Tag: Politics

What African American Women Running For Office Are Up Against

“African-American women are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” an ecstatic Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said not once, but twice on a press call Wednesday. Perez was stating the undeniable after 98% of African American women voted for Doug Jones in Tuesday’s special election, overcoming systemic barriers to make Jones the first Democrat in 25 years to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

African American women’s widespread support for Democratic candidates is not new. In the recent governor’s race in Virginia, 91 percent of African American women backed Democrat Ralph Northam. Last year, 94% of African American women voted for Hillary Clinton. But based on the astonished reactions and exuberant expressions of gratitude from commenters on social media, you would think African American women had only just materialized in Montgomery this past Tuesday.

“Dec. 12, 2017: the day progressives discovered African American women,” Jessica Byrd, founder and principal of Three Point Strategies, a consulting firm focused on electoral politics and social justice, says with a laugh.

On Twitter, as many praised African American women for delivering Jones the election, the conversation quickly turned to how that gratitude should translate into greater support for African American women in all aspects of their lives.

“Thank African American women by supporting African American women,” writer and speaker Austin Channing tweeted. “Pay us. Vote with us. Hire us. Read our writing. Fund our projects and ministries. Vote us into office. Purchase from our businesses. Amplify us. Stand against racism and sexism.”

Take the “vote us into office” part: The numbers show that African American women’s participation at the ballot box is not reflected in their representation in elected office. African American women were 7% of the electorate in 2016, but they make up only 3.6% of all members of Congress, and 3.7% of all state legislators.

“The investment is not matching their return,” says Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, a national organization building the political power and leadership of African American women.

The Primaries Are The Problem

While there are multiple barriers to African American women running for office, the biggest challenge is the primary process. By the numbers, an African American woman candidate’s best shot at winning a race for public office is in a Democratic stronghold. And to compete, she must engage in a primary. “And what do Democrats hate?” Byrd asks rhetorically, “Primaries.”

“Unless someone says ‘I choose African American women,’ we’re not going to get chosen.”

In 2015, Byrd was part of a team that did research to understand the racial and gender disparities in office holding. She and her colleagues found a disturbing trend in their interviews with black women who had considered running for office.

“They were told they weren’t viable,” Byrd tells Bustle. “They were told that they didn’t know enough people that other Democratic operatives knew. They were told that they couldn’t raise the money and they weren’t a good investment.”

So, the challenge wasn’t persuading African American women to run for office; the challenge was securing institutional support.

“If the party believes that we should lead,” Byrd says of African American women, “they have to change the process by which they invest in new types of leaders.” By that, she means something that might seem radical: a willingness to clear the field for African American women.

“Unless someone says ‘I choose African American women, we’re not going to get chosen,” Byrd adds.

Activists Look Beyond The Party

“Engaging in the political process is not new for African American women,” says Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100, an activist member-based organization. “What’s also not new is the consistent lack of investment by the Democratic Party, and progressive and liberal funders.”

Amanda Brown Lierman, the DNC’s political and organizing director, admits that there is work to do on that front. “We have to put a lot of effort into rebuilding that trust,” she tells Bustle. “That is part of our job every single day.”

In the past year, the DNC has worked to redefine its mission to include a focus on down-ballot races. The party boasts its investment in InCharge, a African American women voter mobilization program. And in Alabama, the committee quietly pumped a million dollars into the state, largely focused on reaching black, faith, and youth voters.

But Carruthers argues that for lasting change to occur, money must continue to flow to African American women-led efforts with “locally sourced agendas – transforming criminal justice, the economy, and the way the health care system operates.”

Byrd echoes that sentiment. “African Americans deserve an independent political home,” she tells Bustle. “We deserve to write the strategy. We deserve to decide how our money is spent. We deserve leaders who know what it’s like to walk around as an African American.”

*Originally published on Bustle.

Why The Electoral College Is The Absolute Worst

1) What is the Electoral College, and how does it work?

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The presidential election is generally portrayed as a battle to win states and their accompanying electoral votes. Hillary Clinton won Vermont, so she got its three electoral votes. Donald Trump won Alaska, so he got its three electoral votes. Whoever gets to 270 or more electoral votes first — a majority of the 538 total — wins the election.

