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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The polls have closed, the ballots have been cast, and the winners have been announced (for the most part). As the dust settles on another Election Day, Campus Vote Project is reflecting on the early student turnout estimates and our work across the country leading up to November 4, 2014. With the help of campus partners and organizational allies we were able to connect with students from across the country and help get them the information they needed to vote. But as the turnout numbers show, there is still work to do. 

Low Turnout But Young Voters Improve… Slightly

Turnout for midterm elections is traditionally low and 2014 was no exception. Nationally, the estimated turnout rate was 36.6%, the lowest since 1942. Only 10 states had an increase in turnout compared to 2010. The rest experienced a decrease; seven states, even some with competitive races, had over a 9% drop.

Young voters, defined as ages 18-29, also had low turnout with an estimated 21.5% voting this year (about 9.9 million voters). This estimate is lower than turnout for the overall population, but a slight increase from 2010. Turnout for 18-29-year-olds in the last midterm election was 20.9%. There was also a slight increase in young voters’ share of the electorate compared to 2010. This year, young people made up 13% of the electorate compared to 11% in 2010.  This number has varied between 11% and 13% since 1994.

These estimates don’t include provisional ballots or outstanding early and Election Day ballots. Once states certify results revised numbers will be available.

Midterm Elections Impact

Midterm elections’ historically low youth turnout has created a vicious cycle. Because turnout is typically low, candidates don’t focus on the issues that concern students. Because students are ignored by candidates they don’t vote. Candidates therefore gloss over student issues like higher education funding, student loan debt, the environment, job training and other issues.

Compared to the national narrative and excitement around a presidential election, midterms are relatively quiet. States that had competitive statewide races had better young voter turnout with 26.8% compared to 21.5% overall. But many states didn’t have competitive races and students didn’t have a national candidate to watch or volunteer for, leaving them disengaged.

Filling this gap is a critical step to participation.  Young people make up 24% of the potential electorate and when they participate in higher numbers politicians will ignore student concerns at their own peril.

Other Barriers for Students and Misinformation

Students face other barriers to registration and voting, contributing to low turnout. A survey of registered students who did not vote in 2010 cited reasons like having conflicts or being too busy, and missing important deadlines for reasons they did not vote. While some non-voters cited apathy, the pervasive reason was poor planning and a lack of basic information about the registration process and deadlines and voting procedures and requirements.

For some young voters the 2014 midterms is the first time they are voting. Some students have moved from out of state and the rules are different from their home. This new process can be confusing and may discourage students from participating.

In the past few years many states have narrowed photo ID laws and limited early voting.  Last minute court decisions this year involving these issues halted or reinstated election law changes creating confusion and limiting opportunities for education efforts.

Voter ID laws have become a widespread barrier for student voters. Some states only accept driver’s licenses from that state, putting out of state students at a disadvantage. Student IDs are distributed in almost any college, and are generally photo ID, but are not widely accepted as voter ID. Fourteen states have strict voter ID rules where a ballot can be rejected if the voter cannot present compliant ID. Six of those states do not accept student ID cards. The other eight strict voter ID states have variations on what kinds of student IDs are acceptable and what information the student ID must contain to be used as voter ID.

Students also were victims of misleading campaigns aimed at discouraging their voting in their college communities. In Berea, Kentucky, an anonymous group placed a full-page ad in the Berea Citizen newspaper (which covers the Berea College) erroneously stating students could not register with their college address and would have their votes challenged at the polls and face significant penalties. Early voting locations were removed from the campuses of Appalachian State (NC), North Carolina State and University of Florida.

Campus Vote Project’s Efforts to Fill the Information Void

When campaigns neglect student voters, it is up to the campus community, from administrators and faculty to student organizations and student government, to step in and make sure students are aware of their rights as voters. CVP recognizes the influence these groups have with students. When information comes from a trusted source, it carries more weight, and students are more likely to pay attention and absorb it. With that in mind, CVP worked with campus partners to distribute nonpartisan registration and voting information. As experts on the changing landscape of election laws and the numerous differences between the rules for each state, CVP made sure the information sent to students was accurate, easy to understand, and in a format they could use.

