Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Who is representing you? Federal and state governments are more White and male than the populations they serve

Published in The Emancipator (a joint venture between the Boston Globe and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research)

The nation is home to populations that are quite diverse in racial and ethnic backgrounds, and they are generally evenly split along gender lines. However, the governments that serve them are led by people who are disproportionately White and male, according to an analysis by The Emancipator.

The charts and maps below paint a picture of a country whose top government officials do not often share racial, ethnic, or gender-identity characteristics with those they serve. These representations are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and federal and state executives, legislators, and judges.

“There’s a clear descriptive value in seeing people who look like you in public institutions. Namely, you feel like there’s the capacity for someone to represent you,” says Bridgett A. King, an associate professor and director of the Master of Public Administration Program at Auburn University. “You feel like it’s a space where people like you, across whatever demographic marker we’re using, are welcome and there’s opportunities. So there’s that, the optics.”

Shared identity can extend benefits beyond race, according to Spencer Piston, an associate professor of political science at Boston University. For example, he says, “Legislators of poorer backgrounds are more likely than rich legislators to look out for poor people’s interests.”

Our federal representatives don’t reflect us – especially in the Senate

At the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives most closely resembles the United States as a whole in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. Just shy of two-thirds of House members identify as White; 12.5% of them are Black; and 9.5% are Latino, according to the Congressional Research Service. The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, is the least representative of America’s racial diversity with 83% of its members identifying as White, 3% as Black, and 7% as Latino.

The federal judiciary is similarly split, with the U.S. Supreme Court having similar ratios as the United States overall, though without any Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Indigenous people, or multiracial members. But the overwhelming majority of the 1,413 sitting federal judges identify as White, according to the Federal Judicial Center.

Forty-seven of those federal judges are of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent; and four are Native Americans: Diane Joyce Humetewa of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Lauren Jennifer King of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Frank Howell Seay of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and Sunshine Suzanne Sykes of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The top level of the executive branch is split between a White man, President Joe Biden, and a multiracial woman, Vice President Kamala Harris, who has both Black and Asian American heritage.

Some state governments reflect their state’s diversity, others fall far short

States’ executive branches are overwhelmingly White, with just three governors (Hawaii, New Mexico, and Oklahoma) identifying as having backgrounds other than White.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hawaii’s legislature is the least White, with just 22% of its members identifying with that background, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vermont and North Dakota are served by legislators who are 98% White. The Whitest state in the nation is Maine, where 96% of its lawmakers are White. Even so, those states’ legislatures are relatively representative of their majority-White constituencies.

Mississippi’s lawmakers are also relatively representative of their population: 57% White, 27% Black, and 14% other races in a legislature serving a population that is 56% White and 37% Black.

Starkly unrepresentative legislatures exist in Alaska, Delaware, and Oklahoma, where White lawmakers are much more prevalent than White constituents. In Delaware, a population that is just 61.5% White, residents are served by a legislature that is 85.9% White. That leaves a lot of people who may not find their interests, experiences, or needs shared or understood by those who hold power.

When it comes to judges at the state level, it’s a little more complicated, in particular because reliable data from the National Center for State Courts is only available for 25 states. Hawaii is again the least White with 21.8% of its judges identifying as such, 37.2% identifying as Asian American, and 20.5% identifying as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. At the other end of the spectrum is New Hampshire, where 100% of judges identify as White.

Majority-female nation, led mostly by men

The overall national population is slightly more than half female, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. But all three branches of the federal government are more male than the population. The Senate is the most male-dominated, with 76% of its members identifying as male, according to the Congressional Research Service. As the first female vice president in U.S. history, Harris makes the top of the executive branch an even gender split. The U.S. Supreme Court is majority male, with four of the nine justices being women.

States’ executive branches are male-dominated, with just nine governorships held by women as of September 2022.

The legislatures of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming have an overwhelming male presence. More than 80% of the legislators from those states are men, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine state legislative branches are relatively evenly split: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have male majorities, but women account for more than 40% of those lawmakers. Only Nevada has a majority-female legislature, with 61.9% of its members identifying as women.

When it comes to the judicial branch, limited data obscures the full picture. But what is available shows Nevada as the most equitable, with half of the judges being female, according to the National Center for State Courts. Alaska, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon are relatively equitable, with less than 60% of their judges identifying as male. At the other end of the spectrum, in Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and New Hampshire more than 70% of the judges are men.

King acknowledges that shared identity isn’t always a clincher in achieving an individual’s hoped-for policy goals. But, she adds: “In the context of the United States, one of the persistent and long-lasting markers of identity is race. So even if it’s a Black person who is conservative who doesn’t represent me, the presence of racial and ethnic minorities in positions of power is important for democratic representation and governance.”

Jeff Inglis is a Boston-based editor, writer and data journalist who has covered politics, technology, science and culture in various parts of the U.S., as well as New Zealand and Antarctica.

