ChrisWeigant.com

Tackling Election Reform

[ Posted Monday, January 4th, 2021 – 15:45 UTC ]

First of all, I hope everyone had a happy new year. In the political world, the new year isn't really going to start for another 16 days, of course.

President Donald Trump is, in a word, delusional. He keeps proving it, over and over again, beyond any shadow of a doubt. In the past, some have wondered whether Trump really believes some of the wilder things he says, or whether he's just a consummate showman, giving his intended audience exactly what they want (kind of like a right-wing radio personality who knows full well how much he's exaggerating and bloviating, but not caring because it brings in the ratings and the money). But the phone call just released of Trump begging and threatening Georgia's secretary of state should end such hair-splitting, because (if you either read the full transcript or listen to the whole call) it is patently obvious that this is no schtick for Trump -- it's truly what he believes. He has apparently surrounded himself with people even more fervent than he in their belief in all the falsehoods, and he has banished most of those around him who still have even a tenuous connection to reality. This merely feeds Trump's delusion all the more.

The Republicans in the Senate who are openly backing a rather unique perspective on how presidents should be elected (which boils down to: "The sitting vice president and/or a partisan majority of Congress should get to pick who gets to be president -- the voters be damned!") are using a rather interesting form of circular logic to justify their stand: "Millions of people believe the election was fraudulent, therefore we are honor-bound to investigate it and also to delay implementing the result until we can change who won." But belief isn't proof -- not by a long shot. Millions of people believe Sasquatches exist, but that doesn't make Bigfoot real. Millions of people believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that doesn't make you any more likely to feel His noodly appendage any time soon. And the millions who believe the election was somehow stolen believe that for only one reason -- because the president and all his enablers keep telling them that this is so without the slightest bit of proof or evidence. So it's a closed circle, really, independent of any factual reality. Those people believe it because you keep telling them to believe it, in other words. And that simply doesn't rise to the level that the Senate Republicans seem to think it does -- to join a naked attempt at overthrowing the certified result of an American presidential election.

None of it is going to work, but that doesn't make the harm done any less dangerous. Consider: if Republicans had flipped the House in November, then nobody would now be sure that it wasn't going to work. That's an awfully thin reed for our democracy to hinge upon, really. The precedent now being set could be used -- by either party, mind you -- in the future in a very ugly way, and they'll point right back to what is happening now when it does, as justification.

So the incoming Congress really needs to tackle election reform in a big way. We've got to strengthen the rules so that this situation can never happen again -- at least in the same way. But even if Democrats do manage to wrest control of the Senate away from Mitch McConnell in Georgia tomorrow, they'll have the slimmest of majorities in both houses. This means that any election reform effort is almost certainly going to have to be bipartisan, for it to have any hope of success.

However, the concept of election reform covers a lot of things. These can be broken down into two groups, really. The first consists of ideas from both sides of the aisle for how to change how elections happen to improve the process. On the right, Republicans want stricter photo ID laws and they want to ban certain things that they feel put them at a partisan disadvantage (like universal mail-in voting or drop boxes). Republicans have already publicly put out a plan for all of these changes. On the left, Democrats want to make it easier for people to vote. They want universal no-excuse absentee ballots, same-day registration, and lots of early voting to make voting more convenient for the maximum number of people. Neither of these lists is complete, I should mention, just representative (there are far more ideas on both sides of the aisle, in other words).

The second category of election reform ideas is more concerned with the nuts and bolts of the process itself. Such as mandating at the federal level that all ballots cast in the entire country have a paper ballot, so they can be physically recounted later, if the need arises. This is something that everyone should be able to agree upon, obviously. Who could be against an auditable paper trail? For what possible reason?

The biggest item in the second category would be to go back and just completely rewrite the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which is the basic law that governs how presidential elections happen. This (and a few later revisions to the law) dictate how the Electoral College works, how the electors' votes are certified (and by whom), and how Congress settles any disputes that may arise. But it is a horrendously badly-written law, with plenty of contradictions, loopholes, and omissions. It falls short in adequate preparations for bad-faith actors, which is why we're even in the situation we're in this week. The whole thing needs to be rewritten afresh -- even if none of the basic concepts in it changes. The language needs to be a lot more specific, and all "What if this doesn't happen correctly?" questions need to be clearly answered. The rules need much better definition, which is also something that (before this election) was a fairly nonpartisan stance to take.

