Independent Voting Videos


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders Could Face NY Presidential Primary Ballot Struggle

Senator Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, will face a significant legal barrier if he attempts to run in next year's New York primary while remaining unaffiliated with a party.

A section of state election law commonly known as Wilson-Pakula prohibits candidates from appearing on the ballot in a party’s primary unless they are either enrolled members or receive the approval of the party’s committee.

Sanders, of Vermont, is an independent and so would need the approval of the state’s Democrats to get his name on the ballot. Clinton’s deep political connections to New York make the likelihood of them doing so even less.

“Hadn’t thought about it, but my initial answer would be no,” Assemblyman Keith Wright said when asked if he thought Sanders should be allowed on the ballot for New York’s Democratic primary. Wright served as co-chair of the state party from 2012 until 2014. The current chair, former governor David Paterson, did not return a request for comment. Paterson, however, has a history of unwavering loyalty to Clinton, who interrupted her 2008 primary campaign to celebrate his unexpected gubernatorial swearing-in ceremony after Eliot Spitzer resigned. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed both men to their party posts and controls most of the party apparatus, similarly has a long-standing relationship with the Clinton family.

Even if Sanders gets the party’s permission to attempt to get on the ballot in New York, actually doing so would require significant resources. New York’s ballot access laws are among the nation’s most restrictive and have created problems for presidential candidates before.

After talking with Richard Winger of Ballot Access News With I did further review of this issue. I found that "A Wilson-Pakula is an authorization given by a political party to a candidate for public office in New York State for a person not registered with that party to run as its candidate."

The other issue is "A state's primary election or caucus usually is an indirect election: instead of voters directly selecting a particular person running for President, it determines how many delegates each party's national convention will receive from their respective state. These delegates then in turn select their party's presidential nominee.

So Sanders will have to collect the required signatures and gather electors to get on the ballot.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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Friday, May 29, 2015

FCC Asks Telephone Companies to Block Robocalls

For many Americans, the idea of technology that can block automated telephone calls sounds like a solution to all those annoying “robocalls” and interrupted family dinners. But to the nation’s pollsters and campaign professionals, many of whom are gearing up for the 2016 election cycle, a federal government proposal circulated Wednesday to encourage phone companies to embrace the technology feels like an existential threat.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it receives more complaints about unwanted phone calls than any other issue. As a response, the FCC is asking phone companies to offer services to their customers that block calls placed by an automatic dialer. Pollsters are asking to be exempted from the new guidelines, arguing that legitimate researchers shouldn’t be grouped with telemarketers and debt-collectors. But, for now, the FCC has no plans to establish a carve-out for telephone surveys.

In a blog post on the FCC’s website on Wednesday, chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission was “giving the green light for robocall-blocking technology.” “The FCC wants to make it clear: Telephone companies can — and in fact should — offer consumers robocall-blocking tools,” Wheeler wrote.

The commission plans on considering the rules at a June 18 meeting in Washington.

But survey researchers say those tools would spell their doom: They would undercut a key element of the science behind modern telephone polling and make the work they can do cost-prohibitive. The proposed rules are “potentially devastating to the survey, opinion and marketing research profession,” said Howard Fienberg, director of governmental affairs at the Marketing Research Association. “The FCC and the chairman are playing fast and loose with their terms, using unwanted calls, telemarketing calls, and robocalls interchangeably, and conflating illegal telemarketing scams with legitimate calls.”

The FCC, which says the new rules would be a win for consumers and were informed by extensive public comments, declined to address pollsters’ claims that they are being unfairly lumped with telemarketers when it comes to blocking automated calls. But a fact sheet accompanying the proposal said there would only be “very limited and specific exceptions for urgent circumstances,” such as alerting bank customers to possible fraud or reminding patients about important prescription refills.

Fienberg says he plans to meet with commission staff over the next two weeks to convince them that legitimate survey research should be exempt, too.

A robocall ban already exists for cell phones; the FCC requires pollsters to manually dial cell phone numbers, which makes including cell phones, an increasing necessity as Americans abandon their landline phones, much more expensive.

The FCC’s proposed rules would affect telephone polls of all kinds. Americans could block all automated surveys, which were already prohibited from calling cell phones, conducted by a recorded voice.

