Friday, June 25, 2010

Join us for a free webinar on voter participation basics for nonprofits

Please join us for a special web training event!

"Voter Participation Basics for Nonprofits"
Thursday, July 1st

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET

This webinar will review nonpartisan guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations. Topics will include principles and ideas for doing voter registration, voter education, engaging the candidates and getting out the vote in the course of activities nonprofits already do. There will be opportunities for question and answers sessions throughout the training.

The webinar will also highlight sources for voter participation materials and resources.

To register now, click here.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Score for a complete participatory democracy: US = Not very good.

(Photo source)
With football fever sweeping the world, it seems like a good day to inject a global perspective into our examination of voter turnout.

When looking at democracies of the world, one immediately stumbles across that foreign-seeming practice of compulsory voting (requiring all eligible voters to cast a ballot on Election Day), currently in place in several high-turnout countries. Fun soccer fact of the day: 65% percent of the top-20 ranked World Cup participants ( have, at some point, required eligible citizens to vote in elections (compared to only 20% of all countries) (IDEA).

Bring up compulsory voting in the United States and, as election expert Rick Hasen points out in this article, hackles get raised. Many Americans feel that compelling people to cast a ballot goes against US values of freedom, right to privacy, and the right to “stay home on Election Day” as a form of political expression.

Setting aside the right to stay home on Election Day and other issues for a moment, let’s look at some turnout averages and compulsory voting for the top contenders in the World Cup. Average world turnout around 2001 was 72.1 percent (IDEA). Average of top 20 ranked World Cup participants is 75%, so they’re a pretty good sample.

When the top-20 teams are ranked by voter turnout, 8 of the top 10 either currently have mandatory voting or had it for a period of time. These countries have 95%-77% voter turnout (US turnout is around 65%). (IDEA)

This is also true world wide – 5 out of the 6 countries with the highest turnout levels currently have compulsory voting. Take Australia, which has an astounding 95% turnout rate. In the first Australian election after compulsory voting was enacted in the 1920s, turnout jumped from 59% to over 91% Moreover, Australians consistently say they approve of their mandatory voting law, regarding it a duty akin to paying taxes or obeying traffic laws (Louth, Hill). Punishments in countries with compulsory voting laws ranging from social sanctions or administrative fines to imprisonment for multiple offenders; however, the relatively tiny percent of non-voters prosecuted indicates that these laws are mostly self-enforced (Hasen).

There certainly are a few roadblocks to enacting and enforcing compulsory voting in America. Creating a system of universal registration would be absolutely necessary, something advocates are currently fighting for in the US with no mean amount of difficulty. Election Day as a holiday is standard in many countries, yet here workers often face difficulty in getting time off to vote. Others argue that a long tradition of mandatory voting helps keep the system in place in those countries, while countries like the US, used to choosing whether to cast a ballot or not, would have a tougher time switching to a compulsory voting system.

But it seems strange to argue against the sentiment behind compulsory voting; that is, that each person, no matter their walk of life, income or background etc., must play a part in deciding who governs and what laws are enacted in order for a government to be truly representative and effective. Isn’t that idea fundamentally democratic, open, fair and, yes…American?

Just ask the state of Georgia. Article XII of their 1777 Constitution states:
Article XII. Every person absenting himself from an election, and shall neglect to give in his or their ballot at such election, shall be subject to a penalty not exceeding five pounds.
Although this language is unenforced, it does remind us that the sentiment of encouraging voter turnout by legally requiring it did, at one time, exist in the minds of at least some of our founding fathers.

Whether you support compulsory voting or not, as we watch Team USA power through their matches, let’s keep in mind who the real winners are (at least in the game of democracy) – those countries with near-universal participation in national elections.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008

(Image- VSNAX)
A new report on voter turnout in the 2008 election from the Census Bureau, based on updated data, mostly confirms previous analysis that:

- Young voters (aged 18-24) were the only age group to have a statistically significant increase in turnout in 2008.

- Turnout among blacks, Asians and Hispanics each increased about 4 percentage points, while turnout among white voters went down a point.

- Citizens with at least a bachelor’s degree registered at a higher rate (83 percent) than those who had not received a high school diploma (51 percent), those who were high school graduates (64 percent), and individuals who had some college or an associate’s degree (75 percent).

View the report here.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

9th Circuit to rehear WA felon disenfranchisement case

(Map- ACLU)
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will rehear en banc Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case decided early in 2010 on whether Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prempts Washington's felon disenfranchisement rules. In January, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment, holding that Washington's criminal justice practices "disproportionately affect minorities beyond what can be explained by non-racial means" and that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement lawdoes in fact violate § 2 of the VRA.

