Register to Vote Online in Pennsylvania Now

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As we told you last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last week rolled out a new online voter registration system for Keystone State voters.

The system is up and running now, and voters who wish to cast a ballot in this November general election may register to do so by clicking here.

The deadline to register to vote in November’s election is Oct. 5.

“Online Voter Registration is about making the voting experience more convenient and more accessible,” Governor Wolf said. “It is about giving citizens an easier way to exercise their right to vote and establishing a clearer connection between the political system and the citizens. Online voter registration is secure, it improves accuracy and will reduce costs for counties by cutting down on time-consuming data entry.”

Online voter registration (OVR) is currently available in 22 states, with the measure approved but not yet implemented in another five states plus the District of Columbia.

“As elsewhere, Pennsylvanians have grown accustomed to doing business online, whether it is shopping, banking or filing their tax returns,” Sec. Cortés said. “As a natural extension, they want the convenience of registering to vote using their own computer or mobile device. Online voter registration makes the process more accessible and accurate.”

The new site, available in English or Spanish, also allows currently registered voters to more easily make updates to their voter record, such as a change of name, address or party affiliation. Additionally, registered voters may use the new site to request assistance at the polling place.

“OVR has support from county election officials because it will improve accuracy, increase the integrity of the voting rolls, reduce time-consuming data entry and yield considerable cost savings,” Sec. Cortés said.

A May 2015 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts said states using online voter registration had seen per-application savings ranging from $0.50 to $2.34. In Arizona, which in 2002 became the first state to implement online voter registration, election officials report their cost is 3 cents for each online application versus 83 cents for a traditional paper form.

“Pennsylvania’s counties have the primary responsibility for managing voter registration and conducting our elections, and we strongly support measures such as this that facilitate and improve our citizens’ access to the polls,” said Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman, President of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

When an applicant completes the online form, the information is forwarded directly to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing. There, election staff will find that electronic application eliminates the problem of trying to decipher often illegible handwriting. Additionally, county election staff will not have to follow up on missing information on the electronic applications, because the online form cannot be submitted if any required data fields have not been completed.

Counties will receive the applications through the same system which currently forwards Motor Voter applications from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, so there was minimal training needed for county election workers.

The online system is more secure for applicants because the form will be transmitted directly to the proper county voter registration office for processing. In contrast, a traditional paper application containing personal information might pass through several hands before the registration is complete.

The latest protocols in data security have been built into the system and will be constantly monitored and updated. The Pew study reported that there have been no security breaches in any of the states already using an online system.

Because the online voter registration site is directly linked to PennDOT’s Motor Voter system, if an applicant has a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card, the signature already on file with PennDOT can immediately be linked to the voter record.

Applicants who do not have a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card will be able to print, sign and mail the completed online application to their county voter registration office. If they are not able to print the application, they may request that the Department of State mail them a signature card to complete and return to their county office.

To learn more about online voter registration, visit www.votesPA.com. Click here for online voter registration frequently asked questions.

Online Voter Registration Coming to Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf this week announced that Pennsylvanians will soon be able to register to vote online.

Online registration was one of the reforms the first-term Democratic governor promised while campaigning last year.

The system was expected to go live on Thursday, according to media reports.

By way of background: At least 30 states currently (or will soon have fully or substantially) electronic voter registration at DMVs. At least 3 states have expanded or are soon expanding electronic registration to public service agencies, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Associated Press reports that Pennsylvania residents will be able to register to vote in the upcoming Nov. 2 general election, although paper voter registration applications will still be available.

The date by which voters must register online is Oct. 5.

For updates on Pennsylvania online voter registration, click here.

Interestingly, legislation proposed by Pennsylvania lawmakers have languished in recent sessions.

During the 2015-16 Legislative session, state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, a Democrat serving Montgomery County, has re-introduced legislation that would allow for online voter registration.

Known as House Bill 692, the legislation would amend Title 25 (Elections) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in voter registration,” further providing for methods of voter registration, providing for electronic voter registration application and for electronic submission of changes to registration and further providing for preparation and distribution of applications; in changes in records, further providing for change of enrollment of political party; in penalties, further providing for altering registration; and conferring powers and imposing duties on the Department of State.”

Report Highlights Impact of Voting Rights Act on Asian Americans

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Asian Americans Advancing Justice released a report titled, “50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: An Asian American Perspective,” recently detailing the impact the law has had on Asian Americans’ ability to access the ballot.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the country and are naturalizing and registering to vote – expecting to make up 10 percent of the electorate by 2044. With this increase in population, comes the opportunity to shape future elections and the future direction of the country. The VRA was intended to ensure that all Americans are able to freely and equally participate in our democracy without discrimination.

