Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 12:19 am
Who’s rigging elections?
Wronging a precious right
“You cheated!” is the lament of sore losers everywhere. Donald Trump warns – ominously, ludicrously – that the November election will be rigged too, presumably because the Democrats will flood the polls with phony voters. This is a nightmare from the Chicago of the 1950s that Republicans can’t get out of their heads. Things aren’t like that in Chicago anymore, just like things aren’t like the 1950s in the rest of the country, but the Republicans are a little out of touch. It’s still the 1950s on Fox News, so how would they know?
Here in Illinois, o’er the prairies verdant growing, comes an echo on the breeze carrying the same message. The governor insists that those rascally Democrats in the legislature tried to rig the game this year by passing a law that required large counties to offer same-day voter registration at the precinct level while requiring smaller counties only to provide a single central location. The gov complained, correctly for once, that the law as written benefited Democratic Chicago but disadvantaged rural regions where unregistered Republicans will have to hitch up the buggy for an extra trip into town.
Trump and Rauner are correct in a larger sense. Elections are rigged. The (nearly) universal franchise rigs elections against the informed. Citizens United rigged elections in favor of the rich. Legislators of both parties rig elections by drawing the boundaries of legislative districts to encompass territory whose voters are known to be favorable to the party that gets to draw the maps.
Who gets to vote also helps determine who gets to win. Since the days of that old blackguard Andy Jackson, every expansion of the franchise has been justified in lofty talk of rights but in fact was about obtaining electoral advantage. The constitutional amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote is a good example. Adopted in the summer of 1971, the amendment was blatant in its political intention; McGovern forces convinced themselves that the youth vote would make all the difference to put their boy George over the top. (And so it did; without the youth vote he never would have broken 37 percent.)
Winning by changing the rules of a game you might otherwise lose is an ancient if not honorable tradition in competitions of all kinds. The Republicans in states they control believe so; that’s why they are doing their best to restrict access to the polls by the poor blacks and browns and college students who cost the party the two previous presidential elections. Here in Illinois, the governor insists – bafflingly, comically – that the most pressing issue facing Illinois is not its fiscal crisis but the persistence in office of speaker Mike Madigan; thus Rauner’s weird insistence on banning successful officeholders from serving indefinitely, since Madigan, an energetic 74, apparently is vulnerable to no natural term limits.
The founders, of course, rigged federal elections in a dozen ways. The Electoral College is a monument to their lack of faith in democracy. (To be reminded why, don’t open a history book, just turn on a TV.) Having been presented with a bad system, the states have made it worse; in most states, including Illinois, whichever presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent plus one of the votes cast is awarded 100 percent of the state’s electoral votes. Thus it happened in 2000 that the man the nation chose as its president was denied office by a handful of voters in a single state.
Since 1787 we have revised our notions of who we the people are. Southern Democrats didn’t include in their definition African-Americans, the 14th Amendment be damned. Up here in Illinois, it was immigrants who were outside the pale; the Downstate Republican majority in the Statehouse rigged elections for decades by drawing their district maps to cheat Chicago of its proportionate share of state legislators.
Reform? Tuesday voting favors the white-collar worker, the affluent and the retiree and disadvantages the servant class, and explains in part why turnout sucks in this greatest of all possible democracies. Allowing voting by mail was intended to ease this bias by making voting easier and thus increase our laughably low turnouts. In fact, it appears to actually have decreased turnout where it has been tried. Why? The only plausible explanation is that without Election Day admonitions to go and vote, voting strikes people as less important, so they don’t bother.
Oh, my sainted aunt! U.S. elections are rigged, all right, by its own people, against its own people, because of its own people.
Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.