Abby Rapoport

What? There's a Nonpartisan Way to Run Elections!?

(AP/Eric Schultz)
Ask any kid who's played Monopoly—if the banker isn't a fair one, the whole outcome of the game can change. That can lead to two different conclusions: either the kids come up with a fair set of rules or everyone fights to be banker the next game. When it comes to elections, partisans have long struggled with a similar problem: Who should set the rules governing elections? Rather than investing in a nonpartisan solution, for the most part, the parties have fought to be the banker—or in this case, the secretary of state. In 33 states, an elected, partisan secretary of state is responsible for running elections. In eight others, the chief election official is appointed by a partisan elected official. This election cycle has furnished plenty of evidence why that can be a problem: Ohio's secretary of state has come under intense fire for limiting early-voting hours, while in Florida and Colorado, attempted purges of the voting rolls raised concerns that legitimate voters could be...

The Democrats Have a Lot of Governors' Mansions to Protect

(Flickr/Kevin Hutchinson)
Republicans already dominate governors' mansions around the country. Twenty-nine states have GOP governors, thanks largely to 2010, when the party took 11 governorships away from the Democrats. Given those numbers, it might not seem like there's much left for Democrats to defend. But, as it happens, this Democrats must play defense in all but three of this year's gubernatorial elections. Of the 11 states electing governors this year, eight currently have Democrats doing the job. (That's Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.) A Stateline report offers a handy rundown. Many of the races will be competitive, and with a serious disadvantage in fundraising, Democrats face an uphill battle to simply hold their ground. As I argued in my latest print column , many national debates are currently getting fought at the state level, and who controls the legislative and executive branches of a state has huge implications for the...

In Pennsylvania, a Victory for Voting Rights—Sorta

(Flickr/whiteafrican)
It's a lot easier to talk about a law—and pass one—than to implement it. Just ask Pennsylvania lawmakers—and Pennsylvania citizens, and judges, and voting-rights activists. The state's voter ID law, passed by Republican lawmakers in March, is best known for threatening to disenfranchise more voters than laws in any other stae. But in mid-August, Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law in November. The judge said that he believed state officials' assurances that they had plans in place (though some were still not in action) to prevent widespread disenfranchisement. Those promises are not enough for the state supreme court. On Tuesday, in a 4-2 decision, the court vacated Simpson's decision. The justices sent the case back to the commonwealth court judge, requiring him to use a much higher bar than the one the state had to meet in his courtroom the last time around. Simpson originally ruled that the burden fell to the...

How We Should (Voter) Roll

(Flickr/crownjewel82)
David Becker is unusual in national politics. He talks about inaccuracies in voting rolls, dead people still registered, and the like. He says the bad information is a big problem. But he's not on the far right talking about voter fraud or the need for major purges to the states' rolls before an election. Instead, he's the director of election initiatives for the non-partisan Pew Center on the States. And his research tells him that better data would actually help more people vote—and make elections a smoother, more efficient process that should please folks on both sides of the political divide. Far-right groups argue that voter fraud is rampant, and demand that states do more to delete names on the lists. The left brushes off the fraud claim (citing facts), focusing instead on voter registration drives. There's not much common ground. But an investment in better tools to manage voter registration—and allow for online registration—would make a huge difference to both camps: It would...

In Pennsylvania, Voting Rights on Trial—Again

(Flickr/loop_oh)
Hey—remember Pennsylvania's voter-ID law? The really strict one that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters? The controversy over the law died down in mid-August, when a commonwealth court ruled the law would stand . Since then, however, the voting rights advocates who'd filed suit appealed to the state's Supreme Court. There, on Thursday, justices heard the case. But it garnered little in the way of headlines. That's probably because Pennsylvania no longer looks up for grabs in the presidential race. The state's strict voter-ID law, which require voters to show a government-issued photo ID, disadvantages Democratic candidates, since the law disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters—those more likely to vote Democratic. When the presidential race was tight, the outcome in Pennsylvania seemed like it might be up for grabs, and many worried the voter-ID law would determine which candidate would receive Pennsylvania's electoral votes—or win the whole election,...

Defenders of the Vote

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)
(AP Photo/Michael Perez) Joe Michetti holds a sign to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law during the NAACP voter-ID rally, Thursday, September 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments over whether a new law requiring each voter to show valid photo identification poses an unnecessary threat to the right to vote. Y ou know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message. Rather...

