Tag Archives: voting rights

A Socially Distanced Franchise?

While I was phone banking in Texas, Nevada, and other states in months before the 2020 election, I fielded a surprising number of questions of access to absentee ballots and mail-in voting, as well as being assured by many voters that they had refrained from mailing in ballots, and were planning to drop their ballots off directly in polling stations, or brave the lines, to ensure their votes counted. I’d like to think they did. (The woman I reached in Texas who had moved from Nevada and was awaiting an absentee ballot to arrive two days before the election, past the deadline of registering in Texas, may have not.)

Since the election, we have entered into a weirdly protracted attempt to game the electoral map, long after the tallying of votes ceased. A range of recounts, hand-counts, investigations of absentee ballots and even querying of the legitimacy of voting machines have been launched to challenge the representational validity of the electoral map. In querying the functions of the map as representation–by querying the tabulation of votes that comprise the electoral map–Trump has stoked tensions in representational democracy. With a disquieting sort of abandon, Trump stoked national tensions by refusing to acknowledge he did not win the election, and indeed raise eyebrows of Preidential decorum. His deep resistance seems rooted in the exceptionalism of claiming the election not “over,” as if unfamiliar with someone else seting the parameters for television attention, or stunned at a narrative unfolding that shattered his conviction of his inabilty to lose, that “in the end, I always win“–and a deep reluctance to admit losing.

But the almost cognitive resistance also reminds us of the confidence that Trump seemed to have had in the preservation of the red map, a confidence that seemed almost born from his ability tot game the electoral map yet again, and overcome the polls even after they pollsters had tried to recalibrate their predictive strategies and demographic parsing of the body politic. The very close margins voting margins suggest we narrowly escaped an alternative history of a second Trump term, and can explain the tenacious grip that Trump seems to have had on an alternative outcome, an outcome that he has tried to game in multiple ways and strategies that eerily echoes with the strategies of gaming the electoral map that seems to have occurred through the orchestration of telling postal delays, delayed returns of absentee ballots, and the strategic gaming of the distribution of a distanced franchise. It forces us to contemplate the counterfactual history of the far darker reality of a scenario where his expectations came true. Indeed, it should make us consider the closeness of overturning democracy.

It had almost happened. In Trump’s White House, a boisterous watch party was underway, crowded with FOX anchors, watching the big screen that FOX results showed to the audience, anticipating the reality of a second Trump term. But all of a sudden, Trump was so incredulous he refused to admit seeing Arizona called at 11:20 as a Biden victory, shouting to no one in particular, “Get that result changed!” Hoping to calm her triggered boss, who must have been catapulted into alternate scenarios of having to leave the White House where he had expected to encamp, former FOX employee Hope Hicks fretted about the newsfeed. Trump seemed unable to not insist on his ability to manipulate the news, and to stay the center of attention, and was uncertain at what endgame remained.

Trump’s every-ready servile son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hurried to place a direct call to none other than Rupert Murdoch, to rectify the FOX call, promising to send better data to the network directly from Arizona’s COVID-denying governor, Doug Ducey (R), in order to rectify the electoral map. IF Trump recognized the danger a flipped state posed to hopes for another red swath in the maps Trump used to give White House visitors since 2017 to commemorate his victory–before framing a version. Even if if it distorted the popular vote, Trump hoped the red heartland would shimmer in the 2020 electoral map forming on the flatscreen televisions tuned to FOX, to offer a similar illusion of consensus that seems to obscure all dissent.

Trump’s outrage reflected the proprietorial relation Trump long cultivated to Arizona in particular in the 2016 electoral map–Trump had after all only recently boasted to Arizonans of the benefits of two hundred and twenty miles of “wall system” of enhanced surveillance capabilities, spending billions on preventing a flow of immigrants from entering Arizona, the state went blue. To be sure, the polls of possible voters predicted two weeks out from Election Day, in a projection from Josh Putnam that reflected the fissile nature of the State of the Union as Election Day 2020 approached.

With the benefit of hindsight, we would do well to distance our mapping of the results of the election in ways that might better map the State of the Franchise than the State of the Nation as an electoral mosaic: long a fan of the purple map, rather than a sharp contrast between red and blue, The Decolonial Atlas took to social media reminding us how the nation might be better understood not only on isolated counties, but by attending to the ludicrously close margins of the vote.

All the better to dismantle the mediated conceit of “blue” and “red” states, a better map revealed a nation not riven by dissensus but “just a bunch of purple states full of people who don’t know their neighbors.” The map of margins among votes cast reveals not a divide magnified by electoral votes, but the number of voters whose ballots were effectively distanced from the franchise—distanced not by COVID-19, but rather by several”battleground states” where the election was waged in 2020, with margins not only of less than 5% of the electorate, but indeed less than a single percentage point.

This was the landscape in which the votes can be gamed, Trump hoped, and where the absence of consensus could be manipulated and exploited. As the Decolonial Atlas put it blithely in the legend to another map, the dark purple mediated how Trump viewed the electoral map: Trump voters living in a swing state popped out, and needed to be reclaimed in the electoral college: it placed the Trump voters in blue states, who were pragmatically irrelevant, or those Trump voters red states, whose votes could be taken for granted, or anti-American deep blue states, the targeted audience was clear, whose electors needed to be heard: and for all the concerted phone-banking that I had done in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, the map of the Decolonial Atlas, “The Electoral College according to Trump,” suggested that a concerted strategy underlay the quite targeted slew of emails, visits, text alerts, and triggers by which Trump’s campaign had targeted the electoral bounty of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan and Wisconsin–the new “red wall” to defend his sovereignty.

The Electoral College according to Ttrump/Decolonial Atlas (2020)

The first results appeared to be loud and clear, early in Election Night, as non-metro votes seemed to flow in on election night. Before votes were fully tallied in western states, a reassuringly familiarly red landscape seemed to unroll, casting the bulk of the heartlands of narrow margins red–big prizes like Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan, going red. Rudy Giuliani claimed to have turned in for the night, assured to sleep soundly, all but assured of a repeat of 2016, based on initial electoral returns.

First states called in 2020 Election, according to Politico Map/New York Times

Rudy described it as if he had only stayed up later, the results would have been preserved: he more likely prematurely beleived in success, before battleground states tilted blue later that night, as folks in western states were pleased to learn before they turned in for the night–if able to get any needed shut-eye amidst tense electoral tallies.

And if Rudy imagined that he could stop time, to prevent the “stolen” election from occurring later in the night, with the passage of time and a growing tally of votes and absentee ballots not allowed to be tabulated or opened in several of those battleground states until Election Day by law, the alternative newspaper of unclear consensus, The Epoch Times, did him better and tried to turn back the clock, and adding their own symbology to the electoral map as it stood at eleven o’clock Pacific Time, introducing icons that suspended the arrival of information, by adding icons to designate sites of recounts–Wisconsin and Georgia–and contestations yet to occur in court–Michigan; Pennsylvania; Arizona–to blanket the map with uncertainty, and create the unprecedented additional map signs in an electoral map affirming an alternate reality where the red expanse seemed to dominate the country, and Trump have more electoral votes than Biden, to achieve the desired outcome by suspending time, Miss Havisham style, to the better world “before the lying media called it for Biden”: “recount” and “lawsuit” subtracted four states from Biden victories, literally distancing the franchise further than one ever expected mail-in voting would achieve.

Epoch Times, on Facebook, via Politifact

Rather than present the results of the map in a declarative fashion, intended to resolve the protracted Presidential campaign in a new consensus, Trump supporters as Echo Times issued an altered electoral map on Facebook, qualifying the Biden victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that were declared by AP, by introducing a new symbology to the map, suggesting the continued suspension of any set conclusion by both three lawsuits, and two recounts of ballots, that Trump insisted would, once “all the votes are counted,” show the red plurality reassembled.

Trump would of course do his utmost best to generate consensus for a narrative of the “stolen” victory that the Trump team tired to construct alternative narratives about for the next two weeks, entertaining varied strategies to preserve how the map was “stolen” by a media that had ceased to wait on Trump’s word, and weighing the possibilities of refusing to give up his Presidential position..

1. The stubborn resistance to accepting the map led to an attempt to rewrite the electoral distribution from a direct rendering of popular concuss, or at least concensus among the states. The refusal to admit to the electoral map that showed hi with a viewer number of electoral votes to his opponent led him to resist the declarative function long given to the electoral map as a declaration of the victor of the Presidential election. Moreover, the attempts to gloss and qualify the results of the election that were recorded in the electoral map openly threatened to undercut the representational nature of the map: the way that the transparency of the electoral map was undermined by Trump and his circle echoes the belief of the Trump administration to rewrite the census, and indeed the gerrymandered redistricting of many states. The udnermning of the representational function of the electoral map is the subject of this post, which examines how the electoral map was long tried to be gamed, and sees the “frozen” electoral maps as interventions seeking to dislodge the actual vote, delegitimizing this electoral map’s representational function.

