Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last Week's Candidate Forum Webinar

Thank you to everyone who joined us for last Thursday's webinar, Nonpartisan Candidate Forums: Building Clout for your Nonprofit. A special thanks to Cheryl Crawford and George Pillsbury for sharing their expertise.

Due to technical difficulties during the webinar, the recording was clipped. We apologize for the inconvenience. Nevertheless, you can download the PowerPoint and audio portion of the presentation, or watch the presentation with audio online. Feel free to follow up with our presenters if you have any additional questions:

Cheryl Crawford
Deputy Director, MassVOTE

George Pillsbury
Executive Director, Nonprofit VOTE
Phone: (617) 357-8683

Lindsey Hodel
Director of Training and Partnerships, Nonprofit VOTE
Phone: (303) 910-5700

Learn more about working with candidates, including how to host a nonpartisan candidate forum.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

EAC Releases Voter Registration Data

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) recently made news when it came up on the House budget chopping block. (It survived.) In the meantime, the EAC has released a new report on voter registration statistics from after the 2008 general election through the 2010 midterm election. The report covers the number of registered voters, the registration process, and voter registration list maintenance.

Below are some of the report's findings, along with suggestions for nonprofits interested in voter registration:
  • The number of registered voters declined from 2008, but increased by 14 million from the last midterm election. No matter what's on the ballot, nonprofits can encourage voters to register, to engage, and to vote--every election matters!
  • More than 45 million voter registration applications were submitted, 14.4 million of which were from new voters. There are large numbers of eligible but unregistered voters, and the number grows everyday as youth turn 18 and new citizens are naturalized. Until registration is automatic, nonprofits can help ensure that eligible voters have the opportunity to register--make forms available at your organization, ask clients if they're registered, and hold a voter registration drive.
  • Seventeen states reported receiving voter registration applications over the Internet, accounting for 2% of all registration forms. New technology makes it easier than ever to register to vote. If you're in one of the eight states (plus D.C.) that offer online voter registration, consider devoting an on-site computer to voter registration.
  • 9.4% of registration applications (1.4 million applications) were invalid or duplicates of existing registrations. Your nonprofit can help clients check to see if they are registered; if not, help ensure that they fill out the form correctly, include all necessary information, and sign the completed application.
Read the full report and check out the data sets. While the EAC currently administers and maintains the national mail voter registration form, we hope that one day soon they (or someone) will also be responsible for overseeing a single national voter registration database. Until then, learn more about registering and voting in your state and order a "Register to Vote" poster in English or Spanish.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maine Bids Farewell to EDR

The state that pioneered Election Day Registration (EDR) has now passed legislation ending the practice. Yesterday Maine Governor Paul LePage signed a bill that ended the state's long tradition of EDR.

Supporters of the bill claim it will reduce fraud, however opponents point out that there has only been one case of fraud linked to the law in the almost four decades it was in place. Supporters of Election Day Registration are considering a people's veto campaign that would restore EDR in Maine.

The effect on turnout remains to be seen. But many suspect that Maine, who was first in voter turnout last year, will struggle to hold on to the top spot without EDR.

Maine is not alone in restricting or eliminating convenient voting options. This year, there have also been reductions in the number of early voting days in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Candidate Forum Webinar this Thursday

Join Nonprofit VOTE on Thursday as we discuss techniques for organizing an effective candidate forum, how to stay nonpartisan throughout the process, and for tools to help you every step of the way.

The webinar, Nonpartisan Candidate Forums: Building Political Clout for Your Nonprofit is Thursday, June 23rd at 2:00pm Eastern.

Cheryl Crawford, Director of Programs at MassVOTE, will present along with Nonprofit VOTE's founder and Executive Director, George Pillsbury.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

In California, Redistricting Input Generates Results

Did you attend a local redistricting hearing to offer testimony about your community? If so, rest assured that it paid off. Last week California's Citizens Redistricting Commission released the first set of draft redistricting maps. Upon their release, Greenlining Institute Redistricting Fellow Michelle Romero noted "One thing that's clear is that when communities turned out to make their feelings known, it made a difference."

Unfortunately, so far communities of color have shown up in smaller numbers. Luckily, this is just the first set of maps, and the Commission will continue to hold community meetings across the state to gather input. If you considered attending one, but haven't yet, there's still time! Romero encouraged "Anyone who feels the draft maps don't treat their communities speak up now."

The Commission has already fielded comments from more than 1,500 people. "Our No. 1 priority at this point is to give every single person in California a political voice," said Chairman Gabino Aguirre, who receives hundreds of emails each day about the Commission's work. The Redistricting Commission has until August 15 to submit the final maps to the secretary of state for approval.

Luckily, it's not just Californians who get to participate. See what the redistricting process looks like in your state, and make sure to speak up because you can influence where the lines are drawn!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rock the Vote is Keeping Score

Last week Rock the Vote released a new state Voting System Scorecard which found that most states are failing to both prepare and engage young people in the democratic process.

Using a 21-point scale, the scorecard measures state laws and policies on voter registration, casting a ballot, and young voter preparation. According to the scorecard, the states with the best policies supporting youth participation are Washington (68%), Iowa (66%), Montana (61%), and North Carolina (61%). Many of these states offer Same Day Registration or online registration and some type of early voting (by mail or in person), as well as high school testing for civics education. The states that scored the lowest are South Carolina (18%), Virginia (18%), Connecticut (20%), Oklahoma (23%), and Tennessee (23%).

