Fair Elections Advocates Fight Against WI Voter ID, Submit Amicus Briefs

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A wide assortment of fair elections groups have filed “friend of the court” briefs in a case revolving around a voter ID measure in Wisconsin.

The broad alliance of civil rights and legal groups represent the communities most impacted by Wisconsin’s “restrictive voter ID law,” according to the Advancement Project, a nonprofit that works to even the playing field on election day.
That group, as well as all 46 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, filed amici briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court urging justices to hear a case against the state’s law.
Advancement Project has been challenging the discriminatory law on behalf of African-American and Latino individual and organizational plaintiffs, for more than two years under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
To read 10 of the briefs, filed by groups such as the League of Women Voters and Color of Change, click here.
The national civil rights organization brought their suit to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Wisconsin’s law last October. – See more at: http://advancementproject.org/pages/wi-scotus-amici-curiae#sthash.qubfCRZs.dpuf

Campaign Finance Spotlight: Common Cause Hails Chicago Vote to Rein In Big Money in Politics

Editor’s Note: The folks here at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections strive to give you news about fair elections issues (think campaign finance, redistricting, voter ID and more) from both the Keystone State and beyond – knowing that nothing happens in a vacuum.

Today, we wanted to share a press release issued this week by Common Cause, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest, and accountable government that works for the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard.

Here’s what the group had to say:

As they made their choices in the most expensive mayoral election in the city’s history, Chicagoans also pleaded for relief from big money’s dominance of local and state politics, Common Cause said tonight.

With over 80 percent of precincts reporting, the Fair Elections Illinois ballot initiative appeared headed for overwhelming approval, with 79 percent support. It calls on the City Council and the state legislature to approve and implement small donor matching fund systems to finance future campaigns for local and state offices.

“Illinois voters have seen firsthand the corrupting power of big money in our elections and today’s vote is powerful evidence that they’ve had enough of it,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “Small donor matching fund systems like the one Chicagoans endorsed today put voters, not big dollar donors, at the center of our elections and encourage new candidates, with new ideas, to enter the political fray.

“In my home state of Connecticut and everywhere else they’ve been implemented, these systems have empowered small dollar donors and enlivened campaigns,” Rapoport added. “We’re hopeful the City Council and the Illinois legislature will heed the advice Chicagoans delivered today and move quickly to pass small donor public financing. Indeed, lawmakers in every state would do well to take a cue from Chicagoans and pass their own fair elections plans. Voters across the country are tired of big money’s dominance in our politics.”

Backers of the Illinois initiative, a project of Common Cause Illinois, envision a system similar to the one now operating in New York City. Public funds would be used to match relatively modest contributions from individuals – in New York the matching stops on donations of more than $175 — with the candidate receiving $6 for every $1 donated. In most cases, participating candidates also agree not to accept corporate and political action committee donations.

“A person or political committee that puts a five- or six-figure contribution into a campaign typically wants something more than simply good government in return,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of Common Cause Illinois. “The interests of those big dollar donors generally are far different from those of the millions of people struggling to get into the middle class, or stay there.

Lopez-Calderon added that “when candidates see that a $25 per person event that attracts 40 people is suddenly worth $5,000 or $6,000 to their campaigns, they spend more time at such gatherings and less catering to big corporations and the rich.”

The Fair Elections Illinois initiative was endorsed by all five mayoral candidates and had the editorial backing of the Chicago Sun-Times. Additional information on the initiative is available at www.fairelectionsillinois.com


