Same-day voter registration, automatic registration, in-person early voting, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register, holding “open” primaries, and forcing “dark money” groups to disclose their donors are among myriad concepts that Pennsylvania lawmakers are proposing. Six months into the 2019-2020 legislative session, 252 pieces of election-related legislation have already been introduced in the state.
“Voting is a basic right of citizenship. It’s the foundation of a democracy—people’s ability to participate and engage with the issues facing their communities and their country. That ideal lies at the core of American values, and I’m always mindful of the fact that a lot of Americans gave their lives for that ideal. Moreover, excluding groups of voters encourages resentment, risking protests and potentially violence. … Winning power by keeping people away from the polls is a perversion of what democracy is about. Our political institutions need to reflect the will of the people, and if you disenfranchise people, it means our representative government doesn’t reflect accurately the will of the people.”
Election officials in North Carolina and Maryland are probing whether top voting system vendors are foreign-owned and demanding more transparency after revelations in the Mueller report. Russian-backed hackers inserted malware into VR Systems’ voting registration system in Florida in 2016, and equipment from the same vendor caused Election Day glitches and slowdowns in North Carolina. Maryland officials learned last year that its election data host, ByteGrid LLC, was majority-owned by a private equity firm in which a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin had an investment.
There’s great news in the world of election reform, as a new bill would allow voters in Maine to choose the next president through ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank candidates from first choice to last. Supporters say RCV allows people to vote without party bias and could prevent a president from being elected without the popular vote.
A Unite America report grades all 50 states on their efforts in adopting reforms that increase election participation, accountability, and competition: ranked-choice voting, automatic voter registration, vote by mail, open primaries, and independent commissions. Since 2010, 20 ballot measures appeared on voters’ ballots, and 16 were approved. With 9 states receiving an “F” rating, there remains significant work to be done to advance structural reforms.
“America is likely to enter a lasting state in which a significant portion of Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike no longer trust the fairness of our elections. If this perception becomes the new normal, or if apathy and a feeling of helplessness become commonplace, it will be even harder to root out and prevent further corruption. Apathy allows leaders seeking to remain in power to more easily manipulate election outcomes, with or without foreign assistance.”
Under Senate Bill 96, which was signed off by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year, private employers are banned from being able to ask about applicants’ criminal history on their initial job applications. “Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from notifying the public or an applicant that the law or the employer’s policy could disqualify an applicant who has a certain criminal history from employment in particular positions with that employer,” the measure also states.
A group of 14 Stanford University scholars has published its recommendations for increased election security, addressing problems of cybersecurity, ballot security, and election transparency. Nate Persily, director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, said. “We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction… But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”
The Democratic Party of Kansas has submitted a plan to the Democratic National Committee to ditch Kansas’ traditional caucus system in favor of a primary election with ranked-choice voting. Voters will vote for their first, second, third, etc., choices down the ballot. If a candidate gets less than 15% of the first-choice votes cast, those votes will be redistributed to the candidates who were marked as second choice, and so on. Only candidates with 15% or more of the votes are left. The delegates are then awarded proportionally, based on the candidates’ percentage of the final tally.
Virginians head to the polls for a primary election on Tuesday using a new district map after federal judges found the old map to be racially gerrymandered. The new map tilts six of the 26 districts involved more Democratic than they previously were. Republicans have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has heard arguments but not ruled in the case. If the court were to throw out the new map, Tuesday’s primary process could be wholly or partially discarded, casting the election into chaos.
“There is nothing more important to our system of self-government than assuring that each vote is accurately recorded and counted. Our electoral process has been subjected to systematic assault since 2016 and will forever be vulnerable to cyber attack in the digital world. Our traditional voting machines are inadequate in the face of these assaults. They must be replaced to protect our elections.”
