The horrendous murder of American diplomats in Libya and the continuing protests and criminal actions aimed at America embassies and consulates in Yemen and Egypt provide yet one more opportunity to examine the emerging importance of social media. In just the last year we have seen how pro-democracy movements in the Arab world were aided by the social media like Facebook and Twitter. The instantaneous ability to communicate with people at a global level helped fuel and organize the forces that eventually brought two Arab strongmen to their end. In a previous blog I commented on the significance of social media in the pro-democracy revolution in Egypt.
Unfortunately, like most swords, this one has two edges. The same social media that once aided in the spread of hope is being used to spread hate. An independently produced video on YouTube has thrown gasoline on a flame best left an ember—anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, cultural clashes based on history, religion, and politics. There is enough blame and fault to go around. In the days, indeed, the hours ahead, can the same social media be employed to dampen the flames? The anger is misdirected; the violence is unacceptable; and any politicization of the tragedy is shameful. The power and potential of emerging social media should come with equal measures of freedom and responsibility. Who can make this happen?
Change in voter turnout over time for five selected countries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Proficiency in basic math may not be universal among adults living in the United States, but it should be relatively close. Despite this fact, it continues to amaze me how few people question or challenge elected officials who claim to have a mandate from the people despite never actually winning a majority of the votes. I know what you may be thinking: that elected officials, by definition, have won a majority of the votes cast, otherwise they would not be in office. Okay, hold that thought while I explain why I believe most elected officials should not claim such a mandate.
Start with voter turnout in ANY election. In local elections around the country voter turnout can be as low as ten to fifteen percent. Even in presidential elections we are lucky to get anywhere near sixty percent—great. Let us focus on the big ticket race, the presidency. If sixty percent of eligible voters vote in the election that means forty percent did not vote for any candidate. Now, if the winner of the election wins with fifty-five percent of all votes cast (to be generous) he or she gets the job with a majority of the vote, right? I get that, but that’s not my point. I’m saying they can’t claim to represent a majority of the people. In my estimation the winner of the election only had around thirty-three out of every one-hundred votes possible if you base your analysis on all eligible voters. In defense of my point of view you can’t discount the significance of non-voters with the argument that they didn’t vote so they don’t count. Not voting is a choice in most cases, similar to voting “none of the above.” I also don’t accept the argument that those who do vote somehow represent those who do not (usually based on surveys of non-voters), therefore the results of the election are representative of the people. If that argument had any validity we should just replace elections with some representative sample from a survey and save everybody a lot of time and money. In my estimation, everybody that wins an election should be wary of hubris, and assume their seats with a measure of humility. I would like to know what you think about my argument as it is played out here. Does it hold water?
The direction of the 2012 presidential election will become increasingly apparent in the days and weeks to come as the candidates and their supporters target important battleground states. Battleground states are states that are considered to be contestable in the upcoming election; in other words, the state is worth visiting and investing substantial resources in. Non-battleground states are states that candidates do not expect to win, making them less likely to receive much attention from candidate or their surrogates. The identification of battleground and non-battleground states begins just as the election results of the previous presidential election are being tallied. Campaign managers, political scientists, journalists, and others have been studying campaign maps for decades; especially Electoral College maps for presidential elections going back to the 1960s.
Battleground states are more likely than not to be states that have a history of voting democratic or republican. Battleground states can also be determined by the margins of victory by various statewide elected officials (governors, etc.) in recent elections. For example, if republican candidates have won recent elections in a state by what are considered wide margins the state is not likely to be considered a battleground state by the democratic party (they will basically write it off). Once the battleground states are identified the process shifts toward identifying swing voters in battleground states that can make all the difference in a close election. Hispanics, women, younger voters are likely voting blocks that will be targeted by candidates in the 2012 election. What do you think about candidates for the Presidency targeting some states and ignoring others? Should all fifty states receive their fair share of attention? Is this even possible given the costs associated with national elections?
Elections in a winner-take-all system award victory and the spoils of victory to the candidate who collects the most votes. Given the simplicity of the process it is easy to forget that there is more than one way to skin a cat—whether the cat is a Democrat or Republican. Winning more votes than an opponent doesn’t always mean going out and exciting your base, registering new voters, or actually driving voters to their polling places. To put it another way, winning more votes than an opponent doesn’t even mean effectively collecting more votes at all—not in the common sense.
Voter suppression campaigns have been a part of Democracy in the United States since the very beginning. And that doesn’t even include the periods of time when certain people were denied the franchise (women, men who didn’t meet property requirements, slaves, former slaves, etc.). Voter suppression refers to purposeful activities intended to dissuade otherwise eligible voters from voting; voting for your opponents. Classic yet contemporary voter suppression activities include negative campaigning or mud-slinging (you may not have received a person’s vote but you’re going to do everything you can to keep them from voting for your opponent). The most current form of voter suppression to be in vogue seems to be the move to require government issued identification at the polling booth (photo IDs in particular). The need to prevent fraud is a legitimate, but policies that are intended to prevent fraud cannot be legitimate if they have the effect of suppressing legitimate voting by citizens of the United States. Preventing one’s vote from being diluted because of fraudulent voting cannot be defended if it denies one American his or her entire vote.
