Since the election, we have been subjected to endless articles and naval gazing that the reason Hillary Clinton lost was because she ran a bad campaign, that Democrats ignored the white working class (or WWC as it’s now referred to), and that Democrats need to listen more to the needs and concerns of the WWC. Enough, enough, enough already about the WWC. Here’s the truth — if 78,000 people in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin combined had voted for Clinton instead of Trump, you can be sure that we would have had endless articles about how the country had rejected Trump, his extremist ideology and toxic personality, and embraced Clinton. Now it does concern me greatly (actually it horrifies me) that 62 million people in this country voted for a racist, misogynist, unqualified and unstable man like Trump over a decent and highly qualified woman like Hillary Clinton. And do the Democrats need to do a better job of appealing to portions of the electorate that they may have taken for granted? Absolutely. But let’s get real about why Trump was able to squeeze out a victory. Trump is right, the election was rigged — but it was rigged for Trump through a mix of voter suppression, James Comey, and Russian interference. Before we get into all that, let’s start with some basic facts.
Facts: The Election By the Numbers
Fact: Hillary Was More Popular — For starters, Hillary Clinton was the more popular candidate, and got 2.9 million more votes than Trump, a 2.1% difference — that’s hardly a rejection of her. Trump only received 46% of the popular vote — and only 26% of individuals eligible to vote cast their ballot for him. Putting it bluntly, 74% of Americans who could have voted for Trump did not. Trump is in because of an outdated and undemocratic election system (the Electoral College), that gives certain voters and states much more power than others. Alas, given how it’s helped two Republicans get elected in the past 16 years while losing the popular vote, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.
Fact: Trump Barely Won the Electoral College — When you look at the Electoral Vote total, it looks like Trump won comfortably — 306 to 232. However, it was a lot closer than that. As noted, if Clinton had gotten 78,000 more votes combined in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, she would have won the Electoral College and the election. (And yes, given that Trump squeaked to victory in these three states that Democrats have easily taken in past elections, along with exit polls showing a Clinton victory, put me in the conspiracy theory corner that something doesn’t smell quite right — I’ll leave it at that.) Alternatively, if Clinton had gotten 113,000 more votes out of the 9.5 million cast in Florida, and picked up one more state she would have also won. Bottom line: Trump won the Electoral College by the thinnest of margins.
Now that we’ve got the basic facts in terms of vote totals, let’s take a look at how our democracy was systematically undermined in this election, and how this election was rigged — — in favor of Trump. Remember, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales in a close election — and in this one, the scales were tipped big time.
The Role of Voter Suppression: It was HUGE!
There has been much talk about Russian interference impacting the election — although the media felt this wasn’t worthy of attention until after the election (why look at Russian election interference, when you’ve got Hillary’s emails to obsess on?). However, what’s been mostly ignored by the mainstream media before and since the election is that Trump was helped immensely by ongoing systematic efforts, primarily championed by Republicans, to reduce votes that would likely go to Hillary Clinton and Democrats. Here’s the breakdown:
· Gutting of the Voting Rights Act: For starters, the 2016 election was the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act as a result of the 2013 repeal by the U.S. Supreme Court of many of the protections provided by the Act. This removed oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice of voting in several southern states, with the Supreme Court saying this was no longer necessary. Alas they were wrong.
· New Voter Restrictions in 14 states: In 2016, fourteen states had new voter restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
· Making It More Difficult to Vote: A tactic for voter suppression is limiting voting hours and number of polling places. A recent Harvard study found that voting precincts in mostly minority neighborhoods have an average wait time that is twice as long as the wait in mostly white neighborhoods, with minority voters six times more likely than whites to wait longer than 60 minutes to vote — and that most of this racial gap can be explained by how local election officials handle white and non-white precincts differently. After the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act, in this year’s general election in North Carolina (a swing state), the number of early voting locations and hours were cut in areas that lean Democratic. The end result was long lines several hours long, discouraging those who couldn’t or didn’t want to wait.
· Purging of Voting Roles: Systematic purging of voting roles, intended in theory to generally remove individuals who have moved or died, has disproportionately affected minority or low-income voters in certain communities, and white voters in others. In a North Carolina 2014 purge, Democrats and independent voters were about 30% more likely than Republicans to be removed from the roles. In 2014, the state of Georgia investigated voter-registration drives by Asian-American and African-American groups that registered 85,000 new voters and found problems with only 25 of the new registrants; no charges were filed. However, over the next two years, Georgia canceled the registration of between 30,000 and 50,000 people for what turned out to be typographical and clerical errors. The use of Interstate Crosscheck by 27 states to purge voter roles has been found to be highly problematic in terms of putting the voting rights of minorities at risk. Oh, did you know that Crosscheck was started by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a buddy of Trump’s? Interesting.
