Americans are, based on their loosely knit, religiouslike obsession with professional sports, a replay nation. When bad calls occur, millions of fans jump from couches and look to replays for divine intervention.
For proof, look no further than the oversized hope that Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s ambitious (and pipe-dreamy) move to recount ballots in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will somehow help us take back that big national “oops” we call President-elect Donald Trump. Because, let’s face it, the blame for where we’ve ended up lands on us all. It’s not just the manipulation of the process that put us in the current predicament—it was also our collective inability to swiftly repel Trump when we had a chance. Slam the Electoral College all you want, but when more than 40 percent of the electorate won’t show up, what else did you think was going to happen?
With Trump’s motley crew of transition picks giving us a massive Tums moment, excitement bubbled up that Stein (in quiet conjunction with Hillary Clinton’s campaign) could pull us back from the brink. That’s not happening. And with Stein hauling a handsome pile of cash from the replay faithful, what’s unnoticed are four ways that this effort leaves an already ass-out black electorate in the lurch:
Stein’s focus is the quest for deliberate irregularities in the electoral system, such as, for example, voter machine and database hacking. Strangely, Stein ’16 ignores a deep look into the systematic election hack that we did see take place, especially in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: voter-ID laws and other carefully designed voter-suppression tactics. Nor is the Clinton campaign interested: When Clinton campaign counsel Marc Erik Elias felt compelled to pen a Medium piece on the tag team with Stein, every plausible election-hack theory was mentioned (even “fake news”) … just not the fact that we just experienced the first major election without full Voting Rights Act protection in 50 years.
The impact of that was severe; this we do know: long lines at polling places serving black and brown populations; polling-place closures; intact voter-ID laws; early-voting elimination in some states, voter-roll purges in others; and the micromanaging harassment of Trump-inspired “poll watchers.” States like Texas and North Carolina straight ignored federal court orders to behave. In Wisconsin, observers noticed a 41,000-vote drop from 2012. In Pennsylvania, election judges and poll watchers were still asking for voter IDs even though that law was axed in 2012. These are all battleground states with large black population clusters.
So, what’s the deal? That’s a pretty big election hack if there ever was one—something that’s easily substantiated by a great deal of constant oversight from civil rights groups, watchdogs and an outgoing Obama-administration Justice Department. It’s as if black-voter grievances don’t matter. Still …
That sounds a bit off, but that’s the catch-22 as Stein keeps at this. This talk about the need for a recount, prompted by accusations that election integrity was widely compromised, could actually give voter-ID proponents the “I told you so” moment they need. That, unfortunately, could prompt a fresh movement from Republican state legislatures and governors who want to keep their black, brown and college-age voting populations perpetually boxed in, since states could move to strengthen or re-enact an array of creative voter-ID laws. And “Why not?” they’ll say. “Even the liberals say we’ve got a voting system problem.”
Of course, they’ll ignore charges that voting machines were hacked or didn’t work, and they will act as if they never did create the elaborate voter-suppression land we now live in. President-elect Trump’s nocturnal tweet fantasy claiming that “illegal” votes lost him the popular vote is the tip of that charge. If colluding Green Party cats and Democrats aren’t careful, Republicans could throw a big okey-doke on the recount effort, twisting it into a need for more voter-fraud mitigation efforts—even though we’ve never had a voter-fraud problem. But thanks to Stein, sure we do! And we know who ends up getting hurt the most when that happens.
It was last reported that Stein was “within striking distance” of her $7 million recount financing goal, but the only thing a replay will accomplish is, well, Stein raising double what she raised throughout the entire course of her flatlining presidential campaign. We just got finished with one circus announcer dropping outlandish campaign promises he clearly had no plans to keep. Now comes a new one—from the far reaches of the old-school left—hustling false hope to the masses, especially the black ones grieving over President Barack Obama’s replacement.
It’s not as if this gives Stein any more votes than the barely registered 2 percent she got on Nov. 8. And it’s not likely that Clinton will get any mojo back. So, what’s the real purpose of this exercise? Despite all of its hollow diversity talk over the years, the Green Party (a leadership team made up of know-it-all white progressives, with the exception of Stein running mate Ajamu Baraka) likely doesn’t have any plans to help viable state, local or federal political candidates of color who seem much more qualified than she is. So, what’s the point?
That’s what former state Sen. Nina Turner (D-Ohio) called it in a recent conversation with The Root. “I’m afraid it is, especially when we need to focus on 2017 and then 2018,” argued Turner, who plans on re-entering the political scene at some point (possibly with an Ohio gubernatorial bid).
But Turner’s right. Generally low voter enthusiasm and disastrous outcomes from this cycle should be a wake-up call for aggressive (and very immediate) political planning and mobilization for upcoming 2017 state races and 2018 congressional midterms. Turnout in the 2014 midterm—that really important every-two-year cycle everyone gets miffed about but few participate in—was an atrocious 36.7 percent, down from an equally disheartening 41.8 percent in 2010. One main culprit: black voters, for the most part, who just won’t pay attention to really crucial midterm and state legislative cycles, largely conceding them to white voters, who, in turn, cement Republican majorities in Congress as well as control of most state legislatures and governor mansions.
For municipal elections, forget about it: Local election turnout, on average, is 20 percent. And yet 2017 presents big opportunities for the black electorate to gain back a little lost ground by picking governors in New Jersey and Virginia, along with friendlier legislatures in those states, as well as new mayors in big cities.
Keep thinking the recount will save desperate black voters in search of an electoral miracle? Think again. Keeping up with a recount actually leaves us a bit more politically empty-handed than we know.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.