Tag Archives: Presidential

#371: The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #371, on the subject of The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty.

I believe the correct greeting is Happy New Year, as we enter 2021.  That means it is time for us to look back at everything that we published in 2020.

The big deal is the book, in paperback and Kindle format, Why I Believe, a compilation of evidence on the basis of which intelligent people believe in God and in Jesus Christ.  I’m told the hardcover version is out, joining the paperback and Kindle versions, but haven’t seen it yet.

The year began, appropriately, on January 1st with a look back at the previous year, web log post #325:  The 2019 Recap, doing then what we are doing now, providing a quick look at everything from the previous dozen months.

On the first of the year I also published a song, the first of a dozen continuing from the seven of the previous year:

  1. web log post #326:  The Song “Mountain Mountain”;
  2. web log post #328:  The Song “Still Small Voice”;
  3. web log post #334:  The Song “Convinced”;
  4. web log post #337:  The Song “Selfish Love”;
  5. web log post #340:  The Song “A Man Like Paul”;
  6. web log post #341:  The Song “Joined Together”;
  7. web log post #346:  The Song “If We Don’t Tell Them”;
  8. web log post #349:  The Song “I Can’t Resist Your Love”;
  9. web log post #353:  The Song “I Use to Think”;
  10. web log post #356:  The Song “God Said It Is Good”;
  11. web log post #362:  The Song “My Life to You”; and
  12. web log post #366:  The Song “Sometimes”.

That series continues with another song later today.

On the subject of series, there are several others, including both the Faith in Play and RPG-ology monthly series at the Christian Gamers Guild.  These are both indexed, along with other excellent material from other contributing authors, at 2020 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, posted yesterday.  Thanks to the editorial staff of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, a large collection of the original Game Ideas Unlimited articles, thought to be lost when Gaming Outpost closed, have been recovered and are now appearing slightly repolished in these series.  (Quite a few of them plus other articles have been translated into French for their site.) We also finished posting the rest of the novel Versers Versus Versers, along with updated character sheets in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages, and started on the seventh, Re Verse All, which will continue well into the new year.  There were quite a few behind-the-writings web log posts connected to those, but they are indexed in the novel table of contents pages so we won’t burden this entry with them.

There was also the continuation of another series, reminiscences on the history of Christian contemporary and rock music from the early 1980s, which picked up with:

  1. web log post #329:  CCM Guys at the Beginning, a conglomerate of artists from Randy Matthews and Randy Stonehill through Michael W. Smith;
  2. web log post #332:  The Wish of Scott Wesley Brown;
  3. web log post #335:  Bob Bennett’s First Matters;
  4. web log post #342:  Fireworks Times Five, one of the best rock bands of the era;
  5. web log post #345:  Be Ye Glad, one of the best vocal bands of the era;
  6. web log post #358:  DeGarmo and Key, Not a Country Band, another excellent early rock ensemble.

I should mention for the time travel fans that there is indeed a book in the works, possibly with a sequel, but it’s still in the early stages so that’s on the list for the coming year.  Meanwhile, temporal anomalies were not ignored, as we had several posts and pages.

Among the miscellaneous posts this year is one about the fact that my work appears under several slightly different names–Mark, Mark J., M. Joseph, M. J., and Mark Joseph–and the story behind that is explained in web log post #331:  What’s With the Names?  A musician asked a question on a Facebook group, which I answered in web log post #352:  Why No One Cares About Your Songs.

Giving extra confusion to the year, in February my second grandchild, my first grandson, was born, roughly a decade or so after his half-sister.  That was the beginning of a saga that still is not completely resolved, but it was several months before he came home, in time for Halloween.

My book reading slowed drastically, due largely to the fact that my Kindle was smashed and I’ve been trying to get it repaired, but there are a few book reviews (one of a book on writing) at Goodreads.  Also appearing are two republished book reviews, as web log posts #351:  In re:  Evil Star and #368:  In re:  Cry of the Icemark, recovered from the lost Gaming Outpost archives.

We were quiet on the political front until June, when events related to Black Lives Matter prompted the writing of web log post #344:  Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?  Some argued that it was not.  We later explained the mail-in ballot system adopted by our home state in web log post #360:  Voting in 2020 in New Jersey, with a follow-up a couple weeks later in web log post #363:  The 2020 Election in New Jersey.

The year ahead looks promising.  There should be another song posted today, with Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles already queued for publication later this month and well into the year ahead, chapters of the novel Re Verse All with their accompanying behind-the-writings peeks standing by, more CCM history, some time travel movies awaiting my attention, and–well, we’ll have to see what appears.  Meanwhile, this is your opportunity to catch anything you missed or re-read anything you forgot.

I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have supported me through Patreon and PayPal.me, and to invite and encourage others to do so.  The Patreon web log is the first place where all new pages are announced, and the place to go for glimpses of what is to come, and even as little as a dollar a month helps me immensely and gets you that information delivered several times a week.  Thank you.

#363: The 2020 Election in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #363, on the subject of The 2020 Election in New Jersey.

I was waiting for the vote count to be complete so I could pass the information to you, and it seems that there were a couple of congressional seats that were close enough that the counting continued into sometime Saturday.  The last to be resolved happened to be my own district, District 2, which was also perhaps the most interesting district election in the state, but we’ll get to that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all three ballot questions passed.  I say not surprisingly because in as long as I’ve been covering New Jersey political news (which is not really so long as all that, but it’s been a few years now) I have never seen a ballot question fail.  I am reliably informed that sometimes they do, but not this time.

