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Were Nonpartisan Elections Behind Florida Libertarian’s Local Win?

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 10:00

Nonpartisan elections are in the spotlight again. A new post by Richard Winger at Ballot Access News had the announcement from Davenport, Florida that on “April 3, Libertarian Party member Brandon Kneeld was elected to the city council”. Davenport is a very small city of in central Florida’s Polk County but the win demonstrates the potential benefits of nonpartisan voting for independents and third party candidates outside the American two-party system. The Florida Libertarian Party added in their announcement of the victory:

Kneeld easily defeated his opponent, Headley Oliver, with 245 votes to Oliver’s 117. “I’m just incredibly humbled they’re putting their trust in me,” Kneeld said of the residents, in an election-night interview with the local newspaper, the Ledger. “I’m just excited to try to do my part to keep Davenport a wonderful place to be.” The term for the office is three years. Kneeld’s election brings the Libertarian Party’s number of elected officials to 162. (They are listed at

A review by the National League of Cities found that valid arguments in opposition to nonpartisan ballots include that “In the absence of a party ballot, voters will turn to whatever cue is available, which often turns out to be the ethnicity of a candidate’s name.” They also found that there are worker/labor opposition as “nonpartisanship tends to produce elected officials more representative of the upper socioeconomic strata than of the general populace and aggravates the class bias in voting turnout, because in true nonpartisan systems there are no organizations of local party workers to bring lower-class citizens to the polls on election day.”

Some maintain however that the use of nonpartisan elections can be a boost to competition in small towns following the widespread use in big cities with New York City being an outlier by still not using the system. An article in the Gotham Gazette by the widely respected academic Frank Macchiarola passionately made the arguments in favor of using the nonpartisan elections system in NYC:

“In more than 80 percent of the nation’s largest cities, mayors are elected through nonpartisan elections — elections in which the candidates do not run on the Democratic or Republican or any other established party line, but as individuals. The cities where there are nonpartisan elections include Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Denver, and San Francisco. New York City is the exception.”

He added:

The system is indeed broken. The city’s independent voters, ever-growing in number, are effectively disenfranchised, since the party primary decides all but a few elections. As the noted political scientist V.O. Key wrote about the segregated south, a one party system is the functional equivalent of a no party system.

For an in-depth exploration of the pros and cons of nonpartisan elections, this video shows a landmark six-hour Election Law Symposium titled “Assessing the Nonpartisan Model in Election Administration, Redistricting, and Campaign Finance” that was held on September 14, 2012 at the University of California, Irvine. The symposium was described as:

For many years, especially since the 2000 presidential election controversy, scholars have debated whether nonpartisan actors should replace partisan actors or a bipartisan commission in administering elections, conducting redistricting, and policing the campaign finance system. Some states recently have adopted more nonpartisan models, including California’s redistricting commission and Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, although most states have retained partisan or bipartisan control.

This symposium, sponsored by the UC Irvine School of Law, the UC Irvine Law Review, and the UCI Center for the Study of Democracy will offer empirical, legal, normative, theoretical, and historical perspectives on the use of partisanship in the agencies governing election administration, redistricting, and campaign finance laws. How should the success or failure of such institutions be assessed? Are nonpartisan agencies normatively preferable to partisan and bipartisan agencies in achieving the goals of the political system? What explains why jurisdictions adopt or fail to adopt nonpartisan institutions? The symposium will bring together leading scholars in the field of election law and political science to consider such questions in the weeks leading up to the presidential election of 2012.

Take a look:

Large Majority of Public Support Congressional Election Reforms

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 12:40

From the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation:

Majorities of voters support a number of bold reforms to change how members of Congress are elected, including redrawing congressional districts by independent citizen commissions, ranked choice voting and multi-member districts, according to a new, in-depth survey from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation. These three reforms comprise new legislation – The Fair Representation Act – sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA.) and cosponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD).

The highest level of support was for changing the way that House congressional districts are designed—a prominent issue now that the Supreme Court is considering whether the federal government should prevent state legislatures from designing congressional districts to the benefit of the dominant party, popularly known as gerrymandering.

Two thirds of respondents – including 53 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents – favored having congressional districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission of citizens.

The survey of 2,482 registered voters was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC), and released today by the nonpartisan organization Voice of the People (VOP). Neither VOP nor PPC take a position on the issues, but seek to the give the public a greater voice.

“As the Supreme Court justices consider the question of how best to design congressional districts, they may want to consider an approach supported by a large bipartisan majority of American voters,” said PPC Director Steven Kull.

To ensure that respondents understood the issues, they were given a short briefing on the proposals and asked to evaluate arguments for and against. The content was reviewed by proponents and opponents of the legislation to ensure that the briefing was accurate and balanced, and that the arguments presented were the strongest ones being made.