The contested nature of the franchise can hardly be seen in the map of how voters’ preferences translated into electoral numbers, or an electoral mosaic salutary in abandoning a national dichotomy of red versus blue.

This was a new narrative in the electoral map, unpredicted in many ways. But it was also a vindication of a representational system, in a sort of teaching moment for the nation, that reaffirmed the representational nature of the electoral map. But the fear of subverting the representational function of the map of the election was so strong, and indeed so tangible for the Trump campaign, that the persuasiveness of the scenario of a “stolen election” incorrectly called by Associated Press seemed all but the logical conclusion of a presidency committed to calling out the Fake News.

Politifact Factcheck, November 12 2020: Trump Does not Have More Electoral Votes than Biden

This was not only a “what if” map of conjectural history but the landscape that was supposed to be. For the map was not supposed to break as it did, given the attention that members of the Trump cabinet had so energetically devoted to shoring up electoral votes of battleground states, and indeed the careful protection that voter turn-out ensure a commanding lead, the night of the election, that allowed the American public to have their president on election night. Trump had of course prioritized border security and cautioned the state about the dangers of an illegal vote: but rather than touching on the question of illegal voters, so central to GOP claims of dangers of election fraud in earlier years, a narrative Trump returned to in tweeting “IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION!” a few days later, he argued the data had been manipulated or was wrong: many wanted to turn back to that world of initial electoral returns showing Trump ahead; Trump seems to reveal his data illiteracy in arguing that late votes were improperly skewed Democratic–an argument that effectively destabilized the tabulation of votes and voting process.

Arizona Called on Fox News with 84% Vote Counted

The relation to Arizona was particularly sensitive for Tump. He promised packed arenas of megachurches in that state he would prioritize hard-line border security, as if to ensure a lynchpin to his electoral strategy. Trump seemed to exercise his proprietary relation to the electoral maps, which had served as props for his rule: after passing out copies of the maps to all visitors to the Oval Office, he displayed the 2016 map in the West Wing, counties he had won shaded to obscure a deep national divide.

Voter Density Distribution in 2016 Electoral Map

The distillation of the electoral map was a sort of alchemy that Trump treasured as confirming what he called a “landslide” drew on fewer votes. But the disinformation around the tallying of votes, their arrival, and the counting that created their tabulation was more than dangerous: they were intentionally nontransparent. Trump’s public comments on the election seem intended to bait his base. But as much as cultivate his audience, in ways that emulated his pre-election “call-ins” to Fox Mondays, they give life to a candidacy at is not over–or “un-dead”–and never has to end, suggesting a means to generate funds and contribution for an ambition for “legal defense,” no matter how immaterial was his actual case for fraud.

The results suggest the fragility of elections and democracy, that effectively push the franchise farther and farther from the election, and the election farther from conclusion. For even weeks after the election, strategies were rolled out to reclaim the electoral map, as if it were the property of Team Trump, and had no business turning blue. How to explain the tenacity of the pursuit of this illusion but that Trump was convinced he had gamed the map fully, as best he could, and that the red states would reassemble at his command, ensuring the second term of a man who looked longingly at the title President for Life, mid-way through his first term, in March 2019, and then made it something of a stock line on social media, after conceding that maybe he’d just stick around for six years?

Trump’s taunts have had a way of revealing dark specters in national politics, and the notion of stepping aside so that the nation would get used to a robotic Vice-President Pence, or give space to Don, Jr., might have had some appeal. But the lust for perpetuity led him to view the map as a bedrock of Trumpets support on which he could surely game a sense of victory. There is a sense that this deep sense of being haunted by dreams for a red expanse turned into the horror film as Rudy Giuliani held it up as a model for the nation, in almost apocalyptic terms, just days before Georgia declared its electoral votes would be for Vice President Biden.

The troubling dissonance between the objective truth of the map, and the map this behind the scenes anecdote of Election Night reveals reveals a deeply dangerous undermining of the difficulty of the objectivity of the map that is the subject of this post. For the declaration of Arizona as a Biden victory must have seemed a deep personal affront–not only as it came from FOX, but he had promoted not only the construction of the “most comprehensive border wall structure anywhere in the world” that June in Phoenix, which Biden excoriated as “expensive, ineffective, and wasteful.”

Trump’s base-baiting speech acts may well reveal a dark political reality–as well as create deep divides. His rejection of the current electoral map, and the victory of Joe Biden, has tried to subvert public trust in the very nature of elections, black-boxing voting machines and the tallies of absentee voters’ ballots, as if they were not translations of a popular will, but vulnerable at several points to the subversion of the voice of Trump voters, dependent on human error, or duplicity, and not accurate tallies but based on machines and multiple vulnerabilities that proliferated in the very indirect routes of voting that seemed exposed by early voting and the rise of absentee voting that was necessitated by COVID-19–tampered ballots; vote harvesting; votes that arrive after the deadline independent of postmarks; votes erased by tampered computer tallies–as the vote was cast as having been undermined by the very practices of health safety. Yet if the summer seemed somewhat quiescent for some in DC, the acceraltion of cases of COVID-19 before the election, after those hot summer months, seemed to bloom–perhaps starting from that North Dakota rally on July 4.

Trump had gained the current electoral map as best he could, loading the dice so the the states might again allign in a sheet of red, it may well be that the spread of COVID-19 infections to which he had so brusquely turned the other cheek disrupted gaming in its the virulence of its contagion, even as its spread wrecked a violence on the political body of the nation.

The pandemic provided a disruption Trump could not game even as he sought to focus attention by gaming of the electoral map again by which he hoped to reproduce the red state-blue state divide. If the distribution was glossed, analyzed and discussed since 2016–and of which this blog was also guilty–to seem permanent in the nation, it could not be recreated. Trump had long gamed the system, but was unable to game the electoral map in the face of massively mismanaged disruptions of the coronavirus, often in formerly red states, even as emissaries form his cabinet tried to assure voters he was managing the economy, energy industry, schools or law and order. As the very counties that afflicted with severe job losses due to coronavirus moved away form the red column, areas with high job loss voted for Biden, the rapid acceleration of rates of unemployment, reshaped the electoral landscape as an act of God.

2. Donald Trump has elected, as if trapped in a broken record, to prolong his attempts to game the situation again over the final days of his Presidency, dedicating himself to distorting the tabulation of votes either to save face or to distort the commanding narrative. By deferring concession and tauntingly entertaining his base with images of an alternate reality of his inauguration for a second term by undermining the direct reporting and consumption of electoral maps. Trump delights repeating the potential for alternative outcomes as if this were the script of a new Reality TV show job uncertain ending, of which he was in charge–unveiling votes subtracted or reassigned in Michigan; destroyed ballots in Georgia; corrupt processing of the ballots in battleground states; rumors harvested off the dark reaches of the internet–as if to suspend election night over multiple days, a week, or even more, as if to raise the specter that the conclusion of the Trump Presidency will never end, creating alternate maps of the election and false claims to victory, and claiming that legally cast ballots should not be counted. His base even charges the deception of voting ballots through offshore servers, as if the vote was distorted by foreign-made machines.

Is it possible that projecting such nefarious errors conceal an even darker scenario in which incorrect tabulation and counting of absentee ballots would serve to game the electoral outcome to Trump’s advantage? Already in April, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, travels of Alex Azar to swing states grew in ways that privileged the campaign above the nation: HHS Secretary notoriously waged a public messaging campaign of “Health versus Health” as he traveled to key battlegrounds of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, at Trump’s request to direct public debate of the issues of managing national health: the theme that overriding focus on the needs to socially distance was creating public health issues across the nation of well-being was similar to Trump’s disconcerting concern for economic fall-out or sacrifices of public liberties: praising Republican governors for reopening, the visits were tantamount to a campaign of public disinformation more than news, a wag the dog paradigm of undermining public health.

Immediately after July 4, more cabinet members fanned out across the nation to the pivotal battleground states of the coming election, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Florida, on the heels of thirty visits from cabinet members from the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to defend local agricultural interests in a global economy, EPA Secretary promised clean-up projects of the Great Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin to end Harmful Algal Blooms, even as the administration canceled public health priorities in earlier years. We could detect a concerted strategy for massaging local issues to undermine national health in the trips of Trump’s cabinet members on public dime: they reflect careful study of the electoral map to secure the stability of a “red state” terrain, strategically placing visits from administration members who served as advocates across the country.