So what do they mean?  We discussed them last week in web log post #360:  Voting in 2020 in New Jersey, but here’s a quick review and summary.

Question #1, on the Legalization of Marijuana, has been widely misunderstood by people eager to get their hands on the stuff.  It does not mean that you can now legally grow your own marijuana.  It means that you can legally buy it from state-sponsored distribution outlets, of which I understand there are eight set up to provide cannabis for medicinal use which will now also handle recreational supplies.  The legislature is expected to create some laws next year that will regulate other aspects of its legal use, but don’t rush out and set up your own business just yet.  Expect to pay the state price plus the state sales tax, plus potentially up to a 2% local municipal sales tax which the municipalities are authorized to add.

Question #2 provides Tax Relief for Veterans, extending a property tax break previously given to veterans who served in time of war to all veterans.

Question #3 updates Redistricting Rules in anticipation of the possibility that the census data might be delayed, to give the state sufficient time to create new districts in that case.

All incumbents up for re-election, which means all federal offices on which we voted, kept their seats.  That means Senator Cory Booker plus twelve members of the House of Representatives, by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross;
  2. Republican Jeff Van Drew;
  3. Democrat Andrew Kim;
  4. Republican Chris Smith;
  5. Democrat Jeff Gottheimer;
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone;
  7. Democrat Tom Malinowski;
  8. Democrat Albio Sires;
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell;
  10. Democrat Donald Payne, Jr.;
  11. Democrat Mikie Sherrill;
  12. Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman.

As mentioned, the interesting race–and the one that was decided last–was district 2.  In New Jersey, some say that what gets you elected is name recognition, others say it is party affiliation.  Van Drew has held the District 2 Congressional seat since 2012.  He might not be a household name, but his name is not unfamiliar.  On the other hand, when he was elected he was a Democrat, and during this most recent term, influenced by President Trump, he became a Republican.  So the question was, would name recognition return him to his seat, or would party affiliation get him bumped?  It was apparently close, but he remains the Congressman from District 2, giving the state two Republicans in the House against its ten Democrats.

Again not surprisingly Democrat Joe Biden carried the Presidential race in the state, and as of this writing most media outlets have declared him the winner nationally.  There are a number of legal actions nationwide, but none of them look promising enough to overturn that.  The Senate is currently 48 Democrats to 47 Republicans with five races still undetermined.  The House still has forty-two undecided races, with Democrats ahead 201 to 192; thus far Republicans have gained six seats (winning eight previously held by Democrats but losing two to the Democrats).  There is a good chance Democrats will hold majorities in both houses, but it is not certain.  Since Georgia is going to have at least one and possibly two run-off elections, it might be months before the dust settles completely.

#360: Voting in 2020 in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #360, on the subject of Voting in 2020 in New Jersey.

I was watching for my annual sample ballot, and realized that what I received instead was a mail-in ballot, and that due to its not entirely unjustified COVID paranoia the state wants all of us to mail in our votes.  They are not opening as many polling places this year, and would rather no one come to them.  (Given the public fights that have occurred over the current Presidental race, one might think that the disease issue is an excuse, but we’ll take their word for it that that’s the reason.)  In the past such mass mail-in voting systems have been fraught with fraud, and already there are reports of fraud in the present election, but the penalties are fairly severe including loss of the right to vote, so the best advice is don’t tamper with any ballot that is not your own.

My initial reaction was to write this article on how to vote.  Then I saw that both Google and Facebook were promoting pages on how to vote, and thought I would be redundant.  Then I rummaged through the pack of papers which came in the envelope and decided that it was a bit confusing, and perhaps I should tackle it.

It is important to understand that your packet contains two envelopes, and you might need them both.  Mine also contained two ballots, one for the general election and a second for the school election, so be aware of that as well.

You will need a pen with black or blue ink.  Ballot readers cannot process red ink or most other colors, and pencil is considered subject to tampering.

The school ballot, assuming you receive one, is specific to your district, and probably is just candidates for the local school board.  It should be marked and placed with the other ballot in the envelopes, as discussed below.

The general election ballot is two sided, at least in my district, with candidates for office and three somewhat extensive and controversial public questions on the other.  Avoid making any marks outside those indicating your selections.  The ballot this year includes:

  • President Trump and his Vice President Pence, with those running against them;
  • Senator Booker, with those running against him;
  • one seat in the United States House of Representatives, specific to your congressional district
  • Some number of county/local offices.

Each candidate name is in its own box, rows across identifying the office, columns down generally the political party.

In the upper right corner of each candidate’s box is a small hard-to-see red circle.  fill in the circle completely of each candidate for whom you are voting.  You are not obligated to vote for anyone simply to have voted for someone for that office, that is, you can decide to leave a row blank.  There is a write-in space to the far right end.

In most districts, you will have to flip the ballot over to get to the ballot questions, and these are somewhat important this year.  The questions are, of course, yes/no votes, with the little red circles at the bottom of the page below the Spanish text.

Question #1:  Legalization of Marijuana.

