Yves here. One can add some points to Olenick’s post.
The first, and this should be the subject of a much longer post, is that gerrymandering is more of a two-party affair than the Democrats would have you believe. One of my colleagues, in graduate school in the late 1980s, had as one of his classmates a former staff member of La Raza, which in 2017 was rebranded as UnidosUS. His main job was gerrymandering to create majority-minority districts to get more Hispanics elected. His main allies in this effort were Republicans, who were delighted to create more white/wealthy districts that would be lockups for them.
Political scientist Tom Ferguson confirmed that this thesis was correct. So the political fragmentation of American on ethnic lines has been eagerly promoted by both parties for decades.
Second is as Lambert says regularly, if the Democrats cared about Republican vote-suppression tactics, they’d treat voter registration as an ongoing activity, as opposed to something they do in a slapdash manner close to elections. But their real interest is in the top 10%, and if they were to become unduly dependent on their regularly abused base, they’d have to do more for them.
The third is don’t think that the Democrats don’t play dirty, but they seem to play dirtiest in primaries, as the many forms of shenanigans versus Sanders in the California primary suggests. See this documentary with extensive accounts from poll workers if you harbor any doubts.
By Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD who writes regularly at Olen on Economics
I live in Europe and every now and again have the misfortune of explaining to Europeans the US electoral system. Especially befuddling is how the US majority votes for centrists or leftists and ends up instead with right-wing fanatics.
This brings up one especially awful memory, the appointment of King George W. Bush. People remember where they were at specific life events: I was in a gym locker room, in California, with a bunch of pissed off men watching the TV announce the Supreme Court coup d’état.
Since that time things have only gotten worse.
In 2012, 58.2 million Americans voted Republican for the US House of Representatives and 59.6 million voted for Democrats. Despite the obvious preference, Republicans won, capturing 234 seats to Democrats 201.
They generated more excuses for extremism than votes – “the US is a Republic!” (never mind that it’s a democratic republic) – and governed from the hard-right. Appeasing their donors and brain-dead constituents they pretended, like George W. Bush did, that their minority win carried a mandate.
Democrats clobbered Republicans in the Senate that year, winning 50 million votes to Republicans 39.1 million, and held onto the Senate with 55 seats (including two independents that vote Democratic) to Republicans 45. Of course, filibuster abuse – you remember the filibuster from before the last election, right? – negated the effect neutering the Senate Democrats once Scott Brown won Massachusetts. Well, or maybe self-neuter, since the Republicans have never worried about the filibuster with a mere 52 seats after the last election.
Republicans went on to genuinely win the 2014 election 24.6 million to 20.9 million, awarding them control of the Senate 54-46.
Then came Dear Leader Donald, with his -2.9 million vote “victory.”
I won’t pretend that Democrats didn’t enable much of this. Bill Clinton presided over the erosion and eventual repeal of Glass-Steagall and, more importantly, the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. His bank-friendly policies plus NAFTA plus fondness for deregulation served as a middle-class eroding policies, masked by the dot-com bubble, that intensified under Bush.
And although Hillary won more votes than Trump she still managed to legitimately lose in the electoral college to Donald Trump. And her popular vote win is due entirely to her margin of victory in California. Unlike Gore, who had victory stolen by a cabal of crooks, Trump really did win the electoral college even if shouldn’t exist.
All this leads me to Arion Golmakani. I met Arion in, of all places, the normal cesspool of a Facebook comment area. Writing about the latest defeat of US democracy, the disgusting Virginia House race where Republicans recently “won” control, he wrote “For the first time I am able to prove to my millennial son that his vote would have mattered. If he had only listened to me and voted with us that day.”
For those who have been paying attention to something else, let’s briefly revisit. Virginia held an election on November 7, 2017. Republicans were shellacked, garnering 1 million votes to Democrats 1.3 million, just under ten percent. Being cheaters whose disdain for democracy almost matches their thirst for power this somehow translated into a tie.
First, the Republican won the deciding district by a few votes. During a recount, the Democrat won by one vote. A judge ruled a ballot was vague and awarded it to the Republican. That resulted in a fishbowl drawing that the Republican also won, paving the way for Republicans to retain power with their -10 point “win.” No doubt the Trumpeteers will revel in their victory and proclaim a mandate.
It is in this morass that Arion’s millennial son, who presumably would have voted Democrat, fell.
Honestly, it’s hard to blame the kid. In an email interview, Arion points out that his son was more focused on issues than individual politicians because, let’s face it, most politicians are snakes. Voting for a politician who supports higher education would be synonymous to “voting for Martians to have the right to call their children’s humanoid if they happened to be born while flying over the US,” he joked.
And so, gerrymandering remains alive and well.
In the modern world where it’s polite to pretend that everything is equal, that both sides are no different. In reality, Republicans are a lot better at chicanery (I mean seriously: they elected Donald Trump president).
Republicans are a lot better at cheating but Democrats refuse to play the same games. Which is a shame because that’s what a large number of their own voters would prefer. California and New York could probably eliminate virtually all Republicans at the federal level with some Republican-style gerrymandering but, for whatever reason, they refuse to do it. I’d suggest the reason is worries about political blowback but, like we saw with the Virginia race, gerrymandering can also take care of that problem.
If California and New York acted like red states they could theoretically flip 22 seats, enough to leave Republicans in the minority. Sure, they received more votes in 2016 but, at this point, that under Republican orthodoxy that’s a meaningless detail. Nancy Pelosi should not be winning her seat by 80.9 percent, which she did. She should win by 52 percent to ensure that California Republican Jeff Denham, who won by 51.7 percent, loses. Since the districts are nowhere near each other is that unethical? Ethics in gerrymandering? Yawn.
Republicans have chosen to embrace their self-described “very stable genius” in the White House. They eliminated the filibuster to appoint hard-right ideological bag of wind Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Filibuster? Not for their tax cuts. They lie, cheat, and steal without giving it a second thought. Adopting their techniques might not sound entirely moral but it’s a whole lot better than the alternative, where they pollute the earth, sell out the middle class, reign in civil rights, and enable value extractors to run amok.
Millennials – get off your asses and vote. The youngest of you are 20 and the oldest turning 37. I think you normally get an undeserved bad reputation, coming of age into the Bush Jr. mini-depression and saddled with mind numbing amounts of student debt. But that doesn’t stop you from peeling yourselves off the couch and, come next election, down to the nearest polling station to vote your interests.