BRIAN KEMP is the Secretary of State of Georgia. Among his responsibilities are overseeing elections within the state, so this year he has played an important role approving candidates, supervising voter registration and maintaining the electoral roll. Unlike in much of the democratic world, most state officials in the United States are elected and partisan – Brian Kemp is a Republican.
He was also the Republican candidate for Georgia’s governor.
This means he has been able to institutionally prejudice his own election, which is exactly he has done, both by launching a vague investigation into his opponent just days before the election, and by removing more than 200,000 voters – most of them typically Democratic-voting African Americans – from the electoral roll under spurious pretences.
Pending recounts and a potential runoff, the preliminary results seem to suggest he has beaten Stacey Abrams – who would have been the state’s first African American governor – by around 100,000 votes. It is nothing less than a fix, a symptom of America’s broken democracy.
Kemp has been able to undermine Georgia’s democracy so easily because it has long been Republican Party policy to prevent as many young people, urban-dwellers and ethnic minorities from voting as possible. That’s because high turnout among this coalition of voters can produce enormous Democratic landslides, and easily outnumber their own base of rural voters, the very rich, the very racist and the very stupid. Through unfair redistricting – gerrymandering – and voter suppression they maintain a stranglehold over state governments, which in turn allows them to appoint sympathetic judges that allow them to continue hobbling democratic institutions.
A particularly nasty example of gerrymandering is Texas’s 35th district, which includes large portions of the cities of San Antonio and Austin, connected by a thin corridor of land nearly 80 miles long – the distance from London to Peterborough. This concentrates as many urban Democratic voters as possible in a single congressional district, ensuring the surrounding districts are full of suburban and rural Republican voters. The Democrats made stunning gains in Texas this year, but gerrymandering has translated this into a net increase of only two seats.
In statewide elections the Republicans try to deprive urban black people of their voting rights.
In statewide elections where gerrymandering is impossible, the Republicans instead try to deprive urban black people of their voting rights. They do this by closing voter registration centres in African American neighbourhoods, by making voter ID prohibitively expensive, or by providing urban polling stations with faulty voting machines (what’s wrong with pen and paper?). In Florida, the election of Andrew Gillum as the state’s first black governor was made all but impossible because 1.4 million Floridians – mostly, you guessed it, African Americans – were barred from voting due to previous criminal convictions.
It’s a wonder that the Democrats have managed to win control of House of Representatives at all.
But this slender Democratic majority means they can finally build a dam against the worst of President Trump’s agenda, protect the Mueller investigation and subpoena Trump’s tax returns. More importantly, though, they now have some authority to begin repairing America’s democracy by fixing gerrymandered constituencies, implementing automatic voter registration and making polling stations more accessible. They would be accused by Republicans of trying to rig the system in their favour, but better Democratic representation would be a far more accurate reflection of the results: the size of the swing towards the Democrats would have produced a Tony Blair-scale landslide in Britain.
It’s a shame they couldn’t repeat this in the Senate, although the odds were stacked against them from the start. During the campaign all eyes were on Beto O’Rourke, the charismatic Texas congressman who came within a whisker of unseating creepy fundamentalist and one-time presidential candidate Ted Cruz; despite his personal qualities, his was an outside bet, although he deserves enormous credit for running Cruz so close in a once-deep red state.
O’Rourke’s loss probably wasn’t down to voter suppression or gerrymandering, but we cannot help but cast doubts over narrow results in Arizona, Florida and Georgia.
Democrats have a lot of work to do to fix America’s broken democracy, but the fact they can do anything at all is a positive. Furthermore, promising results in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan give the party a strong base from which to build a challenge in 2020, when they’ll once again have a chance to win control of the Senate – and more importantly, the Presidency.
In the meantime, they can take heart in the millennials, women, people of colour and even Native Americans who have won seats in the House of Representatives this year. Despite the hurdles Republicans have put up, Congress looks a lot more like America now.