The Universal Notebook: How to fix our rigged elections

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If we are ever to restore integrity to the American electoral process we are going to have to take it back from the extremists who hijacked it. That would mean undoing at least 30 years’ worth of their dirty work.

When Donald Trump charged that the 2016 election was “rigged,” he knew what he was talking about. It was rigged in his favor, and not just by his Russian co-conspirators.

A good start at fixing U.S. elections would be to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. In 1987, the Reagan-era Federal Communications Commission abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which required anyone with a broadcast license to air multiple perspectives on issues, thus opening the door to conservative talk radio, Fox News and fake news, the most corrosive forces in our democracy.

Then we might think about getting rid of the Electoral College, an anachronism that empowers unqualified candidates. Trump likes to think he won in a landslide, even though he lost the popular vote by 3 million. He won the Electoral College vote 306-232. That may seem like a big difference, but it really came down to a razor-thin margin of 107,000 votes in three swing states – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The problem with the Electoral College is that it takes the election out of the hands of the American people and gives it to states. States should not have the right to vote.

Most of Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote margin came in California, but, under the Electoral College system, the votes of citizens in large states like California and Texas do not count as much as the votes of people in small states like Wyoming and Vermont. Wyoming’s three electoral votes each represent just 186,000 people while California’s 55 electoral votes each represent 670,000. So if you live in Wyoming, your vote counts 3.5 times more than the vote of a California resident.

Another reform necessary to restore the integrity of our elections would be to overturn Citizens United, the single worst decision in Supreme Court history.

In Citizens United, the court affirmed the bogus ideas that money is a form of free speech and that corporations have the same rights as individuals, even though the Constitution does not even mention corporations. So now the wealthy and corporations are free to buy U.S. elections.

In a fair campaign-finance system, only individuals would be allowed to contribute a limited amount to a candidate and no soft money would be allowed at all, soft money being the fuel behind the most toxic forms of false political advertising.

Not sure how you fix gerrymandering, but the extreme partisanship in Washington is largely a result of the masterful job Republicans have done in redrawing congressional districts so they can’t lose and don’t have to appeal to moderates.

To rig district lines, the GOP first had to win governorships and state legislatures. How did they manage to do this? The same way they did in Maine, by appealing to prejudice and fear. But while Republicans now hold power, they are demonstrating every day that they are incapable of leading, let alone governing. That’s because you can’t move forward with your foot on the brake and the gearshift in reverse.

Finally, we are going to have to confront Republican voter suppression, their highly effective way of keeping the poor, the elderly and minorities from voting.

They use dirty tricks – requiring photo IDs, eliminating same-day registration, and reducing the number of polling places – in order to create long lines and long waits. In Wisconsin, where Trump won by a mere 30,000 votes, it has been estimated that Republican-backed voter ID laws kept 300,000 eligible voters from voting.

Republicans defend these practices as attempts to prevent voter fraud, but there is no measurable fraud in American elections beyond Republican monkey-wrenching.

The reason conservatives make such a fuss about the United States being a “republic” and not a “democracy” is that they fear majority rule. As the system is currently rigged, a Republican minority is able to dictate the rules, and rule.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in an essay called “Tyranny of the Minority” in the March issue of Harper’s, the Republican Party “isn’t changing its strategy in order to win a majority; it is intensifying its efforts to suppress the majority. It has committed itself to minority rule. As the non-white population swells, Republican scenarios for holding power will look more and more like those of apartheid-era South Africa – or even the antebellum South.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how we ended up with a white nationalist demagogue in the White House.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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