Doug Chapin, Director of electionline.org, told how states that required voter IDs had lower voter turn-outs than states without such requirements. He cautioned that it is too early to tell how much of an effect that requiring a voter show an ID to vote had on turnout versus other potential factors. He observed an obstacle in consistently applying the ID requirement occurs as there is no manner in which mailed voters can show IDs. He sees the voter ID battle as one between people seeking to guarantee the integrity of voting versus those who seek to protect access to voting.
Supporters of requiring IDs in order to vote are trying a new tactic of making IDs free. Yet, this tactic is not proving as effective as some supporters hoped as critics have pointed out that there may be costs involved in obtaining the documents in order to obtain the free IDs.
Homeland security issues are affecting the voter ID debate. As a photo ID is becoming required more often, some supporters of photo IDs in order to vote are attempting to tie these requirements together.
In sum, according to Doug Chapin, both sides of the voter ID requirement have many strong opinions but there are few facts yet to support either side.
Ray Martinez, III, Principal of Martinez Consulting Group, noted how Congress has passed voting laws that place more responsibilities and costs on local governments in updating their voting operations. Federal law does not require an ID in order to vote and leaves it to states to determine what each desires.
There are several bills in Congress, including one by Sen. Mitch McConnell that would require people to register to vote in person. Another would require the full use of a social security number on voter registration forms. This is causing concern as it may make social security numbers easier to steal. Still another would require all absentee ballots to be returned by Election Day. Another would require a driver’s license or similar ID number to be placed on an absentee ballot. There is also a proposal to require people registering to vote to show both ID and citizenship verification. Arizona has such a requirement. Ray Martinez noted that Senator McConnell, which is also Minority Leader, has indicated he is willing to compromise with Democratic Senators and trade agreeing to a mostly Democratic proposal on requiring a paper trail on balloting if the Democratic Senators agree to support requiring IDs to vote.
Ray Martinez noted that requiring an ID to vote can become a subjective process as different polling officials may uphold varying standards. He noted that most polling officials are chosen from political parties and that the Election Day voting process can become politicized.
BOOSTING VOTER TURNOUT
Voter turnout has steadily held at approximately 60% for Presidential elections and between 40% and 50% for midterm elections from 1948 through 2004, according to Karl Kurtz of the National Conference of State Legislatures. There were slightly higher turnouts during the 1950s and 1960s, yet overall voter turnout has remained fairly consistent and the notion that voter turnout has been steadily decreasing is a myth, Karl Kurtz argued.
Still, American voter turnout is the lowest of all industrialized nations except for Switzerland, Mr. Kurtz claimed. Some of this is explained by the fact it “costs” more (or is more difficult) for many voters to vote in the United States as American elections are more confusing to voters and occur during a working day. In some other countries, such as England, people vote for a political party whereas Americans vote for a variety of offices and questions.
Seven states permit voters to register to become voters on Election Day. These states have higher turnouts of around 3% to 4% as compared to other states, Mr. Kurtz reported.
States have undertaken actions to increase voter turnout. 27 states (but not Pennsylvania) have “no excuse” absentee voting. 23 states permit “early voting”, where voters may vote prior to Election Day. Oregon voters vote by mail.
The American Political Science Association has made several recommendations on elections. They recommend mailing samples of ballots to all registered voters, instructing high school students on how to operate ballot machines as voters, making election day a holiday or voting on weekends, permitting voter registration on election day, seeing that election materials are provided in foreign languages in communities of foreign language voters, allowing former felons to vote (which Pennsylvania already does), prohibit mid-decade redistricting as changing districts confuses voters, conducting redistricting by non-partisan commissions and instructing them to create more competitive districts, and awarding a Presidential candidate two electoral votes for winning a state and one electoral vote for each Congressional district won.
In sum, Karl Kurtz argued, voting is a motivational issue. Legal factors have limitations in how much they can actually convince more people to vote.
MANAGING IN CRISIS
Thad W. Allen, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, spoke of the need to enhance maritime security. Ships entering American harbors must provide 36 hours advance along with a listing of their cargo and crew. The Coast Guard is beginning to monitor possible security threats and boarding ships 1,000 to 500 miles from our coast. Technological advances are being developed that will allow inspection of all containers. A remaining problem is the inability to monitor all the small vessels, especially since fishing vessels often do not wish their competitors to possibly learn where they have been. Many boaters have indicated they would prefer there be exclusion zones preventing boating activity rather than requiring boats to have transponders that indicate their locations.