Another city is considering adopting ranked-choice voting. Following Santa Fe’s lead, the city council in Albuquerque, N.M., is debating using the voting system in its future elections for mayor and council members. The system allows voters to rank candidates instead of just picking one, and can also conduct an instant run-off if an election doesn’t have a clear winner, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision will determine whether citizens can ask the federal courts to resolve partisan gerrymanders or if they need to ask their state courts. A federal standard would apply to all 50 states. If the court rules that this is a state matter, that would leave decisions up to state constitutions and state law. This could mean that what is considered partisan gerrymandering in one state is not considered partisan gerrymandering in another. The practice of drawing maps that unfairly advantage one political party over another could continue in some states but be banned in others.”
Election security has become an increasingly pivotal issue in the 2020 presidential contest. As the election approaches, voting security groups are trying to rally the public behind an effort to ban Internet connections from U.S. voting machines that could be hacked by Russia and other foreign adversaries. They’re getting significant help from Democrats, who fear Russia might try to deliver the president a second term after the success of its 2016 effort.
Wow, who’d have thought something politically positive could happen on social media? And between two stranger bedfellows than Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz? But it did. The two exchanged messages on Twitter and came to an agreement on potential legislation to bar former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists. And to think some people just use Twitter to rant about hoaxes!
Some good news for election security and expanded voter access in California. Secretary of State Alex Padilla is requiring all counties to update to new, more secure voting systems by 2020. Some local election officials are taking the opportunity to make voting more accessible for people with disabilities as well. Sounds like a win-win for the voters of California.
“More and more, American electoral politics seems correlated with demographics. The modern Democratic Party is increasingly made up of minorities and young people, and thus has a direct interest in making voting as easy and widespread as possible. Republicans, conversely, are dependent on white people and older voters, demographic groups already more likely to cast ballots. The GOP thus has a direct political incentive to tighten rules and restrict electoral access.”
“As New Hampshire and Iowa get closer, Democrats will take a deeper look at the entire field. Name recognition will grow. The electability argument will change. The president’s approval rating will fluctuate. But what we’ve learned from the last two and a half years won’t change: In our two-party system as manipulated by campaign consultants today, with candidates selected via a winner-takes-all process, a plurality winner governs with an eye to the base, and can transform an entire party and our politics in the process. It shouldn’t have to be that way.”
The Supreme Court on Friday set aside two lower court rulings tossing out congressional maps in Michigan and Ohio, putting the process of redrawing district lines on hold while it prepares to rule on whether or not partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. Republicans in both Midwestern states had appealed lower-court rulings that their congressional maps had been drawn so egregiously to favor the GOP that they violated the constitutional rights of voters.
The Maine Senate voted narrowly on Tuesday to join an interstate effort that would aim to undo the Electoral College in its current configuration by awarding presidential electors based on the national winner of the popular vote. If it becomes law, Maine would join 15 other jurisdictions in an interstate compact aimed at electing presidents by popular vote.
Announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Saturday morning, a proposed law to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Illinois would allow possession of up to 30 grams of the plant for residents 21 and over, a $20 million low-interest loan program to promote “social equity” in marijuana-related business ownership, and expungement of misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions.
“[H]ardly anyone seems satisfied with how their own elections are run. But there is actually a lot of good news out there on voting rights and election reform. Some communities are expanding the electorate by enfranchising more people. Voter registration has become effortless, and Election Day is now more convenient in certain places. Structural changes to how we cast ballots have reduced voter apathy. Innovative public financing options have made it easier for more people to run for office and actually have a chance to win.”
“In March 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress, announcing his intention to submit what would become known as the Voting Rights Act. … That evening, addressing our nation’s leaders, President Johnson explained, ‘This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.’ President Johnson was right. We must protect and reaffirm the right of all voters to participate in every election, including those who are unenrolled independents.”
“[Q]uestions about voter eligibility have ranged from efforts to remove minorities from voter rolls to suggestions that people who are incarcerated should be allowed to vote. Those are complex issues, but the conundrum of illegal gerrymandering should be easy to fix. Other states should be quick to adopt Washington’s bipartisan approach to drawing congressional and legislative districts.”
