Monday, November 29, 2010

Casting a Ballot for Haiti

On Sunday, Friends of Haiti 2010 organized a mock election allowing Haitians living abroad to cast ballots just like their friends and family in Haiti. The only difference is that their votes won't count.

Because of their contributions—financial and otherwise—Haitians living abroad want representation and a greater voice in the future of the country. The World Bank estimates that the 1 million Haitians living abroad (half of which reside in the United States) send upwards of $1.5 billion to the country every year. That money usually pays for schooling, medicine, and food, and these contributions have become even more important in the aftermath of the January earthquake and recent cholera outbreak.

Immigrants cast ballots in Boston, New York, Miami and more, making it clear that although they may reside elsewhere, they want the right to vote in Haiti. Voting was an informal affair—at one location, ballots were held in a shoebox—but it nevertheless underscored the deep ties between the Haitian community and their country.

Unfortunately, as election day progressed in Haiti, reports of street protests, inaccurate lists, and claims of voter fraud became a prominent theme across the country. Results are not expected until next week, and a second round of voting is scheduled for January if no presidential candidate secures a majority of the initial vote.

However, balloting went smoothly in Massachusetts, and after counting 54 votes in Boston and Brockton, Michel Martelly emerged as the local favorite with 75 percent of the vote.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nonprofit VOTE Gives Thanks

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so we wanted to share with you the many things Nonprofit VOTE is grateful for this year. For starters, we have amazing state and national partners who are doing wonderful work, in addition to an incredible network of supporters spread across the country.

We’re also thankful for the many nonprofits that worked on ballot measures this election season. These nonprofits demonstrated the sector’s strength by playing a crucial role in defeating numerous revenue cutting ballot measures.
  • The Colorado Nonprofit Association worked to help Colorado voters reject three ballot measures that would have cut vital services provided by nonprofits and local government.
  • In Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the Providers’ Council, and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network rallied voters to preserve funds for economic development and education by voting "No" on a rollback in state sales tax that would have cut over $3 billion from the state budget.
  • Arizona nonprofits were part of an effort that overwhelmingly defeated a proposed repeal of the First Things First program, which provides funding to early childhood development and health programs.
  • In Montana, nonprofits like NeighborWorks Montana helped pass a measure capping interest rates at 36% on payday loans that were typically 300% or more.
Nonprofit VOTE is thankful for the local nonprofits that do this work on a daily basis, who promote voter participation, and who have incorporated voter engagement into their year-round advocacy and civic engagement programs. Lastly, we want to say a big thank you to all the nonprofit organizations working every day to improve the lives of our neighbors and to strengthen our communities.

In honor of Thanksgiving, make sure to thank your favorite nonprofit for the hard work they do year-round!

You can find a full list of Nonprofit VOTE's 2010 partners here.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter in Our World

This past weekend, you probably saw long lines of avid Harry Potter fans waiting (perhaps in costume) to see the first installment of the seventh film. And while you and your children might know all about muggles, he-who-must-not-be-named, the Weasley family, and Dumbledore’s Army, you may not have heard of the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA).

The Harry Potter Alliance is a 501c3 nonprofit that promotes civic engagement "by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights." The organization encourages youth to follow in the footsteps of their fictional heroes and work for a better world.

And while the organization is inspired by a fictional world, it is achieving real-world success. The HPA has raised $123,000 for supplies in Haiti, donated more than 55,000 books, and registered over 900 first time voters through the Wizard Rock the Vote campaign.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, said herself, "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

The Harry Potter Alliance is another example of an innovative movement designed--and inspired by--young people, with a focus on civic engagement. While some may ignore the youth vote (or lament lackluster turnout), movements like this serve as a reminder not to underestimate the potential of today's youth, in the voting booth and beyond.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Expanding Access to the Vote

Redistricting measures weren’t the only important electoral reform passed this November. This year’s midterm election also heralded other important changes, including expanded voting access.

In Vermont, voters passed a constitutional amendment that will allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries as long as they will be 18 by the date of the general election. In doing so, Vermont joins a growing number of states that are empowering these young voters.

