Grunt Work

Last week one of my readers posted election turnout statistics, which revealed an interesting pattern – that Republican voters turned out with about the same numbers in every presidential election over the last twelve years, but that Democratic votes varied dramatically, apparently based on the “appeal” of the candidate, and particularly the appeal to African-Americans.

But it wasn’t just candidate appeal that affected turnout. With lawsuits recently upheld by the Supreme Court that restricted the ability of the Justice Department to monitor state election procedures, a number of states “consolidated” polling locations and reduced voting hours, and such restrictions have been shown to reduce minority voter turnout far more than they did Republican turnout, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

Such state acts have been currently held to be legal, but I’d hold that they’re scarcely moral, not that morality counts in elections. Only votes do.

And that gets down to the bottom line. Republicans have been working hard for years on a state-level strategy designed to create a political system more to their liking. They’ve gerrymandered Congressional districts so that Democrat voters are concentrated in fewer districts, which is the principal reason why the House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican. What also tends to get overlooked is that getting elected to the House gains an aspiring politician visibility and the ability to fundraise, and if there are more Republican representatives in a state’s delegation, then the Republicans have better odds in eventually electing more senators from that state.

What they’ve done is perfectly legal, but it takes time, effort, and money, all of which Republicans have, and have used effectively over the past decade and even longer, while much of the Democratic constituency is far shorter on all three.

The other factor is cultural change. Like it or not, we now live in a “celebrity” culture, and the key factor in celebrity is the ability to relate to people through the mass media. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do this with their supporters, Hillary Clinton much less so.

In terms of the 2016 election, although it was far from obvious at the beginning, what this meant was that the Democrats were at what I’d call a structural disadvantage from the start, in that all the election-year “ground game” and organizational skills in the world would be hard-pressed to meet the Republican challenge without a “popular” candidate, and especially hard-pressed once they nominated Clinton.

What I’m saying is not an “excuse” for Democrats. What I’m saying is that Democrats have gotten out-organized, out-funded, and out-maneuvered. Democrats, and this includes others with the same concerns, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have tended to focus on protests and lawsuits, but in the end votes count. No matter how necessary, or how worthy legal and political change may be, in our system that requires changing the laws. Changing the laws requires changing the lawmakers, and changing the lawmakers requires getting more votes at state and local levels… and working at that year after year after year, not just in an election year.
If you get enough votes, even the Electoral College comes your way.

And, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

21 thoughts on “Grunt Work”

  1. Sam says:

    As an Australian something that bothers me about the US electoral system is the fact that voting isn’t compulsory. Here in Australia voting is seen both as a right and a responsibilty.

    That said the penalty for not voting amounts to a slap on the wrist for all but the truly destitute – a $20 fine.

    An important side benefit of our system is that the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) has to provide sufficient facilities for everyone who is able to do so to vote.

    In the US apparently there are a lot of people who want to vote and are eligible to do so who aren’t afforded to the opportunity. If voting was required and not optional then I think this would be less likely to occur because more effort would have to be made to facilitate voters.

    All that said just because I think mandatory voting is a good thing doesn’t mean I think a person should have to choose between the lesser of two evils. I think there should be a “None of the above” category available to voters. What’s important is that people make the effort to vote even if they end up voting for no-one.

    Here in Australia there is no official facility to vote for no-one but because our ballots are anonymous you can simply not fill it out or fill it with nonsense and it is treated as invalid by the AEC and not counted. The so called “Donkey Vote”. I’d prefer a more legitimate method of voting for no-one but this one has served us for over a century so I’m not especially bothered about it.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      “aren’t afforded the opportunity” – I question that. There are doubtless those for which even the most modest of difficulties are burdensome, but most people can manage. Anyone can get an absentee ballot, even if they’re not traveling. Motor-voter (the opportunity to register whenever obtaining or renewing driver’s license or alternative ID) is widespread. Many places have early voting. Most polling places are fairly close, and most people could obtain transportation assistance if needed.

      Those to whom such modest obstacles were a hinderance, WOULD have to show some initiative and effort, but if they don’t manifest the will to do so, what reason is there to suppose they’ve made any effort to inform themselves?

      In general, I’m comfortable with barriers to the lazy or willfully ignorant. Indeed, I’d just as soon marginalize them further, were there a lawful way to do so that did not also put others at risk. OTOH, I’d also like to see genuine civics education returned to high schools (at least), so that by the time someone was old enough to vote, they’d have been offered some basic conceptual tools for being motivated to be informed and involved. Then, should they STILL be lazy or willfully ignorant, there would truly be nobody to blame but them.