So rather simply trying to win the most actual votes in the country, a presidential campaign must try to put together a map of state victories that will amass more than 270 electoral votes. That’s the simplified version.

What’s happening under the hood, though, is more complicated. When people go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate on Tuesday, what they are actually doing is voting for each party’s nominated slate of electors in their respective states (or, in the case of Maine and Nebraska, in congressional districts too).

So when Donald Trump won the state of Alaska, the practical effect was that the Republican Party’s nominated elector slate there — former Gov. Sean Parnell, Jacqueline Tupou, and Carolyn Leman — officially became Alaska’s three electors.

This process repeated itself across the country, resulting in the selection of the Electoral College — the 538 electors who will cast their votes for president in their respective states on December 19. (In the modern era, this ceremonial occasion has been a formality that reiterates an outcome known well in advance.)

2) But the outcome of the presidential election is really just settled in a few swing states, right?

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The Democratic and Republican parties have each developed solid bases in a series of states that are all but certain to vote for them in a presidential year. But the Electoral College winner will be determined by those few swing states that are more divided politically and look like they could go either way. This year, only the states in gray above were decided by a margin of less than 9 percentage points, as of Wednesday afternoon.

The swing states’ dominance is a consequence of the fact that almost every state chooses to allot all its electoral votes to whoever comes in first place statewide, regardless of his or her margin of victory.

That is, it doesn’t matter whether Clinton wins New York by a 30 percent margin or a 10 percent margin, since she’ll get the same amount of electoral votes either way. But the difference between winning Florida by 0.1 percent and losing it by 0.1 percent is crucial, since 29 electoral votes could flip.

Naturally, then, when the general election comes around, candidates ignore every noncompetitive state — meaning the vast majority of the country — and pour their resources into the few that tend to swing back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. That’s the best strategy for reaching that magic number, 270.

3) That seems unfair.

Well, there’s a lot that’s unfair — or at the very least undemocratic — about the Electoral College.

For one, the winner of the nationwide popular vote can lose the presidency. In 2000, Al Gore won half a million more votes than George W. Bush nationwide, but Bush won the presidency after he was declared the winner in Florida by a mere 537 votes. And that wasn’t the first time — electoral college/popular vote splits happened in 1876 and 1888 too, and, as mentioned, will perhaps occur in 2016 too.

Second, there’s swing state privilege. Millions of votes in safe states end up being “wasted,” at least in terms of the presidential race, because it makes no difference whether Clinton wins California by 4 million votes, 400,000 votes, or 40 votes — in any scenario, she gets its 55 electors. Meanwhile, states like Florida and Ohio get the power to tip the outcome just because they happen to be closely divided politically.

Third, a small state bias is also built in, since every state is guaranteed at least three electors (the combination of their representation in the House and Senate). The way this shakes out in the math, the 4 percent of the country’s population in the smallest states end up being allotted 8 percent of Electoral College votes.

And fourth, there’s the possibility for those electors themselves to hijack the outcome.

4) Wait, the electors can hijack the outcome of the presidential election? What?

For decades, it’s been assumed that the 538 electors will essentially rubber-stamp the outcome in their respective states, and they mostly have. But there’s scarily little assurance that they’ll actually do so.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 30 of the 50 states have passed laws “binding” their electors to vote in accordance with the presidential popular vote in their state. But in most, the penalty for not doing so is only a fine, and it’s unclear whether stiffer penalties would hold up in court — it’s never been tested, and the Constitution does appear to give the electors the right to make the final call. Furthermore, there are still 20 or so states that haven’t even tried to bind their electors.

This hasn’t mattered much in the past because, almost always, the parties do a good enough job of vetting their respective electoral slates to ensure that they will indeed loyally back their party’s presidential nominee.

But there have been a few rogue, faithless, or just plain incompetent electors over the years — and their votes have all been counted as cast.

