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Friday, October 24, 2014

Colorado's All Mail-In Voting Unintended Consequences


The sooner you get it in, the sooner they stop calling you.  That's what residents of a Denver suburb described as the only way to cease the incessant calling from the campaigns.  And to the chagrin of voters, both major party campaigns are going all-out to make sure no one forgets to send in their ballot.

Colorado's nearly three million registered voters began receiving ballots on Oct. 14.  Campaigns can track which voters have not yet returned their ballots, as well as who hasn't registered at all.  As a result, residents have experienced a significant amount of harassment from campaigns.  This will likely continue through Nov. 4, since people can also register on Election Day and vote in person.  Voters can also register online and receive a ballot in the mail until Oct. 27.

Colorado is only the third state, after Washington and Oregon, to implement a universal mail-out system.  Both of those states saw dramatically higher turnout after transitioning to all-mail elections, but the difference may not be as pronounced in Colorado, where 73.5 percent of voters turned out in 2010.

The all-mail option, along with the technological capabilities that campaigns have at their disposal, have changed the dynamics of the election.  Campaigns can track who has and who hasn't sent their ballots back in real time, with data posted by each county.

"One of the nice things about these mail-in ballots is that they post pretty up-to-date records of who has submitted their ballot, so people who have received, but haven't yet sent it in, campaigns have a list of those people," Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, said. "They can go knock on their door, give them the information they need, remind them about the postage and the due date."  "The whole mail-in ballot is interesting in that a lot of voters treat it more or less like a bill -- some people pay it immediately and some people wait until the last minute,".

By lowering the barrier to being able to vote, which is a good thing for democracy, may increase voters who don't usually turn up in non-presidential years, they will hopefully turn out in a bigger force.

The campaigns of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, have set up unprecedented field efforts to goad the procrastinators into voting.  Udall's campaign has 25 field offices, compared to 15 in 2010.  It also has 100 field organizers, up from 40 in the last midterm.  Republicans, for their part, have 14 field offices across the state, twice as many as they’ve had before, and have been aggressively recruiting volunteers to canvass and make calls.  Gardner reportedly has 2000 paid canvassers, though his campaign has been less forthcoming about its get out the vote strategy, perhaps hoping to catch Udall by surprise.

Not everyone is happy with the new voting format. Republicans, including some in Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration, have been expressing concerns that the universal mail-out system may make it easier to commit voter fraud.  To mitigate that risk, counties have electronic databases that allow elections officials to check whether a voter has cast a ballot in more than one precinct.  Conservatives and "voter integrity" organizations are also unsettled by the state's provision that people may collect and deliver up to 10 filled-out ballots, arguing that so-called "ballot harvesting" opens the door to coercion.

"There's some evidence that by spreading out Election Day over several weeks, it actually hurts turnout a little bit, because it's no longer one special day that everything is oriented around," Masket said.  "It becomes a part of regular life for a few weeks and people might not get the same information about when to turn out to vote."










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

850 Voters in NYC are Officially 164 Years Old


A search of the records in all five boroughs of New York City found 850 voters with the same birth date of Jan. 1, 1850.

New York City Board of Elections officials chalked up the implausible age snafu to previous practices that allowed residents not to provide their exact birthdays when registering to vote.  Some of the new voters, mostly women, simply wrote that they were “21+”, above the legal voting age.  There was a reason to be vague.  Voter registration records are open to the public, so anyone with the inclination can discover the real age of anyone in the files.

It was a little quirk in the system that was fixed during the board's switch to computerized databases in 1999 and 2006.  To comply with new state rules, election officials were required to write in a specific date of birth for all voters, or remove them from the rolls.

Officials twice sent out notices imploring the 164-year-olds to provide their real birth dates.  Most ignored the requests.

Since they registered under the old system, the board grandfathered them in and listed 01/01/1850 as their DOBs in the electronic voting rolls.

Residents who registered after 2006 are required to provide their true birth dates.  The board, under state law, must remove voters from the rolls who fail to do so.  A voter without a date of birth who shows up on Election Day won’t be in the register, and can fill out an affidavit ballot.  If they can not verify their date-of-birth, their vote won’t be counted.

During a meeting Tuesday, Board of Elections commissioners and Director, Ryan discussed ways to fix the age-old problem.  They discussed sending out another letter pleading for the real dates of birth or even having staffers try to contact the 850 by telephone.  To prevent fraud, officials would still need a written statement from voters certifying their age, even if they divulge it over the phone.

Ryan said the matter will be revisited after the Nov. 4 election.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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CityFarm - The Urban Farm




Futuristic farms are not such a fantasy anymore, with dozens of projects cropping up around the country designing solutions to urban farming.  The only problem?  The costly price tag that comes with those initiatives.

Which is why CityFarm, born out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, is aiming to create a soil-free urban farming system that may be economically feasible for cities, regardless of locale.  The 60-square-foot farm grows lettuce, tomatoes and herbs in a windowless room inside MIT’s Media Lab, Fast Company reports.  With no soil and the help of artificial light, the farm produces crops with as much as 90 percent less water than traditional methods.

