Friday, May 28, 2010

Illinois Bill Would Bring Early Voting to College Campuses

(Chart- CIRCLE)

In an effort to make voting more accessible for young people, a bill just passed by the House would require public universities in Illinois to have an early voting polling place on campus.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, spoke to the importance of drawing young people into voting and elections as a way to create more long-term voters for the state.

"Certainly, getting people when they're young and engaged is a much better predictor of their lifetime involvement," she said. "We are trying this for one election cycle at all the public, four-year institutions to see whether this could be helpful."

Youth turnout in the most recent midterm election cycle (2006) for those aged 18-29 was 25.5%, less than half of the turnout rate for voters older than 30 (53.7%).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Examining the paradox of voter engagement

There’s an conundrum associated with voter engagement work.

In nonprofit voter engagement, the question associated with this paradox occasionally seems to be the elephant in the room. How do we balance the desire for educated, informed voters (a must, according to Thomas Jefferson and others, for an effective democratic government) with the democratic goal of expanding voter participation to all – even those who have less formal education and/or direct political knowledge, like some of the individuals or constituency groups served by nonprofits?

Jennifer L. Hochschild of Harvard University has written a summary and explanation of this paradox in the Election Law Journal (Vol.9, No.2, 2010).

She begins by reviewing the history of the expansion of the electorate in the United States. Beginning with the removal of the tax and property requirements for voting in the 19th century, and moving all the way up to the modern-day felon re-enfranchisement movement, Hochschild demonstrates how throughout the past 200 years America has been trending towards eliminating requirements or provisions for eligible voters in favor of a more all-inclusive democracy. The paradox at hand, Hochschild explains, is that despite our professed need for a body of informed and engaged voters to select leaders and direct policy, throughout US history (with the exception of women’s suffrage in 1920) we have been gradually lowering the median voter’s level of education and socioeconomic status (both regarded as positively correlated with political knowledge) through enfranchisement reforms, and regard such reforms and their underlying goal of a broad electorate as a crucial and desirable element of American democracy.

Hochschild goes on to describe several explanations of this paradox. A few are more theoretical explanations perhaps best left to the social scientists – e.g., whether or not the US is truly a “democracy”; whether our citizens are really capable of connecting knowledge to the correct corresponding political choice; etc.

However, sprinkled throughout Hochschild’s review are descriptions of arguments that have special and welcome resonance to us nonprofits, reminding us why it makes sense for our democracy’s well-being to equally and unconditionally engage all our clients, from all backgrounds, in voting and elections.

Points include:
  • The disconnect between formal education and the necessary knowledge to cast an informed vote. Hochschild describes the alternative sources voters have for this knowledge, including trusted elites, community groups, a voter’s retrospective, or simply practice in voting or in other political acts like educating, organizing, demonstrating etc. In other words, the relationship between education/socioeconomic status and the political knowledge level of a voter may not be as important as once believed. In addition, political knowledge surveys have been shown to be deeply flawed in their construct, creating the distinct possibility that we have a better-informed electorate than current surveys indicate.
  • The relatively weighty costs of an exclusive electoral system (i.e., the danger of having a subset of people unable to express political grievances by voting; the overall inequity of such a system; the damage to the principle of the right of individuals to pursue his or her interests).
  • The systems in place – such as political parties, advocacy groups, the media etc. – that may act as a “replacement” or “amplifier” for the relatively lower political knowledge of the average voter, stepping in to fill in the gaps.
All of this is not to say that voter education activities are somehow mute. Voter education should be a part of any nonprofit’s voter engagement plan, and there are many forms those activities can take. Nevertheless, the arguments Hochschild discusses serve to remind us of the importance of pursuing an inclusive democracy in general, of the reasonableness in expanding the definition of the informed voter and of the systems already in place that get voters the information they need to make an informed decision - all of which can reassure and revitalize nonprofits in our quest to remind and help our constituents to vote on Election Day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

May and June Primaries


We're coming up on June, with lots of primary elections happening across the country for House and Senate seats and for governor. Here's a calendar of what primaries are occurring during the rest of May and June.

