There are a number of reasons as to why the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, most of them structural. Midterms are elections notorious for a meager turnout in general, and the meager turnout of the Democratic base: Hispanics, African Americans, single women, young people, etc. People who vote in off-year elections just tend to be older, whiter, and wealthier. Also, great number of the Senate seats in contention this last cycle were seats in more conservative states, thus compounding the effect of the low voter turnout. However, there is a more sinister reason for their victory. Nate Silver, one of the best politicos, and interpreters of polling data, wrote back in November about a how every legitimate polling outfit predicted that the Democrats would received four percent more votes than they actually earned in the election. A four percent swing is significant for an off-year election with low turnout. Silver’s answer to this puzzling discrepancy was to conclude that the polls were simply skewed in favor of the Democrats.
Greg Palast, on the other hand, an excellent American journalist working for the BBC, among other non-American news outlets, has devoted much of his reporting to efforts across the country by the Republicans to suppress voting. In a blog entry on his website Palasr responded to Silver interpretation; and his reporting has nothing to say about the usual angle to this story, vis a vis the attempts by Republicans legislatures in over two dozen states around the country to pass restrictive voter identification laws. Instead, Palast focused on the issues of voter purges, ballot spoiling, rejection of provisional ballots, and discounting absentee ballots, techniques that total lost votes in the millions. Incredibly, according to Palast and his investigative team, the four percent swing in the 2014 election is likely what gave the Senate to the Republicans. A computer program known as Crosscheck, that is supposedly designed to prevent people from voting twice in the same election in two different states, has been used to disenfranchise voters by creating a list of double voters. There are seven million names on the Crosscheck list. Though not a single person has been arrested and convicted using Crosscheck the program did provide the impetus for the removal of untold thousands of voters from the registration rolls.
The system is present in a number of states, but not every single name is purged from the rolls. The average number of voters purged, after examining what state records to which Palast and his team could gain access, is around 19 percent. “In North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis upset incumbent Senator Kay Hagan by just 48,511 votes. North Carolina’s Crosscheck purge list targeted a stunning 589,393 voters. In Colorado, Cory Gardner, the Republican, defeated Mark Udall by just 49,729 votes. Colorado’s Crosscheck ‘potential double voter’ list totals 300,842. The Crosscheck purge list also swamped GOP Senate margins in Alaska and Georgia and likely provided the victory margins for GOP gubernatorial victories in Kansas and Massachusetts. No, states do not purge every name on the lists. Typical is Virginia which proudly purged 64,581 ‘duplicates’ from its voter rolls in 2013, equal to about 19% of its Crosscheck list. Other states refuse to provide numbers, but their scrub methods are the same, or even more aggressive, than Virginia’s. We can conservatively calculate that the purge of 19% of the Crosscheck lists accounted for at least three GOP Senate victories – and thereby, control of the Senate”.
They acquired a little over 2 million of the 7 million names from the lists across the country, using experts hired by the likes of American Express and Ebay to examine them; and they discovered something ‘surprising’. The names targeted were very common names like Michael Jackson, David Lee, and Juan Rodriguez. “As the US Census tells us, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics are 67% more likely to share a common name as a white American. In other words, the lists heavily targeted ‘blue’ Americans, Democratic leaning voters”. The Republican state officials make the claim that the voters targeted are matched by their full names, social security numbers, and other relevant identifiers. However, Palast and his team uncovered the reality that the names are only matched according to the similarity of their first and last names rather than taking into account the complete name and social security number. Amazingly, almost 2 million of the names matched in the accessed records were names that failed to match according to middle names. For “example, James Elmer Barnes Jr., who voted in Georgia, is supposed to be the same person as James Cross Barnes III of Virginia”.
This is not a unique event situated in time by a particular circumstance, or by a handful of corrupt government officials. This is not even a tendency within the Conservative Movement. This is necessary for their survival as a viable political party on the national level. One of the founders of the modern Conservative Movement, Paul Weyrich, is famously known to have said at a gathering of the Religious Right, “So many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”. The above mindset is usually expressed in far more subtle ways such as when Conservatives argue that they would win every election, if only those meddling African Americans, Hispanics, single women, and young people did not vote. For these people winning the majority of the participating electorate is not enough, you must win the right kinds of voters, rural, white men, and married woman. As the country changes demographically, waxing diversity in the coming decades, these sorts of tactics are going to become more and more necessary than they already are if the Republican Party is to remain a national party in the Congress. Surely it is highly unlikely that they are going to be adopting less repugnant ideas about minorities, the poor, and women to address this evolving dynamic.
There are just too many structural incentives in the Right Wing ecosystem to overcome these trends. This movement is driven by the most extreme elements of the Right Wing Media Complex. A complex that has spent the last three decades instigating the resentment, fears, and hatreds of white upper class, middle class, and lower middle class Americans. Stoking the fires in this way has created a strong foot soldiery that turn out in every election, dictating the future course of the country by slowing taking over one part of the country after another. Now any time a Republican politician steps out of line they are targeted by the websites, Fox, and talk radio, sent hundreds of emails, and hundreds of phone calls, often threatening ones. That is the only reason that they have been as successful for as long as they have been. Authoritarians are always willing to sacrifice one of their own the moment he identifies with the enemy, or in some other way dilutes the purity of the brand. If you are a good southern boy caught being too nice to the ‘negroes’ you could lose your job, your entire social network, becoming an outcast, cut off from the system of Wingnut Welfare and the hundreds of thousands of dollars one can make on the speaking circuit, writing ludicrous books, and being a Fox ‘News’ Contributor. One of the worst aspects of this reality is that now there are True Believers on the United States Supreme Court. Last year these fanatics eviscerated the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act preventing states from instituting discriminatory electoral practices. The moment the ruling came down states throughout the former Confederacy began passing the voter suppression legislation agenda mentioned above, in the form of voter photo identification laws. These restrictions disproportionately affect Democratic Party voters because minorities, single women, and poor people are far less likely to own a car, and thus unlikely to have a photo identification. This is only going to get worse. And unfortunately, it seems less and less likely that the Nate Silver’s of the world are going to address it, especially given one cannot find stories about voter purges, ballot spoiling, rejection of provisional ballots, and discounting absentee ballots, techniques that total lost votes in the millions, in the American mainstream press.