To fill the information void this election CVP used a wide variety of tools to reach students including:

  • State-specific student guides  - These provide concise information about registration and voting, and a Q&A addressing myths student voters may have about registering at college.
  • Social media - CVP started a social media campaign #votepledge2014 that asked students to Tweet a picture of their pledge to vote and their reason why. CVP also developed timelines with sample social media posts and emails to remind students of important deadlines.
  • Paid advertising - CVP purchased Facebook and student newspaper ads to direct students across the country to our voting guides for voting information.
  • Voting websites - CVP worked with campuses to create student voting websites as a part of the official university site like this one at Miami-Dade College in Florida.
  • Print materials - With partners on the ground CVP distributed posters and half-page palm card handouts. Colleges also customized our 6 Reasons Students Should Get Out and Vote to include statistics specific for their state and general reasons voting is important.

Moving Forward

Despite CVP’s efforts, the efforts of students on the ground, and the work of other advocates and organizations, the low turnout numbers are proof our work is not done. With 2015 on the horizon we will be working to fight changes that would make it harder for students to vote like strict voter ID laws that don’t include student IDs and the elimination of early voting opportunities. We will also be encouraging more states to adopt online voter registration, preregistration programs, and other changes that expand opportunities for young voters. CVP will continue to work with university administrators and faculty to develop student voting webpages and make voting and registration part of their institution’s civic engagement mission. The lull in elections next year is a good opportunity to establish ongoing efforts on college campuses that encourage students to vote.

We would like to thank all the partners, coordinators, fellows and students who worked with CVP this year. We would not have been able to reach so many campuses without your hard work on the ground.

Posted by Kristen Muthig, Communications and Policy Manager 5:06 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Posted by Erica Evans 12:33 PM 0 comments

Labels: Student voting

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tomorrow campuses from across the country will be participating in a day of action to register voters. Held this year on September 23rd, National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) is a one day blitz with events that will raise awareness of the need to register and update voter registration, and encourage all eligible voters to participate in this year’s midterm elections.

Events like those celebrating NVRD tomorrow are particularly important to raise awareness in students. Unlike in presidential elections, college campuses are a low priority for midterm candidates' registration and Get Out The Vote efforts. This doesn’t mean November’s election is any less important for college students. Voters will elect officials who will make decisions on issues like student loans and debt, college affordability, job creation, and environmental issues. These are issues that directly impact students. It’s critical students make sure their voices are heard.

Here are some simple things you can do to be a part of NVRD tomorrow:

NVRD is a great opportunity for campuses to begin focusing attention on Election Day and the importance of voting. Registration deadlines are sometimes as far out as 30 days before Election Day, which is often well before most students are paying attention to elections. The time to inform and empower students is now.

Students often lack basic information about registering and voting, which is a major barrier to participation. It is crucial they have specifics on:

  •          Registration deadlines
  •          How to register
  •         The opportunity to register with their college address or home address
  •         Ways they can cast a ballot (early voting, absentee ballots, on Election Day)
  •         Early voting and Election Day polling locations
  •         What forms of voter ID they need to show in order to cast a ballot

Making sure students have the information they need is an ongoing effort. Even after registration deadlines pass, voters need to know how to request absentee ballots and when to return them, early voting options, and reminders for Election Day. Students can work with their college’s administration, student government, campus newspapers, and other organizations to make sure those messages are sent.

Campus Vote Project has concise guides with all the information students need to vote for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each guide includes information on where to find registration forms,  how to register at school or home, what type of ID is needed to register and vote, where to vote, ways to cast a ballot, and answers to common student questions.

The work doesn’t end after National Voter Registration Day. Students still have time to register and update information. They also need to be aware of other information so they can cast their ballot. If you have questions about options to cast a ballot, deadlines, or how to find a polling locations check out our guides or contact Campus Vote Project at info@campusvoteproject.org.

