Category Archives: Voting Rights

Unlawful Voter Purges in…California?

All Of Us or None, a California a California-based grassroots organization fighting for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people, has sent demand letters to ten California county registrar’s offices –including Butte, Contra Costa, Kings, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara, Solano, Tulare, Ventura and Orange — asking them to reinstate the voter registrations of thousands of people with conviction histories that AOUON believes were unlawfully purged from electoral rolls. According to AOUON, there are at least 3,000 such eligible voters removed in 2017 in Los Angeles County alone.

In 2011, a major California criminal justice reform — commonly known as “Realignment” — changed the law to require that people with non-serious, non-violent, or non-sexual felonies be sentenced to county jail or probation, instead of state prison. Since the California Constitution disenfranchises only those who are “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony,” the voting eligibility of those serving felony sentences in county jail under Realignment was unclear for several years. Following a successful legal battle brought by AOUON and other community allies against the Secretary of State, the State Legislature ultimately passed AB 2466 to clarify that Californians who are convicted of county Realignment felonies retain their right to vote. As of January 1, 2017, state elections law requires local courts to provide to the county registrar a monthly list of people “committed to state prison.” The registrar is then required to cancel the registrations of people currently in prison or on parole. According to AOUON, county clerks appear to still be purging voters sentenced to county jail or probation on felonies.

The last day to register to vote in this June’s California primary election is May 21. For people who are currently in county jail, the deadline to request mail-in ballots is May 29.

Election Day Registration in CT and IL

Two states, Connecticut and Illinois, began election day registration (EDR) with the 2016 election,[1]and examination of data and interviews from the experience at the county level in those states provides some evidence of the likely effect of implementing EDR in California in 2018:

  1. The number of people likely to use EDR is a small percentage of total in person votes cast.
  2. Data extrapolated from the 2016 EAC Election Administration and Voting Survey for Connecticut and Illinois shows a statewide percentage of voters who used the EDR process to register and vote to be approximately 2% of total in-person voting for both states:[2]
  Total Votes Cast Total In Person Total EDR EDR as % of Total in Person
CT 1,675,955 1,508,670 34,929 2.2%
IL 5,551,017 3,703,548 121,797 1.88%

 

In other words, based on the Connecticut and Illinois experience in 2016, on average local clerks can expect an additional 2 election day registrants for every 100 in-person voters with the implementation of EDR. This is consistent with other studies predicting a total increase in turnout where EDR is implemented of approximately 4%.[3]

 

  1. EDR may result in fewer provisional ballots, less registration at clerk’s offices

 

Comparison of EAVS data from 2016 with data from the 2014 election, before implementation of EDR, tends to support the theory[4]that any additional costs or staffing needs resulting from implementation may be offset by corresponding drops in provisional ballots and in-person registration at clerks offices. With respect to provisional balloting, there is a statistically insignificant change in Connecticut, but a significant drop in provisional balloting both in total and as a percentage of total voting in Illinois:

 

  Total Provisional Ballots

Cast, 2014

As % of total votes Total Provisional Ballots

Cast, 2016

As % of total votes
CT 19 .00002 66 .00004
IL 32,519 .0114 26,363 .0047

 

In both Connecticut and Illinois, there was a significant drop in in-person registration at clerk’s offices from 2014 to 2016, which tends to support the theory of a benefit from EDR though it is not possible from the statistical evidence alone to determine if there is a specific causal link compared to other possible sources, such as internet registration:

 

  Total Registration 2014 % In-person at office Total Registration 2016 % In-person at office
CT 558,056 .30 996,091 .22
IL 1,616,430 .20 2,237,296 .13

 

III. Anecdotal evidence from local election officials consistently report little to no additional staffing or costs associated with implementation of EDR

Interviews of local election officials in Iowa and North Carolina, where EDR was previously implemented, have reported few staffing or cost consequences from that implementation:[5]

“We really don’t have any extra costs. We don’t hire extra office help for any of it and I have the same number of poll workers I would have even if we did not have EDR.”– Marsha Carter, Shelby County (8,983 registered voters)

“There are none [costs] directly associated, as EDRs are processed along with regular voters.”– Jill Titcomb, Cherokee County (8,892 registered voters)