Monday, October 17, 2022

So you want to vote by mail – 5 essential reads


    <img src="" />


        Voting at home by mail can be very convenient – and safe from concerns about COVID-19.

        <span class="attribution"><a class="source" href="">Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images</a></span>



<span><a href="">Jeff Inglis</a>, <em><a href="">The Conversation</a></em></span>

<p>As the midterm elections approach, much of life has returned to its <a href="">busy post-COVID-19 normal</a>, even as <a href="">the pandemic continues</a>. Being busy and wary of sharing space with large numbers of strangers are among the many reasons people might consider skipping Election Day. </p>

<p>In most states, you can skip Election Day and still vote, though. In many ways, the most convenient way to vote is by mail – even if many states require you to file a form or use a website to request a ballot. You can examine the choices of candidates and questions, and consider your choices, as you would if you were to vote on Election Day. When you are ready, you can mark your ballot in your own time and either mail it back or drop it off at a local ballot drop box or government office – as long as you do it before your state’s deadline.</p>

<p>Many people have questions about the integrity of this process, how they can be sure their vote will be counted accurately and how they can make sure it is even counted at all. Several scholars have written articles for The Conversation U.S. describing aspects of this system and explaining why it’s trustworthy and safe.</p>

<figure class="align-center zoomable">

            <a href=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img alt="A sample ballot from Cobb County, Georgia." src=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" srcset=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=900&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w,;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=900&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w,;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=900&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w,;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=1131&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w,;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=1131&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w,;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=1131&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px"></a>


              <span class="caption">Ballots are specific to particular locations, including counties, municipalities and even sewer districts.</span>

              <span class="attribution"><a class="source" href="">AP Photo/Amy Beth Hanson</a></span>



<h2>1. ‘Built-in safeguards’</h2>

<p><a href="">Charlotte Hill</a>, a former local election official in San Francisco who now studies voting laws at the University of California, Berkeley, and political scientist <a href="">Jake Grumbach</a> from the University of Washington write about <a href="">six ways mailed ballots are protected from fraud</a>. Those include the facts that it’s very hard to make a fake ballot and a fake envelope and that eagle-eyed postal and municipal workers are always on the lookout for irregularities.</p>

<p>“The mail-in voting process has several built-in safeguards that together make it hard for one person to vote fraudulently and even more difficult to commit voter fraud on a scale capable of swinging election outcomes,” Hill and Grumbach write.</p>

<h2>2. Lessons from Oregon</h2>

<p>Since 1998, all elections in Oregon have been held by mail. Over that entire time, <a href=";hl=en&amp;oi=ao">Priscilla Southwell</a>, a professor emerita of political science at the University of Oregon, has watched how the system has worked and how people have reacted to it, and then she has analyzed its integrity.</p>

<p>“<a href="">Oregon’s experience shows that mail-in voting can be safe</a> and secure, providing accurate and reliable results the public can be confident in,” she writes.</p>

<p>Her conclusion reflects broad public support of the system: “Perhaps the strongest evidence that the system is equitable, fair, reliable and safe is that in two statewide surveys I have conducted over the years, a nearly identical percentage of Oregon Republicans and Democrats strongly support voting by mail, and the same is true of elected officials in the state.”</p>

<h2>3. One caution</h2>

<p>In an article crediting the convenience and integrity of voting by mail, political scientists <a href="">Susan Orr</a> of The College at Brockport, State University of New York, and <a href=";hl=en&amp;oi=ao">James Johnson</a> at the University of Rochester note one potential pitfall: Because it happens outside an official polling place, <a href="">the act of voting isn’t necessarily secret</a>.</p>

<p>A person voting by mail may be more susceptible to the influence of a relative, friend or employer, or may even be observed while marking their ballot. </p>

<p>“The voter marks the ballot outside the supervision of election monitors – often at home. It’s possible to do so in secret,” they explain. “But secrecy is no longer guaranteed, and for some it may actually be impossible.”</p>

<figure class="align-center zoomable">

            <a href=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img alt="A motorcyclist puts a ballot in a drop box." src=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" srcset=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=382&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w,;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=382&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w,;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=382&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w,;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=480&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w,;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=480&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w,;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=480&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px"></a>


              <span class="caption">Drop boxes can be a helpful alternative to mailboxes for people who prefer not to buy postage or who are voting at the last minute.</span>

              <span class="attribution"><a class="source" href="">AP Photo/Don Ryan</a></span>



<h2>4. Some ignore the evidence</h2>

<p>There have been several lawsuits, especially in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, alleging that voting by mail is fraudulent or suspect. Rutgers University Newark law professor <a href="">Penny Venetis</a> has observed that some judges accept those claims:</p>