‘Ranked choice voting,’ or ‘instant runoff’ voting also received majority support from respondents. This is a method for electing members of Congress when there are more than two candidates. Voters select not only their most preferred candidate, but also their second choice, third-choice and so on. This method is meant to make it more possible for independent and third-party candidates to be competitive.

This proposal was favored by 55 percent, including 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents. Only 46 percent of Republicans favored the idea, with 52 percent opposed.

Resistance to the idea is fairly low. In a separate question just 29% said the idea would be unacceptable, including 37% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats, with the remainder saying it would be tolerable or acceptable.

Similar levels of support were found for a third measure to create ‘multi-member districts.’ This would be a new way of structuring Congressional districts with larger districts represented by 3-5 members, making it more likely that the partisan mix of the members would more closely reflect the partisan balance of the population.

This proposal was favored by 55 percent, including 66 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents. Among Republicans, only 44 percent favored the idea with 53 percent opposed. But here too opposition was not strongly held – only 27 percent said it would be unacceptable, including 34 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats.

The survey was conducted online from September 7- October 3, 2017 with a national probability-based sample of 2,482 registered voters, provided by Nielsen Scarborough from Nielsen Scarborough’s sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The margin of error was +/- 2.0 percent.

Will the End of Public Education Be the End of Our Democracy?

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 12:31

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is on a quest to privatize education and allocate public monies to create elite charter schools in the name of “school choice.” Meanwhile, the governor of Florida is offering sales tax breaks to corporations to open “for-profit” charter schools and is expanding school choice by using publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools.

Susan A. Colton, former principal, teacher, author, and speaker, will share her more than 30 years of firsthand experience in public school classrooms and offer an insider viewpoint into what is really happening in the public school system.

As the author of the just-released book Principal’s Passion: A Quest for Quality Public Education, her insight includes the need for innovation, building relationships in diverse communities, and “putting students at the top of the organizational chart.”

  • Invite this informative and entertaining expert to address these compelling issues:
  • Who’s running the schoolhouse? The negative aspects of big business in education.
  • What schools must do: innovate or disintegrate?
  • Where students, teachers, parents, and communities can be involved and make changes
  • When will we arm our teachers, and will it be with guns or hugs?
  • Why public schools must prevail as the cornerstone of our democracy
Susan A. Colton

Praise for the Principal’s Passion has come from many corners. Peter Yarrow, of the band Peter, Paul and Mary is also the founder of Operation Respect, a “non-profit education and advocacy organization dedicated to transforming schools, summer camps, and other youth-serving organizations” recently commented:

“Susan Colton has written an extraordinary book that is a must-read for all educators. It shows the path I believe we must take if we are to preserve excellence in education for the next generation that faces a changed world with new and daunting challenges that we can, and must, overcome.”

Susan Colton taught in public school classrooms and served as a highly respected, nationally recognized principal for 30 years. She is a sought-after speaker, trainer, facilitator, and author of a new book, Principal’s Passion: A Quest for Quality Public Education.

Her elementary school was a feeder school into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Fla., where the recent mass school shooting tragedy took place. She specializes in building relationships in diverse communities. Her passion is to prevent the privatization of public schools and bring back the joy of learning.

See more at Susan’s website.

Would We be Better Served by National Popular Vote?

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 12:22

The following is a press release from Making Every Vote Count Foundation, a “501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing citizen awareness of problems with the existing Presidential selection system”. Take a look:

As American voters look toward the 2018 midterm elections, the Making Every Vote Count Foundation (MEVCF) released a video today showing why the U.S. would be better served if the person who wins the most popular votes nationwide becomes President.

“The American people disagree about many aspects of public life. However, they do actually agree on one problem: how we elect the President,” Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and co-founder of Making Every Vote Count, said.

Hundt cited polls that have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of Americans wants to elect the President by popular vote.

“The Presidential election system is far more damaging than many realize,” he added, “and is becoming more so, but there is a better way, and now is the time to be talking about it and doing something about it.”

A non-partisan nationwide movement is currently underway in support of enacting a national popular vote. That movement is gaining momentum in Connecticut, where a joint committee last month approved House Bill 5421 (HB 5421), which would adopt The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (the Compact).

The Compact, which goes into effect when states representing 270 electoral votes approve it, would change the election system for President to popular vote. So far 10 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 165 electoral votes, have approved the Compact.

The Connecticut bill now moves to the House floor for consideration.

Oregon is currently considering legislation that would enact a national popular vote as well.

This should please American voters, who overwhelmingly support the national popular vote, according to a poll commissioned by MEVCF earlier this year. The survey of approx. 800 Americans found that 72% of eligible voters nationwide support using the national popular vote to choose the president, including 95% of Democrats, 62% of independents and 55% of Republicans.

That same poll found that 79% of eligible voters nationwide agree that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and 70% agree that the current system makes it easier for Russia and other bad actors to manipulate our presidential election.

“The vulnerabilities that exist when too few voters play too big a role in selecting the president are just one of the many problems that can and must be fixed,” said Hundt.