Polls conducted by live interviewers also use automated dialers, and the FCC’s Wheeler made clear those would also be affected, writing that the proposal would “clarify the definition of ‘autodialers’ to include any technology with the potential to dial random or sequential numbers.”

That random-dialing technology, pollsters say, is an underpinning of the science behind survey research. Using a random-digit dialer means that every phone number has an equal chance of being selected for the survey. Random-digit dialing is used by most of the public political pollsters. And while they will still be able to use randomizers to generate numbers to call, operators will then have to dial manually those who’ve elected to block automated calls, as they do for cell phones. Even private campaign pollsters who rely on lists of registered voters would be affected. The landline numbers matched to the voter files they use have traditionally been called using an auto-dialer.

The industry has been fighting the restrictions on calling cell phones for years; it costs roughly twice as much per cell-phone respondent because of the added time of dialing their number manually and the fact cell-phone users are less likely to pick up the phone and agree to an interview than those reached on landlines. “The existing TCPA restrictions on using an autodialer to call a cell phone have long since become archaic, as 58.8 percent of American households are only reachable on a cell phone,” Fienberg said, referring to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

All pollsters can expect their costs to rise significantly if the proposal is adopted. For nonprofit organizations and universities that rely on professional call centers, that means they’ll likely conduct fewer surveys. Colleges that use student operators will require more participants to maintain their current polling levels.

The news media, already stretched thin by shrinking budgets, will likely cut back on polling as well. We will see fewer high-quality surveys to gauge both the state of the horse-race and the factors and issues informing voters’ decisions.

Political candidates will be forced to spend more of their campaign cash for the same volume of polling, which won’t be a particularly big issue for well-funded presidential hopefuls, but could hurt downballot candidates who rely on smaller budgets. “If you’re talking about a $50 million or $100-million campaign,” Republican pollster Jon McHenry said, “you can justify those costs by making your TV and your direct mail campaign as targeted as they can be.”

And it’s not just polling: Campaigns and other groups use automated calls to reach large numbers of voters to deliver political messages. “Campaigns have always used robo-calls to quickly communicate with voters — especially late in campaigns,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster who worked for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.

If the new regulations are approved, they would take effect immediately. That doesn’t mean phone companies would be able to deploy the technology next month, but it’s likely pollsters will be forced to adapt before the bulk of their 2016 election polling.

The first two big tests for pollsters will come over the next four months, when Fox News and CNN will use poll averages to determine which Republican presidential candidates will appear on stages in the first two debates in August and September, respectively.

Some pollsters see a silver lining, however: If landline respondents have to be hand-dialed just like cell phones, there’s no reason for pollsters and groups who sponsor polls to skimp on cell-phone calls to save money. “In round numbers, it equalizes the costs between cell phones and landlines,” said McHenry.

But ultimately, the new regulations, if adopted, could be another significant blow for the telephone polling industry, which has been reeling from Americans’ move away from landlines and increasing embrace of mobile phones. The FCC proposal would further encode rules treating pollsters just like telemarketers when it comes to working over the phone. “The new regulations would just make a bad situation much worse, threatening the integrity and results of research and the companies, organizations and governments that rely upon it,” Fienberg said.

The difficulties with phone polling have led many firms to start conducting surveys over the Internet. But roughly one-in-10 adults live in households without web access, primarily older and lower-income Americans. And some survey researchers balk at using a self-selecting, non-random sample to represent the opinions of the entire population.

Pollsters, meanwhile, are caught in the middle: Phone polling is getting significantly harder, and Internet polling is, for many, not yet a viable replacement.

A few pollsters predicted that if the new regulations are wide-ranging enough to complicate existing campaign practices like robocalls and polling, politicians will find a way to scuttle them before they are adopted.

“Also, wouldn’t it kill ‘tele-town halls?’” Newhouse, the GOP pollster, asked in an email, referring to the increasingly utilized form of constituent engagement. “If members of Congress believed those were at risk, they’d probably revolt!”

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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IL Bill to Change Voter Registration Option

Illinois is considering a major piece of legislation to bolster its voter turnout rate and help ensure access to the ballot for all eligible citizens. A bill filed this month by, Sen. Andy Manar (D), SB2134, would tweak Illinois’ voter registration system slightly, but in a way that could yield significant results.