The state wants to amend the (state) constitution to allow regulated sales of something called cannabis to those at least 21 years old.  There is already a Cannabis Regulatory Commission in the state to control our medical marijuana supply, and they would oversee this.  The bill includes a clause permitting local governments to tax retail sales.

It should be observed that the restriction to those at least 21 years old is likely to be about as effective as the similar restriction on alcohol use.  On the other hand, a lot of our court and jail system is clogged with marijuana user cases.  Yet again, whatever the state decides, marijuana use will still be a federal crime, and it will still be legal for employers to terminate an employee who fails a reasonably required drug test.

This would be a constitutional amendment, so if the change is made, it is permanent.

I have previously suggested issuing drinking licenses which I indicated could be used if the state decided to legalize other drugs.

Question #2:  Tax Relief for Veterans

When you enlist in the military, it’s something of a crap shoot:  even if you know we are at war when you enlist, you don’t know whether you will wind up fighting.  Still, there is a benefits distinction between those who served during times of war and those who served, ready to fight if necessary, during times of peace.  One of those distinctions is that those who were enlisted during times of war get property tax deductions, and those who are disabled get better ones.  Question #2 would extend those benefits to veterans who served in peacetime, including those who are disabled.

Veterans get a lot of benefits; on the other hand, we should not begrudge them these.  There might be a difference between those who fought and those who didn’t, but that’s not the distinction the law makes–it rather distinguishes those who served during a war even if they were behind a desk in Washington from those who served during peacetime even if they were part of military aid to other war-torn countries.  There are good reasons to remove the distinction, and I’m not persuaded that the reduction in property tax income is a sufficient counter argument.

Question #3:  Redistricting Rules

The United States Constitution requires a census every decade.  The states are then required by their own constitutions to use that information to create new voting districts that more fairly represent their populations.  This year the fear is that due to COVID-19 the census data is going to be delayed and will not be delivered to the state in time to create the new districts for the fall 2021 election cycle.

To address this, the legislature has proposed an amendment that states that if census data is not delivered to the governor by a specific date in the year ending 01, previous districts will be used for those elections and the redistricting commission will have an extra year to get the issue addressed.

It sounds simple and logical, but there are those opposing it as potentially racist and benefiting politicians, not people.  On the other hand, it solves a potential problem before it becomes serious.  It would apply to any future situations in which a similar information problem occurred, and while this has never happened before and might not happen even now, contingencies are worth having.

Submitting the Ballot

One of the two envelopes has some bright red and yellow coloring on it plus your name and registered address and a bar code.  Once the ballots are completed, they go into this envelope.  I will call this the ballot envelope.

It is necessary that the information on the flap of the ballot envelope be completed.  This includes your printed name and address at the top and your signature, the same signature that is on the voter registration rolls.

Once you have completed this, you have three options, one of which creates more complications in filling out the envelopes.

One is to use the other envelope to deliver the ballot by United States Mail.  This envelope has the postage pre-paid business reply certification, addressed to your County Board of Elections.  I will call this the mailing envelope.  If you do this, it must be postmarked not later than 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day (November 3 this year) and must be received within a period of days specified by law.  After having sealed the ballot envelope, place it in the mailing envelope such that your name and address on the ballot envelope appears in the clear window on the back of the mailing envelope, and seal that as well.  Your name and address should be written to the top left on the front.  It can then be mailed by any normal means.

The second is that there are reportedly ballot drop boxes, generally at polling locations, and you can insert the ballot envelope in the ballot box (without the outer mailing envelope) to deliver it directly to the board of elections.  This too must be done by or before 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day.

The third is that you can use either of these methods but have someone else deliver your ballot either to the ballot box or the mailbox on your behalf.  No one is permitted to deliver more than three ballots, including his own, in an election, and no one who is a candidate can deliver a ballot that is not his own.  A person who handles your ballot must put his name, address, and signature on the ballot envelope and, if mailed, on the mailing envelope.

So that’s the whole ball of wax, as they say.  Remember, you should vote if you have reason to do so, but you should not feel obligated to vote for any office or any issue about which you are uninformed.

#325: The 2019 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.

Happy New Year to you.  A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278:  The 2018 Recap.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday.  There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series.  Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.

At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process.  In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year.  There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories.  Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318:  Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I wrote a few book reviews at Goodreads, which you can find there if you’re interested.  More of my earlier articles were translated for publication at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition.

So let’s turn to the web log posts.

The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum:  how did I know I was called to writing and composing?  The answer is found in web log post #279:  My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that.  That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year.  In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly.  I wrote about that in web log post #297:  An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.  While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs.  After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:

  1. #301:  The Song “Holocaust”
  2. #307:  The Song “Time Bomb”
  3. #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal”
  4. #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods”
  5. #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe”
  6. #320:  The Song “Free”
  7. #322:  The Song “Voices”

I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics.  Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides.  However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:

I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack.  Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285:  An Expression of Gratitude.

Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those.  I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303:  A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.

Finally, I did eventually post some time travel analyses, two movies available on Netflix.  The first was a kind of offbeat not quite a love story, Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies unravels When We First Met; the second a Spike Lee film focused on trying to fix the past, Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies unravels See You Yesterday.  For those wondering, I have not yet figured out how I can get access to the new Marvel movie Endgame, as it appears it will not be airing on Netflix and I do not expect to spring for a Disney subscription despite its appeal, at least, not unless the Patreon account grows significantly.

