Hello and welcome to Moderate Party a Political Podcast for Moderates, Centrists, and Independents. I’m your host, Hillari Lombard, and today’s episode is the first in a three part series on the For the People Act, aka HR1 aka SB1 aka A legislative attempt to restore democracy.
But before we do that, I have one house keeping item to go over — I’m really excited to announce that we now have listeners in 49 out of 50 states. After the last episode, I had listeners reach out to me from Alabama and Alaska – so now all we need is New Hampshire. Just like pokemon, I wanna catch em all. So, if you know anyone in New Hampshire, call them, beep them, if you wanna reach them (shout out to Kim Possible) and get them to listen to this podcast. Finally, if you guys want to chat you can always shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, find the pod on twitter @moderatepod, find me on twitter at @HillariLombard, connect with us on instagram @moderatepartypod or look us up on facebook. Or preferable some combination of the three.
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get started.
MOD POD INTRO MUSIC
The For the People Act is a historic piece of democracy form legislation that is currently making its way through the senate. It’s a giant bill and it covers a lot of things, so we’re going to break this mini series up into three episodes. Today’s episode is a good one. We’re going to dive in headfirst and try to answer some questions I haven’t been able to shake.
Who does this country belong to?
Who does the government serve?
Who gets to decide how much someone’s voice matters?
Who deserves the right to vote?
History of Voting Rights
The Right to Vote Isn’t in the Constitution
Did you know the right to vote isn’t written in the constitution? Crazy right? It’s not even in the Bill of Rights! You know the document that outlines the core rights of citizens in a democracy? Never mentions the right to vote. It goes over freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly.Tells us that slaves only counted as 3/5ths of a person, no one can take our guns, and the army can’t stay in your house without your consent but never gets around to voting.
Worse than that – after the constitution is ratified, no one takes issue with this omission for A HUNDRED YEARS. Eventually, in 1869, the right to vote was enacted through the 15th amendment. Which is great. Definitely one of the best amendments – love you 15 – obviously don’t love you as much at the 19th amendment – but you know, it’s still a good one.
But I couldn’t shake it. When you’re writing the rule book for a nation, how do you leave off the right to vote? Was it an oversight? Did they do it deliberately? Did they think it wasn’t important? Americans love our right to vote. We take pride in it! How the hell is it not included in the constitution?
So, I started digging and the answer was pretty simple – the Framers of the Constitution left out the right to vote because they didn’t want most people to vote. Think of the US population – now remove women – okay, that’s 50% down. Then if the men left, take out people of color. Okay, cool, now we are down to 31% of the population. Awesome – now let’s take out everyone that doesn’t own a home. Then, from that group of white, male, homeowners, take out everyone that hasn’t paid their home off yet. That tiny remaining group, most likely very old, white, and rich, that’s who gets to vote according to the framers.
The FF didn’t trust poor people because they were poor.
Here’s what they had to say about it:
JAMES MADISON – THE GOAT
[Madison fears that the dependent situation of the poor will make them tools of the rich. — TGW]
James Madison thought poor people, by nature of being poor, could easily be taken advantage of by the rich — so basically, we can only trust rich people because they already have money, so they can’t be taken advantage of by other rich people. He says “In future times a great majority of the people will not only be without land, but any other sort of property. These will either combine under the influence of their common situation; in which case, the rights of property & the public liberty, will not be secure in their hands: or which is more probable, they will become the tools of opulence & ambition, in which case there will be equal danger on another side.
BROADWAY DARLING – ALEXANDER HAMILTON
“If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS – NY
Before I give you another boring quote from a founding father, I want to give you a little background on the founder I think is by far the most interesting founder. His name is Gouvernor Morris. He was from New York. He wrote the most famous words in the constitution, “We the People”. He designd New Yorks Street Grid, He was one of the few founders that stood up and opposed slavery, he had a peg leg – which he got after losing his leg in a carriage accident while fleeing from the husband of a woman he was having sex with. And the most bizarre fact about Morris, is that he died after stabbing himself in the penis with a whale bone. WILD – right?! Unfortunately, his wild lifestyle didn’t make him anymore progressive when it came to voting.
- Give the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them. We should not confine our attention to the present moment.
- The time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics & manufacturers [FN20] who will receive their bread from their employers. Will such men be the secure & faithful Guardians of liberty? Children do not vote. Why? because they want prudence, because they have no will of their own. The ignorant & the dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest.” Gouverneur Morris
Not every founder felt that way. But ultimately, they couldn’t come up with a consensus on what to do about voting.
