Common Cause Urges Presidential Candidates to Adopt Delegate Gift Ban

With hotly-contested campaigns still underway in both parties, Common Cause is urging the five remaining candidates for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations to stop their campaigns and supporters from making personal gifts to national party convention delegates.

“Nominations and elections should be decided based on experience and ideas, not on the size of one’s wallet,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport.

In letters to Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Republicans Ted CruzJohn Kasich and Donald Trump, Rapoport called for each candidate to sign a pledge “not to provide gifts, travel beyond reasonable reimbursement costs for attendance at the convention, food, and/or other tangible or intangible gifts to delegates.” The candidates also were asked to pledge to “disavow any independent entity supporting my candidacy that provides cash, gifts, travel, food and/or other tangible or intangible gifts to delegates.”

The requests follow media reports that individuals and groups supporting some candidates may attempt to ply delegates with a variety of personal gifts or favors. There also have been reports that some campaigns or candidate supporters may publicize the hotel room numbers of wavering delegates, potentially inviting harassment.

Rapoport said the candidates should insist that their supporters not “provide gifts, travel, food, or anything else of value” to delegates in attempt to sway their votes. He also called on the candidates to press their respective parties to adopt convention rules barring gifts to delegates and alternate delegates by campaigns, candidate committees, political action groups, 501 (c) tax-exempt organizations and other entities.

While outright bribery of delegates is illegal, Rapoport’s letter notes that rules created by the Federal Election Commission “offer little guidance” about how candidates and their supporters can use gifts of travel, food, and other benefits in an attempt to influence delegate votes.

“In this climate, the lavish wooing of delegates will only reinforce cynicism that politics is all about money. Your pledge to voluntarily ban gifts or other support for delegates will send a signal to voters that you are in tune with them in this election cycle,” Rapoport wrote.

Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to 200,000

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced an executive action last week that will restore voting rights to about 200,000 Virginians with past criminal convictions.

Until a few years ago, Virginia disenfranchised for life anyone with a past felony conviction. The policy was recently loosened so citizens could apply to have their rights restored, but the process was often lengthy, cumbersome, and limited to individuals convicted of certain crimes.

What does this mean? The action will allow eligible residents who have completed their terms of incarceration and supervised release (including probation or parole) to immediately register to vote, and moving forward persons who satisfy those criteria will be eligible for rights restoration on a monthly basis.

Virginia will join 19 other states that restore voting rights to citizens upon completion of incarceration, probation, and parole.

“Today is a landmark day for Virginia,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at Brennan Center for Justice. “Just a few years ago, Virginia permanently disenfranchised otherwise eligible citizens of their right to vote. With Governor McAuliffe’s action, hundreds of thousands of new voters can make their voices heard.”

“People have served their time and done their probation,” McAuliffe said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.”

Restoring voting rights has seen bipartisan support throughout the years, with more than 20 states easing their laws over the last two decades. Most recently, Maryland enacted a law to restore voting rights to 40,000 citizens with past convictions.

View our interactive map of state criminal disenfranchisement policies.

 

2016 Voting Analysis: Automatic Registration Takes Off, But New Restrictions Still Hurt Voters

cropped-photo-for-header1.jpg

Amid this high-profile election season, there is a strong drive to improve rather than restrict voting access in the states, but many Americans will still face obstacles at the polls this year, according to a 2016 voting analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.

Here are the two key findings:

1. Automatic voter registration takes off across the country. Legislators in West Virginia and Vermont both recently passed groundbreaking bills with strong bipartisan support. This builds off of earlier successes in Oregon and California, which passed the reform in 2015. Oregon’s law has quadrupled registration rates since going into effect in January. Overall, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have considered automatic voter registration this year.

2. States are passing fewer laws to restrict voting rights in 2016, but nonetheless restrictions in 17 states will be on the books for the first time in a presidential election this year. Voter ID bills are still the most common type of restriction being introduced. But the large number of states with restrictions already in place may account for the lack of new bills actually being passed. Restrictions in most of the 17 states passed before 2016.

