National Popular Vote
Voter Identification Laws
Voters in many states dream of the day when their vote for president will count just as much as those of voters in the handful of battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. Now, with the closeness of the Democratic presidential primary and the proportional delegate allocation rules that almost all state Democratic Parties follow, those voters are getting a taste of what it would mean if every vote mattered in elections and they are responding in overwhelming numbers.
The campaign to make every vote count in general elections is focused on passing an interstate compact where states agree to apportion their presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote (NPV). The compact would become effective when a majority of electors are included under the agreement. Spearheaded by National Popular Vote Inc., and assisted by Fairvote and the Progressive States Network, as well as a host of local organizations and dedicated citizens, the movement to enact this compact is rapidly gaining steam in states around the country.
In just the past couple of weeks two more legislative chambers have passed the NPV compact – the Vermont Senate, where the bill is sponsored by Sen. James C. Condos, and the Maine Senate, where Sen. John L. Martin carries the bill. Senator Martin also sponsored the bill that gave Maine its current system of proportional apportionment of electors – a system shared with only Nebraska – many years ago. Sen. Martin has led the way again as a strong supporter of a national popular vote for president. This time his bill had been held at a stalemate with 17 legislators in support and 17 in opposition. In the end Republican Sen. Peter Mills broke with the other members of his caucus to give the bill the 18 votes it needed for passage.
Hawaii, where NPV legislation was vetoed by the governor last year, re-passed the compact and sent it back to the governor's desk earlier this week. Both houses gave the bill strong support with only a dozen lawmakers opposed in total. In Illinois the compact was sent to Governor Rod R. Blagojevich early in the year and it remains on his desk awaiting his signature.
These new victories bring to 16 the number of legislative chambers that have endorsed the NPV compact. Besides those already mentioned, these chambers are from the states of Arkansas, California (where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill), Colorado, North Carolina, and Washington. In addition both Maryland and New Jersey have signed the compact into law and are waiting for other states to join them.
Progressive States Network - National Popular Vote - A Voter Turnout and Civil Rights Issue
Progressive States Network - Maine Senate Enacts National Popular Vote
FairVote - The Electoral College
National Popular Vote - Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan For Electing The President By National Popular Vote
Since the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) established the requirement that first time voters present some form of identification before voting in a federal election, voter identification requirements of all sorts have been enacted across the country. Currently 26 states have laws that are more restrictive than the HAVA mandate, and 21 states require ID from voters every time they vote. These laws have been passed by arguing they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though all evidence suggests that such fraud is extremely rare and poses no threat to the integrity of our voting systems. Instead, these fraud arguments have merely been a partisan tool, used for decades, to suppress turnout among new groups entering the electorate in large numbers and threatening the power of those currently in charge, whether they be minorities, immigrants or students.
Sadly, the evidence suggests that these efforts to reduce turnout and shape the electorate for partisan gain are most likely effective and have the greatest impact on poor, less educated, elderly and minority voters. One scholar has estimated that requiring photo identification from all voters would disenfranchise 20 million people. Indiana and Georgia currently have such a photo identification requirement in order for a vote to be counted. A challenge to the Indiana law has been heard by the US Supreme Court and a decision is expected by June.
Voter identification laws have also become a favorite tool of anti-immigrant forces and in the 2007-2008 legislative sessions 18 states have introduced bills to require that voters prove they are US citizens. Fortunately for voters, the only one of these bills to be passed into law so far applies to just one town in Delaware.
Legislators in many states are still pushing to impose new voter ID requirements in states that lack them, and continue to argue for making existing requirements more stringent by narrowing the types of ID that can be used. Happily, it seems that at least temporarily the wave of new voter ID laws in waning as more bills are being voted down than up. However, we expect that if the Supreme Court rules as expected, and allows Indiana's photo ID requirement to stand, there will be an even stronger push from conservative forces on this issue in the coming legislative session. Here's what has been active in the current session:
Brennan Center for Justice – Voter ID
Brennan Center for Justice – Policy Brief on Alternatives to Voter ID
Brennan Center for Justice – The Truth about Voter Fraud
American Prospect (April 2008) – The Republican War on Voting
Social Policy (Fall 2007) – History of Partisan Attacks on the Voting Process
Cal Tech/MIT Voting Technology Project – Research Materials on Voter Identification
Lonna Rae Atkeson et al. – New Barriers to Participation: Application of New Mexico's Voter Identification Law
Vermont recently sent SB 108, sponsored by Sen. James C. Condos, to the governor's desk. The bill would establish instant run-off voting for congressional and senate races. The state has also increased their campaign contribution limits marginally in a response to the Supreme Court having struck down their previous limits, which were the most restrictive in the nation.