“… [SDR costs were for] printing of election day registration forms and sending notices to election day registrants after the election” – Jack Beeson, Dallas County (46,295 registered voters)

 

“Minimal cost, added expense for forms only.”– Dennis Parrot, Jasper County (26,779 registered voters)

 

“Very minimal [SDR costs]– extra forms, about 10 forms for the last election”– Pam Benjegerdes, Allamakee County (10,029 registered voters)

  1. EDR has significant positive effects on voter turnout

The Connecticut and Illinois experience supports a large body of research that suggest an “enduring turnout boost” from implementation of EDR:[6]

“Not only are there fewer reports of problems with voter registration in states with election

day registration, but both registration and turnout are higher in election day registration states.

Based on voter registration and turnout statistics provided by the Federal Election Commission,

77.3% of the eligible population was registered to vote in non-election day registration states in

2000; 88.8% of the eligible population was registered in election day registration states.

Furthermore, 50.5% of the voting aged population turned out in non-election day registration

states in the 2000 presidential election, while 65.6% turned out to vote in the election-day registration states.[7]

 

 

 

[1]National Conference of State Legislatures, “Same Day Voter Registration,” October 12, 2017

[2]Election Administration and Voter Survey Comprehensive Report, 2016

[3]Election Day Registration’s Effect on U.S. Voter Turnout,Brians and Grofman, Social Science Quarterly 2001 Vol. 82-1

[4]Small Investments, High Yields: A Cost Study of Same day Registration in Iowa and North Carolina, Rokoff and Stokking (2012) Demos.org

[5]Small Investments, High Yields: A Cost Study of Same day Registration in Iowa and North Carolina, Rokoff and Stokking (2012) Demos.org

[6]Brians and Grofman, supra

[7]Election Day Voter Registration in the United States, Alvarez, Ansolabehere, & Wilson, Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Report (2002), citing Federal Election Commission data, http://www.fec.gov/pages/2000turnout/reg&to00.html.

Democracy and Inequality

Thomas Edsall in a NYT op-ed lays out the several current theories about the failure of democratic governments to deal with the problem of economic inequality. There is the Piketty theory that traditional parties of the left no longer represent the working and lower middle classes, and that constituencies that feel unrepresented by this new partisan configuration will be drawn to populism:

“In a recent Power Point presentation, “Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right,” Piketty documents how the domination of the Democratic Party here (and of socialist parties in France) by voters without college or university degrees came to an end over the period from 1948 to 2017. Both parties are now led by highly educated voters whose interests are markedly different from those in the working class. The result, Piketty argues, is a political system that pits two top-down coalitions against each other.”

Edsall also cites Adam Bonica, a political scientist at Stanford, who argued that “inequality should be at least partially self-correcting in a democracy” as “increased inequality leads the median voter to demand more redistribution.” It has not worked that way because:

“First, growing bipartisan acceptance of the tenets of free market capitalism. Second, immigration and low turnout among the poor resulting in an increasingly affluent median voter. Third, “rising real income and wealth has made a larger fraction of the population less attracted to turning to government for social insurance.” Fourth, the rich escalated their use of money to influence policy through campaign contributions, lobbying and other mechanisms. And finally, the political process has been distorted by polarization and gerrymandering in ways that “reduce the accountability of elected officials to the majority.”

Other analysts (Edsall quotes Daron Acemoglu, an economist at M.I.T.) emphasize the role of racial hostility, the adverse effects of globalization on white manufacturing workers, and the decline in social mobility as more explanatory than Piketty’s economic analysis. And there is a constituency (Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) who argue that correcting inequality requires adoption of a much broader policy agenda than Piketty’s recommended redistributive “tax and transfer” strategy. Baker calls for radical reform of exchange rates, of monetary policy, of intellectual property rights and of the financial sector as well as reform of the institutional protection of doctors, dentists, and lawyers and of corporate governance rules.

Read the article!

