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AUDIO: What is in Store For the High Court’s Redistricting Case?

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:49

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The Supreme Court is set to hear what could be the most important redistricting case in decades. The following is a Bloomberg podcast.

Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California Irvine, and founder of the Election Law blog, and Josh Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky School of Law, discuss a Monday decision by the Supreme Court to take on a case deciding whether judges can throw out legislative maps for being so partisan they violate the Constitution. They speak with June Grasso and Greg Stohr on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law.”

https://democracychronicles.org/wp-content/uploads/BLM5254596448.mp3

Election Cybersecurity Experts to Testify on Russian Hacking

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 19:39

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How to prevent a repeat hack will be the focus of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday

Just how extensively Russia penetrated state election systems across America last year and how to prevent a repeat will be the focus of an extensive public hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. “We’re trying to focus on all aspects — the aggressive nature of Russia’s attempt to hack all the way down to the…

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What is the Election Administrator’s Prayer?

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 18:53

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When voting systems are known to have flaws, local officials might be caught saying a certain prayer for a favorable result, from their point of view at least. A special page has been marked on the internet’s Political Dictionary, managed by Taagen Goddard, for what is known as the Election Administrator’s Prayer. Take a look:

“Please, please, please let the winners win big.” or “Lord, let this election not be close.” Doug Lewis, Executive Director of the National Association of Election Officials, was quoted by USA Today using another variation in November 2000: “God, please let the winner win in a landslide.”

Election law professor Rick Hasen used the phrase in an op-ed for Australia’s Canberra Times in 2008 noting how the American electoral system “remains haunted by the ghost of the democratic meltdown of 2000, which culminated in a US Supreme Court decision that handed the presidency to George W. Bush…”

“The main bulwark against this kind of problem is not the American political establishment, which has proven itself incapable of enacting a fair and nonpartisan electoral system befitting a mature democracy. Instead, we put our faith in the law of numbers. We should all utter the US election administrator’s prayer: “Lord, let this election not be close.”

WATCH: Computer Graphics Show Best Voting Methods

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 18:36

Video Credit: Equal.Vote

Thanks to a new posting on Democracy Chronicles partner IVN’s website by writer Mark Frohnmayer for the scoop:

One oft-overlooked, yet critical point of discussion in the voting method debate is how actually accurate various methods are in terms of representing the will of the electorate. This video uses the magic of computer graphics to show visually how various systems perform in terms of representative accuracy.

In the end, the data point to one voting method that outshines the other three we looked at: Star Voting (Score then Automatic Runoff). Never heard of it? In this simulation, it significantly outperforms the current choose-one, plurality method, as well as ranked choice voting and score voting.

Check out the video above to see how.

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Paid Absentee Vote Accumulators Often Pivotal in Local Elections

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:30

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A system that pays facilitators to gather absentee votes may cross some ethical if not legal barriers. According to a new article in the Dispatch by managing editor Zack Plair:

In those days, the ninth-term supervisor said he and a notary public would personally visit homes of disabled voters to witness and notarize their ballots. After that, he’s at times had volunteers canvass for absentees — though he said he never paid them specifically for that purpose and he wouldn’t identify those volunteers on the record.

Now, he said, the “absentee game” has “gotten out of hand” and needs to be reined in. Sometimes, candidates hire the assistance of someone — like Deloach — to gather absentee votes. In other cases, an absentee worker may approach a candidate and offer those services.

If a candidate says no, Brooks said the absentee worker will move on to the next candidate, who may accept the help. He hinted that sometimes the absentee workers may even take money from multiple candidates in the same race.

Rules for absentee voting is no simple matter as the Federal Voting Assistance Program explains:

Elections are managed individually by 50 States, U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and the District of Columbia. This means there are 55 different sets of rules for absentee voting by Service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens, but the basic steps are simple:

  1. You register to vote and request an absentee ballot by filling out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), and sending it to your election office in your State of legal residence.
  2. The election office approves the FPCA, disapproves the FPCA or requests additional information.
  3. Once the FPCA is approved, the election office sends an absentee ballot to you.
  4. You then complete, and return your voted absentee ballot to your election office by your State’s deadline.

VIDEO: The Steep Price of a Vote in Georgia’s Special Election

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:06

A record amount of money poured into Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District special election. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday breaks down the money spent and the cost of a ballot.

Also, from a recent article in Newsweek:

Democrat Jon Ossoff is breaking records with his fundraising ahead of Tuesday’s special election for Georgia’s 6th district congressional seat, prompting Republican attacks that he’s trying to buy the race with help from liberal donors. But the Republican Party and conservative allies are also dumping huge sums into the contest—far more than the Democrats and progressive groups—in an effort to keep the district in their column.