So, they left it up to the states.
Now, the constitution is by no means a perfect document, but failing to include a fundamental, federal, right to vote is one of the biggest mistakes the founders made. When they decided to leave it up to the states – the right to vote became a conversation centered around one question. Who do you distrust more – women, the poor, or people of color?
- In 1776, New Jersey became the first and only original colony to extend the right to vote to citizens regardless of race or gender – so long as you were rich. But by the early 1800 they ignored that and restricted the right to vote to white men that pay taxes.
- Some states, like Pennsylvania, couldn’t decide. Prior to 1800, they let rich black people vote, but after that they took the right to vote from rich black people and gave it to poor white people.
Quick shoutout to unexpected feminist ally – Wyoming – they gave women the right to vote in the 1860s, before they were even a state! In 1889, Wyoming vied for statehood—and refused to join the union if the laws giving equality to women were not upheld, telling Congress (which wanted the suffrage law rescinded) via telegram, “We will remain out of the Union 100 years rather than come in without the women.”
Modern History of Voter Suppression.
The Founding Fathers placed power in the hands of the states, and the right to vote has expanded and contracted ever since.
After the Civil war, black people voted in big numbers. In 1868,the first year black people could vote, turnout was spectacular. South Carolina, a former confederate state ended up with a majority black state legislature! Can you imagine that? Obviously, it made former slave owners and general racists very nervous. So, they started trying to figure out how to take back their power – or, in their words, redeem white supremacy. But they weren’t quite sure how to do it.
They needed to disenfranchise black Americans and restrict their right to vote. So, they came up with a bunch of racist laws and sneaky tactics to do it.
Southern states kept the property requirements we talked about earlier. They also established literacy tests, basically, if you can’t read you can’t vote. But they make exceptions if the person can understand what is being read to them. Okay, sure. But the thing is, those exceptions were only given to white people.
They made election days on the most inconvenient days possible. For example: planting season, knowing most black people at the time, worked in agriculture.
They cut down the number of places black people could cast their ballots. Or put them in deeply racist areas – to make voting more dangerous.
They made black people pass comprehension tests, or “good character” tests which were completely to the discretion of the white man giving the test.
They purged the voter rolls. This isn’t super abnormal, that’s how we remove dead people, people that move, etc. Except, they removed WAY more black people than white people. So, if you were black and you somehow did get registered to vote – you could be arbitrarily removed from the voter roll, show up to vote, and find out you’re no longer registered.
They said that former prisoners couldn’t vote – which you may support – the southern states passed something called the black codes. The black codes were a set of rules dictating what black people could and could not do. These laws varies state by state but here is a sampling of things black people could be arrested for:
- Not having a job or quitting your job if you lived in Mississippi
- Holding an occupation other than farmer or servant without paying an annual tax of $10 to $100.
It’s also worth noting that a large percentage of judges and police officers in the south at this time were former confederate soldiers — so that makes for an awkward trip to the county courthouse.
So, a bunch of people ended up in prison for petty crimes. Then businesses could “lease them” for unpaid labor. Effectively, re-enslaving them. I’m not going to get into that too much because that isn’t the theme of this episode – but You guys should checkout the 13th it’s a documentary on netflix that covers this and trust me it will fuck you up.
One of the sneakiest ways they restricted the vote was something called the GRandfather clause — which basically stated People who could not read and owned no property were allowed to vote if their fathers or grandfathers had voted before 1867. Of course, practically no blacks could vote before 1867, so the grandfather clause worked only for whites.
There were also less sneaky ways of suppressing the vote. Like, violence and intimidation. Or the poll tax. Basically, if you couldn’t pay the poll tax you couldn’t vote. This harmed white people too!
Basically, Southern States took every opportunity to make voting as inconvenient, expensive, restrictive, and sometimes dangerous as possible.
Putting racism aside for a second – voting isn’t something we’re terribly good at.
Think back to the 2016 election. Trump vs. Hillary. If you’re like me, it felt inescapable and all consuming. Everyone had an opinion. Except — they didn’t. Only 56% of voting age people voted. Wanna know something even more pathetic? That was down from 2008 when Barack Obama drove record high turnout. That year, we made it to 58%. Can you believe that? The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development studied voting patterns in 35 developed countries and the US ranked 30th when it came to voter turnout.
