Vote suppression, vote manipulation, disenfranchisement, faulty voting machines — these and others are serious problems that threaten to undermine the electoral process in the United States.
While some legislators are attempting to crack down on alleged voter fraud by proposing stringent ID requirements, other lawmakers and grassroots citizen organizations are focusing their attention on the much greater problem of election fraud (intentional efforts to suppress or manipulate the vote) and irregularities (potentially hackable or malfunctioning electronic voting machines), as well as related problems like poorly trained poll workers and insufficient numbers of machines, paper ballots and provisional ballots at polling places.
One of the problems “clean vote” advocates have is convincing the public that the voting process can indeed be dirty. After all, there’s not a lot of distance between talk about election fraud and the latest conspiracy theory. Plus, we want to believe that ours is a pristine process — that every vote counts and that every vote is counted. The sad truth is that many votes go uncounted, and some votes are counted twice or more by electronic machines.
Not surprisingly, the lion’s share of these problems usually exists in poor and urban areas, the glaring exception being Florida’s ballot fiasco back in 2000. And one of the results of these problems is that we feel powerless to correct them, no matter where we live. How can we have faith in electronic machines when the precincts that buy them admit they don’t trust them to accurately count our votes? How can we fight back when we’re turned away at the polls because our photo ID doesn’t include the middle initial that appears on our voter registration, even though the rest of the information on the two documents is consistent? We can quickly get overwhelmed by both the big picture and the exact details.
The reality — and here’s the good news — is that we can each take steps to help ensure that our vote is counted. There’s no guarantee that it will be, but the more attention we pay to some of those details before and on Election Day, the greater the chances that our vote will be registered.
Here’s a checklist of action steps you can take now:
• Double-check now to make sure you are registered to vote. If you discover a problem that you cannot resolve with your local elections board (usually listed in the government pages of the local telephone directory), contact Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683) for help.
• Find out now where your polling place is. It may have changed since the last time you voted.
• Find out exactly what forms of ID your state requires, and make sure everything is in order before Election Day. If you can, go to the appropriate website (usually the county’s board of elections or your state’s secretary of state), research the voter ID law and print the page to take with you on Election Day. Poll workers too often don’t know the law.
• Obtain a sample ballot. Some counties and precincts post sample ballots online. Call your local elections board to have one sent to you if you can’t get it online. As recent elections have shown, ballots can be confusing, and you don’t want to be caught off guard at the polls. Bear in mind, though, that not all jurisdictions provide sample ballots.
Here’s what you can do on Election Day (or earlier, if your state allows early voting):
• Request a paper ballot if one is available. Electronic machines are much too unreliable. Be sure you are not given a provisional ballot; these are used when a person’s voting status is in question, and they often go uncounted. If an electronic machine is your only option, check to see if you can obtain a paper copy of your vote. Some machines allow you to verify your vote on paper before you submit it electronically.
• Be vigilant. If anything strikes you as questionable, bring it to the attention of a poll worker — which may not do any good if the poll workers are part of the problem. (One example: In several New York City precincts in 2006, minority voters were asked for photo ID, which was not a requirement, while no such request was made of white voters.)
• Report any problems, even if they appear to be minor, to your local board of elections as soon as possible; if you have a cell phone, call from the polling place. You can also report it to Election Protection at the number given above and to any of the citizen organizations listed at the end of this article. If it’s serious enough and you haven’t received a satisfactory response from the election board, don’t hesitate to call your local media to notify them of the problem.
In the final days in one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races, Oprah Winfrey and President Donald Trump, as well as former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter and Vice President Mike Pence, are trying to put their imprint on the Georgia election.
Winfrey joins Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams for two town hall-style events Thursday, the same day that Pence travels to the state for several rallies with Republican Brian Kemp.
Trump and Obama will follow with their party’s candidate over the next three days. Carter, an Abrams supporter and former Georgia governor, garnered significant attention already this week with a personal plea that Kemp resign as secretary of state, Georgia’s chief elections official, to ensure public confidence in the results of what’s expected to be a close race.