That investment is just one of many reasons it will be difficult for the GOP to spin a loss Tuesday night as insignificant, which is bound to be their take if Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Karen Handel, loses to Ossoff in an upset. Yes, Ossoff’s $23 million-plus fundraising haul—almost entirely from out of state—is unprecedented for a special election. Yes, it’s just one congressional seat and special elections aren’t necessarily good bellwethers of election results more than a year down the road. But this right-of-center district was last represented by a Democrat in 1979, and Republicans clearly put a high value on extending that streak, to the tune of millions of dollars.

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Hasidic Vote Fraud Scandal Threatens to Split Community

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:00

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The highly unusual cash-for-votes scam has threatened the stability of the update New York Hasidic community. A recent article in the Forward, “the most widely read Jewish newspaper”, had the latest:

For nearly a decade, locals in Bloomingburg have fought efforts by developer Shalom Lamm to build dense housing for members of the Satmar Hasidic community in the rural village. Lamm pleaded guilty in early June to charges of voter fraud in connection with efforts to illegally register ineligible voters to vote in village elections in 2014.

In December, it seemed that the fight over Bloominburg had ended, and that Lamm had won. The village had received the blessing of the Brooklyn-based leader of the Satmar Hasidic group, Grand Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, and members of the Satmar community began moving in in droves.

From an earlier article on the controversy:

Shalom Lamm, the developer behind the controversial effort to build hundreds of homes for Hasidic families in the upstate New York village of Bloomingburg, pled guilty Tuesday to federal charges in a cash-for-votes scam. One of the attorneys representing Lamm, Gordon Mehler, confirmed the plea to the Forward.

Lamm faced a single count of conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process in connection with his efforts to fix village elections in Bloomingburg in 2014. According to prosecutors, Lamm and his co-defendants concocted their scheme after village officials blocked Lamm’s development efforts in 2013. In an effort to elect friendly officials to the village board, Lamm offered rent-free apartments in return for registering to vote, then created fake leases to make it appear that residents had lived in the village long enough to be eligible.

Here is some historical info on the town of Bloomingburg, also known as “Gateway to the Sullivan County Catskills” with a population according to the US census at 420 individuals:

Bloomingburg’s accepted incorporation date is 1833. It was the first county seat of Sullivan County, being located in the original county town of Mamakating. It prospered, first, as a center of commerce along the Newburgh–Cochecton Turnpike, then as a railway town serving vacationers in the mountains. Many guesthouses in the village were not rebuilt after the devastating fire of February 1922, and the village has been primarily an agricultural center ever since.

Journalists’ Trial Puts Spotlight on Turkey Media Freedom

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 16:59

Trial of 17 journalists, accused of being involved in July’s failed coup, got underway Monday

In a packed Istanbul courthouse the trial of 17 journalists, accused of being involved in July’s failed coup, got underway Monday. All are facing long sentences, including life if convicted. Prosecutors allege the journalists belong to a network of followers of the U.S.-based Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey’s government blames for the coup attempt.…

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New Connecticut Ranked Voting System Fails to Advance

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 15:33

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Ranked voting just one type of election reform that failed to pass through Connecticut legislature. A new post at Ballot Access News, “Connecticut Legislature Adjourns Without Passing Any Election Law Bills” by Richard Winger had the story:

The Connecticut legislature adjourned on June 7. It did not pass any of the 57 bills that would have amended an election law. Among the measures that failed were those concerning ranked choice voting, disclosure of income tax returns for presidential candidates, adoption of the National Popular Vote Compact, and proposed amendments to the state constitution to permit early voting.

The legislature didn’t even pass HB 7163, which would have repealed the ban on out-of-state circulators. The Libertarian Party won a lawsuit against that law last year, so out-of-state circulators may work in Connecticut. But the statute will continue to say such petitioners are not permitted.

It’s a good question as to whether the system makes sense for Connecticut. Also, here is some more information on ranked choice voting and instant runoffs from Democracy Chronicles’ friends at FairVote:

Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact.

With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an “instant runoff” to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

Oil and Environment Lobby Uniting Behind Carbon Tax

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 15:30

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Environmentalists link arms with the oil industry to push a nationwide tax on carbon dioxide emissions

Environmentalists have linked arms with the oil industry to push a nationwide tax on carbon dioxide emissions as a “conservative” way to fight global warming. The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) unveiled Tuesday some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies were among its donors, including BP, ExxonMobil, Total and Royal Dutch Shell. CLC bills its…

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A New Poem For World Refugee Day

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:40

The border fence, with menacing clouds hanging © Ana M. Fores Tamayo

Two years ago on World Refugee Day, I published a very personal essay about my status as a refugee child, back then, yet what it is like now for refugees and asylum seekers. Today, I publish my own poem — in its original Spanish followed by my English interpretation (because translation is never poetry!) — about the plight of the asylum seeker, so that we know.

So that we can be witness to our own ungodliness.

The English version was published in Bad Hombres and Nasty Women, from Raving Book Press: if you would like to buy it, go to this link. There are many other great works in this little treasure! But I wanted to print the Spanish original too, so I am publishing both versions here now, the English below the Spanish.

