Gerrymandering Their Way To Victory

Image of Virginia’s Congressional districts from Wikipedia

As most people know, Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the vote in the state of Virginia and thus her electors were awarded all 13 of Virginia’s electoral votes.  Well, as you might imagine, some Republicans weren’t particularly happy with this result.  To correct this “error”, Senator Amanda Chase (R-11) has crafted a bill (SB 837) as has Delegate Mark Cole (R-88) (HB 1425) for the 2017 General Assembly Session.  Both bills would award 11 of Virginia’s electoral votes based on the popular vote winner of each congressional district while the remaining 2 would go to highest overall vote-getter as it is presently done.

If this system were in place in 2016, it would have radically altered the outcome in Virginia.  Instead of Hillary Clinton winning all of Virginia’s votes, instead she would be awarded 5 for winning 5 congressional districts (3, 4, 8, 10, 11) and 2 more for getting the highest statewide vote total while Donald Trump would win 6 for congressional districts (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9).

Friends, it is my sincere hope that both of these bills will be defeated.  Although some Republicans will cheer this idea because it would have helped them in the most recent election, in the long run, it only serves to aid whichever political party who controls the General Assembly and marginalize a tremendous number of Virginia voters.

First, consider the 6th district, the district where I live.  In this election, Donald Trump won 59.32% of the vote in the 6th district.  120,596 people here cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, 10,801 voted for Gary Johnson, 2,379 chose Jill Stein, 5,421 picked Evan McMullin, and 2,296 wrote in a candidate.  Under this new system, every vote for a candidate other than Donald Trump would be rendered effectively worthless.  After all, the 6th district leans heavily Republican and it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that any Republican candidate will win the 6th district regardless of who he or she might be and his or her principles.  Why, in this case, would a 6th district Democratic voter be enthusiastic to vote if he or she knows his or her vote won’t change the outcome.  Also, in 2008 Barack Obama visited the 6th district while in 2012 Paul Ryan came and in 2016 it was Mike Pence.  Under this Chase/Cole system, no candidate would waste his or her time to visit the 6th because one could assume it would safely be in Republican hands and therefore working to recruit additional Republican or Democratic votes in the region would be an exercise in folly as at most it would result in a gain of only 2 electoral votes, a total fewer than even the smallest state (which gets 3 electoral votes).  Voters in the 6th district and elsewhere would be completely ignored as campaigns instead focused upon the battleground congressional districts.  However, I should point out that there are very few battleground districts in Virginia because most congressional districts have been gerrymandered to ensure that each is safe for the incumbent representatives.  As the Republicans presently control the General Assembly, they have drawn congressional lines to ensure that Democratic voters are packed into as few safe districts and that a majority of our members of the House of Representatives will be Republicans.  Should the Democrats regain the General Assembly during a redistricting year, it is likely they will act in a similar fashion.

Speaking of gerrymandering, under this new system, if it appears that the balance of power is shifting in congressional districts, cities or counties can be moved into other congressional districts to ensure the outcome remains relatively constant.  Under these present lines, I would argue that a Democratic presidential candidate can be certain of at least 4 electoral votes from the 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 11th districts, while Republicans will pick up at least 5, the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th.

Although I would like to see Virginia move away from a winner-take-all electoral system, this proposed change is likely even worse at marginalizing the average voter than the one we currently have in place.  What if instead Virginia would give her electoral votes proportionally.  Given that Virginia has 13 votes, what if a candidate received one electoral vote for each 7.69% of the statewide vote he or she won?  Therefore, no one’s vote could be gerrymandered into congressional districts and thus into irrelevance (as suggested under this proposed change), and even in a stellar year for one candidate the opposition party (or parties) could still rally their troops and have at least something to show for it.  Under this proposal, very few Virginians would feel like their vote is wasted or their voice went unheard.

In closing, I urge you to contact your delegate and state senator and tell them to oppose SB 837 and HB 1425.  Regardless of whether you support the same presidential candidate who won your congressional district, your opinion matters and it shouldn’t be marginalized by legislators in Richmond or by anyone else!

