Common Cause: Fix the Broken Electoral College

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Common Cause, the good-government nonpartisan nonprofit, is asking for your support—and your signature—related to the state of the Electoral College.

The group has launched a petition—here’s why:

Many Americans are outraged that for the second time in five elections, the presidential candidate who won the most popular votes lost the election. And every presidential election, candidates are forced to only compete in a handful of swing states, and effectively ignore voters in every other state in the union.

The winner-take-all Electoral College system that led to this anti-democratic outcome must be changed, so that voters in all 50 states have a say in choosing our president.

Here’s how to do it: states can decide how they award their electoral votes, so if enough require their electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote (instead of who won in that state,) it would fix the problems of the Electoral College without needing to amend the Constitution.

This National Popular Vote compact wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in, but we’re closer to that than you might think — ten states and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes of the needed 270.

Activating the National Popular Vote compact would reshape our democracy for the better. Not only would it ensure that the person who actually got more votes win the presidency, but it would also force candidates to spend time engaging with voters in all 50 states, instead of just a handful swing states.

Interested in signing or learning more? The Common Cause website is where to go.

News of Note: Federal Court Rules Ferguson School District Violated Voting Rights Act

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A federal court recently ruled that the at-large electoral process used by Missouri’s Ferguson-Florissant School District dilutes the voting power of the African-American community, in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and several African-American parents and residents.

“The court agreed that the current at-large system dilutes African-Americans’ voting power and undermines their voice in the political process. This ruling recognizes that voting in Ferguson-Florissant usually results in the election of candidates preferred by white voters only, and helps push back against decades of systemic racism,” said Julie Ebenstein, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The Ferguson-Florissant area has a long history of racial discrimination. The school district itself was created by a 1975 federal desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students.

Yet, over 40 years later, no more than two of seven school board members have been African-American prior to the ACLU filing this lawsuit — this in a district where African-Americans comprise nearly 80 percent of the student body. The area also suffers from severe patterns of racial inequality across a wide spectrum of other socioeconomic indicators, such as income and employment.

In its ruling, the court found that “there is a history of officially sanctioned discrimination in the region and the district, and that history is not just a distant memory.”

The lawsuit, Missouri NAACP v. Ferguson-Florissant School District, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis.

“The ruling is an important step forward in addressing the long history of governmental policies in Missouri that have worked to disfavor communities of color in our elections, and our schools, housing, and employment,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

New Report: Internet Voting Threatens Ballot Secrecy

Casting a secret ballot in the upcoming election might not be so secret or secure depending on where – and how – you vote, according to a new report, The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy. The report was coauthored by three leading organizations focused on voting technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Verified Voting and Common Cause.

Caitriona Fitzgerald, State Policy Coordinator for EPIC and a co-author of the report, said, “The secret ballot is a core value in all 50 states. Yet states are asking some voters to waive this right. That threatens voting freedom and election integrity. This report will help safeguard voter privacy.”

This year 32 states will allow voting by email, fax and internet portals – mostly for overseas and military voters. In most states, voters using Internet voting must waive their right to a secret ballot.

Giving up the right to a secret ballot threatens the freedom to vote as one chooses, argue the report authors. The report cites several examples of employers making political participation a condition of employment — such as an Ohio coal mining company requiring its workers to attend a Presidential candidate’s rally – and not paying them for their time.

“On Election Day, we all are equal. The Secret Ballot ensures voters that employers’ political opinions stop at the ballot box,” said Susannah Goodman, director of Common Cause’s national Voting Integrity Campaign. “The Secret Ballot was established for a reason. The Secret Ballot ensures that we can all vote our conscience without undue intimidation and coercion.”

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC President, agreed, “The secret ballot is the cornerstone of modern democracy. The states must do more to protect the privacy of voters.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia collect votes online, with e-mail, electronic fax, or an online portal
  • Twenty-eight of these states and the District of Columbia ask voters to waive their right to a secret ballot.
  • Four of the states that collect votes online do not give voters any warning regarding ballot secrecy and Internet voting.