Refugiado

Mi alma en pedazos,
Veo el alambre de púa
rasguñando metal contra piel.
Llorando lágrimas de sangre,
Escucho disparos al vacío del silencio
de la Salva Maratrucha.
Lo empujo bajo la cerca
pero llora mi hijo,
aunque no importa;
lo hago porque
lo quiero.

Caminamos caminamos…
horas por las vías podridas
de los coyotes,
días, semanas, un mes, mano en mano:
vamos enfermos,
sin comer,
sin beber,
sin hablar.
O cuando hablamos es llorando,
porque no hay energía para más.

¿Dónde se habrá ido la niñez de mi hijito?
¿Cuándo la perdió?
¿Será cuando vio a su tío caer por unas balas
que le correspondían a su madre?

La eternidad del infierno
ha pasado en frente,
y cruzamos la frontera
llegando al río.
Atravesamos en balsas,
yo muerta en vida
con mi hijito en brazos.
Nos damos por vencidos
en esa tierra de tinieblas
y nos tiramos a sus pies —
esas patrullas sin cara, sin rostro.
Les decimos, susurrando,
“tengo miedo.”

II

Recuerdo los ojos negros
de mi hermano,
entreabiertos, glaseados,
la sangre estallando sus entrañas,
mi abuela gritando
corre, niña, corre,
eres tú la que quieren,
es tu sexo,
tu poder como mujer,
tu manera de decirles no.

Oigo los disparos lejos todavía,
y vuelvo a escuchar la voz de
mi querida abuela:
vete con tu niño antes
que te maten, dice.

Y el presente rompe pesadillas
que me trae aún más asaltos:
percibo a un guerrero,
llama en llamas…
el choque me catapulta hasta la actualidad.

La policía fronteriza me pregunta,
“¿Regresarás?”
Y yo le digo, con sarcasmo,
“Quiero ver mi patria,
quiero oír los
tiroteos tormentosos,
quiero ver las maras
asaltando uno al otro,
mata mata.
Quiero ver mi hermano muerto,
quiero ser luceros de mi abuela
llora llora.
Quiero ver la sangre deslumbrar
lo verde en las montañas,
las piedras de mis calles,
el agua de los ríos,
pero todo rojo rojo
Sangre sangre
Llora llora.”

“Corre, niña, corre:
eres tú la salvación.
Llévate a tu hijo,
líbralo de este horror”.

Así es que oigo esa voz tan asustada,
las palabras apocadas de mi abuela,
pero no me quiero recordar…

¿Qué te pasa, chica?
Pregunta el agente de mal manera.

Tengo miedo, Policía.
Tengo miedo.

Pero igual, no me quiere escuchar.

III

Me agarra fuerte, recio,
maltratándonos el hombre ICE.
Nos tumba, belicoso.
Se cae de mi protección mi hijito tembloroso.
Nos arrastra, ese monstruo,
forzándonos hacia deslumbrantes luces:

refulgentes, cegadoras,
dando vueltas sobre un carro.
Nos encarcela en el perrero
con sirenas estridentes,
con barrotes enrejados,
¿ese furgón no es hecho para perros?

Pero no.

Entre ropas empapadas por el río congelado
y el crítico engaño de un hueco reducido
en que los vigilantes nos encierran,
llegamos a una celda fría,
insensible,
aséptica, estéril:
desinfectada de piedad total,
y así nos hielan a los dos,
abrazados uno al otro,
mi hijito y yo.

El calor entre madre e hijo
siempre es suficiente para quitar
el frío inhumano de agresores asaltantes,
pero no es suficiente para desarmar
espíritus perversos,
para darle miedo al más malvado.
Me acurruco con mi hijo,
y lloro lloro…

IV

Llegamos a nuestra celda
con otras madres, otros hijos indefensos.

Oh, las luces fluorescentes chillan
día y noche.
Las comidas recuerdan asco.
No hay vida
más allá.
Los guardias nos desprecian,
tratan de humillarme
como si fuera yo
la que hubiera hecho el crimen,
como si fuera yo
la que hubiera herido
a mi hermano
en vez de la que corre
por su vida…

Y presiento a mi hermano
todo un hombre,
un recuerdo
con corbata de cielo azul,
cerúleos susurros quietos
vestido con traje de lino blanco,
mientras camina él, despacio, inocente,
con piernas de un roble eterno.

Marc Chagall, The Juggler, 1969

¿Pero será ésta
la memoria de mi hijo,
o es la de mi hermano vuelto en vida?

¿Será éste un sueño
de aquí o de más allá?

V

Pasan meses en un sinfín
de agonías,
una monotonía de días rutinarios
donde nada pasa,
porque todo es mentira,
todo es artificial,
todo es locura.
Por fin nos toca hablar
frente a un tipo comisario,
oficial del maquiavélico ICE
para explicar mi miedo.
Este nos mira indiferente,
me dice sin creerme,
¿Porque estás aquí, chiquilla?
¿Vienes a robarnos la comida?