The blitz underscores the high stakes in one of the defining contests of next week’s midterms, as Abrams vies to become the first black female governor in American history, while Kemp tries to maintain the GOP’s dominance in a state Democrats believe is on the cusp of becoming a presidential battleground.
The appearance by Winfrey, among the world’s wealthiest and most famous black women, is a significant coup for Abrams, who needs to maximize her support from nonwhite voters but also from liberal white women. All of those demographics overlap with Winfrey’s fan base, and she will hit them all with events in Republican-leaning Cobb County and heavily Democratic DeKalb County, both within miles of downtown Atlanta.
Though sometimes mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate, Winfrey has demurred on her intentions. Her most visible foray into electoral politics was as an outspoken supporter of Obama, her fellow Chicagoan, when he first won the White House in 2008.
Trump’s appearance may claim as a casualty the last debate scheduled between Kemp and Abrams.
The two campaigns had agreed weeks ago to a debate at 5 p.m. Sunday in the studios of Atlanta’s WSB-TV. But Kemp’s campaign said the president’s schedule takes precedence, and he’s coming to Macon, about 100 miles south of Atlanta, to hold a campaign rally with Kemp at 4 p.m.
Abrams’ campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, says the debate is off because Kemp backed out. Kemp adviser Ryan Mahoney says his candidate is willing to find another time slot, but Groh-Wargo says Abrams is booked through Tuesday’s election.
Multiple polls show a statistical dead heat between Kemp and Abrams, with a low percentage of undecided voters remaining. There’s a possibility of a December runoff, given that Libertarian Ted Metz also is on the ballot and Georgia’s requirement that the winner garner a majority of the votes.
That could mean that events that energize the base, like a rally with Trump or Obama, could carry more weight than a debate less than 48 hours before Election Day.
Both candidates have run consistent appeals to their respective bases. Kemp has embraced Trump and echoed the president’s hard-line policies on immigration, and he’s focused much of his campaigning in the state’s more conservative pockets beyond metro Atlanta.
Visits from Trump and Pence — and the location of those events — illustrate that strategy.
While Abrams has touted her experience working with Republicans as minority leader in the Georgia legislature, her positions on health care, education spending, criminal justice and gun regulations make her an unapologetic liberal. She’s openly courting Democratic-leaning voters who have largely sat out midterm elections in the past, arguing it’s a better path to victory than trying to coax crossover votes from older white voters who abandoned Democrats.
Obama will appear with Abrams on Friday at a cluster of historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.
President Donald Trump’s loyalists here at Florida’s premier retirement community fear Andrew Gillum.
It has nothing to do with his race, they insist, when asked about the 39-year-old Democrat who could become the state’s first African-American governor. Instead, The Villages’ deeply conservative residents are convinced a Gillum victory would trigger an era of high crime, higher taxes and moral failing.
“He’ll kill everything that’s good about Florida,” says Talmadge Strickland, a 66-year-old retired firefighter wearing a “Trump 2020” baseball cap at a rally for Gillum’s opponent. “He will hurt us; he will physically hurt us with his socialist mentality.”
In an era defined by deep political partisanship, there’s perhaps no state where the divide runs deeper than Florida, which is in the grip of a fierce culture clash over guns, race, climate change and the president. Gillum sits at the center of the melee, his campaign a proxy for the larger fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s GOP.
Gillum’s fate is inexorably linked to fellow Democrats whose success could determine control of Congress. That’s especially true for three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who could benefit from Gillum’s appeal among young voters and minorities.
As early voting begins in Florida this week, that link is tenuous.
“New voters and infrequent voters are everything to us winning,” Gillum told The Associated Press when asked about his impact on Nelson’s race. “I think they will vote for both of us, and that will be to his benefit.”
Young people and minorities are traditionally among the least reliable voters, particularly in midterm elections. Meanwhile, white voters in place like The Villages are lining up behind his opponent, former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.
