Rejoice! Our Biennial Nightmare Will Soon Be Over
Happy Election Day America! Today marks the close of the congressional midterm elections, which were as dark and interminable as the winter soon to be upon us. Even though the outcome of these elections has been known since the end of the previous election, we still had to go through the ritual of shame, atonement and ablution that is our electoral process.
We were treated to masturbatory press coverage by Beltway insiders, solemn assurances that this election would be The Most Important Election, and political ads. So, so many political ads. In all, more than $1 billion will be spent on advertising alone, with 40 percent of that money coming from groups not legally required disclose their donors. Democracy!
It’s no surprise that most Americans are treating this election as a non-event. You’ll know the election winners and losers later tonight (maybe), but we here at Unfettered Equality wanted to tally a few winners and losers so far:
Gerrymandering: In addition to being everyone’s favorite US history vocabulary term, gerrymandering is the practice of drawing electoral districts in a way that maximizes one party’s advantage in a legislature. The portmanteau itself dates back to 1812, when Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts approved a redistricting plan with a salamander-shaped district.
Here is an example of gerrymandering from my home state of Maryland, the Third Congressional district, once described as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state” by a federal judge. Reapportionment and redistricting of congressional seats happens every ten years, after the Census. Republicans focused on winning state houses and governors’ mansions in the lead up to 2010, since state legislatures draw and approve congressional districts. Their effort was largely successful; the Census coincided with the 2010 midterms, which featured an angry, older, whiter electorate sympathetic to Republican goals and angry with one-party control in Washington. Major corporations like Walmart, Pfizer, and AT&T backed much of this strategy. As a result, the House of Representatives will likely remain Republican for the next decade. One easy way to get rid of gerrymandering would be to stop letting lawmakers draw their own maps, but such a proposal would have to get past the lawmakers themselves so…balls.
Local Television News: Have you ever watched the local television news and felt monumentally sad for your community? If so, that is because local news is the worst. Faced with plummeting ratings and near-zero viewership among young consumers, local news programs have adopted the Fox News business model of “scaring the shit of out the old people still watching so that they keep watching.” A 2010 study found that a half-hour news program featured only eight minutes and 17 seconds of actual local news, and that most of that is sensationalist crime reporting. Right-leaning companies have acquired some local news outfits, like WJLA here in DC, promoting cable-news style punditry.
Given their slow fade into obsolescence, local television stations depend more than ever on political advertising to stay afloat. They’re like the algae-eating fish you keep in the aquarium to suck up all the filth and detritus generated by flashier, promise-making fish. And these local stations excel at sucking – through mid-October, they captured 95 percent of total political television ads, up from 80 percent in 2012. In Florida, site of a pitched gubernatorial battle between Voldemort and an Oompa Loompa Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, spending on local television political ads topped $100 million.
National Political Press: Political reporters can finally stop pretending to care about Congress and focus on the 2016 presidential election, which they have been talking about since immediately after the 2012 presidential election. Get ready fawning profiles on Martin O’Malley’s path to the Democratic nomination, like this one published in Politico yesterday for BEFORE THE DAMN ELECTION. Get ready to be even sicker of Hilary Clinton. Even better, get ready for non-stop coverage of the Republican primary, which is sure to be a sober and serious exercise in civic debate. Just kidding, it will be insane.
Millennials: Young adults and those starting or in college will definitely lose this election cycle. On the one hand, Republicans have been hostile to our interests, blocking consideration of bills to boost job creation and make it possible to refinance student loan debt. On the other hand, Democrats seem pretty clueless when it comes to reaching voters when Obama isn’t on the ballot. A recent Rock the Vote effort to get Millennials inspired cited marijuana legalization, climate change and reproductive rights as reasons to head for the polls, despite Millennials naming employment and the economy as their top issues. It seems like politicians would rather talk to Millennials about what they think we care about instead of bothering to figure it out, dampening turnout. Of course, if we voted in larger numbers candidates might feel compelled to address our issues, so it’s a classic Catch-22.
Voting Rights: Ever since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in a decision last summer, a number of states have enacted restrictive voter ID laws to combat the alleged scourge of in-person voter fraud. As it turns out, there is very little actual fraud – 31 incidents out of one billion ballots cast, according to one study – and a lot of disenfranchisement. A recent report on the Interstate Crosscheck program, a collaborative effort by 27 secretaries of state to combat voter fraud through a shared list, found that minority voters were much more likely to be tagged as double voters. In Texas, where the Supreme Court recently allowed a controversial voter ID bill to take effect, a concealed weapon permit is considered appropriate voter ID but a student ID is not. Republican states have also curtailed early voting and other conveniences, due to the perception that higher turnout favors Democrats. In Georgia, where 81,000 new minority voters were registered, there are worries that state officials have used bureaucratic means to delay the process. This situation is unusual for America, which has always supported the right of every citizen to vote.
Rational Policy Making: One thing has been clear since at least 2009 – don’t expect anything good to come out of Washington. Today, when every general election is decided by demographic shifts and snaky redistricting schemes, the only game left is the primary. That’s bad news for our political system, which requires compromise. Incumbents need only fear a challenge on ideological purity, so the incentive to compromise is nil. Partisanship, coupled with the overwhelming burden of bureaucratic sclerosis, will keep our political system tied in knots for years to come. As Phillip Howard lamented earlier this year, “Generations of lawmakers and regulators have written so much law, in such detail, that officials are barred from acting sensibly. Like sediment in the harbor, law has piled up until it is almost impossible” for officials to make quick or prudent decisions. Since Congress can’t govern, our representatives preen for the cameras instead. Jeremy covered a novel solution to the problem of law accretion back in May, though it’s unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.
So happy voting! If this article hasn’t made you climb back in bed and draw the curtains, I wish you the best of luck choosing the lesser of two evils.