“Voting rights and accessing the ballot is a critical concern for the Asian American community. But without the VRA, many Asian Americans wouldn’t be able to vote,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Advancing Justice. “Most Asians weren’t able to naturalize and become U.S. citizens until 1952, meaning they couldn’t vote. Since then, Asian Americans have often been questioned about their citizenship as an added hurdle to accessing the ballot box. In addition, almost half of Asian American adults are limited English proficient, and without language assistance at the polls, would be unable to cast their ballot.”

The report shows how the VRA has protected the Asian American right to vote, just as it has other communities of color. It also highlights how following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Asian American vote – which is growing rapidly in regions like North Carolina and Georgia that were once covered by Section 5 of the VRA – is now in danger going into the 2016 election, should Congress not restore the VRA in time.

“What’s most concerning is that states in which we are seeing the most rapidly growing Asian American population are also passing the most harmful attacks on voting in state legislatures,” said Terry Ao Minnis, director of census and voting for Advancing Justice and author of the report. “For example, immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013, North Carolina, which has the third-fastest growing Asian American population in the country, passed a multitude of strict voting restrictions. On this 50th Anniversary of the VRA, we call on all members of Congress to defend the right to vote, restore the VRA and preserve the ability of all Americans to participate in our democracy.”

Public Citizen Urges Voters: Sign Petition Telling Obama to Close “Dark Money” Loophole

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Public Citizen, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, is asking Americans to join it in telling President Obama: Close the dark money loophole.

The group posted the following one-paragraph petition on its website:

We, the undersigned strongly support requiring corporations that bid for government contracts to disclose their campaign spending. Americans have a right to know that government contracts are being awarded based on merit, not money.

Need a little background?

Since 2010’s Citizens United decision, dark money spending — by groups that conceal their donations from the public — has risen dramatically. The trend raises troubling questions about whether the public can effectively assess the influence of big donors on individual candidates’ policy positions. When it comes to those seeking government contracts, the opportunity for political corruption is even greater and could cost taxpayers millions, according to a recent analysis released by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Not sure if you want to sign your name in support of the petition? Here’s why Public Citizen says you should:

Corporations that receive government contracts can secretly funnel untold sums to help elect (and re-elect) the very same lawmakers who are responsible for — you guessed it — awarding government contracts.

It’s a cycle of corruption enabled by a detestable loophole in election law.

But there’s good news: Closing the corrupting loophole doesn’t require an act of Congress. President Obama has the authority to fix the problem with the stroke of a pen.

Decided that you do want to sign? Click here to add your name and contact information the petition.

NAACP Intervenes in Federal La. Voting Rights Act Complaint

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Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund last week filed papers in Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP, et al. v. Jindal, et al., a challenge under the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana’s discriminatory voting method for the 32nd Judicial District Court.

On behalf of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP and four black voters, LDF asked a Louisiana federal court to rule that at-large voting for the 32nd JDC discriminates against black voters in Terrebonne.

“Our case demonstrates that the at-large electoral method for the 32nd JDC silences the voices of black voters. As recently as 2008, this structure resulted in a white judge’s re-election even after he was suspended for wearing blackface in an apparent parody of black criminal defendants,” said Leah Aden, an LDF attorney.

“Louisiana adopted at-large voting for the 32nd JDC, after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to prevent black voters from electing their candidates of choice. Despite decades of advocacy against at-large voting in the district, Louisiana has continued to use this voting method and rejected numerous legislative proposals to change to district-based voting for the 32nd JDC,” continued Aden.

Terrebonne’s black voters seek an elected voice on the parish court, which has been closed to them for the 32nd JDC’s entire history. The voters are asking a federal district court to change the voting system from at-large to district-based voting, a method that Terrebonne uses for the Parish Council and Parish School Board elections and that is used to elect other bodies throughout Louisiana.

Under district-based voting, black voters would comprise the majority in one of five single-member districts for electing judges to the 32nd JDC.

Although black residents comprise 20 percent of Terrebonne’s population, are geographically concentrated within the Parish, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no black candidate has ever been elected in a contested election in the 32nd JDC because of the at-large electoral system.

White voters in Terrebonne overwhelmingly decline to cast their ballots for the candidates that black voters support. As a result, black candidates cannot win a parish-wide election under the current electoral system. “History shows that in Terrebonne and elsewhere in Louisiana, black candidates cannot win under at-large voting,” says Victorien Wu, an LDF attorney. “Regardless of the strength of their qualifications, whether they run as Democrats or Republicans, or whether they seek judicial or non-judicial office, a black candidate has never won a contested parish-wide election in Terrebonne.”