Posted by Kristen Muthig 2:15 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This week, in a victory for voting rights, Strafford County Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker struck down a 2012 New Hampshire law that added unnecessarily confusing language to the state’s voter registration form, requiring people to declare legal residence in order to register. The form read, “In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire’s driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.” This language failed to distinguish properly between domicile and residence, intimidating possible New Hampshire voters, especially college students, thereby preventing them from registering in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union filed a petition on behalf of four out-of-state college students and the New Hampshire League of Women Voters against New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner in 2012, arguing that this language violated both the state and federal constitutions. Applying a strict scrutiny analysis, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the language was “a confusing and unreasonable description of the law,” and “unduly restrictive,” to voters in New Hampshire. The language on the registration form incorrectly implied that residency and domicile are the same, and Judge Tucker in his order explained that a reasonable person would imply from the language that in registering to vote in New Hampshire she would also have to change her car registration or obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license.

The Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) has been combatting this prohibitive voter registration language since it was introduced in legislation in 2012, alongside another bill that created a restrictive photo ID requirement. In 2012 FELN, along with other New Hampshire organizations, signed on to a letter addressed to the U.S. Department of Justice, urging the DOJ to investigate New Hampshire laws that were making it more difficult for college students and minorities to vote. The letter FELN signed on to described the law as, “retrogressive, discriminatory and will reduce minority voting strength across the state.” College students in New Hampshire are twice as likely to be minorities compared to the state’s general population. The New Hampshire constitution states that “all elections are to be free, and every inhabitant of the state of 18 years of age and upwards shall have an equal right to vote in any election.” The 2012 law that added residency requirements to state’s voter registration form was intimidating and discriminatory against minorities and college students in New Hampshire, and thus abridged their essential right to vote.

 The language found on the New Hampshire voter registration form was an obvious attempt at voter intimidation. Not only did the language incorrectly convey the legal requirements of residency and domicile in relation to voting, New Hampshire politicians have publically spoken about keeping college students from the polls. When speaking in 2011 to a Tea Party group, New Hampshire State House Speaker William O’Brien called students “foolish,” and unlikely to vote intelligently. In 2012, former Representative Fran Wendelboe wrote that “one of [New Hampshire’s] biggest issues are college students who show up at the polls and vote.”

While literacy tests, poll taxes, and the Jim Crow laws of the past may be the first things to come to mind when hearing the phrase “voter intimidation,” the language on the New Hampshire voter registration form represented a written attempt at voter intimidation. Voter intimidation has taken many forms around the county in the past several years. In 2012, deceptive phone calls were made to voters in Florida, Virginia, and Indiana telling them they could vote by phone (which is not permissible in any state). Also in 2012, intimidating billboards reading “voter fraud is a felony punishable by up to three and a half years in jail and a $10,000 fine,” were placed in predominately African-American and blue-collar neighborhoods in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. Complicated lists that accompany restrictive photo ID laws, proof of citizenship, and proof of residency requirements, and the laws themselves, confuse voters and make it harder, particularly for minorities and young voters, to get to the polls. Additionally, poll workers may not completely understand all of the specifics of photo ID laws, and which forms are acceptable. The average age of a poll worker is 72, making it unlikely that they are familiar with barriers unique to students. Voter intimidation is not a thing of the past, but fortunately, it was recognized and defeated in New Hampshire yesterday, with the court order striking down the threatening language that was part of the state’s voter registration form.

Posted by Sophie Laing, Intern 8:37 AM 0 comments

Monday, July 28, 2014

You may have noticed we’ve been using #votepledge2014 a lot on Twitter lately. Here’s the story: We’re gearing up for the midterm elections here
at Campus Vote Project, and started an action to get students excited and motivated to vote in the midterm elections. It’s called Voter Pledge 2014and we need you to get involved!

We’re asking student voters and advocates to make a pledge to participate in the midterm elections, and share their pledges with us! We’re collecting

 these pledges and photos and creating a mural of the promises our supporters make. Your pledge can be anything, here are just some examples:

•             Pledging to register to vote,

•             Pledging to hold a registration drive on campus,

•             Pledging to vote for a particular issue, or;

•             Pledging to help educate other students about their voting rights.

