I’ve been running a series here, posting for free every chapter of my book Polemical Judo, that offers 100+ tactics that have been utterly ignored by our “generals” in this phase of the American Civil War. Last time we surveyed past heroes, admired by the Greatest Generation and by others, whose very names and stories can be used to sway those of our neighbors who have forgotten.
This one roams from electoral cheating and gerrymandering (with a surprising solution), to rigged voting machines and voter ID laws. And yes, some cheats like sabotaging the US Postal Service weren’t included when I published Polemical Judo, just last November! (For that, look up a certain prescient novel called The Postman!)
You’ll find some unusual and practical ideas here, I promise. (Plus an addendum written today about QAnon ‘theories.’)
“The arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, we eventually rally and move forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble. Sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action….The oligarchs and plutocrats would like nothing better than for the rest of us to give up and drop out. That way, they get it all. But we never have, and we never will. Preserving and expanding democracy has been America’s central project since its founding. It’s an unending fight. And no matter how bleak it may look, we will never stop fighting.”
– Robert Reich
Let’s talk about how Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch – and his minions and overseas allies – achieved their impressive run, taking almost absolute power in the United States. The Republican Party lost the popular vote in ten of the last twelve congressional elections, and in all but one of the last seven presidential elections. Yet they held the Oval Office for three crucial terms and have either controlled Congress or else had the power to render it neutered for all but two of the last 24 years.
And ‘neutered’ was good enough! These were the laziest U.S. congresses in at least a century, not just blocking valid initiatives wanted by liberals and independents, or recommended by experts and civil servants, but holding incredibly few days in session. Aside from tax-cut gifts to oligarchy, they passed fewer bills (even long-stated conservative desires) than any other congresses in living memory. If you set aside useless-futile and absolutely unproductive “Clinton Investigations,” they issued fewer subpoenas and held fewer hearings… but set records at fund-raising. Yet they retained control over power in Washington – the power to give our republic the political equivalent of tetanus.
How do they accomplish this? By cheating, of course.
They were already very good at it by the time Newt Gingrich took the House, in 1994, but at least his principal weapon was a masterpiece of political polemic and he took charge with a popular vote majority. That all changed when Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert took over Republican leadership. Those two (both later convicted of felonies) were joined by Boehner, McConnell, Cheney and a wave of state-level GOP secretaries-of-state, who commenced a concerted and targeted series of moves to manipulate elections, preventing the unwashed and fickle “people” from ever again prying their hands off the wheel.
We know how urgently they needed to control the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene against the egregious treason called gerrymandering. (Future generations will remember this craven behavior in kind with the Dred Scott Decision.) Further, the Court, in a 5–4 ruling, allowed states to purge voters for a failure to vote. Combating these cheats on the ground are groups like VoteRiders that actually get on the ground – like the Freedom Riders of old – and help poor people, the old, the young, divorced women etc. to get ID. Any Blue Wave will be inadequate unless voter repression in swing districts is fought, tooth and nail.
In 2016, just before the general election, the FBI informed top Maryland officials that the state’s voter registration platform was purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2015. It was only the latest in a series of deeply suspicious activities surrounding the machinery of voting. For decades, the companies making US electronic voting machines just happened to be owned by former GOP or Murdoch operatives. Now, without even much pretense, Russians are making their moves.
In states that have taken the threat seriously, voting machines are either fed a hand-marked paper ballot to read, or else they provide a printed receipt that the voter can inspect and drop into a separate box. Either way, all votes made in that precinct can be audited. No matter how many back doors and cheats might be built secretly into the machines or programs, no one will dare pull a major electronic switcheroo, if enough precincts will be randomly hand-counted and audited. The same is not true in many red states, where GOP-run legislatures gave voting machine contracts to a trio of companies all of whom have strong Republican Party connections, or else the aforementioned Russian links. (The address of one of those companies? ES&S: 11208 John Galt Blvd. Omaha, NE. I kid you not. John Galt Blvd.)
Despite fierce resistance by Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, some money has been allocated toward increased election security. Nevertheless, as of mid-2019, twelve states still include jurisdictions that use paperless electronic machines as the primary polling place equipment in at least some counties and towns – Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas do not appear to be taking steps to replace their paperless equipment before 2020, and some Texas counties are ignoring the national trend altogether, replacing paperless systems with other paperless systems. Of course paper receipt systems call for widespread adoption of risk-limiting audits (RLAs), considered the “gold standard” of post-election audits.
This potential theft will be exacerbated by the fact that news organizations and polling firms are cutting down on exit polls. Exit polling has proved to be a major deterrent to cheating, because of its high degree of accuracy. In precincts that are neither exit-polled nor auditable by paper receipts anything – including skullduggery and cheating – can happen. And many folks expect that cheating will happen – say in Virginia or Florida – if the election is tight.