The electorate in Florida this year is especially unpredictable due to an unusual collision of events: a massive hurricane, the nation’s deadliest high school shooting and Gillum’s historic candidacy.
DeSantis has benefited from Trump’s occasional backing on social media, including after the debate. And Gillum is scheduled to campaign this week alongside former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In the interview, he noted he’s been in touch with former President Barack Obama, who may campaign on his behalf.
Gillum acknowledged some Florida voters might oppose him because of his race, but insisted “that voter is not the majority of the people in our state.”
During Sunday night’s CNN debate, he accused his Republican opponent of fanning racial animus ever since DeSantis first warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
“The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all,” Gillum charged. “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, you know what, I’m black. I’ve been black all my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”
Meanwhile, a small, but significant portion of the state’s Republican base remains consumed by recovery efforts almost two weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle. The secretary of state extended early voting hours, but both sides expect a drop in turnout across the heavily-Republican region as residents struggle without electricity and lodging in many cases.
Nelson’s challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, has yet to resume any campaign activities since the storm made landfall.
The state’s other trauma — a school shooting earlier this year that left 17 students and staff dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — looms over the races. Backed by the fortune of Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, Florida’s young people are fighting to be heard.
Those rallying behind Gillum in recent days include 16-year-old Sari Kaufman, a Parkland survivor who spent Sunday canvassing for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
In an interview, Kaufman suggested young people are more excited about Gillum than Nelson, particularly because of Gillum’s status as a younger candidate running statewide for the first time.
“If he is successful and other candidates are successful, it will mean that my fellow classmates didn’t die in vain,” Kaufman said.
African-American leaders are also working to reverse their community’s typical drop-off in midterm elections. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said his organization is “microfocused” on boosting black turnout this fall. A statewide canvassing effort is underway across Florida, where organizers hope to bump black turnout by at least 5 percent from four years ago.
It was easy to find evidence of Gillum’s influence among so-called low-propensity voters in recent days, as activists from more than a half dozen competing groups scoured the state to ensure they cast ballots.
Anne Fazio, a 19-year-old Jacksonville student, was among thousands of people contacted at home over the weekend by the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity’s massive door-knocking push. Standing at her front door, she didn’t hesitate when a conservative volunteer asked whether she was going to vote.
“I’m voting for Andrew Gillum,” Fazio said, praising his support for gun control and expanding Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.
Asked by the AP whether she would support Nelson, she said: “I think I’ll probably vote for him — he’s a Democrat, right?”
The Republican DeSantis is making little effort to expand his coalition as he embraces Trump and his policies in a state the president carried by 1 point.
DeSantis vowed during Sunday’s debate to work closely with the Trump administration, while noting that Gillum has called for Trump’s impeachment. “You’ve got to be able to work with the administration,” DeSantis declared.
He also dismissed Parkland students’ calls for stronger efforts to reduce gun violence when asked about his opposition to modest gun control measures passed by Florida’s Republican-led legislature in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
DeSantis said local law enforcement and school officials “let them down” by not acting sooner to detain the shooter and address his mental health issues sooner.
Meanwhile, a flood of money is shaping the Florida elections.
Since the beginning of September alone, each side has dumped more than $44 million into television advertising for the governor’s race. While that may be the most in the country, it’s a fraction of the spending in Florida’s Senate contest, according to political operatives tracking media spending.
Paced by the Scott campaign’s $50 million, the Republican side has invested nearly $79 million in television spending since April compared to Democrats’ $49 million behind Nelson.
Back at The Villages, the attack ads against Gillum appeared to be resonating with retirees gathered for a Saturday DeSantis appearance that drew about 400.
“He scares me, I’m sorry,” 75-year-old retiree Suzanne Zimmerman, a member of Villagers for Trump, said of Gillum.
His race has nothing to do with her fear, she said.
“Although Gillum does say that there are too many white men in government,” Zimmerman added. “So that’s unfortunate that he is actually a racist.”