Donald Trump is…My Fault?

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Usually, when an election is over, especially a highly contentious one such as the 2016 presidential election, tensions run high for months or even years later.  Nevertheless, I was still quite surprised when a local Democratic elected official recently declared that I was one of the people responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

For the regular readers of this website, many of you already know that I am not nor have I been a supporter of Donald Trump.  Ever since he descended that escalator, announced his candidacy for president, and declared that most Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” I became a vocal critic.  As I wrote back in August of 2015, “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appeals to some of the worst elements of our society”.  I called his comments “reprehensible” and, along with his blatant sexism, said that he “demonstrates that he isn’t presidential material”.

A year later, I didn’t view Mr. Trump anymore favorably and called both the Trump and Clinton campaigns, “A Campaign of Fear and Hatred.”  I’m sure it doesn’t come as any surprise, but I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the Virginia Republican primary nor did I cast a ballot for him in the general election.  Yes, I may have declared Marco Rubio was the worst Republican candidate on the Virginia primary ballot, but in that same piece I called Donald Trump “unacceptable”.  However, just because Donald Trump was terrible, that didn’t somehow make Hillary Clinton somehow acceptable by comparison.

I would challenge anyone to point out any of my statements where I encourage any voter to cast a ballot for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  And yet, as this elected official claims, anyone who voted for a third party candidate or chose not to vote is at fault for the election of Donald Trump.  This viewpoint, in my opinion, is quite sophomoric and harkens back to George W. Bush where a third way was inconceivable to him.

Now, this local official isn’t alone in expressing this idea.  For example, about a year ago a Republican leader credited me with electing Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia because I didn’t support either the Republican or Democratic candidate in that election.  As such, because the Democrat won, the only explanation is that it was “my fault” and the fault of everyone who voted Libertarian.  Surely it had nothing to do with the weakness of the campaigns and the lack of issues and substance from both of the major party candidates.

It is important for you to remember that you own your vote and no candidate or party has an automatic claim to it.  They must earn it and if they fail to speak to you, either figuratively or literally, then you are under no compulsion to support them.  And, if one of the major party candidates wins, it is exceedingly foolish to declare that it is the fault of third party voters that your side didn’t win.  If one side is looking for someone to blame for their loss, maybe they ought to blame themselves.  Perhaps the major party that lost shouldn’t have nominated a candidate who the voters found so detestable.  Perhaps they should have run a more competent campaign.  And, if voting for your principles means voting for a third party candidate or an independent, that is your right and that should not be demeaned.  As Penn Jillette says, (warning for language):

Remember, despite what some Republicans and Democrats might say in order to guilt trip you into supporting someone who you don’t believe in, it is not the fault of a third party voter if the lesser (or greater) of two evils wins.  Heck, if we had a level playing field and a multiparty system, like just about every other Western democratic nation, which many Democrats and Republicans have been actively trying to suppress, the only people to blame for electing a bad politician are the people who actually cast a vote for him or her.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLI)

img_0140This morning, Wednesday, November 9th, Andy Schmookler and I (Joshua Huffman) returned to WSVA 550 AM to discuss the surprising results of the 2016 presidential election.  Although pollsters had predicted a fairly sizable win for Hillary Clinton (as did Andy and me during our October show), many were shocked by Trump’s upset.

In this episode, we discuss the election, what happened to create such a victory, and what this could mean for the future of the United States.  As always, if you missed the show live, you can listen to it here.

Voting & Polling in Harrisonburg

Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.
Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.

At about 1 PM, I visited my polling place, Keister Elementary, to cast my ballot in the 2016 election.  The drive leading up to the school was blanketed with signs for the various candidates.  Outside of the building, there were people handing out both Republican and Democratic sample ballots.  The fact that the Republicans openly encouraged voters to cast their ballots for Independent City Council candidate George Hirschmann seemed to further prove that he is not, in fact, an independent, but rather a Republican who is trying to obscure his party status.  In addition, a woman stood outside conducting an exit poll, which I thought was quite exciting!  More on this issue in a moment.