Russian poet convicted for 2015 poem about Ukraine

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 12:11

Originally posted at WikiNews:

On Monday, Russian poet Alexander Byvshev was convicted under Russian criminal code Article 282§1 by a court in Oryol Oblast, a region of Russia, for his 2015 seven-verse poem On Ukraine’s Independence. The prosecution said the poem “incites hatred or enmity, and denigration of human dignity”. Per the ruling, Byvshev is to serve 330 hours of community service and forbidden to teach for three years.

The prosecutor pressed for Byvshev to be imprisoned for two and a half years. The poet did not plead guilty, saying he has the right to express his opinions via the poem.

Byvshev uploaded On Ukraine’s Independence on Russian social network VKontakte (VK) on February 22, 2015. Before Byvshev uploaded the poem, it was published by other Ukrainian websites.

Previously, on July 13, 2015, Byvshev was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for his March 2014 poem To Ukrainian Patriots, for “inciting hatred or enmity”. That poem was about the Russian military’s capture of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which took place days before he published the poem. He also criticised Moscow’s support for Ukrainian separatists. Since the occupation of Crimea, the clash between the Ukrainian army and separatists has resulted in a death toll of over ten thousand.

On April 4, Byvshev, speaking to Russian website Meduza, said he fulfilled the service requirement by cleaning the streets and cemetery. Byvshev was listed under “List of extremists and terrorists” in June 2015 and hence, his bank account was frozen. He also lost his teaching job. Byvshev used to teach German and French in his hometown, Kromy. Byvshev told Meduza he spent his early childhood in eastern Ukraine, from which his mother came.

On April 3, Byvshev announced via his social media profile on Facebook that a separate criminal case was commenced for other poems.

Speaking to Meduza on April 4, Byvshev said, “People [of Kromy] are afraid to shake my hand. Everyone is cowed […] It came to the point that when I come to a printing shop and ask to scan some documents, they refuse; they are afraid to become accomplices in my ‘crimes’.”

The Chorus of Voices Supporting New Jersey’s AVR Bill

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:44

From the Brennan Center:

The Brennan Center has long advocated for automatic voter registration in New Jersey alongside a core group of allies and legislators. Here’s what some of them have to say about the newly-passed bill.


“This bill is designed to encourage participation in the democratic process by integrating voter registration with the process of driver registration,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “This simple move will hopefully encourage more young people to register to vote and make it easier for residents to fulfill their civic duty.”

“It is the civic duty of every American citizen to vote, and automatic registration at license application or renewal will make it easier to uphold that duty,” said Senator Joe Vitale. “Our goal is to make it easier for citizens to register to vote and encourage greater participation in the democratic process while at the same time providing necessary safeguards for vulnerable individuals.”

“With voter turnout consistently low, we should be looking for ways to encourage participation by making registration easier,” said Senator Jim Beach. “As we seek to improve voter registration and ultimately voter turnout, this reform will prove valuable.”

“Sometimes voter turnout can be stymied simply by the fact that would-be voters have forgotten to update their registration because they moved,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer. “Hopefully this will encourage first time drivers to engage in the voting process and also make it easier for others to ensure that their voter registration stays current.”

“Given the increasingly low voter turnouts we see regularly nowadays, this bill will hopefully help boost voter registration and encourage participation in the democratic process by making it easier for folks to register,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace.

“Youth turnout in elections has been at an historic low in recent years,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey. “By making it easier for them to register, hopefully we can create a more conscientious mindset towards voting amongst our youngest generation.”

“This is a simple and common sense step,” said Assemblyman Daniel Benson. “Anything we can do to make it easier to register to vote is a good thing.”

“We should be doing this already,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. “Increasing voter registration is something we can all agree upon.”

“This is a great step forward,” said Assemblyman John McKeon. “Automatic voter registration makes so much sense.”

“Encouraging voter participation is something we should always be doing,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. “This is a positive step toward higher voter turn-out.”

“We should use all the tools available to boost voter registration,” said Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti. “This is an easy and simple way to accomplish that worthy goal.”


“State government has an unflagging obligation to affirmatively facilitate voter registration by people eligible to vote,” said Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center Renee Steinhagen. “This legislation makes automatic voter registration an integral part of the process when eligible people obtain or renew their driver’s license. It also recognizes that government agencies other than MVC have an important role to play in the work of voter registration, and lays the foundation for getting these agencies fully involved in the automatic registration of voters. Because registration before Election Day still remains part of our state, this legislation is of enormous civic importance.  It will meaningfully ensure that all citizens who wish to join the voter rolls will swiftly and easily be able to do so. Appleseed thanks the legislators who sponsored and voted for this bill, along with our partners who have labored for passage of this law.  The passage of the legislation furthers Appleseed’s mission to ensure that all New Jersey citizens eligible to register are in fact registered to vote; that all those registered are able to cast a ballot; and that all votes cast are fully and fairly counted.”