“In an election year that’s commanding voters’ attention, it’s exciting to see legislators from both parties pass automatic registration, a common-sense reform to make voting more accessible for everyone,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “But the long lines we’ve seen in some primaries are a product of new voting restrictions, and just a glimpse of what could happen in November, when turnout is even higher. Lawmakers should strive to pass measures that encourage voters to participate, not keep them away.”

In the 2016 legislative session, there have been at least:

  • 422 bills to enhance voting access introduced or carried over in 41 states, plus the District of Columbia
    • Automatic voter registration was the most common type of legislation introduced
  • 77 bills to restrict access to registration and voting introduced or carried over from the prior session in 28 states.
    • Voter ID bills are the most common type of restrictive legislation introduced

Click here for a full list of states and maps.

PA Primary Election 2016: What You Need to Know Before Heading to the Polls

vote-1278835_1280

Good morning! It’s primary Election Day in Pennsylvania! If you registered to vote in this election, here is some need-to-know information:

When do I vote? In Pennsylvania, polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Where do I vote? If you aren’t sure where your polling place is, click here and enter your information.

I am registered to vote, but will not be able to make it to the polls. Can I still cast a ballot? Unfortunately, not this close to the election. In the Keystone State, an application for an emergency absentee ballot (for voters dealing with unexpected sickness or disability) no later than by 5 p.m. the Friday prior to the election.

Do I need photo identification to vote? No. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was deemed unconstitutional. However, if you are a first-time voter, you must present identification in order to vote. For more information on that, click here.

What is a provisional ballot and why might I need one? A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there is some question regarding a voter’s eligibility. Voters who believe they are properly registered but do not appear on the poll book, first-time voters who do not have proper identification, and voters who are told by election officials that they are not eligible to vote should ask to cast a provisional ballot.

Where do I file an election-related complaint? Most of the issues voters have may be resolved by speaking with the judge of elections at your polling place. However, if you have a complaint about the regulation of Election Day activities, click here to submit.

What if I have a problem at the polls?  Common Cause Pennsylvania and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights offers Election Day protection services for voters throughout the state.

Voters can get assistance with:

  • locating their official polling place
  • verifying they are officially registered
  • reminding poll workers to check “supplemental poll books” if their name isn’t on the roll
  • getting help if they are improperly turned away from their polling place
  • obtaining an emergency ballot
  • securing a provisional ballot
  • alerting election officials of polls that opened late or close early
  • alerting election officials of voting machines malfunctioning
  • alerting election officials if voter suppression or intimidation activities are occurring

These services are being provided free – and voters who need assistance are urged to call:
1-866-OUR-VOTE
1-866-VEY-VOTA

Where can I follow the election results? Check your county elections website for results of the election.

MD Advocacy Groups Lament Lack of Progress with Good-Government Initiatives

With the 2016 legislative session nearing its close, advocates in neighboring Maryland expressed disappointment that more progress was not made on good government reforms in the past 90 days.

“While the Legislature made some progress this session, particularly on expanding access to voting, overall we saw no meaningful progress on key reforms,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Common Cause Maryland executive director. “At a time when the public is clamoring for open and honest government and is sick and tired of political duplicity, the lack of action on these issues sends the wrong message.”

Common Cause Maryland works on five areas of reform: voting, redistricting, campaign finance, transparency and ethics. The group praised action by the Legislature to restore voting rights to formerly convicted felons, modernize and expand voter registration, and require audits of the new voting systems after the elections.

They also noted a few discrete reforms that did advance, such as requiring public bodies to post agendas in advance of meetings and closing the loophole that allowed petition campaigns to raise funds without reporting those donations.

However, the legislative session saw no progress on other critical reforms:

  • Reforming the state’s broken redistricting process;
  • Protecting the U.S. Constitution from the unprecedented threat of a runaway conventions
  • Closing campaign finance loopholes that allow dark money to flow through our elections.

“The country wants change on these issues, and this legislative session failed to deliver for Maryland. The people can’t make progress in Congress, and now we find we can’t make meaningful progress in Annapolis,” Bevan-Dangel said.

“While we are keenly disappointed that the state legislative session failed to address so many issues,” she added, “Common Cause Maryland will continue the fight this summer – in the nation’s capital, in our counties, and in summer legislative study.”

