Report: Voter Turnout Rate Trending to Record Low, Convenience Measures Not Helping

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A new report says that, if the first 25 statewide primaries for U.S. Senate and/or state governor are any guide, the nation is likely to witness the lowest midterm primary turnout in history.

The report, published by the nonprofit Center for the Study of the American Electorate, also indicates the upcoming election will realize the greatest number of states setting records for low voter turnout.

The aggregate national turnout figures in the report are based on the average turnout of all the states that held primaries in any given midterm election.

Here are a few of the points made in the report:

  • National turnout for the 25 states that held state-wide primaries for both major parties reported a decline of 3.5 percentage points or 18 percent from the turnout in 2010. The national percentage of eligible citizens who voted in these primaries was 14.8 percent, down from 18.3 percent in 2010.
  • Turnout in 15 of the 25 states that held state-wide primaries reached historic lows. Only three of those 25 states had greater turnout in 2014 than in 2010.
  • Republican turnout at 8.2 percent dropped 1.4 percentage points or 15 percent from its 2010 level of 9.6 percent of the age-eligible citizens. But GOP turnout was only slightly off its 13 midterm election average of 8.9 percent.

And that’s not all. The report also found that:

  • Overall turnout, the turnout in both Democratic and Republican primaries combined was 17.1 percentage points or 54 percent lower that the most recent high of 31.9 percent of age-eligible citizens voting in 1966.
  • Democratic turnout was 14.5 percentage points or 70 percent lower than their most recent high of 20.9 percent of eligibles voting in 1970.
  • Republican turnout was down five percentage points or 38 percent from its high water mark of 13.2 percent of eligibles voting in 1966.
  • There were only three states – West Virginia, Nebraska and North Carolina – of the 22 which held statewide primaries in both parties and had comparable elections that had higher turnout in 2014 than in 2010. Democratic turnout as compared to 2010 was higher four states. Republican turnout was higher in six of the 22 states.
  • Both overall turnout and Democratic turnout reached record lows in 15 of the 25 states that had statewide primaries. The GOP recorded record lows in three states – Maine, Nevada and Pennsylvania – but also recorded record high turnout in four states – Arkansas, Mississippi (in the senatorial runoff), Montana and Oklahoma.

Another finding? That of the four states with election-day registration, all had lower turnout i 2014 than in 2010.

Of the states that have all-mail voting in elections, Oregon had a record-low turnout in its statewide primary, and Colorado reported turnout lower than in 2010. In California, where 69 percent of the eligible electorate voted by mail and that has been experimenting with a “top two” primary system in which the two top vote-getters in a primary regardless of party affiliation move on to the general election, turnout was the lowest ever.

Eleven states had early in-person voting where citizens could go to polling places set up to facilitate in-person voting for a given number of days prior to election day. Of these, three had higher turnout, eight had lower turnout and six had record-low turnouts.

Thirteen states have adopted no-excuse absentee voting whereby citizens, without stating a reason, can request to vote absentee, be sent a ballot a given number of days before an election and cast that ballot by mail. Of those states two had higher turnout, 11 had lower turnout and 11 set new low turnout records.

Eight states conduct their elections with both early voting and no excuse absentee balloting. Of these, two had higher turnout, six had lower turnout and six set new low turnout records.

There were four states that adopted none of these reforms – Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama and Pennsylvania. All had lower turnout. Only one, Alabama, set a record for low turnout.

Want to see the whole report? Click here.

Philly Groups Working to Register Ex-Offenders in Advance of Corbett-Wolf Election

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A Philadelphia CBS television affiliate is reporting that myriad community groups in the Philadelphia area have been working to register folks in one specific demographic: ex-cons who may not realize they are eligible to vote.

“Could you imagine if 300,000 ex-offenders came together under one voters block?” one organizer told the station. He continued: “Ex-offenders would no longer have to beg for scraps at the table because that puts us in the position to vote you in and vote you out. We want housing, we want programs, we want jobs.”

To read the entire story, click here.

There is a movement nationally to restore voting rights to millions of American’s whose criminal records prevent them from being able to vote.

“These laws, deeply rooted in our troubled racial history, have a disproportionate impact on minorities. Across the country, 13 percent of African-American men have lost their right to vote, which is seven times the national average,” the Brennan Center for Justice’s website states.

Through litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and public education, the Brennan Center works nationwide to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.

To visit the nonpartisan nonprofit organization’s state-by-state guide click here on felony disenfranchisement laws and its work in Congress on the Democracy Restoration Act click here.

WATCH: Bipartisan Panel on Restoring Voting Rights

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Bipartisan support is growing for the Democracy Restoration Act to restore rights to the millions of American citizens who have lost their right to vote because of a past criminal conviction.

The Democracy Restoration Act, based on a 2009 Brennan Center for Justice proposal, was the subject of a recent panel discussion, in which U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and others discussed ways to bring more of those citizens back into our democracy.

Other panelists included:

“The biggest impediment to both voting and getting a job is having a criminal record,” Paul, who introduced his own bill, the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act of 2014, in June, said.

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice and the ACLU.