I expected that there would be quite a long line inside, but was surprised that I only had to wait for a minute or two.  Apparently, traffic had been particularly heavy earlier and many people had already voted, but I just happened to be there during a lull.

Voting was actually fairly difficult this year.  I knew my vote for president, of course, but hadn’t decided upon the names for my write-ins for various offices where I either didn’t know or care much for the candidates listed.

Anyway, when I got back outside, the pollster asked for whom I cast my ballot for president and whether I had voted in the 2012 presidential election.  I told her that I voted for the same candidate in 2016 that I did in 2012.  I then asked if she could tell me the results of her poll thus far.  Although I expect that Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg, given that Keister is one of the most Republican precincts in the city I assumed that Donald Trump would be winning the exit poll or that it would be very close.  However, that was not the case.  Of the multitude of respondents, about 60% said they voted for Clinton, 30% were for Trump, and Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, and write-ins split the remaining approximate 10%.  Yes, in this exit poll Clinton had about twice the votes that Trump had.  The pollster theorized that perhaps Trump voters were far less likely to admit that they cast their ballots for Trump, but I thought this unlikely.  What it told me is that if these numbers hold, Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg by a far larger margin than I anticipated and will likely perform even better in Virginia than what people say.  If she wins Virginia by a sizable factor, then it might end up being a very quick election night reminiscent of 1996 when Bill Clinton bested Bob Dole.

Yes, Keister is only one of many polling places in Harrisonburg, but the exit poll doesn’t seem to bode well for Mr. Trump and the Republicans.  It will be fun to discover if this poll is accurate or not!

The Worst Election

Image from ifunny.co
Image from ifunny.co

Tomorrow, millions of Americans will go to the polls and cast their votes for electors for president.   Although I started following politics in 1994, volunteered on my first campaign in 1995, and cast my first vote for president in 2000, this election has been, without a doubt, the worst election I’ve ever seen.

There are several reasons that 2016 has been particularly terrible.  First is the candidates themselves.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are some of the most reviled people in American politics.  Whether it’s due to perceptions of corruption and dishonesty, or claims of racism and sexism, the average American has a negative perception of both.  Most Republicans who once condemned Trump and Democrats who declared Clinton unacceptable during their respective party primaries, in a display of blatant hypocrisy, have since come out in favor of their candidates.  It is amazing to me that some people can give all sorts of reasons why a candidate is abysmal and should not be elected, but then completely ignore these glaring flaws simply due to their attachment to party labels.

Now, we do have third party choices too; in Virginia, we have five candidates on the ballot.  Besides Trump and Clinton, we also have Johnson (Libertarian), Stein (Green), and McMullin (Independent).  However, none of these candidates have been particularly outstanding, nor have they run particularly competent campaigns, nor have they made much of an effort to make either a long or short-term effect on politics in this state.  But, even if this weren’t the case, the media and the political system itself has done a pretty good job marginalizing third party candidates, framing the election as a choice between the lesser of two evils, and, there is little doubt in my mind that both the Republican and Democratic choices are indeed evil and thus unsupportable.

However, what I would say is the absolute worst aspect of this election has been the nastiness exhibited by average Americans.  Yes, we all have differing political opinions, but rather than expressing these views with civility and respecting opposing viewpoints, many have resorted to personal attacks and name-calling.  As one metric, in every election cycle, I have lost several Facebook friends.  However, in the last several months of this election, I have either been defriended or have defriended by at last a dozen folks.  The majority have been Republicans and/or Trump supporters, though to be fair, I know far more Republicans than Democrats.  While some have quietly defriended me because of my steadfast belief that Donald Trump is unfit for office or due to my inclination to cast my vote for Gary Johnson, others have been unbelievably nasty.  Yes, some say things like I am throwing my vote away, but others have told me that Donald Trump is owed my vote and if I vote for any other candidate I must be: an idiot, moron, stupid, a fool, ignorant, a traitor, or even suffering from a mental disorder.  Besides the name calling, they say that this election is simply too important and thus I must surrender my political free will by helping elect an evil person in order to prevent someone who is even worse from winning.  Although I’d like to think that my friends could show at least a modest amount of  respect, this election has brought out the worst in some people.  There are both good and bad people supporting Clinton & Trump as well as sound and poor reasons to cast a vote for them and the same can be said of the various third party candidates.