Meanwhile, Kansas voters passed a law that eliminates mental illness as a voting disqualification. Previously, the state constitution allowed legislators to limit an individual's suffrage rights.

The Saturday Voting Act was approved in San Francisco, requiring the city to open all polling places on the Saturday before Election Day in the November 2011 city election. Proponents argue that a weekend voting option would make it much easier for working citizens to get to the polls. The Census Bureau reported that in 2008, the most common reason registered voters said they did not vote was because of their busy schedules. Even before the act passed, New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced his support for the initiative, signaling that NYC might be next.

These and other ballot measures were a positive step forward, but naturally there is much more we must do to make our democracy more inclusive and ensure that those who can vote have a vested interest in doing so.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Voter Registration Begins in Sudan

While the midterms are behind us, an election is looming in Sudan. Sudanese voters won’t be electing congressional representatives, but will instead be casting their ballots to determine whether or not the country will be split into two nations.

Voter registration has already begun, with individuals waiting in line outside one of the 2,630 registration centers in Southern Sudan to ensure that they will be able to participate in the referendum. In Northern Sudan, registration has begun at 165 centers, but turnout appears to be lower than in the south. Voter registration ends on December 1, and so far the effort has only received minor complaints--generally about long lines and paperwork.

The referendum is a component of the 2005 peace agreement that halted civil war in the country, and there are still challenges before the election; the north-south border has not yet been decided (mostly due to the location of oil fields), and general preparations for the election are behind schedule.

Nevertheless, many Sudanese are compelled to vote for many of the same reasons we are, such as interest in the welfare of their children and for a chance to be heard: "I came to register to determine the fate of South Sudan," said one voter,

Voting is scheduled to begin on January 9 of next year.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Redistricting Reform

Last week we discussed the basics of redistricting and gerrymandering, and today we’re going to cover how voters are taking back the process from legislators.

Each state redistricts differently. In Iowa, two men and a computer are responsible for the process. In some states—like Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington—special bi-partisan commissions draw the lines. But in the remaining states, politicians--who are concerned with their own careers--direct the process. Current estimates reveal that one of the two major parties will have unilateral control over the redrawing of 140 congressional districts. The remainder are in states where either both parties have a chance to influence redistricting or where decisions will be made by independent commissions. For a complete look at who draws the lines, visit the Rose Institute.

However, on November 2nd, voters in California and Florida passed legislation that effects how each state draws the lines. In California, the new Citizens Redistricting Commission had its authority expanded with the passage of Proposition 20. The Commission was originally charged with drawing the lines for state legislative districts and Board of Equalization districts (Proposition 11 in 2008), but is now also responsible for drawing congressional district lines. The 14-member commission will be made up of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four commissioners from neither major party. Learn more about the commissioner selection process.

In Florida, Constitutional Amendments 5 and 6 (approved by over 62% of voters) incorporated language into the constitution that limits the power of legislators to draw their districts to guarantee reelection. The amendments prohibit drawing district lines—both congressional and state legislative—to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party; they require districts to be compact and to utilize existing political and geographical boundaries, while at the same time protecting minority voting rights.

Reforms in both states are designed to limit the scope of political gerrymandering, which allows legislators to pick their voters, rather than the other way around. In a further effort to increase redistricting transparency, researchers have released District Builder—free, open-source web-based software—"that will enable greater public participation and transparency during the upcoming electoral redistricting process."

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ranked Choice Voting debuts in Oakland - History made

Oakland elected its first mayor elected using “Ranked Choice Voting”, Jean Quan. She became the nation’s first Asian-American mayor of a large city. With ten candidates vying for Mayor, voters were able to express second or third choice should their preferred candidate trail after the counting first place ballots.

Alameda County ran a strong educational campaign to help voters understand they could indicate more than one choice. Voters get the idea, ranked their choices and the election went smoothly. Oakland adopted the new voting method, used widely in countries like Australia and Great Britain and in several US cities. Portland, Maine and St. Paul, Minnesota and Memphis, Tennessee are the latest cities to adopt it.

Oakland’s goal was to ensure a majority winner without the need or expense a second run-off election. Candidates could run without fear of being a spoiler. No candidate could win just by splitting the vote in a crowded field.