Not only did cabinet members travel to appear on the base meagaphone of Fox News and Fox Radio–like DNI Director John Ratcliffe appeared on Fox News, as National Economic Counselor Larry Kudlow and Secrtary of Energy Dan Brouillette on Fox Radio. To be sure, the EPA Secretary, Interior Secrtary and Energy Secretary went to conservative talk radio in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida to shore up votes in swing states. But cabinet officials were treated as campaign proxies, as the Interior Secretary jetted to battleground states to tout Trump farm programs in Iowa, the Energy Secretary vouched for local investment in fracking and other projects of infrastructure Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina, or Education Secretary boosted there-opening of schools in Michigan to shore up crucial votes in an electoral map. A different demographic of swing states were addressed as Medicaid Services chief administrator Seema Verma addressed elders in Raleigh NC; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue traveled to farms in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Florida. Was this not tantamount to a campaign strategy?

If so, it seems to have not served the public good. Trump had long used the members of cabinet for gaming the Presidency, and his political future. As well as crossing ethical lines shamelessly, Trump adopted the imperatives of public messaging on an electoral map to dispense cabinet members emissaries of pro-Trump news in the service of Trump at taxpayers’ cost: provided an alternate storyline to one of a health crisis, and even to paint Trump as providing a needed national infrastructure, touting Trump’s investment in local infrastructure, as the national health infrastructure collapsed and Rome burned. Trump’s Energy Secretary flatteringly compared the President’s qualifications to discuss the infrastructure to Dwight Eisenhower, whose Highway System Trump used as the standard for a Border Wall; the visits of cabinet members to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida asserted an attention to infrastructure to the conceal lack of an infrastructure of testing or public health. As Public Health Secretary Alex Azar put it, “I’m traveling around the country to . . . get the message out that thanks to [Pres.] Donald Trump’s historic response to this crisis and work with our national governors, we need to reopen.” “We haven’t had a President better qualified to talk about infrastructure and the need for investment and problems people have encountered as they’ve tried to invest in communities . . . since Eisenhower created the highways.”

Yet the national highway system and bridges, much as the national readiness for the pandemic, lay in utter disrepair.

Districts with 46,100 Structurally Deficient Bridges, 2019
American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association, Bridge Report

The imperatives and logic of the electoral map created new imperatives of public messaging. The cabinet was increasingly complicit in Trump’s gaming of the electoral system. We might well map visits of Trump’s cabinet members who fanned out to swing states as a use of public funds, but tracing the many cabinet members who left Washington over several months would create a multi-colored set of arcs from Washington, DC across the country to conceal the lack of the chief executive to the nation, as his executive functions declined: the many trips to promote Trump were not only in blatant rejection of the Hatch Act, but gamed the electoral map in visits to swing states on which the campaign centered: sixty violations the Hatch Act in October alone show cabinet members benefitting Trump’s campaign at taxpayers’ expense, gaming a system for needed electoral votes

The logic of the electoral map dominated not only the visits of government officials, but the attack on distance voting, this post suggests, following an increasing atomization of the nation with a GIS laser-precision. For in plotting out itineraries of cabinet members over the summer and fall to address local interests with almost tactical military precision, the planning for the electoral victory took a precedence that terrifyingly replaced the true danger of COVID-19 that was facing the nation at the same time, and was downplayed as Trump’s Cabinet members took up the work of surrogates of defending the electoral map, that increasingly eclipsed the map of infections from COVID-19 that was undermining national safety. Although the military as a result carefully integrated best practices to mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19, from the initial isolation of all recruits to distancing and mask-wearing, no mandate for wearing masks or distancing was announced in the nation.

Projected Risks of to National Defense of COVID-19 Outbreaks at Military Bases
Govini Risk Assessment to Military Bases in United States, March 2020

Trump downplayed the coronavirus as a national threat: his attention to the electoral map, rather than coronavirus infection rates, is shocking. The Army had developed safer Personal Protective Practices, as the nation did not.

Arianna Drehsler

The disruption of the pathways of a socially distanced franchise by failing to secure needed funds to secure timely mail delivery provided a parallel specter of national disaster, provoked by Trump’s appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General on the eve of the Presidential election. When DeJoy was appointed to run what historian Winifred Gallagher called “the central nervous system of American democracy” and of the new nation-state, by securing the pathways across often contentious colonies that guaranteed each citizen access to the news. If the expansion of the postal system had proved particularly well-suited to th expansion of an information network across the western states after the U.S. Civil War–here the foundation of a post offices from 1865-1882–

Geography of the Post in the Nineteenth Century, Western States of the United States
Cameron Blevins and Jason Hepler, Stanford University

–the communicative network seemed in danger of being undermined by limiting the franchise in a spectacularly selective underhanded way.

While DeJoy was named the successor of Benjamin Franklin presided over the uniform dissemination of uncensored opinions as the basis to guarantee an informed electorate had atrophied with the migration of news online. DeJoy’s appointment in May 2020 was on the basis of expertise in shipping logistics that was argued to streamline the loss of money in what had been originally understood as subsidizing the informing of an electorate to allow the experiment of elections: the fears that the appointment betrayed a single-minded purpose of removing sorting machines that were the central nervous system of the pseudo-network of mail collection threatened to delay arrival of mail-in ballots in ways that would subvert democratic intent. For the delays of mail-in ballots that often were refused to be counted if they arrived after election day appeared unprecedented gaming of the electoral map by adjusting tallies of votes on election night: delaying arrival of Democratic votes disproportionately voted by mail in a socially distanced franchise raised the specter of a historical reversion of the mail system as a “commons” as much as a communication system able to unite regions of the country geographically distant, as the spatial system linking  whose 75,000 local offices across the continent allowed the nation to survive the Civil War as a communicative network, whose spread was greater in expanse than any other democratic nation. If the post defined relations of center and periphery in the post-Civil War period, the fault lines of red and blue states exposed in 2016 threatened to re-emerge in 2020 by a disrupted communications infrastructure to undermine consensus.

The threat of disrupting the very network that allowed the embodiment of the nation in the decennial census, income tax system, and banking system seemed able to disrupt the coherence of voting–and, with it, distort the electoral system that was an already troubled inheritance of democratic consensus. But the marginalization of the postal system as a foundation of a representational government seemed increasingly easy in a nation virtually interlinked, in which the post office seemed a white elephant. DeJoy gained attention in supporting Trump’s suspicious refusal of funds to accomodate the processing of mail-in voting by additional funding of the Postal Service. While included in the Coronavirus Relief Package, DeJoy gained attention by refusing additional funds to prepare for voting by mail–and then disabled sorting machines that may have served to delay mailed by an identical logic of electoral maps.

Might it be possible to engineer a delay in mail to shift the balance in high traces in battleground states? DeJoy’s role must be viewed in the concerted strategy of cabinet members to bolster attention to local issues in an electoral context. Paid trips focussed attention on local issues in local media as the number of swing states intensified: Trump’s strategy of catering to specific interests of red states as much as the body politic metastasized as issues of campaigning distracted from the national coronavirus crisis bay supplanting the absence of testing, protective gear, or hospital support across the nation with base issues: instead, fracking, school vouchers and charters, energy projects and agricultural subsidies replaced a national strategy with a slew of push-button local interests. At the same time as Trump pressured his Attorney General and FBI Director to game the news cycle by announcing investigations of Joe Biden and his son, did he also game the electoral votes by the map was gamed both by visits.

Was it even more clearly gamed in an attempt to delay the arrival of electoral ballots of a distanced franchise? As much as DNI John Ratcliffe promoted fears of hacking by Russians or Chinese or Iranians as salient issues of national security, was the arrival of mail-in ballots of a socially distanced franchise exploited as a vulnerability of the electoral process? As the map was a sort of guarantee of Trump’s victory, the logic of battleground states reflected how visits were prioritized to battleground states in anticipation of the election to defend his victory in “red” states: if his travels on Air Force One spread him thin, the fuel ferrying him to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, his cabinet secretaries followed identical itineraries to play defense on an electoral map at public expense.

President Trump’s Trips to Battleground States, 2020

As the threat of coronavirus grew, and bills for providing economic relief to those affected by work stoppages or protective relief for the infected were stalled in government, the logic of the electoral map, rather than the map of infections, set priorities. If the trips privileged local issues in place of national interests, the national franchise seems to have been undermined by how dedication to strategic dominance of an electoral map seems to have informed an astounding overturning of a universal franchise. While Trump dismissed the role of mail-in voting, and wanted courts to address, was delay of first class mail actually designed to delay–literally distance–the votes that would be tabulated for President in battleground states?