EAC Commissioners Select New Officers, Accredit Voting System Test Lab

cour case imageMembers of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission met Tuesday, a gathering that marked the first time the Commission was able to meet with a quorum of Commissioners in four years.
The Commission addressed a variety of pressing issues at the meeting. These issues included the accreditation of a new voting system test laboratory; consideration of possible updates to the standards used to test voting systems; and updates to the EAC’s voting system testing program manuals. Additionally, Commissioner Christy McCormick was selected to chair the commission and Commissioner Thomas Hicks was selected as vice chair.
Commissioners voted 3-0 to accredit Pro V&V as a third voting system test laboratory under the commission’s lab accreditation program. The new lab facility is now accredited to begin testing whether new voting equipment is able to meet the guidelines set forth in the voluntary voting system guidelines.
The move follows a recommendation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and after an independent EAC review to address non-technical issues such as conflict of interest policies, organizational structure, and record-keeping protocols. In addition to Pro V&V, SLI Global Solutions and NTS Huntsville have also been accredited by EAC. All three labs will test against the VVSG.
For more information, click here.

New Report Maps Demographic Evolution of American Electorate from 1974 to 2060

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The Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute and demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution today released a new report containing results from a groundbreaking collaboration between the organizations, the States of Change: Demographics and Democracy project.

The report, “States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974–2060,” includes detailed analyses on the nation as a whole and on every state, where authors Ruy Teixeira, William H. Frey, and Robert Griffin outline 10 broad trends from their findings that together suggest the scale of the transformation the country is living through and the scope of the challenges it will face in the future, highlighting the need for policy at both the national and state levels to become increasingly diversity oriented or be deemed ineffective.

“We at AEI are proud to collaborate with the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution, said Arthur C. Brooks, president of AEI. “This research is crucial to understanding our national landscape and how demographics will change in the years to come. We’re excited to reveal the first-year results at our conference today and look forward to what the future of the project will bring.”

Just as the large Baby Boom generation has had a significant impact on many aspects of American life, so too will the fast-growing minority population of the nation, where by 2060, 22 states are projected to be majority-minority, and an additional 10 states—including Arkansas and South Carolina—should be more than 40 percent minority. “States of Change” documents the magnitude of the changes and the contours of the next America nationally and in every state.

Some of the trends outlined in the report include: the rise of majority-minority and near-majority-minority states; the diversification of eligible voters; the lagged diversification of actual voters; the superdiversification of America’s children; the graying of America; and the diversification of the gray. The report concludes that, over the long term, public policy must adjust to the needs of a different America where diversity is spreading everywhere: into new generations, into every age group, and into every corner of the country.

“As our nation’s demographic shifts continue to impact policy, politics, and democracy in our country, the findings of this report and the work of this project will prove to be an invaluable tool for demographers, advocates, economists, policymakers, and press alike,” said Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress. “We are excited to collaborate with the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution and look forward to continuing our work because the time to turn our attention to the shifting demographic trends is now.”

The goals of the States of Change project are to explore the challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution from the 1970s to 2060, particularly as it has affected the pool of eligible voters; to project race-ethnic composition of every state to 2060—something that has not been done in 20 years; and to promote a wide-ranging and bipartisan discussion of America’s demographic future and what it portends for the nation’s political parties and for policy.

“Democracy & Justice: Collected Writings, Vol. VIII” Now Available


We post information often from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The group is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that “seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. We work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from ending mass incarceration to preserving Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism.”

We wanted to share something else of interest from the center – a new collection of writing regarding democracy and justice – appropriately titled, “Democracy & Justice: Collected Writings, Vol. VIII.”

Here is a tidbit from the introduction, written by Michael Waldman:

Today, the integrity of our democracy is at risk. Voter suppression laws. Vast sums of secret money. Government gripped by polarization and partisanship. A criminal justice system and surveillance practices that challenge American notions of freedom and fairness.

It feels as if the old answers have run their course. The policies offered by left and right are threadbare. If we want to solve our problems, we must fix our systems. We need a new moment of reform and revitalization.

That’s where the Brennan Center comes in. We’re independent. Nonpartisan. Rigorous. We rely on facts. And we forge transformative solutions.

Our cutting-edge litigation demonstrated how many new laws disenfranchise too many citizens.