This is exactly what happened in Oakland’s mayor’s race. Quan’s chief opponent, Don Perolta, led initially with 34% of the first place votes. But an underwhelming 34% didn’t make him the winner as it would if voters didn’t have the ranked choice option. Quan picked up the most second place votes. She emerged the overall preference of the most voters who had supporter lesser candidates who ran on many of the same issues as Quan. It was the second place votes of the other leading candidate, popular political newcomer Rebecca Kaplan, which ultimately transferred overwhelming to Quan and carried her to victory.

How does ranked choice voting work? Watch the video.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Know Your District

This year’s election was about more than who your community sends to the state capital and Washington in January. It's also about who will be redrawing your district lines early next year--which will influence who your community elects for the next 10 years.

Let’s start from the beginning: A Census is conducted every 10 years, and the results determine how many of the 435 Congressional seats each state receives. Once the number of representatives is allocated, each state redraws its districts to account for population changes. At least in theory. In practice, districts are generally redrawn for political purposes, a practice known as gerrymandering.

Although there are guidelines for the redistricting process--each district must be compact, contiguous, equal in population and there must be an equal opportunity for minorities to elect the candidate of their choice--the process is open to political influence. A few tactics include:
  • Partisan gerrymandering: when the party in control of the redistricting process draws the line to maximize the power of their own party.
  • Bi-partisan gerrymandering: when the parties redraw the lines to ensure reelection for incumbents of both parties.
  • Racial gerrymandering: when districts are created in such a way that minority voters have the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
Gerrymandering is also the name of a new documentary from director Jeff Reichert.

The film does an excellent job of covering compelling redistricting stories, such as an up and coming candidate in Brooklyn who was drawn out of his district by the incumbent--a technique known as hijacking. Filmmakers also traveled to Anamosa, Iowa, where a candidate was elected by only a handful of voters because most of the district’s population was locked up in the local prison. (Learn more about prison-based gerrymandering from the Prison Policy Initiative.)

Each state redistricts differently, and Reichert urged reforms that incorporate state’s own traditions, public review and comments, and more. And while the film reminded viewers that "gerrymandering" ought to be pronounced like "Gary," (after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry) and not "Jerry"—that’s one reform which is not likely to be adopted.

Now that you’re interested in the process, you can take a stab at this complicated task by playing The Redistricting Game online. Meanwhile, stay tuned for our next post on redistricting reforms from this year’s midterm election!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day and the MOVE Act

What better way to honor the men and women who have served our country, then to ensure that their counterparts currently serving in the military are able to vote?

In an effort to make certain that servicemen and women can vote, President Obama signed the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2009. The MOVE Act requires election officials to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election, and this year's midterm was the first election to which the new law applied. The 45 day period was based on findings that overseas voters did not have sufficient time to return their ballots and were thus disenfranchised.

Most states complied with the law, and some states applied for waivers--about half of which were granted. However, a few states did not comply, forcing the Department of Justice to compel them to take steps to ensure that overseas ballots would be counted. The Department of Justice estimates that 65,000 votes were preserved as a result.

Military and overseas voter participation rates are not yet available--and some ballots are still coming in--but the government's willingness to take action to guarantee that overseas voters have an equal opportunity to cast their ballot is impressive, and a great tribute to the men and women in the armed forces.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Your Secretary of State Matters

Do you know who your Secretary of State is? If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, or Utah, don't worry, because you don’t have one. But in 37 of the 47 states that do, the Secretary of State also serves as the state's Chief Election Official. That means they control balloting, recounts, and the overall conduct of elections.

Why does that matter? Well, for example, the Kansas Secretary of State-elect already has plans to introduce a bill to legislators that will require voters to show photo ID at the polls and will also require proof of citizenship when registering to vote for the first time. In North Dakota, in the event of a tie in any election for the state legislature, the Secretary of State tosses a coin to determine the winner.

How does one become the Secretary of State? In 35 states, he or she is elected by popular vote. In 3 states (TN, ME, NH), the Secretary of State is elected by the state legislature, while in 9 states--including Texas, New York, Florida, and Oklahoma--the governor appoints someone to the post.

