Republican Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader, made quite a name for himself over the summer when he boasted that the state’s voter-ID law, ostensibly about the integrity of the electoral process, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
That plan didn’t go well — courts rejected the voter-suppression effort and President Obama won the Keystone State with relative ease. But Turzai isn’t done rolling out election schemes (via my colleague Laura Conaway).
A Pennsylvania lawmaker is proposing making the state the only one to divide its electoral votes based on a presidential candidate’s percentage of public support, a method that would have helped Republican Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican from Chester, wants to replace the winner-take-all system, which gave President Barack Obama the state’s 20 electoral votes, with one that divides them to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each candidate. His method would have awarded 12 votes to Obama and eight to Romney had it been in force this year.
It’s understandable that Pennsylvania Republicans would consider efforts like these, and Pileggi’s proposal reportedly has the support of Gov. Tom Corbett (R). The Democratic presidential candidate has won the state six of the six elections, and it’s easier to rig the system then earn public support.
But as I wrote about a year ago, that doesn’t make efforts like these any less ugly. As Ian Millhiser explained, “Pileggi’s plan is nothing more than a proposal to steal electoral votes that are overwhelmingly likely to be awarded to the Democratic candidate under the current system and give them away to the Republican candidate.”
Last year, this identical effort fizzled when congressional Republicans balked fearing the shift might endanger their seats. The fact that Pileggi is back at it, however, suggests the state GOP takes the plan seriously, and is well worth watching.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 5, 2012
Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, has been under fire now for months from Democrats. They’re angry, particularly, about his moves to limit early voting hours across the state—especially those on the weekend before the election. Poor and minority voters rely on the expanded hours. Black churches have used the last Sunday before election day to bring voters to the polls; low-income voters often have inflexible work schedules and childcare demands at home. After a lengthy court battle, Husted has now authorized county election boards to offer hours in the three days before election day. But he did limit early voting hours in the weeks before, with fewer evening hours and no weekend hours.
But Husted insists he’s no 2012 version of Katherine Harris or Ken Blackwell. He’s repeatedly defended himself by pointing out that he’s also done something to make voting easier for all Ohioans: expand mail-in voting. Anyone in the state can vote by mail and this year, for the first time, the secretary of state sent applications for absentee ballots to every voter on the rolls. People have responded. Husted’s office has been churning out press releases touting the million-plus voters who’ve taken advantage of the offer and requested mail-in ballots. It sounds like a great thing. Ohio’s elections have been plagued by Election Day controversies; in 2004, in particular, lines were extremely long, particularly in minority polling places, and many worried that a lot of voters, after hours in line, gave up and went home. Mail-in ballots will take some of the pressure off of what’s sure to be a tense November 6 in the state that could swing the election to either President Obama or Mitt Romney.
But there’s a hitch—a big one. A new report from the Voting Technology Project, a collaborative research effort by MIT and Caltech, shows that votes cast by mail are significantly less likely to be counted than those cast in person. The report has serious implications given recent trends toward more and more mail-in ballots. Voting by mail has grown from less than 10 percent of ballots cast in 2000 to 17 percent in 2010. Two states, Oregon and Washington, conduct elections exclusively through the mail, while several others, including California and Colorado, allow voters to become permanent absentee voters, automatically getting a mail-in ballot every year.
That doesn’t mean the system is humming along. In 2008, 800,000 mail-in ballots were rejected by election workers for one problem or another. Another 3.9 million were requested by voters but never received, while 2.9 million were sent to voters but never made it back to election officials. In total, as many 7.6 million votes, 21 percent of those requested, may have “leaked” out of the system before the votes were counted. It’s still the case that the total number of mail-in ballots cast and rejected is small—around 2 percent of those requested—but the gap in accuracy is certainly cause for concern. And in a tight election, those uncounted ballots could make a difference.
“It continues to surprise me,” says Charles Stewart, a political science professor at MIT and one of the authors of the report, ”that with all of the growth in voting by mail, that there has been surprisingly little curiosity about how accurate the voting mode is when you vote by mail.”
It’s ironic, too, given how much effort has gone into improving voting techology in the last decade. Since the 2000 presidential election and the controversies over faulty voting machines and poorly designed ballots, most reformers have focused on fixing the technology problems. Under the Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, voting machines must now alert voters if they’ve skipped voting for one office or if they’ve selected more than one candidate for an office. Because the voter is physically in the polling place, it’s easy for them to correct their ballot. The reforms have been extremely successful; Stewart estimates that as many as 1.5 million votes will be counted this year because a machine didn’t break. Problems with mail-in ballots, he says, “probably undercut the gains we have made by buying better voting machines.”
Mailing in your vote requires a series of steps. In most states, after filling out your preferences, you sign an outside envelope and then put the actual ballot into a second envelope to ensure secrecy. Once it’s mailed and arrives at the central counting facility, elections workers verify that your signature matches the one on file and then separate the actual ballot from the envelope with your signature—meaning no one knows who cast which vote. From there everything is scanned and counted.
