Our Best Weapon
We can recreate the American Dream and bring the world peace. It won’t happen while corporations and the superrich control our political process, however.
Even a new president dedicated to cleaning up government corruption won’t be able to change things without a cooperative Congress.
Unfortunately, Americans vote less than almost any other country. We rank 120th worldwide in average voter turnout. During presidential elections, around 60% of Americans vote. In Sweden, 83% voted in their last national election.
In our 2014 midterm elections, however, only a little over 1/3 of our citizens voted. A full 1/4th of our population, 50 million Americans, aren’t even registered to vote.
Wealthy and college-educated Americans vote at much higher rates than lower income and less educated Americans.
In 2014, 56% of Americans who earned $150,000 or more voted, 48% of those who earned more than $50,000 voted, and only 31% of those who earned less than $20,000 voted.
In 2014, 62% of those with advanced degrees voted, 53% of those with bachelor’s degrees did, and just 34% of voters with high school degrees did.
Of course, with so much obvious, rampant corruption in Congress, it’s no surprise that many people feel hopeless and apathetic about voting.
But the Koch brothers and their superrich friends thrive in this low-participation voting environment. In fact, these superrich people are afraid of a true democracy and have spent millions of dollars and fought long and hard to restrict our voting rights.
That’s why the superrich ally organization of Republicans ALEC opposes public financing of elections and drafted a model voter ID law that most often disenfranchises disabled, low-income, elderly, African American, and student voters.
First the Koch brothers and their allies focused on increasing Republican-dominated state legislatures. In the 2010 midterm elections, when voting is normally very low, they succeeded in flipping control of 11 state legislatures.
Next, Republicans, backed by money from the Koch brothers network, pretended voter fraud was rampant. Using this excuse, they changed voting laws all across the country.
They eliminated state laws allowing people to vote early, to register for voting at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or at other government offices, to register and vote on the same day, to vote by mail, or to have their vote counted if they voted outside their home precinct.
Many of the working poor have a hard time getting off work to vote while the polls are open. Early voting, especially during the evening and weekends, makes it easier for them to get to the polls. Many black churches use early voting to run “souls to the polls” voting drives.
Same-day registration and voting also helps poor and working class people vote because they move more often than do richer people and so otherwise would need to continually update their addresses in order to vote.
Voter ID laws seem sensible but actually make it harder for poor people to vote, because most government-based IDs cost money. Even if they don’t, they still require documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, which can cost quite a bit of time and money to acquire.
Voter IDs present additional hurdles for homeless people, including homeless veterans, for elderly people who may be unable to access their birth certificates, those who live in rural counties where DMV offices often have limited hours, and students with technical college IDs, who typically come from lower income households.
Studies suggest as many as 13.6% of adults in America lack government photo ID cards, with far greater percentages of minorities lacking them.
Now 41 states have introduced over 180 bills trying to restrict voting rights or make voting more difficult. In the 2016 election, 21 states will have new voter restriction laws in place that didn’t exist in 2010, making it harder for the elderly, rural voters, blacks, and other minorities to vote.
Most of the voters affected by these laws are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican—and this is actually the reason for these laws!
The first state to enact these laws was Texas. Twice, the federal government struck down strict voter ID laws in Texas under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In doing so, the federal judge studied an extensive record of facts and found the Texas legislature passed the law in order to suppress black and Hispanic votes.
But Texas took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ignored the detailed findings of discrimination and allowed the strict voter ID law, effectively crippling the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Justice Ginsburg disagreed, arguing discrimination in Texas is still very much alive and real.
Within hours of this Supreme Court decision, Texas reenacted the law. Immediately after the decision, 14 states, all but one governed by Republicans, including 8 southern states, enacted strict voter ID laws.
Expert argue laws restricting voting are discriminatory and voter ID requirements are discriminatory poll taxes, a violation of the 24th Amendment. Experts agree research shows voter fraud is extremely rare, in fact, practically nonexistant.
The new photo voter ID law in Texas allowed gun permits as IDs, held predominantly by whites, but forbad University of Texas IDs, other state school IDs, and state or federal government employee IDs. Many people hired lawyers to help them get the required paperwork, while many more just gave up.
With the new law, over 600,000 registered voters in Texas don’t have the proper government-issued ID to vote in 2016, with blacks and Hispanics 2 to 3 times as likely as whites not to have it.
Fortunately, in late July, 2016, a federal court ruled the law discriminatory and sent the case back to a lower court to make it less of a burden before the November election.
Texas finally agreed to let registered voters who don’t have the required IDs vote by sign an affidavit and showing a birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, a paycheck, or a government document.
In North Carolina, Republicans passed a law removing voting sites off college campuses, eliminating the use of student IDs for voting, even those issued by state schools, eliminating the use of government employee IDs and public assistance IDs for voting, and shortening the early voting period by a week.