The Electoral Integrity Project, an independent project based out of Harvard University, found that U.S. elections from July 2012 through December 2018 rated “lower than any other long-established democracies and affluent societies. Each country was given a score out of a hundred. The U.S. score of 61 – the same score as Mexico and Panama
That is a kick in the teeth for a country that treasures its right to vote.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to our low score — but one that I think is interesting is this issue of decentralization. So, when you look at most other liberal democracies they aren’t having 50 different elections on the same day. “In some cases even, if counties are running their elections differently within a state, then you can have hundreds of elections going on, each of them with their own set of rules and procedures. That’s uniquely American. So, basically, our elections are only as safe, secure, free, and fair, as our most racist and most underfunded state.
Let me put that another way, let’s say you’re going to have heart surgery. Now, heart surgery is a big deal. So, there are normally five people in the operating room with you. A surgeon, an anesthesiologist, a scrub nurse, a circulating nurse, and a Cardiology Technologist. Now, all of those people have to have the appropriate training and experience to do those jobs right?
So, let’s assume your surgeon is Harvard Educated, the Nurses were top in their class, the Cardiac Technologist has been doing this every day for the last ten years and they’ve never messed up, but your anesthesiologist – the person making sure you stay asleep and free from pain — that person was a C student and the state they went to school in said you only have to do medical school for one year instead of four. Ontop of all that, rumor has it they drink on the job. Now, four members of your surgical team are rockstars, but that one guy. The untrained rookie with a drinking problem. He could kill you! So, it kills your confidence in the whole team right? Election integrity and democracy work the same way.
So, generally, we’re not great at these guys. But recently, things have gotten a little better.
The 2020 election.
2020 was a garbage year by pretty much every metric. The 2020 election and what came after will no doubt be a black eye on the history of america. But there was a silver lining — at least when it comes to democracy. 2020 had record voter turnout.
It was a record breaking year by any metric. Voter turnout increased in every state. 158.4 million ballots were cast — that’s the most EVER. 67% of eligible voters voted! That’s the highest percentage in 120 years. It also set the record for vote by mail.
So, obviously everyone embraced this as a huge accomplishment and we were all very proud right? Wrong.
Modern Day Voter Suppression
As of February 19, 2021, state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled, or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states. One of the most notable, recently, was passed in Georgia — or as Mitch McConnel calls it The One that Got Away.
Georgia was the plot twist of the 2020 election. Unprecedented voter turnout turned Georgia Blue and gave democrats control of the senate — by a very slim margin. Almost immediately after, state officials got to working making sure something like that never happened again.
But this isn’t necessarily new for Georgia.
Last week, state legislatures in georgia passed a far-reaching overhaul of the state’s election laws that voting rights groups say will target the Black residents who make up roughly a third of the state’s population and an even larger percentage of the democratic voting block. Exit polls show 88% of the Black electorate supported President Joe Biden last November. And in January, Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock saw even bigger support, capturing 92% and 93% of the Black vote in their runoff elections, respectively.
So, what exactly does their new law do?
It creates stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limits drop boxes for ballots, imposes shorter early voting hours and makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in line at the polls. It eliminates mobile voting centers. And cracks down on Souls to the Polls – an initiative led by black churches to encourage voter turnout and early voting.
I’m not going to tell you what group of people suffers disproportionately from this law –because you already know
*whispers* black people
But wait, there’s more!
Do you remember Brad Raffensperger? Proud Republican. Citizen of Georgia. Democratically elected secretary of state? You may remember him from the infamous phone call in which a sitting president pressured, threatened, and begged an election official to “find the votes” required to make him win? Here’s a refresher for you.
PLAY THE CALL
Brad Raffensperger is the guy Trump is yelling at! But see, Good Old Brad did the right thing. He audited the vote three times – none of those audits produced enough new votes for Trump to win the state. So, Rad Brad, did what he was elected to do and he certified the results of the election – thus certifying bidens hold on georgia. And dooming Trump’s chances at reelection. If Trump was your guy – that’s a devastating blow – I get that. But the people of Georgia spoke. Rad Brad is a republican. He moved for democracy not for party pressure. We should view Brad as an example of political courage. He stood up to the sitting president of the United states. Arguably, the most powerful man in the world. And he did it in the name of democracy. In my opinion, we should take down one of the confederate monuments bouncing around Georgia and replace it with a glorious bronze statue of Rad Brad.