The trouble is, there are a multitude of ways the process can get screwed up. First there’s the U.S. Mail; the ballot could get lost and never arrive at the facility—or be delayed and arrive too late to be counted. If it does get there on time, your signature might now look different from the one you had when you registered; elderly people, who are the most likely to use mail-in ballots, can face problems if their signatures get shaky. Even if your ballot makes it to the scanning stage, any mistake you’ve made, like accidentally filling in bubbles for two candidates, can cause the vote for that office not to count. Unlike with in-person voting, there’s no way to alert an individual that there’s a problem with his or her ballot; once it’s at the counting stage, no one knows who cast which ballot.
But while mail-in ballots appear to have significant problems, Americans clearly like having voting options and it’s easier for election workers if everything doesn’t come down to a single day of immense pressure. That’s why the best solution is to expand in-person early voting, giving people as many hours and days as possible to cast their ballots.
Americans are twice as likely to vote early now as they were in 2004. However, while mail-in voting has grown steadily, in-person early voting has only expanded in fits and starts. In 2000, only 3 percent of voters did so through showing up at polling places early. While that rose to 13 percent in 2008, it was down to 8 percent in 2010. By expanding early voting options, states would take pressure off elections officials while still making the most of improvements to voting technology. Certainly states should think twice before moving to mail-in only elections or allowing people to automatically get an absentee ballot each year.
It’s a lesson Ohio may have to learn this year. Husted may have created new problems when he decided to focus on mail-in ballots while decreasing options for early voting in several urban counties. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Thursday, 1.4 million Ohio voters have asked for absentee ballots, but so far state officials have only received 619,000 back. Those numbers are likely to grow. The gap is disturbing. Many who requested mail-in ballots but either did not fill them out or never received them may show up at the polls and instead fill out provisional ballots. (The provisional ballots allow workers to make sure voters aren’t voting twice.) With the presidential election extremely close—and with a good chance that Ohio will be the deciding state in determining who wins—election workers could easily wind up scrambling to validate and count those provisional ballots. Meanwhile, there could be litigation around the mail-in ballots that were not received in time or were rejected. There’s plenty of possibility for drama.
The heat on Husted may not end any time soon.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, October 26, 2012
A confusing but heartening decision in Pennsylvania today, where the judge basically ruled that people can vote with or without picture ID.
This is at least the fourth state where conservatives and Republicans trying to pursue voter suppression legislation have lost. We have Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and now the good old Keystone State. Here for example is the Florida news from late August. And here’s a little summary. A few voter ID laws did get pre-clearance from the Justice Department, in Virginia and New Hampshire, but these are “non-strict” voter ID requirements, meaning that voters without ID can still vote by signing an affadavit vouching for their own identity.
Multiple choice quiz. What is happening here?
A. Vast conspiracy among left-wing judges, joined by the media, to let the freeloaders of America vote without paying taxes.
B. Plot by Acorn, Hugo Chavez, Bill Ayres, and Frantz Fanon, and if you think it matters that Fanon has been dead for 51 years, you don’t understand how these things work.
C. This Little Thing We Have Called Federal Law
In other words, friends, federal law very clearly, and for what I should think are rather obvious historical reasons, comes down on the default side of letting people vote. The law, and the judges seated to uphold it, will generally frown on attempts to impinge upon the franchise in the ways Republicans wish to do.
It’s also just amazing, isn’t it, that the only voter fraud scandal of this election (alleged, at this point) is a Republican one. Unable to find any cases of actual voter fraud on the Democratic side, the Republicans have apparently decided to go out and commit some to prove with finality that the problem exists!
It’s nice to see that open cheating still doesn’t work.
Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 2, 2012
At The Atlantic today, Andrew Cohen has a brief preview of the upcoming session of the Supreme Court. A lot of his article revolves around the personal antagonisms that seemed to emerge strong during and after consideration of the Affordable Care Act case. But here’s what Cohen says about the Court’s caseload:
Alas, what’s on the docket today, even after the Court accepted six new cases this past Wednesday, is only about half of what the justices will decide between now and June. So previewing the Court term this year is a little like previewing a play that is only half written. Will this be a term like last term, one for the ages? It depends. It depends on how aggressive the justices are in reaching out to take big-ticket social cases.
We don’t yet know, for example, whether the justices will take the Proposition 8 case out of California to finally put to rest that state’s uncertainty with same-sex marriage. Nor do we yet know if the Court is going to take another look at the Voting Rights Act after a season marked by partisan discrimination over voter identification laws. And there is a possibility, with voting rights cases brewing in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere, that the Court may be dragged into an election case before the November election.
As I write today, there is only one transcendent case on the Court’s docket this term, and it comes up early, on October 10. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court’s conservatives are poised to finish off once and for all the concept of affirmative action in academia.
Cohen goes on to note the perilous constitutional condition of affirmative action in college admissions, maintained in 2003 on a tie-breaking vote from Justice O’Conner, who has since been replaced by Samuel Alito, a confirmed enemy of affirmative action in general.
