“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Restore Trust in Our Elections — By Killing the Electoral College
Pursuing more lawsuits and investigations will never restore trust. Fixing our electoral system could.
Update: Enough electors have now cast their votes to make Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially the next president and vice president of the United States.
Today in D.C. the 538 electors in the electoral college are casting the votes that will seal Joe Biden's victory as president-elect of the United States.
Still, President Donald Trump has yet to concede, and thousands of his supporters are gathering in the streets in protest of what they believe was a stolen election. Perhaps they're hoping for a groundswell of faithless electors to flip the Electoral College vote — unlikely as that may be.
Thousands of Trump supporters rally in Washington, D.C. to protest election resultswww.youtube.com
What's more surprising is that nearly two thirds of Republican legislators in the House of Representatives recently backed a legal case in which the state of Texas was suing four other states for the way they ran their elections. The case has since been roundly rejected by the Supreme Court.
Even the three Trump-appointees ruled that there was no basis to even consider it. But why did so many GOP politicians stick their necks out to back a case that was doomed to fail?
The answer is that their voters no longer trust American elections. With trust in the electoral system having dropped by nearly half among Republican voters — down to 36% from its 68% peak just before the election — these legislators are signaling to their base that they agree.
Look at Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler. In her debate with challenger Raphael Warnock on December 6th, Senator Loeffler repeatedly highlighted the existence of "over 250" open investigations into possible issues with the election.
Does she actually think that the results of the election are likely to be overturned? It's possible, but what's more likely is that she's concerned about her own prospects in the upcoming runoff election.
She wants to signal to the voters who are threatening to abandon the GOP out of loyalty to Trump that she is on their side — that she, too, wants to reject the election results… But she still wants them to go to the polls in January.
Loeffler Warnock debate
In many respects these lawsuits and the statements about investigations can be dismissed as political theater. But there is a real issue underlying them: American presidential elections are deeply messy and confusing.
It makes sense that voters don't trust our system, because our system is almost impossible to understand. Every state has its own rules for how votes can be cast, how they can be counted, and how the state's electors are distributed among the candidates.
Does your state allow drive-through polling or same-day registration? Does it use paper ballots or electronic voting?
Does it cut off mail-in ballots based on arrival date or postmark? Does it give all of its electors to the candidate that gets the most votes, or does it split them up — like Maine and Nebraska?
It would be silly to think that these differences don't affect the outcome of elections, so why shouldn't residents of a state like Texas scrutinize how other states run their elections? If we are all going to have to live with the result, don't we all have a stake in how voters are purged from the voting polls in Georgia?
The answer is that these differences are an inevitable consequence of the Constitution. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are granted sovereign control over how their electors are selected — with electors pledged to one presidential candidate or another.
In the past this meant that many states didn't rely on a popular vote at all. Instead, state legislatures decided which candidate they preferred and sent electors to Washington accordingly.
At this point every state allows its citizens to vote for their preferred candidate, but each state's election is so different, despite the fact that we all live with the results together. Is it any wonder people are confused and distrustful?
It doesn't help that the president and his supporters are casting further doubt on every aspect of the process, but that's hardly the only problem. The fact that every state has its own procedures and its own electoral apparatus multiplies the number of possible flaws in the system by 50 — technically 51, including DC.
This can only produce more confusion and distrust — more "Stop the Steal" protests and threats of violence. But there is good news: We can fix this.
The Constitution is not immutable. It is a living document, with an established process for changing and improving it. And while it's generally very hard to pass an amendment, if Donald Trump spent the remainder of his term in office pushing for an amendment to fix American elections, he could get enough bipartisan support — by killing the Electoral College.
Back in 2018 President Trump spoke out against the Electoral College in an interview with Fox & Friends. Democrats have long railed against the institution for having twice in the last 20 years handed the necessary 270 electoral votes to Republican candidates who lost the popular vote — the same thing nearly happened this year.
But those critics found an unlikely ally in one of the supposed beneficiaries of our current system. President Donald Trump argued in the interview that the Electoral College totally transforms the nature of the campaign, stating, "I would rather have the popular vote, because it's — to me, it's much easier to win."
President Trump Endorses National Popular Vote on Fox & Friendswww.youtube.com
If he pushes to reform the system now — uniting his loyalists with Democrats — he could have the chance to prove that point in 2024. It would also be a way for him to leave an indelible, positive mark on the very fabric of our nation.
It would prevent a recurrence of the current confusion and distrust — with so many lawsuits in different states making room for uncertainty. But it would also eliminate a lot of other problems with our current system.
By establishing a federally controlled popular vote for the presidency, we could correct the fact that votes in different states are worth more than others — a vote in Texas is worth ⅓ of a vote in Vermont. We could even take the opportunity to introduce some other common sense reforms, like ranked choice voting and enfranchising voters in Puerto Rico and other territories — who have so far been subject to taxation without representation.