“Passage of the voter registration bills signals New Jerseyans are one step closer to making it easier for every citizen to participate in voting, one of our greatest democratic rights,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.“Modernizing our voter registration system will empower thousands to be eligible to participate in our robust democracy and elect environmentally-minded lawmakers.”

“We congratulate the New Jersey Legislature for passing Senate Bill 481,” said Liz Doyle, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Programs, Demos. “Our research shows that AVR legislation promotes a more inclusive electorate, and we are particularly encouraged by New Jersey’s allowance of future expansions of AVR to other agencies upon assessment by the Secretary of State. This legislation will increase the diversity of registered voters and help move toward our goal of achieving a democracy where everyone has an equal voice. We also acknowledge the coalition including New Jersey Working Families for their leadership on this legislation. We urge the Governor to sign SB 481 into law.”

“Thanks to the efforts of Senator Vitale and Speaker Coughlin, New Jersey voters will face one less hurdle in exercising their right to vote and Governor Murphy is one step closer on achieving a key first 100-day goal,” said Analilia Mejia Director of the New Jersey Working Families. “Across the nation, states are taking progressive action to increase registration and participation and we’re proud to note that the Garden State will be a leader in comprehensive reform.”

“At a time when our voting rights have been subject to a nationwide assault, our Legislature has made New Jersey a leader by broadening access to the ballot box,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We’re hopeful that this step is just the first of many to expand New Jerseyans’ participation in the democratic process. We look forward to working with the Legislature to end disenfranchisement based on convictions, enable early voting, and secure the power of individuals to assert their voice in the same spirit of today’s important legislative action.”

Pennsylvania Bans Vote-Counting Machines With No Paper Trail

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:41

Swing state Pennsylvania is taking a strong administrative stand against voting machines without a paper trail. According to a Ballot Access News post by Richard Winger, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State Robert Torres “instructed all the counties to eliminate all vote-counting machines that don’t create a paper audit trail, before the 2020 election”. A recent story by New York-based BuzzFeed News cybersecurity correspondent Kevin Collier broke the news:

About 83% of Pennsylvanians live in districts where voting machines produced no paper record in 2016, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit that tracks voting equipment in the US. In March, after losing a special election to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District by only a few hundred votes, Republican Rick Saccone chose not to pursue a recount: With no way to audit the vote count, that district’s counties couldn’t have produced a different result.

That article also had the following on the national backstory on the use of vote counting machines with no paper trail:

Experts say the most important safeguard that isn’t nationally implemented is to make sure that voting machines produce an independent paper trail, so that a post-election audit can verify results. Thirteen states, including Pennsylvania, currently use voting machines with no paper trail. Five of those — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina — use them exclusively.

It’s Past Time to Take a Closer Look at Ranked Choice Voting Systems

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:23

Don’t let any one person, with an agenda or bias educate you. Opponents shouldn’t be your source of information on any issue. Their explanations are suspect and unnecessarily confusing and amount to fear mongering. Don’t believe supporters unquestioned either!

The point of every election is to have your supporters come out and vote. Too often, those opposed to RCV make it sound like a conspiracy, when that is just normal voting.

Ranked choice voting systems do not let any person or party “flood” an election, that doesn’t even make sense. If a party put multiple candidates on the ballot, it would only serve to divide their own party’s votes, and potentially eliminate the candidate that they would have preferred. The scenarios opponents describe wouldn’t have the effect they are implying, and wouldn’t strengthen a party’s chances, but weaken it.

Research the information for yourself, educate yourself from non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters, or Fairvote, without fear and partisan bias.

A video on YouTube I posted at the end of this article explains the problems with the way we vote now when there are multiple candidates in an election. It is made by a U.K. Citizen, C.G.P. Grey, who produces many educational videos on YouTube. He explores a number of different voting systems in other videos too.

RCV has been proposed by Democrats and Republicans and Independents. It has been used since 1908, successfully in Australia, and other nations, states, and municipalities.

In Ranked Choice Voting, if a candidate gets a majority of the votes, 50%, plus 1, they win. This has the bonus of legitimizing the victory of the candidate, and helps them move forward to govern and lead. With minority/plurality winners (like LePage with 39% or Baldacci with 38%, see? It affects BOTH major parties, it is not a D or R issue at all), there is lingering resentment among the majority who voted for other candidates, which can affect the ability to govern.

With RCV, in the event no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the fewest number amount of votes is removed (or eliminated, but it is not a conspiracy or plot, it is because they had the least amount of support in the vote).

Then all the votes are counted again. People who voted for the removed candidate get counted with their second choice–or the person they would have voted for if their first choice candidate was never in the race.

Everyone else, who still has their candidate in the race has their ballots counted again.

In each round of voting, one person, one vote is preserved. People who are saying Ranked Choice violates, one person, one vote or just not being honest.