Remember, this pledge doesn’t have to be limited to you as an individual, you - start a GOTV event on campus and collect students’ pledges, or use this

 action to start a discussion among friends or colleagues about why you are voting in the 2014 election. You can see pledges that have already been made via #votepledge2014 on Twitter. Drop-off rates are particularly pronounced among young voters. Off-year elections are critical, and the representatives elected in November will be working on issues such as student loan debt and immigration, which have considerable impact on Millenials. It’s essential to get out and vote, and to show your representatives what issues you care about.

To participate in our pledge campaign, download the pledge sheet and tweet a picture of your pledge to @campusvote using #votepledge2014. You can also tweet us your pledge and we’ll write it down on a pledge card for you and add it to the mural. Once you’ve made your pledge, share the action with your friends and make your campus’ presence known on the mural.

In 2012 youth made up 19% of the electorate; your collective voice can influence the results of elections, so make a pledge today! The sooner your pledge, the more time you have to make it a reality.

Posted by Erica Evans 1:49 PM 0 comments

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

North Carolina is continuing its trend of anti-voter measures, many of which negatively impact students. Most recently, Wake County decided to remove an on-campus polling location, continuing the direct attacks on student voters.  

Last week, Wake County officials approved eight early voting locations for the upcoming election, but failed to include a site at North Carolina State University. N.C. State hosted an early voting site in 2012, when over 13,000 people voted at its Talley Student Union. Election officials cited lack of parking as a reason for its removal from the list. This early voting location would be walkable for the 35% of the 24,000 undergraduate students who live on campus and convenient for all other students, faculty, and staff who are on campus on a regular basis. The new early voting location will be 3.6 miles away from campus. Graduate student Stacy Roberts argued that in making their decision, Board officials overestimated the quality and ease of public transportation. Without an on-site location, students will have to find transportation and more time in their busy schedules to vote early for the general election in November.

This action adds to the ongoing assault elected officials have taken targeting student voters. The broadest change is the restrictive voter ID law passed in 2013, which also eliminated same day registration and shortened early voting hours. As part of the new restrictions, student IDs will no longer be considered a valid form of identification to show at the polls beginning in 2016. The state directly attacked student voters when lawmakers also proposed a “Dependency Clause” which would have deterred students from registering to vote with their school address by prohibiting their parents from claiming them as dependents for tax purposes if they registered at different address then their parents. The portion of the bill was eventually removed.

Local counties have instituted a number of detrimental voting measures, making it more difficult for students to vote even before the new requirements go into effect.

The clash between student voters and local election officials started last September, when poll workers in Pasquotank County questioned student voters from Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) on their voter IDs and residency statuses. The student community rallied back and organized a march to the polls, and activists at NC Vote Defenders joined in the fight to exercise their right to vote. Additionally, senior Montravias King filed to run for city council. Despite having voted in the past three elections prior to deciding to run, Pasquotank county officials initially denied his application, citing residency issues. The state board overruled the decision and King eventually won his seat on city council.

Conflict has continued this year, and students at Appalachian State University and N.C. State University will no longer have conveniently located on-campus early voting sites for November. In March the Watauga County Board of Elections unanimously voted to reaffirm their decision to remove an on–campus early voting site from Appalachian State University’s campus, a move highly criticized by student government leaders at Appalachian State who spoke to the board in favor of keeping the site.

On-campus early voting sites are much more convenient in terms of transportation and time management for students, and can also serve as strong rallying points for campuses in their GOTV efforts. Leading up to an election, on-campus early voting can increase excitement among the student body, and provide momentum behind civic engagement related activities such as candidate debates, issue forums, and registration drives. These locations serve students, and also many community members, faculty, and staff who live and work in the vicinity. They should be protected and promoted. Preventing them from being established on campuses only serves to limit access for student voters.

Posted by Sophie Laing, Intern 11:51 AM 0 comments

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Major barriers to student voting in Montgomery County, Virginia were removed this past Monday at a County Board of Supervisors meeting. The Board approved two important changes that will address years of election confusion and polling place congestion that have plagued voters, particularly students at Virginia Tech, since 2008. First, the Board approved measures to redraw election precincts, splitting Virginia Tech campus into two election precincts, F-3 and E-3, which will include only on-campus residents. Second, the Board created an on-campus polling location to service both election precincts, which will be located in the Commonwealth Ballroom in the Squires Student Center. These changes were unanimously approved by the Board, which received numerous emails and in-person statements in support of these changes that will make it significantly easier for student to cast their ballots in November.