There are other ways to fix some of the problems with the electoral college, but none would be as effective and enduring in restoring trust in our elections as an amendment to the Constitution. By establishing a secure, unified, and straightforward electoral process for all American citizens — one person, one vote — Donald Trump could establish a lasting legacy for his 2016-2020 term.
And if he decides to run again in 2024, there would be no question about last minute rule changes or cheating in swing states. There would be one set of rules for the entire country. He would win or lose based on the simple reality of how many voters want him to be their president.
With so many politicians arguing that we need to pursue an endless string of confusing lawsuits involving hazy evidence, in order to "restore faith in the election process," it's time to look toward preventing this chaos and doubt in the future.
We don't need 51 separate, potentially vulnerable elections to pick one president. We need to kill the electoral college.
Deceased Brothel Owner Wins Nevada Election: This is America
Dennis Hof won his bid for Nevada Assembly District 36 last night, despite having died three weeks ago.
Midterm elections are often considered a referendum on a sitting administration's progress—a collective report card graded by the people. Early numbers from this year's elections suggest a substantial and possibly record increase in voter turnout, which has been historically low in non-presidential voting years. It's not surprising, given the turbulent political climate, that candidates from both parties continued to campaign at full speed up until the final hours. Yet despite an election cycle that saw blatantly racist attack ads, felony accusations, and threats of violence, the one surefire road to victory has been apparent for years: death.
Outlandish as it may seem, at least nine dead people have been elected to public office since 1962—six in the last 20 years alone. The latest, Dennis Hof, whose body was discovered last month after the legal brothel owner had celebrated at a campaign-and-birthday party, claimed victory in Nevada last night. Prior to his death, the 72-year-old had been celebrating with friends Heidi Fleiss, Ron Jeremy, and Joe Arpaio.
Ballots Beyond the Grave: Deceased People Who Have Won Elections
Rep. Clement Miller (CA, 1962; airplane accident)
Reps. Nick Begich (AK) and Hale Boggs (LA, 1972; airplane accident)
Gov. Mel Carnahan (MO, 2000; plane crash)
Rep. Patsy Mink (HI, 2002; viral pneumonia)
Sen. James Rhoades (PENN, 2008; car accident)
Sen. Jenny Oropeza (CA, 2010; cancer)
Sen. Mario Gallegos (TX, 2012; liver disease)
Dennis Hof (NV, 2018; cause of death not yet reported)
The Nevada Independent
Hof ran for office as a self-proclaimed "Trump Republican" and stated that the president's 2016 win ignited his own desire for a career in politics. Similarities between the two run deep. Hof gained fame as a reality star on the long-running HBO documentary series Cathouse, which captured life at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, one of several legal brothels owned and operated by Hof. In 2015, he published a memoir titled "The Art of the Pimp," a clear homage to Trump's "The Art of the Deal." In it, Hof included a psychological profile by psychotherapist Dr. Sheenah Hankin, which categorizes Hof as a narcissist who abused the sex workers he employed.
Among the issues he championed were immigration reform, a repeal of Nevada's 2015 Commerce Tax, and a campus carry law that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their weapons onto Nevada college and university campuses. He was endorsed by Roger Stone and Grover Norquist. In the 2018 primary elections, Hof beat incumbent James Oscarson by a mere 432 votes. Because he died within 60 days of the upcoming election, Hof remained on the ballot, though signs were posted at polling sites notifying voters of his death.
It seems as though these issues matter more than electing a living person to citizens of the 36th Assembly District. In fact, a 2013 study by Vanderbilt University found that, in lower-level elections, voters are most likely to elect the candidate with the highest name recognition.
The 36th Assembly District, which spans Clark, Lincoln, and Nye counties, has long been a GOP stronghold. Hof defeated Democrat Lesia Romanov, a first-time (living, breathing) candidate and lifetime educator who works as assistant principal of an elementary school for at-risk children. Romanov was impelled to run for office by a desire for common-sense gun reform following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Yet, too many of her constituents, upon discovering she was running against Hof, she became a de facto advocate for women, including "survivors of sex trafficking and exploited and abused brothel workers," according to NBC News. Romanov was among many women running for office in hopes of making Nevada's legislature the first to hold a female majority in the country.
As The Washington Post reported in 2014, there hasn't been an election with a dead person on the ballot in which the dead person lost. It's hard to determine what's more damning for American democracy: that voters are so divided that they're more likely to vote for a dead person than cross party lines or that they've been voting that way for years. At the same time, one might argue that giving Hof's seat to a living Republican (as appointed by county officials, according to state law) is a better outcome than if it'd gone to Hof himself, considering his history of sexual abuse allegations. The most preposterous indictment of the American political system is that although deceased candidates have been elected before, now the electorate could seemingly ask itself—in all seriousness—whether a dead serial abuser makes a better candidate than a living one. And no one seems to know the answer.