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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Proposal to Alter Presidential Debate Rules


Thanks to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for this post.

On September 11, 2014, Level the Playing Field ("LPF") asked the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") to issue regulations that would alter how presidential candidates gain access to general election debates.

Shapiro, Arato & Isserles represents Level the Playing Field in connection with its efforts to create an opportunity for an independent candidate to participate in the 2016 presidential debates.  LPF is a non-profit, non-partisan corporation that seeks to enhance and strengthen our democracy by creating an opportunity for more competition in our political system.  LPF is the successor to Americans Elect, which sought to nominate a nonpartisan presidential ticket in 2012.  The law firm, Shapiro, Arato and Isserles, is a New York city law firm that was founded in part by two former U.S. Supreme Court Clerks.  Level the Playing Field’s petition has already received the support of several prestigious organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center.

In response, the FEC invited members of the public to comment on the idea.  That comment period ran from November 18 through December 15, so comments are now closed.

Level the Playing Field’s proposal contains a wealth of data showing that the status quo policy is not good policy.

The proposal suggest these changes:

- The Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) will only invite a candidate to participate in the presidential debates if he or she is at 15% or higher in mid-September opinion polls on the premise that a candidate polling less than 15% is not a viable contender for the presidency.

The amendment should (A) preclude sponsors of general election presidential and vice-presidential debates from requiring that a candidate meet a polling threshold in order to be admitted to the debates; and (B) require that any sponsor of general election presidential and vice-presidential debates have a set of objective, unbiased criteria for debate admission that do not require candidates to satisfy a polling threshold to participate in debates.

- Signature method allows the independent or third party candidate that gathers the most signatures to participate in the debates, provided such candidate is on the ballot in states with more than 270 total Electoral College votes.  Thus, one candidate could participate in the debates without having to raise the unprecedented levels of funding required to surpass the CPD’s polling threshold and be certain they had earned that right in the spring, giving them plenty of time to build support for their fall campaign.

CLICK HERE to read Level the Playing Field’s proposal.

CLICK HERE to read Fairvote’s analysis of the proposal.

A comment from a reader of Ballot Access News:

This is some progress.  The signature option/requirement is a tentative step in the right direction, but I agree with Fairvote that more needs to happen.

If the signature requirement is to be used, it should be on the basis of a reasonable threshold instead whichever third party gets the most signatures, as requiring third parties such as the Libertarians, Greens, Constitutionals, as well as independents, to compete in that manner just to get into the debate would further divide them and lessen the electorate’s exposure to different points of view (one wonders if that is the intent there and Fairvote’s missing the bigger picture…).

As for the percentage requirement suggested by Fairvote, 5% might be doable, but a lot then depends on media coverage, as third parties and independents, especially the Greens, often don’t have a huge advertising budget.  To that extent I think some sort of Fairness Doctrine needs to be brought back for election news coverage, so at the very least news organizations have to mention that other candidates exist or mention a source where people can find out what other candidates are in the race.


How would you change the debate requirements?










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Monday, December 15, 2014

NY 2014 General Election Results for Gov. and Lt. Gov.


The results from the Governor’s race in New York were never really in doubt, incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo seemed like a lock from the very start.  The big question was how well would some of the state’s minor parties fare?

New York’s fusion system allows parties to cross-endorse candidates, a common practice in the state for many years.  The Conservative and Working Families Party occasionally run their own nominees, but more often than not they cross endorse the Republican and Democratic candidates, respectively.  But the Green Party always looks for their own candidates.

In order to become or remain qualified, a party must poll at least 50,000 votes on their ballot line in the governor’s race.  This year, the major parties worked to organize two parties to support their own candidates.  Doing this allows the voters to select a candidate but also show support for their issues.

The Women’s Equality Party and Stop Common Core party qualified for a line.

The Green Party’s Howie Hawkins greatly improved on his 2010 showing and easily secured another 4 years as a qualified party with a ballot line.

Ballot lines are organized by the number of votes their gubernatorial candidate received.  In upstate New York the party lines are printed top to bottom on the ballot.  In New York City, they are printed left to right and will now take two rows.

Here are the results from the certified New York Board of Elections:

UPDATED 12/15/2014

1. Cuomo/Hochul (DEMOCRAT) – 1,811,672 votes
2. Astorino/Moss (REPUBLICAN) – 1,234,951 votes
3. Astorino/Moss (CONSERVATIVE) – 250,634 votes
4. Hawkins/Jones (GREEN) – 184,419 votes
5. Cuomo/Hochul (WORKING FAMILIES) – 126,244 votes
6. Cuomo/Hochul (INDEPENDENCE) – 77,763 votes
7. Cuomo/Hochul (WOMEN’S EQUALITY) – 53,802 votes
8. Astorino/Moss (STOP COMMON CORE) – 51,294 votes

Cuomo/Hochul Total - 2,069,480 votes
Astorino/Moss Total - 1,536,879

These parties failed to become a qualify party with a ballot line:

McDermott/Eles (Libertarian) - 16,967 votes
Cohn/Kalotee (Sapient) - 4,963 votes

The active registered voters in New York is 10,827,434.