Editor’s Note: Fortunately, a grass-roots movement for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania is underway. To learn more about the movement, or to sign a petition calling for a change in the way the Keystone State draws its political maps, click here.

 

Automatic Voter Registration Passes Vermont Legislature (with Sweeping Bipartisan Support)

ballot-1294935_960_720

With nearly unanimous support, the three-party Vermont legislature passed an automatic voter registration bill recently.

Under the legislation, eligible citizens will be registered to vote when they visit DMV offices, unless they opt out of registration.

If Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the bill, the state will become the fourth in the country to enact this groundbreaking reform, which puts the onus on the government to securely sign up eligible citizens to vote. The state estimates it could add between 30,000 and 50,000 new voters within the first four years.

“Automatic voter registration saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections,” said Vermont Secretary of State James Condos. “As Secretary of State, I believe voting is a sacred right – one we must protect and encourage by removing unnecessary barriers. Democracy works best when more people participate. I once again applaud the Legislature for their hard work and thank them for their nonpartisan support.”

“Vermont is now the second state to endorse automatic voter registration in a major bipartisan way,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This reform is a common-sense, no-brainer idea for any state looking to make voting more convenient and accessible for everyone.”

Vermont joins a growing national trend: West Virginia passed a bipartisan automatic voter registration bill in recent weeks, and Oregon and California enacted the reform in 2015. Oregon has already reported success, quadrupling registration rates since putting its new system in place in January.

Overall, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have considered measures in 2016 to automatically register citizens.

Common Cause: Democracy Awakening Proves the People Will Prevail

buildings-719993_960_720

Thousands of Americans gathered on the National Mall recently calling attention to the citizen-driven grassroots movement steadily gaining momentum and scoring impressive early wins in the six years since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United.

After allowing more secret unaccountable money to tip the scales more toward wealthy special interests, the court dealt democracy another blow when it made voting harder for many people in Shelby, dismantling parts of the Voting Rights Act, good-government non-profit Common Cause reported. But as thousands gathered to fight the twin threats to democracy, the mood is decidedly optimistic.

In music, artistic performances, speeches from elected officials and movement leaders, the crowd stood as a representation of millions of Americans across the country who are part of more than 100 endorsing organizations.

This movement, built town-by-town, state-by-state, started to emerge on the national scene during the 2016 election by framing the Fighting Big Money, Empower People: An Agenda for a 21st Century Democracy. Through a series of events during the past two weeks, the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening, more than 1000 people have been arrested in acts of civil disobedience to call attention to the need for the reforms as captured in the Fighting Big Money Agenda and the issues endorsed by these actions.

This growing political force is demanding a debate in 2016 about the future of democracy, money’s influence, our right to vote, and the people’s desire for government that works for all of us.

Here’s what Common Cause President Miles Rapoport said at the April 17 event:

“As the challenges we face threaten the survival of democracy itself, we have reason to be extremely optimistic.” 

We have come to this moment of Democracy Awakening — because people are realizing the system is rigged against most of us, for the benefit of a few wealthy special interests.” 

The issues of racial equality and economic justice, and a democracy that works for everyone are now at the top of the agenda in this election. You made that happen — you stood on street corners protesting the Citizens United decision; you fought to expand access to the ballot in the face of the Shelby decision. Because you fought back against big money, every candidate for president, congress, and on down ballot will have to answer one question — “what will you do to reduce money’s influence so that everyone’s voice and vote are equal and we preserve democracy of, by, and for the people?” 

By working together, town by town, state by state, we will win this our generation’s fight for democracy just as people before us won the rights for us to be here today. We will not be the generation that gives up on democracy, and the next generation, the New American Majority, they will be the generation that finally and forevermore secures a democracy reflecting and worthy of the rich diversity of ideas, experiences, and people that will define 21st Century America.” 

You have changed the national conversation, and when everyday American’s change their conversations about what is important, the policies and decisions will change soon after. The politicians always catch up sooner or later.”

Did Clinton-DNC Joint Fundraising Efforts Break Campaign Finance Law?

dollar-1029742_960_720

As election 2016 continues, campaign finance has again been an issue of contention among candidates.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign on Monday questioned “serious apparent violations” of campaign finance laws under a joint fundraising deal between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee – a story highlighted in The Atlantic.