They also eliminated Election Day registration, pre-registration before one’s 18th birthday, the out-of-precinct voting that allowed workers to vote where they worked long shifts, and counties’ ability to extend voters hours if the lines were unusually long.
First, Republicans asked the election board for statistics on how many blacks, whites, and Hispanics voted early, on election day, outside their precinct, with a student ID, or without a driver’s license.
Then they passed the law, knowing between 318,000 and 612,955 registered voters lacked the narrow forms of ID required by the law, knowing 56% of North Carolinians voted early in the last election, and knowing the ID, early voting, and out of precinct rules would affect black people far more than white.
North Carolina allowed passports, DMV IDs, and expired IDs for those over 70 years old, all forms of identification held more often by whites than by blacks.
Of course, cutting the early voting period by a week eliminated one of the two Sundays when black churches ran very successful “souls to the polls” voting drives.
In the same law, the North Carolina Republicans repealed high school voter registration drives. They also made it more difficult to add voting sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities.
Experts believe North Carolina’s new voter law eliminated about 5% of the registered voters there, primarily African Americans.
One 94-year-old woman had to make 10 trips to the North Carolina DMV, drive more than 200 miles, and spend more than 20 hours to get the required ID because the name on her driver’s license didn’t exactly match the one on her voter registration.
Starting in 2000, North Carolina had made voting easier and saw voter participation increase dramatically, especially among African Americans, bringing their rate of voting up to that of whites.
A federal appeals court found the North Carolina Republicans deliberately cut all the reforms that had helped black people vote, using their voter data to target and prevent African American votes “with almost surgical precision.”
So the court overturned parts of North Carolina’s new voter ID law and forced each of the 100 local election boards to create new rules.
Unfortunately, Republicans control all the local election boards and many boards eliminated Sunday voting, voting sites on college campuses, and drastically cut early voting anyway.
In the county with the capital Raleigh, they cut early voting to a single location with limited parking. One mostly rural North Carolina county drastically cut down early voting and eliminated both Sunday and evening voting.
This same county also cut the polling sites from 4 to only 1 for over 403 square miles, eliminating many poor voters with no cars. Of course, this county is mostly Democratic and 40% black.
Wisconsin passed a voter ID law accepting only student IDs from 4-year colleges and universities with both signatures and 2-year expiration dates, but not from any technical colleges, which have several hundred thousand students.
Of course, students from technical colleges are much more likely to be poor or racial minorities than those in the 4-year colleges. The strict rules eliminated IDs from 10 of the University of Wisconsin’s 13 schools and 16 of the state’s 23 private colleges.
This would have prevented 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin, about 9% of all voters, from voting this year. Republicans in Wisconsin also eliminated early voting hours on nights and weekends, nearly all voter-registration drives, and faxing or emailing absentee ballots to most citizens.
Wisconsin Repubicans drastically cut the location and times urban people, many of them blacks in Milwaukee, could vote by absentee ballot in person. They also prohibiting towns and counties from spending money on or issuing photo IDs and lengthened the wait before new state residents could vote.
These new laws stopped a 90-year-old veteran of Iwo Jima from voting with his veterans ID and a man who lost his birth certificate in a fire from voting.
One disabled homeless veteran in Wisconsin trying to vote had to beg for money to get his birth certificate and bus fare. When he couldn’t get the bus fare, he had to walk long distances to get to the DMV and Social Security offices. It took him two years to get the things he needed to vote.
Another disabled Wisconsin resident was forced to choose between interrupting his Social Security disability check and voting when he finally got his Mississippi birth certificate but it had a slightly different spelling of his name. The DMV insisted he had to get a new Social Security card with the birth name or change his name in court.
A Wisconsin woman found if she wanted to vote, it would cost her $200 to correct her misspelled maiden name on her birth certificate.
In Wisconsin, 49 of the 92 DMV offices operate only 2 days a week, one is only open a few days a year, only 2 are open at 5pm, and only 3 are open on weekends. In many places, you may not be able to vote if you can’t drive across Wisconsin on a weekday to get the right ID.
Fortunately, federal judges struck down parts of the law, saying the Republican legislators were trying to suppress the African-American vote in heavily Democratic cities like Milwaukee.
This decision threw out the longer residency requirements for new voters, restored some early voting, made DMV offices mail free state photo IDs to those who start the process in person at a DMV, and again allowed distributing absentee ballots by fax or email in Wisconsin.
Alabama closed 31 of its DMV offices, with closings in 8 of the 10 counties with the highest proportion of minority voters. Offices closed in every county where black residents composed over ¾ of the registered voters.