Learn more about this year's Secretary of State elections, and the 26 seats that were up for grabs.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is mandatory voting "un-American"?

It's November, a non-presidential election year, and turnout numbers are rolling in, meaning the inevitable question must be raised: should the United States have mandatory voting?

This CNN spot below discusses the issue and features William Galston of the Brookings Institution, one proponent of mandatory voting (watch for his nice comparison of the civic duty of voting and the civic duty of jury duty).

Others say that those who are too "lazy", either to get to the polls on Election Day or to "get informed" on the issues, should not be compelled to include themselves in America's electorate, lest that electorate become less informed, and thus less powerful and effective.

However, are either of these premises correct? Are people who don't get to the polls on Election Day really just "lazy", when so many disproportionate barriers are erected to registration and Election Day participation? Moreover, do we really think potential voters need to learn how to apply an accurate cost-benefit analysis to their vote, or learn how to predict the future decisions of their chosen leaders, to clearly and accurately express their current choices? Can anyone other than mind-readers and political theorists ever cast that elusive, so-called "informed vote"? Finally, as the video points it really "un-American" to require complete participation in one of the most fundamental founding notions of the United States - democracy?

The real question to be answered before we think about applying a mandatory voting scheme is whether it can implemented effectively. Until we have a system that allows all voters to easily register and cast a ballot on Election Day, mandatory voting will fail and be unfair...but that failure will not be a result of including more people in our democracy.

Check out the video and decide for yourself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nonprofit Awareness Month

If you haven’t heard, November is Nonprofit Awareness Month in North Carolina and Alabama!

What should we be aware of? Well for starters, there are more than 10,300 501(c)(3) nonprofits in North Carolina. Those nonprofits provide nearly 10% of all jobs in the state—two times the number of jobs that the finance, insurance, and real estate industries provide, combined! Nonprofits contribute $33 billion to the NC state economy, and over 1.7 million volunteers help them deliver services. For more on North Carolina nonprofits, check out this fact sheet. Likewise, Alabama is home to over 21,000 501(c)(3) nonprofits that employ 126,000 people and generated $12.4 billion in revenue last year.

Beyond the cold hard facts, nonprofits across the country work to educate our children, feed the hungry, maintain parks and public spaces, build homes, and serve our communities every day. Nonprofit Awareness Month seeks to create a better understanding about the value, importance, and impact of the nonprofit sector.

So even if you aren’t in Alabama or North Carolina, you can still celebrate Nonprofit Awareness Month at your organization and in your community. Learn more about how to spread the word using tips from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Keepin' it Real in Human Services"

Earlier this week, one of our Massachusetts partners, the Providers’ Council, hosted its 35th annual "It’s About People" Convention. The day brought together more than 1,000 attendees from health and human service agencies across the state, as well as supporters.

Michael Weekes, President/CEO of the Providers’ Council, opened the convening by reminding everyone to vote the following day. That reminder resounded throughout the day as presenters and workshop leaders likewise urged participants to head to the polls. However, the Council led with more than words this election cycle—they actively engaged their members on ballot measures that would impact their work in communities across the state. But the day was about much more than midterm elections—it was an opportunity to spend time with peers, recognize outstanding leaders in the field, and have conversations about the future of Massachusetts and the nation.

The keynote speaker was Liz Walker, a television journalist, documentary film producer, and humanitarian. She thanked everyone in the room for the work they do to keep our society "from falling off the edge." And as she told her story, she urged attendees to open themselves up to all the connections and collaborations that they might not have considered. She also reminded the audience that real change takes time, but that nonprofits can and do make a difference in the world. Seems like sound advice for nonprofits across the country.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Updates

Yesterday we gave you some simple guidelines for analyzing turnout, and today we're going to cover who turned out to vote.

To do that, we used the exit polls from 2006 and 2010 to compare the demographic data on who turned out as a share of the electorate, compared to that share in 2006.

Women made up 53% of this year’s electorate, up two points from 2006. The youth vote (ages 18-29) dropped one point from 2006, coming it at 11% this year. There was no change among the share of African-American, Latino, or Asian voters, and in fact, what's most notable is the relative stability among all demographics between the two midterms.