  • In 1837, rogue electors from Virginia briefly blocked the seating of the vice president-elect because they were offended that he had a mixed-race common-law wife. (The Senate overrode them.)
  • A Democratic elector from Tennessee cast his ballot for segregationist third-party candidate Strom Thurmond in 1948, and a Republican elector from North Carolina voted for segregationist third-party candidate George Wallace in 1968.
  • In 2000, an elector from Washington, DC, withheld an electoral vote from Al Gore, because she wanted to protest the fact that DC didn’t have representation in Congress.
  • Perhaps most bizarrely of all, in 2004, an elector from Minnesota who was supposed to vote for John Kerry for president instead voted for John Edwards. (It’s believed that this was an accident, but since the votes were cast anonymously, we don’t really know for sure. Great system!)
  • And this year, one Democratic elector candidate from Washington state has repeatedly said that he will “absolutely not” cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton if she wins his state. We’ll see whether he follows through.

Rogue electors have never been numerous enough to actually affect the outcome of a presidential race. But it really doesn’t look like there’s much stopping them should they choose to do so.

Now, some defenders of the system, like Georgetown professor Jason Brennan, take the comforting view that the power of electors to go rogue is a good thing, since they could conceivably save America from a popularly elected majoritarian candidate who could oppress the minority.

But it seems just as likely, if not more likely, that electors could install that candidate with dictatorial tendencies against that popular will. Perhaps some electors are wise sages with better judgment than the American people, but others are likely malign, corrupt, or driven by their own idiosyncratic beliefs. (You’ll notice above that several of those historical rogue electors in history had racist motivations.)

In any case, if we had a process in which the electors were notable citizens who were chosen because they’re supposed to exercise good judgment, maybe Brennan’s defense would make sense. But in the system we have today, the electors are chosen to be rubber stamps. As a result, there’s incredibly little attention paid to who those electors even are outside internal party machinations in each state. Any defection by an elector would, essentially, be a random act that could that could hold our system hostage.

5) Why do we use such a bizarre system anyway?

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The Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Hulton Archive/Getty

The electoral college is, essentially, a vestigial structure — a leftover from a bygone era in which the founding fathers specifically did not want a nationwide vote of the American people to choose their next president.

Instead, the framers gave a small, lucky group of people called the “electors” the power to make that choice. These would be some upstanding citizens chosen by the various states, who would make up their own minds on who should be the president (they’d have to vote on the same day in their respective home states, to make it tougher for them to coordinate with each other).

The Constitution remained silent on just how these elite electors would be chosen, saying only that each state legislature would decide how to appoint them. Initially, some state legislators picked the electors themselves, while other states had some form of statewide vote in which the electors themselves would be candidates.

But over the new nation’s first few decades, two powerful trends in American politics brought attention to the Electoral College system’s shortcomings — the rise of national political parties that would contest presidential elections, and the growing consensus that all white men (not just the elite) should get the right to vote, including for president.

The parties and states responded to these trends by trying to jury-rig the existing system. Political parties began to nominate slates of electors in each state — electors they believed could be counted on to vote for the presidential nominee. Eventually, many states even passed laws requiring electors to vote for their party’s presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, by the 1830s, almost every state had changed its laws so that all electors were chosen winner-take-all through a statewide vote, according to Richard Berg-Andersson. The point of all this was to try to make the presidential election function like ordinary statewide elections for governor or senator, at least within each state.

6) Well, are there arguments for the Electoral College?

It’s tough to argue with a straight face that this bizarre system is inherently better than just a simple vote. After all, why doesn’t any state elect its governor with an “Electoral College” of various counties? Why does pretty much every other country that elects a president use a simple popular vote, or a vote accompanied with a runoff?

Now, you can argue that the Electoral College’s seeming distortions of the popular will aren’t as bad as they seem — for instance, by pointing out that swing states tend to swing along with the nation rather than overriding its will, or that the popular vote winner almost always wins. But of course, that’s not guaranteed to always be the case, and the biggest major exception (the 2000 election) was an incredibly consequential one.

Others try to fearmonger about the prospect of a contested nationwide recount — which, sure, would be ugly, but if you’ll recall, the Florida recount was also extremely ugly. And since there are so many more votes cast nationally, it’s much less likely that the national vote would end up a near tie than that a tipping point’s state vote would end up as a near tie.