This is the quality in RCV that minimizes the “Spoiler Effect” that is a huge problem in the way we vote now. The spoiler effect is abused and gamed by dishonest and unethical factions, who support multiple candidates to split and divide other political parties.

RCV let’s people vote for candidates they truly like and agree with, even if done as a protest vote, or even if they know their candidate doesn’t have a chance of winning, without unintentionally helping a candidate they may well hate from getting elected over another candidate they might prefer.

We should have the right to vote for who we truly prefer, without our votes spoiling an election. A democracy where the winner is a majority winner (50%+1) benefits us all.

RCV has the effect of encouraging candidates to run positive campaigns to appeal to all voters, not only their own faction. RCV doesn’t eliminate negative campaigning, but in practice RCV elections are more positive as candidates want to gain 2nd or 3rd preference votes, even if a voter doesn’t pick them as their 1st choice.

Remember, preference isn’t an extra vote, it is the vote they would have cast if their first choice candidate wasn’t in the race to begin with. RCV is a BETTER system to let voters decide among a field of more than two candidates.

I urge all Maine voters to gift ourselves with a system that gives us all–Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Alternative voters–a system to express our true preferences to find a majority winner who best represents all the voters. We can be a model for the nation, and hopefully open the way to better candidates that truly unite us as a nation rather than dividing us further.

Democracy in Danger: Conversation on the Challenges Ahead

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 17:27

A video from the Brennan Center for Justice:

With social media on the rise, living standards stagnating, and fears of multiethnic democracy growing, voters are discontent with politics. Across the world — from India to Turkey to the United States — authoritarian populists have seized power. In his new book, Yascha Mounk examines how trust in the political system is dwindling as money in politics soars and democracy wanes. How did we get here, and how can we protect democracy moving forward?

Yascha Mounk, Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University and author of the new book The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, discusses the future of democracy with Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program and the Brennan Center for Justice.

The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

How Political Campaigns Use Data To Target Ads To Voters

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 17:16

From Vice News:

There’s a lot that’s confusing about the Cambridge Analytica Facebook story. But at the heart of it is a really simple motivation. Political campaigns want to advertise to voters in the most efficient way possible. That means they want to find voters at times when they’re paying attention and show them an ad that engages them.

Colorado Case is Defining State Power Over the Electoral College

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 16:15

This news comes from a post by Richard Winger titled “U.S. District Court Says Colorado Secretary of State Had the Power to “Fire” Presidential Electors Who Voted for Someone who Didn’t Win Popular Vote” on Ballot Access News.

“For the most part, [U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel] based his opinion on a 1952 case, Ray v Blair. The U.S. Supreme Court in that case upheld an Alabama law that let political parties keep presidential electors off their primary ballots if they wouldn’t take a pledge to support the party’s nominees in the electoral college, should they be elected.

Ray v Blair does not settle the current case, because Ray v Blair is a case about the rights of political parties to control who runs in their primaries. Back in 1952, the Alabama Democratic Party chose its presidential elector candidates in a primary, something no state does currently. Parts of Ray v Blair suggest that presidential electors are free to vote for anyone they wish in December in the electoral college, but Judge Daniel said that is just dicta.

He also suggested that the Twelfth Amendment gives states authority to bind their presidential electors, but the Twelfth Amendment, which took effect in 1804, only tells presidential electors to vote separately for president and vice-president.”

Read the full article at Ballot Access News.

Legislature Set to Vote on NJ Automatic Voter Registration

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 13:05

From a Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law press release:

Both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature will consider a bill today that establishes automatic voter registration, a process that would streamline the state’s voter registration procedures and energize the state’s elections. If passed and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey would become the 12th state — along with Washington, D.C. — to approve the reform, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and a number of other local organizations have supported for years.

Automatic voter registration is an approach to registering eligible voters that makes voter rolls more accurate and up-to-date, boosts voter participation, and saves money. The bill in New Jersey requires a simple change to the touch screen systems at the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission, or MVC, where New Jerseyans would automatically be registered to vote unless they opt out. If the bill becomes law, the Garden State will join a diverse and bipartisan group leading the national movement for reform. In just the last few weeks, AVR has become law in Washington state and Maryland, and California is set to launch its AVR program next week.

“Automatic voter registration is a win-win for New Jersey,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s democracy program and head of its voting rights and elections project. “This crucial reform will make registering more practical and efficient for voters, and it will make voter rolls more accurate for election officials. We’re heartened that lawmakers also made provisions to eventually expand the program to other state agencies in a thoughtful way.”

“Our democracy is strongest when more eligible voters participate, and when the voting electorate is representative of the state’s population as a whole,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “In considering automatic voter registration, New Jersey lawmakers have an opportunity today to take an important step toward realizing the goal of a truly vibrant and inclusive democracy.”

“New Jersey has an opportunity to become a nationwide leader in ensuring accessibility to the ballot,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “Automatic Voter Registration is shown to boost registration rates, save money, and most importantly, it makes it easier for citizens to keep their voting information up to date to ensure they won’t be turned away on election days.”

