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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke with the media following a visit to Detroit One Coney Island Restaurant on August 01 in Detroit.

What 1860 and 1968 can teach America about the 2020 presidential election

The ConversationSarat is a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College.

Fresh evidence of the nastiness and divisiveness of the 2020 presidential election emerges every day.

President Trump has let loose a storm of invective over Twitter about various African American public figures and about the conditions of life in America's inner cities. The president seems bent on exploiting a rural/urban divide and creating racial cleavage as a way to get re-elected.

In addition, he has questioned the patriotism of Democrats and alleged that they are trying to "destroy our country."

Democrats have responded by denouncing the president's racially tinged language and accusing the president and his supporters of being the ones destroying the country.

"Four years of Donald Trump," former Vice President Joe Biden claims, "would be an aberration in American history. Eight years will fundamentally change who we are as a nation." Biden, of course, is running for president.

Nasty, divisive elections are nothing new in the United States. As someone who teaches and writes about the importance of historical memory in American law and politics, I believe the 2020 election will rival the ugliest America has ever witnessed.

There are lessons that can be learned from examining this election's parallels with two previous presidential elections – 1860 and 1968 – both of which left America deeply divided.

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Putnam County Supervisor of Elections

Sample ballot from the 2018 general election.

Florida's latest fair elections imbroglio concerns party names on the ballot

Does the order in which the names of the two major political parties appear on the ballot effectively discount the votes of half of Florida's electorate? That's the question at the heart of the latest in the long list of legal fights over election fairness in the nation's most populous purple state.

The dispute is being heard in a trial this week before Judge Mark Walker, the chief jurist at the federal district courthouse in Tallahassee. Walker has become the pivotal figure in several voting rights lawsuits that could tip the state off its partisan razor's edge.

Florida last fall reaffirmed its status as the biggest electoral prize in the country that both Republicans and Democrats can realistically hope to win, when the GOP held on to the governor's mansion by four tenths of 1 percent of the vote and claimed a Senate seat by an even closer margin.

The Democratic Party and progressive groups are working on several fronts to tilt things their way in time for 2020, when winning the state's 29 electoral votes will be central to the strategies of both President Trump and his challenger.

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Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at a town hall meeting in North Las Vegas in March. Nevada is one of two states that will allow participation by phone in the 2020 caucuses.

Pivotal caucuses will allow Democrats to phone it in

If you use the telephone to declare your presidential preference, have you really participated in your party's caucuses?

Yes, say the Democrats of Iowa and Nevada, where next winter's caucuses will be crucial to winnowing the sprawling field of candidates into a handful with a genuine shot at getting nominated to take on President Trump.

In both bellwether contests, where human contact has been a central part of the process for years, it will no longer be necessary to join an evening of last-minute jawboning and deal-cutting before casting a ballot in an overheated church basement or high school cafeteria. A Democratic loyalist will be able to, quite literally, phone it in.

The tele-caucusing innovations were announced by party officials in Nevada on Monday, when the Democratic National Committee signaled its endorsement of the plan unveiled a few months ago in Iowa, home of the first contest. The states are also part of the first experiments with ranked-choice voting at the presidential level.

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N.H. college kids decry new rules restricting their voting

The potentially pivotal New Hampshire primary is still 10 months away, but there's already anxiety about Democratic disenfranchisement.

Why? "Because the Republicans passed legislation to make it so that college students couldn't vote without paying a poll tax," Garrett Muscatel, a 20-year old Dartmouth student who's also a Democratic state representative, explained to the Daily Beast.

In the past, prospective voters needed only to prove they were living in New Hampshire to be eligible, one of the loosest residency requirements in the country. But last year GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, saying his aim was to tamp down on potential voter fraud, signed a bill requiring voters to have a state driver's license (which costs $50) and to register their vehicles in New Hampshire (another $300) or else face a misdemeanor charge.

At least eight Democratic candidates for president, all of whom are hoping to win the nomination with the help of an energized youth turnout, have condemned the statute. "Students are the ones who will have to deal with the decisions lawmakers make for decades to come," Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey tweeted. "Protecting their right to vote is paramount."

College students, who are mostly from out of state, account for roughly 90,000 of the state's 1.2 million residents. (Even at the University of New Hampshire only half the students come from the state.)

Bills to repeal the new residency rules, or carve out an exception for college students, are moving in the Democratic controlled legislature, but not with enough support to withstand a potential veto. The state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law last year, but some Dartmouth students are now suing in federal court.

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