      1. Autumn says:

        Wow, R. Hamilton. I find you condescending and out of touch in the extreme. You sound like my white girlfriends in Ft. Worth, Texas complaining about how “they have to show their driver’s license to use their credit cards,” so why shouldn’t everyone have to show it at the polls?

        I live in Los Angeles — a place where much of the population uses cash. Many IDs are birth certificates and social security cards. Many inhabitants are living check to check and cannot afford to take 4 hours off either of their two jobs to get a license at the overcrowded DMVs.

        The same goes for voting. Again, they have to think long and hard about standing in line for another four hours to vote, along with the time spent taking a bus or a bike from their work to vote because they can’t afford cars. They’re exhausted and it’s hard to be proactive about an absentee ballot when struggling to feed yourself and possibly a family, too.

        Yes, we have early voting, and yes, those lines were also hours long, especially in populous urban areas. Many Angelenos sacrificed money and time to vote anyway — especially this year.

        If you live in an affluent, suburban, or rural area, it may indeed only take 20 minutes to vote at your local school on election day. And then, of course, it’s simple to sit back and say, “Oh, only lazy people don’t vote, obviously, because it is so very easy for me.”

        As for the “willfully ignorant,” well, Interestingly enough, the portion of the population that appears to be most willfully ignorant in this election are white, college-educated individuals living in the suburbs. In the primaries, the median income of Trump voters was approximately $70,00. These weren’t impoverished rural folks or union workers screwed over by trade agreements. Only 39% of white, college-educated males went for Clinton. The rest went for a thin-skinned, racist, sexist, abusive, two-bit huxster who has already shown that his highest calling is profit.

        Since you are comfortable with the idea of voting barriers for the willfully ignorant, maybe we could have polling places disqualify voters based on these three “willfully ignorant” identifiers: testosterone, a lack of melanin, and a college education.

        1. Tim says:

          This is scary. In the UK the polling stations open from 7am to 10pm (from memory). I have never had to queue. Ever.

          If there was excessive queuing (by which I mean 10 minutes) more stations would likely be opened.

          However, our voting sheets a usually very short, unlike say Australia where you could vote for a lot of candidates, and therefore take more time in the booth.

          4 hours is daft. I would just walk away.

        2. Alan Naylor says:

          I think it is worth noting that I live in a rural area. The voting polls are a half hour away from where I live, by car. I could have taken a bus, or gotten a ride from a friend. I work nights and go to school in the evenings, thus sleep during the days. When not in school or work I still have children to take care of as a single father. Going to vote would take a significant portion out of my day’s rest when I need the sleep.

          I was able to go online and send for an absentee ballet. It was mailed to my house. It took me ten minutes online to register and get the absentee ballet sent to my home. There is no excuse for people not to be able to vote. Distance, time, what ever excuse you might want to come up with. I did not stand in line, I did not wait to get an ID from DMV, I did not have any trouble voting.

          I would support Hamilton’s assertion that having barriers to the lazy from influencing policy is a good thing. If you’re too lazy to spend ten minutes online registering and ordering a ballet, by what measure are you judging your choices in government? I would suggest that anyone who cannot find the time to vote is not making the required effort to do so.

          This has nothing to do with race, color or creed. Sex or sexual orientation. It has everything to do with an individual’s personal standards and willingness to engage in their civic duties.

          Many people, probably most, vote for the person they think would do them the most good, personally. That decision is based on their opinions as developed and influenced by what they ‘know’. We all ‘know’ things. Some people ‘know’ that all blacks are lazy and all Hispanics are illegal refuges. They came to these conclusions through a variety of methods, sometimes as simple as prejudice but other times from personal observations and interactions with both groups. Right or wrong. The same is applicable to those who have a higher education level, make more money or are in any way different from the rest of the electorate.

          In my opinion a good voter would be one who looks past what the media and various talking head organizations espouse about all candidates. A good voter would gather information to build their own informed opinion from factual information, instead of spouting the party line.

          Trump has made many, many, claims, most of which he cannot do. Some of which he has already reneged on. (Having Hillary investigated, his stance on illegal immigrants, his plans for a wall along the Mexican border, his intent to withdraw from various agreements, the list is long.) Despite his strong history of lying and promising impossibilities, people strongly identified with Trump. Many who voted for him did so in the hopes that he would effect change. The change may not be good, but it will be SOMETHING different. Something which is not the usual DC two step.