For an FAQ on the Democracy Restoration Act, click here.

Want to check out the video? Watch the video here.

News of Note: Judge Strikes Down Controversial New Hampshire Voting Law

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The New Hampshire Superior Court last week issued an order permanently blocking a controversial 2012 New Hampshire state law that added language to the state’s voter registration form – languae the ACLU challenged because it “threatened to disenfranchise voters who live in this state.”

Not familiar with the law? Here’s what happened: In June 2012, the New Hampshire Legislature, overriding Gov. John Lynch’s veto and passed Senate Bill 318, which added language to New Hampshire’s voter registration form.

This added language requires those registering to vote to sign an affidavit agreeing they are subject to the state’s residency laws.

But, in order to vote in New Hampshire, a voter need not actually meet the definition of “residency.” Instead, to vote in New Hampshire, one need only be “domiciled” here. This is the case because the definition of “resident” is very strict—as it requires an intent to live in the state for the “indefinite future”—and, thus, would disenfranchise voters who live in the state.

In its opinion this past week, the court ruled the law’s new language added to the state’s voter-registration form was “confusing” and an “unreasonable description of the law.”

Rejecting each of the state’s three reasons for implementing the law, the court concluded “the continued use of the subject language is not reasonably necessary to advance any interest the state has set forth.”

The ACLU argued that imposing a condition that voters have an intent to live in New Hampshire for the “indefinite future” would disenfranchise, for example:

“…Many college students who live in New Hampshire, an executive with a firm intention to retire to his Florida cottage at age 65, a hospital resident with a career plan requiring her to spend a full three years in New Hampshire to complete her medical training, and a member of the military who lives in New Hampshire but knows that he or she will be transferred elsewhere in two years.”

Those individuals, organization stated in a press release, “who live in New Hampshire and call this state “home” possess no less knowledge, intelligence, or commitment to this state than those who meet the definition of ‘residency.'”

An attorney or the ACLU said in a release:

“This ruling is a victory for all those who believe that in a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all people. By protecting voting as a fundamental right, today’s decision affirms that all New Hampshire voters should have the opportunity to participate equally in the democratic process.”

Washington County Elections Office Seeking Students to Man Polls on Election Day

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The Washington County, Pennsylvania, elections office is seeking high school and college students to volunteer at the polls on Election Day.

According to a story published this week by the Observer-Reporter newspaper, the office is actively recruiting youngsters to help buoy the number of people who help at polling locations during the May primary and November general elections.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“Students who are interested in filling in as election board clerks must be at least 17 years old. To fill other positions, one must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. Students must have transportation to and from the polling place, and have no disciplinary problems at school. Students will not be officially appointed until five days before an election, and if an election board member fails to show up at the polls, he or she should be on-call during the morning of election day, Nov. 4, and able to travel, if necessary.”

Students selected to volunteer at the polls would be given a stipend for training, reimbursement for mileage and pay on election day.

To read the entire story, click here.

In “The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission,” the recruitment of high school an college students is listed as a best practice.

According to the report:

“Jurisdictions that allow students to work at polling places have generally found that the practice is an effective way to have sufficient staff on Election Day and to expand the future pool of poll workers.”

To read the entire report, click here.

 

Pros and Cons of DISCLOSE Act Discussed at Senate Hearing

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday held a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act – a hearing at which award-winning NPR political correspondent Ben Overby said one thing was clear: “Republicans despise the bill.”

For those unfamiliar with the bill: Senate Democrats earlier this summer reintroduced the DISCLOSE Act of 2014, a bill they say will crack down on what’s known as “dark money” by requiring organizations that spend money to influence elections to disclose their spending, as well as their major sources of funding in a timely manner.

Here is an excerpt from the NPR report detailing the hearing:

Liberals say the anti-corruption benefits of disclosure outweigh the free speech issues. They point out that the Supreme Court has agreed with that proposition, including a passage in the 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to explicitly support and oppose candidates.

Conservatives argue that the anti-corruption argument doesn’t apply because the money is raised by outside groups, not candidates. They say that disclosure can lead to reprisals against donors, but it’s acceptable for contributions to candidate campaigns. The Citizens United decision only endorses disclosure rules already in effect, they argue.

On Wednesday, they also said too much disclosure would cause double-reporting of some activity and lead to less accurate data.

To read the entire NPR story, click here.

For an FAQ on the DISCLOSE Act, click here.

NCSL: All-Mail Elections “Quietly Flourishing”

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With 22 states allowing certain elections to be conducted exclusively through mail-in ballots, the National Conference of State Legislatures in its latest issue of The Canvass published an in-depth report on the practice, exploring its reach and cost, as well as its potential impact of voter turnout and more.

Here is an excerpt regarding its reach:

The kinds of jurisdictions that use all-mail elections vary. Some states have leaned on the voting method to address a shortfall in elections resources. In Idaho, a county with a precinct that has no more than 125 registered voters can use all-mail elections. Some states, such as Hawaii, which has some of the lowest turnout rates in the country, allow jurisdictions to use vote-by-mail for local and special elections as a way to boost voter participation.