3. Trump hoped the electoral map would serve as something of a confirmation for Trump’s single-minded pursuit of his treasured projects, first and foremost the border wall. Trump avoided discussing the state’s spiking rates of COVID-19, assimilating the rise of the virus’ threat to the arrival of migrants. He conjured fears by charging his opponent for endorsing “open borders” while he boasted to have ended worker visas for the year, conjuring images of illegal voting as he called mail-in ballots “the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” and a “disaster” for democracy. Then democracy caught up–and, more accurately, the disruptions of coronavirus–from job-loss to economic decline to the disruption of daily life–created a pressing reality that the President was failing to address and could not spin.

This election, the narrative turns on the counting of individual ballots, and the preservation of slim margins of a Biden victory after the counting of absentee ballots in a distanced election. With an ever-increasing number of ballots arriving as a result of sweeps of mail facilities, not delivered to the Registrars of Voters before Election Day, the 12,000 votes in suspended animation in states where final votes have not been called for two to five days after Election Day–Nevada; Arizona; Georgia; North Carolina–have led thousands of ballots to be rejected out of hand in Georgia and Arizona, where late ballots were not accepted. And despite the timely arrival of 93.3% absentee ballots processed by USPS, some 7% were not processed in ways that would allow their inclusion, and some 8,000 ballots were not processed on time nationwide. Although some voters who requested ballots may have preferred to vote in person, an astounding–especially astounding given the small margins of victory in many states–existence of 300, 000 ballots for the 2020 Presidential election went missing, scanned as mailed but lacking exit scans, and not processed across much of the lower forty-eight, as they were removed for classified for expedited delivery?

The apparent interruption of the delivery of votes was sufficient to compel a judicial order to sweep sorting stations in twelve processing facilities for missing ballots that was never performed. The numbers are not high given the six million absentee voters in the election, but the suspicious “missing” ballots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and the Atlanta area, as well as Arizona and central Florida, suggest a potential disruption of the counting of ballots and indeed of the ensuring of unimpeded access to participation in an election of considerable national consequence–and an absence of difficulties with missing ballots in many more less populated “red” states where the election may hang–Pennsylvania, Arizona, the Atlantic area, North Carolina, and Central Florida as well. The “missing ballots” in border areas in California, Arizona, and New Mexico are striking.

The delays that many feared in the arrival of ballots when combined with the close margins of late-tending Biden victories may well make the election have been an even far closer brush with a failure or planned breakdown of democracy in the face of COVID, and a terrifying sense of the fragility of voting practices independently from feared foreign disruptions caused by interrupted power infrastructure, corrupting voting machine tallies, or hacking: the sense of interference with a promise for resumed stability may have come from within, rather, with the subversion of mail-in voting as legitimate, even despite social distancing measure in the Era of COVID-19. So immediate was the worry that mail-in voting was a contingency of possibly determining effect that some that some worried mail in ballots were but a ploy into which Democrats entered into as a trap, destined to be loosened by future litigation–even though mail-in ballots greatly furthered democratic discourse and focus on voter turn out, and created legitimacy of generating a paper record of vote tabulation. Although mail in ballots offered time for reflection on civic duty and encouraged reflection and commitment to voting in a needed public schooling in voting rights, Trump’s sustained attack on mail-in votes terrifyingly dismisses the democratic process.

What were the odds of such tight voting differences in multiple states in the 2020 Presidential election? As ballots counts in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada seemed far narrower than usual, mail system snags may be invalidating tens of thousands of ballots. While we all recall the assurances of Postmaster DeJoy in assuring the nation with unfounded confidence that the ballots would arrive–unwarranted as he had limited familiarity in mailing practices and USPS pragmatics that were thrown off kilter by the destruction or retirement of mail sorting machines–the rates of delivery in postal districts in ten swing states plunged almost six percentage points below the national average in delivery times, hinting at how much DeJoy seems, more than the courts, an accessory in delaying consensus about the victory of the forty sixth President.

Sharp declines below the respectable national average of 95% in a period when timely deliveries were of national consequence. Was this a political stratagem that was barely forestalled, and whose effects can be seen in the late arrival of ballot counts that transfixed the nation–and world–in what seems an Election Day that lasted over five days, and may be protracted in the courts, as the concession of the one-term President is deferred, even without launching a recognized appeal? President Trump, ever a master manipulator, stoked claims for voter fraud that raised eyebrows, but seems to have been done in concert with the delay of votes’ arrival for a nation he believed would demand immediate results on television: watch to see if I am robbed in the tallies of incoming votes, as new ballots are discovered, Trump alleged the engineering of the election.

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Filed under 2020 election, data visualization, Donald Trump, electoral maps, Presidential Elections

Chief Justice Roberts Mismaps Voting Rights in America

When Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. effectively released nine southern states from the oversight of voting procures and practices in a decision overturning the Voting Rights Act of 1965, withdrawing the federal protection of populations against whom there was past discrimination and effectively judging it to no longer warrant federal review.  The decision was to cease to continue such provisions of oversight–the “preclearance” of any changes in voting laws–that interfered unjustly in how states conducted their elections.  Roberts most strongly objected to using maps to guide such active federal oversight of voter suppression.  By rather castigating the U.S. Congress for relying continuously on historical precedent in repeated re-approval of the Voting Rights Act–or “VRA”–the five Supreme Court justices collectively complained that any continuation of policies mandating which states and local jurisdictions must “preclear” with the Justice Department when changing voting laws, suggesting that failures to “update” the “coverage formula” that was repeatedly reviewed and reinstated since 1965 no longer reflected “current conditions,” even though it had been affirmed four separate occasions by previous supreme courts.

What the nature of such “conditions” were was never specified.  For the actual objection of the Court seems to have lain in the unfair distribution of federal authority that the process of review of changing in voting policy created–and the degree to which it distinguished the relation of specific states to the federal government in ways that Roberts claimed he found issue.  The map of those states subject to review constituted undue federal interference, it must be supposed, with state practices.  Ignoring that the map mandating “preclearance” for any changes to voting laws in states had reflected the evolution of voting conditions on a county-by-county basis after having sustained a series of “incident-free” elections where no complaints were registered or found, the Roberts court seems to have treated the map as the problem in its untoward decision–viewing it not reflecting ‘current conditions’ and unfair in its isolation of said counties and states.  They were less able to see a problem as lying in long-running discriminatory histories; such histories were effectively washed from the books.  For the existence of such a policy, despite whatever its benefits might be, ran against the “equal sovereignty” of southern states as part of the union, despite whatever precedents of voter suppression one might find to support its continuation.  Indeed, despite being broadly upheld as constitutional ad as effective on no fewer than four separate occasions by previous Supreme Courts since 1965.

How timely was the 2013 decision?  In scolding the US Congress and federal government for their over-reliance on history, the court may well be accepting and instituting a blind spot in the discriminatory practices that exist in the United States, and are regularly re-inscribed in election laws–and to do so just in time for the Presidential elections of 2016.

 

 

 

2016 electoin.png

 

While the Court invited Congress to take time to “draft another formula” which better reflected the “current conditions” in the country, the five justices who supported the removal of protections from the Voting Rights Act, a pillar of national voting practices, seem to have ignored the problem at hand, or its depth.  For they rather petulantly subscribed to a notion of accurate mapping–the need for rendering an accurate record in a map that remained faithful to social conditions–rather than ascertain its benefits.  The argument may have rested on the belief that current cartographical skills vastly outdated those of previous generations, or the belief that history is bunk.

The dangers of the 2013 decision were that they dismissed the effective value of continuing oversight where demonstrable histories of voter discrimination existed–as well as discounted he work that went into rendering a map–or what trying to ascertain what would be the lines of the new map to reflect cases of voter suppression.  Perhaps they imagined that the new map could be drafted in less time than the verbal arguments were presented to the court, and that consensus would be able to be easily arrived at as to its parameters–or that any map would entail similar objections, prima facie.  Although FOX news commentators ridiculed the existence of any practices of disenfranchisement in the states where oversight existed–“nobody is seriously claiming today…that there is systematic efforts on the part of the government in the south to keep people of color from voting,” stated the senior Legal Affairs analyst at Fox News, Andrew Napolitano, ignoring its value in protecting voters from facing discrimination–current restrictions on eligibility for voting in multiple states seem to have multiplied across the country like mushrooms in multiple states, preventing any serious possibility to ascertain their constitutionality in any way, and encouraging the possibility that further policies curtailing voting rights be enacted.