Currently, when Illinoisans sign up for a driver’s license, they can opt-in and also be registered to vote. If SB2134 becomes law, the default option will change so citizens are automatically registered to vote when they get a license unless they choose to opt-out.

This may sound small, but studies have shown that shifting the default option from opt-in to opt-out can lead to huge changes in sign-up rates, even though people are free in either scenario to enroll or not.

This system of automatic voter registration became law earlier this year in Oregon, the first state to do so. Though Oregon is less than one-third the size of Illinois, officials there predict that 300,000 voters will be added to the rolls as a result of the new law.

The Chicago Sun-Times, writing an editorial in support of SB2134, noted that there are 2 million citizens in Illinois who are eligible to vote but haven’t registered. Though the state passed a law in 2014 allowing citizens to register to vote on Election Day, SB2134 would make it even more likely that a significant portion of this unregistered bloc could wind up enrolling and participating in 2016.

According to University of Florida political science professor, Michael P. McDonald, an expert in the field of voting and elections, SB2134 could boost voter turnout by 1 to 2 percent, or 100,000 new voters in a large state like Illinois. He noted that those new voters would be disproportionately low-income and younger individuals.

Other states like California and Vermont are also considering implementing automatic voter registration laws.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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VA House Speaker Challenger Sues State Over Absentee Ballot Issue

The Republican challenger to Virginia House Speaker, William J. Howell, sued the state over what she says is a change in absentee-ballot rules that gives the speaker an unfair advantage ahead of next month’s primary.

Susan Stimpson, a former Stafford County supervisor and onetime Howell protege, filed suit in Stafford County Circuit Court against the State Board of Elections.

At issue is a May 13 decision by the Board of Elections to let voters sign absentee-ballot request forms electronically instead of printing out the forms, signing them with a pen and e-mailing back a scanned attachment or mailing the forms through the post office.

It also makes it easier for campaigns, parties and groups to submit requests on voters’ behalf, as Howell’s campaign does through his Web site.

Stimpson said the board acted beyond its authority and circumvented the legislature to make a sweeping change in the rules at Howell’s request. Howell’s spokesman called the claim ­“ridiculous.”

Stimpson also questioned the timing of the board’s action, which came weeks before the June 9 primary and in the middle of the period when voters can request absentee ballots. She said the public was given inadequate notice of the board’s decision, leaving some campaigns unprepared to adjust their absentee-voter strategies.

“Longtime incumbents like Bill Howell cannot be allowed to use their political power to change the rules to benefit themselves within weeks of the election, after voting has begun,” Stimpson said. “We are a nation of laws, not men. Howell’s actions come from desperation, not strength.”

Edgardo Cort├ęs, commissioner of the state Department of Elections, has said the three-member Board of Elections made the call at a public meeting. His staff quickly notified registrars and electoral boards in localities and called the Republican and Democratic parties but lacked the resources to notify candidates individually, he has said. Howell’s spokesman, Matt ­Moran, said the lawsuit is between Stimpson and the Board of Elections.

In an e-mail to Republicans on Monday, Del. Gregory D. Habeeb (R-Salem) said the caucus started researching electronic signatures earlier this year and, bolstered by an attorney general opinion from last year, asked the Department of Elections for guidance.

“Throughout this entire process, our goal was to proactively determine how the board would view electronic signatures in order to be prepared for the 2015 cycle,” Habeeb said. “If we did not, then I’m confident that the Democrats would have done so, and we would have been left playing catch-up.”

Last week, Stimpson said she had no problem with the substance of the decision, but after studying the issue further, Stimpson campaign consultant Tim Edson said Wednesday that the move would “open the door to voter fraud.”

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) said in a news release after Stimpson raised the issue last week that the state should stop accepting electronic signatures for absentee ballot requests.

“This significant policy change will increase the chance for voter fraud and will place in doubt the integrity of close elections this year and other elections in the future,” he said.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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Ohio Considers Shifting Primary Date

Republicans in Ohio have made a play to improve the chances of Gov. John R. Kasich if he runs for president, agreeing to delay the state’s 2016 primary by a week to create a winner-takes-all contest for its delegates.

This week the State Senate voted in accord with its House of Representatives to move the primary to March 15 from March 8. That would put it in the company of Florida, Missouri and potentially Illinois, and shift it beyond the threshold of states whose delegates are allotted on a proportional basis.