By now it’s grown clear that the top job of every GOP Secretary of State in red states is electoral cheating, and they are richly rewarded, both financially and with job sinecures. These states, lacking auditable paper records, will show anomalously high Republican voting next election in targeted swing districts, especially in state assembly districts that might tip the balance of power in statehouses.
VOTER ID LAWS: SCAM OR ACCOUNTABILITY?
Instead of – or in addition to – howling “racism!” how about using a principle that’s beloved to all conservative lawyers and jurists? One they cannot shrug aside?
Voter ID laws supposedly deal with a problem of “electoral fraud,” when cheaters pretend to be someone else, casting an illicit ballot. All studies show such voter fraud is extremely rare. Of course we all know this spate of laws – mostly in “red states” – are designed as repressive measures, aimed not just at poor people who often lack clear ID, but the ill-educated, or recent citizens, or the young. They also present hardships for some women, who may have failed to re-document after marriage or divorce. Some on the left call this another front in the “War on Women.”
And yet, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gradually ratcheting up the degree to which we apply accountability to potential failure modes! For generations, we’ve had volunteer poll watchers. It does seem reasonable, over an extended period of time, to ratchet up a completely unbiased process for voters to prove who they are. Hence Republicans proclaim: “If you don’t want voters to show ID, it’s because you want to cheat.”
Is there a test to nail down whether a Voter ID law aims at unbiased accountability, or is a blatant cheat aimed at stealing votes way from poor people, minorities, young folks, and women? There is.
A CRUCIAL METRIC OF HYPOCRISY: COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE
Conservative leaders going back to Buckley and Goldwater have demanded that regulations placed on business should be accompanied by help complying with new burdens. It’s standard dogma on the right.
And Democrats agree! Almost always, whenever new or onerous regulations are applied to businesses, there are allocations to set up offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods, all with the aim of helping corporations – and the rich – to comply with the new regulations. It’s called compliance assistance. 
You see how this applies. In red states that passed new Voter ID laws, were significant funds allocated to help folks comply? “Here is an onerous new burden upon the poor, women and so on – but we’ll commit to assisting voters satisfy these new regulations.” Real money and serious effort going to communities with poor folks, minorities, recent immigrants, women, young people – helping them obtain the identification they need to exercise their sovereign voting rights?
Note! Beyond voting, Just getting clear ID would help them to stop being poor! Boosting folks on a path to helping themselves. This should be what conservatives are for. Has this happened? Alas, such efforts are sabotaged relentlessly. Hardly a cent has been allocated for compliance assistance in any of the red states that passed these new voter ID laws.
Hardly one red cent.
You liberals out there. Don’t make this a matter of goody-goody preaching, or denying a long term need to ratchet up ID accountability. Make it about hypocrisy. The blatant lack of sincere compliance assistance provides clear proof that these are attempts to steal elections.
A final note on voter ID and compliance assistance. Absent government support, this is one place where proxy advocacy and personal volunteer work can accomplish something big. Helping people get whatever ID they need does not have to be a partisan act! But it can also make a huge electoral difference. Stacy Abrams’s initiative, Fair Fight 2020,will concentrate its efforts on battleground states, helping Democratic candidates establish voter-protection programs ahead of the election. And yes, a few of you should recall the Freedom Riders of long ago.
RANKED CHOICE, REFERENDA AND THE PEOPLE’S WILL
What about bypassing politicians entirely? Certainly the ballot proposition or referenda system has worked well in California and other western states that adopted the Progressive Movement’s agenda, more than a century ago. While foolish measures sometimes pass, and we must be wary of dumb or corrupt measures pushed by special interests, voters in those states have a good track record, in part because (unlike Brexit) citizens generally have six months or more to read arguments and watch debates.
The “Five Star Movement” in Italy has aimed to use modern social media methods to get the people engaged in genuinely productive debate… with mixed results. In the nation of Estonia – sometimes called “E-Stonia” for its campaign to get all government business efficiently and openly online – many topics get heard the very week or even day that they are raised.
Alas, history is rife with examples of plebiscites that were staged by tyrants to validate their own rule, or else to spur hot-tempered populism. Even when the formal processes are evenhanded, quick-polls can be dangerous. Critics of direct democracy point to Brexit and several other recent “spasm” referenda (e.g. in Eastern Europe) as examples of why a representative republic approach is needed, to both heed popular will but also curb sudden mass-impulses, using both time and cooler heads to craft sagacious legislation out of that will.
The extremum is called “demarchy,” in which all matters of law are settled by rapid debate online for a couple of hours, followed by a decisive e-vote among all citizens. A chilling portrayal of this system’s potential drawbacks is science fiction author Joan Vinge’s The Outcasts of the Heaven Belt.
