Steadily lower voter turnout is the sad fact in all democracies

“The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 years!”

That was the headline in New York Times’ main editorial today, as the paper lamented the fact that only 36.3 percent of the American voters bothered to vote in the midterm election on November 4.

In no state did the voter turnout exceed 60 percent, with Maine coming closest at 59.3 percent, followed by Wisconsin 56.9, Alaska 55.3, Colorado, 53, Oregon 52, Minnesota 51.3, and Iowa 50.6 percent.

Indiana had the lowest turnout with only 28 percent, with New York, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all also under 30 percent.

“Lower voter turnout since World War II is a trend in all democracies,” says Sören Holmberg, election expert and political science professor at the University in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It seems that democratic decision making no longer is as important for people as it used to be in our globalized world.”

Voter turnout in countries like Sweden, 83.3 percent in the parliamentary election in September this year, is still much higher than in the United States, but turnout in Sweden used to be even higher, over 90 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmberg points to a steadily lower voter turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, only an average of 42.5 percent earlier this year, to England where turnout for parliamentary elections has gone down from over 80 percent after World War II to slightly over 60 percent, to France also from around 80 percent after the war to below 60 percent today.

Even in Australia and Belgium, where voting is obligatory, has voter turnout decreased, although turnout is still around 90 percent.

The United States has special problems, like gerrymandering. Uncompetitive districts lowers voter turnout, and incumbents are re-elected at an average rate of over 90 percent, says Holmberg.

Lower voter turnout favors the Republicans. So instead of making voting as easy as possible for everyone, as I think should be the goal of every democracy, the Republicans have continued to try to make it more difficult. That is an especially sad fact in the American democracy.

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Few bright spots for the Democrats as America voted Republican

Well, that was really depressing.

Only in Minnesota, and a few other bright spots around the country, did the Democrats win, or even put up a good fight in yesterday’s Republican landslide. Even in Democratic strongholds, like Massachusetts and Maryland, the voters elected new Republican governors. Southern Democratic Senators trying to get reelected failed, like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Only Mark Warner in Virginia held on, barely…

The next US Senate will have a comfortable Republican majority, and the least sympathetic of all American politicians, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will be the new majority leader. He was the one — remember ? — who set as his primary goal at the start of the first Obama Administration to make sure that America’s first African American president would only serve one term. Well, Obama was reelected in 2012 and McConnell remained minority leader. Now, McConnell plus House Speaker John Boehner in charge of an even larger Republican majority in the House of Representatives, will have to work with President Obama if anything is to get done in the new Congress.

Don’t hold your breath! The Republican majorities in Congress contain more conservatives and more Tea party sympathizers, who now see even less reason to work with the President. If they turn cooperative, it will be a first after years of Republican obstruction, including a government shutdown, for which, apparently, and remarkably, the American voters have rewarded them while at the same time — and completely illogically — bitterly complaining about the gridlock in Washington.

They give Congress embarrassingly low approval ratings — even lower than the President — and then vote them back in power, stronger than before. Figure that one out!

Actually, and once again, the American voters have shown how negative they are towards the government, not only this government but government in general. They want a weak government and with yesterday’s outcome they have assured themselves of that.

I mentioned Minnesota in the beginning, where I have recently spent quite a bit of time, and although Minnesota’s voters reelected all the top Democratic candidates, Governor Mark Dayton, Senator Al Franken, the State Auditor, the Attorney General, as well as all five Democratic members of the US Congress, and elected a new Democratic Secretary of State, the voters turned their back on the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) candidates for the State House of Representatives. The Democrats’ majority of 73 to 61 for the last two years will switch to a solid Republican majority, 72 to 62,  in the next House, while the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate, which is not up for reelection until 2016.

So, also in Minnesota, the voters chose change, to end, as they put it, the “single-party DFL rule.” It’s the fourth time in ten years that the majority in the House has changed hands. And, just like in Washington, the ability to govern, to get results, to move the country forward, has been weakened. In that sense, the voters in Minnesota were no different than the voters in the rest of America.

The outcome does not bode well for America in the next two years.

Somalis showed their strength at DFL Convention in Minneapolis

The “new Americans” spoke today in Minnesota Democratic politics, and although the Somali American challenger Mohamud Noor did not win the endorsement of the delegates to House District 60B in Minneapolis, he prevented veteran liberal lawmaker, 77-year-old Phyllis Kahn, from winning, thereby forcing a primary runoff in August.DFlNoorSupporters

Kahn, who has represented the district in the State Legislature for 42 years, failed in five rounds of voting to capture the necessary 60 percent of the vote for the endorsement. She came close in the first round – 58.1 percent against Noor’s 41.5 percent. But in the end, in the fifth round, Khan’s support was 56.3 percent against Noor’s 43.3 percent.

Her failure is a victory for what Noor in his speech to the delegates before the vote, called “the new Americans,” like himself, who had fled their bleeding home country and settled in Minnesota in larger numbers than anywhere else in the United States. A victory, he said before the vote, would demonstrate that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota is “serious about inclusion.” He did not quite make it, but he has another chance to win, in August.

