Election Day Winners and Losers

Lance Selfa; Nicole Colson; Lee Sustar; and Eric Ruder Nov 9, 2012

Mainstream media coverage of Election 2012, as in every election, focused on a minute-by-minute count of votes in the race for the White House and a few highly anticipated congressional races.

Meanwhile, a number of the most interesting trends went largely unnoticed by the professional punditry. Certain election night results even provided a clear glimpse of what has argued for some time–that a significant number of voters stands to the left of the Republicans and the Democrats, even though the Democratic Party is regularly described in the media as "left wing" or even "socialist."

Here, offers an assessment of some Election Day results that were available in the first hours after the polls closed.

Victories for LBGT equality

Since 1998, all 32 states that held a popular vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage rejected the measures. That pattern changed in 2012. Three states–Maine, Maryland and Washington–passed ballot measures legalizing gay marriage and made history in the process.

In Minnesota, where voters were asked whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, the result was still too close to call early on Wednesday morning.

Four years ago, the one sour note in an election that put the first African American president in the White House was the passage of California's Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage. In that election, Obama easily won California–by a 61-to-39 margin–but 52 percent of voters supported the ban on gay marriage. The reason was straightforward: Obama in particular and Democrats in general did little to mobilize opposition to Prop 8.

Immediately after Prop 8 passed, however, a grassroots movement to demand LGBT equality burst forth in California with outpourings in solidarity in cities and towns across the U.S. A year later, some 200,000 crammed into Washington, D.C., for a massive National Equality March.

The unmistakable conclusion here is that the Democratic Party doesn't lead, it follows. It was a grassroots movement that proved essential to challenging the opposition to gay marriage, and yesterday, the reverberations of that struggle were felt at the ballot box.

Voters also rejected an anti-choice referendum in Florida that would have banned the use of public funds for abortion, they legalized marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, and they sent at least 19 women to the U.S. Senate, the most ever in U.S. history.

Republican rebuke

Besides blowing their chance at the White House, the Republicans saw their hopes of taking control of the Senate collapse under the weight of the Tea Party. The most reactionary elements of the Republican base have saddled the party with candidates who spouted hateful sexist comments, bashed immigrants and championed right-wing economic policies that repelled working people. As a result, the Democrats saw their Senate majority increase by three seats.

In Missouri, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill handily defeated Rep. Todd Aiken, who outraged millions when he declared that women's bodies naturally prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Similar woman-bashing cost the Republicans a sure-bet Senate seat in Indiana after Richard Mourdock said that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."

And in Massachusetts, where Republican Sen. Scott Brown made the Tea Party's initial electoral breakthrough in a 2010 special election, the Democrats prevailed with Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren winning by campaigning as a consumer advocate.

In the House of Representatives, however, the Republicans held the line–thanks in large part to the redistricting by Republican-controlled state legislatures.

In many contests, the Republicans let loose the racist rhetoric that has been part of the party's comeback strategy since Obama took office. Republicans used those vile tactics to mobilize their base in disproportionately white and middle-class Congressional districts, to some success. Yet these race-baiting appeals not only turned off tens of millions of people, but likely helped to motivate the turnout of African Americans and young people.

So despite $6 billion in spending on the elections–much of it on Congressional races–there hasn't been much change in the political landscape at all. Indeed, the Republican victory sets the stage for continued pushes by the Republicans to pursue a right-wing agenda. While they won't succeed with their program, their success has given political cover to Obama as he seeks a "grand bargain" to reduce the federal budget deficit by trading moderately higher taxes on the rich for sweeping cuts in social programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Taking the ground game into the mud

In a country that spends $6 billion on an election, you'd think that voting in America would be easy and trouble-free. Think again. Across the country, reports of problems at the polls–some seemingly benign, others politically motivated–should make anyone question whether the U.S. is really the "world's greatest democracy."

As of 9:30 p.m. (EST), NBC was reporting that hundreds of voters in some Florida counties were still waiting in line to vote–despite polls closing at 7 p.m.

And in Pinellas County, Fla., automated calls were sent out to thousands of voters during the morning of Election Day claiming that voters have until 7 p.m. "tomorrow" (November 7) to submit absentee ballots (the deadline was November 6).

In the closely contested battleground state of Ohio, a lawsuit filed on November 5 alleged that Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted and Election Systems & Software–an Omaha, Neb., company that makes electronic voting systems used in the state–"improperly approved the use of untested, non-state certified software in voting machines to help tally results," according to CBS News.

The suit, brought by Robert Fitrakis–a Columbus, Ohio, college professor and voting rights activist–alleged that the untested software was being used in 39 Ohio counties, despite the fact that, by law, anything more than minor changes to electronic voting software is supposed to be tested within 30 days of installation by the Ohio board of voting machine standards.

In a piece written for, Fitrakis and Gerry Bello explained, "This uncertified and untested software could easily malfunction and corrupt votes on the central tabulation machines, thus destroying any electronic record of the actual votes by citizens. This 'experimental' software, as outlined in the contract, has no security protocols."

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against the suit on Election Day, allowing the untested software to continue being used.

Meanwhile, in one of the most widely reported incidents, one voter taped an electronic voting machine in Pennsylvania altering his vote for Obama to a vote for Romney–in a scene straight out of The Simpsons.

In Florida, the group Voting Rights Watch reported that the Tea Party-affiliated group "Tampa Vote Fair" had filed challenges to the voting status of dozens of potential voters, many on the basis that they were ineligible due to felony convictions. But Tampa Vote Fair made the challenges based on whether a voter's name matched a name on its list–without any way to verify whether the match was simple coincidence. An earlier investigation by the state of a list supplied by Tampa Vote Fair showed noineligible voters, despite the group's claims.

