Monday, September 28, 2009

Voting in Germany. And then, voting in the United States.

Germany's federal election was yesterday, re-electing Angela Merkel for a 2nd term as Chancellor.

In honor of my sister Hilary, who is studying abroad in Berlin right now, here's an interesting piece on how elections work in Germany.

In a nutshell, Germans have 2 votes.

The 1st vote (seen on the left side of this sample ballot from 2005- click to enlarge) directly elects the voter's constituency representative. There are 299 of these representatives directly elected, representing half of the lower house.

The 2nd vote is cast for a "party list" (see the right side of the ballot) and determines the distribution of the remaining 299 seats to each of the various political parties.
An additional quantity of "overhang seats" are allotted in case any party receives more votes through the 1st direct election than it would normally receive through its allotted distribution of seats based on the 2nd party vote.

See the pie chart to the left for the breakdown of seats distributed in Sunday's election.

Interesting tidbit- Germany's government takes a much higher responsibility for registering its citizens to vote than the United States government does.

Germany uses existing civil registries at the municipal level (inclusion on these lists is mandatory) to automatically generate voter lists, according to this report from the Brennan Center. If a German will be 18 by the next election, they are automatically added to this voter list and receive a notification card in the mail.

By contrast, the United States- along with Belize and Burundi- places the burden on citizens to take responsibility for knowing the rules and registering themselves to vote.

Is it any surprise that in 2005, 93% of eligible Germans were registered to vote, while in the United States, 68% of age-eligible citizens were registered to vote in 2006?

Voter turnout is generally excellent in Germany, averaging in the past quarter century at around 80% - though in Sunday's election, a "lackluster campaign" seems to have contributed to a decrease in voter turnout to 71%. However, compare this to US voter turnout, which in 2008's extremely high-profile election amounted to just 62% of eligible voters.

Imagine how US turnout might be affected if we combined the high-profile races of our 2008 election with Germany's near-universal voter registration (not to mention, their Sunday Election Day...).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MassVOTE kicks off 2010 Census activities

On Wednesday afternoon, Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network partner MassVOTE kicked off its 2010 Census activities with an event co-sponsored by the Boston Foundation amongst others.

The event, attended by more than 60 representatives from Nonprofits around Massachusetts, featured (from right to left in the photo) Avi Green, executive director of MassVOTE, Kathy Ludgate, director of the Boston Regional Census Office, Michael Weekes, President and CEO of the Providers' Council, Paulo Pinto, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers and Kelly Bates, executive director of the Access Strategies Fund. The speakers offered a broad perspective on the challenges and opportunities for 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the 2010 Census.

Director Ludgate provided an overview of activities in the coming months and extended the help of her office and staff of nearly 100 partnership specialists and assistants to the attending

Weekes, a member of NVEN's steering committee, spoke about the high stakes for Massachusetts in next year's Census. Based on data obtained in the 2000 Census, Massachusetts received more than 9.6 billion dollars in federal funds in 2007, of which more than half went Health and Human Services. Looked at another way, each person counted in the 2000 Census earned Massachusetts $1,493.61 in federal funds in 2007. Those individuals and dollars add up fast.

Pinto spoke about the importance of the Census to ethnic and immigrant communities and some of the simple tactics nonprofits can use to reach out to their clients and constituents. While Mr. Pinto's organization has formed a Complete Count Committee to help ensure an accurate count of the Portuguese and Brazilian community, he stressed the importance of a range of tactics from putting up a poster in your organization's lobby, providing flyers at events or including Census messaging in your communications to becoming Questionnaire Assistance Center or Be Counted site. Every nonprofit has a role to play in the 2010 Census.

Bates, of Access Strategies, not ready to concede the fight for the congressional seat Massachusetts is predicted to lose during the next apportionment, discussed the importance of a complete and accurate count of Mass residents. Bates also discussed a new initiative by Access Strategies, the Boston Foundation and a growing list of local foundations to create a Census Equity Fund to provide $500,000 to Massachusetts nonprofits for work on the 2010 Census. Bates expects that on-the-ground work by grantee organizations will be in full swing between January and June 2010. The groups will be sponsoring public education events; distributing and displaying census information onsite, in their community, and in organizational materials; phonebanking and going door-to-door to help people complete and return their census forms; and promoting the census in ethnic media and markets.