DFLNoorSpeakingNoor, a recent new member of the Minneapolis school board, said that he and his family had “achieved the American dream,” and he stressed the importance of education and pre-kindergarten for all. He was ready to fight for everyone in the district, which includes Somali immigrants in the classic Scandinavian immigrant neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, students from the University of Minnesota, and scores of progressive activists.

Should Noor win the DFL primary in August, he is practically guaranteed a victory in November in this solidly liberal House district. And if so, he will be the first Somali American in the State Legislature and the highest elected Somali American official in Minnesota. Today, Abdi Warsame, who was elected to the Minneapolis city council last November with overwhelming support from the Somali residents of Cedar –Riverside, holds that title. Warsame also had the support of Phyllis Kahn and today he backed her, splitting the Somali vote in the packed auditorium in DeLaSalle High School on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, just underneath the towers in downtown Minneapolis.

Today’s convention took all day, with breaks for lunch and prayer. The delegates showed remarkable stamina and few left between the five rounds of voting. Still, the 277 total votes cast are only a fraction of the eligible voters in District 60B. The August primary will all be about turnout, and it would be unwise to count out a veteran like Phyllis Kahn.

For the Somali immigrant community seeking political clout just like other immigrant groups have sought before them, it is yet another big challenge.

Minnesota’s Democrats rally their forces for November battles

It was a celebration of the past glory days and it was a rally to keep the political power in the future, when Minnesota’s ruling party, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL), tonight gathered for the third annual Humphrey-Mondale dinner.

There must have been a thousand party loyalists in the Minneapolis Convention Center, and they all seemed to enjoy themselves, wildly rooting for Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Al Franken to be re-elected in November, enthusiastically greeting the state’s other DFL Senator, Amy Klobuchar, who is not up for re-election, and showering good will over former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose wife Joan recently passed away and who, himself, recently went through heart surgery.

And there, in the video clips on the big screens, was Hubert Humphrey, the legendary former Senator and Vice President, and the main architect of the merger of the Democratic Party with the Farmer Labor Party back in 1944, and Paul Wellstone, another DFL legend and US Senator, who died in an airplane crash just days before the election in 2002, a tragedy that paved the way for Republican Norm Coleman to become Senator.

Al Franken, in turn, beat Coleman six years ago, by only 312 votes and after an eternal recount, and he promised tonight that he will win in November — by a greater margin. The DFL:ers loved it.

And they loved the evening’s special guest speaker, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts, just like Minnesota a solidly progressive and Democratic state. Her populist economic message about fighting back against the Republicans and the big money that are aiming to buy this country and fighting to give ordinary people an opportunity and a chance by creating a level playing field, brought people to their feet, time and again.

But among all the laughter and jubilation was also the serious message to the loyalists that an election victory in November will require hard work, lots of hard work, to get out the vote. I need you, said Al Franken.

 

Grassroots DFL politics on a long Sunday in St Paul

I witnessed grassroots Minnesota politics today, and I was impressed.

On a glorious, sunny but cold Winter Sunday in the capital St Paul , 430 voting delegates and  hundreds of  supporters and activists in the St Paul Central High School  spent over seven hours of their Sunday eagerly debating the day’s issues and voting who would represent them in the state’s House of Representatives next session. They were all Democrats, members of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), and in this solidly liberal Democratic district, 64B, they were sure to keep their representative in the House.

So when they chose Dave Pinto in the fourth and decisive round of voting, he will be their next representative. Pinto, a prosecutor with the Ramsey County attorney’s office and once a member of the Clinton White House, beat Greta Bergstrom (how Swedish can you get!) and winning over 60 percent of the vote against Bergstrom’s 38 percent, thereby officially securing the convention’s endorsement for the November election. In the first round,

435 delegates cast their ballots in the first round, and by the fourth round, almost all of them were still there, patiently making sure their vote was counted and showing their appreciation in standing ovations for the candidates as they conceded, one after the other in round after round.  Matt Freeman St Paul

Bergstrom, communications director for the progressive advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota, did surprisingly well. She handily beat the more famous Swedish American among the six candidates, young Matt Freeman, grandson of Orville Freeman, Minnesota’s governor between 1955 and 1961 and then Secretary of Agriculture in the Kenney and Johnson Administrations.  He died in 2003.

Matt Freeman, a graduate of Georgetown University, had recently managed St Paul mayor Chris Coleman’s victorious re-election campaign, He had lots of supporters in the packed gymnasium, among them his family, including his mother, grandmother, and father, Michael Freeman, who had been State Senator and who had twice run, unsuccessfully, for governor and who is now attorney in Hennepin County, the state’s most populous county.

Yes, tough loss today, admitted the father, after consoling his misty-eyed son. But there seemed to be a general sense in the gymnasium this long Sunday that young Matt has the future in front of him. There will be many more election campaigns, some, surely, victorious.

Finally, simple majority democracy has come to the Senate

It’s been called the “nuclear option,” presumably because a decision to change the filibuster rules of the U.S. Senate would be so big, so historic and politically so consequential.