The total votes, including write-ins and blank entries = 3,930,314.

This represent only 36% of the electorate taking part in our democracy or is this a combination of "None of the Above" or "My Vote Doesn't Count"?










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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NY Election Boards Modernizing Vote Counting and Finance Filing Systems


The New York City and New York State Boards of Election are planning major technological upgrades, over the next two years, to their vote counting and finance disclosure systems, staff told State Assembly members at a hearing Friday morning in Manhattan.

By late 2015, voters in the city may know the results of most elections by 10 p.m. on election nights, thanks to tablets at every polling site that can upload vote counts just minutes after polls close.

And in late 2016 or early 2017, the state board plans to launch a new campaign finance filing system, replacing a two-decade-old network that candidates say is difficult to use.

On election night in New York City, poll workers and police officers usually transport memory sticks filled with vote count data to police precincts, where they are counted.  It can take hours in some parts of the city for results to trickle in.

But at 216 polling sites in a pilot program this November, poll workers simply plugged the memory sticks into tablet devices and uploaded vote data onto the Board's servers.  All of these sites posted their results by 9:35 p.m., just 35 minutes after the polls closed.

At this time, I do not have a handle on the encryption software they used.

"I think we took everybody by surprise by how quickly the results were tabulated," City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan said. "It demonstrates the promise of the technology."

Now, the Board wants to bring the technology to all of the city's 1241 poll sites.

"In a non-presidential year, 90% of the results by 10 o'clock is not out of the question, based on what we saw this past election cycle," Ryan said.

Ryan said the Board will be meeting with the de Blasio administration in the next few weeks to discuss funding to expand the pilot.

"Our goal is to have it fully implemented for the September election of 2015," he said.  The Board hopes to buy 1,700 to 2,200 new Windows tablet devices to distribute to polling sites - all of the software for the devices has already been developed.

But the BOE has had a rocky relationship with the City Council, which would have to agree to allocated funds.  In March, Ryan accused the Council of trying to "starve" his agency for funding.  His more ambitious proposal to retrofit old lever voting machines into high-tech voter kiosks was shelved after council members expressed skepticism over the high price tag.

"We are never going to be in a position that the government agencies are on the same cutting edge as technology agencies," Ryan said.  "The question is whether we're doing enough to service our constituency."

Meanwhile, the State Board of Elections is working on a "complete redesign" of its campaign finance filing system, which was set up in 1994.

Candidates complain about dealing with byzantine webforms and confusing instructions.  At the Board, staff members have to manually edit incoming data in Excel.

"I don't think it was state of the art in 1994, and it certainly is nowhere near state of the art today," said state BOE Executive Director Robert Brehm. "Nobody would design a system like this now."

Assembly members at the hearing echoed his assessment.

"The system is very user-unfriendly," said Assembly Member Thomas Abinanti of Westchester.  "We want to encourage people to run for office, we don't want to put stumbling blocks in their way."

The State has allocated $2.4 million for the project, and staff expect the new system to launch in late 2016 or early 2017.  Any earlier would mean launching it in the middle of an election cycle, Brehm said.

Good government groups applauded the planned upgrades.  Common Cause Associate Director Lauren George told assembly members that the state board's current software was "antiquated and precarious."

The inefficient way data is released "makes analysis and explanation of campaign finance realities immeasurably harder, more time-consuming and expensive for the public," she said.

Peggy Farber, the legislative counsel of Citizens Union, urged the state board to borrow the filing technology of the well-regarded New York City Campaign Finance Board.

"We don't think the upgrade should take two years, and we see a path that could be faster and less expensive," Farber said, indicating the desire to see a new system in place before the 2016 state election cycle.

At the assembly hearing, Brehm also discussed the state board's new compliance unit, an office dedicated to investigate campaign finance regulations, which started work in July.

Created in a deal to close Governor Andrew Cuomo's anti-corruption Moreland Commission earlier this year, the compliance unit is led by a Cuomo ally and literally walled off from the rest of the election board offices.

The unit, which is still in its early stages, has so far taken a more collaborative than confrontational approach, with an emphasis on training and helping candidates correct errors.  Since July, the office sent out 1,957 deficiency letters, letting candidates or committees know that they were in some way behind in meeting finance regulations.

