03/16/2006 Universal Vote by Mail

Thursday, March 16, 2006



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Universal Vote by Mail

Following the 2000 election, everyone saw just how flawed an election could be. In 2004, even without the same closeness, America witnessed other problems including extremely long waiting times to vote: a sign that America was no longer even preparing for moderately high turnout elections. Meanwhile, one state was chugging along, doing just fine.

Oregon adopted universal vote-by-mail in 1998 and put it into practice in federal elections in 2000. Since that time, voter turnout has been up, public costs have been down, and election day hassles have all but disappeared. With its widespread popularity in Oregon, neighboring states are taking a closer look: Washington state is inching ever closer to universal vote-by-mail and California officials are reportedly eyeing the reform in the face of yet more voter machine issues.

The fact is, when it comes to election issues, vote-by-mail solves virtually all of them. Long, frustrating lines at polling places? Abolish Election Day. Concern over a lack of paper ballots? Switch to universal vote-by-mail, they'll all be paper ballots.

And universalizing vote-by-mail even solves some problems that mixed systems don't avoid. For example, moving to a universal vote-by-mail system saves money because of reduced overhead from running polling places. Checking change of addresses keeps the voter rolls up-to-date and can serve as a protection against fraud. And having most votes into county offices by Election Day means that elections results are reported quickly and accurately.

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Net Neutrality: Keeping the Internet Open and Email Untaxed

Since the invention of the Internet, net neutrality has been a fundamental operating principle of the networks that maintain it -- all content is equal. Whether an Internet user wants to read an advertisement from ExxonMobil, an email from MoveOn, or a blog run by their neighbor, the decision about what to access has belonged to users and the network has responded equally to all requests.

Now, though, some large telecom firms are trying to change all that. The companies that have built the networks that allow most Americans to access the Internet want to start providing a two-tiered Internet system -- with preferences for content providers that pony up big bucks to Internet companies. They call it the market at work. Most independent observers call it consumers getting hosed. Internet users, after all, are already paying to access the Internet. Unless we want the world wide web to start mimicking cable TV, it's tough to think of a reason why this is a good idea.

While some leading lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have made it clear that they support net neutrality, at this point there is no clear indication that the federal government will intervene to prevent the entrenching of a digital divide.

Now, AOL is concerning proponents of net neutrality in a different way. AOL has said publicly that they intend to start charging opt-in bulk mailers who want to prevent their messages from going to spam filters. In other words, AOL wants to start charging organizations like labor unions, support groups, and, yes, Progressive States to contact AOL users who have expressed interest in the information we send out.

Luckily, even with the federal government appearing unlikely to do anything, California is tackling the issue. California State Senator Dean Florez is hosting a public hearing on AOL's proposal and is already discussing net neutrality legislation. Senator Florez serves as the Chair of the Select Committee on E-Commerce, Wireless Technology, and Consumer Driven Programming, a committee formed in part to deal with issues like net neutrality.

Opposition to AOL's plan is being led by Dear AOL, a coalition of 600 groups, including political organizations from all points on the spectrum.

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Drum Major Institute Keeps Score

New York's Drum Major Institute (DMI) deserves high marks for ingenuity. They're proving that in a new way.

Organizations across the country release scorecards rating elected officials on their performance on a whole host of issues. DMI is now doing that ... with a twice. They've released a new scorecard rating legislators from 2001 to 2005 on a whole host of issues affecting the middle class: insurance fraud, fair wages, college tuition, day care, and health care. It gets better.

In fact, even their crisp web presentation isn't the best part of DMI's new scorecard.

What's unique is the way they are promoting the findings. Usually when a scorecard comes out, it goes to members of the organization, the press, and a handful of political insiders. All of these people would guess the scores to begin with.

DMI is doing something different. They've purchased Google Ads for every New York legislator, so when you look for your Assemblyman or woman, you also are inevitably looking up how well she or he voted on middle-class issues.

Taking advantage of new tools to push information is a great way to highlight an organization's goals and to hold legislators accountability. Even better, Internet advertising can be surprisingly cost-effective, paying as little as a few pennies every time someone clicks on the ad and nothing when people aren't interested.

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Universal Vote-by-Mail

Early Voting Information Center: "Ballot Integrity and Voting by Mail: The Oregon Experience"
FairVote: Vote by Mail
LCV Education Fund: Oregon Vote-by-Mail Survey and Report
Oregon Secretary of State: Measure No. 60 (Initiative language)
University of Oregon: "Five Years Later: A Re-assessment of Oregon's Vote by Mail Electoral Process" (by Dr. Priscilla Southwell)

Net Neutrality

Common Cause: Net Neutrality
Dear AOL: An Open Letter to AOL
Free Press: Net Freedom Now!

Drum Major Keeps Score

DMI Blog: "Google This, Albany"
Drum Major Institute: "Fighting for New York's Middle Class: 2001-2005 NY State Legislative Scorecard"
Google: AdWords
Yahoo! Sponsored Search

Progressive States

In Today's Dispatch:


Universal Vote-by-Mail


Drum Major Keeps Score

Eye on the Right

It seems there are few things the right likes more than beating up on judges. In Montana, they're seeking to include judicial recall in the state Constitution this year, even though the power already exists under statute. And in Ohio, corrupt Governor Bob Taft is demanding the resignation of a judge who signed off on a plea deal that had a lenient sentence for a criminal -- the plea deal was made after prosecutors discovered errors with the indictment. The truth is the right's war on judges has gotten to the point that judges, even Supreme Court Justices, receive death threats simply for doing their jobs.

There is a peculiar tendency among the modern right-wing to demonize anything that disagrees with their preferred viewpoint. That tendency is also proving dangerous to America's least dangerous branch.


Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch