Missing Cables, Gerrymandering, and Outright Voter Suppression: The Machinery of American Democracy


#1

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and I’ve seen a few tweets buzzing around it. They touched on the topic of how people talk about elections. Even more-engaged folks don’t necessarily pay attention to the low background hum. The literal and figurative mechanical underpinning of American democracy is, at best, lacking and, at worst, broken. Despite that, the day after the election, the news cycle goes back to the horse race – “who won, who lost”.

That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s a very real problem. The software that voting machines use are often insecure – and this has been known for years. Even without external actors, the tech is out-of-date and dysfunctional. That’s assuming that your centre has enough power cables to make sure they can run the machines. That’s just the tech side of it – we’re not talking about systemic suppression efforts against marginalised groups (like North Dakotan Native Americans) or ruthless gerrymandering.

We need to change how this is discussed. It can’t be a fleeting concern – it is too late to fix on election day.

This might seem like a ‘wonk-y’ concern. Firstly, it is hard to imagine these problems occurring in a ‘politics-free’ fashion (who is most impacted? Which areas are given outdated trash? Why aren’t these issues being tackled?). Secondly, leaving aside any partisan affilitations, voter manipulation hollows out any faith people may, or potentially should, have in democracy.

I want this to be a topic to share updates and have discussion from across the U.S. around access to elections in a macro sense. I think this discussion needs to include gerrymandering (and other kinds of political fixing), the mechanics of voting, and voter suppression. What’s the problem? What are the solutions? What is to be done?


#2

The latest episode of the If/Then podcast has a great interview with an election security/voting machine specialist at around the 31 minute mark.


#3

(not from round here, but this was an interesting outcome leveraging a mobile game)


#4

Canadian here, but I did grow up in the US and scored at the top of my class in American History and Civics. In any case feel free to disregard my thoughts.

To me, the issues of ballot security and electronic voting are at best secondary concerns. The fish, as they say, rots from the head, and in this case the head is the Constitution. Under said document, there has never been a free and fair major election in the United States. From slavery to Jim Crow to gerrymandering, the Constitution has failed utterly in ensuring a democracy. The implementation of a bicameral legislature (with an undemocratic upper house), the electoral college, and the lack of an enshrined right to vote are all glaring flaws. The fact that the document has not been amended in 26 years (and not changed in anything of consequence in 51 years) further speaks to how out-of-date it is. Frankly, anything short of people calling for Constitutional Convention is just papering over the problem. And don’t tell me how “difficult” calling one would be. Start a damn movement and build support!


#5

From a sister site


#6

Earlier I retweeted some videos showing situations similar to the ones you’re describing and I am appalled. Has it always this blatent? Here are my examples:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3


#7

This has been on my mind a lot over the past 24 hours, especially Georgia and those missing power cables. How many votes were lost because of that? How many more situations like it occurred that we don’t even know about? How can people look at it and see anything other than blatant voter suppression? If we can’t even hold someone like Kemp responsible for interfering in his own election in the most comically evil, mustache-twirling manner possible, then how are we ever going to get the public to care about something more nuanced, like gerrymandering? I start to feel pinned to the floor when I think about this too much.


#8

I live in Georgia and I am so fucking mad. I was able to vote early, but from what I’ve seen from voting places in Fulton county infuriates me. I have friends who have spoken about their race on their voter registration being suddenly changed.

And then Pelosi’s ineffectual ass comes on the TV and starts talking about how we have to work WITH these cheating assholes. THAT’S NOT WHAT ANYONE WANTS TO HEAR.

Man, so many of us thought Abrams had this in the bag. Early voting was up 500%, I had normal people in the city asking me about voting, where their polling place was, how were the lines, etc. when I early voted and got my sticker. People were ENERGIZED for this, and we had it fucking stolen, and Nancy Pelosi goes 'YAY PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS."

I feel like tearing my hair out. The cheating is so blatant, the corruption SO APPARENT, and yet we have leaders in the democratic party being like, “Let’s work with these demons!”

I’m glad Abrams is fighting this, because it’s clear the leadership in the Democratic party won’t.


#9

I think the issue with calling for a Constitutional Convention is that EVERYTHING is on the table. While we might want to fundamentally change things to be more equitable, you can be sure that the far right would love to enshrine things in the constitution that would permanently oppress already marginalized groups.


#10

I suppose that I am coming from this with an assumption that the American people, on the whole, are good and decent, and that the current system empowers those far right fringe elements through undemocratic means. Ultimately, a Constitutional Convention would lay bare the true intentions of Americans, and if you truly believe that it will move the country in a more backwards and hateful direction, I have to wonder if America, as it currently stands, is worth saving.


#11

I find myself asking that question a bit more frequently these days, and I’m honestly not sure what the answer is.


#12

Here’s a map of the current election results for the US Senate. As of this post, the Democrats have 56.8% of the total popular vote, but the Republicans kept their majority and actually gained seats. There are more Americans on the left than the right, but they live in fewer states. This fact of demographic distribution gives the Republican party an extraordinary advantage in the Senate.