To see which races are competitive, check out this great map of the races from the New York Times.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Win for Public Financing in Federal Courts

A Federal Appeals court upheld a key provision of Arizona’s public campaign finance law. It denied a challenge to the part of the law that gives additional public funds to publicly funded candidates who have rejected big money to match any independent expenditure campaigns by special interests against them. In the post Citizens United era, a federal court has again supported public financing as the best way for government to limit the influence of special interest money and level the playing field in campaigns - versus laws that simply limit contributions without providing candidates public money to replace the private money upon which campaigns now depend.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

EAC issues voter guides for federal elections

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has issued a guide for citizens about voter registration and voting in the November presidential election. In addition to the basics of ballot-casting, the guide explains special voting procedures, such as early, absentee, and military and overseas voting.

“This guide is a one-stop resource for all types of voters, from first-time voters to frequent voters. It also includes step-by-step instructions for distinct categories of voters, such as military and overseas voters, who must follow special procedures,” said EAC Chair Rosemary Rodriguez.

“Citizens will also learn of new voting options that more states are offering, such as early voting and absentee voting. Voters need to know about all voting options, and this guide shows them how to take advantage of them.”

Download the guides below or here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From the Census Bureau - More info on door-to-door phase

With census takers going door-to-door for the 2010 Census, there is a lot of information floating around about what the process for the Non-Response Follow-Up phase entails. Why is the Census Bureau collecting certain information on the form? How do I know that my data is safe? Is this operation the same as the American Community Survey (ACS)? How do I recognize a census taker?

Click on the following videos to find answers to some of these questions.

In English

How is my data protected?

What is the difference between the 2010 Census form and the American Community Survey form?

Why does the Census Bureau collect information on Hispanic origin?

En Español

¿Cómo reconozco un empleado del Censo?

Retrato de los Estados Unidos - ¡Sea Contado!

2010 MMC:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

End of plurality voting method?

Could the election in Britain finally signal the end of the plurality voting method (what they call “first past the post”) - the 18th century voting method used by England, the US and a few other former British colonies lets winners win with a plurality rather than a majority. Under plurality rules, 25% or 35% of the vote is good enough to "win". No run off or ranking of voter preferences to determine what the actual large majority of voters in a district want. Its flawed math ignores the wishes of the broader electorate and creates a two-party monopoly where even the most viable and popular third parties, like England’s Liberal Democrats, get squeezed out.

The Lib-Dems have made reform a “non-negotiable” demand. The change they want is not “proportional voting” as reported in the New York Times. It’s a more modern and majoritarian voting method – that lets voters to rank their preferences, 1,2, 3.

Known as the single transferable vote or ranked choice voting, it does not guarantee a purer proportionality favored by some democracies. But it does mean the winner is a majority one with the broadest support in the district. It does allow more parties and candidates to compete without being “spoilers” or fracturing the vote. In the end, voters get to hear a more robust debate on issues and have more choices where the winner and overall result will be more a consensus choice.

It’s long time to bid cheerio to plurality “first-past-the-post” voting in England. Fine for 18th century. Not at all appropriate for democracy today in England or inhere the US and other former British colonies that still have it. (Not Australia or New Zealand, they graduated to more competitive and represented voting methods years ago).

The fate of voting in Britain is worth following. Change there could finally move the debate higher on the agenda of the US, mired like our English cousin in the zero sum dynamic of winner-take-all plurality rules.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hispanic population growth - updated tool at Pew

Timed well with the kickoff of the Census ground non-response followup, the Pew Hispanic Center has updated maps of the Latino/Hispanic population by county on its website. The maps show population numbers, shares and growth for 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2008, using population estimates and Decennial Census data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The county data for 1990, 2000 and 2008 also can be downloaded.

While looking at this map, keep in mind that initial analysis of Census tract response rates show that tracts with a low response rate (60% or lower) have on average a higher percent Latino/Hispanic residents (17%) than tracts with a higher response rate (higher than 60%), in which 11% of residents are Hispanic.

Clicking and dragging the sliders is a fun way to see the growth of the Latino/Hispanic population over the past 30 years.