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Gordon Campbell on the US election home stretch

Gordon Campbell on the US election home stretch

First published on Werewolf

Once again at the business end of a US election, the result will hinge on the same old bits of geography as always: the Five Crucial Counties in Ohio, the Two Crucial Counties in Pennsylvania and the I-4 Interstate Corridor in Florida that runs from Tampa Bay through Orlando to Daytona Beach. Back in 2004, I’d spent the last two weeks of that campaign frantically zigzagging around north eastern Ohio and along the I-4 from Orlando, simply because those bits of real estate were the decisive battle zones. They’re still where it matters. Come to think of it… 2004 was also a contest between a Republican widely seen by the outside world as a dangerous idiot, and a deeply unattractive Democratic candidate. Nothing new there, either.

As tomorrow’s results come in, keep an eye on those 5 key counties in Ohio: Cuyahoga (this Democratic stronghold around Cleveland will be a litmus test nationally of whether Hillary Rodham Clinton can mobilise the black urban vote) Franklin County (central city : Columbus) Hamilton County ( the suburbs around Cincinnati are always taken to be a significant national bellwether) Montgomery County ( central city : Dayton) and most interesting of all, Stark County ( central city : Canton). In 2012, Barack Obama won Stark by a handful of votes. Basically, if Donald Trump can’t win Stark County this time, he’s probably toast everywhere else. Incidentally, the likes of Hamilton County in recent months have illustrated just how poor Trump’s grass roots machine looks like being, compared to HRC’s well oiled ‘get out the vote” organization – and that’s the case even compared to Republican efforts in Ohio during recent elections.

This is all part of what makes Ohio such a useful microcosm : the whole range of urban/suburban/rural and Rust Belt issues are present there. On election day tomorrow, its worth keeping in mind that the Ohio state government website offers a really good, up to the minute running tally of how those 7.8 million registered voters in Ohio are casting their choices. You can find it here.

For similar reasons, the two key Pennsylvania counties to watch are Bucks County (north of Philadelphia) and Alleghany county out to the west. Theoretically, HRC can still win in the Electoral College even after losing Ohio and Florida – whereas Trump needs them both, given the red state/blue state configurations elsewhere. Yet in reality, if she loses both those big states – Florida has a healthy 29 Electoral College votes, and Ohio’s declining population still offers 18 votes, down from 26 votes in 1964 - the tide is likely to be out for HRC all round the country.

If that happens, the FBI will have played a significant role in giving independent voters a final, conclusive reason to vote Republican. Historically, the FBI has been a highly politicized bureau since the days of J. Edgar Hoover. It certainly has acted in a highly partisan fashion this time, too. After all…any emails held by Anthony Weiner could only have dated from a considerable time in the past via his former spouse Huma Abedin, and were thus virtually certain to be copies of the HRC emails that the FBI had already cleared of criminal liability back in July. The FBI could have couched its letter to Congress in those dismissive terms. It didn’t. If HRC wins, she should be demanding FBI director James Comey’s head on a plate, forthwith.

For many people, voting has become an act of hostility. In a poll run last week by the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, a significant number of respondents were voting not for their candidate, but in order to stop the other candidate from gaining power.

A third of Clinton voters say they’re mainly voting against Trump, while more than 4 in 10 Trump voters say their ballot is really aimed at keeping Clinton out of the White House.
Top prize for their weirdest story of the campaign? That would probably have to be last week’s conspiracy theory about a Satanic child trafficking cabal linked to HRC’s chief of staff John Podesta, and allegedly operating out of the Comet Ping Pong Pizza Parlour in Washington DC. The story is here. And if you’re up for some deep diving in the wingnut mindset, you could also check out the Twitter account of Pizza Party Ben (the chief theorist behind the pizza–is-code-for-child-trafficking story) right here. PPB’s pizza evidence cache can be found here.

Suppressing the Vote

After months of stories about voters being deliberately disenfranchised, North Carolina – which will be a tight contest – offers good news & some bad news. Last Friday, a Federal judge called Loretta Biggs slammed and halted local government attempts to deny North Carolina blacks the right to vote.

Biggs said the three counties must restore voter registrations cancelled in the 90 days preceding the election because of a federal law prohibiting blanket removals that close to Election Day. She concluded that Cumberland, Beaufort and Moore counties had gone about "systematically purging between 3,500 and 4,000 voters from registration rolls" since August.

Good. (Outrageously, the de-registrations had been on the basis of one piece of mail being returned from a residential address.) Clearly though, it hasn’t made voting in North Carolina any easier.

Across the US, systematic attempts have been made to suppress voting by blacks, Latinos and the young (all of whom trend Democrat) by a combo of stricter ID requirements, fewer voting sites and reduced funding for election purposes. For years, the Brennan Center has been an invaluable source of research and advocacy on voting rights, and one of its recent summary articles makes these points:

Brennan Center research from three states with some of the longest lines in 2012 (Florida, Maryland, and South Carolina) showed precincts with the longest lines had fewer machines, poll workers, or both. Areas with higher percentages of minority voters tended to have fewer machines, we found, and voters in precincts with more minorities experienced longer waits……

Preliminary data from the 2016 presidential primary election shows similar trends. When Arizona held its primary in March, there were reports that some voters waited as long as five hours to cast a ballot. At the time, the lengthy wait times sparked outrage from state officials and made national headlines.

The long waits were concentrated in Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix. With a population of about 4 million, Maricopa is not only the most populous county in Arizona, it is the fourth-most populous county in the United States. Press accounts at the time suggested that a dramatic reduction in polling places was the culprit. In the 2012 primary, for example, there were more than 200 polling locations. In 2016, there were 60 vote centers. Voters could cast a ballot at any vote center in the county – regardless of address. The drastic reduction in voting locations followed cuts to state election funding. Nonetheless, contemporary accounts suggested that the fewer places to vote may have disproportionately affected Latinos.

Add all of this to the Operation Red Map effort launched in 2010 by Republicans, in order to gerrymander the drawing of electoral boundaries, and you have a US voting process that is systematically being rigged by Republicans at state level and beyond, in favour of the Republican Party. With the blessing of a partisan Supreme Court, which has done its best to gut the 1964 Voting Rights Act, that was one of the main legislative accomplishments of the US civil rights movement.

IF HRC wins despite all of this, she will still face gridlock in the House, which will be almost certainly remain under Republican control. If it proves to be a landslide tomorrow for HRC, she has some hope of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate. Here are the key contests to watch on that important front.

And yet….even if HRC does win the White House and the Dems do win the Senate, they will be looking down the barrel of an awful line-up of factors in 2018 during the mid-terms, where several Obama-era victories in red states are up for re-election, and are likely to be lost. Meaning: if HRC is going to derive any legislative benefit from having at least one tier of Congressional power (at best) on her side, she better hit the ground running.

Sisterhood, on other fronts

Hillary Clinton has had royalty – Jay Z and Queen Be – by her side during this past week. Meanwhile, Solange Knowles, Beyonce’s kid sister, has been upstaging her sibling musically, with the highly positive critical reaction to her A Seat At The Table album even exceeding the response to Beyonce’s Lemonade album. Here’s one of the prime tracks from the Solange album…

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