 

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In  a sense, the decision affirmed a strong belief in states rights, but it did so for all the wrong reasons, and in a particularly wrong-headed way.  Chief Justice Robert’s longstanding reliance on constitutional written precedent encouraged him to construe the map of states requiring pre clearance in potentially quite damaging ways–and to change election laws as a stipulation that was no longer historical relevant in ways that could increase disenfranchisement and unease in electoral laws.  Roberts imagined oversight as a vestige of federal interference with states rights, in need of evacuation not only since it had lost its relevance, but since vacating its authority fails struck a blow in defense of the local jurisdiction against federal interference, but he also must have known he was driving a thorn into the side of the Obama administration.  While the repeal of the VRA was hailed by the alt-right as a victory of continued discrimination of whites, as if it was coextensive with Affirmative Action or insinuated the existence of undefined prejudices to what seemed a quarter to a third of the country, the fact that such preclearance reflected actual histories of voter suppression or mythical “voter fraud” in danger of recurring.

Justice Roberts did not only fail to recognize the deeply serious divides in race-based justice across the land, as has been made increasingly evident in the years since, from Ferguson MO to the nation-wide growth of Black Lives Matter; the verdict demeaned the value of protecting voters’ rights or individual access to the ballot.  For Roberts objected to poorly mapping the relation of the Department of Justice to individual regions of the United States–despite their demonstrable history of discriminatory disenfranchisement–on the grounds that “current conditions” did not warrant a review of  local practices of election, he effectively denied the value of such a practice, even while claiming to send the practice back to Congress:  despite notoriously exclusionary practices of the recent past, the continued review of select states’ changes in electoral law lacked “rational” grounds–despite current evidence of ongoing need to protect against discriminatory efforts to reduce the most basic right of citizenship.  Most importantly, the effective “map” of regions of oversight mis-stated the legal question of oversight, by allowing the plaintiffs to frame it as a division of the coherence of how states related to the federal government, rather than an alienation of the most important of all rights to protect to individuals on the ground–whose job the Court should most protect.

 

Coverage by Section 5

 

The replication of the map in news agencies has allowed the debate to be distanced on a map from actual circumstances of voters, orienting many to a question that seems truly unfair–“wait, the Department of Justice is only paying attention to discrimination in these states?  Huh?”–rather than to interrogate the reasons why voters might benefit from such continued protection, or that undue vigilance was demanded of the once-seceded South–and indeed constituted an undue restriction on the “equal sovereignty” of southern states.

 

vra-statesFox News

 

 

Section 2, 1982-2005, 6+ per million

 

 

The suspicion that he shared for the federal government of undue oversight in local liberties however has little to do with what other members of the Court saw as the importance of protecting the universality of the right to vote.  The division of states in the union that merited review of any potentially exclusionary processes of voting was recently accepted by the US Congress.  But Shelby County brought suit against the state of constitutionality of the review of their voting laws in 2011, and brought the case to the Supreme Court, as a case against the Attorney General, with the argument that the federal government lacked the ability to oversee state voting laws–the “extraordinary circumstance” that warranted such a distinction on account of repeated discrimination against minority voters, Roberts held, no longer exists, or had to be renegotiated, because the map used in 1965 cannot be reasonably retained, and need to be redrawn.  This seems a reasonable historicization of the map:  but it threw out any need for the assessment of longstanding historical discrimination of voting rights that had disenfranchised many and institutionalized intimidation of African American voters.  Weren’t such ugly histories of voter suppression come to terms with precisely because of their unconstitutionality?

 

lbj-mlk2Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

 

“In 1965, the States could be divided into two groups:  those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” the Chief Justice wrote in his verdict.  He then proceeded to strike down key clauses of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on the grounds that the law compelled specific states to seek permission from the federal Department of Justice before changing local voting laws, and in so doing unduly compromised their sovereignty.  The decision had the immediate consequence of opening the floodgates to shifting stipulations of who could vote, from the introduction of Voter ID laws to the ending of voter Registration drives, that seemed designed to –even though the actual map of oversight had been adjusted and redrawn multiple times since 1965, and the notion that an old map was being used for a question to which it was no longer relevant concealed the deep and longstanding historical survival of suspicions on the electoral voice of what were seen as minorities–and for retaining what were presented as the “local liberties” for allowing the continued suppression of the vote.  It is not surprising that the rush to adopt restrictive measures in voting were adopted in time for the Presidential election of 2016, perhaps to disenfranchise  the very populations seen as most egregious in forcing limitations on voters’ access to the ballot box, encouraging states to adopt restrictions on where turn-out could be potential hindered.

The judgement that Roberts so blindly and so forcefully made that “the Nation is no longer divided along those lines” which had been once determined by the discrepancies of “minority” registration and turnout provided grounds to classify Section 5 of the VRA as a historical constraint on states rights without merit because “today’s statistics tell a different story” seems in retrospect to have little merit:  the readiness to introduce new restrictions on voting rights compels the issue to be revisited, perhaps in time for the approaching Presidential election, in order to ensure that full access to the ballot is not only protected but encouraged.  For the occurrence of new restrictions adopted by local state legislatures suggests not only the continuing need for federal oversight–if not a strong tension between local and national policies about voting rights–but a profound misunderstanding of the lack of uniformity in how the nation will be selecting its President, not only possibly privileging the voices of citizens, but effectively diluting the national electorate in untoward ways.  Although the language of the verdict refused to treat the sovereignty of different states in different manner–evoking earlier arguments of states’ rights–the notion that all states are equal in all ways bears revisiting.

When Roberts reasoned that such review of changes in voting policies, from preregistration drives to on-site registration on Election Day, were untoward interferences in states’ rights to hold elections in the manner that they desired, did he indeed encourage the actual differences in how voters were allowed to make their voices heard?  At the very least, forestalling the introduction of new restrictions until their impact is assessed, and constitutionality is reviewed–given the spate of cases in which the constitutionality of Voter ID laws has been questioned–yet the dangers that are associated with a federal trammeling of states’ rights have provoked a broad rejection of the VRA provision for federal oversight of dangerous consequences.

 

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Let’s compare that with the states that were facing mandated federal oversight that was dismissed as outdated and not meriting federal review of electoral policies–not the map of 1965 but a more recent one:  all but one state whose changes in voting policies were subject to oversight in Section 5 of the VRA indeed adopt changes in time for the 2016 Presidential election, but their effectiveness may impact the election.

 

Coverage by Section 5

 

It is difficult to grasp the lack of connection between the decision and the nation being mapped.  Indeed, if Denis Wood and others has argued that national maps are a performance of national identity, the amazing nature of the agreement in 1965 to turn attention to the discriminatory practices on voter registration that existed endemically in many southern states–whose legislatures were particularly resistant to and fearful of the expansion of the franchise, and sought to adopt more voter policies that the federal government could practically review–rested in a refusal to subject states to federal oversight that was blind to race-based divisions.  The decision suggests a serious blind spot about how the nation is currently being mapped.  Chief Justice Roberts’s argument rested on asserting the lack of legal grounds for continued federal oversight over local communities that is unmerited at present, since extraordinary conditions now longer exist in the southern states–many of the same which fly the Confederate Flag in their capitals. The range of counties that turned to adopt restrictive policies of registration and voting in time for the Presidential election of 2016 maps (ochre) nicely onto the regions subject to review by the Dept. of Justice of any changes in electoral laws (hatched regions) and indeed the scope of restrictive policies of voting were indeed often noticeably expanded to cover and include nearby counties were large numbers of minority voters, as if the policies of reducing the electorate grew, particularly in crucial states for Presidential voting, as Florida–where the electoral benefits to the victor can even decide a Presidential election.

 

County by county restriction v. Section 5 coverage.pngThe New Yorker/2014

 

To stamp such a “date of expiry” on the map of vigilance to laws that exclude or encourage the exclusion of voters from an election of national consequence is not only to deny the work that went into the establishment of criteria of oversight but denies the provisional value of the map as a work in progress:  the Roberts court blithely seems to seek to alter the constitution and performance of national identity, and the labor that goes into the construction of any map, while dismissing the effectiveness of that already adopted.

Chief Justice Roberts asserted that the nature of federal oversight over localities must be uniform across the nation, rather than privilege any region was effectively unduly onerous but also unfair.  Rather, he urged the primacy of rigorously respecting rights of localities. But if his opinion suggested such that current practice unfairly singled out regions as in distinct need of oversight from other fifty states, and that the criteria approved in 1965–and repeatedly renewed, with some exceptions–all of sudden no longer reflected current conditions.  The subsequent state of events have shown that the infringement of rights to vote both to exist in areas where the body politic still suffers from exclusionary practices that have survived in new guise, and sadly permits the encoding of racist practices and dogma in new language in existing voting laws.