Over the last two decades, black candidates opposed by at least one white candidate have received an average of only 8% of white voter support, while receiving more than 87% of black voter support in Terrebonne’s at-large elections.

“This year, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement, Terrebonne voters are still fighting to ensure that their voices are represented in their judicial system,” says Jerome Boykin, President of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “After a half century, we still are struggling for representation for all voters at the ballot box.”

The district-based voting for the 32nd JDC that Plaintiffs seek in this case is common. Many judicial districts in Louisiana use district-based voting. For example, following similar litigation under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, districts surrounding Terrebonne, like the 16th Judicial District (which includes neighboring St. Martin and St. Mary parishes) and 23rd Judicial District (which includes neighboring Assumption Parish), now have districts that empower voters of color to elect their preferred candidates to their respective judicial bodies. Judicial candidates also are elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the highest state court, through district-based voting.

New Paper Explores Voting Rights Cases in First Decade of Chief Justice Roberts’ Court

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A new paper explores how election law cases have fared during the first decade of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rule – one that is now available for folks to read and download.

The 33-page paper, titled, “Election Law’s Path in the Roberts Court’s First Decade: A Sharp Right Turn, but with Speed Bumps and Surprising Twists” was penned by election-law scholar Richard L. Hasen of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law.

In it, he writes:

“The first decade of election law cases at the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Roberts brought election law down a strong conservative path. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission freed corporate money in U.S. candidate elections and opened up a de-regulatory era increasingly dominated by nominally independent Super PACs.
Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the congressional regime codified in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under which Congress required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before making a change in voting rules by proving that the change would not make minority voters worse off.
In its wake, previously covered jurisdictions have adopted a number of election changes which no doubt have made minority voters worse off.”

But that isn’t to say there weren’t some surprises. Hasen wrote:

“The Roberts Court, while dominated by a majority of five conservative Justices, has not gone as far right as it could have or as some, including I, had predicted.

But:

In the campaign finance arena, the Court has thus far refused to take cases to strike down the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates, or to reopen the ability of political parties to take large “soft money” contributions.

It has not eliminated individual contribution limits, even as Super PACs and other campaign groups undermine them.

In the voting rights arena, the Court so far has declined cases which would further limit the scope of, or find unconstitutional, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a key remaining protection for minority voters, and it has revived the racial gerrymandering cause of action in a way which can help minority plaintiffs fight Republican gerrymanders.

The takeaway? Hasen writes:

“In many arenas, meaningful reform options will have to await a change in the balance of power on the Court or in Congress. In other arenas, the fights will be in both the state courtroom and in state capitols, where the partisanship of election disputes often is more direct and predictable than at the U.S. Supreme Court.
 Want to check out the entire paper? You may do so by clicking here.

Washington State Certifies Verifiable Ballot Voting System for All Elections

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Upon completion of an extensive system evaluation by the Washington Secretary of State Elections Division, the Verity Voting system by Hart InterCivic has been certified for use in all Washington elections.

That means that all jurisdictions in the state can now use Verity Voting’s scalable central scan solution for vote-by-mail ballots, and they can now offer voters with disabilities improved accessibility with the Verity Touch Writer ballot marking device.

The Verity Voting system offers a completely new choice for all jurisdictions in the State looking to replace their end of life voting systems. Verity uses advanced voting technology to easily address all of Washington’s election needs, including built-in flexibility that can evolve with the States changing election requirements.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • The state certification was awarded on July 7, 2015 by the Washington Secretary of State Elections Division after the system met the state’s comprehensive testing requirements and was properly evaluated by the Washington State Voting System Review Board.
  • The decision by the Washington Secretary of State Elections Division permits Verity to be purchased and used in elections by any jurisdiction in the state.
  • The Secretary of State has certified the following Verity Voting system hardware and software components: Verity Scan, Verity Touch Writer, Verity Central, Verity Build, Verity Central, and Verity Count.
  • Verity’s accessibility and privacy features ensure an equal voter experience for all.
  • Verity provides the most modern, secure and easily auditable elections. Election officials are able to quickly verify system operation and accuracy due to efficient, transparent software validation and plain language audit reporting.
  • Verity provides efficiencies of particular interest to Washington election administrators; for example, Verity’s option to defer processing for write-in votes until tabulation enables officials to tally votes significantly more quickly and accurately than with the previous manual process.
  • In May 2015, Verity received federal certification from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). More information about federal certification requirements can be found here.

Editor’s Note: Do you think it is important for states to move to a voting system with a verifiable ballot? Tell us why or why not in the comments.

Report: Why Don’t Millennials Vote for Mayor?

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The Knight Foundation recently released a report that examined why millennial voters overwhelmingly do not cast ballots in local elections.