However, since Florida does not notify voters of such challenges to their basic democratic rights, they would not be able to find out that their eligibility had been challenged until they actually arrive at the polls–at which point, they'd only be able to cast a provisional ballot.

According to, an analysis of the dozens of voters whose eligibility is being challenged by Tampa Vote Fair showed that "40 percent [were] Black, which compares to 15 percent of registered voters who are Black."

A strikingly similar pattern emerged in Miami-Dade County, where several dozen more voters had their eligibility challenged by Pamela Evans Rhodenbaugh, an activist associated with the Tea Party "Patriot Action Network."

Other instances of potential voting irregularities reported on at's Voting Rights Watch blog included Latino voters in Erie County, Pa., being falsely told that ID is required to vote. Signs also appeared near Harrisburg and Dauphin County polling places falsely claiming the same.

Reports also suggested that unusually large numbers of traditionally Democratic voters in West and North Philadelphia were suddenly not showing up on the election rolls–leading to a higher number of provisional ballots being cast than normal.

And in Prince William County, Va., near Washington, D.C., voters waited for up to four hours to vote–leading some to walk away before having the chance to cast a ballot.

Such irregularities may not have swung the outcome of this election–but are an ongoing indication that basic democratic rights for millions of Americans are barely protected in our political system.

The Sandy effect

As national polls started to move toward President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's devastating landfall in the New York/New Jersey area, Republicans began to anticipate–and put their own spin on–Romney's defeat. It was all Sandy's fault, they said. Karl Rove, George Bush's chief political strategist and head of the GOP SuperPAC Crossroads GPS, began the chorus only a few days after he predicted Romney would rack up more than 300 electoral votes.

"If you hadn't had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy," Rove told theWashington Post. "There was a stutter in the campaign." Sandy was "the October surprise. For once, the October surprise was a real surprise."

Obama may also have benefited from the perception–a wrong perception if you talk to New Yorkers–that he took quick action in response to the storm. And Sandy starkly illustrated the shortcomings of the GOP "small government" mantra–especially for the many tens of thousands desperate for shelter, heat and other relief.

But the "Sandy effect" is most likely overblown. Since about mid-October, the national polls had stabilized into a near-tie, but Obama hadn't lost much ground in the swing states, according to New York Times polling expert Nate Silver. Plus, the national unemployment rate fell below 8 percent, and measures of consumer confidence and home prices ticked upward.

In other words, there were a lot of indicators pointing to an Obama revival and a stalling of Romney's momentum only a few weeks after Romney erased Obama's September lead because he had outshined Obama during the first presidential debate.

But the GOP's blaming of Sandy for Romney's loss serves an important purpose. It provides Republicans with an alibi for Romney's failure, and it allows them and their supporters to avoid the obvious: that the electorate rejected what the Republicans were selling–in a year that should have been theirs. If Obama's reelection was really a weather-caused fluke, in their book, he remains the "illegitimate" president that they have considered him even when he won a landslide in 2008.

Given that Hurricane Isaac cancelled the first day of the GOP convention, perhaps the GOP should wonder if Mother Nature is trying to tell them something.

The GOP right turn

As the Romney campaign entered the home stretch, it attempted to ignite its "base" with a hard-right turn. At a rally in Iowa, Romney promised that he and Ryan weren't going to be handing out government checks to people.

This was a reprise of his earlier (false) attacks on Obama for allegedly changing welfare rules–and of Ryan's warnings against a country of "takers" overwhelming the "makers" in the U.S. This sort of rhetoric played to the "dog whistle" politics of coded appeals to racism on which the Republican Party has built its foundation since the 1970s.

Romney's virtually all-white crowds cheered along with this sort of bile.

For his part, only two days before Election Day, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told a conference call of evangelical activists that the re-election of President Obama threatened "Judeo-Christian values."

This wasn't really a departure from Romney's appeal all along, despite his attempt at shape-shifting when millions were watching during the debates with President Obama.

It may have been an early sign that Romney and Ryan weren't as confident of their chances as they had tried to project in the campaign's last weeks. If they were throwing "red meat" to their most conservative supporters at the end, they may even have been desperate.

The Electoral College vs. the 99 percent

The Founding Fathers who drafted the Constitution didn't dare to leave the matter of selecting a president up to voters. Even though the Constitution limited the right to vote to white men, the Founding Fathers worried that propertyless men might use the lever of democracy to make inroads against the wealth and power of the propertied classes.

Instead, the Constitution established the Electoral College to select the president of the United States, and the state legislatures selected the electors who cast the vote for the president. And though the House of Representatives was elected by popular vote, the state legislatures also selected the members of the U.S. Senate.

To this day, the Electoral College still selects the president–and radically distorts the presidential election in profoundly undemocratic ways. For example, while Obama won about 60 percent of the Electoral College vote, he only won about 1 percent more of the total popular vote than Romney. And in a few cases, including the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the candidate who has won the most popular votes hasn't won the White House because of a failure to win enough a majority of Electoral College votes.

But both parties have accommodated this 18th century relic because it allows them to run narrowly focused campaigns, focusing the lion's share of attention on a tiny number of so-called swing states.

If presidential candidates only needed to win a majority of the popular vote, the focus of the presidential campaign would shift from the less populated and more conservative rural and Western states, which have disproportionate influence in the Electoral College, and focus on the biggest population centers, which tend to be cities with larger nonwhite populations and larger concentrations of workers and union members.

But the prospect of winning the White House by appealing to a large urban voting block with more progressive inclinations is precisely what the stewards of American capitalism have wanted to forestall–from the Founding Fathers to the present.

This article was originally published on

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