"Overall, treasurers want to do it right" Brehm said.  The new unit works to train candidates and treasurers to make the most accurate disclosures possible.

The state BOE has faced criticism for its inaction in enforcing regulations in the past, as the New York Times reported last week.  According to a preliminary report from the Moreland Commission, the Board "largely abdicated its duty to enforce our election and campaign finance laws."

Some say that the compliance unit has already made a change.

"I have never seen this level of scrutiny," Abinanti said.  For the first time ever, he said, his campaign was notified during this election cycle about a filing error it had been inadvertently making for years.

Farber of Citizens Union said that while helping candidates catch errors was important, the compliance unit should be more proactive at investigating improper disclosures.  The unit "should actively look for omissions by sectors, by committees, and individuals," Farber said.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Iowa Developing Driver's License App


Next year, the Iowa Department of Transportation will experiment with issuing drivers licenses via an app for mobile devices.  The digital license will display a 3-D photo of the driver's face, which can be rotated side to side so law enforcement can better match the licensee to the picture.

"Really, it's about giving customers a choice," said Andrea Henry, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation.  "We're in an increasingly mobile world, and there are so many things that are connected to your mobile phone."

Since drivers licenses are used for official government identification, the app will be secured with a PIN code.  It could also be secured with a finger print or facial recognition software as well.

It could make the digital license safer than the plastic alternative, helping the state cut down on identity theft, impersonations and fake IDs.

But people who want to stick with their plastic license will also be given that option or they can ask to have both a plastic license and an app.

The Iowa transportation department has been testing out the app for about a year, and it will deploy the digital drivers licenses to its employees first as a test group.

The state hasn't yet set a date for when the digital licenses will be available to the public.

The app could be used at traffic stops and security at Iowa airports.

The state is already one of 30 that allows drivers to show their proof of vehicle insurance electronically.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Possible End to Partisan Gerrymandering


The First Amendment forbids viewpoint discrimination, so when a state draws legislative district lines that minimize the power of people who belong to one political party while maximizing the power of people who hold another viewpoint, that violates the Constitution.  A majority of the justices on the Supreme Court, however, have refused to police partisan gerrymandering, largely because they believe that doing so would be too difficult.  As Justice Scalia wrote in his plurality opinion in Vieth v. Jubelirer, “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating political gerrymandering claims have emerged.”

Scalia’s view, however, is questionable.  Mathematical models do exist that can measure when a state’s electoral map produces results that are wildly out of line with voter preferences.  And, in some recent gerrymandering cases, states have even openly stated that they tried to enhance some voters’ power at the expense of others.

Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott (R) admitted in a 2013 court filing that “[i]n 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.”  At the very least, a court should be able to discern that a partisan gerrymander occurred when the state freely admits as much.

A potentially significant writing contest sponsored by the Washington, DC advocacy group Common Cause seeks to further repudiate the claim that there is no meaningful way for judges to determine when a legislative map was drawn to give one party an advantage over the others.  The contest offers a $5,000 top prize to lawyers and scholars who submit papers “creating a new definition for partisan gerrymandering or further developing an existing definition.”  So the contest seeks to show that, if enticed by a cash prize, a community of scholars can discover something that the justices themselves cannot find, or at least that they claim not to have found, a way to prevent lawmakers from choosing their own voters.

Under existing precedents, where judges largely must allow partisan gerrymandering to continue unmolested, lawmakers have grown extraordinarily sophisticated in drawing maps that ensure that a state’s legislature or congressional delegation will bear little resemblance to the preferences of its voters.  Indeed, GOP-friendly maps played a significant role in keeping the House in Republican hands during the soon-to-expire Congressional term, despite the fact that the electorate actually preferred Democrats to Republicans in 2012.

Though it is unclear that the Court’s present majority could be convinced to strike down these sorts of gerrymanders under any circumstances, if nothing else, the anti-gerrymandering writing contest could provide a future Court with a legal standard it could use to prevent these kinds of maps from being drawn in the future.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Why We Need a New Candidates Selection Process



FairVote seeks to make representative democracy fair, functional, and representative by developing the analysis and educational tools necessary for reform partners to secure and sustain improvements to American elections.  Operating since 1992, They are a non-profit, non-paritsan organization with a history of working with scholars, civic leaders, policymakers, and journalists from across the spectrum.

In America, elections are the link between everyday citizens and our representatives at all levels of government, from local school boards and state assemblies to Congress and the presidency.  As just government relies on the consent of the governed, we have the right to elections in which our voices are heard, our views are respected, and our votes truly count.