So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year.  We’ll do this again in a dozen months.

#295: Does China Pay Tariffs?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #295, on the subject of Does China Pay Tariffs?

In trade disputes with China, President Trump has been raising tariffs.  Critics claim that such tariffs are not paid by China, but by the American Consumer, and they are right–sort of.

A tariff, of course, is a tax on imported goods.  According to sources, Trump has recently raised them from 10% to 25%.  A ten percent tariff means that if a computer comes into San Francisco harbor from China with a factory price of one thousand dollars, the shipper has to pay one hundred dollars to offload it onto the dock.  When the wholesaler comes to pick up the computer, the shipper will charge him the one thousand dollars for the computer, plus the one hundred dollars for the tax, plus whatever the price of shipping is said to be.  That means the wholesaler paid one thousand one hundred dollars plus shipping, and the retailer will have to pay that much plus the wholesaler markup, and the customer has to pay all of that plus the retailer’s markup.  So a computer that might cost a thousand dollars in China costs considerably more in the United States.

When we increase that tariff to twenty-five percent, the tax to offload the computer goes from one hundred dollars to two hundred fifty dollars.  This then gets passed through the same hands so that the retail shelf price of that same computer is now one hundred fifty dollars more than it was–and the person who wants to buy the computer pays that money.

So in that sense the critics are correct:  China does not pay the tariffs, Americans who buy Chinese-made computers pay the price.

That’s not how tariffs punish foreign nations.

Because American workers demand and receive (and in fairness need) higher wages than Chinese workers, and American businesses have to pay higher costs for environmental concerns and raw materials and even real estate, American products cost more to produce than Chinese products–and generally by enough that it is cheaper to buy products in China and ship them here than to make them here.  What tariffs do is raise the end user cost of foreign-made products so that they are more expensive to buy.  Yes, that means that a consumer can’t buy a computer as cheaply as before, because to get the same cheap Chinese-made computer he has to pay an extra one hundred fifty dollars–but that increase does not apply to computers made in America.  Therefore as the price of Chinese computers rises, American computer prices become more competitive, and more people decide that the American computer is a good choice, putting money in the pockets of American computer manufacturers and American workers.  The number of computers delivered from China declines, and China suffers from reduced sales of its manufactured goods.  This impacts the Chinese economy reducing manufacturing output, employment, and tax revenue.

Additionally, the tax money that is still collected on imported Chinese goods helps reduce the national debt at least a bit, which is good for our economy.  Further, a tariff against Chinese goods does not have any effect on computers made in Taiwan or Japan or Singapore or elsewhere in the world, so cheaper computers are still available–only the Chinese computer market is affected directly.  Demand on these other computers might increase retail prices some, but not nearly as much as the increased price from the tariff.

So it is true that tariffs increase consumer costs in America, but that doesn’t mean that China doesn’t pay.  They pay in their lost retail market, the fact that it now costs more for consumers to obtain their goods and so demand for them decreases.  And the benefits to America are found in increased sales of American-made goods (labor likes tariffs, in the main) and more tax money in the government coffers.

Does that mean that all tariffs are good?  Certainly not.  Import tariffs ultimately do increase consumer prices (just as export tariffs depress overseas sales).  Foreign countries usually retaliate with their own tariffs against American goods, which makes it harder to sell our products overseas.  There is a valid argument against tariffs.  But simply saying that China doesn’t pay them misunderstands exactly how they penalize China.

#251: Voter Unregistration Law

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #251, on the subject of Voter Unregistration Law.

As I was reading the majority opinion of Husted, Ohio Secretary of State v. A. Philip Randolph Institute et al., 584 U. S. ____ (2018), I wondered how anything so obvious could possibly have been a controversial five-to-four decision along ideological lines.

Then I read the dissent, and realized that this was not a simple case, and it is not a mystery why it kept flip-flopping its way up the ladder to the Supreme Court.  Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether when we read the statute we read it as and or or.

Here’s the background.  Prior to 1993–which for some of you seems like ancient history, but is really not that long ago–state governments had a lot of ways of removing voters from the registration lists so that they couldn’t vote.  One of the most egregious was that if you missed an election one year the system concluded that you had either moved or died, and removed your name from the lists with the result that if you arrived the next year you would discover that you weren’t registered and couldn’t vote.  To remedy this, the Clinton administration passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which both required states to maintain current voter registration lists (which included removing ineligible voters) and limited how they could remove persons from the list.  It was tweaked a bit in 2002 when Bush (the second Bush) signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which attempted to clarify some of the statements in the previous law.  Ohio has a system which it maintains is consistent with the requirements of those laws, by which it removes persons from the voter lists based on a multi-step process.  The majority agrees; the dissent disagrees.

It will help significantly to look at the statutes themselves, large portions of which Justice Breyer appends to his dissenting opinion.

The focus of discussion begins with §8(b) of the NVRA

Any State program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of an accurate and current voter registration roll for elections for Federal office—

(2)

shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

The HAVA modifies that to say solely by reason of the person’s failure to vote, probably because of confusion with §8(d).  That section lays out a somewhat complicated process for verifying that a voter has moved out of the voting district in which he is registered.  The simple way is for the registrant to confirm in writing that he has moved.  The law recognizes that a lot of people won’t do that, and so provides an alternate method involving sending (by forwardable mail) a postpaid return card which permits the recipient to respond confirming that he still lives at the stated address or that he does not.  If the card is returned, the registrar of voters accepts the statement as true and the matter is resolved.  If the card is not returned and the voter does not vote in the next two federal elections he may be removed from the list.  (Federal elections occur every other year because terms for The House of Representatives are two-year terms.)

