DEADLINE REMINDER: What You Need to Know if you Want to Vote in PA’s Primary

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Pennsylvania voters and prospective voters: Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections wanted to remind you that the deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is less than two weeks away.

In Pennsylvania, any voter who wishes to cast a ballot must register to do so 30 days prior to an election.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to vote:

WHAT: The Pennsylvania primary election.

WHEN: The Pennsylvanian primary election will take place April 26. That means that if you want to vote in the election, the deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is March 28.

WHO: Pennsylvania primaries are closed. That means that Democrats must vote for Democrats and Republicans must vote for Republicans. Voters who are registered Independents may not participate. This means that if you are a Democrat and want to vote for a Republican, or if you are a Republican and want to vote for a Democrat, you must change your registration. If you are an Independent and want to vote for either a Democrat or a Republican, you have to change your affiliation.

HOW: As you might have heard, online voter registration is now available to prospective voters in Pennsylvania. If you need to register, change your registration or confirm it, click here. You can also register in person and via mail. Under certain circumstances, eligible voters may also request and complete an absentee ballot. For information on those options, click here.

Editor’s Note: If you’re registered but aren’t sure where your polling place is, you can check that out here.

 

New Scholastic News Website Teaches Kids About Electoral Process, More

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Scholastic News recently launched a new resource for kids- the Scholastic News Election 2016 website, a resource designed to immerse them in the 2016 Presidential Election and help them better understand the electoral process.

Throughout the election, students will have the opportunity to learn about the candidates and the democratic process, track the latest primary and caucus results on interactive maps, and vote in polls on the issues that matter most to them. The Scholastic News Election 2016 site also features age-appropriate news and information about the electoral process. Also featured are original reports from the campaign trail written by Kid Reporters ages 10-14 in the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, the country’s oldest and largest national student reporting program.

“The 2016 election is an exciting opportunity to engage kids in current events by introducing them to the intricacies of democracy and our country’s electoral process,” said Stephanie Smith, editorial director of Scholastic News editions 3, 4 & 5/6. “From primary and caucus debates to Inauguration Day, our hope is that the Scholastic News Election 2016 website will spark students’ interest in politics and history while providing teachable moments through a deep dive into the relevant issues that our nation is facing today. We make the election engaging, educational and fun.”

Before the general election in November, additional features will be published on the Scholastic News Election 2016 website, including an Electoral College map, detailed profiles of the final candidates, and the Scholastic Student Vote, a mock-election that allows kids across the country to cast their votes for President of the United States online, or through print ballots for Scholastic News magazine subscribers.

Since 1940, the outcomes of the Scholastic Student Vote have mirrored the outcomes of every general election, except two: in 1948, students selected Thomas E. Dewey over Harry S. Truman; and in 1960, students selected Richard M. Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

Want to check it out? Visit the Scholastic News Election 2016 website at: www.scholastic.com/election

Expanded Voter Information Tool Will Provide More People with Access to Nonpartisan Voter Information

The League of Women Voters has announced it will expand access to VOTE411.org, a site for nonpartisan information on elections and candidates in all 50 states.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $100,000 to support new delivery tools for VOTE411 information, helping to extend its reach to at least one million more people – including 200,000 from underrepresented groups.

Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest of all established democracies.

In fact, presidential year turnout is around 60 percent and midterm turnout is around 40 percent. The 2014 election had a 42 percent turnout rate, the lowest since 1942.

One of the more common reasons why people don’t vote is lack of information, the nonprofit said.

The League of Women Voters has run VOTE411.org since 2006. It answers common questions on candidate qualifications, the ballot, polling places and administrative rules. Since its creation, nearly 20,000 websites have linked to the site and 25 million people have accessed the information through VOTE411. The League anticipates that three million people will use the site in 2016, up from two million in 2012, the last presidential election year.

