At a recent downtown gathering I overheard a conversation between two longtime New Yorkers: “On the subway, I looked around the car and I thought, If we could just get all these kids to turn out to vote, everything would be OK.” The reply was, “But the Democrats aren’t giving them anything progressive to vote for.” I was in a festive mood, so I didn’t want to poop on the party by pointing out that they were both wrong in fundamental ways.
First, every single one of those kids on that train could vote for—let’s shoot the moon here—a Warren-AOC ticket in November 2024 and it would still mean that the progressive duo would receive no more nor less than New York’s 28 electoral votes. Back in 2020, 8,495,236 New Yorkers cast a vote for the president of the United States. That year, New York had 29 electoral votes—thank you, Andrew Cuomo, for being so self-absorbed with your de Blasio feud that you didn’t go all out to count every possible New Yorker in the 2020 census. Hence, you lost our state a congressional seat and its accompanying electoral vote—by allowing the census count to fall 89 people short.
Anyway, in 2020, each electoral vote that Joe Biden won in New York represented 292,939 people who cast ballots. In America’s winner-take-all electoral college system, it didn’t matter that more than 3 million New Yorkers voted for Donald Trump—Biden topped 5 million, so all 29 of New York’s electoral votes went into his column.
Now let’s say you had cast a vote for Trump in Wyoming instead of New York that year. Ah, there your vote has real impact. Trump garnered 193,559 votes out of 267,050 total votes cast, grabbing all 3 of Wyoming’s electoral votes. So what, you say—that’s only 3 votes toward the presidency out of the 270 Electoral College votes needed. But note that only 89,017 ballots were necessary for each of Trump’s electoral votes—each voter in Wyoming had 3.3 times more impact on the presidential outcome than a New Yorker casting a ballot.
“The actual number were two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted.”
Wyoming’s three electoral votes are calculated just as they are for every other state: one for each of its two U.S. senators and one for the sparsely populated state’s lone congressperson. Just 334,310 votes sent Wyoming’s two current senators to Washington, where their votes count as much as those of senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, who arrived in Washington after receiving a combined total of 9,278,898 votes.
Now let’s go South, where 2,473,633 Georgians marked their ballots for Joe Biden, just enough to win the Peach State’s 16 electoral votes. You might recall that the race was very close—Trump received 2,461,854 votes. We know these numbers are correct because, with Trump claiming that the election had been stolen from him, Georgia recounted its ballots multiple times and Biden came out ahead on each tally, with a final winning margin of 11,799 votes. Perhaps you heard a recording of the January 2, 2020, phone call between Trump and Georgia election officials, during which the then-president said he had information about widespread voter fraud, to which Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, replied, “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong…. I guess, there’s a person named Mr. Brainard that came to these meetings and presented data and he said that there was dead people, I believe it was upward of 5,000. The actual number were two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted. And so, that’s wrong, that was two.” Trump, becoming increasingly exasperated as these Georgia officials, all fellow Republicans, continue to tell him that his facts are incorrect, finally lays out his ultimate desire: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”
As this exchange illustrates, the guardrails protecting America’s admittedly cumbersome democracy from the depredations of authoritarian rule did hold up in 2020, but they were severely dented. And when voters turn out this coming election day, November 8, there will be 552 Republicans running for statewide office—governors, U.S. senators, secretaries of state, attorneys general, plus House seats—and 201, or 36% of them, have fully backed the claim, disproven by Trump’s own administration, that President Biden’s win was fraudulent. Another 61 Grand Old Party candidates have raised questions about voter fraud in general, despite scant evidence that voter irregularities have affected the final outcome of any race. Recall the thousands of Georgians who Trump claimed voted from the grave when it was actually only two; election officials will tell you that, because of clerical errors, sometimes a dead person will appear to have voted, because “individuals who are in fact quite spry are occasionally listed as deceased on the Social Security Administration’s master files.” In other words, the walking dead have never voted in numbers that would overturn even an election for dogcatcher. (NPR reported in 2018 that, despite the hoary cliche that someone “couldn’t even get elected dogcatcher,” there was apparently only one person in the U.S. holding an elected position to catch dogs at that time, in the town of Duxbury, Vermont—an office, it turned out, that violated state law. Since then, Zeb Towne is Duxbury’s appointed dogcatcher.)
