Philadelphia Launches Election Website in Effort to Increase Transparency, Outreach

Philadelphia voters now have a new election-related resource – a newly launched website that provides data for voters, candidates, election officials and researchers who want to investigate registration, voting options, polling activity and more.

The website, launched recently by City Commissioner Al Schmidt can be accessed at http://www.philadelphiavotes.com.

In addition to a comprehensive election calendar, the site also lists polling places, prior-year election results and more.

Here is some background information courtesy of the website Technical.ly:

“The site is a big change from previous City Commissioners’ Offices, which did not publicly post data. Even as recently as December, Singer was told to take down meeting transcripts because it would violate a city contract since the public had to pay a company to get copies of the transcripts, the City Paper reported. The city’s Law Department has since determined that the Commissioners’ Office can indeed post the transcripts online…”

To read the entire write-up, click here.

 

PA Voters: Here’s Who’s on the Ballot

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If you live in Pennsylvania, you probably know all about who is running for governor.

You’ve likely seen the myriad political advertisements endorsing either Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett or his Democratic challenger, businessman Tom Wolf.

But do you know who will be on the ballot to serve as your representative in the state House or Senate?

No? No worries! SmartVoter.org has you covered.

Just click here and scroll down for information on every state House and Senate race in the state.

Need more resources? Like how to register to vote? Where to vote? Check out our page dedicated to voters in Pennsylvania.

 

 

News of the Weird (Voting Edition): Colorado Town Sues All its Voters in “Fatally Flawed” Election

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A small Colorado town has sued its residents, asking a judge to haul them into court to sort out what election officials there have called a “fatally flawed” election, according to the Denver Post.

No, really.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The matter of a town suing its voters began with a highly controversial election for mayor and town board. It was held April Fools’ Day. In a town of 65 residents where a draw for a short straw used to decide who had to serve as mayor, an unprecedented dozen candidates ran for office. The hot-button issue that led to this kind of participation involved second-home owners. New Montezuma Mayor Lesley Davis, who was elected by a three-vote margin, claimed that 13 of the voters and at least two of the candidates were not really residents of the town.

The lawsuit states that an investigation by the Summit County district attorney’s office found that at least five voters were not qualified to vote because they weren’t residents.

The lawsuit also cites a number of mistakes in the ballots, including the fact that there were no removable stubs to protect the anonymity of the voters. To try to rectify that, town Clerk Helen Moorman sewed stubs to the ballots but didn’t realize the ballots still contained numbers that gave away voters’ identities.”

To read the entire story, click here.

The news also was picked up by Fox NewsU.S. News & World Report and more.

 

 

PA Municipal League Releases Free “Civics and You” e-Book for High Schoolers

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The Pennsylvania Municipal League recently published a free e-book titled “Civics and You – Your Key to PA Local Government,” one that is designed to supplement and complement high school curricula.

According to the league’s website, it had, for several years, been explored the idea of a civics book for 9th and 10th grade students in Pennsylvania taking American history courses focused on the study of government and the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society.

“While today’s high school students learn about the many facets of federal government – such as the creation of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, the U.S. House and Senate and the electoral college – their lessons often are devoid of Pennsylvania-specific information,” the site explained. “For that reason, the Pennsylvania Municipal League has created a free online book about civics for high school students to use in their Civics courses. This publication is meant to be an additional resource teachers can use to instruct students about Pennsylvania government.”

The e-book includes chapters on local and state elections, voting in Pennsylvania and more.

“The e-book is not meant to replace the high school civics curriculum but, rather, to complement a teacher’s instruction on the role of government in our society,” the website stated. “’Civics and You’ provides a much-needed primer on Pennsylvania government that is often missing in today’s civics curriculum that is more focused on government at the federal level.”

“Civics and You: Your Key to PA Local Government” is a project of the PA Municipal League with funding provided by the PA Department of Community & Economic Development.

And you can check it out – for free – right here.

Access to the Polls: The 16 States That Have Made it Easier to Vote

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In a recent editorial, the New York Times wrote that, despite high-profile cases of state laws that restrict access to the polls, 16 states have recently enacted legislation or systems that made it easier for their residents to cast their ballots.

While one of the Keystone State’s neighbors, West Virginia, made the list for its online voter registration system, and another, Maryland was lauded for allowing same-day registration during early voting (which was expanded from six to eight days), Pennsylvania was not among the states lauded in the piece.