A decision in the case, scheduled for September, has implications for the 9 states under their jurisdiction, including California.

The Equal Justice Society (EJS), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and American Parole and Probation Association have submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Voting and the mentally disabled

(Image from

From the June 2010 NCSL Canvass:

More than 1 million adults in the United States are diagnosed annually with a chronic brain disease or disorder. As of the 2000 census, there were almost 30 million voting-age Americans with some kind of disability—mental or physical. Of these, 4 million were designated as having a mental disability and 2 million were identified as having a sensory, physical and mental disability. In sum, 20 percent of those with disabilities have a mental disability—3 percent of the voting age population.

The aging baby boomer population is causing concern that the mentally disabled population will grow exponentially in as little as 10 years. As of July 1, 2007, there were 37.9 million people in the United States aged 65 and older. This age group accounted for 13 percent of the population. According to the Government Accountability Office, by 2030, those aged 65 and over will grow to more than 20 percent of the population. The Family Caregiver Alliance points to an equally alarming estimate: The total prevalence of brain impairments of all types, including dementias, actually ranges from 13 million to 16 million.

As the prevalence of disabilities rises with increasing age, researchers suggest that the number of older people with dementia and other disabilities will similarly expand. The question arises: To what degree do states preserve the right to vote for those who are “mentally incapacitated” but who nonetheless retain the mental ability to vote?

Read how this issue arose in Maryland


Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Census estimates show increase in minority population

(Chart from Rural Assistance Center)
New 2009 estimates released by the Census Bureau show that an increase in multiracial and Hispanic births have driven the percent of US minorities to 35% of the overall US population.

By contrast, the 2000 estimate for percent minorities was at 21%.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Preview for November 2010 midterms: Ballot questions

California voters passed Proposition 14 today, which asked for an open statewide primary instead of separate party-based primaries in California election.

However, there are many more interesting ballot questions to come in 2010.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a great, albeit still premature, rundown of what questions we can expect to see states voting on come November.

They also have a very very useful review of the different categories of ways these ballot questions can end up on the ballot, summarized below:

1. Citizen Initiatives - A petition-based ballot measure driven by citizens of the state.

2. Popular Referenda- Also a petition-driven process which allows voters to put a hold on a law newly enacted by the legislature while they gather signatures. If petitioners gather sufficient signatures, the new law goes on the ballot for voter approval. If voters approve it, it takes effect. If voters reject it, the law does not take effect. Some states call this process the "people's veto."

3. Constitutional Conventions- Whether there is a need to hold a constitutional convention is a question citizens of states are asked a regular intervals according to state constitutions:

4. Legislative Referenda- Usually, questions that the state legislature has referred to voters according to that state's constitution. These are the most common types of ballot questions, since not every state has citizen-initiated ballot measure processes.

Here's their look at the issues voters will be deciding on in November, direct from the NCSL.

Citizen Initiatives

Among the 100 issues qualified for statewide ballots in November so far, 13 are citizen initiatives. These address topics that are typically quite common in the initiative process, including:

  • Drug policy (legalizing possession of marijuana and taxing its sale in California, and legalizing medical marijuana in Arizona and South Dakota)
  • Taxes and budgets (three measures in Colorado, including cuts to property, motor vehicle, income and telecommunications taxes and a measure requiring voter approval for government debt)
  • Abortion (a "personhood" initiative in Colorado, amending the state constitution to define "person" as beginning at conception)
  • Casino gaming (Maine)
  • Redistricting (California and Florida)
  • Education funding (Oklahoma)

Popular Referenda

There are two popular referenda qualified for the November 2010 ballot so far:

  • Ohio: Voters will decide whether to overturn a law passed in 2009 to allow slot machines at race tracks.
  • South Dakota: If voters say "yes" to Referred Law 12, a smoking ban passed by the legislature and signed by the governor will take effect.

Constitutional Conventions

Voters in four states -- Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and Montana -- will see a question this November asking if they want to hold a constitutional convention.

Legislative Referenda

So far, there are 64 measures referred to the ballot by legislatures on tap for November.