And today’s decision IS a huge deal, as Ezra Klein in his Wonkblog in the Washington Post explains. Most of all, the decision by the Democratic majority in the Senate is about democracy. Tired of the Republican minority’s obstructionist behavior through the filibuster, which has paralyzed the upper body of the U.S. Congress, the Democrats, with 52 votes to 48, said enough! Three Democrats, Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted with the Republicans, while the two Independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, supported the Democrats.

Finally, simple majority will rule in the US Senate, just like it should in a democracy and just like it does in other democracies, whether the political power lies with a majority of twenty votes or one.  A majority is a majority.

The filibuster rule, that it takes 60 votes for decisions in the Senate, is not a written rule. It is not in the Constitution, and it was for decades seldom used. However, from 1967 to 2012, according to the Congressional Research Service cited by the Washington Post, majority leaders had to file motions to try to break a filibuster of a judicial nominee 67 times — and 31 of those, more than 46 percent — occurred in the five years with Obama in the White House and a Democratic majority, although not a 60-vote super majority, in the Senate.

The filibuster rule change means that the President’s federal judge nominees and executive-office appointments now can be confirmed by a simple majority rather than by the super majority that has been required for more than two centuries. However, there are two important exception: it will still take 60 votes to confirm a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court and the filibuster can still be used on legislation.

Words of approval from the White House were heard after the vote.  Now, President Obama can get his three nominees approved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often called the second most powerful federal court in the country. From   the Republicans in the Senate only howls of protests were heard.

“It’s time to change. It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” said the Senate’s Democratic majority leader Harry Reid.

Yes, it was the right thing to do!

Lutheran latte, butter princesses, and lots of politics at the Great Minnesota Get-Together

Lutheran Latte at the Great Minnesota Get-Together — Swedish egg coffee with vanilla ice cream — how can you not love it!

Lutheran LatteBut if you for some reason don’t, you can have a Meatball Sundae, or one of Ole’s Candied Bacon Cannoli and a cup of Swedish coffee – that’s “The breakfast of State Fair champions” for those who don’t know it, or Norwegian lefse with lingonberry jam at Lynne’s, fried pickles, and anything on a stick: corndog, shrimp, chicken, turkey, long dog…Or you could drink Minnesota wine and any number of Minnesota microbrews.

And all this in almost one hundred degree heat this past weekend, when over one hundred thousand people visited the Minnesota State Fair, every day — all part of the twelve days of the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

It’s been like this for decades at the end of the summer in Minnesota. I’ve never seen anything like it, never imagining watching a sculpture of Princess Kay of the Milky Way as the winner of the Minnesota Dairy Princess Program is called, being carved in 90 pounds of the best Minnesota butter in a walk-in, glass-walled refrigerator with people surrounding and watching. Each of the twelve finalists gets her own butter sculpture made and she gets to take it home after the Fair. What a show!

Butter QueensAnd it seems that no one wants to miss it. Everyone is there. Every radio and TV station, the environmentalists in the Eco building, the art lovers in the big art exhibit, the friends of the state’s national parks, and, of course, the politicians, lots of politicians, almost all of them…

Al Franken at State FairIn one corner is the Minnesota Democrats’ tent, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party as it is called here, and it is buzzing with activity. DFL runs Minnesota, from Governor Mark Dayton to both houses of the State Legislature and both US senators, and with five of the eight members of the House of Representatives in Washington. And just across the street is the AFL/CIO plaza with numerous union representatives and a big banner calling for higher minimum wage.

Senator Al Franken, who is up for re-election in November 2014 also has his own booth, and so does the other Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar. Both are at the Fair, on separate days, this steamy weekend, working the crowd and talking to their constituents.

Franken says he loves coming here because he gets to meet people from all across Minnesota, and he asks for support from the trade unions as well as the faithful in the DFL tent, where voter registration forms in Somali, Hmong, and Spanish reflect the new immigrant groups in Minnesota. He loves to quote the former liberal Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, whose untimely death in an airplane crash in October 2002 in many ways still haunt Minnesota politics, who said, “we all do better when we all do better,” and Franken launches into a fierce defense of unions, of a higher minimum wage, of investments in infrastructure, of college affordability, of protecting social security and Medicare, and of the importance of the Affordable Care Act – he never used the term “Obamacare” – which brings so many good things to America’s citizens. He ends by asking for help in next year’s re-election, when he hopes to get more than the 312 votes by which he defeated Norm Coleman in 2008 – somewhere, he says, in between that number and what Amy Klobuchar got in 2012 when she was re-elected in a landslide, 58 percent to 38.

Amy KlobucharFor Amy Klobuchar in the brutal heat, it was the first time, she said and laughed, that she wore shorts to the Fair. No speeches. She is not up for re-election until 2018. But there were plenty of one-on-ones with the curious and the well-wishers, and at the end, judging a food contest.

The Republicans are at the State Fair, too, and so are the Minnesota Tea Party, the Libertarians, the Greens, and many others. But in these blue days for Minnesota, they fight a losing battle for attention at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.