Lets talk about the “order” of things, for academic purposes, to look at politics and government in an evolutionary fashion. Mostly all human social and scientific activity has been characterized that way, so why stop with government? Actually, what is evolving in terms of government’s structure is more of a distilling of the society the government presides over. Another way of saying this is that from the bottom up, politics is organized in smaller, but very specific groups and organizations. Welcome to local government!
The common denominator in this block is PARTICIPATION. Review this concept in Chapter 21, “Factors that Affect Voter Participation” and electioneering, lobbying, internal benefits, etc. One could even add Facebook and Twitter to these traditional ways of participating. Chapter 3/21 dealt with interest groups, which are “one level up” from the general population (which we studied in Block 1). What this means is that interest groups form around the economic and political goals of that general population.
Next, we’ll look at elections, Chapter 22 (chapter 4 in the e-text), which provide the link between political and economic interests, and the establishment of a government. Elections are certainly not mere administrative efforts…they involve the right to participate. They bestow legitimacy on the offices that tax us, protect us, keep our banks solvent (hmmm…) and take away our liberties, if it comes to that. Well, add the notion of voting and the conduct of elections to that list as well! The items I just mentioned are critical functions. What’s ironic is that when I ask students what they think the most critical functions of government are, they typically say security, education, property rights, etc. BUT–if we suspect that an election was misconducted, look what happens (even in oppressive regimes like Iran). Things come to a standstill more or less. Also, look at the repercussions for the parties involved, when election minefields develop. Henry Bonilla and Ciro Rodriguez fought in a runoff election, December 2006, for US Rep. District 23. This district was geographically changed by the Federal courts, due to the fact that the district had been illegally shaped in 2004, to benefit the Republican candidate—Bonilla (who had represented District 23 since the early 90’s). It was a voting rights issue. George Bush becomes president in 2000 as the result of court action, similarly. The country was at a standstill for 5 weeks–the thing even affected the stock market. Tomes have been written about the damage done to our elections legitimacy, the Supreme Court, and the Bush Administration itself. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, amongst others, remarked about the “cloud” that would taint this administration, and he wasn’t implying any type of superstition or fatalistic results—just that it lacked legitimacy.
Back to our present, with just as many opportunities for election problems. Because our memory is really short-term, Im keeping this paragraph as a reminder of what really happened… Numerous trouble spots emerged for the 2008 and 2012 elections, and I ‘m only referring to the primaries! Democratic voters in Michigan and Florida were punished (their votes weren’t counted and delegates not awarded) by the National Committee for moving their primary date earlier in the year…this likely cost Sen. Hillary Clinton the nomination for president.
A different but far more cynical and regressive pattern emerged in 2011 through November of 2012. I posted 2 articles in Block 2 page, about the so-called American Legislative Committee (ALEC) to illustrate. Voting Rights are being challenged in a variety of ways! More of the endless quest by Republican zealots will be forthcoming…
NEXT, the 3rd element of Block 3 and voting– problems with the US system of political parties, which directly affects how elections happen.
Lets focus first on the elections system used in the US…primary and general elections. Chapter 4 describes them in detail…primaries are the “playoffs” and general elections are the “championship” game. Sounds ok on the surface right? Not so fast….
In Texas, along with numerous other states, primary elections are often the “true” contests, due to the lopsided state party systems. In an NBA analogy, it’s like Boston, Miami, Orlando all being part of the Western Conference….what would the NBA Finals look like—a joke, because the real contest was in the Western Conference playoffs.
For various reasons, many primaries in our state produce the winner of the November election because there is little to no competition from the other party. There have often been individuals (Like US Representative Charlie Gonzales and state senator Jeff Wentworth) who have no competition…they don’t really have to campaign for office, ie, to reach out to their districts. Can this be a good sign for democracy?
INSIGHT QUESTION: What do the statements in the previous paragraphs say about American democracy at present?
a. national politics is very different from state politics
b. there is a shortage of qualified candidates
c. the two party system is not functional or effective
d. Americans switch parties depending on who’s popular
PLEASE INDICATE YOUR CHOICE IN YOUR ASSIGNMENT (THIS ISN’T A GRADEABLE ITEM)
ASSIGNMENT 1 — read section 4, chapter 4 of the e-text, to get a feel for the difference between DE FACTO, and DE JURE voting barriers. Not everyone can or should be allowed to vote…we all can agree to this. The devil is in the details, as always. The de jure (by law) barriers are mostly sound, but can you see any potential problems with some of them? The trick to affecting outcomes is to establish circumstantial barriers, that is stacking the deck in favor of one party or candidate, through various other legitimate rules or requirements. (my definition of a loophole) That is what de facto barriers are–indirect separate facts that amount to the same thing as being denied the right to vote. These types of barriers to participation usually happen through unstated, but effective tactics, for example, making lists of potential felons, or people with the same names as felons, in order to stop them from voting. For reference, see Florida, 2000, Ohio, 2004, Florida and Pennsylvania 2012….
People get very, very upset when they perceive that their vote doesn’t count, or that they are being denied their right to vote… and I don’t mean their LEGAL right to vote, but the fact of not getting to vote, OR not having their vote count due to ballot problems. The reason isn’t so much that an individual vote was miscounted, but that the systemic miscounting, or wrongful administration of elections takes away the one legitimate aspect of democracy–the political process.
“De facto” and “de jure” are concepts of law for the most part, but they affect you in your everyday life far more that you may realize. Just think of the literal translation of each –by the fact and by the law. “By the fact” means as a result, that something turns out the way it does, intentionally. “By the law” means something occurs/doesn’t occur directly as a law stipulates.
Another distinction is often used to ban to prevent outcomes are those regarding gender, or age, or national origin…again a DE FACTO barrier…
Scenario #1: (de jure) Airlines can’t establish no-fly lists based on middle eastern nationalities, but they CAN (de facto) refuse to let individuals fly to and from certain countries, without a passport, and fitting a certain profile (having no luggage, 1-way ticket)
Scenario #2: The Army has a policy that females may serve in any capacity in the Army (de jure). However, for certain special skills training, a rule states that no one who is pregnant or may become pregnant may serve in these fields. Thus, females are banned (de facto) (unless the female applicant had a hysterectomy, of course, but the vast majority of young women do not)
Finally, an actual barrier, the grandfather clause: African American males have the right to vote by 1868, but if one’s grandfather was a slave, one couldn’t vote. No mention of race in this barrier, but you get the story…
FOR ASSIGNMENT: Submit a scenario of your own, with a de facto barrier/element and a de jure barrier/element. NOTE: these can be virtual scenarios! Be creative—I won’t try to psychoanalyze LOL In truth, age, race, gender, religion, and even more importantly, citizenship status are the usual suspects for voting mischief, but not for the reason you think. It’s that these categories allow an accurate profile of the voter’s political party identity.
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