The “Efficiency Gap,” Explained

The Supreme Court is currently considering the Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case about whether Republicans gave themselves a guaranteed GOP majority when they redrew the state’s legislative districts in 2011. A key aspect of the plaintiff’s argument is a new way to test for partisan gerrymandering  — the efficiency gap. The Washington Post explains how it works:

In this imaginary state, there are 20 green voters and 30 purple voters. Even though there are more purple voters, a district plan can be drawn that stacks the odds for green lawmakers to control the state.

The partisan plan makes three cracked districts, putting four purplevoters with six green voters and making it difficult for purple candidates to win. Boundaries in a cracked district are drawn in a way that intentionally dilute the vote.

Three cracked districts

Nine purple voters are packed into the two remaining districts with one green voter, where purple candidates will easily win.

Two packed districts

To measure the efficiency gap for this plan, researchers would first count how many votes are wasted by each party. Wasted votes are those cast that do not contribute to victory.

Green candidates can win with a six-vote majority in the cracked districts, so four purple votes in each district are wasted. One green vote is wasted in the packed districts. Three purple votes are also wasted, since the purple candidate has more than the six vote-majority they need to win.

Vote cast above the simple majority needed to win

 

Vote cast in a district this party didn’t win

The difference between the wasted votes on each side is divided by the total number of votes to get the efficiency gap:

Wasted green votes

Wasted purple votes

2-18/100 = 16% efficiency gap benefiting the green party.

 

The efficiency gap measurement was created by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor who is representing the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case, and Eric McGhee, political scientist at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Voting Rights and Voter Suppression

Please check out the new Voting Rights and Voter Suppression: Navigating State and Local Barriers to the Ballot from Access Democracy and Indivisible 435. The guide covers specific steps anyone can take to help make voting more accessible for every eligible person. Quoting a study by Charles Stewart, a political scientist at MIT, that found more than 1 million Americans weren’t able to vote in 2016 because of problems like long lines at the polls, mail ballots not arriving on time, and registration problems, the guide covers 4 specific areas of action:. That’s 1 million people who wanted to vote and couldn’t—in an election decided by fewer than 80,000 voters across 3 states.

 

The way elections are run is a mix of federal and state law. From Alaska to Florida, officials at the state and local level are charged with implementing voting laws and rules. These officials work year-round to set up and manage elections, not just on Election Day. You don’t often hear about these officials, and that’s because most of them just want to make sure elections run right. But state and local officials don’t always have access to the resources they need to drive the result we all want: fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot.

The challenges that voters face are often a result of decisions made by these election officials. Just like with any public official, it’s critical that the officials who implement your state’s voting laws and rules hear from their communities. By letting your state and local election officials know that you care about the right to vote, you can have an impact on the decisions they make to ensure fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot—for every voter in your state.

Your election officials need to know that we demand fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot. This guide covers 4 simple steps you can take today to change how elections are run in your community and protect the right to vote for every eligible American:

  1. Call your Statewide Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your state—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
  2. Call your Local Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your community—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
  3. Become a Poll Worker—a friendly knowledgeable poll worker can be the difference between a citizen successfully voting and a voter being inadvertently turned away from the polls
  4. Register, Register, Register—the first step towards participating in our democracy is to register; so register everyone you know, everywhere you go!

 guide from

Voting Rights and Voter Suppression

Please check out the new Voting Rights and Voter Suppression: Navigating State and Local Barriers to the Ballot from Access Democracy and Indivisible 435. The guide covers specific steps anyone can take to help make voting more accessible for every eligible person. Quoting a study by Charles Stewart, a political scientist at MIT, that found more than 1 million Americans weren’t able to vote in 2016 because of problems like long lines at the polls, mail ballots not arriving on time, and registration problems, the guide covers 4 specific areas of action:

  1. Call your Statewide Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your state—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
  2. Call your Local Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your community—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
  3. Become a Poll Worker—a friendly knowledgeable poll worker can be the difference between a citizen successfully voting and a voter being inadvertently turned away from the polls
  4. Register, Register, Register—the first step towards participating in our democracy is to register; so register everyone you know, everywhere you go!