The other states? The ones with the restrictions? Here’s what the New York Times had to say:

“In all cases, these restrictions will make it harder for minorities and the poor to vote, which is the point, since proponents of such laws are trying to reduce the turnout of probable Democratic voters. A study last year by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, found that states with a higher minority turnout were more likely to limit voting, and that the number of restrictions is related to the proportion of Republicans in power in a state.”

To read the entire piece, click here.

The editorial relied heavily on analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, which mapped out voting laws by state. To read that report, click here.

 

 

 

 

New Report: Voting Rights Discrimination Against Minorities Continues

A year after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted a vital protection of the Voting Rights Act, the National Commission on the Voting Rights released a groundbreaking national report revealing where and how minorities continue to experience discrimination in the U.S.

Four states formerly covered by Section 5 of the VRA- Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia- rank as the worst offenders.

Without the key protections of the VRA, minority voters will be more vulnerable to discrimination as they head to the polls for the upcoming mid-year general elections than at any time in recent decades.

The report, Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done, challenges the court’s rationale that improvements in minority citizens’ rates of voter registration and turnout, and the success of minority candidates, indicated that the coverage formula reauthorized by Congress in 2006 was unconstitutionally outdated.

“This report shows that racial discrimination in voting is a widespread and ongoing problem,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the lead organization supporting the NCVR. “In the past 20 years, we’ve seen repeated attempts by states and localities with the worst records of voting discrimination to make it harder for minorities to register and cast their ballots. The record presents a powerful case for why we need to continue to provide protections to all voters.”

The report offers a comprehensive assessment of discriminatory voting practices since 1995, including legal cases filed on behalf of minority voters; analysis of restrictive state voting laws and practices that make it harder for minorities to vote; and highlights from the testimony received from the hundreds of witnesses at 25 public hearings organized by the National Commission.

Some of the key findings of the report include between 1995-2014:

  • Voting discrimination is a frequent and ongoing problem in the United States. There were at least 332 successful voting rights lawsuits and denials of Section 5 preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice from 1995 through 2013 and another 10 non-litigation settlements.
  • Voting discrimination takes a variety of forms. Discriminatory redistricting plans and at-large elections continue to prompt the most successful lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, there were also 48 successful lawsuits and ten non-litigation settlements relating to language translation and assistance.
  • Formerly covered states in the South and Southwest stand out with some of worse records of voting discrimination. Texas stands out as having a remarkably high level of documented voting discrimination, including multiple state-level violations. Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina also had far higher levels of problems than average.
  • The federal observer program provided an important deterrence against voter discrimination with 10,702 observers deployed from 1995-2012. As a result of the Shelby County decision, the DOJ is no longer deploying federal observers to the formerly covered states.

“Voting is a basic right and the foundation of a democratic nation”, said Dolores Huerta, national commissioner to the NCVR and life-long social justice leader.   “We have to do everything in our power to ensure that every voter is protected by law and practices regardless of their income level, age or ethnicity.   Every vote counts and every voter should be given the assistance, education and access they need to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

The NCVR was convened in the aftermath of the Shelby decision to gather a comprehensive record of voting across all 50 states.

The report’s executive summary, report, supplemental appendices with tables, maps, legal cases listings by state and hearing highlights and photographs, as well as more information on the National Commission on Voting Rights can be found at: www.votingrightstoday.org.

 

Investigation: 31 Instances of Voter Impersonation Out of 1 Billion Ballots Cast

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The Washington Post recently published a guest post written by Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School and an expert in constitutional law/law of democracy, with a focus on election administration and redistricting.

In the post, Levitt writes about recent voter ID rulings, including Wisconsin’s, and about his experience investigating instances of voter impersonation – what he says voter ID laws are designed to prevent.

Here is an excerpt:

In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraudfor years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

To read Levitt’s blog in its entirety, click here.

Election 2014: How to Vote by Absentee Ballot in PA

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In Pennsylvania, if you are unable to make it to your polling place in person on the Nov. 4 general election, you may be eligible to vote by absentee ballot instead.

While some states have no-excuse absentee ballots, on in some cases, all-mail elections, that is not the case in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the procedure in the Keystone state: First, make sure you are registered to vote. You can check your registration by clicking here. Once that has been confirmed, you must then apply to the board of elections in the county in which you live. Upon receipt of that application, the board of elections will then mail you a paper absentee ballot. You, the voter, must then completes the ballot and return it to the county board of elections office no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election.

