Donald Trump joked with Vladimir Putin, “Don’t meddle in our election,” with a grin and a wag of his finger after having issued an invitation to Russia, China, North Korea and Israel to meddle all they liked if it would help him get elected. When he went into a private meeting with Putin, again with no American notetakers, I’m willing to bet the conversation went something like this: Vlad, in my second term I’ll lift the sanctions.”
And I’m sure he was delighted to have that chance to buddy up with Kim Jong-Un and suggest he would lift sanctions on that country — no need to denuclearize — if he is reelected.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court greenlighted partisan gerrymandering on the grounds that federal courts don’t have a role, dwarfing Citizens United (which opened floodgates to money corrupting politics) in undermining one-person, one-vote. The impact is already seen in state legislatures (which do the gerrymandering) like Wisconsin, where Democrats won 54 percent of the votes for state assembly but only 36 percent of the seats. (Wisconsin, which also purged 200,000 voters from the 2016 election rolls, elected Trump, the first Republican in decades, by the narrowest of margins, 22,748 votes out of 2,787,820 cast, or a 0.77 percent difference.)
Last week the Trump administration gathered senior officials from an alphabet soup of agencies – NSC, DHS, FBI, DOJ, DOD, CIA – to give assurances of “unprecedented coordination across the federal government to combat the potential influence and interference of malign foreign interests, doubling down on the 2018 efforts.”
I asked whether an FBI official would feel comfortable investigating suspicion of foreign interference helping the Trump campaign when Trump has already attacked the 2016 investigation as a “witch hunt” promulgated by the Deep State and destroyed the reputations and careers of every FBI official who was involved in the early investigations as a warning to others.
The reply from a senior administration official: “Our attorney general has made clear, publicly and privately, how important this issue is to him and what our marching orders are in order to address these threats.”
My concerns were not allayed.
This time around, the foreign “meddling” won’t be limited to disinformation, misinformation and propaganda campaigns, which are already underway. There is no reason to believe that there won’t be actual hacks on election machines and voter rolls. We already know – thanks to NSA contractor-whistleblower Realty Winner (who is in prison now) — that Russia hacked into the voting rolls in 20 states. We only have the government’s claim that no votes were switched, but how do we know and why would we believe it?
Elections are supposed to be organized by the states (something that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seems to have conveniently ignored in Bush v. Gore) and many may be surprised to realize there is no explicit right to vote.
But as Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted in releasing her plan to promote democracy, “We need a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote. But the moral necessity of this amendment shouldn’t stop us from acting now.
“Under our Constitution, Congress can regulate the ‘Times, Places, and Manner’ of federal elections. This power is so broad that even Justice Scalia believed Congress has ‘authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections.’ Congress also has the power to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to prevent voting discrimination, and the power of the purse to grant money to the states to meet federal standards. It’s time to draw on these constitutional powers to strengthen our democracy.”
Indeed, For the People Act of 2019, the first bill that passed out of the House under Democratic control, addresses voter access, election integrity, election security, political spending, and ethics for the three branches of government. It expands voter registration, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and limits removing voters from voter rolls.
• Provides for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions to address partisan gerrymandering.
• Sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence with state election officials, protecting the security of the voter rolls, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect the security and integrity of US democratic institutions, and other provisions to improve cybersecurity of election systems.
• Addresses campaign spending, by expanding the ban on foreign nationals contributing to or spending on elections; expanding disclosure rules pertaining to organizations spending money during elections, campaign advertisements, and online platforms; and revising disclaimer requirements for political advertising.
• Establishes an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices, allowing for federal matching of small contributions for qualified candidates.
• Addresses ethics in all three branches of government: requires a code of ethics for federal judges and justices, prohibits Congress members from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, expands enforcement of regulations governing foreign agents and establishes additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.
• Requires candidates for president and vice president to submit 10 years of tax returns.
I would add that anything that constitutes voter suppression, voter fraud , election fraud or undermining election integrity should be vigorously prosecuted, and not a mere slap on the wrist or a casual dismissal as “that’s the way the game is played.” There has to be real consequences.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it to the floor, deriding it (in that Orwellian phraseology) as “a power grab,” when in fact, he realizes that dirty tricks, including obstruction, suppression, gerrymandering, are the only ways a reviled minority party can stay in power.
His position is clear: It’s OK to steal an election by hook or crook or anything else. Because once you occupy that office, well, you (and your cronies) are immune from indictment, investigation, impeachment. So have a go at it, and may the bigger billionaire, the more ruthless candidate steal the election.