Of our two categories, the first will likely generate the most time and attention. Democrats better be just as fast out of the gate as they were two years ago -- when a lot of election reform ideas were passed in "H. R. 1," the very first bill Nancy Pelosi's House passed in 2019. They also need to get their own John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act on the table as another counterweight for what Republicans are now proposing. And then we'll have that gigantic political fight.

But it probably won't end with anything becoming law. That's likely going to have to wait until one side or the other has much stronger control over both houses of Congress and the White House. The ideas both sides are pushing are anathema to the other side, so little bipartisan consensus is even possible.

However, this doesn't preclude action on the second category. After all, Pelosi needs no Republicans to pass a new Electoral Count Act, so the number of GOP House members participating in the Kabuki on Wednesday is immaterial. Over in the Senate, the Republicans are in open warfare against each other. There is one faction, composed (so far) of the 12 who have signed their intent to join in the Kabuki, who are so in thrall to Donald Trump that they are openly pushing to overthrown what We The People decided in November. But there are a whole lot of other Republicans who are disgusted by the entire fiasco, too. And getting some of them to work with Democrats on fixing some of the loopholes and glaring contradictions in the Electoral Count Act seems entirely possible. All the Democrats would need would be 10 to 12 of them (depending on Georgia's outcome). And, of course, they'd need to convince Mitch McConnell, but so far McConnell seems (very quietly) to be on the side of those who are disgusted by what is about to happen. So perhaps even McConnell might support such an effort? It's certainly worth exploring.

We cannot go through this twice. The rules need to be clear. Which slates of electors are allowed recognition needs to be outlined in unequivocal terms. The process of election certification needs to be shored up. Who has standing to sue to overturn an election's results should probably be more clearly defined. If the processes in place are too weak for any of this, then they need to be strengthened and clarified. There should be no possibility for a partisan coup to take place at any stage of the entire operation. Relying on the good faith of elected officials is -- obviously -- completely insufficient in our new reality.

This time, the Democratic majority in the House means no matter how long the delays turn out to be on Wednesday (even if it become Thursday or Friday...), the end result is already guaranteed. Joe Biden will be sworn in as president in 16 days. Donald Trump will be ejected from the White House one way or another (either voluntarily or by force). But just because it happened to work out this time around doesn't mean the future possibility that such a naked power grab could be successful won't continue to exist.

That needs to change. As soon as possible. Democrats should be quietly talking to all the Republicans in the Senate who are now denouncing members of their own party, asking them to join the effort to put together a new law that guarantees this will never happen again.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

15 Comments on “Tackling Election Reform”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris,

    After all, Pelosi needs no Republicans to pass a new Electoral Count Act, so the number of GOP House members participating in the Kabuki on Wednesday is immaterial.

    But, how would this outcome on such an important issue lead to a better situation? How would it help to persuade people who think the election was compromised?

    And getting some [Republican senators] to work with Democrats on fixing some of the loopholes and glaring contradictions in the Electoral Count Act seems entirely possible. All the Democrats would need would be 10 to 12 of them (depending on Georgia's outcome).

    Again, isn't this a recipe for more division among the people, with just minimal bipartisanship in the US senate?

    Election reforms, it would seem to me, cut at the very heart of American democracy. It sounds wrong, on the face of it, to suggest that these changes can be made without a supermajority, for lack of a better word at the moment, of Democrats and Republicans or be rushed through with simple majorities and/or no Republicans withoug taking the necessary time (two or even four years seems too short a time frame for such a complicated and important change) to explain why the changes should be made and to demonstrate in the clearest and most transparent way why Americans, especially those who are inclined to believe that the 2020 presidential election results can't be trusted, should put their trust in how elections are run.

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    At least you admit that it will not happen for quite some time.

    In the meantime we can prevent "this" from happening again (unless you think Biden will behave like Trump if not re-elected in 2024) by having better candidates.

    The Deathocrats and Republikillers will not offer better candidates voluntarily.