The Rev. Calvin Butts speaks during a news conference of the Progressive National Baptist Convention at the National Press Club, on Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Representatives of two black Baptist denominations, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention USA, declared that they would stand apart from white liberals and conservatives alike while seeking to address a politically divided nation.
Rejecting the “politics of fear” they say has taken hold in this election season, the pastors assembled at the National Press Club said that race and spirituality should not be ignored as the two sides work to get out the vote.
“As the body of Christ, we do not serve as mere mascots of the liberal left, sent by patronizing paternalists to serve as the point on the head of their ideological spear,” reads a declaration released by PNBC President Timothy Stewart and the Rev. Calvin Butts, the denomination’s social justice chair.
“Nor do we set horses with those of the religious right who hide their rampant racism and hysterical hypocrisy amidst the existential ruins of a morally and theologically bankrupt spirituality.”
The Rev. Matthew V. Johnson Sr., the Birmingham, Ala., pastor who authored the declaration, earlier told Religion News Service that white religious conservatives and liberals have focused on opposite sides of hot-button issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights while not giving race and racism enough attention.
“It’s not just about black special interests,” said Johnson, vice chair of the PNBC Social Justice Commission. “This is an issue of justice.”
At the news conference, Johnson noted that Democrats and others protesting the nomination of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed a lack of concern about the nominee’s record on race issues. Their indifference, Johnson said, is an example of “the problem that we have with the liberal left.”
The PNBC, the denomination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., formed as a breakaway group from the National Baptist Convention in the 1960s after the NBC opposed sit-ins and other civil rights protests. The presence of the Rev. Amos Brown, social justice chair of the NBC, demonstrated his group’s support for the younger denomination’s declaration.
The Rev. Amos Brown, right, and Rabbi Jack Moline, of Interfaith Alliance, attend an announcement by the Progressive National Baptist Convention at the National Press Club on Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Butts said that as black preachers, “We have our own view of the gospel message which is the only authentic view.” Naming Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Paula White — all members of the religious right — he said, “They’re heretics as far we we’re concerned – hypocrites,” said Butts, as he closed the news conference. “And we need to be unafraid to say this and stand firmly on who we are.”
In August during its annual meeting, the PNBC protested Trump administration policies it believes are harmful to the poor, people of color and working-class families.
But Tuesday’s declaration states that the nation’s current cultural crisis is not the sole fault of its president. “The presidency of Donald Trump is not the cause of the American malady but a symptom, a consequence, an effect; although by the aid and abetting of the present administration the sickness has received license and worsened,” the declaration reads.
Speakers at the news conference said getting out the vote could be just one effect of their declaration.
“We’ve got to really vote like hell in this midterm election and in 2020 and get rid of this excuse ‘my one vote won’t count,’” said Brown. “Every vote counts. We’ve got to get that over to our congregations.”
But Butts anticipated the declaration would also lead to other steps, including black church support of personal withdrawing of money from banks, such as Wells Fargo, for their role in the subprime mortgage crisis that has disproportionately affected minority homeowners.
“We will be asking our churches to focus on action against these banks,” said Butts, the senior pastor of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. “And always remember that when this economy booms, it is usually at the exploitation of black and brown people.”
Others attending the declaration announcement included representatives of the Church of God in Christ, the Interfaith Alliance, the National African American Clergy Network and the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative.
YES THEY DID: Supporters of President Barack Obama celebrated his election night victory at the McCormick Place rally in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2012. Obama defeated his Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win a second term in the White House. (Photo: Zhang Jun/Newscom)
Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office for a second term sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the white male in America is over.
The long drive for broader social participation by all Americans reached a turning point in the 2012 election, which is likely to go down as a watershed in the nation’s social and political evolution, and not just because in some states voters approved of same-sex marriage for the first time.
On Tuesday, Obama received the votes of barely one in three white males. That, too, was historic. It almost certainly was an all-time low for the winner of a presidential election that did not include a major third-party candidate.
“We’re not in the ’50s any more,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. “This election makes it clear that a single focus directed at white males, or at the white population in general, is not going to do it. And it’s not going to do it when the other party is focusing on energizing everybody else.”