Additionally, the state moved its voter registration deadline from two to one week before the day of the election. The Senate, which we mentioned has just approved the NPV compact, also passed a bill to allow mobile polling stations before election day where voters may vote by no-excuse absentee ballot. Sen. Jeanette K. White, who shepherded the change in registration date, sponsors the mobile voting bill as well. All told Vermont is becoming a strong leader in progressive election reform legislation and the residents of the state can be very proud of the national leaders residing in their small state.
Missouri Senators have passed a bill, SB 1038, completely removing campaign contribution limits, and requiring disclosure of donations greater than $5,000 within 48 hours. This bill represents a radical experiment in disclosure in lieu of contribution limits and threatens to upend campaign practices in that state.
The whole situation is complicated by a controversial loophole that presently allows individuals to skirt the current limits by starting countless political action committees, as well as by a fundraising scandal involving Governor Matt Blunt. Instead of excusing the governor's actions and acquiescing to unimpeded contributions, Missouri lawmakers should fix the loopholes to ensure that money doesn't become the only thing that matters in their state's politics. A hearing on the bill will take place before the House Elections Committee on April 8th.
Mississippi has been embroiled in debate over an ever-changing omnibus election law bill all session. With the backdrop of news stories regarding one election official acting without authorization to purge approximately 10,000 voters from the rolls in one county, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (the first Republican Secretary of State in Mississippi since reconstruction) lobbied hard for legislation that would de-register any voter who did not vote in the upcoming presidential election. Voters who didn't, would have to re-register within two years or be dropped from the rolls. He also supported HB 969, which would have greatly expanded the disenfranchisement of felons in the state. Along with the push for a voter ID bill mentioned above, it has been a year of struggle for supporters of voting rights in Mississippi.
Minnesota has passed HB 1546 sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon, a law that updates voter registration rolls automatically when a voter changes their mailing address with the United States Postal Service. A similar bill in Oregon, SB 1098 sponsored by Sen. Kate Brown, which would have also established opt-out registration when applying for a driver's license or non-driver ID, had those forward-thinking provisions stripped out before final passage.
West Virginia passed a resolution, HRC 79 sponsored by Rep. Carrie Webster, which creates a feasibility study for election-day registration (EDR). Massachusetts has reported EDR legislation sponsored by Senator Edward M. Augustus out of that chambers' Election Law Committee.
Indiana saw a Senate provision, SB 235, to expand the use of countywide vote centers die when House members, led by Rep. Matt Pierce, insisted that a provision be included that would have also allowed no-excuse absentee voting so voters who found it difficult to travel to the vote centers would have a convenient alternative.
The Brennan Center for Justice has released a new report titled "Restoring the Right to Vote" that surveys felony disenfranchisement laws and makes a strong argument that these laws, as the author puts it, "serve no legitimate purpose." Recommendations for voting rights restoration policies are included.
Project Vote and Demos have collaborated on a new report detailing the failures of states to abide by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. In particular it outlines the precipitous decline in registrations through public assistance agencies.
The Elections Subcommittee of Congress' Committee on House Administration held a hearing on April 1st on the challenges that public assistance agencies face in fulfilling the requirements to register clients to vote under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, including testimony by a range of state officials and advocates on how to improve procedures.
CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Engagement and Learning) has released a new working paper on the civic opportunity gap – where students in schools with a high average socioeconomic status have greater opportunities for civic leaning that stimulates participation in voting and civic life more generally.
CIRCLE has also teamed up with Rock the Vote to release a report that takes an in-depth look at historical trends in youth voter turnout, the demographics of young voters, and the politics of the youth vote.
The Civic Engagement Research Group (CERG) has released a paper titled "High Quality Civic Education: What is It and Who Gets It?" which outlines model civic education practices and what types of students have the benefit of this kind of education.
The National Election Data Archive has recently updated its model legislation on conducting scientifically based post-election vote audits to detect fraud and error.
The Institute on Money in State Politics raises concerns in a new study that "partnerships" between states and private insurance companies to offer long-term care insurance are being driven less by the goal of reducing Medicaid bills and more by industry lobbying backed by $205 million in state-level campaign contributions since 2000.
Examining the likely effects of enacting Election Day Registration on voter turnout in Massachusetts, an analysis by Demos finds that overall turnout would go up 4.9%, while turnout among those aged 18 to 25 would likely increase 9.7%.