Prior to these changes, students at Virginia Tech were split up between districts A, E, F, and G, with the dividing line between two of these precincts running through the middle of several dorms. This caused confusion for many students who were unclear about which precinct they were in, and therefore which polling place to attend. The University is too large to create one precinct, but the new E-3 and F-3 precinct lines are much clearer than before, only include on-campus residents, and do not run through any residential buildings. In addition, both precincts funnel to the same on-campus polling location at Squires Student Center.  The new and improved precincts and polling location will be in effect for this year’s general election.

The creation of an on-campus polling place was the result of ongoing student advocacy lead by the Student Government Association at Virginia Tech, and collaboration with local election officials. Problems for voters arose in 2008, when a record number of students turned out at the polls and had to travel 6.5 miles to St. Michael’s Lutheran church, which did not have adequate parking. After these less than ideal conditions on Election Day 2008, precinct E-3 was created to service many on-campus voters, with a polling location at the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport. However, this location was also inadequate. High student turnout again in 2012 meant the airport quickly became crowded, and the polls had to stay open until 9:30 p.m. to accommodate voters still waiting in line. According to Brent Ashley, a former President of Virginia Tech’s Student Government Association, who spoke in favor of the plan at the Board meeting, a Virginia Tech Senior Design team created several simulations to better understand the effects of an on-campus polling location, and noted significant improvements in voter wait time. The team predicted that an on-campus polling location would result in a 20 minute decrease in mean voter time, a 1.1 hour decrease in maximum voter time, and an 18% increase in the number of voters processed in less than one hour. With busy and demanding schedules, these predicted decreases in wait time can make all the difference for student voters.

The process of looking for a new polling place took several years and was unsuccessful in 2013, partly because of the federal requirements for polling locations, which require that the space is large enough to accommodate voters and polling booths, and that there is nearby parking for those voters, including several handicap spaces. The University will reserve parking spaces for election officials on Election Day. The on-campus polling place is ideal for students, most of who live on-campus and will not have to rely on shuttles or find rides to the polling place.  

These changes come after years of hard work by students and elections officials, and together are a huge success for thousands of Virginia Tech students who will now be more easily able to vote. Having a polling place on campus not only means fewer barriers for students on Election Day, but also presents the opportunity for more enthusiastic GOTV efforts and campaigning prior to November elections. One attendee at the Board meeting expressed her opinion that it is the community’s civic responsibility to ensure that people can easily exercise their right to vote, so Monday night’s success was not only for Virginia Tech students, but for all residents in Montgomery County. Since 2008 Virginia Tech students have demonstrated their eagerness to vote and desire to fight for reform, and their hard work paid off in changes that can serve as an excellent example for other students around the country who may be dealing with similar issues.

Posted by Sophie Laing, Intern 11:30 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Over the past year, Illinois has worked to implement a variety of pro-voter reforms, including measures that make registering to vote and voting more accessible, especially for college voters. The state legislature passed a bill last week establishing a pilot program for Election Day Registration, extending voting hours, and requiring polling places on public college and university campuses to offer in-person absentee voting on Election Day, which offers students a convenient alternative to traveling to the polling place. Students will be able to cast paper ballots that are sealed like an early ballot which will then be verified to make sure voters did not attempt to cast a ballot in another permanent location. These reforms in addition to online voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year olds expand opportunities for students to participate. With over 300 colleges and universities in Illinois, these measures will benefit thousands of young voters.

HB 105, which is expected to be signed by Governor Pat Quinn this week, will allow Illinois residents to register on Election Day at certain locations in 2014. Turnout rates for college-age students have historically been much lower than other age groups; however, once registered they turn out in high numbers. About 87% of students who registered in 2008 voted. In the 2010 elections, 16.7% of young citizens reported that they did not register to vote because they missed a registration deadline. Election Day registration will give college students time to register when they are more likely to be paying attention. Same day registration has been an effective tool to increase turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds as was seen in the 2012 election. According to Rebecca Reynolds, Executive Director of Chicago Votes, “Registration deadlines disproportionately disenfranchise mobile populations- traditionally, college students, single moms and low income communities of color.” Closer to Election Day, political debates, news coverage and discussions on campus heat up. With Election Day registration in place, students who get interested and involved later in the game will still be able to cast a ballot in November.