For the change to take effect, Mr. Kasich, who has repeatedly said he is considering a run for president, must sign it into law.

Although Mr. Kasich lacks the national profile of some other Republican hopefuls, analysts say that anything can happen in such a crowded field. For Mr. Kasich, a full haul of delegates from his home state would be crucial to winning the nomination.

And while Ohio remains one of the most closely watched general election swing states, delaying its primary would give it more clout during the nomination process.

“For anybody who is worried that Ohio didn’t have enough influence in presidential elections already, this should set your mind at ease,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nebraska Ends Ban on Driver's Licenses for DACA Youths

Nebraska ended the nation's last ban on driving privileges for young people brought into the United States illegally as children, after the Legislature voted Thursday to override a veto from the state's new Republican governor. Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 34-10 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has backed the strict policy of his GOP predecessor that left Nebraska as the only state to deny the licenses to the youths granted temporary protection from deportation. Senators said Nebraska youth who have been granted deferred-action status are active contributors to the state's economy and should not be penalized for their parents' actions.

President Barack Obama announced an executive action in 2012 that creates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which gives the youths a Social Security number, a two-year work permit and protection from deportation. Although a few states initially announced that they would deny licenses to those youths, only Arizona and Nebraska ultimately adopted policies to exclude them. A court blocked Arizona's law in July, leaving in place only Nebraska's, which former Gov. Dave Heineman approved three years ago.

The deferred-action category applies to youths who are at least 15 years old, arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were under 31 in 2012, have lived continuously in the U.S. since 2007 and are in school or working toward a degree. An estimated 2,700 recipients of the program have been raised and educated in Nebraska.

The bill was propelled forward with bipartisan support that included ranching groups, the Nebraska Restaurant Association and conservative Omaha mayor Jean Stothert, who say the youths need driver's licenses to hold and maintain jobs in industries that need them.

Nebraska Cattlemen President Dave McCracken called the law a "common sense measure" to provide "a strong employee base in rural Nebraska."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska is challenging the policy in court. ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said last week that the lawsuit persists as the ACLU watches how the executive administration and Department of Motor Vehicles respond.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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Texas and the National Voter Registration Act

Thousands of Texans are being disenfranchised thanks to chronic failures in the state’s voter registration system, a Democratic group alleges based on government records and extensive additional evidence. The charges raise serious questions about Texas’s commitment to making the ballot box accessible to new voters, and about its compliance with federal voting law.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, lawyers for Battleground Texas, which works to register voters in the state, wrote that the state government’s “voter registration failures are widespread and systematically undermining the right to vote in Texas.”

The letter is likely to precede a lawsuit under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), more commonly known as the Motor Voter law, which requires states to offer registration opportunities through their motor vehicle departments and other government agencies. “If the state does not want to engage and take the steps necessary to fix this, then we’re prepared to initiate legal action,” Peter Kraus, a lawyer representing Battleground Texas, said in a phone interview.

The allegations offer the latest evidence that Texas’s Republican administration is creating obstacles to voting as the state’s soaring Hispanic population threatens to shift the balance of power in the state. Around 2 million Texas Hispanics are unregistered, and just 39% of eligible Hispanics in the state voted in 2012, compared to 61% of eligible whites and 63% of eligible blacks.

Battleground was launched in 2013 by former Obama campaign staffers with the goal of making Texas competitive for Democrats by registering new voters.

Voter registration snafus also disproportionately affect people who move frequently: the poor, minorities, and young people. All those groups tend to vote Democratic.

It’s impossible to quantify just how many Texans have been disenfranchised thanks to the registration breakdowns identified by Battleground Texas. State records obtained via an open records request submitted by the group show that over the last four months of 2013 and all of last year, counties received over 4,600 complaints from would-be voters about registration issues, some of which appear not even to have been investigated.

Probably not all of those voters were ultimately kept from the polls, since Texas says some have subsequently been registered, though it’s not clear whether that happened before or after they tried to vote. But the 4,600 number is itself likely the tip of the iceberg of those who have had problems. For one thing, the tally only included data from the fewer than half of the state’s counties that reported complaints to the state. For another, lodging a complaint with the county can be a multi-step process that takes a certain level of initiative. That strongly suggests the number captures only a small fraction of those who faced obstacles.