Y yo pienso en mi hermano,
muerto sangre fría,
un batallón de drogas
despojando mis bellas tierras
para llegar a este espacio libre,
y yo pienso en la vegetación
que ellos devastaron
para hacer lo que arrasa
hoy en día
a mi país sagrado.
Pienso en las tierras,
en las vidas,
en la sangre que me roban…
en mi hijito,
en mi hermano muerto,
en las mujeres que nos violan,
en mi pueblo amado,
en mi patria destruida.

Y entonces veo a la migra,
miro al funcionario,
ese hombre que trabaja para ICE,
preguntándome con desdeño
si los pienso atracar,
y les contesto, fría:
Sí, ya que ustedes están aquí
burlándose de mí,
vengo justo para vindicarme
yo de ustedes.

Vengo a que sufran admirando
mi criminalidad,
soportando esa culpa de comprender
todo, todo mi dolor.

Fíjense:
la mujer violada, su hermano muerto.
Contemplen estas transgresiones,
las amenazas, la miseria,
las matanzas, la muerte en vida:
ésto es mi país querido.

Y entonces, recuérdense de mí —
detalle por detalle;
reflexionen en lo que represento,
y memoricen estas lágrimas de sangre
cuando se rían de todo refugiado.

My soul into pieces, An interpretation, not a translation
(because translation is never poetry)

Refugee

I see the barbed wire
ripping metal against skin.
Crying tears of blood,
I hear gunshots in the vacuumed silence
of the gang’s Salva Maratrucha.
I push him under the fence
but my son cries.
No matter:
I do it because
I love him.

Murderer, The Hope of Women, Oskar Kokoschka, 1909

We walk walk walk…
hours and hours on the rotted roads
of the Coyotes,
days, weeks, a month, hand in hand:
we go, sick —
without eating,
without drinking,
without speaking.
Or when we speak, we do so crying,
because there is nothing left for more.

Where did my little son’s childhood go?
When did he lose it?
Is it when he saw his uncle fall by a bullet
meant for his mother?

 “Run, girl, run:The eternity of hell
has bridged our path,
and so we cross the border
reaching the river.
We travel in rafts;
I am the walking dead
with my little son in my arms.
We give up
in that land of darkness
as we throw ourselves at their feet —
the faceless border patrol: no image, no semblance.
And I say, whispering,
“I am afraid.”II

I remember the black eyes
of my brother,
parted, glazed over,
blood bursting his bowels,
my grandmother screaming
run, girl, run,
It is you they want,
it is your sex,
your power as woman,
your way of saying no.

Still I hear the distant gunfire
as I listen to the voice of
my grandmother once again:
go with your child before
they kill you, she says.

And the present shatters nightmares
that produce even more assaults:
I perceive a mercenary,
burning flames…
Shock catapults me to the present.

Border patrol interrogate me,
“Will you return?”
And I say, sarcastically:
“I want to see my country,
I want to hear the
raging shootouts,
I want to see the maras
assaulting one another,
kill man kill.
I want to see my dear dead brother,
I want to be my grandmother’s star of light

crying crying.
I want to see the blood bedazzle
the green of my rugged mountains,
the stones of my pebbled streets,
the river water flowing,
but all is red red
blood blood
Cry cry. “you are our only salvation. Take your son away, deliver him from oh, this horror.”
So I hear that panicked voice,
my grandmother’s dreaded words,
but I want never to remember…

What is it, girl?
Asks the agent, mean and foul.

I am afraid, Policeman Sir.
I am afraid.

But still, he does not want to hear.

III

He grabs me strongly, with brute force,
bashing us, this bully ICE man.
He knocks us down, thrashing, bellicose.
My son falls from my protection,
my trembling little boy.
He drags us, this inhuman monster —
forcing us toward the glaring lights:
incandescent, blinding,
their flare piercing round and round.
He imprisons us in an old dogcatcher
screeching sirens screaming,
slatted with thick metal,
Is this cop car made for dogs?

But no.

Cloaked in clothes drenched by an icy river
and the key deception of the dwarfed hole
to which the armed guards cage us,
we arrive at a bleak, sterile prison:
insensible, aseptic,
sanitized of all damned godliness,
they freeze us both
while we embrace each other,
my little boy and me.

The warmth of mother and son
is always enough to take away
the cold from smiting bastards,
but not so when it comes to disarming
perverse spirits,
to striking fear in the most evil.
I huddle closely with my son,
crying crying…

IV

We arrive to our cell
with other mothers, other defenseless children.

Oh, fluorescent lights wail
both day and night.
Meals reminisce disgust.
There is no life
beyond today.
The guards despise us,
try to humiliate me
as if it were I
who would have done the crime,
as if it were I
who would have hurt
my brother
instead of the one who’s running
for her life…

And I sense my brother
all a man,
a memory
with blue sky tie,
cerulean whispers
dressed in bleached white linen.
Then I watch him walk away
slowly, innocently,
with limbs of timeless oak. But is this
the memory of my son,
or is this my brother come alive again? Will this be a dream
from here or from beyond?

V

We spend months in a cornucopia of agonies,
a monotony of routine days
where nothing happens,
because everything is deception,
everything is artificial,
everything is mad.
Finally comes the day when we talk
to a commissioner,
an official of that machiavellian ICE:
we must explain our fear.
This man looks at us indifferently,
tells me, not believing,
Why are you here, girl?
Have you come to steal our food?

Moonlight Serenade © Oskar Kokoschka, 1907-1908

And I think of my dear brother,
slaughtered, in cold blood,
a battalion filled with drugs
despoiling my sacred land,
yet surfacing in this free expanse,
and I think of the vegetation
they demolished
to undertake what ravages
my country
nowadays.
I think of the land,
of the lives,
of the blood they steal from me…
I think of my son,
of my dear dead brother,
of us — the women they have raped;
I think of my beloved people,
of my homeland — wrecked, destroyed.

And then I see the migra,
I look toward the agent,
those men who work for ICE,
asking scornfully
if I think I might assault them,
so I tell them, bitterly:
Yes, since you disdain
to mock me,
I come explicitly for vengeance.

I come so you can suffer
delighting in my criminality,
I come so that you understand
that guilt, of oh, so much my pain.

Beware:
the woman raped, her brother dead.
Contemplate oh these transgressions,
the threats, the misery,
the massacres, the death in life:
this is my beloved country.

And then, remember me —
detail by bloody detail;
reflect on what it is I represent,
and memorize these tears of blood
when you laugh at every refugee.

The Case of Zimbabwe’s Competitive Authoritarian Regime

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:19

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Arguably, the 2018 harmonized elections are setting the track for Zimbabwe’s medium-term political future. Another decisive factor will be the party’s annual people’s conference usually held in December. There are reports that some members of the ruling ZANU- PF are calling for the annual conference to be upgraded to an elective congress. So what does this mean?

Zimbabwean politics is a theater of conflicts and might be difficult to comprehend. Although it is seemingly designed as a kind of a multiparty democracy, a single party sets the agenda. Yet Zimbabwe’s parliament has had its fair share of lively parliamentary conflicting debates and robust election campaigns since 2000 when the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) came into the fore.

Results for the Zimbabwe House of Assembly election, 2008 – link

A good working definition of one-party dominance is presented by Giovanni Sartori in his seminal work from 1976, “Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis. It is simple, one-party dominance is when the same party wins an absolute majority in at least three consecutive elections. Under this definition, currently, a one party system is not applicable in Zimbabwe since ZANU-PF failed to win an absolute majority in 2008 parliamentary elections. However, ZANU-PF remains largely unchallenged in political control since independence in 1980.

As a former liberation movement in political power since independence, ZANU PF’s trajectory translates into a specific form of authoritarian democracy. It is rather like other liberation movements in the region, SWAPO in Namibia, Flelimo in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa and Chama Cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania.

ZANU-PF has somehow managed to anchor an enduring party dominance, based on a specific historical legacy even when it lost a parliamentary majority to MDC-T in 2008. This does not necessarily go hand in hand with a heroic narrative or patriotic history, which has ZANU-PF at its center. Rather, it has much to do with violence and intimidation of the people which usually result in presidential amnesty to the perpetrators after the election.

Zimbabwe is among several other countries that “combined democratic rules with authoritarian governance” due undemocratic tendencies according to Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way paper, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” in Harvard University’s Journal of Democracy. They went further to explain what they term competitive authoritarianism, a combination of democratic rules with authoritarian governance. They distinguished competitive authoritarianism from democracy on the one hand and full-scale authoritarianism on the other.

According to the authors, modern democratic regimes, although controlling many aspects of life, support a flourishing of democracy through a true open electoral process. They allow all citizens the right to vote, encourage dissenting voices, and give elected leaders freedom to conduct their duties. However, this does not mean that governmental interference is non-existent. Rather, government interference in democratic processes is to a minimum and does not warrant raising a red flag.

However, with competitive authoritarian governments, Levitsky and Way note that violations of above democratic principles “are both frequent enough and serious enough to result in an uneven playing field between government and opposition political parties”. Although elections are regularly held and are generally free of instances of massive fraud, the ruling party routinely abuse state resources to its advantage.

“The ruling party denies the opposition adequate media coverage, harass opposition candidates and their supporters, and in some cases manipulate electoral results. Journalists, opposition politicians, and other government critics may be spied on, threatened, harassed, or arrested. Members of the opposition may be jailed, exiled, or—less frequently—even assaulted or murdered. Regimes characterized by such abuses cannot be called democratic.”

A review of government activities in Zimbabwe in the past decade shows that the country is now a competitive authoritarian regime. Dissenting voices are muted and government does not listen to citizens. In 2016, the #This Flag and #Tajamuka (we protest) among other movements ushered a new lease of life to a Zimbabwe which is founded on solidarity, equality, grassroots democracy, and free of all form of oppression (Maisiri 2016). These people power movements threatened the rule of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF, known for their hardness towards dissenting voices. This is in spite of the movement being neither explicitly anti-Mugabe or anti-ZANU-PF (Youde 2016).

Movement for Democratic Change logo – link

This view was supported by the independent Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) in a 2016 paper titled “Where Are We Going” which noted that the Mugabe regime is intolerant of threats and takes to countering any threat with excessive violence. The paper gave examples of real experiences exemplified from the Gukurahundi (disturbances that rocked Zimbabwe 1983-87 where 20 000 people are said to have died), food riots 1998, the elections in 2002 and 2008 and the suppression of every little demonstration by pressure groups which are violently disrupted by the police.

The Research and Advocacy Unit was right when it noted that the biggest issue in Zimbabwe is probably this government-citizen engagement issue. This was exemplified with the way government responded to dissenting voices anchored by the #ThisFlag movement. Researcher Leroy Maisiri noted in 2016 that the government’s first response was to suspend all mobile service providers’ data promotions since most people relied on such promotions to access social media services. The government went a step further to threaten citizens through the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) by publicly warning those abusing social media of prosecution.

President Mugabe during burial of national hero Charles Utete on 09 August 2016 threatened the founder of the #ThisFlag campaign, Evan Mawaire, warning him of dire consequences and advising him to leave Zimbabwe if he is unhappy with what was happening in the country. Also, at a solidarity meeting organized by a splinter war veteran association at the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare, Mugabe again warned Mawarire founder of the #ThisFlag campaign and others:

“I am warning Mawarire and others, l want to warn them very strongly; Zanu will not tolerate any nonsense that is done in the name of religion so keep to your religious side and we will respect you. Once you begin to interfere with our politics you are quoting trouble. You are courting real trouble. We know how to deal with our enemies who have been trying to bring about regime change agenda in the country; we have the means to defend and protect our hand won freedom. That is crucial to us. We have brought unity, unity in the country; and the people are unite; please don’t disunite our people” (Anon 2016, Mugabe warns and foreign embassies…Newzimbabwe.com).

The military also joined the bandwagon of attacking the protestors by stating that it was tasked with what it termed ‘cyber warfare’ by training and deploying its personal to neutralize opinions on social media. These extremely partisan political statements by the military are another subversion of the will of the people and a vitiation of freedom of expression as a democratic right of peaceful demonstrations. National Army Commander Philip Valelio Sibanda, in a manner that could unduly threaten social media activists and discourage dissenting voice, was quoted in a Sunday Mail article, “Chiwenga Fires Warning Shots”, on the 5th of August saying:

“We are already dealing with these threats, as an army, at our institutions of training, we are training our officers to be able to deal with this new threat we call cyber warfare where weapons-not necessarily guns but basic information and communication technology- are being used to mobilize people to do the wrong things. We will be equal to the task when the time comes. The most important function, as outlined in the Constitution to protect Zimbabwe, its people, national security, territorial integrity and uphold the Constitution”.

The government through the police reacted to the 6 July 2016 riots and those that followed with arresting, incarcerating and alleging torturing hundreds of protesters some of whom are still being handled before courts.

MDC supporters – link

Among those arrested was the #This Flag movement founder Evan Mawarire who was at first released on technical issue and re-arrested upon his return to Zimbabwe in February 2017. On October 1, 2016 concerned about increasing demonstrations, police issued the first notice to ban public protests within the central business district of Harare, initially for two weeks, but High Court judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba struck the ban down, but at the same time suspended his judgment for 7 days effectively perpetuating the ban for the two week period government had effected.

Upon effective force of the judgment, police issued another ban on demonstrations within the central business district of Harare this time for a month (September 16-October 15 2016). The protesters went back to the High court to challenge the latest ban which was upheld by Judge President Justice George Chiweshe. An appeal was lodged with the Supreme Court.

In an apparent reference to social movements and other dissenting voices that are demanding end to corruption, equality and jobs Police Commissioner is on record saying:

“We always stand ready to lawfully and decisively deal with malcontents, who quite often, are drenched in sheep skins when in actual fact they are shameful agents of tired crusade of illegal regime change agenda in Zimbabwe. The law will indeed be applied squarely, fairly and without fear or favour” The Herald 05 October 2016).

The ruling party ZANU-PF has since come up with its own #Our Flag campaign to counter the #This Flag campaign which they viewed as being sponsored by western elements (Britain, France and United States among others) to destabilize the country and effect regime change. The #Our Flag initiative culminated in a “million men march” in solidarity with President Mugabe and government on 25 May 2016. The marchers were addressed by Mugabe who thanked them for the solidarity and sent a clear message of anti-regime change to western countries.