Some argue that the Electoral College ensures regional balance, since it’s mathematically impossible for a candidate with overwhelming support from just one region to be elected. But realistically, the country is big and broad enough that this couldn’t happen under a popular vote system either — any regional candidate would need to get some support outside his or her region.

But when we get down to brass tacks, the most serious objections to reforming the Electoral College come from rural and small-state elites who fear that under a national popular vote system, they’d be ignored and elections would be decided by people who live in cities.

Gary Gregg of the University of Louisville wrote in 2012 that eliminating the Electoral College would lead to “dire consequences.” Specifically, he feared that elections would “strongly tilt” in favor of “candidates who can win huge electoral margins in the country’s major metropolitan areas.” He continued:

If the United States does away with the Electoral College, future presidential elections will go to candidates and parties willing to cater to urban voters and skew the nation’s policies toward big-city interests. Small-town issues and rural values will no longer be their concern.

And Pete du Pont, a former governor of Delaware (three electoral votes), has made a similar case, calling proposals for a national popular vote an “urban power grab.”

But a national popular vote system wouldn’t devalue the votes of people who live in rural states and small towns. It would accurately value them by treating them equal to people who live in cities, rather than giving them an extra weighting. Furthermore, small-state interests are built into the Senate’s math (where Delaware absurdly gets as many senators as California), and many House districts are rural. So rural and small-state areas are hardly hurting for national political representation.

Sure, candidates might end up spending less time stumping in the rural areas that currently happen to be lucky enough to fall within the borders of swing states, and more time in urban centers. But is that really a convincing rebuttal to the pretty basic and obvious argument that in the most important electoral choice Americans make, their votes should be treated equally?

7) Is there any hope that the US will ditch the Electoral College someday?

For decades, polls have shown that large majorities of Americans would prefer a popular vote system instead of the Electoral College. For instance, a 2013 Gallup poll showed 63 percent of adults wanted to do away with it, and a mere 29 percent wanted to keep it.

But to ditch the Electoral College entirely, the US would have to pass a constitutional amendment (passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by 38 states) — or convene a constitutional convention (which has never been done, but would have to be called for by 34 states). Either method is vanishingly unlikely, because each would require many small states to approve a change that would reduce their influence on the presidential outcome.

There is one potential workaround, however: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a clever proposal that uses the Constitution’s ambiguity on electors to its own ends.

A state signing on to the compact agrees that it will pledge all its electors not to its state winner but to the victor in the national popular vote — but only if states controlling 270 or more electoral votes have agreed to do the same. If they do, and everything works as planned, then whoever wins the popular vote will necessarily win the electoral vote too.

It’s a fun proposal that’s already been enacted into law by 10 states (including massive California and New York) and the District of Columbia, which together control 165 electoral votes. But there’s one big obstacle: All of the states that have adopted it are solidly Democratic, with zero being Republican or swing states.

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States that have signed on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. They’re all blue.

So unless a bunch of swing states decide to reduce their own power, or Republican politicians conclude that a system bringing the power of small and rural states in line with that of big urban centers is a good idea, the compact isn’t going to get the support it needs, as Nate Silver has written. (Furthermore, it wouldn’t solve the rogue elector problem.)

As messed up as the Electoral College is, then, we’re likely stuck with it for some time. Your safe state vote might be wasted, or it might even be subverted by rogue electors.

But at least you’ll get to draw fun maps.


*Originally published on Vox.

Melania Is No Michelle

We’ve all heard by now that Melania Trump has plagiarized portions of First Lady Michelle Obama speech at the Republican National Convention. While they say that “imitation is the best form of flattery”, the Trumps have never been known to flatter anyone but themselves.

Let’s face it – Melania Trump is no Michelle Obama.  While she’s only been a U.S. citizen for 10 years, Melania’s accomplishments are far from Mrs. Obama’s. And even though we shouldn’t vote for President based on who they are married to, it’s still important to know who their spouse is.

With that said, here are the biggest differences between the two women –


Michelle: Mrs. Obama is highly educated. With a degree from Princeton & a law degree from Harvard, she is 1 of 3 First Lady’s with an advanced degree and the ONLY one to have 2 degrees from Ivy League universities.