Like legislation in other states, New Jersey’s bill would allow other state agencies besides the MVC to implement automatic voter registration, but not immediately. That occurs only if election officials confirm the additional agencies have systems in place, like the MVC already does, to accurately verify eligibility, and then securely collect and transfer voter information.

How High Turnout in India Hurts Incumbents

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 12:12

The following piece was originally published at the Studies in Indian Politics think tank and was written by Milan Vaishnav and Jonathan Guy. Milan Vaishnav is a Senior Fellow and Director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. and Jonathan Guy is a Research Assistant at the University of Chicago. Take a look:

There is a longstanding, widely held belief in India that a positive increase in voter turnout is inherently anti-incumbent in nature. While the origins of this folk wisdom are indeterminate, statements in support of this contention are repeated ad nauseam nearly every election cycle. Proponents of this view argue that positive turnout growth—that is, an increase in voter turnout in the current election relative to the previous election—signals that the electorate is in a mood for change and, hence, the electoral fortunes of the incumbent government will be adversely affected. For instance, when discussing the growth in voter turnout in India’s May 2014 general election relative to the previous election in 2009, economist Surjit Bhalla claimed that ‘such a phenomena [sic] always goes against the incumbent. It is, if you will, bad news for the incumbent’ (Firstpost, 2014). After the 2016 state elections in Tamil Nadu, one election analyst proclaimed that ‘It is true that a huge voter turnout actually indicates an anti-incumbency wave. People turn up in huge numbers to vote out the government’ (Naig, 2016).

Given the widespread belief in a close connection between increasing voter turnout and anti-incumbency sentiment, it is surprising that there have been few (if any) systematic analyses of this relationship in the Indian context. Indeed, aside from the occasional newspaper opinion piece, we struggled to locate even one empirical analysis of the statistical relationship between turnout and incumbency in a scholarly publication. While in-depth analyses may be lacking, many experts have nevertheless begun to cast doubt on the conventional narrative in recent years. One of India’s leading election experts, Sanjay Kumar, told The Hindu (Shrinivasan, 2014) newspaper ‘I don’t know how this idea that high turnout is associated with anti-incumbency has persisted from generation to generation. The relationship has never existed.’

See the original full report at the Studies in Indian Politics.

The Afghanistan 2018 Election Date is Set. Now the Hard Part

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:08

Officials in Afghanistan have set a preliminary date for much anticipated parliamentary and local elections after numerous delays. The date of voting is now set for October 20, 2018 and could be a big step forward in a war-torn country that has struggled to form a democratic society in the 17 years since the fall of the authoritarian Taliban regime in 2001. America’s grand investments in Afghan security and democracy are surely at stake.

“Afghan security forces have assured us they will carry out operations in insecure areas not in government control to ensure security for people in the voter registration and voting stages of the elections,” the country’s Independent Election Commission chief, Abdul Badi Sayad said regarding the upcoming elections.

Afghanistan’s election history has been a troublesome one since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Widespread violence and fraud plagued the first Presidential election in 2004, when Hamid Karzai won the first election since the fall of the totalitarian Taliban regime. Six other candidates competed against Karzai in the country’s first Presidential election since the 2001 invasion by American and allied military forces. President Karzai won the controversial vote with 56.37 percent of the vote.

A functioning institution? – link

“Setting a firm date for elections is a notably positive and important development in the work of the IEC and will allow progress from the formal planning stages to implementation,” Tadamichi Yamamoto who heads the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan recently said.

Throughout the first Presidential election in 2004, there were numerous instances of violence in Afghanistan that did not discriminate between foreigners and native Afghans. Just as President Karzai’s election was declared official in October of 2004, three United Nation workers were kidnapped by the terror group Jaish-e-Muslimeen (aka Army of Muslims), one of many militant groups that sprung up following the collapse of the Taliban.

The Afghanistan Presidential term is a five-year term where the President can only serve two terms. President Hamid Karzai’s successor, Ashraf Ghani won the 2014 Presidential election with 56.44 percent of the vote. Such a transfer of power had the potential of progress. As pointed out by the U.S Institute of Peace,  the 2014 Presidential election was the first election where a potential transfer of power would have taken place but was not without its own controversy and violence.

That election was also marred with violence and questions about the integrity of the vote. The primary challenger to the Karzai-supported Ghani was Abdullah Abdullah whose resounding victory in the first round of voting was overturned in a questionable second round. Only direct negotiations between the two candidates, resulting in a national unity government, resolved that crisis.

Afghanistan’s government tries voting again

It now seems, the same election violence which plagued the first election in 2004, fed by growing concerns that violence will continue into the summer, will subsequently threaten the planned October 2018 elections. The fear has been justified by a surge in violence this year ahead of the spring fighting season, after the end of winter opens up communication and transportation across the country.

