Bob Schwartz

Tag: voting

Lessons from the Election: Vote Even If You’re Not Fired Up or Feeling It

Many Americans are not happy with the results of this presidential election. And many of those  people did not vote, or are not even registered.

People have a lot of reasons for why they don’t vote. None of them are good.

You don’t have to be fired up and feeling it to vote.

Millions of Americans go to work every day not feeling it. They may not put a smile on their faces. They may curse their bosses and torture their coworkers at every opportunity. But they show up.

Millions of Americans have sex with their spouses or partners not feeling it. Sometimes, of course, this is because of coercion or aggression, which is a bad, bad thing. But sometimes it is to help the relationship and because they care.

The next election, don’t wait until you’re fired up or feeling it. Vote because you will win the right to legitimately complain (which non-voters don’t have this time around). Vote because something good might happen or something bad might be prevented. Vote because you care.

Jim Wallis: Evangelical Voters Have Some Explaining To Do

Embarrasing to Be an Evangelical

Jim Wallis says that some Evangelical voters should be embarrassed.

Wallis is President and Founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners. It is impossible in short form to explain what treasures Jim Wallis and Sojourners are. So please visit the links to read the descriptions.

Wallis is a stubborn reminder of what he believes Jesus would expect from American Christians, in the face of some of their shortcomings, hypocrisy and grandstanding. No matter what your own faith preference, he is admirable as a brave and insistent conscience for America.

Please read today’s piece, “It’s Embarrassing to Be an Evangelical This Election:
The So-Called ‘Evangelical Vote’ Has Some Explaining to Do.

U.S. voter turnout is very low. But what if something is happening here?


U.S. Voter Turnout

Pew Research reports that “U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries.” But what if something is happening here?

What if U.S. voter turnout was more like Belgium (89% of voting age population)? Or Australia (82%)? Or Israel (76%)? To name just a few of the countries where people vote in great numbers.

Instead, U.S. voter turnout is mired at 54% of voting age population, just a few places from the bottom.

There are about 235 million Americans of voting age. If turnout increased to the top of the list (89%), that would increase the number of voters by 35% (89%-54%). Thirty-five percent of 235 million is about 82 million more voters.

82 million more voters. To put that in perspective, the winner of the last presidential election received about 66 million votes.

82 million more votes. Many young. Many not white. Many open to new ideas and proposals, as the old ones don’t seem to work so well. Many not committed to maintaining the status quo, which has not been all that good to and for them.

This is what should worry all the established political parties and politicians. And the establishments that depend on them and on predictable stability rather than change, radical or even incremental.

Except that the parties, politicians and establishments don’t seem, at least publicly, to be worried. They appear to believe that non-voting Americans won’t suddenly show up at the polls in great numbers to vote their own views and interests. And just in case, some of those establishments are ready to deploy tools to help keep those numbers down.

Sometimes history is a bending arc. Sometimes it’s a runaway train. Votes are the fuel. That train may already be rolling slowly. Getting ready to speed up.

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

McCutcheon: Is This the Electoral Apocalypse? (Maybe Not)


Six months ago I wrote a post called The Man Who Could Kill Democracy about the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon was asking the Supreme Court, on free speech grounds, to lift federal limits on aggregate campaign contributions. By a 5-4 decision, the Court today agreed.

In that post I wrote:

The First Amendment is central to American democracy, but it has never been absolute. It could be of course, and we would be free to destroy the reputations of others, or talk freely about overthrowing the government, or republish the words of others without penalty, or yell fire in that crowded theater. Instead, as an exercise in social priorities, we argue about balance, though sometimes the argument for the good of the many and “democracy” is cover for what’s good for me and mine.

Today’s decision finds that limits on what an individual can give to a single candidate is allowable under the First Amendment as a way to prevent corruption (that is, you shouldn’t massively buy a single election on a quid pro quo, one hand washing the other basis). But restrictions on what an individual may give in aggregate offends the First Amendment (that is, you are free to try to buy as many elections as your wealth allows).

The majority opinion of Justice Roberts was joined in by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Alito; Justice Thomas concurred, but believes that all limits on campaign finance are impermissible under the First Amendment. Justice Breyer filed a dissent, in which Justices Ginzburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.

Justice Breyer writes in his dissent:

Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

So is this it, the electoral apocalypse? In the earlier post before the decision I wrote:

Get smart.

Without casting aspersions too wide, it does seem that a number of Americans really don’t do their homework on public issues. As far as voting, our abysmal turnout numbers tell the tale. But if Americans did do their homework and did vote, we really could have a pragmatic, centrist, reasonable and successful country—instead of an extremist-obstructed one based more on blustery ideology and vaguely-veiled self-interest. We can hope.

That’s still it. If we have an aware, informed, moral, discerning electorate that votes, there is hope that in spite of McCutcheon (and Citizens United and whatever other shoes the Supreme Court has yet to drop), we can maintain what Justice Breyer calls “democratic legitimacy.” Without that, despite what Imagine Dragons sing, the apocalypse may not be followed by a new age, but by some back to the future America of the overpowered and the underpowered.

If you believe that America has a problem in any of those areas—awareness, information, morality, discernment, voting—then do whatever you can. Don’t blame nice Mr. McCutcheon, or nice Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas (even if they are wrong). And if you are hand-wringing, which is admittedly hard to avoid, do it only for a moment; it is unattractive and useless. Then get busy.

Should We Test Our Elected Officials?

