By Ron Israel
January 6, 2020
America’s political elections–for President, Congress as well as state and local offices–are critical to the functioning of our democracy. Our electoral system enables us to select people who lead our government and make the critical decisions that affect our lives. It also provides a mechanism by which those entrusted with the responsibility to lead us are held accountable for their efforts. Our political elections depend on the ability of our electoral system to operate in a fair, reliable, transparent process, providing all citizens with the opportunity to vote, and allowing candidates for office to make their cases known to the voters.
Today America’s electoral system is under attack on various levels including; foreign interference, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the sanctioning of unlimited campaign finance. USRESIST NEWS believes there is no more important issue facing our country than the urgent need to reform our electoral system. Efforts to reform the system, such as those described below, need our support.
To get serious about protecting the electoral process our government needs to ensure that voters are not subjected to foreign influence operations that violate U.S. campaign laws. Regrettably the Trump administration has not done much to address the issue of foreign interference. Trump’s continual denial of Russian interference and the political gridlock in Congress are the main reason why.
In 2018, Congress approved $380 million to improve election security systems ahead of 2018 midterms. The money was to be used to replace aging voting machines, implement post-election audits, and provide cybersecurity training for state and local officials, among other election security related improvements. The Federal Election Assistance Commission was asked to distribute the approved funds to states within 45 days However, given the short timeframe, states only spent about 8 percent of the $380 million Congress approved by the time the elections rolled around.
Since 2018 the Democratically controlled House has passed several major electoral reform measures, that address the threat of foreign influence, that have died in the Senate where they have not been taken up for consideration. Electoral reform measures passed by the House include require candidates and political committees to notify the FBI and other authorities if a foreign power offers campaign help; tighten restrictions on campaign spending by foreign nationals and require more transparency in political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
A 2nd House passed bill allocates $600 million to spend on updating voting equipment to comply with new standards including requirements that voting machines produce a paper record, stay disconnected from the Internet and be produced in the United States. But Republicans have objected to the legislation, arguing that its provisions interfere with the authority of states and localities to conduct their own elections.
The issue of protecting voters from foreign-sponsored fake election news also has been taken up by several big tech companies. Twitter has instituted the most far reaching policy of any tech company banning all political advertising. Facebook has maintained a position that it is not in the position to make judgments on content and that voters need to make up their own minds about what to believe. At the same time however, Facebook has hired an army of fact-checkers and installed new algorithms to ferret out and delete hate speech.
With hate speech the main worry comes down to labeling legitimate speech as hate speech (protesters, BDS Movement/Middle East and black centered movements, etc.). And with fake news the concern is who will judge what is true and what is fake (the government/users or moderators who may have another agenda, etc.
o Voter Suppression (election fraud)
Americans also need to be concerned with domestic bred
efforts to rig elections. Starting around 2010, states across the country introduced legislation that would put unnecessary barriers in front of the ballot box, particularly for voters of color. Some states with early voting reduced the number of days of advance access to the polls. Others required forms of identification to vote that lawmakers knew many Americans did not have. States like Tennessee also burdened community groups that help register voters with unnecessary regulations and restrictions.
To try to combat this surge in vote rigging the House of Representatives has taken meaningful action. It recently passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act to its full strength. The bill, along with many others, awaits action by the Senate.
Require voter-verified paper ballots or records for every vote cast; replace old voting machines; conduct robust postelection audits to confirm election outcomes; update and secure outdated voter registration systems and e-poll books; require minimum cybersecurity standards for voter registration systems and other pieces of voting infrastructure; perform mandatory pre-election testing on all voting machines, as well as continuous vulnerability analysis; expand threat information sharing, including comprehensive threat assessments accompanied by mandatory reporting requirements; elevate coordination between states and federal agencies on election security, including real-time notification of security breaches and threats; provide federal funding for updating election infrastructure.
Since 2010, legislators in a number of states have redrawn congressional and state legislative lines to draw districts that would ensure that a political party would win that district regardless of the candidate. This attempt to draw districts that would rig the system has led to an inequality in voting results. States that had a majority number of votes cast for one political party overall often ended up winning a minority of seats statewide. This has led to lawsuits in courts where some partisan maps were thrown out and even to some new options adopted by some states like independent redistricting commissions.
To help deal with this problem the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) recently announced a pledge that future political candidates at the federal and local level can commit to upcoming campaigns. The pledge states:
“For too long, partisan gerrymandering has been used as a tool to manipulate electoral districts to benefit political parties instead of voters. I believe every elected official should be accountable to the people they represent, which means we need to end gerrymandering. I pledge to support fair redistricting that ends map manipulation and creates truly representative districts.”
The pledge has been sent to current members of the Democratic Party and at last count has been embraced by twenty- six politicians which include a number of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination, a number of party leaders and a handful of congressional and state legislative leaders.
Other notable anti-gerrymandering actions include efforts to overturn
Rucho v Common Cause, the 2019 Supreme Court case that eliminated partisan gerrymandering at the federal level only.
O Campaign Finance
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance. The Court held that corporations are people; and that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.
The case tilted political influence towards wealthy donors and corporations. It spawned the creation of super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporate and union treasuries, as well as from individuals. These groups spent more than $800 million in the 2012 election cycle. Citizens United also triggered a boom in political activity by tax-exempt “dark money” organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors.
There are efforts underway to overturn or replace the
Citizens United decision by groups such as Common Cause, Public Citizen and the End Citizens United PAC. The focus of much ot their efforts has been on passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Such an amendment was introduced in Congress by the Democrats in 2019. It affirms the right of states and the federal government to pass laws that regulate spending in elections,
Photo by Randy Colas