Let’s return to those kids on the subway, who the partygoers I overheard felt could change America’s political landscape if only they would get out and vote. Indeed, the Republican Party is working hard to suppress voting by enacting stricter voter ID laws (despite the fact that fraudulent voting is statistically vanishingly small) and by reducing voting times, closing polling places, and purging voter rolls—all of which, the Brennan Center for Justice points out, place “special burdens on racial minorities, poor people, and young and old voters,” i.e., demographics that skew Democratic.
While those young subway riders do need to get out and vote, let’s imagine that they’re only in the Big Apple while attending college and that they hail from a state such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Arizona—all three of which narrowly voted for Biden in 2020. In that case, those students should vote absentee back home rather than just running up the numbers here in Big Blue NYC. I understand that having New York residency helps with tuition costs, but Joe’s got your back on that, right? Well, at least he does more than any Republican candidate angling for the White House in 2024. Of course, your vote always matters, but it can matter even more if you leverage it in ways both practical and … well, a bit extreme.
“As long as I count the Votes, what are you going to do about it?”
Let’s cover “extreme” first. Perhaps we’re running out of time for the 2022 midterms, but the 2024 presidential race is already racing toward us, so New Yorkers might want to think about moving to … well, Florida will have 30 electoral votes in 2024—up from 29 in 2020, thanks again, Cuomo!—and that state chose Trump over Biden by 371,686 votes. Suppose 400,000 New York Dems and another 200,000 from the Garden State (New Jersey favored Biden by 725,061 votes) decided to join many other snowbirds and buy a condo in Florida, establishing residency in the Sunshine State. The Dems would still have great numbers in the Northeast but those 30 Florida electoral votes would go a long way toward sealing the deal for Biden—or Veep Kamala Harris or California governor Gavin Newsome or Senator Elizabeth Warren or Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer or (fill in your fave here). That is, if Biden decides he’s not the best bet for democracy in 2024.
And just 150,000 Empire State Dems willing to settle along the beautiful coast of North Carolina would amply overcome Trump’s 74,483 vote advantage and turn the Tar Heel State’s 16 Electoral College votes from red to blue (and they’d get to take in some great college hoops in the bargain). Then again, even if you could establish a pierogi- and bagel-centered commune on the outskirts of Yellowstone Park, in Wyoming, is it really worth 150,000 Dems moving to the deep red Equality State to pick up only three electoral votes? See how the “ideal” concept of one person/one vote is as malleable as salt water taffy in America’s antiquated, winner-take-all Electoral College system?
Now that we see how important election tallies are, here’s a political taunt from a corrupt New York City–born bully: “As long as I count the Votes, what are you going to do about it?” That quote was ascribed to the flamboyantly venal “Boss” Tweed, the head of New York’s Tammany Hall political gang, by the cartoonist Thomas Nast in an 1871 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Tweed lived the Manhattan high life for a couple of decades: “He thrives on a percentage of pilfering, grows rich on distributed dividends of rascality. His extortions are boundless in their sum as in their iniquity” was a description in a contemporary newspaper. But after being convicted of forgery and larceny, jumping bail, and being re-arrested, Tweed died in the Ludlow Street Jail, in 1878.
Now let’s fast-forward a century and a half: New York State Attorney General Letitia James has just charged former president Donald Trump with financial fraud, i.e., lowballing valuations of Trump Organization assets for tax purposes but inflating them to secure favorable loan terms. Yet the even darker parallel connecting Tweed and Trump is their mutual concern not with which candidates citizens actually vote for but with who is in charge of counting the ballots. As the leader of the Grand Old Party, Trump has never stopped flogging his stolen election claims in the hopes of eroding confidence in voting integrity, in order to open the door for election deniers—should they obtain office in November in various swing states—to ram through electors loyal only to Trump and not to voters’ actual will, not to mention the Constitution. Remember that more than a third of Republicans running for statewide offices this year are trumpeting Trump’s lies about voting integrity in the U.S. And just to repeat: Trump’s own election overseers deemed the 2020 elections “the most secure in American history.”
