Sticks in his Spokes

The U.S. electoral system and the midterm elections

by Rebel Fagin

[Photo by Flickr user Theresa Thompson via Creative Commons license]

This article is for people who think the electoral system is a tool for making change. It is neither an endorsement nor a dismissal. It is an analysis.

Congress makes the laws. It is made up of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, that need to agree for a bill to become a law. If the Republicans lose control of either house, the Trump agenda can be slowed. Most of the time, when a president’s party has control of Congress, they lose that dominance after two years.

Members of the House of Representatives serve two years, with the entire House facing election every two years. There are currently 236 Republican representatives and 193 Democratic representatives. The Democrats would have to hold onto every seat they now have and gain an additional 23 to win a majority. For this to happen, the “blue wave” will have to be a tsunami.

Every two years, one-third of the Senate faces election. The Senate currently has 51 members who regularly vote Republican and 49 who regularly vote Democrat. In case of a tie, the vice president casts the deciding vote, therefore the Republicans need to lose two Senators to lose their majority. This is doable. Thirty-five senators are up for reelection this year, the majority of whom came into office when Obama was reelected in 2012. Twenty-six of these are Democrats, and nine are Republicans, three of whom are retiring. To take the Senate, the Democrats would have to hold on to all 26 seats and gain two more. The Republicans most likely to face defeat include the candidates trying to fill the shoes of retirees Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), as well as Dan Heller (Nev.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.).

This is an off-year, or mid-term, election. That means there won’t be a presidential race. Usually in an off-year election, liberals and progressives stay home while disciplined Republicans go out to vote.

Trump has the advantage of what appears to be a healthy economy. In a capitalist economy, 4% unemployment is optimum. As of September, U.S. unemployment was at 3.7%. This doesn’t include discouraged workers, an alarming number of whom are young. Plus, the Republican tax scheme gives tax breaks to working folks for eight years.

But voting itself can be problematic. First, there’s the issue of voter integrity. Electronic voting machines are designed to be hacked; instructions are available online. This is most effective where there are tight races, elections in which a few hundred votes matter. Second, voter ID laws eliminate poor and elderly voters. “Vote caging” targets students, those who move frequently, and overseas service personnel. With vote caging, one sends out mass mailings to the addresses of registered voters with non-forwardable mail. A caging list is then compiled of all the returned documents and on the strength of this alone, people’s right to vote is challenged at the polls. If the voter gets upset, he or she may be offered a provisional ballot. These are counted last, if they are counted at all. In every election, there are mailed-in ballots that never get counted. In working-class areas, there are polling places are often few in number and have limited hours. All this works to eliminate the votes of working people. Operation Interstate Crosscheck knocks people off voter rolls by matching names of voters with criminals and ex-felons. The system removes names such as Maria Rodriguez, Mohamad Mohamad, and David Lee. Notice the ethnic slant of these names. That’s the purpose.

What can you do? Make sure you’re registered. Vote in person. Bring your voter registration card along with your ID to the polls. Reject provisional ballots and insist on real ballots. Make a fuss if you have to.

The real swing voters are not recalcitrant Trumpites; they’re disengaged voters. Over 50% of those who could vote don’t. If the Democrats want to get the real swing voters, they must have something to offer. Quit being watered-down Republicans. Drop the white collars of Silicon Valley and embrace the blue collars of Hunter’s Point. Drop candidates like Hilary Clinton and support candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Only then will people have a reason to support them. Not being Trump is simply not enough.


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