In the first months of 2018, Afghanistan has seen a surge in violence throughout the country, often focused in the capital city of Kabul. In January, there was a suicide ambulance bomb that killed 100 people in Kabul. The ambulance attack coincided with numerous attacks across the country including another attack in Kabul which killed 20 Americans when a hotel was attacked.

Complicating the prospects for free and fair elections, after 17 years of American occupation, the insurgency is now split largely into the Taliban and ISIS, a group that first grew in the violence of the American war in Iraq. At the same times, American and Afghan governments have always claimed ISIS and particularly the Taliban and have been getting refuge among sympathetic populations of fellow Pashtuns neighboring Pakistan.

Concluding, it is a positive step in the right direction that Afghanistan is progressing toward a new vote, and much is at stake. The candidates must remember the tremendously high sacrifices that the Afghan security services and international coalition partners have paid for in blood to help them get to this point. Their conduct during the elections is the key to moving toward the democracy the Afghan people deserve.

VIDEO: What are the Dangers of a Digital Democracy?

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 12:48

Event description from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:

The revelations about the misuse of Facebook data have started a pushback against the top five big tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. How do approaches to privacy and data use differ in the U.S., Europe and China? What kind of transparency should we demand? How will AI affect workers? All this and more in a lively and informative discussion with author and “Financial Times” columnist Rana Foroohar.

See more from the Carnegie Council here. The video is about 35 minutes. Take a look:

Vladimir Putin’s Four Elections: The Story the Data Tell

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 15:59

Reading between the lines, an analyst gathered data from a variety of sources to reveal the depth of government election manipulation in Russia. Author and analyst Sergey Shpilkin is an expert in using statistical analysis to reveal flaws in government released election data. Working at the Wilson Center, a think tank chartered by Congress, he has created his own system for independent electoral research combining the Russian government’s data with the combined results of decades of research.

Shpilkin’s research has made headlines in Russia before as when he uncovered voter fraud using his statistical system in the 2011 State Duma elections:

According to preliminary research by the Russian physicist Sergey Shpilkin, who published statistical evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2011 State Duma elections, the natural bell curve of voter turnout compared to votes cast in Sunday’s election suggests that the true total turnout was just 37 percent — a whopping 11 percent lower (5.7 million votes fewer) than Russian officials claim.

If Shpilkin is correct, and you throw out the ostensibly falsified votes counted at precincts with turnout above 70 percent, then “corrected” election results are dramatically different from the official figures: United Russia’s share of the electorate falls from 54 percent to 40 percent, the Communist Party’s support rises from 13 percent to 18 percent, LDPR jumps from 13 percent to 17 percent, and A Just Russia wins 8 percent, instead of 6 percent.

In other words, Russia’s opposition parties could have won a slim majority in the parliament for the first time in well more than a decade.

Shpilkin is presenting his latest research at an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. this month at an event sure to draw headlines. From the event invite:

Detailed voting data analysis can illuminate the trends in a presidential election: from falsifications, to manipulations, to the true popularity of the candidate. Using extensive data collected over the past 18 years, independent Russian analyst Sergei Shpilkin will present the real picture behind the headlines of President Putin’s four elections.

Keep an eye on this report as it is sure to be watched by Vladimir Putin and friends.

Forum discussion on seeking democratic solutions for Somalia

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 11:43
Somali artist’s depiction of national unity – link

The century-old American research group and think tank known as the Brookings Institution held a fascinating discussion on the state of politics in Somalia and a review of challenges ahead. Distinguished speakers took on the complex role of America in the conflict and Somali relations with neighboring states. The discussion was moderated by Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon who was joined by Ambassador Stephen Schwartz, senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Brookings Foreign Policy program Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, and David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Global Economy and Development and Africa Growth Initiative Dr. Landry Signé.

From the event invite’s description:

Despite important progress through years of international counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and state-building assistance, peace and sustainable stabilization remain elusive in Somalia. Al-Shabab remains entrenched throughout vast parts of Somalia and regularly conducts deadly terrorist attacks even in Mogadishu. Capacities of Somali national security remain weak, and while the Trump administration has significantly augmented U.S. anti-Shabab air strikes in Somalia that approach has limits. Meanwhile, Somali political processes and public institutions remain corrupt and in the pockets of powerful clans. These pernicious governance processes give continual lease on life to al-Shabab and other destabilizing armed actors. Improving governance and state-building—and subjecting Somalia’s governments and powerbrokers to accountability—are fundamental for conflict reduction and eventual stabilization.

On April 6, the Africa Security Initiative in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted a discussion on Somalia. Ambassador Stephen Schwartz discussed the internal and external challenges to restoration. Dr. Felbab-Brown and Dr. Signé joined with their comments on security, governance, and economic challenges in Somalia.

The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

A plea for old-fashioned American civility

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 11:19
Image by Beau Considine – link

Please, take a deep breath everyone.

We Americans have problems, no doubt, serious problems to work on, but at least in our country, the other side is not your enemy. They are, on the whole, well meaning people who have a different idea of how to solve the same problems facing all of us.