<p>“<a href="">Without providing any explanation or evidence to the contrary</a>, these decisions essentially erase scientific findings, cementing into law unsubstantiated and discredited claims linking voting by mail to fraud.”</p>

<h2>5. Easy accountability</h2>

<p>If you’ve decided to vote by mail, in most states you can keep tabs on your ballot and make sure it arrived safely at your local election office.</p>

<p>Law professor <a href="">Steven Mulroy</a> at the University of Memphis explained that many states have “<a href="">a unified system [that] allows all voters to see</a> when their request for a ballot by mail was received, when the ballot was mailed to them and when the completed ballot was received back at the local election office.”</p>

<p>Check to see if your state is one, and you can rest assured that your ballot is on the way, that you’ve successfully mailed it back and that it has been accepted and counted.</p>

<p><em>Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archive.</em><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img src="" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important" referrerpolicy="no-referrer-when-downgrade" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: --></p>

<p><span><a href="">Jeff Inglis</a>, Freelance Editor, <em><a href="">The Conversation</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</p>

Thursday, October 6, 2022

U.S. military to stop honoring Confederate history — finally

Published in The Emancipator (a joint venture between the Boston Globe and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research)

The Confederate States of America, the short-lived rogue collection of states addicted to slavery and its profits, will finally be put in its place, if the U.S. Department of Defense has anything to say about it. And a commission that has identified 1,111 items under military control — bases, buildings, streets, signs, and even a floor mat — most certainly does.

Findings from the Naming Commission that first met in March 2021 revealed a wide-ranging inventory of locations, items, and even software in military use around the globe. The goal is to remove all official commemorations of the Confederacy, “an act of rebellion. It was an act of treason,” according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

The commission is chaired by retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the first Black woman to command a U.S. combat ship, the first Black woman to hold two-star and three-star admiral ranks, and the first Black person and the first woman to serve as vice chief of naval operations, the second-highest-ranking officer in the Navy. Most of the items are spread across 26 states. This includes seven states on the Union side and three that were not yet states at the time of the Civil War.

There are also items in Washington, D.C. — the Union’s capital city then and our country’s capital now. Still others are at U.S. military installations in Germany and Japan, which were not established until after World War II. These, of course, are not all of the monuments and memorials around the United States that commemorate the Confederate cause.

These symbols don’t exist as a result of accidents or coincidences. Nor were they part of efforts in the immediate wake of the war to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as President Abraham Lincoln described it. They were created in the early years of the 20th century and remain echoes of a decades-long campaign to recast Confederate history. The real Big Lie, these efforts taught that the Confederacy was a noble “lost cause” attempt to maintain traditional American values, rather than a treasonous insurrection seeking to preserve slavery and the economic engine powered by the forced labor. The commission itself declared, “these names speak far more to the times, places and processes that created them than they do to any actual history of the Civil War, the Confederate insurrection, or our nation’s struggle over slavery and freedom.”

The military base names were among many — honoring both Union and Confederate figures — given to training camps assembled hastily in the run-up to both world wars. Spread around the nation for convenience and political reasons, their names were often picked by local officials who sought to honor their community’s history. Most of the camps, regardless of their namesakes, closed after the wars. But some remained and grew in size and importance over time.

Confederate symbols lurk in many corners

On the commission’s list are nine military bases named for Confederate generals. New names have already been proposed for these locations, subject to approval by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III. The recommendations include changing the name of Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Fort Liberty, to capture the American ideal.

The other proposed names honor figures in U.S. military history. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, for example, is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor for her efforts to save wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a member of the first all-Black U.S. Army unit to fight in World War I, was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly resisting a German attack. Gen. Richard Cavazos was the first Hispanic American to become a four-star general in the Army.

One other military base, Fort Belvoir in Virginia, is named for a plantation where enslaved people were imprisoned and worked. But because it is not named for a specific Confederate figure or event, the commission has determined the fort is outside its purview. The commission has recommended Pentagon officials rename it under the standard process for renaming of military installations.

Seven vessels are listed. One is a Navy warship named for a Civil War battle won by the Confederate army. Five others are landing craft operated by the U.S. Army and named for Confederate military victories.

The remaining one is an oceanographic survey ship, USNS Maury, named for Matthew Maury, who served in the U.S. Navy starting in 1825. He mapped currents and prevailing winds in ways that dramatically increased the speed of sailing. For that work, he is known as the father of modern oceanography and naval meteorology. However, in 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy and joined the Confederate navy.

The inventory also details 14 markers, monuments or statues; 53 paintings, plaques, or portraits; 742 signs, maps, marquees, or displays; and a single floor mat at the Fort Lee commissary. It also includes specific screens in military computer systems, logos on vehicles, and other administrative changes.