Admiral Allen noted that 77 million people operate boats in America. He urged states to develop boating licensing and proficiency standards.
THE 2006 ELECTIONS: A LOOK BACK AND A LOOK AHEAD
William Schenider, a CNN political analyst, stated that Democrats not only did well nationally in the 2006 elections but they also did “better than expected”, a phantom term created by political commentators. This year, Democrats were expected to win the U.S. House but not the U.S. Senate, and their winning the Senate showed their voting strength was stronger than the pundits forecast.
Mr. Scheider observed that both Bush Presidencies feel from high approval ratings of over 90% to very low approval ratings under 40%. The critical difference is that the economy became a greater issue than Iraq during the senior Bush’s Presidency while Iraq became more important than the economy during the junior Bush’s Presidency.
The recommendation for electoral success in 2008, according to Schneider, is Democrats need to find a tough liberal while Republicans need to find a nice conservative. The compassionate conservatism campaigns were successful for Reagan and Bush, Sr.’s first election.
An important election statistic that Mr. Schneider noted was that, since exit polling since 1970, Independents have been voting about 50% of the time for both parties. This is the first election where exit polls have indicated a significant shift with 60% of Independents voting Democratic in 2006.
This was also the first “European style” election seen in America, Bill Scheider noted. Americans usually vote for the candidate rather than the political party. This was the first election he’s seen where people were voting for the party, mostly as a protest against Republicans and the party of the President over their dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. For instance, voters in Rhode Island, where Bush had a 75% disapproval rating, voted Republican Lincoln Chafee out of office even though Chafee had a 63% approval rating and Chafee had voted against the war. In addition, Republican Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, who supported the war, lost moderate voters by a 73% to 27% margin. By contrast, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in California made an effort to appeal to the political center through supporting global warming measures and increasing the minimum wage and he carried California moderates by 54% to 45%.
The United States is the only country where voters consider their vote to include a vote for who they also want as Commander in Chief, according to Bill Schneider. He sees Gore as having a difficult problem of generating excitement with his negative visions over global warning. He believes the reshuffled primaries may provide an advantage to John Edwards. Hillary Clinton is attempting to claim the political center and Barrack Obama is currently the Democrat’s “rock star”. As for the Republicans, John McCain and Rudy Guiliani are seen as the front runners. It remains to be seen how voters will treat Mitt Romney, especially the conservative Christian base within the Republican Party and how they will consider supporting a Mormon candidate. Schenider believes Guiliani may have an advantage if polls show Hillary Clinton is ahead for the Democratic nomination and that Guiliani runs ahead of Clinton in the polls. Republican activists who tend to vote in primaries may not be prone to support someone as moderate as Guiliani, but they might prefer victory over nominating someone who passes their litmus test on abortion and other social issues yet might lose to Hillary Clinton.
Schneider believes Hillary Clinton can be elected President if the desire for change remains strong. He noted in 1980 there was a belief that Ronald Reagan could not be elected President and yet the desire for change got him elected. He noted Bill Clinton’s policies were popular, such as his actions on NAFTA, welfare reform, and balancing the budget. It was Bill Clinton’s values that were not popular. It is too early to see how voters will judge Hillary Clinton.
Schneider stated Chris Dodd is an attractive and interesting candidate. Yet, he stated Dodd needs to develop a unique message before he can be taken seriously in the crowd of candidates. He noted that while Hillary Clinton is the Democrat’s front runner, that if voters search for another candidate, the field is wide open.
VOTING IN 1006-WHAT WENT RIGHT, WHAT WENT WRONG, AND WHY
Doug Chapin, Director of electionline.org, told of mixed results in the introduction of new voting technologies throughout much of the nation. Voter Centers, where voters in a county can vote in any voting precinct in the county, had worked well before in one Colorado county, yet experienced many computer failures and long lines in a different country this past election.