Whatever the actual figure, the data make clear that the number of eligible voters being kept from the polls thanks to registration problems is exponentially greater than the number of ineligible voters casting ballots in the state, a concern that led Texas to pass the country’s strictest voter ID law. Since 2000, there have been just two proven cases of in-person fraud that would have been prevented by an ID requirement.

Battleground’s letter stops short of alleging that Texas is deliberately making it difficult to register to vote. But Kraus said it’s clear, at the very least, that the state hasn’t chosen to devote adequate resources to the task. “What it comes down to is, there does not appear to be a priority with the Secretary of State to make sure that the Department of Public Safety is taking down the information, and properly transmitting it to the voter rolls,” said Kraus.

To support that conclusion, the letter lays out reams of evidence pointing to serious problems with the state’s registration procedures for those applying to obtain or update their driver’s license:

- Texas’s online procedures, Battleground alleges, “openly violate the NVRA.” When an online applicant is asked whether she wants to register to vote and checks ‘yes,’ the Motor Voter law requires that her registration file be automatically updated. Instead, Texas provides a link to the Secretary of State’s website, where a voter registration form can be downloaded. But Texas counties nonetheless use driver’s license changes of address to remove people from the rolls. “This perverse result cannot be reconciled with the NVRA’s goal of increasing the number of eligible citizens on the voter rolls,” Kraus and Battleground legal director Mimi Marziani write.

- Texas’s in-person procedures likewise violate the NVRA, Battleground alleges. Sixty-five complaints were found to have come from people who checked neither “yes” nor “no” when asked if they wanted to register to vote, or who mistakenly checked both boxes. In both circumstances, Battleground claims, the NVRA requires that the applicant be registered. Keith Ingram, the director of the Elections Division at the Secretary of State’s office acknowledged in an email to Battleground that it didn’t do so, appearing to take the position that the law doesn’t require it.

- Between September 2013 and February 2015, according to state records, Texans reported to the state over 1,700 incidents where they checked “yes,” indicating they wanted to register to vote, when completing a driver’s license application in person at the DPS but did not appear on the rolls. These voters were ultimately registered, Ingram told Battleground. But the fact that they complained suggests the delay kept many from voting.

- Battleground says a hotline it set up for the November 2014 midterm election received “dozens” of calls from voters who had tried to register or update their voter registration information at a DPS office but did not appear on the rolls.

- Some of the complaints received by counties from voters who were forced to cast provisional ballots appear not even to have been investigated. Government records show that four days before the November 2012 election, one DPS staffer wrote in an email to another that an official with the Secretary of State’s office “is going to send an email to all of the county voter registrars to instruct them that they must have their requests for verification for the provisional ballots to us by noon on Thursday, November 8. We will do our best to process all of them and return them by midnight on Friday, but she is telling them there is no guarantee. If we don’t get them all done, then we don’t and she said there is nothing we can do at that point.” Subsequent emails show that complaints from at least 302 voters weren’t received until after November 8, and were ignored.

Administrative problems aside, Texas already has the strictest voter registration rules in the country. Non-Texans are barred from registering voters; anyone registering voters must undergo training through the county; no one can register voters in counties other than the county where they were appointed; and all voter registration applications must be personally delivered, rather than mailed.

Republican lawmakers this month killed a bill that would have established online voter registration in the state, citing the threat of fraud.

Those who do successfully register must also contend with the state’s voter ID law, which has twice been struck down by courts as racially discriminatory but was in effect last fall thanks to an order from the Supreme Court. An estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters, disproportionately minorities, don’t have the ID needed under the law. “I do firmly believe that the state has implemented a series of laws that make it difficult to vote,” Battleground Texas executive director Jenn Brown said in an interview. “Whether or not the registration problems fit into that, I think we’re not sure yet, but it’s something that we’re really thinking about as we’re starting a conversation with them.”

Texas is far from the first state to face claims that it’s failing to make voter registration easy enough under the motor voter law. Last year, California agreed to mail registration cards to nearly 4 million people who signed up for Obamacare benefits, after good-government groups threatened a lawsuit. And the Obama administration itself was accused last year by voting rights groups of not doing enough to help Obamacare applicants register to vote, despite claims by congressional Republicans that it was doing too much.

The New York City Council recently approved a bill to correct this problem.

CLICK HERE for the release schedule (PDF).

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