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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 12:23 am

Minority wrongs

Why the losers are winning in the U.S.

ILLUSTRATION BY RICK NEASE/TNS
I am among those dismayed by the outcome of the November elections – not because people I disagree with elected the next President of the United States, but because they didn’t. Voters were asked to choose from among four candidates, and the one who was awarded the most votes was Hillary Clinton, the pride of Park Ridge. (As I write, she is leading by a bit more than 1.2 million votes, and most projections put the final margin at about 1.5 million.) I addressed the flaws of the Electoral College briefly over at Second Thoughts, at http://illinoistimes.com/article-17912-rigged.html. Unfortunately, the college is embedded so deeply in the Constitution that it will take an amendment to blast it out, and the same small-population states that benefit from their disproportionate influence in the college would have to ratify its abolition.

People who don’t get their news from Facebook will know that this is the second time the popular winner in a presidential race did not become president since 2000. That’s a travesty, but we should be just as troubled by the fact that the Electoral College is not the only, and in some ways is not the worst, of the affronts to democratic self-rule in this country.

Consider the situation in the U.S. Senate. To secure ratification from the smaller states, the Framers gave each state two seats, regardless of population. Today the chamber is dominated by representatives of states in the Plains and West whose constituents are mostly coyotes and cows. (Illinois’ population is 21 times larger than Wyoming’s, yet that state has the same number of representatives in the upper house as we do.) I am indebted to Paul Waldman of the American Prospect for pointing out that in the three elections in which the current members of the U.S. Senate were chosen -- 2012, 2014 and 2016 -- Democratic Senate candidates got a combined 114.8 million votes, or 52.8 percent of the total, while Republican candidates got 102.6 million votes, or 47.2 percent, yet Republicans hold 52 percent of the seats.

As for the other house, the House of Representatives isn’t. Republicans control most state governments, and thus the apportionment process. Maps are drawn to concentrate Democratic voters into a few districts, with the result that this year it is expected that Republican congresspeople will get only 51.5 percent of the two-party vote but will occupy 55.4 percent of the seats.

That matters, because the majority party in the House gets to make the rules, formal and informal. One of the latter is the so-called Hastert Rule, named after  the shame of Kendall County, the odious sexual predator Dennis Hastert whom Republican representatives chose as the Speaker of the U.S House four times beginning in 1999. It was under Hastert that the GOP in 2003 decided that no bill would be advanced to the floor of the House for a vote by the full membership that was not approved by a majority of the Republican caucus – even if, indeed because, the majority of the members of the House would likely approve it. Bills on issue after issue, from gun control to immigration reform, that were backed by a majority of the House’s Democratic and moderate Republican members were not even considered.

The Hastert Rule is no relic of tawdry constitutional politics, nor is it required by any statute. It is a whim of power, a willful suppression of the will of the people for narrow partisan advantage.  As Paul Waldman noted in the Washington Post the other day, “the GOP’s status as a minority party wielding near-absolute power is one of the most important facts about today’s politics.”

In a system that enshrines the principle that power should lie with the people who are least capable of wielding it, state and local governments dictate voting rules. After conservative Supreme Court justices gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republican-controlled states began systematically to restrict voting opportunities for groups assumed to lean Democratic, such as people of color and college students. They also made it harder for such Americans to register to vote; unregistereds, as they know well, tend to be younger, less wealthy, more friendly to Democrats and more liberal in their policy opinions than registereds. And they contrived a make-believe problem – voter fraud – to compel such protections as photo ID at the polls, which, Republican officials admitted, targeted the poor.

And it worked. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin is a good example. An estimated 300,000 poor black and brown voters who were registered to vote could not because they lacked the strict forms of ID now demanded. Donald Trump won Wisconsin, and its 10 electoral votes, by just 27,000 votes.

We are left to wonder. How can an election in which the winner of the vote does not win the office not be considered rigged? How is a legislative body whose composition does not reflect the population it purports to represent not rigged? How is a legislative body in which the people’s representatives are prevented from voting on the people’s business not rigged?  How are elections in which access to the polls is not uniformly free not rigged? 

NOTE: I inadvertently omitted an intended reference to the makeup of the U.S. Senate in the original version of this piece. The above version includes it.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.

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