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William A. Collins: Winning elections

Political operatives are running websites with smiling photos of Democratic candidates as part of a fundraising campaign. But there’s a catch: They’re asking for money to defeat these candidates.

Yes, that’s rather unusual. After being exposed as the perpetrator of this deceptive maneuver, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC) has agreed to refund donations to Democrats fooled by its misleading ads.

And politicians wonder why voters don’t trust them.

Despite this nod to civility, it may be too late to save the RCCC’s reputation or our supposedly sophisticated democracy.

Our elected leaders and their underlings have found mostly subtle ways to cheat. That includes imposing stern ID rules to reduce the non-existent scourge of voter fraud, understaffing select polling locations, gerrymandering district lines, allowing vast expenditures by the wealthy and corporations and denying media coverage to third-party candidates.

Given all those millionaires in Congress, continuing to call the United States a representative democracy requires some twisting of the old definition. But hey, that’s the nature of our evolving language.

And while electoral disorders aren’t a new problem for the United States, the two dominant political parties have changed places.

In the Jim Crow days, Republicans were the champions of civil rights. Now, they’re the ones out to restrict voting. They prefer certain categories of folks to stay home: the poor, the black, the Latino, the LGBT community, the disabled and the female. For some reason, each such group has shown an unsettling proclivity to lean Democratic.

In case you are tempted to believe that this type of election rigging is a recent phenomenon, please recall the original Constitution which only allowed only white male property owners to vote. And you know the unwavering position of modern Republicans: If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, then it’s good enough for them.

Thanks to those new restrictive voting laws, every election brings bizarre tales of ballot-box drama. Former Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright was nearly barred from voting last year. The 90-year-old let his ID expire, and, you know, rules are rules.

Along similar lines, some states don’t allow felons to vote, or else require a Kafkaesque process to gain registration. These restrictive rules, coupled with the common police practice of racial profiling, suppress minority voting. You see, blacks and Latinos are arrested far out of proportion to their numbers in the population and equally out of proportion to their commission of crimes.

By now, the concept of a “free and fair” election has become charmingly quaint.

William A. Collins is an OtherWords columnist who is a former state representative and former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.