The dealings were detailed in a letter from Brad Deutsch, the attorney for Sanders’ campaign, to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC. The letter questioned whether the Clinton presidential campaign violated legal limits on donations by improperly subsidizing Clinton’s campaign bid by paying Clinton staffers with funds from the joint DNC-Clinton committee.

Unlike Clinton’s presidential campaign committee, Hillary for America, the joint committee may accept large donations of up to $356,100. The first $2,700 of this amount is eligible for transfer to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 can be transferred to the DNC, with any remaining amount, up to $10,000, to each participating state party. According to public disclosure reports, however, the joint Clinton-DNC fund, Hillary Victory Fund, the Sanders campaign said, appears to operate in a way that skirts legal limits on federal campaign donations and primarily benefits the Clinton presidential campaign.

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign.

The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC.

Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign, the Sanders campaign alleges, “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

The outlays “have grown to staggering magnitudes” and “can no longer be ignored,” Deutsch added.

The expenditures on advertising and fundraising are at best “an impermissible in-kind contribution from the DNC and the participating state party committees” to Clinton’s presidential campaign, the letter said. “At worst, using funds received from large-dollar donors who have already contributed the $2,700 maximum to HFA [Hillary for America] may represent an excessive contribution to HFA from these individuals.”

In addition, the joint committee has paid the Clinton campaign committee $2.6 million ostensibly to “reimburse” the Clinton presidential campaign staff for time spent running the joint committee. The unusual arrangement, Deutsch said, “raises equally serious concerns that joint committee funds, which are meant to be allocated proportionally among the participating committees, are being used to impermissibly subsidize HFA through an over-reimbursement for campaign staffers and resources.”

“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time — it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager.

To read the letter, click here.

Voting Rights Institute Asks Department of Justice to Investigate Possible Voting Rights Violations in Alabama

vote-661888_960_720

The Voting Rights Institute has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Daphne, Alabama’s City Council’s March 21 decision to reduce the number of polling places in the city from five to two.

The city’s decision forces residents of one of the only districts with a sizable black population to travel more than two and a half miles away from their current polling place, while preserving the polling locations for most of the city’s heavily white districts.

“This is exactly the type of voting change that would have had to have been pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in Shelby County v. Holder,” said Harry Baumgarten, Legal Fellow with the Voting Rights Institute. “In gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has opened the door for these potentially discriminatory measures to be passed and implemented throughout the country.”

The Voting Rights Institute, a project of the American Constitution Society, Campaign Legal Center and Georgetown University Law Center, sent the letter to the Department of Justice after receiving a complaint from African-American leader and voter in Daphne, Willie Williams. In addition to reducing the number of polling locations, the city also recently passed a new mid-decade redistricting plan whose impact on the black voting age population in each district is at best unclear because the city has not been forthcoming about the racial impact of its new plan.

“We want fair and honest elections, and what the Daphne City Council has done in reducing polling locations is not fair and it’s not honest,” said Willie Williams, Daphne resident. “Voters need convenient polling places and need to be able to vote, and not be confused where to go to vote in their local elections.”

New at Pew: Interactive State Online Registration Systems

cropped-photo-for-header.jpg

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have moved to an online voter registration system. Supporters laud the advantages of such systems: they can help save tax dollars, they can help increase voter roll accuracy, and perhaps most importantly, helps provide a more hassle-free way for Americans to register or update their registrations.

But how are those online systems performing? Now The Pew Charitable Trusts has a new interactive tool to keep track – one that monitors and surveys states that implement or continue to offer online voter registration.

Overall?

According to Pew, the responses indicate that online registration holds up as a being:

  • cost-effective for states
  • easy for voters
  • and more accurate than paper forms.

But there’s more. According to the nonprofit, online voter registration systems :

  • are more secure
  • reduce potential for fraud by verifying voters’ identities and eligibility.
  • tracks what states offer online registration
  • summarizes survey findings across five topics: legislation, development, features, access and processing.

Want to check it out? The tool may be accessed here. Want to learn more about online voter registration systems in general? No worries – here’s a resource you might want to check out first.