“Americans have long struggled over the scope of voting and representation. Democracy is — and always will be — a fight. And the lines of this particular conflict are clear. Rather than try to expand our democracy or even preserve it as it stands, Republicans are fighting for a smaller, narrower one that favors their voters over all others so that their power and the interests they serve become untouchable.”
Maine has become the eighth state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. The move was made to honor Native Americans and to help heal from past injustices.
A federal court in Michigan says the state’s Republican-controlled legislature unfairly drew some of the state’s state legislative and U.S. House district lines and that a divided government will have to come up with new boundaries. A panel of three judges said 27 of 34 challenged districts diluted the weight of people’s votes, and that every challenged district is unconstitutional.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has signed a new voting bill that amends the law concerning advance ballots, signature requirements, and polling places. Her office says it will expand voting opportunities and make voting more convenient. “Over the past decade, we have seen countless efforts aimed at making voting more difficult in this state,” the governor said. “I hope this will be the first of many laws that help ensure that every voice is heard in our democratic process and that every vote is counted.”
“[Justices] Gorsuch and Kavanaugh raised the question of whether the [Supreme Court] needed to act at all, given that several states have moved on their own to combat gerrymandering, such as by entrusting congressional redistricting to an independent, nonpartisan citizens commission, as California has done. Those developments are welcome, but they don’t provide a nationwide solution grounded in the Constitution. The court must stop its agonizing and provide one.”
Iowa’s House nearly unanimously passed a measure that would restore voting rights to felons. Iowa is the most recent state to join a growing movement to restore voting rights to felons.
Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate in North Carolina’s 9th District who “lost” the election last November in an outrageous attack on democracy, says ultimately the experience will open eyes to the critical importance of voting reform. “I have come to realize this fight is bigger now than a seat in Congress. It is not just about country over party now, but about the basic protection of voting rights, the cornerstone of democracy. That is a fight worth fighting.”
Seemingly every year, Florida has issues with elections. Poor ballot design in Broward County. Inadequate voting machines in Palm Beach County. Problems statewide with tight recount deadlines and mismatched vote-by-mail signatures. Tired of being a laughingstock, the state is getting serious about reform with a bill that advanced in the Florida Senate on Tuesday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday called her state’s switch to a system that automatically registers voters a “phenomenal success,” adding that the move has led to a more diversified electorate in the state as well as an increase in voter registration among minorities. “Voting is a fundamental right of being a citizen, and people across the country should have the ability to access this fundamental right without barriers like registration,” she said.
Time’s Up, which campaigns against sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace, has now disclosed that Lisa Borders informed members of the organization’s leadership last Friday that “sexual assault allegations had been made against her son in a private forum,” and that she would be stepping down.
The Iowa Democratic Party is proposing the biggest changes to the state’s famed caucuses in nearly 50 years. The measure would allow six “virtual caucuses” over the phone for those unable to attend in-person — an issue for working people and the elderly. Participants will rank their top five choices. The new system is intended to be in place for 2020, though the proposal won’t be finalized until the spring.
Officials in the city of Sandusky, Ohio, have decided that the city will no longer observe Columbus Day as a holiday, switching it for Election Day. The new rule, which takes effect this year, will give workers in all municipal offices the day off on Election Day, typically the first Tuesday in November.
The 206 members of the House of Representatives who haven’t agreed to support H.R. 1 — a major democracy reform package that would make sweeping changes to the nation’s campaign finance, voting rights, and ethics laws — typically received about $150,000 more from corporate political action committees during the midterm elections than sponsors of the measure, according to a MapLight analysis.
The EPA’s decision means the chemicals will remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a still unreleased draft plan that was signed off on in late December. Under the current plan, utilities face no federal requirements for testing for and removing the chemicals from drinking water supplies, although several states have pushed for their own limits.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attacks Dem election reform efforts, including a proposed national holiday for federal elections. To McConnell, easing burdens to voting is a “power grab.”
Edward B. Foley, professor of law at the Ohio State University and author of “Presidential Elections and Majority Rule,” offers an electoral college fix that would bring it back into compliance with the principle of majority rule — a change that would satisfy Democrats, Republicans, and the founders.