Amendments proposed at a Constitutional Convention would need to be ratified by 3/4 of the states, not by a 3/4 popular vote or anything of the sort. Republicans would have the same advantage that they do in the Senate, which is why most calls for a Convention have come from the right. Also, Republicans traditionally have a stronger presence in state government, amplifying this effect. A Convention couldn’t be any more fair or (lower-case) democratic than the Senate.


#13

Texas had its own situation where, depending on how the user inputted their data, there was a very small likelihood that when voting for a straight Democrat ticket, the choice for senator would reset from O’Rourke to Cruz.

Even if it only occurred on a scant few occasions, a glitch like this is massively concerning. It creates a huge shadow of doubt on the system to correctly interpret the votes people put into it, enough so that I’m surprised there wasn’t as much legal effort put towards looking into it considering the Texas senate race was pretty close.

It’s all the more concerning when you read into it and realize that the representatives of a political party (in this case, Republicans) can have oversight into this system of managing and supplying the voting machines themselves.

As aforementioned, the minutia of voting machine insecurities likely doesn’t contribute to Democratic party losses, but it’s one of many areas that needs better oversight considering the ramifications are almost always towards left-wing voters.


#14

Hamilton Nolan at Splinter News with one suggestion in the vein of what I’d like to see House Democrats doing to put this issue on the agenda.

Republicans win elections in part by systematically and purposely suppressing the votes of people likely to vote Democratic, most often minorities. This is a fact that was amply demonstrated in the 2018 midterms, from Georgia to Kansas. It is also a historic fact that has helped to produce our current age of gerrymandered districts and a concerted right wing effort to roll back legal protections designed to ensure voting rights. (You can follow this thread all the way back to the U.S. Constitutional Convention, if you like.) Political professionals all understand this fact and its strategic use. A fair and functioning democracy is not conducive to Republican electoral success, and therefore Republicans try to see to it that our democracy is neither fair nor functional, as a tactic.

People who are simple-minded enough to think that our electoral system’s distribution of power should reflect the true will of the electorate may be upset to wake up today and see that Democrats lost a net three Senate seats even though they received nine million more votes in Senate races. Abolishing the Senate would be one of the best things we could do to promote democratic values, but until then, these sorts of gaps between the popular vote and who ends up in office—hello, President Trump—serve to focus the public mind on the fact that our system is rigged. The Democrats can help this process along now, and do something for justice while they’re at it.

Voter suppression is overwhelmingly a one-sided affair in its intent. It masquerades itself as neutral or something that anyone can feel good about supporting, but is a lopsided affair.


#15

Gerrymandering is such a terrible practice, and I hate that I’m about to utter these words, but both sides are guilty of it (the right is farrrrrr far far more guilty of it, though). People in power have an incentive to try and stay in power. Pennsylvania had their Supreme Court rule that the gerrymandered district map was unconstitutional which helped this cycle, but not before the Republicans in power threatened to impeach the PA Supreme Court (which is fucking terrifying).

I think the best options to combat political gerrymanders are the independent redistricting commissions that a few states have implemented (Michigan just implemented this by ballot initiative, I think). It’s not perfect, but it at least takes away the practice and appearance of political motivation in the line drawing.


#16

My former district had to turn away voters for an hour-and-a-half because the voting machines were locked in a closet no one had access to. So…that’s not a great look (the district has also been historically terrible w/r/t voter suppression – be it intentional or unintentional)

On the bright side, Michigan passed two huge voting rights proposals last night: Prop 2 which will create an independent, bipartisan commission of randomly selected constituents for redistricting/remedying gerrymandering, and Prop 3 which grants same day registration, straight-ticket voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and a lot more. Coupled with a mostly blue shift in the state capitol, this has been an unusually hope-inspiring midterm for the state.


#17

Utah had a ballot proposition to have an independent redistricting commission to stop gerrymandering, and it’s neck-and-neck (final results still not in). I am disappointed that it’s so close, but it’s because Republicans want to keep power here. I hate this stupid state


#18

GWB’s Justice Department stopped enforcing voting rights and instead conducted a 5-year investigation into ‘voter fraud’, which when combined with the relentless pace of seating federal judges, set the stage for Shelby v Holder. After Shelby v Holder and 50 years of demographic sorting, it’s pretty hard to imagine the federal government being granted the power to do very much to improve or regulate voting.

That means voting reform, like the kind that passed in Florida yesterday, will have to come at the state level.


#19

Australian here, man I was gobsmacked when I first heard that the politicians in the US have the ability to redraw electorates in their favour. Every electorate here is drawn up by an independent election commission, they do regularly change but only to better group together like minded voters, not to carve them up.

The same independent commission runs every election in the country. No differences state to state, no electronic machines, all paper, all hand counted. We also have compulsory voting. Australia still has plenty of political problems but atleast we get the voting part right.


#20

Waypoint Relevant? (It’s not a very good game until the map gets fairly large).