At issue is under what circumstances such a card can be sent.  §8(c) specifies that if the state obtains change of address information from the Post Office, it must verify that information by following the procedure just outlined.  However, §6(d) specifies that the same confirmation process should be used if voter registration materials are sent to a registrant by non-forwardable mail and are returned as undeliverable.  It thus appears that there is more than one way by which the registrar of voters might have reason to believe that a voter has left the voting district, triggering the §8(d) process.

Here is where it gets tricky.

Ohio’s system works like this.  If a registered voter fails to vote for two consecutive years, or to engage in any other voter-related activity such as signing petitions, a forwardable post-paid return card is sent to that voter’s registered address.  If the card is returned, that’s the end of the matter.  If the the card is not returned, Ohio gives four additional years (covering at least two Federal elections at least one of which is a Senate race and one a Presidential race) to vote or engage in other voter activity, after which the non-voting voter is removed from the voter registration list.

The majority says that this is a reasonable method, perfectly in keeping with §8(d).  The failure to vote alerts the registrar of voters that this person might not live here anymore, and because the person fails to respond to the return card confirming their presence and at least two additional Federal elections pass in which they do not vote, they can be removed.  The majority takes the language in §8(b)(2) to put an end to the practice of removing voters solely for failure to vote by requiring the confirmation process of §8(d).  They note that some states send such cards regularly or randomly to confirm addresses, and Ohio’s system complies with their understanding of the §8(d) process.

The dissent says that such cards are for confirmation of information gained by some other means, such as from the Post Office (§8(c)) or through a different mailing verification process (§6(d)).  They assert that the point of §8(b)(2), that no one should be removed soley for failure to vote, means that failure to vote cannot be the trigger to send the returnable card.  They claim that the §8(d) confirmation process must be triggered by something other than failure to vote.

Perhaps the strongest point in favor of the dissent’s position is that one of the stated purposes of these two laws is to increase voter registration and prevent eligible voters from being removed from the list inappropriately.  The fact that someone doesn’t vote for a couple years does not mean they are no longer in residence in the district, and the fact that they fail to return a postpaid card confirming that they are present is not a particularly telling confirmation of anything.  As the dissent argues, the majority of people probably won’t bother returning such a card.

The majority points to the statute on that, noting that both the Federal legislature and the State of Ohio believed that the non-return of such a card would be an adequate indicator that the person has moved.  The argument is that a person who does not vote and does not return the card is not being removed “solely” for failing to vote, but for failing to vote over the course of six years and failing to return a confirmation card.  The question is whether the state can send the confirmation card based on two years of failure to vote, or whether that constitutes removing them “solely” for failing to vote.

In favor of the majority, though, if §8(b)(2) means what the dissent claims it means, it is poorly worded.  The majority reading is not at all awkward or implausible, and the Ohio system appears to fit the §8(d) requirements with room to spare.  Despite the ranting of the minority, the majority opinion does seem the more natural reading of the text.

The upshot is that the Ohio system stands, and many other states with similar systems will not be challenged.  Removal from the voter rolls solely for failure to vote is not permitted, but it can be the trigger that leads to an inquiry by mail as to whether the voter still lives in the district.

#229: A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #229, on the subject of A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College.

We have frequently discussed the Electoral College, the system by which States send Electors to select a President of the United States.  Much of that explanation appears in the page Coalition Government, compiled of several previous related articles.  That discussion included the suggestion that the “winner-take-all” system for choosing Electors, adopted by forty-eight States and the District of Columbia, should be replaced, on a State-by-State basis, with a proportional system–and why such a change was unlikely to be made by any of them.  (We more recently noted an opposite movement, an attempt to replace the State vote with a national vote that effectively eliminates the significance of any state, in web log post #203:  Electoral College End Run, an idea having a much better chance of passing but which is probably unconstitutional.)

Now an organization called Equal Citizens has decided that there might be another way to eliminate the winner-take-all system and replace it with proportional representation:  have the winner-take-all system declared unconstitutional.  To this end, they have filed lawsuits against the practice in California, Massachusetts, Texas, and South Carolina.

That might seem like overkill.  After all, wouldn’t one successful lawsuit fix the problem?  However, it probably wouldn’t.

Suppose they filed in Texas and won in Texas.  There are four Federal District Courts in Texas, any one of which would do, and victory would mean it was illegal to assign all thirty-eight of that State’s electors to the candidate winning the majority vote–in Texas.  At that point they have to hope that the State appeals the decision to the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, and that they win there.  If they do, it will be illegal not only in Texas but also in Louisiana and Mississippi.  However, it will still be legal in the rest of the country.

In order for it to become unconstitutional nationwide, the Supreme Court of the United States would have to decide the case.  That means getting the Court to hear the case, and as we know the Court is rarely forced to hear any case and might prefer to stay out of this one.  The best shot at getting Certiorari at the Supreme Court for a case like this is to get decisions in more than one Circuit which hold opposing positions.  That is, they need one court to say it is constitutional and another to say it’s unconstitutional, so that the Supreme Court will see that it is necessary for it to resolve the matter for everyone.  That means in filing four lawsuits they are hoping to win at least one and lose at least one, at the appellate level.

