The Republicans: Champions of Voting Rights and The Minority

74 million people can’t be wrong!

Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley said he’s standing up for the 74 million Trump voters “who feel disenfranchised, who feel like their vote doesn’t matter.” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson demanded that Attorney General Bill Barr “show” that there wasn’t any evidence (huh?) of fraud. They and at least ten more Republican senators, many representatives, and all of Trump’s talking points enablers are concerned that 74 million Americans believe the election was rigged and that their vote “didn’t count.” After all, this is about the most fundamental of democratic principles, the right to elect our leaders.

First, about half of Trump voters are claiming this, not 74 million. The numbers vary wildly from 40%-70% depending upon the question wording.

Second, because there is only one combined ballot for the presidency as well as other offices, are all the other 2020 elections illegitimate too?

Third, shouldn’t we resolve legal claims in courts, rather than by partisans with a clear bias and political motivation? (And we already have, by the way.)

Fourth, since when did we base our election results on “feelings” and “beliefs” rather than ballots?

Fifth, why do Americans “feel” this, especially without evidence? Is it possibly because Trump and his supporters have excitedly repeated this mantra for two months?

Nevertheless, it’s quite refreshing to see that the Republicans have now taken up the banner of ensuring that all voters’ rights must be respected and honored, and that the view of the minority (the 74 million) must be taken into account! So if their argument is that even though American elections are decided by the majority, there should be room within our politics to consider the minority as well… perhaps we are reaching consensus. So logically, I assume the next steps on the Republican agenda are to:

Currently, 48 states use a winner-take-all system to award all their presidential electors to the popular vote winner of their state’s presidential election. Instead, states could award their electors proportionately, without a U.S. Constitutional amendment that would be required to abolish the electoral college (in favor of a direct national popular vote in which all votes count equally). This means that the millions of disenfranchised California Republicans would now have a presidential vote that mattered (and would have won about 18 of California’s 55 electoral votes in 2020), just as Democrats would have a meaningful vote in red states.

In most states, the party that controls the state government (today almost twice as many by Republicans) largely controls the creation of districts both for their own state government elections and for the U.S. House of Representatives. Those redistricting often “dilute” their opposition, or heavily “pack” them together in a few districts so that they are easily diluted elsewhere.

The district lines (in green) predetermine the outcomes, 3–0 in favor of Orange or 2–1 in favor of Yellow.

Rather than partisan redistricting systems that unfairly draw election districts in favor of the party in power, states could create non-partisan or bipartisan districting commissions, or better yet, a proportional system of larger multi-member districts by using cumulative voting, ranked voting, or numerous other reforms that have been proposed. This would better represent all minorities (partisan, race and ethnicity, religion, economic interests, etc.) in areas where one side is dominant, so that the majority still wins most seats — but the minority wins some, in proportion to their vote.

In Shelby Co. v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court invalidated the 1965 Voting Rights Act preclearance formula, which measured a state’s election record and compliance with voting rights, particularly those of racial minorities. States that failed this test were required to submit any proposed election changes to the U.S. Justice Department in advance for approval (“preclearance”). Without preclearance after 2013, many states have now passed legislation discouraging turnout and making it harder to vote, as well as engaging in many other forms of voter suppression, particularly in areas with high Democratic constituencies. Now, violations of the Voting Rights Act must be challenged in court and are often not resolved until after elections are over. If Congress rewrote and updated the formula to meet the Court’s objections, the Voting Rights Act would regain its missing teeth. So far Republicans have stopped this legislation.

This is perhaps most egregious because it is the minority depriving the majority of representation: in this case, rural Republicans overrepresent urban Democrats (of heavily-populated states). Because each state gets two senators, regardless of its population, the Senate is the most glaring exception to what the courts established in several 1960s cases, namely “one-person, one-vote.” Today about half of the American population lives in the nine most populous states, three of which are solidly Democratic (CA, IL, NY), four of which are purple (PA, OH, FL, NC), and two of which are trending purple (TX, GA); none will be reliably red in the near future. All nine together get only 18% of the 100-member Senate. Half of the population will live in merely eight states within a couple of decades as urbanization continues.

All states get two senators, so 18% of the Senate represents half of the people.

Note that this also means that the populous states are underrepresented in the electoral college because electors are determined by the number of representatives plus senators, which heavily inflates states like Wyoming with only one representative (a 200% increase to 3), and hardly budges California with 53 representatives (a 4% increase to 55).

There are several proposed solutions to distribute senators more fairly, mostly by giving less populated states only one senator and heavily populated states more than two senators, roughly in accordance with their population. Even this would still favor the less-populated states, and would require a constitutional amendment, something that is very unlikely. However, statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico would give those U.S. citizens the voting representatives they deserve and would probably help balance the Senate to a degree.

I wonder when we can expect to hear such reform proposals, now that Senators Hawley and Johnson are so concerned with voting rights.

It’s not true that politicians are always unprincipled and only act with regard for the political consequences. Richard Nixon supported the 26th Amendment lowering the guaranteed right to vote to age 18, knowing full well that he was very unpopular with those young voters. Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act through Congress, predicting it would lead the eventual defection of southern Democrats to the Republican Party.

Some Republicans have spoken out against the electoral college and gerrymandering, and in favor of restoring preclearance to the Voting Rights Act, and some have even spoken of rural malapportionment. But of course the leadership strongly opposes all of these reforms, believing that they would hurt the Republican Party.

So, remind me again… What was the sacred principle of democratic representation behind the current argument for continuing to challenge the presidential election?

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