However, there was a substantial partisan shift among white voters. In 2006, 47% of white voters cast their ballots for Democrats (51% voted Republican), but in 2010 only 38% voted Democrat (with 60% voting Republican).

And while you consider those numbers, we'll leave you with a few noteworthy results:
  • South Carolina and Oklahoma both elected their first female governors, Nikki Haley—who is also the country's first female Indian-American governor—and Mary Fallin, respectively.
  • In California, Meg Whitman spent $150 million of her own money on her campaign, but Jerry Brown pulled out the win, becoming the nation’s oldest governor at age 72.
  • Nevada elected its first Latino governor, Brian Sandoval.
And for some interesting ballot initiatives:
  • In Denver, an initiative to track space aliens was rejected by 85% of voters.
  • Rhode Island voters decided to keep the state's official name: the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
  • California voters rejected Proposition 19 which would have legalized marijuana.
More updates to come!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Shape of Voter Turnout 2010

Who will turnout today and how do you compare it to previous elections?

Here’s a simple guide to what to watch for and how to measure voter turnout in the 2010 midterm.
  1. Compare turnout to 2006 more than 2008. Presidential turnout is always, on average, 20 plus points higher. Voter turnout is best compared to the last similar election, the 2006 midterm.
  2. Not all states are the same. Some like Louisiana or New Jersey elect their state offices in the odd years. Their turnout will be lower. High profile US Senate races or gubernatorial contests may boost turnout is some states like Colorado or California. States with Election Day registration – like Wisconsin and New Hampshire – always average higher turnout.
  3. Overall turnout percent will not be known right away. There are too many variables like mail and provisional ballots. Many will cite turnout as a percent of registered voters but it’s not the best measure. Lists of registered voters include people who may not live in the jurisdiction and excludes others who are there but deemed inactive voters. The real turnout measures are percent turnout of all eligible voters or any increase or decrease in total ballots cast compared to 2006, adjusted for population change.
  4. The most immediate gauge is the national major media exit poll used by CNN, the New York Times and others of who turned out and how they voted.
  5. Share of the vote. The exit polls will say right away what demographics turned out as a share of who did vote this year. What was a group’s share of the total electorate compared to 2006? Was it greater or less? Here are sample share of the vote demographics from 2006 as a benchmark.
Women 51%. There is not much gender gap in voter turnout. But there can be in partisan preference.
White 79%, African-American 10%, Latino 8%, Asian 2%. Latinos are the fastest growing population. Will this get reflected in a large share of the vote?
Household income below $50,000 40% Above $50,000 60%.
By age: Youth (18-29) 12%. Young voters represented 18% of the electorate in 2008 so they’ll be a lot talk of drop off of youth voting. But the question is did young voters match their 2006 turnout, improve on it or go down. Any improvement is a good sign that the growth in youth voting in recent years is continuing. Any drop from the 2006 would be a slide backwards.

6. Partisan voting patterns - Who votes for who. The exit polls will break down who voted for who by a broad range of demographics. It also notes when people made their voting decision and what issues were of top concern as they did.

Websites to go to for reliable breakdowns of voter turnout and partisan choices.

National Exit Polls 2006 - for comparison
National Exit Polls 2010 from CNN. Look for the national poll under House races.
National Exit Polls 2010 from the New York Times
General voter turnout - The US Election Project - They have good data on early voting as well as state by state turnout.

For a look at past elections, check out our profile of state by state turnout and participation gaps. America Goes to the Polls.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Election Day is Tomorrow!

Polls open tomorrow, and all the work that nonprofits across the country have put into getting out the vote will finally pay off. However, there are still things your nonprofit can do—it’s not too late to join the movement and help engage your community on issues that matter.

Although many news outlets are broadcasting as though the election has already happened, most ballots will be cast on Election Day itself. So set aside the media coverage and focus on helping people navigate the voting process.

Eighty-eight percent of Congress will be elected tomorrow, and your announcement, poster, or personal reminder could be the reason an eligible voter makes it to the polls. And don’t forget to allow staff time off to cast their ballot.

Most importantly, remember to ask everyone who walks in the door if they have voted or if they need help voting.

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