Yes, there are “bad” people out there, but they do not represent the whole. Most of us, the vast majority, are the good people.

Too often, our leaders, our media (social and traditional), our political parties, and certainly our adversaries, all want (albeit for different reasons) to keep us divided, outraged, activated, and fearful. This too often serves their short term goals, which weakens us as a people and a nation.

It is up to us to focus on what brings us together, and what our common bonds are. No matter who is elected, or what policies are put into effect, we are going to be okay. One side said the last guy was awful, the other side says the current guy is awful, we are still here. We have faced much worse as a nation than what we are dealing with now.

We might pay more or less taxes…

…we might get more or fewer services…

…we might have less firepower available to us individually…

…it might take longer and take more steps to get that firepower…

…we will not likely get everything we want…

…we may have to compromise (that isn’t evil, that is democracy)…

…we will be inconvenienced in the balance between freedom and security…

…we might actually make our society better in the process…

Crimes and terrible things will still happen. The goal is for them to happen far less often, and be less severe when they do happen.

We all want there to be help for the victims, and justice for the perpetrators.

Society will not collapse, unless we do it to ourselves.

America at its worst, is still better than many places. The number of people trying to get here is still quite a bit larger than those trying to leave.

The greatest threat to America is us not figuring out how to get along with one another. It is perhaps a shame that we can’t truly feel the suffering of others, or we might have figured it all out by now. Let’s not forget, that at is core, democracy isn’t perfect, just better than the other options.

Democracy is about giving people a way of changing our leaders and laws, without killing each other, of turning enemies instead into people who have differences of opinion, and maybe even people who can work together.

We as a nation have already experienced great pain when we have failed to come together. History also teaches us when we work together, we can achieve great success.

So whether you believe America is already great, or needs to be great again, let’s remember to be great to each other along the way.

VIDEO: How the California redistricting process works

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 12:33

A bipartisan group of the leadership that is leading California’s innovative approach to drawing electoral district boundaries were in Pennsylvania to explain their system to local administrators and others interested in reforming the Pennsylvania redistricting process. The event was held by Fair Districts PA, a statewide coalition that is part of the work of the nonpartisan political organization, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, headquartered in the state capital of Harrisburg. According to the event description:

Three members of the California Redistricting Commission visited PA and took part in four town halls to explain how the process worked in their state. GIl Ontai, (R), Jeanne Raya (D), and Stan Forbes (“declines to state”) described the transparency, non-partisan energy and extensive public input. Their visit was made possible by the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government.

More information is available at the California Citizens Redistricting Commission government website. Today the commission is meeting in Sacramento and will give an update on the Commission’s response to current litigation impacting state redistricting and to discuss California’s preparations for the 2020 Census. See the agenda for this meeting here. The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

The post VIDEO: How the California redistricting process works appeared first on Democracy Chronicles.

Wisconsin Voters to Retain Right to Elect State Treasurer

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 22:35

There was recently a great post by San Francisco’s Ballot Access News, founded and run by election expert Richard Winger, on a state referendum to determine to keep a system of public elections for state treasurer. This an issue that touches on the ability of voters to decide on important economic matters at a state level in a specific area where representative democracy is said to have advantages:

On April 3, the voters of Wisconsin voted by a 61%-39% margin to continue electing a partisan state office, Treasurer. The legislature had put a ballot measure on the ballot to abolish the office.

Having the Treasurer’s election continue in existence makes it somewhat easier for parties to retain their status as qualified parties. Wisconsin defines a political party to be a group that polled 1% for any of the statewide offices. The only other partisan statewide state offices in Wisconsin are the team of Governor-Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General.

The website of Run For Office had a nice description of the traditional role of the Wisconsin Treasurer:

The treasurer is the state’s chief banker and responsible for managing Wisconsin’s unclaimed property program, a local government investment pool, and the Wisconsin College Savings Program. The Wisconsin Treasurer serves as the chief banking officer of the state. They are responsible for managing the unclaimed property program, college savings program, and a local government investment funds pool.

The following is a video from the local WisconsinEye Network with a discussion on the topic of a right to elect state treasurer position directly that was filmed on March 14. The discussion is hosted by Steve Walters with Former State Treasurer Jack Voight and Management Consultant Sarah Godlewski.

Jack Voight in particular is well known locally having served as the state treasurer in Wisconsin from 1995-2007 and for his public political endorsement of John Kasich for President in 2016. Kasich was even quoted with his own endorsement of Voight’s management of at the post of Treasurer of Wisconsin and his political career: Kasich said of Voight, “as Treasurer of Wisconsin, he successfully brought a higher level of accountability and fiscal sense to his state. He is a reformer and a remarkably dedicated public servant.”

The video is about 30 minutes. Take a look:

The post Wisconsin Voters to Retain Right to Elect State Treasurer appeared first on Democracy Chronicles.