          Hillary represented a system which was not going to change and would bring no real improvement. She struck a powerfully painful nerve with the military and people did not identify with her, something which is sure to have heavily contributed to her loosing. I am equally certain that the media’s polling methods and biased reporting also helped create a false feeling of her chances with voters.

          Just to add to the statistics that have gone out there, here are some more that are historical:
          20% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans, will ALWAYS vote their party. (So, 40% of the voting populace)

          There are ~330 million people in the US, of which ~220 million are ELIGABLE to vote. Sadly, only ~146 million are Registered.

          In 2012, ~129 million people voted.
          In 2016, ~133 million people voted. Voter turn out is listed at ~55%, which is consistent with the 2012 turn out as well.

          Also in 2016: 20% of people who voted for either Trump or Clinton claimed they voted for that candidate to deny the other candidate their vote.

          ~7 million people voted for others.

          Taken together the implication is that 60% of voters either voted straight party lines (even if their candidate had been a duck) or voted the way they did to ‘keep the other guy from getting their vote’. I read that to mean that those 60% of voters effectively had no impact on the election, given that they were relatively evenly split.

          This leaves about 50 million voters who really decided the way the election would fall. About a sixth of the country determined the next president.

        3. R. Hamilton says:

          There are in many jurisdictions mobile DMV buses, Saturday hours, and various alternatives for those working more than 40 hours a week to still be able to get photo ID.

          Any registered voter can get a vote-by-mail ballot in California:

          It’s far too easy already; all else is excuses. People DIE to protect the right to vote; if someone can’t afford mere minutes or even an hour or two to exercise the right, they have NOTHING to complain about. And if THEY don’t ALSO want to minimize voter fraud, so that their legitimate vote counts to the fullest, then they hardly deserve a zero-obstacle experience.

          No, I’m NOT interested in what someone’s gender, color, or nominal educational level is (or isn’t). If that unhappily correlates with poverty or lack of opportunity, or even effective disenfranchisement, guess what? Unless you can point to specific criminal or civil violations in terms of specific acts by specific persons against them, that’s their tough luck, and their only option is the one all at disadvantage possess: offer a better value than the competition, without complaint, until you advance, or else accept the consequences of your failure to do so. The Chinese, Irish, women (to this day, sometimes), and others, have ALL had to do that, and most have fared reasonably well as a result. Others would too, if they tried.

          I have NO sympathy for sob stories; if someone isn’t making their best effort, they deserve NOTHING, except maybe oxygen, and I’m not sure about that.

  2. Devildog says:

    This time I cannot disagree with you more. Hillary inherited Obama’s ground game. it is an amazing piece of organization. In Ohio, the Republican Party led by Gov. Kasich either at worst actively worked against Trump or at best was just incredibly negligent. He still won Ohio. Look, let me try this again too: This election was a nothing more than a referendum against the direction of our economic policy for the last 30 years. If you asked most Trump supporters whether they think Trump will be different in this regard, most will honestly say that they do not know. But we knew that Hillary was a huge a proponent of Free Trade, open borders and continuing to do business as we have known it most of our lifetime. It has not worked for a majority of us and the future does not look good either. So these guys and girls in office better fix it or we will continue to go through candidates until we find some that have the will to fix these economic problems. Apple INC is thinking about it!!!!

    1. Disagree all you want. The plain fact is that Republicans control the majority of governors and state legislatures and have for the past decade.

      There’s a difference between a campaign organization and one dedicated to changing the political infrastructure.

      1. Devildog says:

        Republican candidates now occupy 31 governor mansions and Republican representatives control 37 state legislators because they won those elections. It is not all due to gerrymandering, it is because the populations in those states think the Republicans currently represent their views the best. If the Democrats want to win, they need to reconsider some of their platforms.

        1. Baloney. If you want to look at the way populations are apportioned in many, if not most, of those states, you’ll find that they were redistricted by Republican legislatures, or by committees overseen by the legislature, who stacked certain districts with overwhelmingly Democratic voters so that Republicans had a smaller but ample majority in the majority of districts.

  3. JM says:


    What you said, at face value, is rather chilling. Unfortently the vast majority of voters (myself included) lack the ability/initiative to watch for such patterns.