Yet it raises questions of what sufficient conditions would be, and why there might not be broader oversight over election laws on a federal level at a time when restrictions on voting rights are actually being introduced.  The Roberts verdict oddly comes on the heals many of the criticisms Republican candidates had only recently expressed about longstanding need to eradicate voter fraud.  But rather than address the needs to reform elections or election law, Roberts argued for the compelling need to remove obstructions of self-determination that had been previously determined on a map of those states sharing past precedents of systematically curtailing universal voting.  For Roberts recognized that policies of pre-clearance had stood “for half a century [as] the most effective protection of minority voting rights“–finding that given distinctions between federal attention to local practices, federal pre-clearance of changes in local  election laws constituted unwarranted distinction among the states in the union–despite the clear grounds for concerns in southern states.

If the purported aim of the verdict was to ensure all Americans retained the same voting rights, opening the door to pending changes in electoral law was the basis by which Shelby County was eager to bring suit against the government led the court to take its eyes of the nation. For while determining that the extraordinary grounds for previously constructing a map of states in need of federal oversight unfairly distinguished how the Department of Justice related to states, as if the review were due only to an extraordinary condition now in remission, it ignored the issue at stake.  By inviting the federal government to rely on a more current map the justices seem to have accepted the ease of redrawing a new map in the age of infographics and data visualizations that are produced nightly for the news–as if that process could be accomplished in time for the next Presidential election in a way that could be given binding fource.  The justices on the Supreme Court may have lacked authority to mandate the construction of such a new map of national voting policy or the competency to do so–but in dispensing with any guidelines for oversight, they willfully opened a conundrum which they must have understood.  The particular derision with which the late Antonin Scalia publicly discussed the “Voting Rights Act”–asking who would ever want to tamper or get rid of a piece of legislation with such a nice-sounding name–reveals either a misguided failure to appreciate its benefits, or past need, or the historically embedded nature of many counties’ voting laws–as was soon revealed in the institution of a range of restrictive policies of voting apparently aimed at curtailing voting rights, if cunningly cast in protecting the rights of those who had already registered.  The refusal to retain a map that ostensibly “was biased” against whites was a stroke of genius for a group of white southerners in a minority-majority nation, and also came with clear political pay-off for the Republican party, as those dissuaded from voting would most likely not vote Republican.

 

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2008 Presidential Elections exist polls in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia

 

Why weren’t the continuation of a danger of disenfranchisement evident to all members of the Court?

The cross-generational continuity believing that provisions of literacy, English literacy, or indeed the predominance of continued violations of voting rights threaten to dissuade participation in the election, and indeed increase the feelings of distrust in members of the electorate.  The very existence of problems of restrictive policies about voting mandate the importance of keeping expanded locations of registration open, opening the ability of those who haven’t voted to vote, and renewing registration until the last minute.   And despite the introduction of  legislation to restore the VRA in the US Senate, the reluctance of Republicans to endorse such legislation reveals the bizarre transformation of the debate to guarantee the franchise along party lines–in ways that echo the terrifying vocalization by Donald Trump of charges that illegal immigrants he would not permit in the country would be accepted en masse to tilt the vote, and his attempts to undermine the legitimacy of an outcome to the election that did not affirm his victory.   Such bullying of the American electorate of course itself hinders and disrespects the electoral process.  For in dismissing the previous map for areas worthy of federal attention to undue limitations on civil rights, Roberts sided with a longstanding argument first framed during Reconstruction, but examined Southern claims to autonomy as undue interference in states’ rights.  Yet the argument that geographical restrictions of federal oversight were no longer warranted depended on an imagined equality due all states, and a willful neglect of the map of local disparities in how voters are allowed equal access to the polls.

 

1.  The map became what he tilted his sword against in the opinion that he wrote, leaving Justice Ginsburg somewhat dumbfounded at its limited reading of the law:  the VRA did not mandate a permanent division among states, but the law specified redrawing of a map over time should disenfranchisement be found to no longer occur–in which case it would expire in regions where such oversight was deemed no longer necessary.

So how could the map be effectively fetishized as grounds for legal objection to the oversight of regions where voting practices had not yet gained a respectable track record for respecting the civil rights of all voters?  In granting the petition of an Alabama county in Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, the court placed the Voting Rights Act in its sights in ways that it had sought to do for some time.  Roberts argued that maps of past discrimination bear little “rational relationship” raise questions of the rational relation of a map of oversight to the law–or whether a map of legal oversight can be warranted in light of histories of racial discrimination.  The verdict raises questions of knowing when a new map should be required of regions that have demonstrated histories of disenfranchisement, when a map becomes overly dated in the eyes of the law–and, given how long Congress had labored to determine how the geographic limits specified in the Voting Rights Act could shift over time, when a new map would ever be collated and compiled.  Oddly, the decision seems to deny a clear perception of the lack of equal access in the last presidential election–and Mitt Romney’s decision attribute his defeat at the feet of the promise of Universal Health Care (“Obamacare’) held to minority voters.  In an age when a Presidential candidate can explain his failure to gain votes among minority voters on “the gifts” promised by his opponents to African-Americans and Latinos, dividing the electorate along racial lines, such distinctions clearly exist:  yet Roberts questions the limited effectiveness of mapping specific states as sites of disenfranchisement as unfairly privileging DOJ oversight of select states.

Does a map of regions requiring federal preclearance divide our national territory, in short, or is it by necessity a necessary tool for preserving equal access to the ballot across our nation?  What map would be sufficiently authoritative for Congress to draw up, for one?  Do the maps of discrimination retain validity on preventative grounds, or must they be actually demonstrated?  If the latter is the case, who is doing the counting and reporting the results?  Is it of any importance that the historical preponderance of complaints about voting laws within the United States as a whole from 1957 to 2006 closely reflect a distribution that would expand the mandate the continuation of a similar map–but include the very same regions as sites historically in need of federal oversight of election laws?

 

voting-rights-usmap

Voting Complaints Voiced at County Level in the Lower Forty-Eight, 1957-2000

 

Unsurprisingly, this map would reflect many of the same counties where the voting group was likely to be one fifth “minority” voters in 2000, where those attitudes against groups defined as “minorities”–Latinos or African American, usually–were sharpest and most likely to be excluded from voting.

 

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Counties with 20% Minority Residence

 

Given the Chief Justice opinion that violations of voting rights “should not be too easy to prove since they provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable,” and must be rooted in the explicitly stated intent to disenfranchise, Roberts would probably question the ability to map a history of discrimination at all, of course.  Given that Roberts openly doubted “Congress can impose this disparate treatment [of states] forever” in oral arguments to a 2009 challenge of Section 5 of the VRA, he might well have recused himself from considering the case, but seems to have been eager to provide a precedent for explaining why the undue interference of the Department of Justice over local procedures and warranted a continued need to mandate states to request federal permission for changing election practices.  In arguing for the antiquated nature of mapping a division among the states in the eyes of the law, Roberts questioned criteria for selecting the procedures of voting and elections in specific states, mostly located in the South, under the supervision of the Department of Justice:  strictures on select states created undue divisions in a nation, he argued, dismissing the need for such oversight as a thing of the past–even while praising the benefits it brought their residents.  Yet maps are difficult to move to a discourse of legal reasoning, and a map of discriminatory practices is bound to be approximate and selective, rather than uniformly divide the national space:

 

Clearance Required

 

 

2.  The 1969 Voting Rights Act introduced to rectify widespread blatant discrimination against the voting rights of African Americans, common in obstructing registration, mapped those regions where clearance was required to change election laws or voting practices.  The above map continued to provide an avenue of legal recourse for minorities who faced any practice or intent of disenfranchisement.  The passage of the original Act responded to registration discrepancies in 1965, but its expansion in 1975 covered a range of other subterfuges and nefarious tactics to reach the same ends–most recently, these have expanded to include from restricted polling hours to the introduction of Voter ID’s.  The Chief Justice argued whatever the potential benefits of federal  oversight, the distinction that the VRA drew in its placement of nine states under oversight created a harmful divide in the harmony of the Union of states, independent of the realities of disenfranchisement.  He hence found lack of a compelling reason to require only nine states to obtain federal approval to alter any existing election laws.  In clothing his argument in a federalist claim to state equality, Robert’s  opinion raises the question as to whether mapping practices that obstruct voting  provide an instrument to monitor the insidious but present evil of disenfranchisement or rather serve to divide states’ rights.  For even if the metric of voter registration differences seems outdated to map distinct regions worthy of oversight, continued tactics of disenfranchisement–often achieved by redrawing maps of districting–both suggest that the drawing of lines on maps of political representation demand federal oversight.