The Grand Old Party is spreading lies about the 2020 election in order to confuse and frighten voters, in an attempt to do exactly what they say their unnecessary voter restriction laws are designed to avoid—steal elections. That leaves voters a stark choice—vote for the Grand Theft Party’s lies and intimidation tactics or try to preserve Democracy by electing candidates from the Democratic party to offices across the land. This brings us back to that second thing our subway-riding New Yorkers were mistaken about: The Democrats are not progressive enough.
Well, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020. That makes him one of the most progressive presidents in American history. Don’t think so? Where would we be now with Donald Trump in office? There would have been no Inflation Reduction Act, which will lead to measures aimed at tamping down inflation, natch, while also reducing the national deficit by imposing taxes that some of the largest corporations have dodged in the past. And, in a major reversal of Trump’s policies, Biden has allocated $370 billion to fund programs to reduce climate change and boost clean-energy production.
And while many on the right make the argument that Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if Trump were still in office, that is only because Putin was already getting everything he wanted from Trump. The U.S. president discounted Russian cyber-attacks on the 2016 elections, despite his own agencies emphatically concluding otherwise; maligned the NATO defense alliance; and shook down Ukraine’s president in 2019 by threatening to withhold arms assistance, an act that led to his first impeachment. Putin’s reign of terror inside Russia’s borders—where opponents fall out of windows or die under other mysterious circumstances—and aggressive war in Ukraine illustrate what happens to a nation devoid of democracy and ruled by a strongman more concerned about power than country.
There is no doubt that progress in America moves slowly, but as a Supreme Court wrenched far to the right by Trump and his Republican supporters in the Senate has demonstrated, everything from abortion to voting rights to gay marriage can be suppressed, reversed, and even criminalized. If Biden hadn’t defeated Trump, we would have another Animal House-esque poet—“We drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer”—like Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, not the eloquent and inspiring Ketanji Brown Jackson.
If you’re still not ready to take one for Team Democracy by giving up your subway commute and spending your days hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, the next best thing you can do is send a regular contribution to Reverend Raphael Warnock. The first-term Georgia senator is progressive enough that a conservative-backed group is running ads in the state with the message “Raphael Warnock has Joe Biden’s back. While other Democrats may abandon the president, Joe Biden doesn’t have to worry about Warnock. Whether it’s the Green New Deal, the climate crisis … or sending $70 billion dollars to save Ukraine, Warnock has stood with Biden on refocusing our military on white supremacy, transgender rights, or critical race theory. Warnock is a committed progressive.” Although presented in an upbeat manner, the ad is throwing red meat to supporters of Warnock’s GOP opponent, Herschel Walker, the legendary University of Georgia running back who recently said, when asked about the candidates’ upcoming debate, “I’m not that smart and he’s that preacher, he’s a smart man, wear these nice suits. So he gonna show up and embarrass me.” Some will see this as an attempt by Walker to lower debate expectations, but we say take the man at his word and send your contributions to the smart guy.
Another crucial U.S. Senate race is between current Pennsylvania lieutenant. governor John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz. For progressives, supporting Fetterman, who has worked for LGBTQ+ rights and against environmental racism, over a celebrity salesman who warranted the headline “Dr. Oz Shouldn’t Be a Senator—or a Doctor” in a recent opinion piece in Scientific American, is, as Herschel Walker might say, “a no-brainer.”
In Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes, the state’s current lieutenant governor, supports so many progressive programs that he faces serious electoral headwinds in a purple state that voted for Trump in 2016 and reversed course only enough to give Biden a win by less than 1% of the vote. Maybe your political donation can encourage Wisconsin’s better angels to find a way to lift Barnes over incumbent Ron Johnson—a hard-core election denier who supports tax policies you’ll love if you’re a billionaire, since you’ll pay the same tax rate as someone who makes only $45,000 a year.