“The findings are concerning; the good news is, voters can protect the privacy and security of their vote. These solutions do not require any legislative change – voters can take advantage of already existing rules to protect their right to a secret ballot this election cycle,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit working to safeguard elections in the digital age by promoting the use of reliable and verifiable voting systems and methods.

Among the authors’ recommendations to voters and election officials:

  • Get your ballot early;
  • Get your ballot faster – if you are a military/overseas voter, you can receive your blank ballot electronically;
  • Mark your printed ballot and mail it back.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program recommends that postal mail return of a voted ballot, coupled with the electronic transmission of a blank ballot is the “most responsible” method of absentee voting for military and overseas voters.

The Department of Homeland Security warned recently that internet voting “introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters’ expectations of confidentiality, accountability and security of their votes […].”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has also warned about the risks of online voting. In 2011, NIST concluded that “…ballot secrecy remains a challenging issue in remote electronic voting systems”; until these and other challenges are overcome, secure Internet voting is not yet feasible.

The complete report is available at www.secretballotatrisk.org.

Wisconsin AG Files Emergency Motion Seeking Stay in State’s Voter ID Case

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The Wisconsin Department of Justice, on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, on Monday filed an emergency stay motion in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Frank v. Walker.

On July 19, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin filed a preliminary injunction requiring the state to adopt an affidavit exception to Wisconsin’s voter identification law for the November 2016 election.

The State of Wisconsin is seeking a stay of the decision to avoid subjecting the state and the public to substantial and irreparable harm.

The department argued in part:

The potential for voter confusion absent a stay is a particularly compelling reason for a stay. The Supreme Court has warned against court orders that “result in voter confusion.” Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 4–5 (2006). If Wisconsin informs citizens that there will be an affidavit option, this may well cause substantial confusion for future elections if the courts ultimately uphold Wisconsin’s law. After all, Wisconsin voters today understand that they need a photo ID to vote at the polls. If they are told this is no longer required, it will cause confusion when the affidavit is properly taken off the table at final judgment.

The entire pleading can be accessed online.

Editorial of Note: Let Independents Vote in PA Primary Elections

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In case you missed it, we wanted to bring your attention to a recent editorial in the York Dispatch that dealt with independents, political discourse, and Pennsylvania’s closed primary elections.

The editorial board is imploring independents to flex their so-called political muscle and demand a seat at the table when it comes to primary elections.

Here’s an excerpt from the editorial (which we recommend you read in full):

Allowing independents to vote in our state’s primary would likely give moderate voices a better opportunity to win political office. That, in turn, may turn down the volume on our acrimonious political discourse.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get some more folks in office who value nation over party.

Pennsylvania’s independent voice is growing stronger. Now it’s time for the independents to flex that muscle. Call or write your legislators and tell them it’s time to open up our primary system to all voters, regardless of party.

It’s a change that could help the sensible middle tame some of the divisiveness that rules our political experience today.

The entire editorial is available online.

Sign the Petition to Demand Automatic Voter Registration

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As more states adopt legislation calling for the automatic voter registration of all eligible citizens, the good-government group Common Cause has launched a petition—and it needs your help.

Here’s what you need to know:

Common Cause is asking for support for the The REGISTER and Automatic Voter Registration Acts—federal bills before Congress that would require all states to automatically register every eligible citizen to vote.

Here’s what Common Cause posted on its website:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, and anti-voter restrictions on the state level, we need reforms like automatic voter registration to engage every eligible American in our democracy.

Tell your lawmakers to co-sponsor these two vital bills to bring automatic voter registration nationwide.

Want more info? Moved to take action? You can learn more or sign the petition on the Common Cause website.

Common Cause Urges Census Bureau to Count Prisoners in Home Localities, Not Prisons

The Census Bureau is preparing to count nearly 2 million Americans as residents of localities where they are imprisoned rather than at their homes, continuing an outdated practice that results in constitutional violations of “one person, one vote” requirements, Common Cause warned.

