On November 7, 2020, America stepped back from the cliff edge of re-electing a president known for showing disdain for democratic norms.
Fusing his own business interests with the White House and labeling the media as ‘enemies of the people,’ he hugged foreign strongmen, sidelined science and tried to turn the justice department into a political juggernaut.
At the end of the day, he distinguished himself as the first sitting president since 1800 to challenge a peaceful transition of power and America came bone chillingly close to collapsing.
Five unvarnished beams of democracy were exposed during the 2020 election cycle and many are asking ‘Is there hope to set them right?’
The Electoral College
The 2020 election is stored in many people’s memory banks as unbearably close.
It wasn’t close. At all.
Biden beat Trump with a lead of over 5 million votes in the popular vote. The Democratic contender ended up with the greatest proportion of any challenger since FDR in 1932.
While most democracies have polls to determine the winner by popular vote, America is stuck with an outmoded system which chooses the president not by ‘we the people,’ but by 538 electors.
Originally intended to insulate the presidency from democratic popular control by expanding power of the slaveholding states, the electoral college was inequitable from the start.
Sabeel Rahman, author of Democracy Against Domination, figures the electoral college gives GOP candidates a 4-5% advantage of Democratic rivals.
Despite that, there is almost no chance of the electoral college being trashed soon. A constitutional amendment would be required but in the partisan environment, an amendment would be impossible.
A glimmer of hope resides in the National Popular Vote compact where states agree to promise their electoral votes to whichever contestant wins the most votes nationally.
Once the barriers to voting are known, the huge turnout in 2020 is more impressive. “We have seen this cycle an effort by the GOP to make it harder to vote — especially for black and minority populations,” said Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy.
“I don’t know of another advanced democracy in the world where one of the two major political parties has invested in voter suppression as a core strategy,” added Bassin.
Among the tactics displayed were:
- Inaccurate purges of citizens from voter rolls,
- Undermining of the USPS, and
- Malicious robo calls in areas with large black populations, like Flint, Michigan.
Mitch McConnell’s continued control of the Senate is a product of America’s flawed democracy. The make-up of the Senate chamber also has roots in the nation’s racist past.
“The structure of the Senate is an outdated Jim Crow relic meant to establish white power in our government by make land a priority over people,” said Deirdre Schifeling, campaign director of the coalition Democracy for All 2021.
If the GOP hangs on to the Senate by winning both runoffs for Georgia’s Senate seats in January 2022, the Democratic group will represent 20 million MORE Americans than the Republicans, yet still be in the minority.
The distortion favors senators from low-population rural states and explains the GOP grip on Congress. But there’s a catch-22. Democrats, unable to push through democracy reforms, because of being blocked by unrepresentative GOP senators, yet without those reforms there is no hope of loosening the right-wing power grip.
As deputy director of the Texas Organizing Project, Brianna Brown has been battling against a GOP state legislature which has made Texas ground zero for voter suppression.
“We’ve had polling place reductions, massive voter purges, a voter-ID law – all attempts by the right wing to consolidate their power and shrink the electorate. If they can do that, they win,” she said.
The Democrats were baffled when the “blue wave” failed to show up at the state level. The GOP held on to power in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina while taking control in New Hampshire.
Better known as Gerrymandering, redistricting is a practice designed to create an arguably partisan political preference for a particular party or group by shaping the boundaries of electoral districts, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post systems.