Online voter registration in Illinois will be available this summer, in time for midterm elections in the fall, and has been shown to be a preferred method of registration, especially among young voters. When online registration was implemented in California, 28% of people registering online were under the age of 26, compared to 12% of the overall registrations in those counties. In addition, turnout among those who registered online in California was eight percent higher than those who registered on paper, and among young voters the gap was 22%. Internet access is equally available to young people of different racial and ethnic groups, and therefore online registration has the potential to even the playing field among those who can vote. Online registration in Illinois will streamline the beginning of the voting process for college students.

HB 105 also extends voting hours, which will be advantageous for college students, 34.7% of whom cited they were too busy or had work conflicts as reasons for not voting in the 2010 elections. With busy class schedules and obligations for clubs, sports, and work, extended voting hours will allow college students to find the time to vote early if they cannot make it to the polls on Election Day.

Lastly, HB 105 reiterates the U.S. Supreme Court decision that says students have the right to register and vote in their college community if they meet the same requirements as everyone else. An amendment to the bill mandates that the online voter registration form state that college students have the option of registering at their home or college address.  It also calls for the creation of Election Day polling places on all college campuses- combatting the transportation barrier that is often a barrier to student voters.

One of the main barriers to getting students to vote is a lack of information about the process of registering and voting, not a lack of interest. These new measures implemented in Illinois will create more opportunities for students to vote, to learn how, when, and where to vote, and avoid the barriers of traveling to an off-campus polling location and beating registration deadlines.  Illinois’ leaders are making great strides to enable more students to participate in our democracy.

Posted by Sophie Laing, Intern 9:12 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

This piece from the Cornell Daily Sun's Jake Forken easily grabs our story of the day nod. Great tie-ins to the current state of race in the US and excellent use of research proving that voter ID laws discriminate.

Voter ID Laws Institutionalize Discrimination

By Jake Forken

On the same day Donald Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association for expressing vehemently racist views, a more significant civil rights issue progressed. While the banishment of Sterling from the League is undoubtedly a vital and applaudable step in advancing civil rights, the striking down of proposed voter ID laws by a federal judge in Wisconsin will have a more a substantive impact on reducing racial inequality. The law, drafted by the state’s Republican legislators, would have placed a heavier burden on voters, requiring state-approved photo-identification at the polls. Over the past three years, 30 other states have debated proposed voting restriction legislation.

Voter ID laws perpetuate inequality by disproportionately affecting young voters, especially young minority voters, a group that tends to lean Democrat. According to a study co-authored by Cathy J. Cohen of the University of Chicago and Jon C. Rogowski of Washington University in St. Louis, 72.9 percent of black youth ages 18 to 29 were asked to show identification at the polls, compared to 60.8 percent of Latinos and only 50.8 percent of whites. Furthermore, 17.3 percent of black youth claim that the lack of an adequate voter ID kept them from voting; for Latinos and whites, these numbers stand at 8.1 percent and 4.7 percent respectively.

Clearly, the purpose of voter ID laws is to ensure the legitimacy of the democratic process by eliminating any fraudulent votes from being registered. The issue with this solution is that the problem is nonexistent.

According to the federal judge that heard the case in Wisconsin, “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”

The Department of Justice revealed in a 2006 Congressional hearing that between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted on voter fraud charges out of 197 million votes for federal candidates. Out of those forty cases, only 26 resulted in a conviction or a guilty plea, resulting in a .00000013 percent voter fraud rate during that time period.

Disenfranchising minority voters — in order to combat a negligible voter fraud rate — isn’t only terrible policy, it’s a façade that threatens the fundamental basis of democracy by limiting participation on the basis of race and class. This isn’t a melodramatic appeal to patriotic buzzwords. Members of the Republican Party have explicitly stated the purpose of voter ID laws is to systematically suppress votes in order to benefit their candidates.

After the 2012 election, former Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer stated, “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates. It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.”