“If implemented in 2020, the proposed residence guidelines the Census Bureau published today will produce an inaccurate count and invite legal challenges in states,” said Allegra Chapman, Common Cause’s director of voting and elections. “The Bureau should reconsider and amend its plan so that prisoners are counted in their home localities.”

Chapman said counting prisoners as residents of the communities where they’re incarcerated gives extra representation to those localities and dilutes the representation of everyone else. In localities housing major prisons, some city and county council or state legislative districts could end up with half or more of their “residents” as inmates, who of course are unable to vote, she noted.

“Because Latinos and African-Americans are disproportionally incarcerated, this plan will be especially bad for equal representation of communities of color,” Chapman added.  “In effect, a lot of urban areas and communities of color will lose head counts.  That’s both illogical and unjust.”

In Rhode Island, for example, the majority of incarcerated persons spend less than 100 days in correctional facilities.  Counting these individuals at a place where they don’t “eat and sleep most of the time” counters the Bureau’s own guidelines, Chapman said.

The Bureau’s plan continues a longstanding counting policy; census officials invited public comments on the practice last year but the plan announced today ignores the sentiments of 96 percent of the people who responded to that invitation and urged that prisoners be counted in their home localities, Chapman noted.

Common Cause leaders in Washington, D.C. and in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, were among those writing to the Census Bureau in support of counting the prisoners in their home localities.

“We appreciate the Bureau’s willingness to provide states which request it with an amended count that reallocates inmates to their home addresses, Chapman said. “And we hope states will take advantage of that offer to provide more equal representation within their boundaries. But by offering to provide an alternative count, the Bureau is acknowledging that its preferred counting plan doesn’t treat everyone equally.”

Native American voters seek to have fail-safe voting mechanisms put back in place

Seven Native American voters in North Dakota recently moved the North Dakota federal district court to enjoin the state’s recently eNARF Logo - White - Highest Resolution We Havenacted voter ID law and to reinstate the voter identification procedures that were in place before the new laws.  Earlier this year, the same voters filed suit under the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions challenging North Dakota’s voter ID law on the grounds it disproportionately burdens Native Americans and denies qualified voters the right to vote.

North Dakota House Bills 1332 and 1333 put in place the most restrictive voter ID law in the nation.  North Dakota voters are now required to present one of only four qualifying IDs with a current residential address printed on it in order to vote.  Before enactment of these laws, North Dakota required a poll clerk to request an ID, but a voter without one could still vote if the clerk vouched for their qualifications or the voter signed an affidavit of identity.  While other states also have voter ID requirements, North Dakota is the only state without a fail-safe provision.  Additionally, North Dakota’s list of acceptable IDs is much more limited than other states, which allow U.S. passports and military IDs to be used.

“What we are asking for is the same proven, high-quality election system that was in place before the new voter ID law” said Matthew Campbell, Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.  “North Dakota’s voting laws were more voter friendly before the recent legal changes, and under those laws voter fraud was virtually non-existent.  We want to ensure that everyone that is qualified has the right and the opportunity to vote—particularly Native Americans,” Campbell continued.

More than 72,000 voting eligible citizens in North Dakota lack a qualifying ID to be able to vote, according to the Plaintiffs.  That includes 7,984 Native Americans, or 23.5% of the total voting eligible Native American population (as compared to only 12.0% of the non-Native Americans that lack a qualifying ID).  For Native Americans who face high levels of poverty and lower access to transportation, the burden to travel, in some cases, more than 120 miles round trip to obtain a state ID is substantial.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Richard de Bodo of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and Tom Dickson of the Dickson Law Office.  NARF won important Voting Rights cases in Alaska in 2010 and again in 2015, establishing that the State of Alaska should be required to provide greater language assistance to voters who speak Alaska Native languages.

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.