In conclusion, this article has shown that Zimbabwe’s government is now a competitive authoritarian system as once described by Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way. 2017 has already seen social movements scaling down efforts to encourage government to act on high unemployment, rampant corruption and upholding with basic human rights due to threats of reprisals. It is also safe to say the threats by government have scaled down the 2016 momentum that had been built by these social movements. Currently there is virtually little activism. It remains to be seen how this statement will influence #This Flag movement and others to mute their voices. With the momentum towards the 2018 elections peaking up, one can only hope for peaceful credible elections.

References

  1. Anon.2016. General Chiwenga Fires Warning Shots. The Sunday Mail 04 August 2016
  2. Anon.2016. Mugabe threatens Mawarire and foreign embassies, says has means to deal with ‘our enemies’. The New Zimbabwe 27 July 2016.
  3. Anon. 2016. Police acquire $1m vehicles (updated with more pictures). The Herald 05 October 2016.
  4. Levitsk and Way, The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism.
  5. Magaisa A. 2016. Social media – A critical analysis of the new big frontier of the democratic struggle. 12/08/2016
    Maisiri L. 2016. Where to now, Zimbabwe? Beyond the “good” charismatic pastor.
  6. Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU). 2016. A wandering into the disengagement of the state from its citizens.
  7. Youde J. 2016. As turmoil sparks the largest protests in years where is Zimbabwe headed?

The Essential Benefits of Small Political Donor Tax Credit System

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:17

A revolutionary approach to boosting political capital of the average voter gets a second look. A new article from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law’s Lawrence Norden and Douglas Keith:

Americans agree that the campaign finance system is broken. The vast majority of Americans, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, believe that the campaign finance system needs “fundamental changes,” or that it should be “completely rebuilt.” A primary concern for many is that the system is out of balance, with big money having far too much influence over policy, drowning out the voices of ordinary voters.

At the same time, Americans have expressed concerns that the dominance of a tiny minority of donors limits voter choice by making it less likely that candidates without access to those donors can “gain voter attention” and run competitively.

Click here to read the full report Small Donor Tax Credits: A New Model by the Brennan Center for Justice. Here, from the Brennan Center, are four key points to focus on in such a system:

  • Tax credits should be easy and inexpensive to claim: Individuals should be able to claim the credit either online or by giving their tax information directly to the candidate or political party they wish to support.
  • To strengthen parties and to ensure that candidates’ funding comes from their constituents, taxpayers should be able to claim two distinct credits: One for contributions to candidates from their state, and one for contributions to political parties. At the federal level, the Brennan Center suggests a $50 credit for each contribution per election cycle.
  • Tax credits should be valuable enough that candidates actively solicit them: In addition to being easy to use, taxpayers should be able to “bank” their credits for use in the next election cycle. This will increase their value over time, and candidates will be more likely to pursue contributions from new donors.
  • Jurisdictions should pair tax credits with other reforms that further increase the voice of small donors: This could mean matching small contributions above the amount eligible for the tax credit, or requiring reasonable limits on large donations or spending for candidates who accept credited contributions.

More on this issue can be found at these related posts:

Maine Attorney General Suggests Ranked Choice Voting Compromise

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:53

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The battle over instituting a Maine ranked choice voting continues as compromise is on the docket. Only recently, a ranked-choice voting system was shot down by Maine’s highest court in a setback for the election method. Ballot Access News had this post by Richard Winger with more:

Maine State Senator Michael Carpenter (D-Houlton) has this op-ed in the Bangor Daily News. He is a former Attorney General of Maine. He believes that the legislature should pass a compromise bill this week concerning Ranked Choice Voting. He would pass a bill that provides for Ranked Choice Voting for congress, and for primaries for congress, Governor, and legislature. There would be no state constitutional problem with that idea; the state constitution is only an impediment for general elections for state office. Under Carpenter’s proposal, general elections for Governor and legislature would not use Ranked Choice Voting.

It is very likely that the Maine legislature will pass something concerning Ranked Choice Voting this week. Thanks to Rob Richie for the link.

Whatever happens, the voters chose a ranked voting method and lawmakers must abide their wish. A recent article in the the Portland Press Herald explains this position:

When it comes to ranked-choice voting, Maine lawmakers certainly have heard the seven justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. But they also should be listening to the nearly 390,000 Mainers who voted last November for a change in the way the state runs elections.

Fifty-two percent of the Mainers who voted were in favor of Question 5, an initiative that could bring more civility and consensus to campaigns marked by increasing, deliberate divisiveness and end the incessant talk of “spoiler” votes that has dominated recent three-way races, to their detriment.

But the merits of ranked-choice voting aren’t the issue here. Those were debated at length in the lead-up to Nov. 8. Voters heard them – along with questions about the measure’s constitutionality – and a majority clearly wants a new electoral system. At issue now is whether the Legislature will listen.