How can one map a compelling need to supervise voting rights?  Roberts might well have asked.  By appealing to the uniformity of standards among states as a guiding rational of his decision, or couching his argument as a “division” of the nation, the Chief Justice invokes the lack of grounds to divide how space is abstracted in a map to strike down civil protections for voters, ostensibly to  maintain equality among the states, but to restore the lack of interference of  federal government in regional elections–despite the increasing hostility showed to the growing presence at polls of formerly minority groups.  Many objections to the Act question its viability as a question of “racial entitlements,” as did Justice Scalia, who described the emergence of “black districts [facilitated] by law” in the House in argument.  But the 14th amendment were less central to the decision than the rationale for renewing oversight of election laws in the fifth clause of the VRA, now on the books for over 40 years, and long a target of Chief Justice Robert’s ire because of the federal oversight it allows, and invites Congress to draw a new map of those “jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in the light of current conditions.”  The Roberts court oddly departs here from an argument based on precedent, to pose a federalist argument against singling out individual jurisdictions that are in need of supervision–notwithstanding documented attempts of disenfranchisement in these regions.  For Roberts, the map has “no logical relationship to the present day”:  things have changed, Chief Justice Roberts tells us now; we no longer need to supervise obstacles in voting laws in select states.  Yet do maps ever have such transparently logical relations to ideas or principles?

 

3.  Maps drawn as tools for determining effective political representation are improperly treated as if they defined entities.  And to argue that the map is simply a division of the polity into separate entities–as Roberts’ decision–obscures the extent to which the purely precautionary nature of review exists to ensure political representation.  Robert’s argument seems to make a categorical confusion between the ways that maps abstract a record of lived experience of disenfranchisement to a region and the abstract categories of rights in legal thought.

The objections of the Dept. of Justice to ‘pre-clearance’ have in fact radically declined since 1965, but this does not undermine the validity of Congressional attempts to map disenfranchisement in the US.

 

Coverage by Section 5

 

Yet the map is not a territory–or a means of conjuring an entity–so much as a tool of oversight.  The Voting Rights Act frames a legal avenue for redressing discrimination at the polls or in redistricting–and redressing a level of discrimination not effectively able to be monitored by pursuing suits of local jurisdictions.  Roberts’ opinion withdrew the existing avenue to appeal such insidious discrimination by finding it to violate the uniformity of a map in which all states–if not all voters–were to be treated as equal.  All law is based on abstractions, but his reliance on the abstract autonomy of the state is an odd substitution or sleight of hand, that preserves the autonomy of states’ jurisdictions for the rights of their inhabitants:  it appeals to the abstraction of the state to question the logic of distributing persistent inequalities , rather than the injustices to specific residents of the states.

In a decision that almost mocks the intent to seek to find distinguish discrepancies in voter registration on a map by sharp divides, Chief Justice  Roberts condemned the VRA as a flawed in its attempt to make reality correspond to a map of actual discrimination, and notes that the divisions it maps no longer reflects actual circumstance.  This denies the flexibility that the Act has long had.  The application of the law was not applied only to states, but to jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination in any form.  Yet Roberts finds that its criteria, although based on alleviating restrictions on voters, imposed unequal burdens on states’ administration of elections, as if the autonomy of states unified in the map be preserved in the face of history, and the government be protected from meddling with how the fifty states map their own representation or internal affairs–even when the outcome is in the nation’s collective interest.

Roberts’ allegation that how the VRA maps “pre-clearance” disrupts the integrity of states distracts from the actual inequality–manifested in inequality and disenfranchisement–by positing a need for equality among the fifty states.  Yet, as many observers have noted, the increased anxiety at an increased number of minority and Latino voters in central and western states might make this the most dangerous time to shrink the map of where impediments to the “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting,  or standard, practice, or procedure . . . [deemed intended] to deny or abridge the right of any United States citizen to vote on account of race or color.”  Although these terms written in 1965 echo those in the US Constitution, the Chief Justice seems to find a basis to question the assertion by a rosy-hued map of uniform states rights, as if each state best flourishes when left to practice its own electoral practices no matter what practices or means of impeding a broad vote might be a direct result or consequence of them.

 

us in globe's surface color map

 

Roberts the strict constructionist seems to question the accuracy of a map of “covered jurisdictions” in need of judicial “preclearance” both as an impediment to states’ rights because it maps a divide he argues no longer reflects “current conditions.”  Yet isn’t a map simply a convenience to create grounds for adequate representation?  While finding the map of covered jurisdictions “out of date,” but accepting a map of all fifty states, he finds the previously sanctioned formula for “pre-clearance” “unconstitutional.”  In the name of the specious argument of “states rights,” he seems to have vitiated the compelling nature of an argument to ensure the votes of all.

 

4.  Roberts interpreted the individuation of nine states by historical attempts of disfranchisement as “dividing” the nation.  And since these states are no longer defined in a similar manner by policies of explicit segregation of registration or voting, despite clear inequalities in the history of the regional reception of voters’ inalienable rights to vote, the majority opinion took voter registration and turnout numbers as an index of voter discrimination.  Through such a metric, Roberts questioned whether such discrimination continues, or continued in such a clearly mapped manner as he grants it clearly did in 1965.   The VRA defined those states it mandated to seek federal permission prior to altering electoral laws or voting practices to identify those places with voter turnout or registration of minorities below fifty percent, and hence in need of oversight to rectify deep imbalances.  The  seven states were subsequently augmented to include those where a percentage of voting age citizens spoke only a non-English language–Texas, Arizona, Alaska–as they were judged in need of “preclearance oversight” as well since the Act’s historic passage in 1965–suggesting th flexibility with which the VRA was long employed to ensure the equality of voting rights.

Roberts found the divided national map to perpetuate antiquated divisions that “divided into two groups” a unified country.  But the flexibility of how oversight was framed in the map historically varied in response to demonstrated need, as shown in the maps of  oversight compiled in the New York Times, which traced the coverage of states by the Act, coloring those covered since 1965 in deep purple, and those added in the 1970s in violet, and subsequently judged free from such voting discrimination in tan:  the disparate nature of these regions suggests attention to areas in the country where electoral laws merited continued scrutiny by relatively current criteria.

Areas Covered by VRA-and additions
The shifting landscape negotiated evidence of voter discrimination, rather than disrupting national harmony.

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion foregrounded data compiled for Congress’ 2006 review of the Act to call into question the relevance with which the VRA maps a uniform division of states Congress kept under coverage.  Yet in citing only one metric–discrepancies in voter registration, the original criteria used in 1965–he oddly adopts an antiquated sense of the relevance of mapping in relation to the VRA, throwing out the map on the basis of its antiquated measurement of obstructing universal suffrage, and opening the door to the introduction of further abuses by removing oversight entirely.  Even while calling for basing such oversight on more current data, he avoided looking at the data that was available–summarized in part in Justice Ginsburg’s impassioned eloquent dissent–by confusing one map with the ends of oversight.   And so a declining registration gap served as grounds to question the need for the continued federal oversight:

Voter Registration Gap 1965-2006

Several of the gaps in these six states survive, and the gap of registration among African American voters has been dramatically reduced in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, which partly reflects the standard set by the Act, but these numbers present only a very partial or selective picture, and a map that does not conform to voting practices.

 

5.  Yet the assiduousness with which attempts to reduce voter turnout have been since developed in many states listed above in the rise of increased minority voting, and indeed with the rise of the proportion of ‘minorities’ among registered voters.  The lack of uniformity that Roberts finds in the ability of mapping disenfranchisement among those states who were mandated to submit any electoral alterations for “pre-clearance” by the Department of Justice perversely became his basis for arguing that the concept of preclearance should be jettisoned as unconstitutional in the undue constraints it imposed on nine named states–as if the question was the ability to map discrimination, or use a map to regulate voting practices, rather than its continued existence to remedy historical prejudice.  So whereas the Voting Rights Act was persuasively linked to the region placed under federal coverage–or “pre-clearance”–of any changes or modifications to electoral laws or procedure, Roberts ruled that the geographic divide in disenfranchisement that was relevant in 1965 was no longer operative or commensurate with actual historical experience or current data–although the measure he chose to highlight does not conclusively demonstrate this assertion to in fact be the case at all.