In 2014, the League of Women Voter’s tested an embeddable application that would allow media outlets, government agencies, elections officials and nonprofits to share VOTE411 information on their websites, meeting voters where they are. With Knight funding, the League will expand, develop and market the tool in order to reach millions more people, including those from underrepresented groups. The tool will provide information on all candidates involved in a particular race as well as a broad range of topics of interest to the community.

“Elections ensure that communities are informed and the needs of people are fairly represented. As such, low voter turnout undermines the health of individual communities,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “By providing nonpartisan and reliable information about elections and partnering with news organizations and others to widen their reach, the League of Women Voters will help increase participation in elections and help build a stronger democracy.”

“If people don’t vote and use their voice, someone will speak for them,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund. “This work will help us build a democracy where more voters have easy access to reliable information.”

Funding for the League of Women Voter’s is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to help ensure citizens have access to important information to help them make decisions about their communities and build stronger democracies. Knight has made many investments in this area including more than $3 million to winners of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, announced in July 2015.

 

New Paper Explores The Value of the Right to Vote

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As election 2016 proceeds, and the national discussion about voting rights continues, we wanted to bring your attention to a new draft paper that explores the value of the right to vote in the United States.

Titled just that – “The Value of the Right to Vote” – the 67-page paper written by Stephan Tontrup and Rebecca Morton of New York University conducted a mixed-lab field experiment during a naturally occurring election.

Here’s what the author’s offer in their abstract:

We conducted a mixed lab and field experiment during a naturally occurring election. We offered subjects the opportunity to relinquish their voting rights for money. Significantly more participants refused to sell their rights than later participated in the election. Subjects were more willing to accept money for abstention from voting, than for giving up the right to vote itself.

In a second experiment we gave subjects an incentive to submit a vote. Before and after the election we measured participants ‘knowledge about the parties’ and their positions. Even though they would not have voted without the incentive, the participants improved their knowledge suggesting that they valued their vote.

Our findings show that people derive strong utility from their democratic rights and status as a voter independently of participation in the election. Based on our results we develop a new concept of rights utility and conclude that low turnout does not translate into democratic apathy and should not be used to justify quorum rules and restrict direct participatory rights.

Want to read the entire paper? You can right 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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Must Read: FairVote Releases 2020 Reform Vision Statement, Goals

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FairVote, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that educates and enlivens discourse on how best to remove the structural barriers to a democracy that respects every voice and every vote in every election, has released its 2020 Reform vision statement and associated goals.

Here is an excerpt from its website:

“Respect for our Democratic institutions has plummeted to an all-time low. Winner-take-all elections and and restricted primaries limit our ballot choices and channel Americans’ diversity into two fiercely partisan camps that rarely cooperate on policy. Incumbents undercut the right to vote by treating voting laws as mere tools for political advantage. Presidential campaigns ignore most Americans, and a link between receiving the majority of the votes and winning a majority of seats in congressional elections is broken…FairVote goes to the root causes of America’s elector dysfunction with a reform agenda grounded in the principle of respect for every vote and every voice. Through research, and coalition building, we are on our way to achieving the following goals.”

The goals include:

  • Fair representation voting
  • Constitutional right to vote
  • Ranked choice voting
  • National popular vote

Want to learn more? Click here.

 

The Wisconsin Voter ID Law Ruling: What You Need to Know

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Late last week, a divided court upheld a Wisconsin voter ID law, and in doing so, rewrote part of it – causing confusion.

Haven’t been following the case closely? No problem! Here’s what you need to know to get caught up:

The court ruled in two cases that can be read here and here.

At issue? Whether Wisconsin statute requiring voters to produce photo ID at polls violates several provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution.

Want more information? Here are some news stories that explain the various issues at play now that the rulings have come down:

Divided court upholds Wisconsin’s voter ID law

Only Case Of Voter Fraud Cited In Wisconsin Voter ID Ruling Involved A Scott Walker Fan

Court Ruling Raises Questions About Voter ID Procedure

U.S. attorneys: State’s ID law violates Voting Rights Act