Mr. Chapin stated that, overall, the results of new election technologies were fine as most races across the nation experienced clear winners and any technological problems did not affect any major races. He warns that future close elections could result in having their voting technology examined and challenged. Connecticut found greater success for voters as their new ballot machines were designed to look, to voters, like the old machines.
Mr. Chapin also noted that many voters were not pleased with the new voting technologies. Many voters had difficulty figuring out how to use new machines and many polling workers were not properly trained or were too shorthanded with insufficient personnel, to keep the elections process operating without difficulties. Orange County, Illinois ran out of ballots and gave English speaking voters foreign language ballots. Oregon’s mail using digital signature checks reduces the costs of conducting elections yet creates major postal problems. A Florida Congressional election was found to have 18,000 blank votes for Congress, which is several times larger than the average for “no votes”, and many believe there were machine failures in the district ironically being vacated by Katharine Harris.
REDISTRICTING, RACE, AND THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT
John Tanner, Chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s Voting Section, noted that the Help America Vote Act requirements that voting lists be kept current has resulted in litigation, both alleging lists have not been removing names for many years after the voter has left the precinct, to parties not receiving sufficient notice that their names were being removed from the lists.
He also discussed the paper trail issue, and pointed out that even on many machines a paper trail of how voters cast their ballots do not last long. The heat paper in many machines only lasts for two to six months, which creates legal issues as the law requires the records to be kept for 22 months.
It was John Tanner’s observation that localities that under-funded their elections pay the price on Election Day, especially if they experience problems that may lead to large fines and attorney costs. He noted that the courts could require an election to be held over again.
He noted that California provides a uniform translation of its Election Day ballots for all its counties. In other states, the translation issue is left to each county, which can create problems should a specific county make a mistranslation.
Redistricting should fairly reflect communities, according to Mr. Tanner. He noted that court rulings have determined that the Justice Department cannot object to redistricting for minority voting purposes unless the redistricting is more discriminatory against minority voting interests. For instance, if a state has 10 districts that can be reasonably expected to elect a minority representative, it would be illegal for redistricting to create 9 districts that can be reasonably expected to elect a minority representative even if there are 2 new districts where minority voters would have influence. He also noted that the Justice Department does consider census data, such as when one district in Tennessee went from 50% African American to 15% African American over the court of time. He notes the Justice Department has a narrow discretion on when to challenge redistricting plans.
Mr. Tanner stated the Justice Department will look at discrimination in voter ID requirements if they are racially discriminatory. It was found there were parts of Georgia that were significantly asking for IDs from people of racial minorities than for Caucasians. Other problems emerged in places such as Boston, where election workers were found to be discouraging Vietnamese and Chinese speaking voters from voting.
John Tanner explained that Federal election observers are regular Federal employees who have no authority to do anything at a polling place. It is their job to observe what happens and to call a Justice Department attorney if they witness a legal violation. He also noted that sometimes the law can conflict, such as when a polling place was moved away from a nursing home where most of the district’s minorities lived because the nursing home was not accessible to people with disabilities.
CLIMATE CHANGE: STATE TAKE THE LEAD
Fabian Nunez, California Assembly Speaker, told how the California legislature approved his Global Warming Solutions Act. The legislation creates mandatory reporting and then reductions of carbon monoxide. The amount of carbon monoxide permitted to be released will be capped at the 2008 level and will require businesses to achieve lower 1990 levels by the year 2020. He called this the most important legislation he has done in his career.
He called Governor Schwarzenegger a positive force on this legislation. California has a large coast that is being threatened by global warming. There will be economic benefits to this law as it should spur entrepreneurs to create more clean technologies. He predicts these new technologies will crease 83,000 new jobs in California.
REDISTRICTING LITIGATION UPDATE
Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures told how Colorado conducted a mid-decade redistricting that was struck down by the State Supreme Court but was appealed to Federal court. South Dakota had litigation over redrawing districts that include a district that elected a Native American. Georgia was permitted a mid-decade redistricting in order to solve a problem with one State Senate district that was challenged in Federal court but dismissed.
Tim Storey further noted that Washington requires competitiveness as a guideline in its redistricting and that Arizona has a Constitutional requirement that its redistricting plans strive for competitiveness. Arizona’s plan has been challenged for not being competitive enough, and a court ruling has agreed.