Last week, I met my pastor at a local cafe, mainly to discuss politics and, at the end of our talk, she asked if I would give the opening prayer at church the Sunday before the election.  I agreed to do so and, after thinking about these recent experiences, offered something similar to what is below.

Dear God,

First, let me thank you for those who came out to hear your word this morning at Court Square Theater. Yes, some days it is difficult to come, maybe because the message is tough, or we’d rather watch football in London, or maybe it’s just that our beds are simply too darn comfy.

With the advent of next election in just a few short days, we have struggled mightily as a people. We have been divided into camps and told that we must hate those who hold opinions different than our own. Whether we consider ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans, or Libertarians or Greens, independents or something else, are we not all made in your image? Is it your plan for us to make our friends and family enemies due to mere political disagreements? So many pundits and politicians have been goading us into fear, urging us to make choices based on which person or persons we detest the least. Where once there was reasoned political dialogue, as we get closer and closer to Tuesday, civility has all but disappeared and has been replaced with naming calling and insults. The temptation to lash out in the same way others treat us is strong, but we ask that you would imbue us with the strength not to fall into this trap. Remind us that we are your people and you call us to be better than this world.

We pray for our pastor, our theologian in resident, our worship team, and each and every person here today, and those who are unable to join us. May you watch over us, guide us in your wisdom, and correct us when we stray. Please direct our nation and our leaders, no matter which candidate emerges the winner in Tuesday’s election and may we be mindful and courteous to everyone even when some people attempt to divide us over our skin colour, sex, national origin, and yes, even political affiliation.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we ask these things.

Amen

As I told the JMU student that I am tutoring, Election Day to me is like Christmas is to most people.  However, this year I am relatively certain that I don’t want most of the gifts the American people will be unwrapping tomorrow but unfortunately we can’t return them.  My great hope is that no matter how things turn out, Tuesday will be the end of the awful 2016 elections, citizens will accept the results, we can put this particularly nasty season behind us, our overblown fears will subside, and we can work for greater civility and support candidates that actually share our values, as opposed to relying on party labels and this whole lesser of two evils nonsense.

No Faith & No Freedom

faith-freedom-logoEarlier this month, the nonprofit group Faith & Freedom Coalition released their voter guides for the 2016 election.  On their website, they offer free “nonpartisan”  information.  Simply click on the link for your state, and presumably, you receive information tailor-made for your ballot.  Interested to see what they had to say, I decided to check it out.  For Virginia, they listed Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as their stances of a variety of issues.  However, here in Virginia, five candidates qualified to make the ballot for president.  In case you didn’t know, the other candidates are Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Evan McMullin (Independent), and Jill Stein (Green).  Would the Faith & Freedom Coalition really leave out over half the candidates?

I decided to try another state.  After all, only three candidates appear on every state’s presidential ballots, but some states feature candidates that others do not.  The results were the same.  They only included information for Clinton and Trump.  I tried another and another and another.  Each time, the voter guide for the next state was the same as the one which preceded it.  Why would the Faith & Freedom Coalition exclude a majority of the candidates?  Wouldn’t doing so intentionally cause them to be guilty of a sin of omission?  Check it out for yourself.

14642453_10154023403516705_7858503810550547758_nGiving them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t actually do their research about who was actually on the ballot in each state, I left a message for them on their Facebook page alerting them of their error.  When I went today to check if they responded, I discovered that they had deleted my comment and banned me from posting any further messages.  This response is particularly amusing and hypocritical, especially given that before posting their voter guide they put up the image you see to your right.