Titled, “Why Don’t Millennials Vote for Mayor,” the report took a hard look at the barriers and motivators related to local elections.

Here’s a excerpt from the introduction:

Local elections are missing millions of millennial voters who participate in national elections but not ones in their cities. This led Knight Foundation to embark on research to explore factors that may be hampering turnout in local elections among millennials, focusing specifically on millennials who participated in the last national elections but not in their local elections.The research aims to identify the causes of low millennial voter turnout in local elections and possible approaches for encouraging more informed local voting which brings more citizen voice to local government.
Here were some interesting findings from the report:
  • As was highly documented, voter turnout during the 2014 midterm election was the lowest it’s been in 72 years (36.3 percent). It was even lower among millennials (21.5 percent). Turnout for local elections is even lower and declining. A study of turnout for mayoral elections in the 144 largest U.S. cities found that turnout dipped from 24.9 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2011.
  • Millennials report lower levels of trust in government than the general population. Sixty percent of people say they trust local government a great deal or fair amount compared with only 33 percent of millennial voters who reported trusting their local government a great deal or fair amount.

The report also found that there were several factors that could be affecting low voter turnout for local elections, such as:

Less local media coverage:

A recent study found that a diminished news environment depresses citizen engagement. With recent cutbacks to local and state journalism, voters have less information to evaluate candidates and ballot initiatives and ultimately are less likely to vote.
High mobility among millennials:
Research shows high mobility decreases political participation and this likely impacts millennials most since they move more often than any other age segment
Low rates of home ownership:
Studies have pointed to a correlation between home ownership and increases in local voting, with homeowners who have lived in the community for a long time voting at higher rates. Since millennials own homes at lower rates than other age groups, this may depress their turnout.
The 21-page report is well worth the read. To access the entire document, click here.

Keystone Progress: It’s Time for Automatic Voter Registration in PA

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Pennsylvania non-profit Keystone Progress is asking voters to take part in a letter-writing campaign to ask members of the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to support automatic voter registration legislation.

The campaign comes in the wake of Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent Hughes’ introduction of SB 806, legislation that aims to reform voter registration in Pennsylvania.

Under Hughes’ proposal, those agencies would automatically collect an individual’s relevant voting-related information with the application and send it electronically to the Department of State and to the counties for purposes of registering the voter. Prior to completing the registration, a voter would receive a notice allowing them to select a political party affiliation or to decline registration (“opt out”).

If the individual does not “opt out” within 21 days, they will be added to the voter rolls.

Keystone Progress posted the following letter in support of the bill – and has asked for you to sign:

Please support Sen. Hughes’ legislation to automatically register people to vote in Pennsylvania.

This legislation is based on a similar law in Oregon. It would essentially change our voter registration system from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system.

This simple system will allow Pennsylvanians to “opt-in” by filling out a voter registration form when they apply for a public benefit, service or license through the Department of Transportation or other state agencies currently authorized to assist with registering voters.

This proposal is estimated to boost Pennsylvania’s registered voters by 1,100,000.

Please support this effort to increase voter participation.

To sign the letter and send it along to your Pennsylvania senator, representative and to Wolf, click here.

Democratic Governors Association Battles Against Gerrymandering

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The Democratic Governors Association has started a battle against gerrymandering – and Pennsylvania is one of the states in the organization’s spotlight.

The DGA unveiled an initiative it is calling Unrig the Map, which even has its own Facebook page, which can be viewed here.

Here’s a little tidbit from the site explaining the initiative:

In 2012, Democratic congressional candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans – but Republicans easily won control of the House of Representatives.

Why?

Because Republican governors and state legislators implemented a state-by-state plan in 2010 to gerrymander legislative districts with hyper-partisan maps.

It’s time to fight back – and one of the best ways to fight back is by electing Democratic governors in key states before the 2020 redistricting.

The DGA’s 2020 redistricting project will work to win targeted gubernatorial races that are key to redistricting. By winning these races, we have an opportunity to transform the Congress and impact public policy across the country. It’s time to unrig the map.

As for the Keystone State specifically? Here is information from a case study on the site:

Republicans hold 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats. But in 2012, Pennsylvanians cast about 83,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than for Republicans.

Achieving this lopsided delegation was the expressed goal of then-Governor Tom Corbett and PA legislature back in 2010. According to Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College, the map Corbett approved “was created to protect the current Republican majority.”

But drawing the lines in a way to boost the GOP required some inventive cartography. For example, the New York Times described the Seventh District outside Philadelphia as a “Rorschach-test inkblot of a district snaking through five counties that helped Representative Patrick Meehan win re-election by adding Republican voters.” The Republican drawn maps helped ensure that the GOP retained its 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.

Thoughts? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!