The Republican state legislature did not feel the same way because one of the most damning aspects of this bill, in my mind, is that it strips the Georgia Secretary of State of their rightful position as the state’s chief elections officer. This is a punitive action taken, in my opinion, to punish Rad Brad, and to make sure no one has the opportunity to show that type of political courage again. Instead, The law gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. Which means, the Republican-controlled state board could exert more influence over the administration of elections, including the certification of county results. So, if one party wins in georgia and the loser starts spreading lies about voter fraud the state legislature can step in and side with the loser and overturn the election results.
Why is it hard to vote? Who would want to make it harder?
I live in California, and I am so politically motivated I have a frickin political podcast, so you can imagine during election searson I am a monster. But I moved, and didn’t have a chance to update my drivers license yet, since I was still in the same state, and I panicked I wouldn’t be allowed to vote. I had to fill out a provisional ballot – and thank god I was able to! But I tell you that because I’m a nerd. I am excited to receive my election materials. I make a little draft board to track issues that I care about. I run this podcast. And I almost got screwed out of my right to vote.
So, Why is it hard to vote in america? And why would anyone want to make it harder.
The biggest argument you will hear for restricting the right to vote is that you are doing so in the interest of securing our elections and preventing voter fraud. Some will even go so far as to say that voting is not a right it’s a privilege, it doesn’t have to be easy, if you want to do it you will. If you feel that way, you’ve never had something critical to you be on the ballot before. You’ve never had skin in the game. If an issue near and dear to your heart was on the ballot – say an issue that could give you healthcare you desperately need, protect a mothers right to have an abortion or conversly protect a childs right not to be aborted, or maybe the validity of your marriage, the right for someone you love to remain in the country, your right to own a gun. Imagine issues like that were on the ballot – and you couldn’t vote – through no fault of your own. Wouldn’t you be pissed off?
That being said – I do think that some of this stuff gets over hyped. I think that republicans and democrats weaponize voting issues to turn out their base. Republicans tell their base that democrats are going to steal the election so we need to turn out every vote to keep them from doing it. Democrats tell their base republicans are trying to steal your right to vote, you need to turn out to stick it to me. This also breeds an all or nothing media narrative that drives me CRAZY. Take the 2020 election as an example – Republicans are telling their voters that the election was stolen. It’s all fraud in the swing states. They’re just liars and crooks. Democrats are telling their voters those people are morons how dare you think something as stupid as voter fraud? Pfffft. Get out. Neither of those narratives are helpful. Both narratives suppress opposing views and neither position actually answers the questions people are asking. Meaning you aren’t convincing anyone that doesn’t already agree with you because you aren’t trying to! You’re just barking at them.
A morning consult poll concluded that 70% of republicans don’t think the election was free and fair. Barking at them to shut up isn’t going to reassure them. And if you really believe there was fraud, Barking at people that think they weren’t isn’t going to convince them.
I’m not going to try and mitigate the 2020 election today. But I do want to talk about voter fraud and election security because I want to give credence to those questions — at least the ones asked in good faith.
So, first, how common is voter fraud actually? Voter fraud is incredibly rare in this country.
Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School who tracks such cases, identified only 31 impersonation incidents between 2000 and 2014 across the country, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
But one of the problems we face in this country is the chasm between the reality of voter fraud and the perception of voter fraud. A lot of people think voter fraud is happening a lot more than it actually is. So, it makes sense that they would want to make the rules stricter to prevent that right ?
One of the easiest, but most controversial ways to do this is by requiring id in order to vote. Activists say this is a racist policy – and a call back to a Jim Crow era. Now, I don’t agree with that. I do not think having to show id before you can vote is an unreasonable requirement. To be honest, voting without an id sounds like a lot of work for election officials and doesn’t inspire confidence in election integrity. I also don’t think that is a racist expectation. We just want to make sure you are who you say you are before you vote — perfectly reasonable right?
But this is where my personal beliefs bump up against systemic racism. 11% of Americans don’t have a government issued id. That’s millions of americans. And of that group, the majority is people of color. Nationally, up to 25% of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of whites.
Why? It can be time consuming and expensive for some people. Here’s an example from my life. I’m currently trying to get a real id – basically and id california says we need to fly places. Idk. Anyway, in order to do that, here’s what I had to do.
- Take time off work to go to the County office, which is only open 8-5 Monday through Friday and pay them $30 for that piece of paper.