Here is an excerpt regarding its cost:

Shifting to all-mail elections decreases the need for polling place workers and that can translate into savings. Typically, poll worker wages are a significant part of an election budget. (Local election officials often cite the need to find and train poll workers as their biggest headache.) In 2011, when Montana considered expanding to vote-by-mail for all elections, the state’s association of clerks and recorders estimated the move would save taxpayers $2 million each election cycle.

Here is an excerpt about its security:

Critics of vote-by-mail cite concerns over the secure delivery of ballots to and from voters. In his report “Adding up the Costs and Benefits of Voting-by-Mail,” MIT’s Charles Stewart III points out  there has been a “leakage” of absentee ballots lost in transit for a variety of reasons. These include ballots requested but not received, ballots transmitted but not returned for counting, and ballots returned for counting but rejected. This loss of votes could significantly affect a close election.

Supporters of vote-by-mail say ballot-tracking systems, which many elections administrators have turned to in recent years, address this concern and allow a person to follow where his or her ballot is in the delivery and counting process. Denver’s elections division reported that 17,931 people used its ballot tracking system during the November 2013 election. The system allows voters to receive status updates of their ballot as it enters the mail system, while it is being processed by the U.S. Postal Service and when it has been returned to the elections office.

To read the entire report, click here.

Commission on Political Reform Releases Report, Electoral Reform Among Recommendations

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The Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit “that drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation and respectful dialogue,” launched the Commission on Political Reform in 2013 to investigate the causes and consequences of the country’s “partisan political divide and to advocate for specific reforms that will improve the political process and that will work in a polarized atmosphere.”

The commission met with concerned citizens, political leaders and others about the problems, and their potential solutions, work that culminated in a report detailing recommendations for improvement, one of which centered on electoral reform.

The report, titled, Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy,” identifies reforms in three specific areas:

  1. the electoral process
  2. the process by which Congress legislates and manages its own affairs and
  3. the “ability of Americans to plug into the nation’s civic life through public service.”

In regard to the electoral process, the authors of the report write:

“The sad truth is that both major political parties firmly believe the other party is engaged in a constant mission of manipulating these rules to obtain an unfair advantage. This sense of distrust permeates the entire electoral process and reverberates into the legislative realm. If Americans do not trust that the system is on the level and think it has broken down, the United States will no longer be able to claim a government that rules with the consent of the governed.”

Here are the commission’s recommendations for electoral reform:

  • States should adopt redistricting commissions that have the bipartisan support of the legislature and electorate.
  • States and political parties should strive to dramatically increase the number of voters who cast ballots in primaries. They should strive to increase the number of eligible voters who turnout in 2020 by 30 percent and in 2026 by 35 percent.
  • States should move away from very low-turnout methods of candidate selection, such as caucuses and conventions. States should create a single, national congressional primary date in June.
  • States should dramatically improve access to their voter-registration lists by strengthening opportunities to register to vote and identifying eligible unregistered voters and contacting them with the opportunity to register.
  • To ensure greater integrity, states should encourage direct opportunities for voters to input their own registration information and update their addresses.

To read the entire report, click here.

Senate Hearing on Disclose Act Slated for Wednesday

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The U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday about the DISCLOSE Act, which deals with the need for expanded public disclosure of funds raised and spent to influence elections.

The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Room 301 of the Senate Russell Office Building.

The public notice that appeared on the committee website also indicated that individuals and organizations are permitted to submit written comments on the act. Here is the verbiage from the website:

Individuals and organizations that wish to submit a statement for the hearing record are requested to submit a cover letter on stationery that lists the individual/organization’s name, address, phone, and email. The letter should note the subject and date of the hearing and request that it and any additional documents be included in the hearing record. The deadline to submit statements is 5 business days after the adjournment of the hearing. The cover letter and documents should be emailed to record@rules.senate.gov. Please contact the Clerk, Jeff Johnson, at 202-224-6352 with any questions.

For an FAQ about the DISCLOSE Act, click here.

 

Public Citizen: Amendment Needed to Regulate Campaign Spending

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Public Citizen, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to ensure all citizens are represented in the halls of power, this week issued a press release regarding a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that dictated that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people.

In the release, the organization writes:

“Today’s introduction in the House of Representatives of the Democracy for All Amendment (H.J. Res. 119) – paralleling the amendment expected to be voted on by the full Senate in September (S.J. Res. 19) – marks the next phase in the march to winning a constitutional amendment to rescue our democracy.

The American people are disgusted and outraged by Big Money dominance of our elections and politics, with polls routinely showing 80 to 90 percent, or more, of the electorate expressing fury over super-rich and corporate control of our elections. With resolutions passed in 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns across the nation, with millions of petition signatures, with street demonstrations and more, We the People have made clear our demand for fundamental and far-reaching measures to ensure that our country restores rule by the people.

Now it is time for Congress to act. We may not win passage of the 28th Amendment this year, but the day is not far off when we will. Those who doubt the prospects for victory underestimate the intensity of public outrage and the catalyzing impact of next large-scale election scandal, whose time is not far away.”

To read the entire release, click here.