If citizens choose to start using ranked choice elections then why has the legislature blocked the move? Here is a recent post by Jack Santucci for the Monkey Cage:

Last fall, Maine voters passed an experiment in voting that no state has ever before tried: ranked-choice voting. It’s an experiment some say could change the national calculus against third parties, as I’ll explain below. But the state’s Republican-led Senate asked Maine’s Supreme Court to rule on the system — and the court recently issued an advisory ruling that ranked-choice violates the state constitution. So why would anyone be interested in ranked-choice voting — and why are Maine’s Republicans fighting it?

It’s a good question. Also, here is some more information on ranked choice voting and instant runoffs from Democracy Chronicles’s friends at FairVote:

Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact.

With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an “instant runoff” to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

Fighting the Powerful Balloon Lobby to Protect Turtles

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:38

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This balloon group has spent more than $1 million in the past five years lobbying legislators

Let’s hope our Legislature has the political chops and good sense to ban balloon releases statewide, so we don’t find their tattered remains in our wildlife refuges and the mouths of dead sea creatures. You’d be surprised at what a challenge this is. After a similar ban died in the state Senate in 1989, thanks to…

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Why Iran Banned Zumba, Wrestling and Billiards This Year

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:34

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Earlier this month Iran’s government banned Zumba, the popular exercise dance class

Earlier this month Iran’s government banned Zumba, the popular exercise dance class, leaving Iranian health nuts livid with a religious elite that appears increasingly out-of-touch with the Islamic Republic’s growing middle classes. The head of the Sports for All Federation, which promotes healthy lifestyles in the country, said the Latin American-inspired activity was contrary to Islamic…

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How Pharmaceutical Lobbyists Are Working to Control Drug Prices

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:30

Despite growing public pressure over prices, the drug industry is coasting on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – Less than six months ago, President Trump stood at a podium and roiled the pharmaceutical industry with an emphatic declaration that its executives are “getting away with murder.” If Congress has its way, the same president will soon sign into law a massive package that is at the top of the industry’s wish list:…

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VIDEO: How Saudi’s Cash Machine Is Tied to Egypt Dictatorship

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:26

In Egypt, dozens of activists have been arrested in a series of sweeping raids in recent days. The arrests came as Egyptians took to the streets to protest an agreement to hand over control of two islands to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the islands belong to Egypt and that their transfer is linked to the billions of dollars the Saudis have given to support Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government. The arrests and raids come amid a nationwide crackdown against human rights activists and press freedom advocates. We speak with Egyptian filmmaker and writer Omar Robert Hamilton, who says Saudi Arabia’s strategy is to counteract democratic movements in countries surrounding it.

In Egypt, seven men are facing imminent execution based on confessions that human rights activists say were extracted under torture. Six of the men are recent college graduates who were arrested in 2014 along with more than a dozen others. While their testimony was captured on camera, the men say they were beaten, shocked with electricity and hung in painful positions and then provided with written testimonies they were forced to read. They were sentenced to death last month on terrorism charges after a military trial. In other news from Egypt, dozens of activists have been arrested in a series of sweeping raids in recent days.

The arrests and raids come amid a nationwide crackdown against human rights activists and press freedom advocates. Over the past few weeks, the Egyptian government has blocked access to at least 93 news sites, including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post’s Arabic website, the self-publishing platform Medium and the local independent news site Mada Masr. We speak to the Egyptian film director and writer, Omar Robert Hamilton. In 2011, he co-founded the Cairo-based Mosireen media collective, which worked to film and document the Egyptian revolution. Hamilton’s debut novel is just out, titled “The City Always Wins.”

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VIDEO: The Italian Comedian Who Could Decide a Nation’s Destiny

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:20

Italy’s political system is famously unstable. Since 1946, the country has had 63 governments and 41 prime minister-ships. The current prime minister, Matteo Renzi, wanted to rein in that chaos with a constitutional reform bill primarily intended to reduce the power of the country’s senate.

Check out VICE News for more: http://vicenews.com

Beppe Grillo – link

UPDATE: Supreme Court Make First Move in WI Gerrymandering Case

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:52

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The Supreme Court dropped a big hint they may rule against partisan gerrymandering in a key case. According to Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog, “about an hour after the Court issued its order agreeing to hear this case, it issued a second order, on a 5-4 vote, granting a stay of the lower court order in this case. The four liberal Justices dissented”. Hasen had previously explained that granting a “stay is a good indication the partisan gerrymander finding of the lower court would be reversed”. Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos explains what this could mean:

Most critically, this case could open up the floodgates for successful lawsuits against partisan gerrymanders across the country. A successful tide of litigation would have enormous consequences, because Republicans have gerrymandered most congressional and legislative districts across America. Democrats have only done so in a tiny handful of states. A victory for plaintiffs in Wisconsin could subsequently deprive Republicans of the lock that they have on Congress and legislatures across the country.