- I had to bring in two additional documents to prove residency. I chose a bank statement and a utility bill. But, you can’t have a bank account without an id and many people don’t have their names on a utility bill because who would rent to you without an id?
- Anyway I gather all these documents, then I make an appointment to go to the DMV, take more time off work, pay another $40 and then wait for my id to show up in the mail.
Some low income people don’t have $70 to spare and can’t take that much time off of work Or maybe they don’t have a car to get to the DMV. There are a lot of barriers. But, I had to suck it up and get my id because I need one, right? And normally I would tell other people to do the same. However, when a policy, no matter how benign, has a disproportionate and negative impact on a certain racial group — something isn’t working and should be fixed.
So, while getting an id doesn’t seem insurmountable to me, clearly it is for some people. Now, my friend Erica over at Rank the Vote Nebraska, proposed a very simple and straightforward solution. Issue anyone that wants to vote a voter id card. I want to take her idea a step further and say make those cards free, set up an office for processing those cards in every post office in America.. If the post office can take a passport picture, they can take an id picture. Maybe train schools to do it, so when kids turn 18 and are automatically registered to vote, an election official comes in and takes their photos and helps them fill out the application for their voter id.
Boom. Now, we get to keep voter id, but also help those people living without an id get one. That has gotta be so stressful! You can’t buy booze. You have to keep all your money in cash. It’s a stressful way to be ya’ll.
Now, election security is a bit more complicated. The 2020 election was the most secure in history. That’s not hyperbole. That’s the official conclusion of the Trump Administration’s department of homeland security.
Politicians try to frame this as an argument between voting rights and election security and they are completely wrong to do so. We should expand voting rights AND work toward safe and secure elections. AND not OR.
What does that look like practically? Well, first and foremost we need to stop pretending like elections can be funded on skittles and good intentions. US elections are drastically underfunded – and are going to need money and support in order to modernize.
Federalists don’t @ me, but we’re going to need a national standard of security for our elections. Here’s an easy example. Did you know that 8 states use paperless voting? Meaning it is entirely electronic, thus difficult to audit? Thankfully, none of these states were swing states or we probably still wouldn’t have a president.
Now I’m a firm believer that the government uses too much paper. We all use too much paper. I want to go paperless from an environmental standpoint – but not when it comes to elections. Ya know? Like stop printing receipts I don’t want anyway and save that paper for ballots because we need paper backups to insure our ballots haven’t been tampered with and to perform audits later. We also need paper backups for voter registration databases. Now, one day we might live in a world where blockchain technology can do a lot of heavy lifting in this area — but that is not where we live today!
Other ways to secure the election? Retire old voting machines, upgrade the technology, and standardize the equipment we use so the public can be confident it works and fox news can’t single out dominion voting systems.
Finally, we should automatically audit election results to ensure they’re accuracy. Not just when the president won’t concede. It should be a regular thing.
Now, I know that we’ve talked about a lot today. We covered the history of voting rights in America, voter suppression, voter registration, ballot access, how messed up the Georgia state legislature is, we covered a lot.
But what I need you to remember is this.
This country belongs to it’s people. It belongs to us. It does not belong to politicians anymore than the average citizen. An attack on the right to vote is an attack on this country and it must be defeated. Politicians don’t get to decide who can vote. Our constitution is amended to provide us all with that right. Voting is how we impact change in this country. It is how we move things forward when it would be easier to go backward. Voting is the most fundamental civic responsibility we have — it is the shield that defends democracy and the sword that fights back against injustice. It is, for many people, a power you are born with. A power that our soldiers die to defend. And no politician has the right to take it away.
At the start of the episode, I told you this episode is part one of three surrounding the for the people act – which is currently in congress.
The For the People Act provides a solution to many of the problems that I have outlined in this episode. Here are just a few examples of what it can accomplish.
For the People ACt
The For the People Act, currently in the senate, would achieve a lot of these things.
Now, I don’t agree with everything in there. Moving away from voter Id is a bad call. But, more things are good in this bill than bad.
It also squares away concerns about election security by prioritizing
In the next episode in this series we’re going to walk through what the For the Peoples Act can do about dark money and partisan gerrymandering. I know. So many solutions in one bill? It’s madness. So, stay tuned.
As always, if you liked this episode please be sure to subscribe and rate the podcast and if you have any questions or comments on this episode you can email me at email@example.com or message me on social media.
I want to close out this episode with words from Stacey Abrams about what makes our country great. And the ability we all have to make it greater.