“It’s essentially like a big, clear plastic box, about 7-feet wide by 30-feet long,” Caleb Harper, a research scientist leading the project, says.  “Inside of that box, I have pre-made weather.  I monitor everything,”

The system uses both hydroponic (water) and aeroponic (air or mist environment) soil-free processes to grow and has produced crops three to four times more quickly than the normal growth process.  Using a 30-day cycle, CityFarm has produced food for 300 people.

“No one has proven an economically viable model for these kind of plant environments,” says Harper.  “What I’m trying to do is kind of be the Linux for these environments — the person that creates the common language for this new area of food production.”

Harper believes his methodology could eventually reduce agricultural consumption of water by 98 percent and eliminate the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, double nutrient densities and reduce energy use to grow crops.

Harper first became interested in the idea after visiting Japan following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, prompting him to think about how cities could produce food without fear of contamination.  Through CityFarm, Harper is developing a “plant operating system software” and looking for ways to make the process economically feasible for more cities.

CityFarm is working with Detroit to open the first off-campus version and continues plans to expand the MIT location vertically.

CLICK HERE to find out more about CityFarm.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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NYC On-Line Registration Bill


Councilman Ben Kallos (CD5, D-Manhattan) will introduce legislation to allow would-be voters to register online.  The bill would require the City Board of Elections to create a secure website to allow voters to register using the same form that is now sent by mail.

“We hope to have a city where everyone who is eligible can vote easily,” Kallos said.  “We make it really hard to register, really hard to vote, and we can make it a lot easier.”

Only the State Department of Motor Vehicles can sign up voters electronically, a process that requires additional identification.

States that have moved to online registration have also cut costs, with the price per voter going from 83 cents to 3 cents in Arizona, Kallos said.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Independent Could Flip the Senate


A quiet lobbying campaign by a low-key man from Maine could determine which party controls the Senate next year.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent, is holding private conversations with Independent Senate candidates to urge them against siding with Democrats or Republicans before the election.  In a narrowly divided Senate, this group of Independents could tip the balance of power and wield tremendous clout.

"If you announce in advance which party you're going to caucus with, you may as well just sign up and say I'm one or the other," King said.

King recently advised Independent Kansas Senate candidate Greg Orman on how to be most effective running outside the two party system.  Another Independent candidate, Larry Pressler of South Dakota, got similar pointers from King, who strongly suggested that Pressler evade questions about which party he will caucus with, just as King did when he first ran for the Senate two years ago.

After his 2012 election as an Independent, King decided to caucus with Democrats, who currently control the Senate.  But he's taking the same advice he's giving the candidates, refusing to rule out joining Republicans if they capture the Senate.

King said. "I'll make the caucus decision at the time based upon what I think is in the best interest of Maine."  "My first priority is to try to make the Senate work better, as an Independent I can help to do that, that's my goal."

King admitted he has been in talks with other moderate Senators in both parties for "the past six months or so" to form a centrist caucus.

However, he said it would be an informal group, and he does not envision breaking away any time soon from organizing around the two parties, as the Senate does now.

And while King is careful to say he is not sure there is a major trend towards Independent candidates quite yet, he openly dreams of Orman and Pressler actually winning and what that would mean for the future of Independents in politics.

"It's going to encourage other people in other states who are going to say 'look there are guys in the Senate who are doing this and it's not unthinkable.  They're getting things done," said King.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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NYC Agencies Failing to Give Voter Registration Forms


A New York City law passed in 2000 requires 18 city agencies to give voter registration forms to visitors.  But the Center for Popular Democracy found that 84% of those visitors were not given a chance to register, according to a report to be released Tuesday.

In fact, 60% of the agencies didn’t even have forms in the office.  And 95% of the clients were never asked if they wanted to register to vote.

“This is an urgent problem which is leading to the disenfranchisement of many thousands of low-income New Yorkers,” said Andrew Friedman, the group’s co-executive director.

The group found that 30% of people who visited the city offices weren’t registered to vote, higher than the national average.

Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman Phil Walzak said Hizzoner has ordered agencies to step up their compliance with the law.

Advocates say having city agencies help out with voter registration is especially important because most people nationwide sign up to vote at motor vehicle departments, but many city residents don’t drive.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Removing the Selection Process from Our Election System


First, the reason for this post, was a recent comment made to me by a state board of elections commissioner.  We were discussing the different primary systems, and the comment was "We should only have General Elections".

Now how would that work?

First, we need to think about the parties "Right of Association".  So the parties can run their own selection process to determine their endorsed candidates.

Then the states would need to determine what process the candidates would use to get on the General Election ballot: fees, petition signatures under what party names, etc.

Next what will the ballot format look like?  There will need to be an indication of a party's endorsed candidate.

And finally, with a possible large number of candidates, how will the ballot be counted to determine a winner?

I would suggest we use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and a 50% +1 concept.

Hopefully I tweaked your interest and would like your ideas for this concept.

If we do have to use Primaries, I support the Blanket Primary system, similar to Alaska, but with one one ballot, with the winner of each party and a write-in option in the General Election.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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