Saturday, March 26, 2016

Civics 101

With a week's vacation from teaching I return to my steady diet of CNN. For a few days, election coverage is preempted by the attacks in Brussels. This reminds me of the world's precariousness. I feel guilty for following the election mainly for cheap entertainment as certain wannabee presidents suggest torture and patrolling “Muslim neighborhoods.” Are there Muslim neighborhoods? Now the headlines show photos of the candidates wives, one in the buff and one caught with a very unfortunate facial expression. Apparently the naked photo of Melania Trump is posted by a PAC and without the consent of Ted Cruz. Trump however tweets the lousy picture of Heidi side by side with a glamor shot of Melania. Ted Cruz blows a gasket. I wonder if this is an aberration or whether the American political process is destined now to forever play out like reality TV.

I am required to instruct my students in basic civics. I feel that one facet of my responsibility is to be an ambassador and booster for the American way. This is a challenge given that even Spanish language radio is filled with reports about the xenophobic rantings of those who would be president. I imagine my students perceive of American elections as being like Telenovelas. Many of the intricacies of how we got to this place elude me and it is really impossible to explain much to my Level 1 ESL students.

While assembling some materials about the election for my students I've learned some stuff that I probably should have already known. For example, I never fully understood how primary caucuses work. In most states, registered voters can select a specific party on the night of the caucus. The proceedings are held debate style. Prospective delegates can either identify with a specific candidate or remain uncommitted. The voting is either by a show of hands or participants are separated into groups and issued ballots to select delegates. Unlike a primary election, caucus ballots are not secret. Also, while elections are under the aegis of the government, caucuses are organized by political parties.

California, and eleven other states, hold closed primaries and only voters who are registered with a party are permitted to vote. Twelve states, mostly southern, have open primaries allowing voters to cast a vote regardless of party affiliation. The twenty six other states have a “hybrid” system. Procedures vary from state to state. Some permit voters to cross party lines. In others, voters affirm their affiliation based on the ballot selected.The power of the parties vary from state to state and in some, the parties themselves dictate the eligibility of voters in the primary elections. Some Republican elections result in “winner take all”allotment, and in others the allocation is proportional. For all Democratic primaries, delegate votes are divided proportionately.

Superdelegate votes have way more significance at the Democratic convention. After the 1968 Chicago convention the Democrats attempted to make the selection process more democratic and sensitive to the wishes of the voters. This experiment, in 1976 resulted in the nomination of outsider Jimmy Carter, against the wishes of many of the party elites. In order to return some control to the party, Superdelegates we implemented in 1984.
There are approximately 719 Democratic superdelegates: governors, members of congress and lots of highly placed muckety mucks. The Republicans have fewer delegates, only three party reps from each state. Furthermore, unlike the Dems, Republican superdelegates can only vote for the candidate that prevailed in their home state primary or caucus. Neither party has government affiliation and both are free to determine the number of delegates and how votes are distributed.

Each state's number of Electors is determined by the most recent census. Electors, like delegates, are chosen based on service to the party. In most states Electoral College votes are winner-take-all but in a handful, votes are assigned proportionately. The Supreme Court decided that political parties can exact pledges from Electors and hold them to it. In some states, “faithless Electors”--those jumping ship-- are subject to disqualification or fines. As Electors are typically highly placed in their parties, this is a rare occurrence. Also infrequent is a candidate losing the popular vote but prevailing due to the Electoral College. This happened three times in the 19th century and once, very memorably, in the beginning of the 21sst. Although in the more recent contest, if the Supreme Court hadn't halted the Florida recount, Gore might have realized a majority in the Electoral College votes as well.

Scalia was among the justices who handed Bush the presidency. There are numerous other blemishes to his legacy like Citizen's United and Hobby Lobby. His death however does not necessarily make for a leftier leaning court. Until the vacancy is filled, the result of a 4/4 split on a decision is tantamount to the case had never having been heard at all. However, these split decisions only applly to the region of the circuit court where the case is initiated. For example, if the Supreme Court is split on upholding Texas's extremely restrictive abortion laws, the law will only be upheld in the region of the 5th Circuit Court-Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This decision however would be perceived as a green light for other states to enact legislation to restrict abortion.

Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia is so cunning it almost feels evil. Garland presided over the Oklahoma City Bombing case and tends to lean on the side of law and order. He has been lauded as an outstanding justice by highly placed Republicans. As the party continues to crack apart, the likelihood of a liberal in the White House increases, Obama is taunting the GOP with this middle of the road candidate. A white man, no less. And it 63, Garland is the oldest nominee in over forty years, so there's the added bonus that even if he is too liberal, at least he has an earlier expiration date. Yet, the proclamation has been made that no nominee of Obama's will be considered. I suspect that by the second Wednesday in November, if not sooner, there will be some reconsidering with regard to Garland's consideration, After the way he's been treated by the legislature, I think too that Obama deserves a good laugh.

The machinations of the American political behemoth often make no sense to me. I have to boil it down to the rudimentary basics for my students. I've managed to convey that there are two parties and that now we're trying to choose one candidate from each for the election in November. They hear however on Spanish language radio, a barrage reports of American candidates spewing contempt for immigrants. I hope that November proves that the majority of voters are too smart to foist the blame for an economy, ravaged by corporate greed and malfeasance, onto the backs of those who simply seek a better life. But, if Trump or Cruz is actually elected, perhaps deportation won't seem like such a bad option. 

1 comment:

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

This shows the difficulty the Dems place for independent primary voters: a single thin card, and we have to pay the postage!