Fear of democracy permeated the concerns of the Founding Fathers, causing them to create constitutional structures to limit the potential for popular democracy to become the electoral engine of the new government. Senators selected by state governments; the institution today called the Electoral College; the 3/5ths compromise defining slaves as partial persons—these are among more obvious barriers.
As our national community has grown to 325 million persons, these restraints have been stretched and have created increasingly unacceptable results in our electoral system. Two presidents in the last two decades have won the office with less than a majority of the popular vote. Less populated states are disproportionately represented in the US Senate (e.g., California’s two senators represent 39 million persons, versus Utah’s representing 539,000).
Along with structural distortions, political parties have introduced other strategies to diminish voter participation in the electoral process, most notably in our current environment, gerrymandering and voter ID statutes. Sometimes the two are parlayed, as in North Carolina. In Greek mythology, Thanatos is the personification of death, while Hypnos was his twin. Over the past several months, VoxFairfax has chronicled its concerns for the viability of the Republican party as it barrels headlong under the reins of radical right-wing extremists, hypnotized by several decades of success in electoral efforts in the states.
However, in recent years, this enviable track record has experienced serious trauma: The Flint water crisis in Michigan; Scott Walker’s assault upon public-sector unions in Wisconsin; Sam Brownback’s failed conservative economic scheme in Kansas; the bold attack on Native American voting rights in North Dakota; and the Virginia GOP’s rear-guard resistance to eliminating racially gerrymandered voting districts, among others. Exacerbating these extremes was the advent of Donald Trump.
In Virginia, the federal court has rejected the request of the state GOP to delay implementation of court-ordered,redrawn maps. At the same time, there is a strong movement toward fielding a referendum on the creation of a nonpartisan commission to prepare electoral maps following the 2020 census.
In Kansas, voters rejected the Republican party’s leading proponent of stringent voter ID laws, Kris Kobach, as governor. The voter ID statute in Kansas that he championed and, later, defended in court was declared null in a federal court action.
In North Carolina, serious absentee voter antics by party activists have called into question a congressional election, setting the stage for a new election and the 41st seat to be taken by the Democrats in the 2018 midterms. One news report noted that it has been an embarrassment for the Republican Party, which has spent years fretting that electoral fraud could come from undocumented immigrants. The irony was not overlooked that the fraud was of the party’s own making.
In Michigan, a gerrymandered Republican-dominated legislature has enacted a string of laws eclipsing the executive powers of the three major state officials—governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. All were elected as Democrats and all are women. That presents a distinct set of optics as the party continues to lose traction with women.
In Wisconsin, a gerrymandered Republican-dominated legislature has passed legislation intended to maintain a “balance of power” between the executive, now a Democratic governor, and legislative branches of state government. Oddly, the new restrictions did not trouble the majority when those same executive powers were exercised by the Republican governor, Scott Walker. More telling is that one of the restrictions prohibited the governor and attorney general from withdrawing from the multi-state lawsuit against the ACA. Hardly a balance of power issue.
The test of the seriousness of these events was signaled, in part, by a statement from North Carolina Republicans that they favored a new election should the fraud prove substantial. For their part, the new Democratic majority in the House indicated it might exercise its constitutional prerogative to refuse to seat the Republican candidate were he to be certified by the state.
If nothing else, the blue wave in the 2018 midterms ought to have informed the GOP that its current trajectory represents a downward spiral from which it may not easily recover. The party’s hypnotic descent is a path to political death and a serious loss to the vitality of American electoral politics. Whether or not the originalists in the conservative movement cling to the fear of democracy that plagued some of the nation’s founders, we are in a different age, with the lives of many more millions of persons at stake.
The recriminatory actions undertaken in the wake of 2018 in these states by Republicans will serve only to increase the outrage of those disenfranchised by counterproductive electoral tactics, draw even greater national attention to those strategies, and certainly engage the several legal systems in costly litigation. Ten years ago, few could describe the effects of gerrymandering; five years ago, few understood the dangers of voter ID laws. In effect, the thrust of the radicalized GOP to retain control of electoral processes has boomeranged into victories for its opposition.
Despite the damage to voting citizens by gerrymandering and voter ID laws, SCOTUS has refrained from intervening by citing a made-up legalism called “political question” asserting that the states have responsibility for remedies. Under the present and emerging circumstances of pressures to enhance the democratic character of our electoral process and procedures, such jurisprudential restraint is an anachronism. SCOTUS, it must be remembered, is the author of the judicial standard of one person, one vote. In the past, the Court has clearly engaged in rulings upon so-called political questions. It created the ersatz legal principle of “separate but equal” and, later, found that principle to be inherently unequal. Gerrymandering creates inherently unequal electoral voting rights among vast numbers of citizens. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have anything to fear from democracy. Nor should either political party continue to condone such practice in the face of increasingly larger poll numbers and election results affirming the desires of voters. Democraphobia need not be fatal and can be eradicated without even a vaccination
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