Unfortunately, as I’ve written in a previously piece entitled “The Fall of the Religious Right“, I am coming to the opinion that the Faith & Freedom Coalition may very well be one of these sham faith groups, claiming to be nonbiased and nonpartisan, but serving as a shill for the Republican Party to herd unwary Christians into supporting the GOP and their candidates even when these candidates, like Donald Trump, have held contrary opinions on almost every major issue, including abortion, and subscribe to a personal morality far removed from traditional Christianity.  After the tape of Donald Trump’s bragging of supposedly committing sexual assault emerged, Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, became one of Trump’s most ardent defenders.

Given this effort by the Faith & Freedom Coalition to misled people into believing they only have two choices, I would strongly recommend that my friends and local church congregations not distribute these deceptive “voter guides”.  How is a group who engages in this sort of activity any different from the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates?  Perhaps, if the Faith & Freedom Coalition were a little more honest about their efforts, they should call themselves the No Faith & No Freedom Coalition for it seems that with this voter guide they have no faith in the American people to make the right decision if properly and honestly presented with all of their options and that they have no desire to expand political freedom beyond the two choices that a growing number of American Christians find equally unacceptable.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XL)

img_0392On Wednesday, October 5th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on WSVA, 550 AM for their 40th radio hour.  The main focus of their discussion was the previous night’s vice-presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia (D) and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana (R).  Toward the end of the program, with one month to go until the election, they also offered their predictions of how things will turn out.

As always, if you missed the program live, you can find it here.

Greetings from Tennessee

A view of Cherokee Lake
A view of Cherokee Lake

Hello readers and greetings from eastern Tennessee.  For the last several days, I have been here and will remain for a while longer, visting family, cat sitting, and the like.

Of course there have been political developments since last I’ve written.  After all, with a presidential election bearing down upon us, there is always something new to talk about.

As I’m sure you know, tonight is the first debate between Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R).  Unfortunately, the debate excludes the voices of Gary Johnson (L) and Jill Stein (G), two candidates who are on enough ballots to win the presidency. but are not allowed on stage nevertheless.  Although the debate is likely to be entertaining, with Trump and Clinton attacking each other relentlessly, I assume it will be fairly substance free.   Therefore, I not planning on watching, instead visiting the local gaming store or watching Monday Night Football.

I wish that I could say something positive about any of the presidential candidates or campaigns, but I can’t really.  The Gary Johnson campaign (my choice) has been a disappointment thus far, with the odd Johnson sticking out his tongue interview, Bill Weld showing he is more of a liberal Republican than a Libertarian, and the general lack of organization and professionalism overall.  As for Clinton and Trump, well, the borrow a quote from Henry Kissinger regarding the Iran-Iraq War, “it’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

In about 48 hours, I will be in Knoxville taking the GREs.  I last took them about 8 years ago.  I hope I will do as well as I did then.  It would be nice to do something more meaningful in politics.

On Thursday, the Knoxville Libertarian Party will be holding a meeting.  Their featured speaker is Glenn Jacobs.  For the WWE fans out there, you might know him by the name Kane.

Well, the cause of liberty can and will continue, but for the moment I think I’ll take a bit of time for myself here in eastern Tennessee.  Nevertheless, I suspect you’ll catch me on tomorrow’s podcast of Freedom Gulch.

Best wishes and I look forward to writing you again soon!

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XXXIX)

IMG_0339On September 15th, Andy Schmookler and I returned to the radio waves on 550 AM WSVA to discuss what has been going on politically over the last month.  The time mainly considered the 2016 presidential election including:  Hillary Clinton’s recent health problems, the upcoming debates, and Trump’s rise in the polls.  In case you missed the radio hour when it was broadcast, you can find it here.

Freedom Gulch #12

fg12Last night, Will Hammer, Michael Pickens, Joshua Huffman, Carl Loser, and Andy Bakker gathered together for Freedom Gulch’s twelfth podcast.  Topics for the evening included: Gary Johnson and his Aleppo misadventure, Hillary Clinton’s health, the upcoming presidential debates, recent newspaper endorsements, and more.

If you missed the broadcast live, you can find it below.  Enjoy!