Tag Archives: swing states

Time for a National Voting Rights Law

The Supreme Court is right, voting rights are threatened throughout the country and national standards are needed for any election involving federal lawmakers.  Voting rights abuses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and other states reveal widespread attempts to deprive people of the vote.

Voting rights are too important to leave to the whim of state and local governments.

Most commentaries about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 focus on its impact in the southern states most directly affected by its provisions.  This tendency will be accelerated by the way Texas, in keeping with their cowboy reputation, is rushing ahead to implement a discriminatory voter ID law that will affect thousands of poor people in that state.  (Mississippi is doing the same thing.)

This, of course, is rank discrimination and must not be allowed to succeed.  The NAACP estimates that one-quarter of African-Americans and 16% of Latinos of voting age do not have a government-issued photo ID.

However, we need to keep in mind that there were widespread attempt to limit access to voting in a number of states during the 2012 election season.  In Florida, Republican officials attempted to shorten the popular early voting period, making it harder for people to chose to vote on the weekend and avoid the burdensome task of waiting in line for many hours on Election Day.  Reportedly, the Republicans were disturbed when they discovered that more than four million people voted before election day in that swing state.

In Ohio, Republican officials tried to get rid of the rules instituted in 2008 that allowed people to vote early by absentee ballot and to vote on the Saturday and Sunday before the traditional Tuesday election day.  When they saw that the new rules encouraged minority and working class voters to show up, their earlier enthusiasm for the reform disappeared.

“It just so happened that this was the first time that early voting had been used in large numbers to mobilize African American and Latino voters,” said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.”

In Pennsylvania, the Republican legislature passed a strict Voter ID law.  However, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state did not do an adequate job of providing voters with an opportunity to acquire state-issued IDs and prevented the law from going into effect in 2012.  The ID law is operational this year and inspiring protests even as I write this posting.

Thus, voting restrictions are not monopolized by backwoods legislatures in Dixie, but are a national issue that requires national solutions.  The President should step forward and propose a national election law that would require fair standards in every election where a federal office is part of the ballot.

Why should Pennsylvania be allowed to require voter IDs and Texas be prohibited?  Voting in every state is a right, not a privilege, and citizens should be encouraged to participate in the political life of the country, not be excluded by discriminatory laws.


Inside Obama’s Election Strategy

In spite of media stories about a tightening race, Barack Obama has all but locked up an Electoral College majority.  He has held solid leads in New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia since the beginning of October and the website ‘Real Clear Politics,’ which has the best electoral college map on the internet, shows him pulling into a commanding lead in Nevada.  This means that the attention being paid to Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri are beside the point.  Obama can claim 291 electoral votes without winning any of these “swing” states.  Essentially, the campaign is now being waged around the size of Obama’s mandate.

Obama has assembled this commanding lead by combining the strategies advocated in two “big picture” books by Democratic political strategists.  The first, The Emerging Democratic Majority, written in 2001 by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, said the Democrats could become the dominant party in the 21st century by appealing to people who live in urban areas with predominantly information/high tech economies – areas that are generally multi-cultural, socially liberal, and internationalist.  Their research showed that urban areas with these characteristics are growing in electoral importance in many states that traditionally have leaned Republican.  For example, the metro-Denver area in Colorado; the fast-growing suburban areas of northern Virginia; the Las Vegas-Reno area in Nevada, and the sprawling metro areas of Phoenix, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico now have more voters than the conservative rural areas that have previously defined politics in those states.  They pointed out that several states considered swing states in the 1960s and 70s, for example Washington and California, had already become Democratic strongholds by 2001 because of the rising importance of metro-Seattle and the cultural transformation of the metro-Los Angeles area.

The second book, Whistling Past Dixie, written in 2006 by Thomas Schaller, says that the Democrats should focus on capturing western and northern states with culturally diverse populations rather than becoming more conservative on racial or cultural issues in a vain attempt to best the GOP in the south.  He specifically pointed to the southwestern states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, but included states with tight presidential races in 2004 like Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Oregon.  His strategy is to confine the GOP to the conservative, religious, non-urban states of the deep South, Texas, and the lightly populated Great Plains.

Note that in both of these portraits of the American electorate, Ohio is a swing state outlier in the North because it doesn’t have a high tech urban area and southern Ohio is culturally similar to Kentucky and Tennessee.  In addition, Florida is a swing state outlier in the South because it has some high tech areas and a diverse mix of people due to immigration and retirement communities.

The attention and false claims of a McCain surge directed toward Pennsylvania reveal the nature of Obama’s success.  Unless McCain can somehow come from behind to win in Pennsylvania, victories in Ohio, Florida or other “swing states” of the past will make no difference.  We will know quickly on Tuesday night whether the Obama strategy of winning in the west and in multi-cultural urban areas has succeeded.  If he captures the eastern time zone states of Pennsylvania and Virginia then it will be time to discuss color patterns for the Obama White House drapes.