But Political Animals want to know if oral arguments on this issue right in the middle of the stretch run of the election campaign could serve as something of an “October Surprise” for Republicans who may by that time have lost whatever remaining inhibitions they have about racially tinged attacks arguing that those people and their president are systematically looting the good virtuous white people of America. I certainly think they will do whatever they can to exploit the publicity over the case, and would not be surprised at all if Mitt Romney and/or debate moderators were to pointedly challenge Obama on this subject either before (on October 3) or after (on October 16) the Court’s oral arguments.
So get ready for some race-baiting nestled in the gauzy language of constitutional law!
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 27, 2012
On Sunday I attended a fascinating panel of Southern politics experts convened by UNC-Chapel Hill. One of the major takeaways from the session was how diverse the South has become. For instance, Charlotte, the host city of the DNC, is now 45 percent white, 35 percent African-American and 13 percent Hispanic.
Among baby boomers aged 55–64, the South is 72 percent white. Among kids 15 or under, the South is 51 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic, 21 percent African-American and 6 percent other (which includes Asian-Americans and Native-Americans). In North Carolina, people of color accounted for 61 percent of the 1.5 million new residents the state gained over the past decade. Since 2008, the black and Hispanic share of eligible voters in North Carolina has grown by 2.5 percent, while the percentage of the white vote has decreased by a similar margin. This increasing diversity allowed Obama to win the Southern states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in 2008—all of which are competitive again in 2012.
The region’s changing demographics are a “ticking time bomb for Republicans,” said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. The Southern GOP is 88 percent white. The Southern Democratic Party is 50 percent white, 36 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other. The GOP’s dominance among white voters—who favor Romney over Obama by 26 points in the region—has allowed Republicans to control most of the region politically. But that will only be the case for so long if demographic trends continue to accelerate. Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote.
Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP. Some of these changes have been mitigated by recent federal and state court rulings against the GOP, yet it’s still breathtaking to consider the different ways Republicans have sought to suppress the minority vote in the region.
- Laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Virginia tightened a looser voter ID law. A federal court blocked Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law last week and will rule on South Carolina’s law shortly. Mississippi and Alabama must also receive preclearance for their voter ID laws—which are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and 2014—from a federal court in Washington or the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. According to a 2005 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of US citizens don’t have government-issued IDs, but the number is 25 percent among African-Americans.
- Laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote were passed in Alabama and Tennessee. Restrictions on voter registration drives were enacted in Florida and Texas. Florida’s law has been overturned by a federal court. Texas’s law has also been blocked by a state judge. Data from the 2004 and 2008 elections in Florida show that “African-American and Hispanic citizens are about twice as likely to register to vote through drives as white voters,” according to Project Vote.
- Early voting periods were reduced in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. African-Americans in states like Florida were twice as likely to cast ballots during early voting as white voters. According to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, 800,000 voters in Florida cast ballots during early voting hours in 2008 eliminated by the GOP. A federal court overturned the law in the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
- Florida also prevented felons convicted of non-violent crimes from voting after they’ve served their time, which disenfranchised nearly 200,000 Floridians who would have been eligible to vote in 2012. Blacks are 13 percent of registered voters in Florida but 23 percent of disenfranchised felons.
- Only three Southern states—Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—did not pass restrictive voting laws since 2010. North Carolina Democratic Governor Bev Perdue twice vetoed efforts by North Carolina Republicans to pass a strict voter ID law before the 2012 election. If GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory wins in November, it’s all but certain a tough voter ID law will be among the first pieces of legislation he signs.
- In conjunction with these new voting restrictions, Republicans all across the South used their control of state legislatures following 2010 to pass redistricting maps that will lead to a re-segregation of Southern politics, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority minority” districts as possible as a way to maximize the number of Republican seats. “Their goal is to make the Republican Party a solidly white party and to make the Democratic Party a majority African-American one,” says Kareem Crayton, professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill and an expert on voting rights in the South. The Texas redistricting maps, which a federal court ruled last week were “enacted with discriminatory purpose,” are simply a more extreme version of an effort that has been replicated in virtually every Southern state to undercut black and Hispanic political representation.
The consequences of these changes will be to make it harder for growing minority populations to be able to cast a ballot in much of the South and to make the region more segregated politically at a time when it is becoming more diverse demographically. “The net effect is that the potential for any coalition to exist in the Democratic Party of moderate-to-progressive whites and African-American voters is pretty much decimated,” says Crayton. Obama is betting he can once again turn out such a coalition in states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, but that task has become tougher in 2012. The outlook for state and local Democrats in the region is far bleaker.
The regression in the South today when it comes to voting rights is eerily reminiscent of tragic earlier periods in the region’s beleaguered racial history. “After Reconstruction, we saw efforts by conservative whites in Southern state legislatures to cut back on opportunities for black Americans to cast a ballot,” says Crayton. “It’s hard to dismiss the theory that what we’re seeing today is a replay of that scenario.”
Today, four southern states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas) are supporting a constitutional challenge to Section 5 originating in Shelby County, Alabama. When Republicans in Tampa yearned for the good ‘ol days, it was hard not to get the feeling that they were thinking of a time in the South when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, September 4, 2012