We help lead the legal fight against big money in politics. Our rigorous research has documented the rise of “dark money,” demolishing the underlying premise of Citizens United. Over time, we are confident we will convince the Supreme Court to reverse course and chart a new jurisprudence.

We continue our major initiative to help end mass incarceration. We saw in Ferguson how federal funds can steer local police for good or ill. Our reform proposal has won support from law enforcement and libertarians, and has begun to win changes in major federal programs.

A bipartisan presidential commission embraced our signature proposal to modernize voter registration, which would add 50 million to the rolls. And our plan to bring new accountability to the fight against terrorism in New York City is now law.

This volume offers a sample of this work from 2014.

To read the entire introduction, click here.

To read the whole collected works, or to download them, click here.

PA Senator Reintroduces Bill to Increase Ballot Access for Third-Party Candidates


Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican serving Dauphin, Lebanon and York counties, this week reintroduced what he is calling the Voters’ Choice Act.

Here’s what Folmer said about the proposed measure:

I plan to reintroduce my “Voters’ Choice Act” to eliminate unfair hurdles to ballot access for minor party and independent candidates.  This measure was previously Senate Bill 195 cosponsored by Senators Folmer, Teplitz, Ferlo, Boscola, Baker, Williams, Yudichak, Blake, Dinniman, Ward, and Vance.

No state makes it more difficult for minor party and independent candidates to run for public office than Pennsylvania; current law can require them to collect as many as 34 times the number of signatures as the major party candidates.

Just by way of background: In order to appear on the November ballot for any office in a given district, minor party and independent candidates must submit a minimum number of valid signatures equal to 2 percent of the largest vote cast for an elected candidate in the previous statewide election.

Meanwhile, major party candidates automatically qualify for the November ballot with no signature threshold – they collect signatures only to appear in the Primary Election (minor party or independent candidates do not participate in Primary Elections).

Folmer’s co-sponsorship memo said:

During the 2014 gubernatorial election, Republican and Democratic candidates for governor were required to collect 2,000 voter signatures to appear on the Primary Election ballot (1,000 signatures for Lieutenant Governor).  Meanwhile, minor party and independent candidates were required to submit 16,639 signatures.

During that same election cycle, independent and third party candidates needed:

  • 3,124 – 6,364 petition signatures to get on the ballot for Congress (the number varied by district; the major party candidates needed 1,000 for the Primary)
  • 500 – 626 petition signatures for State Senate (again, varied by district; the major party candidates needed only 500 in the Primary)
  • 300 – 507 petition signatures for State House (varied by district; major party candidates needed 300 in the Primary)

Folmer explained in the memo:

My proposed legislation would require:

  1. An independent candidate to collect the same amount of signatures as the major party candidates in order to appear on the November ballot
  2. A “minor political party” to garner between 0.05 and 15 percent of the total number of registered voters in the Commonwealth as of 21 days prior to the date of the Primary Election in order to qualify as a “political party”

Contrary to popular belief, my proposed Election Law changes have not produced “ballot clutter” in other states.  My plan is modeled after Delaware where, during the 2012 Presidential Election, they had the same four presidential candidates on the ballot as Pennsylvania:  Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, Green Party Jill Stein, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Are Local Elections Officials Biased Against Latino Voters?

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As news of various voter-ID laws continues to make headlines, we wanted to make sure you saw one in the Washington Post.

The title? “New evidence shows election officials are biased toward Latino voters.”

Have your attention? Good. Here’s an excerpt:

Roughly 8,000 local officials – county or municipal clerks and election boards – manage the nation’s election system. These officials train local poll workers, provide information, and interact with constituents with little immediate oversight from state officials.

Here is the problem: election officials themselves also appear to be biased against minority voters, and Latinos in particular. For example, poll workers are more likely to ask minority voters to show identification, including in states without voter identification laws.

Our experiment demonstrates another form of bias: how willingly election officials answer questions from voters.

The whole story can be viewed here.

Much of the information the story was based on dealt with a new study published in the American Political Science review.

The paper is titled, “What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials” – – here’s an excerpt:

Do street-level bureaucrats discriminate in the services they provide to constituents? We use a field experiment to measure differential information provision about voting by local election administrators in the United States.

We contact over 7,000 election officials in 48 states who are responsible for providing information to voters and implementing voter ID laws. We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities.

Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally.

Want to read it in its entirety? Here it is.

Common Cause Urges Federal Prosecutors to Closely Monitor Links Between Super PACs and Candidates

Editor’s Note: The good-government nonprofit Common Cause recently released a statement regarding coordinated campaign spending between so-called independent super PAC and candidates. Here is a press release regarding the issue:monyak honeyak

The admission by a Virginia political operative that he helped engineer creation of an “independent” super PAC and then illegally coordinated its spending of $325,000 with his management of a congressional campaign is likely the tip of an iceberg of campaign finance violations, Common Cause said recently.

“We congratulate the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia for stepping up to enforce the law,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs. “Federal prosecutors across America should take a cue from their actions and closely review super PAC spending. Given the Federal Elections Commission’s inability to enforce campaign finance laws, there’s every reason to believe that there are other super PACs illegally working in tandem with campaigns and political parties.”

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC triggered an explosion in the number of super PACs, which can legally collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates. The groups must remain independent from candidate and party committees however.

There are now more than 1,300 registered super PACs, which together invested nearly $350 million in the 2014 campaign. Dozens of the groups were created to support a single candidate and in many cases were founded and/or staffed by personal or political associates of the candidate.

At the state level, Common Cause leaders around the country are pushing for passage of laws to shut down individual-candidate Super PACs and strengthen the rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside spending groups.

The Virginia case centered on the National Republican Victory Fund, a super PAC founded by a group including longtime GOP operative Tyler Harber. The committee spent about $460,000 on behalf of Republican candidates in 2012, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The total included $325,000 in support of Chris Perkins, whose unsuccessful campaign against Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly was managed by Harber.

Harber’s guilty plea comes a day after the FEC heard extensive testimony concerning apparent coordination between super PACs and candidates, activity that has gone unchecked thanks to partisan gridlock on the commission.

Brennan Center Interactive Map Shows State Voting Laws Vulnerable Depending on SCOTUS Decision


The Brennan Center at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice, recently released an interactive map we think is worth checking out.

Here’s the background: Early next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which will decide whether voters in that state had the power (through a citizen ballot initiative) to establish an independent redistricting commission to redraw the state’s congressional maps every 10 years.

But nothing happens in a vacuum, and in this case, there are a ton of moving parts.

Here’s how the Brennan Center explained what might happen, depending on how the Supreme Court rules:

The case could invalidate congressional redistricting commissions in half a dozen states and also throw into doubt the tie-breaking procedures used in four states to resolve legislative deadlocks.

The ramifications of the case extend beyond redistricting, however. The Arizona Legislature’s constitutional challenge to the commission is based on the Constitution’s Elections Clause and contends that the clause should be read to mean that the “times, places and manner” of federal elections can be set only by state legislatures or by Congress. That clause governs not just redistricting plans but a wide range of laws related to federal elections. If Arizona’s independent commission is struck down as unconstitutional, at least 20 other state laws – also adopted by citizen ballot initiative – could fall, and dozens more could be at risk if the court adopts the narrowest reading of the clause.  In short, the ruling, expected in late spring or this summer, could be a blockbuster.

While none of Pennsylvania’s laws will be at risk, those in nearby Maryland and New Jersey are.

Want more info? Here it is.

Happy Presidents Day from PFFE!

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Happy Presidents Day from the folks at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections!

What is Presidents Day?

Here’s a great primer from The History Channel:

Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

How about a little inspiration from some of our nation’s leading men?

“You know that being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.”
— Harry S. Truman

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
— George Washington

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt