A Matter of Integrity: How Our Elections Are Failing

Nearly two weeks after the polls closed, the 2018 midterm elections appear to at last be over. In Florida Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott will be heading to the Governor’s office and US Senate, respectively. In Georgia Republican Brian Kemp is governor-elect. In Arizona Jeff Flake’s Senate seat is now occupied by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. But as the dust settles it becomes increasingly obvious this was but a skirmish in an ongoing battle.

Since Trump’s election, his opponents have fancied themselves “The Resistance.” Campaign finance violations, Russian hackers, racism: all are presented as proof our democratic republic can only be saved by throwing the dictator out of office. None of these Resisters realize or care that they are seeking a coup d’état against a legitimately elected official. Neither have they considered how real authoritarians deal with “Resistance.” (The German response to their World War II inspiration provides a clue, as does the Chinese and Soviet treatment of dissidents who complained far less vehemently).

America has had its share of questionable elections. In 1876 Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in the Electoral College. In 1960 Kennedy won the White House with help from the mob and the Chicago political machine. “Hanging chads” gave us George W. Bush in 2000. Trump’s victory appears to owe far less to chicanery than to Hillary Clinton’s bad campaign strategy. Yet Trump is treated by many as an illegitimate usurper, and the process by which he came to power is seen not as the lifeblood of American politics but as a problem to be solved.

In Presidential elections, Americans vote for 538 Electors who cast their ballots. Each state’s vote is counted: the winner gets all that state’s electoral votes. A 51% win in California means 100% of that state’s 55 votes, or over 20% of the 270 needed to win. While they are expected to vote for the candidate they supported during their campaign, electors are not legally required to do so. After Trump’s victory his opponents called on the Electoral College to reject him as unfit for office. When that failed we began seeing campaigns to abolish the Electoral College altogether. (Some have even called to get rid of the Senate since North Dakota has as many Senators as California).

This is by design, and intended to give a voice to Americans living in sparsely populated regions. A popular vote would leave Nebraska, Idaho and Maine ruled by Presidents elected in Los Angeles, Chicago and metropolitan New York. Instead our rural states are voting blocks whose needs must be addressed in exchange for support. Those voters tend to be stubbornly Republican and inconveniently White. They are among Trump’s most ardent supporters, and fiercely critical of open borders and governmental social engineering. In the name of “one person, one vote” they would be rendered irrelevant.

Gerrymandering has been a hotly contested issue since Elbridge Gerry drew a salamander-shaped district that favored his Democratic-Republican Party in 1812. But if we are to complain about badly drawn districts, what of efforts to change elections by importing new voters? California, the home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, has become deep blue thanks largely to Hispanic immigration while Texas appears to be following suit. Do Democrats support the DREAM Act and sanctuary cities out of tender concern for undocumented aliens, or because between 70% and 80% of all naturalized immigrants vote Democratic? Many rural areas have seen a spike in refugee resettlement with all the attendant problems. Is this being done for “diversity” or to take down Republican strongholds?

If White voters are starting to feel disenfranchised, they are hardly alone. In her concession speech Stacey Abrams complained “[F]ormer Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor… But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.” (Earlier Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown stated bluntly “If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it.“). One politican’s efforts against voter fraud are another’s voter suppression. And while DeSantis and Scott won this round, they did so largely because in Florida felons were until now permanently disenfranchised – something which will change with the 2020 election and which will add many Black voters to the rolls.

A democratic republic can only survive when its citizens trust the electoral process. Today many American citizens, on all sides of the political spectrum, have lost that trust. People who have lost faith in the ballot box will inevitably voice concerns through other, bloodier means. This typically ends in strife followed by a charismatic leader who promises to take care of the mess and the people responsible for it. And while this may seem appealing in a Gordian knot way, there is no telling whether this leader will White America as his core constituency or as a problem that needs to be solved.