All attendees received a copy of NVEN's Census Toolkit for Nonprofit Organizations, which provides nonprofits with all the information they need to get started involving their communities in the 2010 Census. To order your copy, visit

Congratulations to MassVOTE on a very successful Census 2010 outreach campaign kickoff!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Indiana strikes down voter ID law

From the NY Times-
An Indiana law requiring voters to show identification, declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court just last year, was struck down Thursday by a state appellate court.

The state court said the law violated the Indiana Constitution by not treating all voters equally.

The major difference between the state court decision and the Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is that the state court was interpreting the Indiana Constitution, while the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution of the United States. Generally, state courts are given the last word in interpreting their own constitutions. (Continue reading...)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Voter Registration Around the World"

A report from the Brennan Center details voter registration systems in 16 other countries compared to the United States' system, gathering best practices and suggestions for reform of US registration methods.

Check out where the US falls when compared to other major countries on the scale of voter vs. government responsibility for registration!

Chart from - "Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World," Brennan Center 2009.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Congratulations to MassVOTE!

Congratulations to NVEN partner MassVOTE, whose initiative “We Need Two Senators” was mentioned in the NY Times last Wednesday!

The "We Need Two Senators" campaign was created in partnership with advocacy organizations around the state to encourage the State House to allow for a temporary appointment fill Senator Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat; a hearing was held on the proposal on Tuesday, drawing crowds of over 600 (many bearing MassVOTE’s “We Need Two Senators” stickers).

Current Massachusetts law would keep the seat empty until a special election can be held (currently planned for January 19th, 2010), meaning Massachusetts would be down a vote in Washington this fall during crucial health care debates. "It is absolutely essential that Massachusetts not go underrepresented," said U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. "All hands on deck."

Photo- The Boston Channel

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will Supreme Court Open Door to Unlimited Corporate Cash in Elections?

It is hard to believe our framers fought the American Revolution, wrote the Constitution and enacted its First Amendment to protect large infusions of cash from corporate interests into elections. When political speech can only be afforded by the wealthiest sliver of the population, it seems hardly free.

Today the Supreme Court, or five of its justices, weighed rolling back six decades of rightful worrying by the top court on the undue influence of money and politics. They want to give corporations "free speech" protections, seemingly missing the "free" part of the first amendment.

More reason to consider the other option - providing public funding to elections to ensure more speech for all. Check out the excellent post by Americans for Campaign Reform on today's hearing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Census Resource for Nonprofits

Got forwarded this announcement through Terri Ann Lowenthal today - seems the Advancement Project is launching a new web-based mapping system! They're going to host an online webinar to explain how the technology utilized by their new mapping system "Healthy City" will be used by nonprofits for census and stimulus work, as well as to inform on the upcoming redistricting process.

The webinar will be next Tuesday, September 15th at 3:00-4:30 pm ET. The link for reserving your seat is here. Below is the login info.

Webinar ID: 287‐917‐650, Password: Healthy City
Join the conference call: Dial: 1‐800‐250‐2600, Password: 863367#

Friday, September 4, 2009

Committee to Modernize Voter Registration launches

Monday marked the launch of the Committee to Modernize Voter Registration, founded by former political campaign rivals Marc E. Elias and Trevor Potter, as an effort to bring the voter registration process into the 21st century. The paper forms system currently in place is an outdated system, they argue, that wastes resources and overburdens election officials, and voters suffer as a result. Automating the process would be:
  • more cost effective, since we would save on labor and printing costs
  • more efficient, since we'd be able to take advantage of today's technology
  • more accurate, since we'd be able to reduce human error
  • more secure, since we'd be able to eliminate third parties in the voter registration process.
To read more about the problems with voter registration and to learn about The Committee to Modernize Voter Registration's proposed solutions, visit their website.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

FairVote: If you proportionally allocate, they will come

From the FairVote blog: How Winner-Take-All Rules in Presidential Primaries Squash Turnout
  • Average turnout of all eligible voters for 2008 Republican presidential primaries through February 5: 12.6%. After February 5, when John McCain effectively secured nomination: 8.4%.

  • Average turnout for 2008 Democratic presidential primaries through February 5: 17.7%. After February 5: 23.6%.

  • Share of popular vote won by John McCain through February 5: 39%. Share of delegates won by McCain through February 5: 75%. *
For more, click here.