    They will continue to do nothing and make empty promises until they fear that citizens will vote for something other than the false choice of big money candidates offered by the Deathocrats and Republikillers.

    So we can form an alternative now by demanding that candidates run small donor campaigns and create the fear of an alternative. And if the Deathocrats and Republikillers do not offer us better candidates we will have a base to run alternative candidates in 2022.

    This will grow in 2024 and we will either have better candidates from the Deathocrats and Republikillers or better candidates that are not but are viable and/or impactful on the 2022 and 2024 elections.(for example, a third party candidate taking enough votes to flip a gerrymandered district)

    Then when the election laws that need to be fixed (which you admit will not happen by then) we will have better legislators that will fix the laws to benefit ordinary citizens instead of having those laws made worse by the big money Deathocrats and Republikillers.

  3. [3] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Liz,

    Election reforms, it would seem to me, cut at the very heart of American democracy. It sounds wrong, on the face of it, to suggest that these changes can be made without a supermajority, for lack of a better word at the moment, of Democrats and Republicans or be rushed through with simple majorities and/or no Republicans withoug taking the necessary time (two or even four years seems too short a time frame for such a complicated and important change) to explain why the changes should be made and to demonstrate in the clearest and most transparent way why Americans, especially those who are inclined to believe that the 2020 presidential election results can't be trusted, should put their trust in how elections are run.

    While this sounds like a very reasonable response to how most reasonable deal with accepting change... let’s face it... we are not dealing with REASONABLE people because no person whose actions and decisions are based on lies and misinformation makes reasonable choices!

    This needs to be rammed thru as quickly as possible and then we can all debate how effective the changes are once they take effect. There was no way that continued discussion of “ObamaCare” (the ACA) was going to get the other side to see the wisdom of it. Getting it passed and put it into practice did not stop the debate and changed few peoples minds...except most of those that still oppose “ObamaCare” are fierce proponents of the ACA!

  4. [4] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    An interesting angle. I think yours is the first piece of commentary I've seen that suggests how the Biden administration may be able to lever a few actual legislative successes out of this Congress: by correctly reading and playing the split in the Senate GOP while desperately holding the bare Democratic majority together in the House.

    I would agree with Elizabeth that this might not succeed with many of the issues that currently split the country, and a larger or clearer mandate will probably be needed for the Dems to get some real reforms and accomplishments down the road. But I disagree that a bill like you're proposing is too much "at the heart of American democracy" to have a chance of passage this spring. As you say, you're focusing on the nuts and bolts, not on the grand concepts of, respectively, voter suppression and voter encouragement.

    Was it you, perhaps, or one of the other astute political bloggers that I follow who wrote last year that this new Congress and administration would be very smart to tighten up, A LOT, the informal rules and procedures by which the Federal government does its Three Branches Waltz?

    Presidents should answer subpoenas from Congress without question, not assert executive privilege. Other sanctions besides impeachment are needed to curb executive abuse of power - perhaps strong penalties on the executive staff, depriving a crooked president of his crooked enablers. National defense should not give the president carte blanche to do whatever he wants with the budget, trade, immigration, your odd border walls, etc.

    Trump has shown just how much the system has long depended on 'good faith between honest gentlemen' or however else we might characterize basic U.S. constitutional politics from past eras. This recent presidency of 'bad faith conducted by a dishonest rogue' has broken that system completely. So would you guess that the same 10-12 Senators now speaking out against the soft coup against democracy might also vote for Democratic bills that seriously restrict President Biden's - oops, sorry, all future presidents' - powers to do good, or bad, depending on who's calling the game?

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Don "Quixote" Harris

    You need to face the fact that your "One Demand" ain't never gonna happen in this world. It's simply unrealistic to even hope for it. The only viable alternative is public-financed election campaigns, with a total ban on even offering, let alone accepting, bribes (aka "campaign donations").

    That probably also "ain't never gonna happen", but at least it's a viable option that has the potential to accomplish the objective.