    And R. Hamilton,

    Never assume that everyone has an ample opportunity. Ever. For anything. Its only been in recent years that I’ve truly come to understand how well off I am, and how much worse many others situations are.

    I apoloigize if it sounds like I’m attacking you, I just have some deep rooted feelings on the subject.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      People don’t _have_ opportunity, they seize it, or fail to. Rights merely mean that GOVERNMENT has no authority to systematically deny them, not that government or anyone else has any obligation to guarantee outcomes, or minimize every possible hindrance, even if it provides SOME legitimate function (like confidence that the evil left wing psychos that want to rule the world by tyranny aren’t given the opportunity to steal what they can’t earn; and no, I’m not kidding; just read Marx or even Alinsky and take them at their word).

      Problems are in general the responsibility of the person with the problem, not society’s, not the government’s. Theirs. Maybe their family’s and neighbor’s and church, synagogue, mosque, other, Rotary Club, whatever, too. Also their employer’s, if they were injured in the course of their duties, esp. in the military, police, firefighters, etc.

      Unless there is evidence that will hold up in court that some person or organization is systematically denying them rights or opportunities in violation of criminal or civil law, their lack of opportunity is ENTIRELY their problem (and that of such as may wish and be able to VOLUNTARILY assist – in whose number I count myself from time to time).

      Lack of survival skills has consequences, and there is a point beyond which people should not be protected from those consequences.

    2. Bob Walters says:

      You have to remember that R. Hamilton wants to disenfranchise those voters who are least likely to vote conservative. Personally I think there is no excuse for a wait of any significant time at a poll booth.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    Point of order:

    Gerrymandering districts to benefit a particular party is NOT particular to the Republicans.

    Witness California.

    1. No, it’s not. Both parties do it, but the Republicans have been far more effective nationwide, partly because of organization and partly because of demographics.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        I have no problem with outmaneuvering an adversary, especially one that holds their opponent to standards they have no interest in complying with themselves. (per Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”, #4; “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”)

        Indeed, if the left can be crushed on every occasion the law allows, that would represent a return to Constitutional government, and there’s still no lack of political alternatives; libertarians and conservatives have much they do not agree on (socially conservative restrictions, foreign policy, etc).

        1. Joe says:

          I disagree. You don’t care that people have a choice, you just want your views to win. In that case, just appoint a dictator or a king and be done.

          Democracy only works if it provides people with the alternatives they want. As it is, the US has a very limited range of choices, and pretty odd ones at that. Adult responsible people can differ on whether infrastructure, or healthcare, or education, or space-exploration should be funded publicly or privately. In the US, a public healthcare option which saves every other Western country tons of money, seems impossible. Regulating foods which create diabetes and other health issues is contentious. Yet many Americans seem to want to regulate people’s private behavior be it sex, reproduction or drugs, which affects no one else. Democracy should provide a representative sampling of people’s true opinions. Not simply offer them a limited range of choices their “betters” make for them.

          If you care about democracy, gerrymandering is wrong and should be punished severely. As should rigging elections. Voting should be obligatory, but “none-of-the-above” ballots allowed.

          1. R. Hamilton says:

            No points for consistency if you want massive meddling in the economy, but zero meddling in most other aspects of people’s lives.

            Let winners win, losers lose, and regulate the freakiest of freaks, leaving all others alone.

            Yes, I’m the dictator that gets to decide who is too freaky. 🙂

          2. R. Hamilton says:

            Ok, what I should have said, this time:

            Making healthcare publicly funded provides the excuse for regulating all aspects of people’s lives that affect their health adversely, which is FAR more intrusive than refusing to allow non-traditional marriages.

            I don’t care what consenting adults do behind closed doors, but I do NOT want them issued a license to do it. Perhaps not even in the traditional case; instead, call EVERYTHING a domestic partnership (with a menu of options maxing out at the functional equivalent of marriage), and if people want to call it marriage, doubtless they will find some PRIVATE organization that will call it that for them. A tiny minority does NOT get to hijack language and culture in their favor, so as to declare themselves mainstream. Darn if they aren’t trying, though…very trying.

          3. Joe says:

            @R.Hamilton: Enough of something may be good. Too much may be bad.

            Enough food is good. Too much is bad. Too little is bad.

            Black and white binary arguments work well in logic and philosophy, but not so much in the real world.

            It seems to me you are applying the wrong type of reasoning to politics and economics since they impact the real world.

    2. Bob Walters says:

      We fixed that.

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