In theory, they could win an effective victory if they won all four suits, as States might see that as an indication that other circuits would agree and avoid a lawsuit by complying with the change.  However, compliance would only be mandated in those circuits where the decisions were made, and additional lawsuits might be needed to change some recalcitrant States.

So how can a practice that is so nearly universal (only Maine and Nebraska do not follow it, and they both use district voting, that is, the state is divided into sections each of which picks a representative elector) be unconstitutional?

The argument is based on the XIVth Amendment, and specifically the Equal Protection Clause, which states that every citizen of legal age is to be treated equally by the States in all matters of law and politics.  That means, according to the Amendment, one person, one vote.  The claim is made that in a winner-take-all system, if fifty thousand voters pick one candidate but fifty thousand one voters pick the other, fifty thousand voters are disenfranchised when the entire electoral vote goes to the other candidate.  In order for their votes to be protected, the electoral vote should be divided based on the proportion of voters supporting each candidate–in this case, equally, or slightly in favor of the majority candidate.

So is it a good argument?

Maybe.

The XIVth amendment is one of the Reconstruction amendments following the Civil War.  The “Original Intent” of its reference to one person, one vote was to prevent discrimination against black men specifically; it was amending the section of the Constitution that counted slaves as partial persons by giving the emancipated slaves voting power equal to their white counterparts.  In that sense, it has nothing to do with the method of selecting Electors for the College.  However, as often happens, what the Framers of the Amendment wrote has been applied beyond what they intended.  This clause is the basis for all those lawsuits over reapportionment:  the claim that one party has by drawing the district lines given itself an unfair advantage by disenfranchising voters in certain geographic areas.  The connection is obvious:  if white government officials can set up districts such that blacks are always in the minority in every district (that is, by identifying black neighborhoods and apportioning them into several predominantly white surrounding neighborhoods) they can smother the voice of black voters.  Thus “gerrymandering” to oppress racial voting blocks is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Yet the Equal Protection Clause would itself be inequitable if it only protected blacks or other racial minorities.  If it is a constitutional violation to stifle the representation of any one voter, it is equally a violation to stifle the representation of any other voter.  Arguably winner-take-all voting does exactly that, and on that basis could be ruled unconstitutional.

On the other hand, as we have noted in previous articles, the Framers of the Constitution did not intend for Presidents to be chosen by democratic process.  Quite the contrary, they expected that the Electoral College would always be hopelessly deadlocked and so serve effectively as a nominating committee offering a slate of candidates from which the legislature would select the one they believed would best serve them.  As we noted in #172:  Why Not Democracy?, that has happened exactly once.  However, the process was intended to empower the States as States, not so much the individual voters save as they are citizens of their respective States.  If we look at the Original Intent of the Constitution, it is evident that Electors are to be chosen by the States, by methods determined individually by each State.

Of course, the XIVth Amendment changed that at least in part.  The question is, in doing so did it mean that a State’s Electors had to be representative of all the voters proportionately, or is it sufficient for a State’s Electors to represent the majority of the State’s voters?  Are Presidents to be selected by the people, or by the States?

If winner-take-all Elector voting is deemed unconstitutional on that basis, it probably means that district apportionment is similarly unconstitutional, and electoral votes would have to be assigned based entirely on the proportion of the total vote in the state.  Israel uses such a system to elect its Parliament, and it is not an unworkable system.  If implemented, it would move us slightly closer to a President elected by the majority.

It is certainly worth considering.

As a footnote, in researching this article I stumbled upon this interesting toy which permits the user to experiment with various methods of choosing Electors and see their impact on the most recent two Presidential elections.  What intrigued me was that of eight possible methods (including the current one), Trump won the Electoral College in all but that one specifically rigged to give the Democrats the most electoral votes (that is, by using winner-take-all in states they nominally won and proportional in states they nominally lost).  That caused me to wonder how that could be if, as is often claimed, Clinton took the majority of the popular vote.  The answer seems to be in part that despite the fact that Trump took more votes in California than in any other state but two, Clinton took enough votes in that state to tip the balance of the popular vote, but not of the Electoral vote, because California is underrepresented in the Electoral College (because it is underrepresented in the House of Representatives).  That in turn reminded me that in the aforementioned web log post I commented that we did not want California to be the big bully that dictates the law to the rest of us.  The other part of the answer is simply that Trump took more states, and because of the “plus two” Electors each state gets, the geography worked for him:  the fact that Presidents are on some level chosen by the States, not the people, meant that having more states choose Trump gives him more Electors.

#213: Political Fragmentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #213, on the subject of Political Fragmentation.

I have long been writing about political division, fragmentation, and polarization.  Quite a few years back I explained how our United States of America coalition government is created by people coming together into coalition-based parties, groups who do not agree entirely with each other but who agree to support each others’ important policies, and why the Republican dilemma (or the Democratic dilemma) is not solved by focusing on a single issue.  I’ve also written about the polarization developing as both parties are being more and more dominated by their extremists, and moderates no longer have a home anywhere.

Now I find a survey from the Pew Research Center which shows just how fragmented we are.  Well, I think that might be an exaggeration; I think we are probably more fragmented than the survey shows, but I’ll get to that.