Some aspects of this question are immediate and pressing. Many problems with referenda might be solved with a longer discussion period and, yes, Ranked Choice Voting. Certainly, if and when Democrats take power in any state that does not already have a referendum process, they should leap, using that perhaps narrow opportunity to establish one, offering hope that any future regime of an outright cheater party (guess who I mean) can be bypassed and over-ruled by the People.
THE “MINIMAL OVERLAP” SOLUTION TO GERRYMANDERED INJUSTICE
One kind of gerrymandering is embedded into the U.S. Constitution, providing 400,000 voters in Wyoming with as many senators as 34 million Californians. We discuss that elsewhere and – frankly – there’s plenty of lower-hanging fruit to reform before we tilt at that giant windmill.
Gerrymandering at the level of state legislatures and Congressional districts is another matter. This outrageous cheat has reached a level of such blatancy that everyone knows American democracy has been outright stolen. As I describe elsewhere, in a much more extensive analysis of gerrymandering, voters in many “blue states” have rebelled against their own Democratic politicians, ending the foul practice via ballot measures. Hence, with a few dismal exceptions – like Maryland and Illinois – this cheat has become ever more associated with the Republican Party.
(See a “pause” description, after this chapter, where I describe a trick that some of you can do, personally and easily, if you live in a gerried district, to mess up the cheaters’ plans.)
But this chapter has gone too long and there’s already plenty to digest. So let’s put off till Appendix 1 my unusual proposal called “Minimal Overlap” that would work smoothly and effectively based on just three sentences. According to one senior U.S. District Appeals Court judge, “this could really work.” Evaluate for yourself, in Appendix 1.
For now though, the lesson is clear. The cheating must end! But it will take more than outrage to accomplish that. It will take innovative approaches to legislation and court action, in technology and citizen activism.
And we may have to shake up some of our own would-be feudal lords, who have let flatterers croon that “the mob” of free citizen voters can’t be trusted. Ingrates who have benefited profoundly from the bounties of a (mostly) open-flat-fair democracy, They recite magical incantations like the Tytler Calumny (next pause section) to justify cheating as necessary for the good of all, and thus invite destruction upon us all. Especially upon themselves.
For their sake (as well as the world and our children) we must stop them.
See footnotes below.
And yes, I always append an addendum from 2020 during the fevered election. In this case, what to do about the flood of insane conspiracy theories pouring from Donald Trump and QAnon and their apologists? The intent is not to indict or bring anyone to justice, but to allow a certain voting population… some of the clade of ill-educated white males who are decent enough fellows to be repulsed by Trump and fascists… to hold their noses and still vote Republicans because Democrats are worse!
After fifty of these, the lesson will be: “These are coward blowhards.” How hard is this, when Trump’s tale about a planeload of black-clad mercenaries headed for the Republican convention ought to be pretty darn falsifiable!
We’ve learned it’s not enough to rely on journalists to analyze or refute these things! Our target demographic is 1 million decent folks who know Trump is distasteful and so cling to Fox, suckling these stories in order to murmur the incantation “Scary dems are worse!” You won’t get through to them by citing NY Times articles! But repeated, daily, straight in-yer-face “Prove-it!” denunciations make powerful internet memes…
…especially when (at last, at long last) accompanied by a demand that Fox negotiate a panel of distinguished Americans – many of them retired senior military officers – to actually weigh on on whether things seem false or true.
It’s our win-win. Either that panel convincingly refutes almost all the Putinists say… or else Fox&Co. are cornered into denouncing senior retired officers, thus offending a huge part of their base, who retain residual respect for those fact-centered men and women.
“End the cheating…” https://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2018/07/end-cheating.html
“The (almost) full story on gerrymandering” http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/gerrymandering.html
“The ‘Minimal Overlap’ one-page solution to gerrymandering. http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-minimal-overlap-solution-to_24.html
“Voter ID Laws: Scam or Accountability?” http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/10/voter-id-laws-scam-or-accountability.html
 Lazy Congresses… needs updating: https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/ambassadors-brief-e-newsletter/ambassadors-brief-august-2014/congressional-productivity-final/#foobox-1/0/congressional-productivity-final.jpg
 Voting machines. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/506676/the-states-with-the-riskiest-voting-technology/
States still resisting use of paper-auditable ballots. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/31/754412132/what-you-need-to-know-about-u-s-election-security-and-voting-machines Note while two of the twelve might be deemed ‘blue,” those two have long traditions of entrenched party machines.
 One of many potential uses for volunteers would be to serve as unpaid exit pollers for local news media. A national movement to do this could not come too soon.
Or watch this essay on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNnVEVhDSQc&feature=youtu.be
 First discussed at: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/10/voter-id-laws-scam-or-accountability.html
 Five Star Movement. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/03/19/five-star/
 See Addendum #1 in this volume… or “The “Minimal Overlap” Solution To Gerrymandered Injustice” http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-minimal-overlap-solution-to_24.html