Of course, this made it much harder for these citizens to obtain the IDs required to vote. In fact, at least 500,000 Alabamans, 20% of registered voters, lack the newly required forms of ID.
In Kansas, where the new Republican governor won by a slim margin, new voter ID laws have invalidated 2/3 of all new voter registration applications.
When South Carolina proposed its new restrictive voter ID law, one supporter emailed saying paying African Americans for the voter ID would be like “a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.” The Republican author of the law said, “Amen. Thank you for your support of voter ID.”
With South Carolina’s new voter ID law, 7% of registered voters, including 63,000 minority voters, don’t have the proper ID to vote in 2016.
The fight over the right to vote is far from over. The strict voter ID laws in Texas, North Carolina, or other states may well end up in the Supreme Court next year.
Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, one of the most racially diverse cities in Arizona, cut the number of polling places from 200 sites to only 60. Because of this, in the March 2016 presidential primary, tens of thousands of people in Phoenix were unable to vote and voters waited in lines at many sites for over 5 hours.
Some elderly people waited over 4 and ½ hours, couldn’t hold up any longer, and had to give up and leave. Some sites ran out of ballots. Other people in line complained they never got their ballots in the mail.
This wasn’t a record, however. After the Republican governor of Florida drastically reduced voting places and times, tens of thousands of people in heavily Latino South Florida had to wait up to 9 hours to vote in 2012.
People in various states have had to wait 6, 8, or 10 hours to vote. A study of 3 states with long voting lines in 2012 found voter districts with more minority voters tended to have fewer resources and longer lines.
For example, 27% of registered voters in South Carolina are black, but the 10 precincts with the longest wait times there in 2012 were 64% black. Black voters should never have to wait hours in the rain while white voters zip through at nearby voting sites.
A recent study at the University of California at San Diego comparing states found strict voter ID laws reduce the African American, Latino, and Asian American votes in elections, reducing the turnout of Democrats by an estimated 8.8%, while boosting strong conservative votes by 4.8%.
In 2012, election officials in Maricopa County, Arizona printed voter registration cards and bookmarks with correct information about the date of Election Day on their English versions and false information about the date (two days late) on their Spanish versions.
In New Mexico in 2012, a video caught Republicans training poll watchers to provide voters with incorrect information, including a requirement to show photo IDs and a prohibition on interpreters in the voting booth.
In New York’s April 2016 primary, over 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been removed from the voter rolls, including whole buildings and blocks. Also, some polling staff couldn’t operate their voting machines and some gave out incorrect information about alternate voting sites.
Another trick is sending mail to homes to uncover undeliverable addresses in order to eliminate voters. Of course, because poor people move more often, this tactic unfairly targets them.
Republicans first did this in 1981, when they got 45,000 letters returned as undeliverable and challenged all those people’s eligibility to vote.
In 2010 in Georgia, Republican lawmakers worried that a possible ballot proposition on gambling would result in more black people voting and they called these people “aborigines.”
Another problem is our laws taking away the right of felons to vote, even nonviolent ones and even after they’ve served their time. More than 5 million Americans can’t vote because of these laws, including 1 in 13 blacks.
One very important reason for the big push by the Koch brothers and their allies to dominate state governments in 2010 was to redraw the congressional districts after the census (which occurs every decade) to favor Republicans.
No other advanced democratic country allows politicians to draw their own congressional districts. Here, however, both parties redraw (gerrymander) our districts to win electoral advantage.
The basic process involves putting most of the opponant party voters in one “loss” district and splitting up all the other opponant voters into “safe” districts reliably dominated by your own party voters.
Very often over the decades, because of our Voting Rights Act, our federal government has had to block states from illegal gerrymandering that split up large black areas into smaller black districts and pushed them into districts that would be overwhelmed by white voters.
In fact, Texas has never presented a new map of congressional districts that federal authorities did not reject at least once for discriminating against minorities.
After dominating state governments with massive funding of Republicans, the Koch brothers and their allies poured so much money and energy into racially-motivated gerrymandering that most experts now consider the House of Representatives to be safely Republican in the 2016 election.
Experts rate only 33 out of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives as truly competitive. They also say 55% of our congressional districts were drawn to favor Republicans and only 10% were drawn to favor Democrats.
Republicans used sophisticated computer programs profiling voters on each block and street to carefully stretch district lines around very tiny, specific neighborhoods, creating zones that reliably elect business-friendly Republicans.
In some cases, the resulting districts look like long, skinny, curling snakes with ragged edges, stretching from one city to another a hundred miles away.
Because of all this gerrymandering, Democrats won 51% of the vote in North Carolina in 2012, but got only 4 of the 13 congressional seats there. Democrats won 44% of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2014, yet only got 5 of 18 seats in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives, based on the number of voters, is supposed to be the “people’s house.” In 2012, Democratic House candidates won over 50% of the votes, 1.37 million more votes than Republicans.