· Voter Identification Laws: Voter ID laws, now in place in 10 states under the guise of preventing virtually non-existent voter fraud (despite Trump’s claims to the contrary), are often part of voter suppression tactics. Research has generally shown that such laws, typically championed by Republicans, suppress voter turnout by minorities, immigrants, and poor people (who tend to vote Democratic), because they often lack the proper ID. Anecdotal evidence clearly indicates that Wisconsin’s new voter ID law had an impact in a state that Trump won by just 23,000 votes (for example 60,000 fewer people voted in heavily Democratic Milwaukee than in 2012). The University of Wisconsin is undertaking a study regarding the impact of voter ID on the 2016 election, so stay tuned.
· Loss of Voting Rights by Convicted Felons: In addition, an often little known fact is the number of individuals who are unable to vote because of criminal convictions. This number has increased dramatically, from an estimated 1.2 million individuals in 1976 to 6.1 million today — almost 3% of the voting population. This disenfranchisement has a particularly negative impact on minority voting. Nationally, over 7% of adult African Americans (1 in 13 African Americans of voting age) are unable to vote because of criminal convictions compared to 1.8% for non-African Americans. In 4 states, more than 1 in 5 African Americans are unable to vote: Florida (21%), Kentucky (26%), Tennessee (21%), and Virginia (22%). In Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Kentucky, if you have a felony conviction, you are permanently banned from voting even after doing your time and paying your debt to society (although Virginia has been undertaking efforts to reduce this ban). This permanent ban is particularly problematic in the swing state of Florida where 10.4% of the voting age population cannot vote — that’s 1.5 million residents. An argument can certainly be made that Florida (which Hillary Clinton lost by 1.4%), is only a swing state because of the high number of African Americans who are unable to vote due to the ban on voting by convicted felons (nationally, 88% of African American voters supported Clinton).
(Check out the Center For Investigative Reporting’s “How to (really) steal an election” for more on voter suppression.)
The Comey and Russian Factors
Along with systematic efforts to limit votes by individuals likely to vote for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, let’s add in two additional well-known factors:
· James Comey — FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell announcement on October 28th, just weeks before the election, that he was taking another look at Hillary Clinton’s emails stopped her momentum, and according to analysis by Princeton University, ultimately cost her 2 percentage points in the national popular vote. Nate Silver concurs that Comey had a major affect. What was behind Comey’s unprecedented and possibly illegal interference in the election (while keeping secret FBI investigations of Trump’s ties with the Russians) is unclear but at least an investigation into Comey’s actions is underway and maybe we’ll learn the truth. And let’s not forget, that in the end Comey found nothing — but the damage was done.
· The Russians — Last, but certainly not least, there is of course proven Russian interference in the election, which was certainly a factor. The release of the DNC’s hacked emails during the summer and fall, which had little of substance while still creating a negative perception, no doubt had an impact — and who knows what else Putin and his cronies were up to in terms of manipulating the election. The increasing evidence of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians is extremely troubling and as this story plays out over the next few months, we may find out just how rigged this election was and how much our democracy has truly been undermined.
The Bottom Line
In the end take systematic voter suppression (some of it legal, some of it illegal, but none of it good for democracy), mix in FBI interference and Russian interference, and you’ve got a recipe for Donald Trump to squeeze into the White House by 78,000 votes. We will likely never know how much difference all of these factors made in the final vote total, but it was substantial — and a lot more than 78,000 in 3 states. In my view, if this election had been run freely and fairly without outside interference, there is no doubt Hillary Clinton would now be President. Did she run a perfect campaign? No, no candidate ever does. But she ran a pretty darn good one, particularly compared to the daily train wreck that was Donald Trump’s — she bested him in 3 debates and was clearly the more qualified and sane candidate (which alas becomes more apparent by the day). So knock it off with the constant analysis of Hillary Clinton’s mistakes, shortcomings, and obsession with ignoring the WWC as the reason for her loss.
What really happened? Here’s what really happened: the election was rigged in favor of Trump and our democracy has been systematically undermined — and we need to take it back.