How Obama Won
Exit-poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was four percentage points lower than 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was two percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.
The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young, undocumented immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign.
The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian-American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly three-to-one. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Although a far smaller group, gay voters went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)
“Obama lost a lot of votes among whites,” said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist. “It was only because of high black turnout and the highest Latino turnout ever for a Democratic president that he won.”
Obama planted his base in an America that is inexorably becoming more diverse. Unchecked by Republicans, these demographic trends would give the Democrats a significant edge in future presidential elections.
But, despite opposition from conservative religious movements, President Obama captured the votes of 30 percent of white evangelicals. What’s more, he once again won the Catholic vote — which some attribute to his strong support among Hispanic Catholics.
The Latino Effect
GOP SAVIOR: The Republican Party is counting on emerging superstars like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to broaden its base. Rubio is a Latino conservative who supports immigration reform.
Latinos were an essential element of Obama’s victories in the battlegrounds of Nevada and Colorado. States once considered reliably Republican in presidential elections will likely become highly competitive because of burgeoning Latino populations, sometimes in combination with large black populations. North Carolina, where Obama won narrowly in 2008 and came close this time, is one. The Deep South state of Georgia is another. Texas and Arizona in the Southwest are future swing states, by 2020, if not sooner.
Besides demography, Obama had another edge: the superiority of the voter-tracking operation that his campaign built over the last six years, which generated increased turnout on Tuesday among young people and unmarried women.
“That was pure machinery. Hats off to them,” said Republican strategist Sara Fagen, a former Bush White House political aide. “Our party has a lot to learn and needs to invest very serious resources in improving our own machinery.”
But Democrats Have a White Problem
The election was not an unblemished success for Democrats, who face a potentially serious threat from the loss of white votes. “I don’t think you can be a major party and get down to support approaching only a third of the white population,” said demographer Frey. “In some ways, maybe, Obama dodged a bullet here. If the Republicans had made a little bit of an effort toward minorities and kept their focus on whites, they might have won.
Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster, said that with Obama having run his last race, “we’ll have demographics working for us, but it is not going to be so easy to keep it patched tight. It’s going to fray.”
Without Obama on the ticket, socially conservative black voters might have been more inclined to follow the urgings of their ministers, who asked them to stay home to protest the Democrats’ endorsement of gay marriage.
But the Republican Party’s problems are more immediate, and much tougher to solve. Some GOP strategists have been warning for years about the risks of hitching the party’s fortunes to a shrinking share of the electorate.
What Should Republicans Do?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who combines a tea-party pedigree with Latino heritage, said in a post-election statement that “the conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”
Al Cardenas, a leading Republican fundraiser, said his party is “out of step with the demographic challenges of today.” Like Rubio, the Cuban-born Cardenas is close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has long sought to broaden the party’s appeal to Latino voters and will be a prominent voice in the debate over the party’s future.
Romney’s chances ultimately depended on his ability to turn out a bigger white vote against Obama than Republican nominees received in earlier races. Eight years ago, Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, defeated Democrat John Kerry by 17 percentage points among white voters and won re-election. Romney took the white vote by 20 percentage points and lost.
The difference: despite an aggressive voter-mobilization effort, the white share of the electorate has fallen to 72 percent, from 74 percent in 2008 and 77 percent in 2004.
What It Means
Viewed narrowly, this week’s election essentially left Washington untouched. A Democratic president will continue to battle a divided Congress. Within the halls of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate, the balance of partisan power scarcely budged at all.
But pull back and a very different picture emerges. The civil rights, women’s and gay rights movements, designed to allow others to reach for power previously grasped only by white men, have made a real difference, and the outlines of 21st century America have emerged.
For more on how shifting demographics are changing the church, check out “The Culture Clasher,” our earlier interview with author Soong-Chan Rah, and “The Future Is Mestizo” by Duke Divinity School scholar Chris Rice.