But rather than look more deeply at actual data, Chief Justice Roberts appeals to the “fundamental principles of equal sovereignty” among states and record of national unity as if it were abstractly represented on a map, rather than something that played out in lived experience and effective political representation.  The opinion seems partly in the question of trusting an earlier mapping of disenfranchisement.  It ignores the extent to which the Act aims to prevent disenfranchisement; it displaces these questions by those concerning the propriety of mapping out a division in jurisdictions, as if to implying that uniform disenfranchisement was the target of the laws more than its inherently undemocratic evil that disrupted the legal equality of the state in the eyes of federal law, before which all states should have equality.

 

Maps of the USA

 

Yet are all states equal in their entitlement to police their own voting rights?  Recent cartographical endeavors to draw maps of political representation by equally distributed units of population reveal that the boundaries of states are approximate realities, rather than the abstract entities Roberts accuses the framers of the VRA of positing.  To distribute population were equally divided to correspond to the shifts in population in the nation, Neil Freeman decided to remap the states to allow chambers of Congress to remedy the disproportionate influence of specific states and prevent gerrymandering.

 

electoral10-1100

 

Freeman’s counter-map reminds us of the political convenience of such abstract entities, and the incoherence of some of our states as entities.   It reveals the poor approximation that the existing divisions of states gives voters in the nation, effectively privileging votes of residents in the more  thinly populated prospective regions of “Salt Lake,” “Ozark,” “Shiprock” or “Ogallala.”

Can the division of federal oversight be understood as an approximate and imperfect but necessary tool analogous to that of the electoral college?  Such abstractions are imperfect tools for considering local electoral practices, but are the units that exist as units of electoral law, rather than as legal abstractions whose jurisdictions are in need of projection.  Indeed, these convenient units for political administration poorly reflect population density–in fact, the limited density of the area of federal oversight seems less densely inhabited, and more isolated from broader cultural norms.

 

Cartogram of US popation on grid

 

 

6.  The Voting Rights Act served as a preventative that decreased a marked discrepancy among the registration of whites and minorities in these states.  Yet in gutting its enforcement, Roberts found poor logic in arguments that preclearance has itself diminished potential electoral abuse, asserting it impossible to prove with rigor this as the case, and noting this lack of rationality contrasts to the undue “burdens” that the division creates.

The Chief Justice may have effectively distorted the question in an optic of states rights.  But this argument seems anything but rational or watertight, with 81 percent of the voter discrimination complaints of voting practice lay in the areas where the VRA sustained “preclearance” of changes and/or modifications in voting law or elections–the region of the states who lost or settled the largest number of cases in favor of minority voters between 1982-2005, as Judge David S. Tatel had noted in the appeals court’s decision, if one focusses on those regions that lost 6 or 7 cases per million people.

 

Section 2, 1982-2005, 6+ per million

Lost or settled cases

 

This map of the settlement of cases that violated Section 2 of the VRA might, Chief Justice Roberts could object, fail to map in identical fashion onto the boundaries that the VRA enshrined–and the second excluding both Virginia and North Carolina, and providing little rational for the validity of the existing map of areas whose election laws merit more careful observation and protection.  But this point denies the imperfect conventionality of all mapped entities–and the confusion in conflating the abstract unity of the map and experience of the jurisdictions it maps.

A map that measures at lest ten successful settlements of cases that minority voters brought of disenfranchisement in the years between 1982 and 2005 defines a similar  region as worthy of oversight:

 

Over Ten Voting Discrimination Cases settled in favor of Minority Voters

 

The question turns on what sort of maps best show current conditions of civil rights.  But a deeper problem in Robert’s argument the difficulty to select a single map  with a level of logical consistency as a record of conditions, given the selective nature of mapping:  the map is not the territory, but construes it.  To object to the divisions a map creates misunderstands its instrumentality.

Roberts found “Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines” revealed by low registration and turnout, and finds little rational by which the division should be preserved since “today’s statistics tell a different story.”  The story Justice Ginsburg offers for “the completion of impressive gains thus far made” as a way “to combat voting discrimination where other remedies have been tried and failed” against “‘the blight of racial discrimination in voting'” to give, as Oliver Wendell Holmes argued in 1903, “relief from [that] great political wrong.”   The curbing of such a wrong perpetuated either by a state or its residents was the aim of the VRA, and the benefits were directly attributed to its reauthorization in 2006.

But Roberts seems to argue from the map that the unity of law is disrupted by the federal imposition of different norms.  This despite fears of active “redrawing of legislative districts” to dilute the rising power of minority votes,  that  effectively segregate the distribution of minority votes by lines of race, drawing distinctions designed to minimize the effects of those votes, independent of registration or attendance at the polls that actively diminish the increases of minority representation:  Congress found many “second-generation barriers” arising in different forms which demonstrated “the need for continued Federal oversight” in these specific regions, Congress determined, and included among other things the purging of voter rolls of minority voters; dual voter-registration schema; restricting of early voting practices or curbing late voting; openly expressed fears of African-American turnout increasing; and intentional redistricting designed to eliminate those districts where minorities were majorities–a practice noted in Shelby County itself as recently as 2008.  The act, Justice Ginsburg argued in her forceful eloquent dissent, might be retained “[in those] jurisdictions as to which its application does not transgress constitutional limits.”

 

7.  It is accepted that maps of oversight are in fact instrumental tools of political representation.  Abigail Thernstrom of the American Enterprise Institute has written pointedly that the primary reason for defending Section Five of the VRA is to secure African-American constituencies in “racially tailored districts” that protect minority seats; she sustains the abuse of Section 5 by a Department of Justice to block Voter ID laws that would have the effect of limiting the voting franchise.  And instead of protecting against disenfranchisement, the law’s current form has provided a basis for preventing “multiracial coalitions,” Thernstrom argues, and effectively continue to limit the focus of African-American politicians–with polarizing results.  Yet the rise of minority voting blocks has also provided regions which stubbornly tend to support Democratic candidates, making redistricting a partisan issue.  In other words, the law undermines our polity–never mind its accuracy.

The redrawing of electoral maps in response to Roberts’ ruling so that they minimize minority votes is an inevitable irony of Roberts’ failure to see any reason to map of federal oversight on specific states.  Within two hours after the public announcement of the Supreme Court decision–in a move either premeditated or revealing insider pre-knowledge of the decision to come–when Texas’ Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the return of voided voter-ID legislation designed to curb minority voting together with a new redistricting map limiting Hispanic and African American voters–both previously blocked as discriminatory, unveiling a new map of the map of Congressional districts in the state that effectively minimized the impact of a growing number of Latino votes in ways that are not revealed in the limited metric of registration.  In fact, Abbott could barely contain his glee,  tweeting to the world “Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas after today’s #SCOTUS decision.”

 

Talbot Maps Texas

 

The redistricting in no small part responded to the growth of minority voters in the 2012 election, designed to restrict the effects of district demographics–it can be viewed in clickable form here–that responds to the recent dramatic rise in non-white voters in the state.

 

Texas Electoral Map

 

Both changes had been earlier blocked by the Department of Justice for targeting growing minority communities in the state of Texas, by passing the most stringent Voter ID laws in the United states.  Critics of the map–“drawn in secret by white Republican representatives, without notifying their black and latino peers,” according to Aviva Shen,” or Voter ID, argued that it would effectively diminish minority votes.  Local resident Mack Green observed ruefully, “Travis county looks like something drawn by 5 malevolent and blindfolded pre-schoolers. . . . . Gosh, can this be the rampant voter fraud Republicans are fighting to prevent?”  Unsurprisingly, a range of states are collectively moving to re-adopt previously banned Voter ID laws, in ways that promise to change the electoral map:  Attorney Generals in Alabama, Arizona, South Dakota, and South Carolina all want to institute Voter ID laws that they argued the Voting Rights Act impeded.  Is this related to the election of President Obama with huge majorities of African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanics, but less than half of white votes?  Ari Berman questioned the relation to recent controversies around past evidence of voter suppression: “There’s a particular irony to the Court killing Section 5 just months after a presidential election in which voter suppression attempts played a starring role.”

The map of voting rights will in the coming months quickly be redrawn elsewhere in response to the court’s short-sighted decision to remove preclearance across nine states.  It is ironic that Chief Justice Roberts’ argument began from the imposition of an unfair division of the map that the federal oversight had first created.  One can only hope that “dignity” will re-emerge as a standard by which to enforce a redrawn region of oversight.

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Filed under 2016 Presidential election, minority voters, Southern States, Voter ID legislation, Voting Rights Act