Election Manipulation Is Happening Right Here At Home

Shuttertsock/ By Steve Heap

John Opdycke President, Open Primaries
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After months of review, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee concurred that Russia attempted to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.

Would it be that Russia was the only actor working to skew our elections? As Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter document in their recent Harvard Business School report, the modus operandi of both political parties is to restrict competition, manipulate voters and depress participation: “The politics industry is different from virtually all other industries in the economy because the participants, themselves, control the rules of competition.”

Americans are waking up to this fact and are driving a multitude of efforts to “unrig the system.”  This is how it should be, how our country was envisioned. Our government is based on “the consent of the governed,” after all,  and voters are bristling against politicos who assert that the “consent of those governing” is what really counts.

There’s a growing tug-of-war going on between the people and party insiders. Here’s an incomplete look at some of the behind-the-scenes gambits, ploys and fixes that Democratic and Republican insiders — not Russian intelligence officers — are pushing in 2018, and how voters are pushing back:

The South Carolina GOP is placing a question on their June 12 ballot asking voters if they “believe they should have the option to choose to affiliate with a political party when they register to vote.” They’re hoping that Republican primary voters will respond positively to this innocent question so they can claim public support for their plans to pass legislation to limit participation in the primaries to those who join a party.

South Carolina’s primaries were opened when Jim Crow was dismantled in the 1960s. Closing the primaries would limit participation, increase racial polarization and empower highly partisan interest groups at the expense of the general public. But partisan insiders prefer low turnout closed primaries, regardless of the social cost.

Maine voters passed a referendum last fall to enact ranked choice voting. The legislature, however, refused to implement the change, going so far as to engineer a nonbinding legal ruling to justify their obstinacy. Activists fought back and put a “people’s veto” on the ballot, and on June 12, the voters will have the opportunity to stand up to their own elected representatives.

Maine is not the only state where the legislature insists they know better than the voters.  In South Dakota — the birthplace of initiative and referendum — the legislature overturned an anti-corruption measure passed by the voters in 2016 and this year voted through several bills designed to make it more difficult for citizens to petition to place a referendum on the ballot.

Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1997 to allow independent voters to participate in primaries when the primary was the only election because only one party was fielding candidates in a particular district. Incumbents of both parties immediately found a way around this voter empowerment measure.

They began filing phantom write-in candidacies in races in order to trigger a closed primary. Despite evidence that fraudulent use of this “write-in loophole” was rampant, earlier this year, Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission refused to close it, leaving the state’s three million independent voters shut out of meaningful participation. Primary reform activists are now exploring options to bypass the Commission and the legislature and place a full open primaries measure directly on the ballot.

Michiganders, led by the local group Voters Not Politicians, gathered 425,000 signatures to place a citizen’s redistricting commission measure on the 2018 ballot. The Board of State Canvassers is refusing to say when they will review and certify the petitions, dragging their feet for no given reason. And GOP insiders have banded together to fund a lawsuit to invalidate the proposal, taking their cues from the Democratic Party of Illinois, which succeeded in throwing a similar measure off the ballot in 2014.

This escalating tug-of-war is not red vs. blue; it’s insider vs. outsider. Conventional wisdom has it that the American people don’t care that much about the process. The facts on the ground say otherwise.

John Opdycke is president of Open Primaries, a national election-reform group.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.