Year-End Review of Voter Suppression, Voter ID Laws, from NY Times

Today’s NY Times article “Black Turnout in Alabama Complicates Debate on Voting Laws”     reviews recent research on the effects of voter ID laws in recent elections, with a particular emphasis on the Doug Jones victory in Alabama. As the Times points out, research on voter ID laws in Texas, Wisconsin and other states has been ambiguous about how and to what extent those laws actually suppress turnout. For example Eitan Hersh, a Tufts University political scientist who contributed to the analysis of Texas’ strict voter ID law, said research indicated that voter ID laws could alter very close elections but might not be as influential as some critics claim.

“These laws are complicated to assess,” Mr. Hersh said. “Alabama was a place where there was a lot of campaigning, and when campaigns liven up, you have a lot of mobilization efforts” that could offset the effect of an ID law on turnout.

One recent study, “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes” concluded that the historic turnout gap between white and minority voters increased sharply — as much as fivefold — in states with the strictest voter ID laws, producing a “clear partisan distortion” favoring Republicans.

In Texas, where federal courts have invalidated parts of one of the nation’s toughest ID laws, a detailed analysis concluded that 3.6 percent of white registered voters in Texas lacked any legally acceptable ID — and 5.7 percent of Hispanic voters, and 7.5 percent of African-Americans. But among more likely voters who cast ballots in the 2010 and 2012 elections, only 1.4 percent lacked a valid ID. An estimated 600,000 registered voters lacked a photo ID that qualified them to vote under the law.

Still other studies in Texas and Wisconsin concluded that confusion over voter ID laws meant that more people who actually had valid IDs but believed they did not stayed home on Election Day than did voters who actually lacked identification.

Restoration of Rights: Virginia and NJ

Restoration of voting rights has been an issue in the governor’s race in Virginia,  one of four states where a person loses the franchise entirely after they are convicted of a felony-level offense. Current governor Terry McAuliffe tried to use his pardon power to restore the rights of 200,000 Virginians in one blow. Republican lawmakers successfully challenged the en masse order in court, so the governor began signing the orders individually, totaling more than 168,000 to date. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has started running TV ads challenging this policy. Of note is that while Gillespie challenges the “automatic” restoration of rights, he appears to endorse at least a process for restoration:

“Virginians who have paid their debt to society and are living an honest life should have their rights restored. But Ralph Northam’s policy of automatic restoration of rights for unrepentant, unreformed, violent criminals is wrong.”

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the issue of voting rights restoration is also in the public eye, witness this recent editorial in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Why N.J. must restore voting rights to those in prison, parole, probation”

6 Million Lost Voters

The Sentencing Project has published a new study, “6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016” by Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon. Their key findings:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people are disenfran-chised due to a felony conviction, a dramatic escalation from 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, and 3.34 million in 1996.
  • Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Individuals who have completed their sentences in the twelve states that disenfranchise people post-sentence make up over 50 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling almost 3.1 million people.
  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • Florida alone accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the disenfranchised population nationally, and its nearly 1.5 million individuals disenfranchised post-sentence account for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total.
  • One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 7.4 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In four states – Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

2017: 99 Bills To Restrict Voting Access

The Brennan Center’s “Voting Law Round-Up” for 2017 so far details 99 different bills in 31 states introduced for the purpose of limiting or restricting access to registration and voting. Five states have already implemented legislation:

  • Iowa’s governor signed a broad-based law that will require voter ID, restrict voter registration efforts, and impose new burdens on Election Day registration and early and absentee voting. Although not as restrictive as a North Carolina law that passed in 2013 (and was blocked by a federal court), Iowa’s law similarly restricts voting in a number of different ways.
  • Arkansas passed two bills to bring back voter ID to the state after a court struck down an earlier law.
  • North Dakota also enacted legislation to re-impose an identification requirement after a court blocked a strict ID law in 2016.
  • Indiana enacted a law that will implement a purge of registered voters from the rolls. The program will remove voters in a manner similar to purges in other states that have been criticized for being error-prone and inadequately protective of eligible voters.
  • Montana’s house and senate passed a bill that will prevent civic groups and individuals from helping others vote absentee by collecting and delivering their voted ballots. The bill now goes to voters as a November 2018 ballot measure.
  • Georgia’s legislature sent bill that would make voter registration more difficult to the Governor, and he signed it on May 9.