usually between bad and worse. A vote on a community council has a lot of power.

And city races, like today’s? Those have consequences. I’ve followed the school board races for the past three years, and the candidates are often for or against privatization, which I oppose. In today’s race, one of the candidates, Jill Geary, has been fighting hard for the rights of special education families. I voted for her before anybody else. And I voted for John Persak for city council because I know he’s competent, fights for the working class, gets his funding from people instead of corporations, and understands the issues I care about.

(I wish I’d been more out in front of this and told everybody I knew who I was voting for or why. I’ve been distracted. I also wish I hadn’t waited until the morning of election day to search online to research the rest of the races. )

The power of voting extends beyond the choice of candidate. Voters can put pressure on elected officials. If you can show that you are part of a large voting bloc, the pressure is even greater. (Unfortunately, that’s easy for the wealthy to exploit.)

So I’m not in the “lose your moral right” camp and I’m not in the “if voting had power” camp. And there’s one big thing both camps miss out on.

Voting is a practice that should be in our everyday lives. All of our decision-making bodies should use it. But most don’t, or they use it in ways that slant the vote. Ever been presented with a slate of candidates, rather than voting for each one individually? Ever been in a group when somebody says, “Well, it looks like we have consensus on this . . .”?

I could write pages and pages of experiences I’ve had. Right now, and this is by no means my only example, I’m thinking about the experience I had when I went to the state PTA legislative assembly and was told by the entire state leadership that I couldn’t distribute a half-page information sheet, despite the lack of explicit rules against it, and despite the fact that the state PTA had provided information about only one side of the issue. That was funky.

Anyway, it seems to me that people in the U.S., whether they vote for political office or not, have gotten out of the habit of democracy. And that’s what we need to fix.

Vote.

cats voting