IQ Curve
There is currently a right to have an abortion in America during the first trimester of pregnancy. This is one of the most divisive moral and legal controversies of our time. Some who support that right make clear that it is not necessarily a right they would exercise personally. Many who oppose the right would like to see it disappear entirely, whether through reconsideration by the Supreme Court or by constitutional amendment.

In the absence of constitutional reinterpretation or change, a number of states have passed laws to circumscribe that right, or at the very least to reduce its exercise. One of the most common laws, signed a few days ago in Wisconsin, requires pregnant women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound. This is aimed at emphasizing to these women that they are carrying a fetus—as if they had forgotten—in hopes of deterring them from going through with an abortion. The states just want to be sure these women are well and fully informed.

Great examples of conditioning a right are the sorts of literacy tests that were used in the Jim Crow South to keep black people from voting. Questions were often so difficult that even government officials would have trouble passing. From the Alabama literacy test of 1965 (68 questions):

19. Who passes laws dealing with piracy?
30. Of the original 13 states, the one with the largest representation in the first Congress was _____________.
39. If it were proposed to join Alabama and Mississippi to form one state, what groups would have to vote approval in order for this to be done?
41. The Constitution limits the size of the District of Columbia to _____________.
66. After the presidential electors have voted, to whom do they send the count of their votes?

The use of these sorts of literacy tests for voter suppression was challenged and ultimately outlawed.

Still, there may be the germ of a good idea here. A correlate of the right to vote is the right to hold public office. Sometimes, just sometimes, it seems that this right is being taken for granted by our elected officials. Perhaps there are some of the executives and legislators, at the state and national level, who might benefit from having their ability to hold office tested. Maybe they need to be tested on the arcane intricacies of how government works. Maybe they need to be better informed.

So the proposal is for all public officials to be tested before they are allowed to take office. No ultrasounds. Just the sort of knowledge assessment that prospective black voters had to undergo in 1965. Just the sort of test to see if these officials really understand what rights are and how, in America, we allow change to happen, and what to do lawfully if we don’t like the direction (we don’t terrorize people to make rights painful or impossible to exercise). We will see just how many of them can pass that test.

Answers to above questions:

19. Congress
30. Virginia
39. Congress and the legislatures of both states
41. 10 miles square
66. Vice President (President of the Senate)

Why Do Some Republicans and Democrats Hate Voting?

Profiles in Courage
With the news that some Republican Senators (including presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio)  plan to filibuster new gun control legislation, thus avoiding any votes on the proposed restrictions, it is now clear: Some current Republicans—and some Democrats—hate voting.

The evidence is mounting. During the 2012 elections, there were numerous instances of Republican legislatures and officials adding voter requirements, reducing voting hours, etc., which made it more difficult or frustrating to vote. The intent was to suppress Democratic votes; the evidence of that might be considered circumstantial, except that Republican strategists, arrogantly or stupidly, told us that it was their intention.

As was pointed out during the election, voter suppression has a long and inglorious history in America. Suppression of black voting was an art form in the South, though nominally the party lines were seemingly different. At the depth of Jim Crow, the South was Democratic. (In modern terms, though, these were DINOs—Democrats in Name Only. These Southern Democrats were different, and after living for a while as Dixiecrats, they underwent political reassignment surgery and became Republicans.)

The latest manifestation of this antipathy to voting is in the U.S. Senate, legendary and self-proclaimed “greatest deliberative body in the world.” (Be respectful; stop laughing.) Filibusters are an integral part of the Senate. When a Senator or group of them wanted to prevent a vote, he or they would have to hold the floor, and talk until they dropped or had to use the bathroom, or until the bill’s proponents gave up—as seen in the movies, most famously Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and as seen in the attempts to block civil rights legislation in the 1960s. That all changed with a new Senate rule, promulgated a few years ago by Democratic Senators, allowing Senators to block a vote by simply saying that there would be no vote. There is no vote unless 60 Senators agree. And no Senator—setting aside Rand Paul’s recent talking filibuster stunt—needs to even stand up and talk, or even appear on the floor at all.

To understand why it is so important not to vote, we have the cautionary tale of some high profile Democrats. Congressional votes are not just a problem at the next election; they can come back to haunt you years later. In 1996, many Democrats voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, signed it. DOMA came before the Supreme Court this week, which served as an uncomfortable reminder to those Democrats that times—and the party line—have changed. The briefs in the case included a mea culpa from some of those legislators, and just last week, Hillary Clinton released a strangely dark and dour video confessing her evolution on the question of marriage equality (Bill had previously apologized).

Even worse problems dogged Democrats who in 2003 enthusiastically voted for the Iraq War. Besides John Kerry’s “for it before I was against it” election year explanation, the war’s anniversary last week left some of them in a “what was I thinking?” mode.

What they were thinking during the Iraq War vote, and during the DOMA vote, was: I am a person of conscience, but that conscience will do no good if I lose this seat, so I have to ask just how this will play back home. The answer for both DOMA and the Iraq War, under the circumstances of the moment, was: not very favorably.

The lesson for some: Whether it is voting at the polls or voting in the Senate, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and sometimes less is more, and sometimes less voting is just better.

In the case of the ballot box, trying to suppress voting is un-American. In the case of standing up and being counted in the Senate, not voting is a dereliction of duty since, as a Senator, that’s your job.

On the other hand, those who fight and run away live to fight another day. That’s how the saying goes. The primary part of that, though, is that you at least fight in the first place. If all you do is run away by, say, not voting, it’s all about survival, and not about conscience and accountability. You may win an election, you may even get to be President. But if you’re thinking about being in the next volume of Profiles in Courage, don’t bother looking for your name.