Only 15 states scored above 50% and the average national score is 41% (8.6 out of 21 total possible points), leading Rock the Vote to conclude that "young Americans are being left out of the democratic process because of outdated voter registration practices, barriers encountered when trying to cast a ballot, an our country's failure to adequately prepare them for active citizenship."

Your nonprofit can help ensure that young voters are engaged by putting up a "Register to Vote" poster, making registration forms available, and talking to clients and their families about the importance of registering and casting a ballot.

Read the press release, and for more download the one-page scorecard or read the full report and PowerPoint presentation.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Troublesome Trend in Florida

Earlier this month Nonprofit VOTE's partner, Rx Democracy! warned of the negative impact of Florida's proposed election legislation. Despite opposition from numerous groups, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 1355/S 2086 into law.

Florida in recent years had made great improvements to its election law that bolstered voter participation and turnout by making it easier for voters to cast their ballot. Unfortunately, provisions of the latest law repeal and reduce a number of these advances.

One of the most troubling changes is the new regulations on third-party voter registration which hamper the ability of nonprofits to conduct voter outreach. The law requires an organization to register with the state and provide the names of its officers and registered agent, as well as the name and address of every person who will be registering voters. The organization must also account for every voter registration form it receives from the supervisor of elections, whether completed or not. While groups used to have 10 days to return completed applications, they now have just 48 hours. Failure to do so results in a $50 late fee per form.

This provision is a major deterrent for nonprofits who would otherwise be able to use their relationships with clients and the community to register and engage eligible voters.

Additionally, the new law reduces the number of early in-person voting days from 14 to 8, severely impacting the low-income and younger populations--often served by nonprofit organizations--who benefit from the increased flexibility.

The League of Women Voters has come out strongly against the law and deemed it "an assault on voters" that "will make it harder for eligible Floridians to be engaged and active in their government." They also announced that they will no longer register voters in Florida because of the financial risk for volunteers.

The Department of Justice has already been asked to review the bill under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and lawsuits from various groups have been filed.

Unfortunately, similar laws that would mandate voter ID, eliminate Election Day Registration, and limit voters' options are being considered (and passed) across the country. While proponents of such legislation argue that it is necessary to protect against voter fraud, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning was forced to "acknowledge that there is little voter fraud in the state,"--a statement that rings true across the nation.

The new Florida law is part of a worrisome and often expensive trend that is adversely affecting low-income, minority, and mobile populations--the individuals most likely to be served by nonprofits. We should be focusing on how to encourage full participation among eligible voters, not finding ways to limit where, when, how, and who can vote.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Combating Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Although some states have already finished the redistricting process, many are still hard at work.

Earlier this year, the Prison Policy Initiative released a new set of factsheets on prison-based gerrymandering. The factsheets highlight how the practice is disenfranchising minority voters nationwide, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians.

Prison-based gerrymandering starts with where the Census counts prison populations. While some states require prisoners to be counted at their last know address, others are counted at their prison address, bolstering population in a district where they are (usually) not eligible to vote. Thus, the majority of a district's "residents" can be locked away, giving extra weight to the votes of those living there by choice, while simultaneously reducing the population and influence of prisoners' home districts.

Luckily, some states are beginning to tackle this problem. After voting to end the practice, the New York state legislature has stepped up to enforce the decision. The term "prison-based gerrymandering" was added to the state's 2011 redistricting glossary, one of the state Senate's stated goals is to end prison-based gerrymandering, and special consideration was given to how prisoners would be counted at their "homes of record."

Prison-based gerrymandering is also being addressed on a smaller scale. Earlier this year LaSalle Parish in Louisiana redistricted their local government and School Board, but only after deducting the number of prisoners in the parish's two prisons. LaSalle is one of over 100 local governments across the country that proactively address the issue of prison-based gerrymandering.

Is prison-based gerrymandering a problem in your community?

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Friday, June 3, 2011

June Webinar: Building Clout with Candidate Forums

We hope you can join us for this month's webinar:

Nonpartisan Candidate Forums: Building Political Clout for Your Nonprofit
Thursday, June 23rd at 2:00pm Eastern
Hosting a nonpartisan candidate forum gives your nonprofit the opportunity to educate candidates and the public about the issues that matter to your organization and the communities you support. Organizing or co-sponsoring a candidate forum can also help your nonprofit build relationships with future elected officials, making it easier to hold them accountable and giving you greater access to them once in office. Join us to learn more about techniques for organizing an effective candidate forum, how to stay nonpartisan throughout the process, and for tools to help you every step of the way.

Featured Presenters: Cheryl Crawford is the Director of Programs at MassVOTE, a nonpartisan statewide organization that promotes voter participation, with a focus on historically underrepresented communities. In her role at MassVOTE, Cheryl trains nonprofits on how to successfully host candidate forums during local and state elections. Cheryl also chairs the Membership Committee of the NAACP's Boston Branch and is the board chair of Emerge Massachusetts, an organization that supports more women running for elected office. George Pillsbury is Nonprofit VOTE's founder and Executive Director. He is the author of several of its guides and toolkits such as "A Nonprofit's Guide to Hosting a Candidate Forum", "Nonprofits, Voting and Elections: A Guide for 501(c)(3)s on Voter Participation" and "A Voter Participation Starter Kit for Nonprofits and Social Service Agencies".