Washington Post reporter and columnist David Broder has been frequently barbecued in the progressive blogosphere in recent years for epitomizing the Beltway Establishment mindset, and particularly its reflexive support for bipartisanship in an era of Republican-driven polarization. But he’s also long harbored a quirk that is decidedly and unfortunately unusual among bigfoot journalists: an abiding interest in political and policy developments in the states. This interest leads Broder periodically to take up state grievances with Washington, and he does so today in a blistering column about pending election reform legislation in Congress, a high priority for House Democrats. Broder lauds the objectives of the Voter Confidence and Increased Accountability Act (cosponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Rush Holt), particularly its demand for a paper trail for electronic voting systems. But then he touts a variety of state government complaints about the legislation, and gets snarky towards the end in suggesting that House Democrats don’t really care if the bill works or not. The headline assigned the column by the Post–“A Paper Trail Towards Chaos?–decisively tilts the piece. It may well be that the bill’s deadlines and independent audit requirements need some work, and there will be plenty of time to refine it in the Senate if it gets that far. But it’s clear the states’, and thus Broder’s, main complaint is that Congress will never get around to fully funding the changes the bill’s demands. And that’s where I think Broder, and his state friends, are missing a very basic point. In our constitutional system, states have an independent and fundamental responsibility to operate elections fairly. If they choose to purchase voting machines that raise questions about the fairness and reliability of vote counts, it is their independent and fundamental responsibility to answer those questions. Lest we forget, state failures to competently administer elections, ensure the right to vote, and ensure that every vote is accurately counted, have for decades forced the federal government into this arena. This isn’t one of those government functions where the feds have intervened inappropriately. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the fiscal concerns of state governments in implementing federal mandates. I’ve spent a good part of my own career advocating for those concerns, and as it happens, back in the early 1980s, actually drafted a bill, subsequently adopted, creating a point of order against budget amendments that created unfunded mandates on state and local governments. And yes, Congress should fully fund this latest effort at election reform if it wants the reforms to work. But still, this ain’t a matter of Washington telling states how to fill potholes. A mandate to require states to fulfill one of their most important constitutional responsibilities is something states should welcome, or at least not carp about, and David Broder, given his credibility with state officials, should remind them of that.
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By Ed Kilgore
Sifting through more data from the 2022 midterms, there was one indicator that surprised and concerned me, so I wrote about it at New York:
As analysts pick over the results of the 2022 midterm elections, there have been a lot of mixed messages for Democrats. Yes, they performed better than you might have expected for the party controlling the White House, especially considering the president has underwater job-approval ratings. And yes, Democrats benefited from an unusually robust performance among young voters, who often don’t participate in midterm elections. But at the same time, Democrats didn’t significantly improve their performance among other key demographics, notably Black, Asian American, and Latino voters. As my colleague Eric Levitz observed, Democrats remain dangerously dependent on white college-educated voters who remain sympathetic to Republican economic messages.
Worse yet for Democrats, there is growing evidence that their single most loyal demographic group, African Americans, was underenthused in 2022. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn looked at the preliminary numbers and sounded the alarm:
“Georgia and North Carolina are two of the states where voters indicate their race when they register to vote, offering an unusually clear look at the racial composition of the electorate. In both states — along with Louisiana — the Black share of the electorate fell to its lowest levels since 2006.
“In all three states, the turnout rate among Black voters was far lower than among white voters. In North Carolina, for example, 43 percent of Black registered voters turned out, compared with 59 percent of white registered voters — roughly doubling the difference from 2018 and tripling the racial turnout gap from 2014.
“While similarly conclusive data is not available elsewhere so far, the turnout by county suggests that a relatively weak Black turnout was a national phenomenon.”
Low Black turnout in Georgia and North Carolina is especially significant because Black candidates (Senate candidate Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia) headed up the Democratic tickets in both states. It’s not like the old days when Black voters were being urged to support white conservative Democrats to thwart even more conservative Republicans.
If the signs of relatively low Black turnout in 2022 are accurate and representative, what do they mean? Cohn offers some possible explanations:
“Still, relatively low Black turnout is becoming an unmistakable trend in the post-Obama era, raising important — if yet unanswered — questions about how Democrats can revitalize the enthusiasm of their strongest group of supporters.
“Is it simply a return to the pre-Obama norm? Is it yet another symptom of eroding Democratic strength among working-class voters of all races and ethnicities? Or is it a byproduct of something more specific to Black voters, like the rise of a more progressive, activist — and pessimistic — Black left that doubts whether the Democratic Party can combat white supremacy?”
It’s possible to overinterpret Black voter trends. According to exit polls, the Democratic share of Black voters dropped from 90 percent in 2018 to 87 percent in 2020 and 86 percent in 2022 — not exactly a deep plunge. And some of the negative turnout trends may be attributable to voter-suppression efforts in Republican-controlled states rather than Black voter disaffection with Democrats. In Georgia, moreover, there are encouraging signs about Black early voting turnout in the U.S. Senate general election runoff contest between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.
But any way you cut it, Democrats have both a practical and a moral responsibility to boost Black voter participation in elections going forward. In particular, President Joe Biden, whose nomination and election in 2020 depended heavily on Black support, should devote a lot of attention to rekindling the fires of affection in this critical segment of the electorate.