Even so, because of gerrymandering, Democrats received only 201 seats in the House of Representatives, while Republicans got 234 seats there.
Republicans now have 247 seats in the House, the most they’ve had since 1931. This wasn’t the will of the people—it was gerrymandered! We desperately need nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 state, like California uses.
Another huge problem is our Electoral College system, established when our Founding Fathers didn’t trust the illiterate public and only allowed white males who owned land to vote.
Because of the Electoral College, presidential candidates can win the most votes yet still lose the election! This has already happened four times.
The Electoral College means most of the votes for president don’t really count. Many states are reliably Democratic or Republican and 48 of our 50 states use a winner take all approach.
In these states, opposition voters literally have no say in the election at all. Of course, presidential candidates rarely visit or invest much money in these states.
The Electoral College makes only swing states important, so presidential candidates spend all their money trying to influence these voters. In 2012, presidential candidates ignored 80% of the states and 93% of all their campaign spending on TV ads went to just 9 states.
This pours up to $3 billion into television and radio companies each presidential election but is terrible for our democracy! With the Electoral College system and the tight races in many swing states, a crowd that wouldn’t even fill the Rose Bowl could actually choose our president!
The Electoral College is a huge reason why Americans feel hopeless and apathetic about voting. Why bother voting if you live in a state that reliably votes for the president you oppose? Your vote doesn’t count!
A majority of Americans support ending the antique and foolish Electoral College and just counting the popular vote to choose our presidents. This would be a giant step toward a true democracy.
We think of our country as the most democratic nation in the world. Actually, the US has more restrictions on voting rights than any other democratic nation.
A study by Harvard University and Australia’s University of Sydney gathered assessments from over 2,000 voting experts worldwide to evaluate elections in 139 countries. Contrary to popular expectations, it found the US had the worst elections among all Western democracies.
The US is one of the few countries in the world that require citizens to register to vote by themselves. We should pass the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016. It could add 50 million people to our voter rolls.
Most governments automatically register their citizens to vote or aggressively seek out, register, and update the voter rolls themselves, so it is much easier for their citizens to vote. Five US states already do this now.
Of all registered nonvoters, 35% say they didn’t vote because they were too busy with work or school conflicts. We need to make it easier for average hard-working Americans to vote.
Making election day a paid national holiday would help. We could call it Democracy Day. Even so, many people have to work on holidays. Allowing plenty of time for early voting would help these people vote.
Voting by mail, like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington do, is a great alternative. In Oregon, ballots arrive two weeks before election day, with brief biographies for each candidate and explanations of other proposals on the ballot, with the estimated cost of each.
People in Oregon can mail their votes in or drop them off in boxes in every city. This system saves money and works great. Oregon has one of the highest voter participation rates in the country.
The 2014 report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended online voter registration, voting by mail, and expanded early voting.
Later in this book, we’ll examine a variety of simple, far more effective and fair voting systems endorsed by political science experts worldwide.
Republicans have no interest at all in campaign finance reforms or reforming political corruption. Even many Democrats don’t want to give up the money streaming in.
No president can end our political corruption while dealing with “scorched earth” Republicans in Congress committed to obstructing everything Democrats propose. These people prefer gridlock to doing their jobs.
We desperately need to vote in ONLY politicians who support strong reforms of campaign finance, lobbying, and the revolving door of corporate executives in government regulatory agencies.
Nowadays, this clearly means voting Democratic straight up and down the ballot, but even that won’t be near enough. Far too many of our Democratic Congressmen are Wall Street Democrats.
We should ask every candidate up for election about their position on campaign finance, lobby, and revolving door reform.
Don’t vote for anybody who refuses to endorse public financing for elections and strong lobbying and revolving door reforms. We need to throw ALL the corrupt bums out!
The basic question is what kind of country do we want? Do we want a dog-eat-dog country where winners take all, the vast majority struggle, and people must fend for themselves, full of anger, greed, mental illness, and violence?
Or do we want a country where all people get the basic childhood, health, and educational foundations for success, with far more trust, kindness, peace, harmony, and prosperity?
The basic choice is between our unrestrained free market economy, which you could call ruthless, winner-take-all capitalism, and a more loving (more Christian) form of capitalism, like that practiced in many European nations.
Nations like Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and Norway are not only the happiest in the world by far, but they have much better public services, education, employment rates, more economic justice, and less corruption in government.
If we want a kinder, happier, more prosperous America and the American Dream, we must start by cleaning up the corruption in our politics. Otherwise, we can’t make the changes that most Americans already want.
It is not too late! All we have to do is mobilize our friends and neighbors to vote money out of politics. Next, we can work toward peace, justice, and prosperity for Americans and worldwide.