What’s next, seeding clouds to make it rain on election-day in the red or blue state of your choice? What do you think? How does voter suppression impact democracy?
According to the Constitution of the United States individual states are required to provide to their citizens a republican form of government. The guarantee of a republican form of government in the Constitution is vague, but it provides a wide door for rights related to voting, representative-based government, and the sovereignty of the people in all fifty states. The clause in the Constitution is also used as a foundation for each state to organize and conduct all elections in a state, whether the elections are for local, state, and even federal offices.
The state of Florida is currently involved in a legal dispute with the federal government over the issue of voter registration rolls. The state of Florida is arguing that it has the right to purge voter registration rolls of names of persons not eligible to vote in Florida elections. The state is arguing that it has the right to establish voter qualifications that do not directly deny citizens of the United States their fundamental right to vote and that maintaining voter registration rolls that are accurate and based on state law includes taking reasonable steps to protect their integrity. In the current dispute, the federal government is arguing that the state of Florida recently purged properly registered voters from the rolls causing citizens of the United States to be denied their right to vote simply because they have the same name as a person who is ineligible to vote. Both sides of the dispute are well-grounded in law, precedent, and practice—unfortunately, the specters or partisanship and electoral self-interest are seen at work on both sides as well. The current dispute is about to peak in the middle of a presidential election year in a well-known battle ground state. Do you believe the issue can be addressed by the courts impartially? Do you think the current dispute is a legitimate clash of opinions and positions or a side-show of the election season we are watching unfold?
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of independence (1776) were all of British descent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution include references to due process any time a person is in jeopardy of life and property. While the Amendments themselves do not specifically define what due process is, the Constitution itself provides elements of due process as have subsequent court decisions through the years. For example, the right to know what one is charged with in all criminal matters is in the Bill of Rights, as are the rights to a public trial and the right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you. Any legal proceeding in the United States that fails to uphold these protections is not living up to the protections we claim to value so highly.
A former U.S. Senator is currently fighting for his freedom, as is a former Hall of Fame caliber baseball player. All over America, people high and low are depending on due process to level the playing field, to diminish the power of Goliath, and to stand a chance when forces that want to destroy them are at play. In some cases the guilty will go free; in others the innocent will be punished unjustly. Regardless of the particulars, every American should take a solemn oath to protect and defend the tents of due process, just like the oath sworn by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor
What do you think? Is due process something most Americans understand? Can you identify how various elements of due process have been important in your life? How important is due process to the American creed? As for me, I pledge my life, my Fortunes and my sacred Honor.
For years, candidates in U.S. elections were able to bask in the glory of victory for winning more votes than their opponents. Application of the unit rule awards all of a state’s delegates or electors to the candidate winning the most votes—regardless of how slim the difference. This year, a number of the states holding GOP primaries and caucuses are proportionally awarding convention delegates according to the percent of the vote won by individual candidates. This proportional method for allocating delegates is proving problematic for one candidate in particular.
As it stands now, the GOP is in danger of going into its convention divided, with no clear-cut winner having united the party in preparation for battle with President Obama. While the proportional allocation of delegates may be problematic for candidates, it can also be argued that it is beneficial to voters. Proportional systems reward each and every vote cast by voters—there is no “wasted vote” when every vote cast leads to the awarding of a delegate. On the other hand, the unit rule only rewards votes that went to the “winning” candidate. What do you think about proportional elections? Are they more democratic? Should candidates get all of the credit for winning a state even though they may only receive thirty-five percent of a state’s ballots?
Abuses in the electoral processes associated with American democracy often result in the passage of legislation and regulations that are represented to the public as “reforms” that will correct the problems. In fact, there is a relatively stable pattern of abuses, public outcry, and reform that many believe began in the early 1970s and continues to this day. Specifically, campaign financing and the role of big money in the electoral process has been the focus of many such reform efforts. Most recently, McCain-Feingold attempted to reign in “soft money” and issue ads—among other things—leading indirectly to the most significant change in American elections since sliced bread. Just over two years ago the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission ruled, in essence, that corporations had the same rights as individuals to spend their own money as a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Alas, we have witnessed the birth of the latest round of abuses and reforms that will dominate the money and politics debate for the next ten years (if we last that long).
The “baby,” the Super PAC, is the instrument being used by big money to influence the outcome of the 2012 federal election cycle. Donors are giving money to non-profit corporations that have been established to serve some basic cause, which in turn are collecting and funneling money to Super PACs that have been created to promote particular candidates. Because the donations are going directly to non-profit corporations donors do not have to be identified to the media or federal campaign finance regulators. In other words, anonymous money, the complete and absolute opposite of transparency and reform has found a welcome and protected place in American electoral politics. Any attempt to sell this as good for America can only be judged for what it is, the outright abandonment of one-person one-vote in the United States and the ascendency of government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. To claim as some have that there has always been a place for secrecy and privacy in American politics, citing examples such as the secret ballot and the use of aliases by the authors of the Federalist Paperscan only be characterized as the most shameful sophistry. How’s this for an example of anonymity, wearing a white hood and sheet to protect my right to privacy? Why not, seems there are no limits after all.
What do you think? Is there any way to keep money from corrupting the political process? Is money an integral and unavoidable feature of democracy in the United States?
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