The commission recently added references to military units’ battle flags, used at formal events and special occasions to signify the units and their heritage. The flags are often decorated with ribbons for particular awards the unit has earned or identify battles the unit has fought. An August 2022 inventory update added the battle flags of 48 units, which bear a total of 491 streamers commemorating the participation of those units, or their historical predecessors, in battles as part of the Confederate army, though now they are part of the U.S. military.

A September 2022 update recognized that symbols within the insignia for several units, such as a saltire — the X-shaped cross that forms part of the Confederate battle flag — and even the color gray were in some cases meant to honor the Confederacy.

Academy buildings honor traitors

Several of the items on the list are at places where the nation’s top military leaders are trained. They raise questions about how to honor U.S. history without glorifying the treason and rebellion of the Confederacy because the locations and items are named for people who distinguished themselves during loyal service to the U.S. military. They are also the same people who resigned their U.S. commissions to serve in the Confederate military, complicating any formal recognition of their roles in American history.

Consider Maury Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, which is named for the naval oceanographer.

Take the official residence of the Naval Academy’s superintendent, and the street it is on, both named for Franklin Buchanan. He served as a U.S. Navy officer for 45 years, proposed the creation of the Naval Academy, and served as its first superintendent from 1845 to 1847. Like Maury, Buchanan resigned his U.S. commission in 1861 to join the Confederate navy.

The commission has recommended the Naval Academy rename both buildings and the street.

The commission’s inventory lists 10 items at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Two are roads named for Pierre Beauregard and William Hardee, academy graduates and longtime U.S. Army officers who both resigned to serve in the Confederate army. The commission has recommended that the roads be renamed.

Seven other items specifically honor 1829 academy graduate Robert E. Lee. They include a barracks, a child-care center, a group of homes, a mathematics award, and images and quotations by him. From 1852 to 1855, he was West Point’s superintendent. In 1861, he resigned from the U.S. Army, joined the Confederate army, and ultimately became the top general.

The commission has recommended that five items be renamed and that one portrait of Lee in his Confederate uniform be removed.

The 10th item on the commission’s West Point list is a public space on campus called Reconciliation Plaza, dedicated in 1961 to “commemorate the reconciliation between North and South.” The plaza includes several markers with engraved images of several Confederate figures, including Lee. Monuments there commemorate the Confederacy, including a depiction of “Confederate forces in insurrection against Fort Sumter, South Carolina,” the event that opened hostilities in the Civil War.

The commission recommended several changes to the plaza, including the removal of the images that depict Confederate figures, and removal or modification of those that commemorate the Confederacy.

The commission’s report also identifies other items at West Point that are not on its inventory list. One is a set of three plaques at the entrance to Bartlett Hall, the academy’s science center, which portrays several Confederate figures, including Lee. The commission has recommended the plaques be changed to remove their names and images.

Additionally, one of the three plaques shows a hooded figure labeled with the words “Ku Klux Klan.” The commission has determined that this monument, like Fort Belvoir’s name, is not connected directly enough to the Confederacy to be under the commission’s authority. But members have nevertheless recommended that the Department of Defense develop policies to handle this and any other such markers or commemorations that may be discovered.

Another item not on the commission’s inventory list is a monument called the Honor Plaza, which includes a quotation from Lee identifying him as Maj. Robert E. Lee, his rank when he served as West Point superintendent. But the quote is from a time when he was serving in the Confederate army. The commission has recommended it and its reference to Lee be removed.

However, the commission has determined that any images or references to Lee during his time as superintendent at West Point and that “do not conflate his Confederate service are historical artifacts and may remain in place.”

There are also plaques inside buildings that depict the names of Fitzhugh Lee and Joseph Wheeler, West Point graduates who served in the Confederacy. The commission has determined those markers commemorate their Confederate service but has left their disposition up to West Point officials.

The commission has not identified any items that honor the Confederacy or Confederate personnel at the other Defense Department academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its review did not include the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, nor the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation.

What’s next?

The final section of the report recommended all other U.S. Defense Department assets and items — the ones that are not entire bases or housed at military academies — be renamed or have their Confederate-related insignia, markings, or references removed. There is an exception for items not in use, though the commission warned that if those items or insignia return to active use, they should first be altered to remove Confederate references.

The commission also noted that more items, locations, or other military property that honor the Confederacy are likely to come to light in the future. It recommended that those items also be renamed, removed, or modified.

In addition to Admiral Howard, other commission members include Brigadier Gen. Ty Seidule, a professor emeritus of history at West Point; Gen. Robert Neller, a former commandant of the Marine Corps; and Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the first Black West Point graduate to command the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The commission also includes U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, whose district in Georgia contains Fort Gordon and Fort Benning, both named for Confederate generals. Scott notably voted in 2001 to remove the Confederate battle flag from Georgia’s state flag.

Jeff Inglis is a Boston-based editor, writer and data journalist who has covered politics, technology, science and culture in various parts of the U.S., as well as New Zealand and Antarctica.