  • Health insurance: A measure on the Arizona ballot would prohibit mandatory participation in any health care system. Voters rejected a similar measure in Arizona in 2008. Similar measures have been referred to the ballot by legislatures in Florida and Oklahoma. Also, Missouri has a similar question on the primary ballot.
  • Secret ballot voting: Often called Save Our Secret Ballot, these measures guarantee the right to vote a secret ballot in all state and federal elections as well as labor representation elections. It is on the ballot in four states so far this November: Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
  • State budgets
    • In Arizona, voters will consider two budget-related questions. One would repeal the a measure passed by voters in 2006. It increased tobacco taxes and directed the new revenue to programs for early childhood development and health programs. The measure on this November's ballot would redirect the tobacco tax revenues to the general fund and require that they be used for early childhood development and health programs, while repealing the specific programs mandated by the 2006 measure and the board created to govern the programs. The second Arizona measure would transfer the $123.5 million balance in the Land Conservation Fund to the state general fund.
    • The Hawaii legislature has referred a question to the ballot asking voters to give them the authority to decide whether excess funds should be returned to taxpayers via rebates or tax credits, or diverted to funds to be used during a budget downturn or emergency.
    • Iowa legislators are asking voters to approve the creation of a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Its revenue would come from a sales tax increase of three-eights of one percent.
    • In North Dakota, the legislature would like to create the North Dakota Legacy Fund, with revenue coming from oil and gas taxes.
    • The Oklahoma legislature would like to amend the constitution to prohibit any entity other than the legislature from setting budget amounts. The measure, Question 754, takes direct aim at the only initiative on Oklahoma's ballot this November: Question 744 would set a minimum average the state must spend per-pupil on preK-12 education each year. The average would be determined by a formula based on spending by surrounding states.
    • Ballot Measure 3 in Virginia would increase the maximum size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund from ten to fifteen percent of the state's annual income and sales tax revenues.
  • Property taxes
    • Florida: Amendment 3 would reduce the maximum annual increase in the assessed value of a nonhomestead property from 10 to five percent. Amendment 2 would provide an additional homestead tax credit for deployed military personnel.
    • Indiana: Public Question 1 would set caps on property taxes for homesteads, residential property, agricultural land and other real property.
    • Louisiana voters will consider a limitation on property tax increases.
    • Missouri: Amendment 2 would provide a property tax exemption for disabled former prisoners of war.
  • Elections issues
    • Campaign finance: The Florida legislature is asking voters to repeal the state's public campaign financing option for statewide candidates.
    • Recall: The Illinois legislature would like to establish a process whereby voters could recall the governor.
    • Term limits: In New Mexico, Amendment 2 would extend county official term limits. The Oklahoma legislature is asking voters to approve term limits for statewide officials. Legislators are already term-limited in Oklahoma.
    • Voter ID: The Oklahoma legislature is asking voters to approve a requirement that voters show a photo ID before receiving a ballot.
    • Initiative process: Question 750 in Oklahoma would change the basis for calculating the required number of signatures on an initiative petition from the state office receiving the highest number of votes to the number of votes cast for governor.
    • Redistricting: The legislature in Florida has referred a question to the ballot that will compete with two citizen initiatives on redistricting.
  • Legislatures: The Alaska legislature has approved a question asking voters to increase the size of the legislature. If approved, the measure would add two senators and four house members. The Oregon legislature is asking voters to approve annual legislative sessioins. Currently, it is one of just five legislatures that meet only in odd-numbered years. In Lousiana, a question posed by the legislature would prohibit a salary increase for certain state elected officials, including legislators, from taking effect during the term of office in which it is approved. In Oklahoma, Question 748 would change the name, membership, and some procedures of the Legislative Apportionment Commission. A constitutional amendment on the ballot in Utah would clarify the residency requirements for legislator eligibility.
  • Affirmative action: A prohibition on preferential treatment in public employment, education and contracting is on the ballot in Arizona. This measure is similar to initiatives that have been on the ballot in previous years in California, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington. This is the first time a legislature has put this question on the ballot.
  • Right to hunt and fish: Voters in three states will consider whether to add the right to hunt and fish to their state constitutions: Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee.
  • Right to bear arms: A constitutional amendment on the ballot in Kansas would clarify that the right to bear arms is individual, rather than collective.
  • Bond measures
    • California: drinking water
    • Idaho: regional airports
    • Maine: land conservation
  • Criminal justice: A measure in Washington would allow a judge to deny bail to a person charged with an offense that is punishable by life in prison.

The state with the most legislative referenda on the ballot so far is Oklahoma, with eleven (plus one initiative, bringing the total to twelve). Arizona is in second place, with nine legislative referenda on the November ballot.

Source- National Conference of State Legislatures


Election results !!

New York Times and Huffington Post have great rundowns on the primary election winners.