You might want to begin by taking the quiz, a set of A/B choices (if memory serves, seventeen) on everything from immigration to taxation to social services by which they will place you in one of nine groups they have identified.  It will also, separately, place you on a rough scale from liberal to conservative.  I took it, and not surprisingly landed right of center (that is, the conservative direction) in the middle third.  However, the results apparently do not give us a bell curve.  As the attached image shows, the extreme groups, both conservative and liberal, are not only the largest within the general public, they are even more so the most active in politics.

I admit to not yet having read the full fourteen-page Pew Research Center article on its survey; I got through the first page and left the remainder for a time when I had more time.  You might find it easier, although less informative, to read the briefer article in the Detroit Free Press, although that is less about the groups and more about the fragmentation, the fact that were we to have the much-suggested second civil war most of us would be very uncertain on which side we should be fighting.  We just don’t have enough agreement on any specific issues.

That is perhaps why I think we are more fragmented than the survey analysis really shows.  My quiz results placed me in the category denoted “Country First Conservatives”, the smallest group on the chart but one which includes people ranging from barely left of center to fairly far to the right who have agreement on some issues.  What strikes me about this is I disagreed with the majority of people in this group on all questions of foreign policy (there were three) and government performance (there were two), and I would think those would be the defining issues of the group.  That is, were we to create a conservative party called “Country First”, we would expect that foreign policy would be at the top of its platform–but I would not support that platform, because I disagree with that policy.  That doesn’t mean that the analysis placing me in the moderately conservative group is wrong; it means that even these groups are more fragmented than the simplified results the survey demonstrates.

What it clearly does demonstrate is that “liberal” and “conservative” is not a simple scale but a generalization of scales on multiple issues, that both sides of the divide are built of people who really don’t agree on any one issue but work together toward similar goals, and that the people who are most active in politics, the large minorities on the extremes, seem very much unaware of the majority of more moderate people in the middle.

It also suggests that a moderate candidate on either side could probably defeat an extremist candidate on the other, simply because the people in the middle from both parties are more likely to identify with someone near the middle.

On the other hand there’s something to what Doc Brown said (paraphrasing):  when you can hold an entire television studio in the palm of your hand, it’s no wonder your President has to be an actor.  At least sometimes, style beats substance.

#203: Electoral College End Run

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #203, on the subject of Electoral College End Run.

A bad idea which we mentioned in passing some years ago is apparently gaining ground, thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 Presidential bid.

The idea, which we mentioned in Why We Have an Electoral College (in the page Coalition Government), is to nullify the original Constitutional intent, that the President be selected by the States as States, by having states pass a law assigning their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the majority of the national popular vote.  Even some Democrats recognize that the current popularity of this idea is because the losing party are sore losers, and the fact that Hillary Clinton has added her voice to the chorus only underscores that sense–but as the map provided by the idea’s promoters shows, in green, eleven states have already passed the necessary legislation.

(In fairness to Hillary, sort of, she spoke out for the elimination of the Electoral College the last time the Democrats lost the Presidency in a close race.)

That legislation is designed to prevent states from being obligated until there is what they consider a consensus, that is, the legislation passed by each state specifically states that it becomes effective when, and only when, similar legislation is passed by states representing enough Electoral College votes to constitute a majority of the College, 270 votes, that is, one half of the 538 electors plus one.  At that point, whoever receives the majority of the national popular vote would, by dint of this legislation, receive at least two-hundred seventy votes and win the election.

There is a flaw in the reasoning.  Let us suppose that the total is not reached by 2020, and thus it does not impact the 2020 election; but it might be reached in 2021.  However, 2020 is a census year, and the primary reason the Constitution mandates that we have a census every ten years is to adjust the representation of each State in the House of Representatives.  Following the 2010 census New Jersey lost a seat, and there is every likelihood that some States will lose and others gain seats before 2024.  That matters because the number of electoral votes each state gets is determined by the sum of its Representatives plus its Senators, and it might well be that in 2021 the states having passed the law provide sufficient votes to cause it to be enacted, but by 2024 there would not be quite as many.  This might be unlikely, but it is not impossible–New Jersey, which has passed the law and has been shrinking proportionately, might lose another seat, and Texas and Florida, which have showed no interest in passing the law, have been growing and might gain another seat or two each.

However, that is not really the significant point here.

Some years ago a young liberal actress got in serious public relations trouble when she suggested carpet bombing all the conservative states in the central United States because they were impeding the progress that the liberals dominating the coastal states were pushing.  That is an extreme example, but the fact is that several of the big states are coastal states, and tend to be liberal–California, New York, Pennsylvania.  That means on some level we’re talking about the big states trying to take over.

California is an important example.  It tends to be liberal, but is short-changed in the Electoral College because it is short-changed in the House of Representatives:  there is a cap on the number of Representatives any state can have, and California’s population would give it quite a few more seats were it not for the cap.  Let’s face it, though:  California is a large piece of real estate with several very large population centers within it.  It could plausibly dictate law and policy for the entire country just by flexing its popular vote.

That, though, is exactly why the Constitution is designed the way it is.  When the big kids tell the little kids what to do, we call it bullying, and we look for ways to punish and control it.  The Electoral College is designed to try to keep the big states from bullying the little states.