Melania: It is has been reported that Mrs. Trump attended the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, but has no degree. While that may have been fine 40 or 50 years ago, she would be the only First Lady in modern times without a college education.


Michelle: Mrs. Obama has served in both the private & public sector, making over $300,000 during the height of her career. She was an attorney, an executive administrator and even a community-outreach worker. Coming from humble she has certainly made a name for herself as the 44th First Lady.

Melania: According to her website, Mrs. Trump has appeared in high profile ad campaigns and has worked with some of the top photographers in the fashion industry. She has her own jewelry line & skin care collection which debuted on QVC. Suffice it to say, her claim to fame has been her looks, not her academics.                                                                       

Personal life

Michelle: It’s no secret that Mrs. Obama has done a lot to advance good health & proper nutrition across America with her “Let’s Move” campaign. Not only is Mrs. Obama a mother of two, she was into community work long before she became First Lady. As early as in the nineties, Mrs. Obama worked to create her employer’s first community-service program.

Melania: Melania (Knauss) came to the United States in 1996 to pursue her modeling career, meeting Donald Trump in 1998. They married in 2001 but she did not become a citizen until 2006. Mrs. Trump has been active in the charity circuit, but not since the birth of her only child. Prior to that she was honored by the American Red Cross, and has served as honorary Chairwoman for The Boy’s Club of New York. It doesn’t seem that Mrs. Trump has any 1 “favorite” charity so perhaps making appearances with her husband is among her favorite things to do.
What do you think? Is Melania as qualified to be the next First Lady of the United States?


Sorry Bernie, I Should’ve Voted For You!


I’ve been a Hillary Clinton fan since day one. As a matter fact I even voted for her when she ran against then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. My thinking was that she had the experience and the knowledge to not only hold the highest office in the land but also do a great job. Other than sitting alongside her husband during his eight years as president, she also had a pretty successful term as a New York state senator.

But in 2016 Hillary Clinton has far more experience and has definitely made a name for herself outside of who she’s married to. Yes, there’s a lot of baggage around the Clinton name: Benghazi, “email-gate” and even national healthcare going back to the 90’s. But she is still Hillary “The” Clinton. Regardless of whatever baggage is associated with her name she still has the most experience, the best experience and for the most part outpaces Donald Trump in all of the national polls (although those numbers fluctuate). So today in the lovely state of California I cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton. But should I have marked off Bernie Sanders’ name instead?

As soon as I left the polls I called my dad (to talk about something else). The conversation quickly turned to politics. My dad is a political nut and loves discussing the latest election news. So I knew any conversation surrounding today’s election might turn into a lengthy one, but I still found myself defending my reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton and not Bernie Sanders. My dad’s argument in favor of Bernie Sanders was that he has long since fought for civil rights, he’s been a successful senator (albeit from Vermont), and he really is a man “for the people”. Hillary Clinton, while well qualified for the position of President, has too much baggage and has since fallen in the polls against Donald Trump. Now we know the polls can change on a daily or even hourly basis so that point didn’t mean much to me. Shoot, the way Donald Trump has talked about other races, even as recently as yesterday, makes me think that anyone running against him would win in a landslide. In my opinion, he’s talking himself out of office every time he’s in front of a microphone.

But back to Bernie Sanders. Should I have voted for him instead of Hillary? Yes he is older, yes he’s from Vermont and yes he’s got some pretty “crazy” ideas (like free college for all) but isn’t that what this country needs right now?

Honestly I felt as if Bernie didn’t have the experience to run this country. Yes he’s been politically active all of his life, and has even fought for African American civil rights. However running the state of Vermont doesn’t exactly qualify you to run the entire country. That’s like saying because you know how to ride a bicycle that qualifies you to drive a 16-wheeler big rig. It doesn’t; it just doesn’t.

America is all about giving the ‘little guy’ a chance (unless you happen to be African-American, but that’s a whole nother post). So while I knew deep down that the state of California would’ve selected Hillary Clinton as our nominee, I should’ve cast my ballot for Bernie. Because even the Jewish guy with the crazy ideas from Brooklyn deserves a chance to be our next President.