Also of note - California voters have approved Proposition 14 for statewide open primaries in future elections.

Next big day is June 22nd, when we'll have Utah primaries and runoffs for North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

HUGE elections happening today. Vote!!!

So, today there are 12 primary elections happening across the country, each with their own level of game-changing potential.

Here's a brief callout of what's at stake, and how to vote today, Tuesday June 8th!

Arkansas- Moderate incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln is facing a close nomination race against a more progressive Lt. Governor Bill Halter.
Polls close at 8:30 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place here.

California- An precedented amount of money has been spent by Republican gubernatorial candidates for the chance to replace Arnold as governor.
Polls close at 11 p.m. EDT Find your polling place here.

Georgia- Special election runoff for Rep. Nathan Deal's seat as he steps down to run for governor.
Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place here.

Iowa- Repubs have a 3-way primary race to go up against Gov. Chet Culver (D), who is considered to be in trouble come November.
Polls close at 10 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

Maine- Current Governor Baldacci's term is ending, and reports indicate the November race is pretty much wide open, with 4 Democratic primary candidates and 7 Republican primary candidates in todays primaries. Polls close at 8 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

Montana- Representative primary races for position currently held by Republican Denny Rehberg.
Polls close at 10 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

Nevada- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will find out who he will face off against in November. Gubernatorial primary might effectively unseat a sitting Nevada governor for the first time in 100 years. Polls close at 10 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

New Jersey - Lots of Republican challengers for the House races this November. Polls close at 8 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

North Dakota- Current Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan is stepping down. Governor John Hoeven (R), currently the longest-seated governor in the United States, stands to become the front running candidate after today.
Polls close at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place. No voter registration required.

South Carolina- Very competitive races for both the governor's seat and R
epublican Rep. Bob Inglis' seat, with strong possibilities for a runoff. Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

South Dakota- No challengers found for South Dakota
Republican Senator John Thune. Polls close at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT. Polls close at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

Virginia- 7 Republican candidates are
running to secure the nomination for Rep. Tom Perriello's (D) 5th Congressional District seat, which was won by a very narrow margin in 2008. Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT. Find your polling place.

(Source - AP,, NYTimes)


Monday, June 7, 2010

Delaware House passes bill to count incarcerated people at home

A bill just passed by the Delaware House will count, for redistricting purposes, incarcerated people at their actual home addresses, not where they happen to be incarcerated. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative explains:
The U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location. Prison-based gerrymandering happens when state and local government bodies use Census counts to draw legislative districts, and they unintentionally enhance the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of of people residing in all other districts in the state.
Delaware joins New York, Rhode Island and Maryland as the latest state to begin taking legislative measures to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering.

(img src)


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Counting Everyone - Census deploys half million canvassers

Seen a Census worker lately? You're not alone. The 2010 Census reports it has deployed an army of 550,000 canvassers throughout May and into June to make sure as many people get included in this new portrait of America. Canvassers are knocking up to six times on the doors of households who have not yet returned their forms. The greatest number of census workers are in the hard to count areas such as neighborhoods with newer and more mobile populations or multi-family households.

The count will determine political districts, distribution of federal funds, the location of new schools, health centers and retail businesses. When will we know the count? The Census appears to be on track for a more accurate count than in 2000. But we won't get the numbers until they are released for redistricting purposes in early 2011. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Launched!

Today, June 1st, Nonprofit VOTE is excited to announce the re-launch of its website – - for the 2010 midterm elections.

A one-stop shop for nonpartisan voter engagement resources for nonprofits, connects your nonprofit with a wide array of new tools and information on getting engaged in the 2010 elections.

The new features: will be adding new resources every week including links to the best nonpartisan voter engagement resources. Don’t miss any of them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Recent survey shows young people most trusting of government

In the face of near-historic low levels of faith in government and institutions among Americans, a recent survey from Pew shows that young people currently trust government far more than their older counterparts.

The survey showed 32% of those 18-29 as trusting the government to do what is right, compared with only 20% of ages 30-49, 50-64 and 65+.

Peter Levine of CIRCLE gives some insights on the reasons for the disparity, describing young people today as a different type of generation than those of recent decades.
"They don't define in terms of opposition or trying to smash everything. They don't have a generation gap, really. They really cite parents as role models or political guides. The current thing is you call your mom on your cell phone to ask what she thinks, which I really don't think was a '60s attitude," Levine says.
"The millennials are quite positive toward other big institutions — like corporations and the military and faith — so it does give you the feeling that it's a different generation."