In the spring of the same election year, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai boasted at a Republican gathering that the states new voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimated that from 2008 to 2012, the new voter ID laws in both Pennsylvania and Kansas reduced voter turnout of the registered population by 2.4 percent with a 1.2 percent swing to the Republican candidate. If you think these changes are insignificant, look at them in comparison to the voter fraud rate.

Surely, voter ID laws are not a Republican initiative to restore the sincerity of the voting process. It’s a method to legalize discrimination and deny minorities and lower class voters access to political establishments. Yes, Donald Sterling’s comments were ugly and there’s certainly no place for such blatant hatred in our society. However, we must unfortunately accept that no matter the progress made, there will likely always be bigots among us. What we do not have to accept is a barefaced attempt to institutionalize discrimination in order to advance a one-sided political agenda. The ruling in Wisconsin was one small step in the right direction.

Posted by Erica Evans 9:00 AM 0 comments

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Today's story of the day comes from the so-hot-right-now state of Wisconsin. The UW Badger Herald published this excellent piece on why online voter registration makes sense for America's Dairyland:

Online Voter Registration Would Expand Democracy in Wisconsin

By Aaron Loudenslager

The Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held an informational hearing last week about online voter registration. While many states have passed legislation allowing their citizens to register to vote online, Wisconsin has yet to do so. Hopefully in the near future, the Wisconsin Legislature will enact such legislation, as it will make it easier for Wisconsin citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Wisconsin is considered one of the best states in the nation when it comes to administering elections. According to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wisconsin ranked third in the nation for administering the 2012 presidential election, and just four years earlier, Wisconsin was ranked second in the nation administering the 2008 presidential election. Even so, Wisconsin has room for improvement. According to the Sheboygan Press, “the rate of non-voting due to disabilities or illness increased between 2012 and 2008 [and] wait times stretched from 7.9 minutes in 2008 to 8.2 minutes in 2012.” Additionally, Wisconsin lost points in the most recent report because Wisconsin does not allow its citizens to register to vote online.

In 2002, Arizona became the first state to permit its citizens to register to vote online. Now, 18 states allow their citizens to register to vote online. Thus, last week experts from around the country testified before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections about online voter registration. Tammy Patrick, an election official in Maricopa County, Arizona, said, “It’s also important to note in the 12 years that we have had our system, we have had zero registration frauds through the online system.” In addition, Benjamin Ginsberg, a GOP attorney and lobbyist who co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, told the committee, “Overall, an online system is simply going to be more accurate because there’s less room for error.”

It seems like many states and their election officials support online voter registration once the system is been implemented. Election officials in Wisconsin seem ready to embrace the trend of online voter registration. As Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said, “Legislation that enables online voter registration would make a tremendous leap forward in the administration of elections in Wisconsin. The basic voter registration data will be more accurate if it is entered online by the voter. Online registration eliminates data entry errors resulting from difficult-to-decipher paper forms.”

Not only would an online voter registration system in Wisconsin help improve accuracy in voter registration data, but it would also save the state money. Wisconsin would save more than $1 million over the next decade if it instituted an online voter registration system.

The question remains: Why hasn’t the Legislature enacted legislation that makes it easier for citizens to register to vote and saves the state money? The answer is that the online voter registration legislation was introduced and then attached to a campaign finance bill by Republicans, leading to the bill’s fate in legislative limbo. In other words, Republicans in the statehouse seem to only want to permit online voter registration, which would further citizens’ fundamental right to vote, if they can also enact legislation that would weaken the right of citizens to vote. This legislation includes ending early weekend voting, weakening campaign finance disclosure requirements and voter identification laws.

Cicero once said, “Freedom is participation in power.” Republican efforts in the statehouse over the past few years demonstrate their infatuation with restricting people’s participation in the political process, whether it is through voter identification laws or laws ending early weekend voting. It is time for the Republicans in the state Legislature to embrace Cicero’s idea of freedom by ensuring that online voter registration becomes a reality in the next legislative session.

Aaron Loudenslager (loudenslager@wisc.edu) is a second-year law student.

Posted by Erica Evans 9:14 AM 0 comments

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