In North Carolina, former public defender and judge Cheri Beasley is challenging Republican Ted Budd to replace retiring GOP senator Richard Burr. On June 16, Budd, currently a congressman, told Fox News, “This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s not Putin’s fault,” when asked if Russia’s attack on Ukraine and subsequent closures of pipelines had anything to do with rising gas prices. For good measure, he took a $5,000 campaign donation (the legal limit) from a political action committee drawing funds from fossil fuel producers, and the very next day voted against the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, which reads, in part:
It shall be unlawful for any person to sell a consumer fuel, at wholesale or retail, in an area and during a period of an energy emergency covered by a proclamation issued under paragraph (2) at a price that—
(A) is unconscionably excessive; and
(B) indicates the seller is exploiting the circumstances related to an energy emergency to increase prices unreasonably.
Who couldn’t get behind that? Well, not congressional Republicans. The bill made it out of the House but has stalled in the Senate, despite record profits for oil companies—$17.85 billion for Exxon in the second quarter of this year alone. Want to know which politicians have your interests at heart? As the old Watergate saying about political corruption has it, “Follow the money.”
In Ohio, Democrat Tim Ryan is in a super close race with author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who disparaged Trump as “noxious” and an “idiot” in 2016. But things are now rosy between the former POTUS and the MAGA wannabe, so much so that on September 17, Trump told supporters at a Vance rally that although some media outlets were questioning their relationship, “J.D. is kissing my ass, he wants my support so bad.” It used to be that you just had to kiss the ring.
In the beyond-important governor’s race in swing state Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro is facing Doug Mastriano, a proud election-result denier who also feels that abortion is “science-denying genocide.” Even Republicans who once worked for Trump are scared of Mastriano’s extreme views—in August, James D. Shultz, who worked in Trump’s White House Office of Legal Counsel, wrote this in Philadelphia magazine: “Mastriano, who was at the January 6, 2021, riots in Washington, D.C., has been subpoenaed by and testified before—albeit briefly—the January 6th committee. He has promoted unsubstantiated QAnon conspiracy theories and continues to advance disproven claims of election fraud. He led the charge to overturn the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, showing contempt for the very voters—both Republicans and Democrats—he hopes to lead.” Summing up what could happen nationally if extremist election deniers gain power, Schultz concluded, “He would be an absolute disaster for Pennsylvania. Let’s hope Republicans across the Commonwealth care enough about preserving democracy to prevent Mastriano from taking all of us down with him.”
Here are two other states where election deniers are running for governor:
In Arizona, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who resisted attempts by Grand Canyon State Republicans to deny the 2020 presidential results, is facing Kari Lake, who, per endorser Donald Trump’s playbook, has already said she won’t accept the results of the governor’s race if she loses: “If we don’t win, then there’s some cheating going on. And we already know that.”
In Wisconsin, incumbent Tony Evers is battling Trump-endorsed Tim Michels, who refuses to say whether or not, if elected, he will certify the 2024 presidential election results in the Badger State. Like Kari Lake, Michels only approves of elections where his side wins.
In our next installment, we’ll look at more hotly contested races, including some secretary of state elections, since these little-known figures have their hands on the levers that oversee voting in the states. We’ll also look at House of Representatives races, because if the presidential election is a tie, it’s the House that picks the winner. Because all you kids (and longtime Gothamites) riding the subways here and voters across the country must understand that only one party is promoting free and fair elections: the Democrats. Republicans across the spectrum are either denying that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States or are complicit with the Big Lie in their deafening silence on this issue—the most important one of this young century. And if any given Democrat on your ballot (or candidate you’re considering donating to) doesn’t check enough of your progressive boxes, don’t be afraid to check their box anyway. Because, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when Republicans tell you—literally out loud—that they won’t accept election results unless they win, believe them the first time. ❖