In their 2014 end-of-year message, I found the following projections troubling.

More than two years before the 2016 congressional elections, FairVote projected the outcomes of the 2016 congressional elections in more than 85% of U.S. house seats.  In other words, FairVote projects that 373 house districts are so deeply entrenched for one party that the incumbent can keep their seat just by seeking re-election, irrespective of who else runs or how much money is spent in the race.

Whole regions of the country are politically dead.  They project winners in every seat for 27 states.  In a group of 14 southern and border states, they project winners in 125 of 126 seats – and 123 seats even if every election were an open seat with equal financing.  This means that literally hundreds of districts are beyond competition with real consequences for voters being part of meaningful debates.

A partisan skew that distorts accountability has also emerged.  Of the 373 safe seats, Republicans hold 212.  That means that Republicans only need to win six of 62 unprojected seats to win 218 seats and keep their majority.  To retake the House, Democratic candidates would likely need to win some 55% of the vote.

In 2013, FairVote projected 368 house seats and those projections matched the results in 367 contests without any analysis whatsoever of polling data or campaign spending.  In 2012, FairVote projected 333 seats and those projections matched the results in all 333 contests: 100% accuracy.

Shortly after the election, their executive director Rob Richie authored a piece in The Nation highlighting just how unfair congressional elections have become.  It echoed pre-election pieces making the case for fair representation voting by Krist Novoselic in the Open Standard and by Reihan Salam in Slate.  These pieces demonstrate that broken congressional elections hurt everyone, and how there is an all-partisan solution on the table.

FairVote has consistently promoted the fair voting solution.  By noting that the problem is not merely gerrymandering but actually inherent in districting itself, their way is: replace the exclusive use of winner-take-all districts with fair representation voting.

With fair representation voting, voters have the power to choose their representatives, irrespective of what district they happen to be drawn into, using American, candidate-based forms of proportional voting like ranked choice voting.  This constitutional and historically-grounded way of conducting elections could be applied to Congress by using larger districts, each electing between three and five candidates.  We are helping to craft model legislation that would enact these practices.

FairVote has drawn sample maps demonstrating how this solution would truly represent the left, right and center of every state while making every vote count.

CLICK HERE to view those maps along with detailed analysis.  Look up your state, and see what fair voting could mean for you.

I would like your input after viewing these maps and analysis, if you agree or would like some other method of candidate selection.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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2014 Spending Bill Increases Campaign Finance Limits


On October 9th 2014, in a rare 4-2 vote, the long-gridlocked FEC approved a joint request from the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee that asked for permission to create a separate organization to finance the quadrennial conventions.

A provision included at the end of the massive spending bill released by Congress on Tuesday evening would exponentially increase some political contribution limits.

Beginning on page 1,599 of the 1,603-page document, under a heading entitled “Other Matters”, the legislation details the creation of three additional accounts to help fund party conventions (a national committee of a political party, other than a national congressional campaign committee of a political party), the building or renovation of party headquarters (a national committee of a political party including a national congressional campaign committee of a political party), the relief of legal debts and election recount costs (a national committee of a political party including a national congressional campaign committee of a political party).

Campaign finance watchdog groups Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause, flagged the provision about an hour after the appropriations bill was released.

“This makes the Great Train Robbery look like a petty misdemeanor,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.  “These provisions have never been considered by the House or Senate, and were never even publicly mentioned before today.”

While national party committees have a contribution limit of $32,400 per year for each donor, the three new accounts would have their own separate, higher contribution limits, up to $97,200 each per year.

In effect, that means that an individual could give a total of up to $648,000 to the National Republican Committee or the National Democratic Committee during each two-year election cycle.  A wealthy couple could pour almost $1.3 million into a party committee coffer.

Proponents of raising the limits for political party committees have argued that it could be a way to combat the outside money flowing into campaigns, through super-PACs and non-profit groups, and allow politicians the opportunity to control the message.

Common Cause, meanwhile, said in a statement the new accounts would open up more opportunities for corruption.

“Does anyone believe that the people providing such donations will neither expect nor receive something in return? Of course not,” said a statement from a spokesman.

“These changes take us another step back toward the pre-Watergate era, when political money was essentially unregulated and the nation endured a wave of corruption unlike any in our history,” the organization said.

Other campaign finance watchdogs also rebuked the move, calling it a bipartisan “backdoor deal.”

“Rather than pass legislation to fix the corrupt existing campaign finance system, this Congress that couldn't pass a bill to simply increase transparency for campaign contributions decided to raise the price for its attentions,” said Meredith McGehee, a policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.  “The price for seat at the table in Washington just went up again and even further out of reach for all but the very richest of Americans.”










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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