Tom West MT

Tom West

The polarization of U.S. politics is far beyond what you may believe. It’s not just Uncle Harry or Aunt Sue who have gone off the deep end, making it impossible to discuss politics over dinner. The rift is much deeper than that.

A study released by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has found that 41% of Biden voters and 52% of Trump voters agree at least somewhat that it is time to split into two countries based on red and blue states. The survey also found that 80% of us still believe that democracy is a preferable system of government, but 75% of Biden voters and 78% of Trump voters think the opposite party represents a “clear and present danger” to the American way of life.

The question that no one in Washington or St. Paul is asking, however, is how do we pull back from the abyss? Call me delusional, if you will, but I think the first step has to be bipartisan election reform. Or more properly, election reform by either party alone will be the last step into chaos.

In the last election, two things impacting election integrity happened. First, many state Democratic election officials, including Minnesota’s Steve Simon, acted without legislative consent (which is required under the U.S. Constitution’s Article I, Section 4) to change some state election laws. Second, after the election, President Trump repeatedly claimed that the election had been “stolen.”

With regard to the first, the most egregious effort by Simon was when he got a judge with ties to Sen. Amy Klobuchar and other DFLers to agree to waive the witness requirement for absentee ballot signatures. He also tried to get late-arriving ballots counted in the vote totals, but a federal appeals court segregated those ballots, and eventually decided not to count them.

Also, in Minnesota, the 1.9 million absentee ballots cast were supposed to be processed by bipartisan absentee ballot election boards, but only a handful of counties used such boards.

As to the second issue, count me as an agnostic. I don’t know if the election was stolen nor do I believe that anyone else knows either. I do think it wrong for the mainstream media to, without fail, always preface Trump’s claims of election fraud with the words “false” or “misleading.” “Unproven” would be the more accurate term.

Republicans repeatedly called for recounts afterward, and the courts stifled almost every request. In Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa, Republicans did conduct a “forensic” audit, and the result slightly increased Biden’s victory margin. Georgia recounted its ballots three times resulting in no change in the result. Maybe the count was accurate as to the outcome, but the unconstitutional changes to state election laws continue to cast a shadow over who actually voted.

In the aftermath, it has become clear we are in the midst of a movement by both parties to “game” our elections. A dozen or so Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted reforms designed to increase election security. Democrats have termed all of those efforts “voter suppression.” Only in Utah has there been bipartisan support for the enacted reforms.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are attempting to federalize election rules. Klobuchar has been leading the Senate effort, which has stalled because of zero Republican support. The bill is hundreds of pages, even after downsizing. It originally included a move to eliminate gerrymandering. Some Democrats objected because, as it turns out, the Democrats control many state governments and want to reshape districts for partisan advantage just as much as Republicans do. Thus, it was toned down in a way that will make subject to a court challenge any vote outcome perceived to be unfavorable.

A provision still in the bill would make Election Day a national holiday. That’s about the last thing the nation needs right now. Except for Christmas and New Year’s Day, every holiday the nation takes these days is used for other purposes. For many, taking Election Day off will mean creating a long weekend for hunting, getting an early start or holiday shopping or taking a mini-family vacation. There’s no indication it will increase turnout.

The few times I’ve met Klobuchar, I have always found her to be disarmingly nice. As a journalist, I have to remind myself (as her father, the late great journalist Jim Klobuchar, may have told her) my job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. No Minnesota politician has been more comfortable over the past 15 years than Amy.

It’s one thing to disagree on run-of-the-mill policy issues, but it is just flat-out wrong for one party or the other to try to change election laws to their own benefit. Nothing matters more than keeping the voters’ faith that the election is run fairly and securely, that only eligible U.S. citizens cast a ballot, and that the custody of ballots is as secure as that for criminal evidence.

We can see the depth of the division revealed in the University of Virginia survey mentioned above. Klobuchar, Simon and those Republican-controlled state legislatures need to go back to the drawing board and find those things on which they can compromise or agree with the other party. As with Minnesota’s own split-party legislature this year, such changes may only be modest at first. However, continuing to push for partisan advantage in election rules risks the very legitimacy of our experiment in self-government.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at westwords.mcr@gmail.com.

Load comments