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @JMCt

    don't you think that the 'good faith between honest gentlemen' trope had already failed with the american public? as i see it, that's probably the main reason trump was elected in the first place, and was very nearly elected to a second term. many people wanted the whole system pulverized, no matter how awful the one doing the pulverizing. i'd say most trump voters are fully aware who he is, don't particularly like it, and vote for him anyway because of how deeply they distrust the traditional political class. i'd also say that part of biden's success this cycle (and part of his failure in previous cycles) came from his unwillingness to do as much of the empty pandering that most candidates traditionally do - liz warren especially comes to mind on that front.

    biden is still clearly a politician, and still talks in a politician's vague platitudes. but he doesn't come off like he's selling us a bill of goods.

    JL

  7. [7] 
    John M wrote:

    [6] nypoet22 wrote:

    "as i see it, that's probably the main reason trump was elected in the first place, and was very nearly elected to a second term. many people wanted the whole system pulverized, no matter how awful the one doing the pulverizing. i'd say most trump voters are fully aware who he is, don't particularly like it, and vote for him anyway because of how deeply they distrust the traditional political class."

    The MAJOR problem with this is that these very SAME people would do away with democracy all together! They would happily vote FOR dictatorship as long as it was of the partisan strip that they like. This is NO solution and they must be fought at every turn.

    "i'd also say that part of biden's success this cycle (and part of his failure in previous cycles) came from his unwillingness to do as much of the empty pandering that most candidates traditionally do - liz warren especially comes to mind on that front."

    I'd hardly call either Warren or Sanders laying out detailed plans of beliefs that they have held for years and would like to see implemented as "pandering." To me pandering is when you only adopt a position because it is currently the flavor of the month with a majority in opinion polls, and you flip flop repeatedly. To me the politician that comes to mind is Marco Rubio, not Elizabeth Warren.

  8. [8] 
    John M wrote:

    Sorry, that should read "stripe" not "strip." Another example besides Rubio would be Lindsay Graham. They were never Trumpers until suddenly they weren't.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @jm,

    rubio, definitely. sanders, not so much. but i think a lot of senator warren's pandering has flown under the radar precisely because she DOES have detailed and coherent plans, any of which would probably be helpful if successfully implemented. maybe it's the staff more than the candidate, but to me it seemed like every time in the campaign season some issue got on the news, up pops a "plan for that," which makes me go, where was that particular plan two days ago?

    as it happens, i agree with pretty much all of senator warren's political stances, i just scratch my head at the timing of them.

    JL

  10. [10] 
    John M wrote:

    It is almost impossible to reasonably deal with people who adopt racial grievance politics and victimhood as their political identity, which is the modern Republican party today.

    1/3 of the electorate voted for Hitler for the same reasons, wounded pride and a sense of victimhood. Substitute anti-Jewish with anti-Black, and anti-Communism with anti-Liberal (or Libtard as they like to use) and do you really have anything different? Are Nazis and KKK the types you can have a reasonable political discourse with? Granted that's a broad brush, and not all people are like that. But then, aren't you also what you tolerate and associate with? Such as Kelly Loeffler with her KKK and QAnon ties?

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    oh yes, lindsey graham is the KING of pandering.

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @jm,

    a third of germans voted for hitler because they were broke and desperate.

    JL

  13. [13] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    CRS-
    Public financing is not a viable alternative when compared to One Demand.

    Public financing requires legislation. The big money legislators only pass legislation that benefits the big money interests. The big money interests have no interest in public financing that would benefit ordinary citizens.

    In order to pass public financing legislation that would benefit ordinary citizens, citizens would first have to replace the big money legislators with small donor legislators using the basic principles of democracy of demanding candidates run small donor campaigns in order to earn our votes.

    The problem would have to be solved before the public financing legislation to solve the problem can be passed.

    That is a fact as inescapable as gravity.

    And that is the purpose of One Demand.

    You may be right that One Demand will never happen. But it has better chance of success than public financing legislation which can't be passed until after the problem is solved.

    And since One Demand is just citizens using the basic tools of democracy if you think One Demand can't work then you think democracy can't work.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua,

    a third of germans voted for hitler because they were broke and desperate.

    Hence Trump's insincere effort to up the amount of the stimulus cheques.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Insincere because he didn't fight very hard for it and use the powere that he obviously has over congressional Republicans.

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