For a list of information you need in order to apply for an absentee ballot, click here.

There is also a mechanism in the voting system to apply for an emergency application for absentee ballot, which must be applied for and the completed ballot submitted to the county board of elections office no later than 5 p.m. the Friday prior to Election Day.

Wonder if you qualify to vote via absentee ballot? Here are some of the people who may vote via absentee ballot:

  • A person who is or may be in the military service. It does not matter if the person voting is in the his or her voting district on Election Day, and regardless of whether he or she is registered to vote.
  • A spouse or dependent residing with or accompanying a person in the military service of the United States and who expects on Election Day to be absent from his or her municipality of residence during the entire period in which the polling places are open for voting.
  • A person who, because of elector’s duties, occupation or business (including leaves of absence for teaching, vacations and sabbatical leaves), expects to be absent from his or her voting district while the polls are open on Election Day 
  • A qualified war veteran who is bedridden or hospitalized because of illness or physical disability and who is absent from his or her voting district on Election Day, regardless of whether the person is registered to vote.
  • A person who, because of illness or physical disability, is unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine and obtain assistance by distinct and audible statements. A disabled elector may be placed on a permanently disabled absentee file.)
  • A county employee who expects that his Election Day duties relating to the conduct of the election will prevent the employee from voting, such as judges of election.
  • Colleges students who will be away at school and unable to vote at his or her voting precinct on Election Day.

For more information to how to vote via absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, click here.

For more information about voting and voting-related issues in Pennsylvania, click here.

 

Bipartisan Policy Center to Continue Work of Presidential Commission on Election Administration

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The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project last week announced that it will work to implement recommendations set forth by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

The commission, led by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, released its report this past January.

“We are pleased with the positive reception the commission’s report has received in recent months,” said former Presidential Commission on Election Administration co-chair Bob Bauer. “However, implementation of the recommendations is key and we are we are eager to work with the Bipartisan Policy Center on this next chapter.”

Working with the commissioners, BPC will work with state and local election officials to educate the public and other stakeholders about the commission’s recommendations. BPC also will assess the states where there are opportunities and obstacles to implementing the commission’s recommendations and develop a plan to move discrete reforms in those jurisdictions.

”We are proud of the bipartisan and unanimous work of the commission,” said Ben Ginsberg, former Presidential Commission on Election Administration co-chair. “Our goal moving forward is to get the recommendations and best practices implemented by states and localities where there is a need.”

BPC will focus on these key recommendations in the year ahead:

  • reducing polling place lines
  • addressing the imminent voting machine technology crisis
  • online registration
  • cross-state data sharing efforts
  • improving the Department of Motor Vehicles registration process
  • ensuring that schools can be used as polling places and
  • creating opportunities for voting before Election Day.

“We welcome the presidential commission’s work into our fold and will build on its recommendations to improve the voting process,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project. “The Bipartisan Policy Center is well-situated to bridge the policy gap between election officials, legislators, academics and advocates as we have shown through our work with the separate Commission on Political Reform.”

Groups Challenging North Carolina Voter Restrictions: Ruling Wasn’t End of Fight

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In a 125-page ruling, a federal judge in North Carolina rejected an effort by civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department to block the application of a new state law that curtailed early voting and other opportunities for voters to cast ballots.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration and prohibit out-of-precinct voting.

The groups were in court last month to argue that those measures should be placed on hold prior to next summer’s trial, and in time for the November election. The judge ruled the law can remain in effect until trial.

“If this law is found unconstitutional, North Carolinians whose voting rights were violated in the midterm election will have lost a critical opportunity to participate in our democratic process,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “While we had hoped the court would recognize this irreparable harm, the ultimate goal is to see these discriminatory measures struck down. We look forward to making our case at full trial, which is something the state had sought to avoid.”

The groups charge the law unduly burdens the right to vote and discriminates against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Today is not the end of the fight to stop these discriminatory measures, which make it harder for all North Carolinians to vote,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “We are disappointed in the court’s ruling but heartened that the government’s efforts to avoid a full trial in this case were rejected.”

The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina was brought on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

“There is still a lot of discovery to be conducted in this case, which the state has resisted providing at every turn. We look forward to gathering this evidence and presenting a fuller picture of the discriminatory effects of this law when we go to trial next summer,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice staff attorney Allison Riggs.

A copy of the ruling is at: https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/league-women-voters-north-carolina-et-al-v-north-carolina-motion-denying-preliminary