Nina Perales, Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, explained how the Arizona redistricting decreased the chances of Latinos obtaining representation. A Federal court called for a rehearing in state court and the state court agreed that the Arizona redistricting is unfair to Latino representation and is thus invalid.
Ms. Perales noted that the Supreme Court has yet to determine what a partisan redistricting is and seems to have never seen one so far.
There was subsequent discussion of a proposal in Congress to increase the number of seats in Congress to 437 to provide the District of Columbia with one seat (which likely would be Democratic) and to provide an additional seat to the state that would next be in line for a member of Congress, which would be Utah (and a likely Republican seat). Congress would then revert back to 435 members, under this proposal, in 2010, which would mean that some states will lose a member of Congress from their states.
GET YOUR CONSTITUENTS COUNTED IN THE 2010 CENSUS AND FIND OUT DETALIED DEMOGRAPHICS OF YOUR DISTRICT
Preston Waite, Associate Director for the Decennial Census for the U.S. Census Bureau, told how the census is for reapportionment and redistricting and in formulas for distributing over $3 trillion in government funds. The Census Bureau strives to create the most accurate census possible. An important task is to create a complete list of all addresses. It is expected that 45 million households will not mail the census form back. The final census figures can have important consequences, as North Carolina beat out Utah for the last Congressional seat by only 700 people in census counts.
Census forms are printed in 49 languages and will use 1.5 billion pieces of paper to tabulate. The Census Bureau received 5.8 million phone calls in the first two days after mailing out the 2000 census forms. At present, the Census Bureau is working on aligning its TIGER street data information with GPS data.
Five in six people will get a short Census form. Census personnel obtaining information from non-responders will have hand held computers into which the obtained census information will be input.
Molly Ramsdel,l of the National Conference of State Legislatures staff, explained how a new Federal law requires that drivers licenses be processed with verification of identity documentation from five data bases. If a state is not in compliance with these standards, people with IDs from a non-compliant state would not be allowed to board commercial airplanes, enter Federal buildings, nor enter nuclear power plants. At present, no state is in compliance with this new law. The Homeland Security Department has yet to issue the regulations for this law, yet states may then have only one year in which to become compliant.
The Federal government has appropriated $40 million to assist states in implementing these new procedures, and $6 million has already been spent in two states. Ms. Ramsdell told there are estimates these new procedures will cost states at least $11 billion to implement, and she stressed these are conservative estimates.
This may also cause public problems. This will slow down the issuance of drivers’ licenses and will likely increase public anxieties waiting in line for their licenses.
NCSL and the National Governor’s Association are recommending that the deadline to comply with this new law be extended, that states receive proper funding to implement this, that states be allowed to seek innovative ways to establish this, that states be allowed to issue license renewals up to once every ten years as some states currently do (the new law requires the re-issuance of licenses once every five years), and to allow documents such as military IDs that have already undergone Federal scrutiny to be accepted as ID without having to be reauthorized through Federal databases.
IMMIGRATION POLICY; THE DEBATE CONTINUES
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, stated the greatest threat today is from pedophiles. He is implementing new measures to capture people who abuse and exploit children on the Internet. He called for a zero tolerance attitude towards sexual predators.
Attorney General Gonzales called for aggressive investigation and prosecution of sexual predators once such evidence is found. He called upon state legislators to increase their state penalties for such crimes. He noted 20 states do not have mandatory minimum sentences for possessing child pornography and that six states have child pornography as misdemeanors.
Demetrios Papademetrio, President of the Migration Institute, told how there are 200 million migrants worldwide, with 43 million of them living in North America. He urged that steps should be undertaken to create legal regulated immigration consistent with our values. He argued that the focus of attention should be not only illegal immigration but how to incorporate migrants into our society, culture, and economy.
One third of foreign born in this country are here illegally. Assimilation is a multigenerational process, Mr. Papademetrio argued. It is impossible to legislate “newly minted Americans”. Demetrios Papademetrio stated he believes it is reasonable to expect immigrants to learn our language, laws, and values, yet we should not expect immigrants to abandon their own cultural norms, so long as those norms do not conflict with ours. We warned that the “English only” movement is making us a laughing stock throughout the world. Global competition is requiring that people be able to speak more foreign languages.