Thursday, June 28, 2018

Saving American democracy with Secretaries of State

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Trump will appoint his replacement. This leaves American electoral democracy at risk of being turned into racial aristocracy in the next decade through extreme vote suppression and gerrymandering.

Today I've done the most effective thing I know of to prevent this. After laying out the grim situation facing us, I'll tell you what that is.

I'm over 90% confident that Trump will succeed in appointing a replacement who votes like Gorsuch and Alito. Mitch McConnell, who delayed the last nomination until after elections to steal it from Obama, controls the process. Expect him to speed this nomination through -- effective legislative leaders usually have to be hypocrites, and nobody does hypocrisy better than McConnell.

The 49 Senate Democrats have no power over the process unless two Republicans defect. I'd love to see Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski rise to save Roe v Wade, or some kind of McCain surprise. But every current Senate Republican voted to eliminate the filibuster to confirm Gorsuch. I don't expect them to depart from that path now.

Where does this lead? Republican politicians will continue with gerrymandering and vote suppression. Republican judges will reject Democrats' challenges to these abuses. With every election won, Republicans appoint more judges who in turn entrench their power. This cycle could coexist despite majority popular support for progressive policies, which can't be translated into election victories or legislative action because the courts make sure Republicans stay in power.

This general kind of political/electoral oppression was the story of the South from the end of Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. It's the ancient evil that slaveowners entrenched by setting up the three-fifths compromise. Because slaves counted towards state electoral votes at a 3/5 rate but couldn't vote themselves, the Electoral College transferred their political power to pro-slavery whites around them. This ensured the preservation of slavery even if there was a slight white majority against it. And that's the kind of self-perpetuating political structure that racists throughout American history have instituted.

I don't know how far into hell today's Republicans want to take us, or how far tomorrow's will. But neither do I know where the limits on their power will be. I expect all the horrors of the Trump Administration -- gratuitous cruelty to immigrants and indifference to climate change, for example -- to find newer and more vicious expressions as their power is entrenched. Vote suppression is the perfect way for Republicans to hurt minorities while making themselves unbeatable in general elections.

The decisive moment for saving American democracy will be the 2020 election -- and only in part because we can remove Trump. It's a redistricting election, so the winner gets to draw district maps that last ten years. Give Republicans that power, and we descend into hell.

Give Democrats that power, and things could take a much better direction. If it's accompanied by a big Democratic victory at all levels, perhaps brought to us by Trump scandals or economic mismanagement, you could see President Elizabeth Warren passing Medicare for All and setting up an immigration system that's about helping foreigners do useful things in America rather than pointless cruelty. Controlling redistricting will entrench whatever we pass and get us in position to pass more. What I'm thinking about most of all today are voting reforms to set Republicans back a few decades in instituting racial aristocracy at the ballot box.

What do we do in 2018 to win 2020? The absolute best thing I know of is to donate to 2018 state-level Secretary of State candidates who will control voting in 2020 battleground states. This link lets you spread your donations among five Democratic SecState candidates, in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. (All are women.) I'll tell you how much I donated today at the end of this post. Together with my donations to Senators it brought me up to over $13K in contributions to Democrats this year.

If I had to guess (this is very hard to estimate), I'd guess that winning these races would swing 1-2% of the vote in each state. That's 1-2% across each election on the ballot, which turns lots of heartbreaking losses into exciting wins. I don't know any better source of leverage on the 2020 elections than this. And it's not something you can donate to in 2020 -- you have to win this year.

Consider Ohio, where the Secretary of State controls early voting hours and other election procedures. Republican Jon Husted tried to eliminate Sunday voting so that black churches couldn't operate their "Souls to the Polls" voting drives. After a great deal of litigation, polls were kept open only four hours on Sunday. Additionally, the uncertainty of back-and-forth litigation seems to have impaired planning and made the voting drives less effective.

Ohio also has purged 2 million voters since 2011 -- more than any state. Under Husted the state was refusing to reinstate voters that courts said were illegally purged. State Representative Kathleen Clyde called this "shameless behavior that endangers our democratic process." She's now running to replace Husted in Ohio. I want her controlling voting for offices from the President to all the way down to the state legislature in 2020.

I'd donated before to the campaigns of Kathleen Clyde (OH), Jena Griswold (CO), and the apparently superhuman Jocelyn Benson (MI). (At age 40, Benson has been Dean of Wayne State Law School, worked for the SPLC in Alabama, written a book on the role of Secretaries of State in voting, and run 22 marathons, including the Boston Marathon while 8 months pregnant.) Matt Singer, who puts together the ActBlue page, has now added Katie Hobbs in AZ and Deirdre DeJear in IA.

How much did I donate today to help these five Democrats save the 2020 elections? The answer is $2020! (You can donate however much you want.) I'm an old Buffy fan, and I like to make puns when preventing the apocalypse.