The proposed law disenfranchises the little states.  In doing so it disenfranchises the voters in those states.  There is good reason for the states to vote for the President chosen by the majority of their own citizens, and not the majority of the citizens of every other State in the Union.

We would ask our New Jersey legislators, and those of the ten other states which have already passed such legislation, to repeal it.  It is bad law.  It is also, as one author already cited has observed, probably unconstitutional–it is an effort to end run the Constitutionally-mandated process.

If not, voters in New Jersey and elsewhere should prepare to file suit against the legislature.  The law disenfranchises the voters of this state, taking from us our constitutional right to choose the candidate of our own choice, not that of the rest of the country.

#172: Why Not Democracy?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #172, on the subject of Why Not Democracy?.

As I was writing the previous web log entry, #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), I was reminded that we, in the United States of America, do not live in a democracy.  We live in a representative republic.

That fact was brought home to a lot of people in the recent Presidential election, some of whom are still reeling from it.  I have heard many complaints, mostly from young people, that our elected President did not win the majority of the voters, and therefore does not represent the majority of the people.  (It is at least worth mentioning that the actual vote totals will never be certain:  the vote count was never completed in quite a few voting districts because the total would not have changed the Electoral College outcome in those states.)  We should, they insist, change to a more democratic system, in which every vote counts the same.

We could do that.  Things are a bit more like that in other countries, particularly Israel where everyone votes for whatever parliamentary representatives they want and the entire country is treated as a single district.  Even England’s system is more democratic than ours.  However, note that in these countries the voters do not vote for their chief executive–they vote for their legislative representatives, and these in turn choose the chief executive.  Sure, British Prime Minister Theresa May campaigns for the position, but she does so by touring the country telling voters to support their local Conservative Party candidates for Members of Parliament, who in turn vote her into the Downing Street office.  It is still not strictly democratic, although by taking the vote for head of government away from the people and giving it to their elected representatives it actually becomes a bit closer to it.  However, it still can produce the outcome that the party in power, and thus the chief executive, did not actually have the majority of the votes.  It is a flaw of representative government, but representative government is the only way to avoid having every citizen in the country vote on every law.

The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.
The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.

There are, of course, other ways to achieve a more democratic election of the President of the United States.  People have been complaining about it since at least the 1824 election, when the failure of Andrew Jackson to gain fifty percent in the Electoral College resulted in John Quincy Adams, with less than a third of the vote, being selected for the office by the House of Representatives (the only time in history where no candidate obtained fifty percent of the Electoral College vote).  Some years ago when we were examining the Electoral College in detail in connection with Coalition Government, we noted one suggestion, that each state allocate its electoral votes based on the percentage of voters supporting each candidate–and why that would never be enacted.  More recently, someone proposed that states begin changing their system for apportioning electoral votes such that the votes within the state were irrelevant, that each state would give all its electoral votes to whomever won the popular vote nationally.  That would achieve the desired “democratic” outcome.  It would prevent situations like that of the recent election.  The question is, do we want that?

The first point that should be recognized here is that the majority always wants the democratic system.  That’s because in a democratic system, the majority can always impose its will on the minority.

Of course, that often happens anyway–but many great strides forward in these United States have happened precisely because minorities were empowered.  Certainly it is sometimes the case that majorities become entrenched, resisting necessary change until overwhelmed as public opinion shifts, but it has also been the case that minorities have used the system to gain a voice within the process.  There is something called the tyranny of the majority, when minority voices and positions are overwhelmed and trampled by majority opinions.  Our system was designed in part to prevent that.  There is also a tyranny of the minority, when a small group prevents the majority from doing what it deems right through legal intervention, and our system is supposed to prevent that, as well.  Our system produces gradual change by trying to keep everyone somewhat satisfied.  Younger people are less patient, wanting rapid change.  Older people have usually learned that not all change is for the better, but all change has unintended consequences.  Our country advances a bit, then eases back, then advances again, feeling the path carefully.

Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.
Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.

Many other countries have suffered from what we might call “rapid cycling”.  Because they are so controlled by the majority, and because the majority is mostly in the middle shifting a bit to one side and then to the other but the politicians tend to be at the extremes, it is common for one party to be voted into office, make major changes to everything, upset the bulk of their constituents who only wanted things to change a little and don’t like the unanticipated parts, and so be voted out of office and replaced by an opposing party which proceeds to repeal everything the first party did and pass its own extremist programs, leading to its failure at the polls and the return of the original party, or often yet another party, whose agenda then dominates.  Remember, as we have often mentioned in connection with coalition government, we are not in our chosen parties because everyone in those parties agrees with us on every point; we are there because we have agreed to support each other on those points each of us think important.  That means some of the things you want your party to do other members of your party strongly oppose–the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants open borders, but the Labor wing definitely does not; the universal healthcare driven through by the Democratic Progressives has gone very badly for labor unions, whose members lost much of their superior healthcare benefits under the program.  Majority opinion is more fickle than a twelve-year-old girl’s crushes.  Democracy leads to such rapid changes.  People think they want one thing, but when they start to see where that leads, they change their minds and want something else.

Our system does not always give us stability.  In recent years the fracturing of political opinion has led to some very unstable situations.  However, rapid change is always unstable, and we have seen much rapid change over those years.  The system is working to slow the change, to keep things at a pace people can accept.

A more democratic system would not be a better one.

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