Swing-State Scare Tactics

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)
We’ve heard a lot about debates over strict voter-ID legislation this cycle, but there’s an even more pressing problem in some parts of the country: intimidation at the ballot box. In addition to pushing for these voter-ID laws—which require citizens to show a government-issued ID before casting their ballot—conservative groups like True the Vote have alleged widespread voter fraud, recruiting volunteers to act as poll watchers and look for any signs of illegality from voters. True the Vote has also pushed volunteers to comb through the voter rolls for signs of fraud. It's left many worried about the likelihood of scaring voters away from the polls. It all begs the question: What laws are on the books to protect the right to vote? A new report from Common Cause and Demos (disclosure: Demos is the Prospect 's publishing partner) takes a thorough look at voter-protection measures in ten states—measures meant to facilitate voting instead of erecting more hurdles in the name of "security...

States of Play

Of all election outcomes, state legislative races are the likeliest to have a direct impact on the lives of voters. But you wouldn’t know it from the national press. The morning after the 2010 elections, Americans woke up to headlines about a Republican landslide; most of those stories focused on Congress, where a new GOP House majority promised to fight President Barack Obama tooth and nail. What didn’t make so many front pages were Republicans’ historic victories at the state level, as the party wrested control of 21 house and senate chambers from the Democrats. North Carolina had its first Republican senate since 1870; Alabama hadn’t seen a Republican legislature since Reconstruction. Twenty states now had Republicans in charge of the senate, the house, and the governor’s office concurrently. While Republican members of Congress were focused on blocking the Democratic agenda, Republican state lawmakers began to drive the national policy debate. They wasted no time slashing social...

Why Partisans and Election Law Shouldn't Mix: See Ohio

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Last June, Ohio’s Republican state legislators sought to pass an extremely strict voter ID law, with deeply disturbing implications for minority voters. It would have been among the strictest in the nation, requiring voters to show a government-issued ID with virtually no recourse for those lacking the necessary documents. But the opposition came from an unexpected place—Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. "I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes," he said. "I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters' ballots from counting." Husted's opposition played a big role in killing the bill. It was an exciting moment. The secretary had positioned himself as a new kind of Ohio elections official; in a state with a history of messy and unfair...

Julian Castro's Great Expectations

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result. In their first day, the Democrats did a masterful job of both managing expectations and drawing specific contrasts with the GOP's convention last week. Castro shared the evening spotlight with Obama, much as New Jersey...

Pennsylvania Has a New Voter ID Option—But Serious Burdens Remain

(Flickr/amslerPIX)
There's a lot not to like about Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Only a few types of IDs are acceptable, like driver's licenses and passports, and even public-university student IDs must have an expiration date on them. Ever since Republicans passed the law in March, critics have worried that without a comprehensive education plan, hundreds of thousands of voters would not even know about the law—those Pennsylvanians, disproportionately nonwhite and low-income, who lack the necessary ID. Most urgently, they pointed to the people could't get an ID under Pennsylvania's unusually restrictive rules, because they didn't have a birth certificate or social security card or their married name was different than the names on some documents. In a lawsuit aimed at blocking the law, plaintiff Vivienne Applewhite exemplified the problem—a longtime voter, born in South Carolina, whose Social Security card had been stolen and whose...

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification. While it's yet another rebuke to strict voter-ID laws, the court's decision also illustrates just how much the specifics of this law, and its particularly scary effects, were brought on by the arrogance of state lawmakers and (Republican) officials. Like right-wing Republicans in the many states that went whole-hog GOP in 2009 and 2010—Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alabama, Virginia, and Louisiana...

Ann Romney's Fail

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Early in their careers, almost all journalists hear the same piece of advice: Show, don’t tell. Give an anecdote, provide some detail, offer something that demonstrates the point you’re trying to make. It would have been good advice for Ann Romney. It's not that her convention speech was poorly delivered. The would-be first lady has a Junior League likability—she's sweet and charming, if a bit removed from the average life of most Americans. The random cry of “I love women” was at least overt and obvious in its effort to close the gender gap the GOP currently faces. Even her nervousness had its appeal Tuesday night—she delivered her speech a little too fast, proving once again that she’s human. But Ann Romney had one job to do: Give us some reason—any reason—to believe her husband isn’t some cold-hearted automaton. On that count,...

Seriously, There's Good News For Ohio Voters

(AP Photo/ Dayton Daily News, Bill Reinke)
For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period. But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections. The Service Employees International Union brought the suit, represented by lawyers from the Advancement Project, a voting rights group that’s been involved in several of the voter ID challenges around the country. The plaintiffs argued the...

Voter-ID Fight Gets Down to the Wire in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Bethany Weeks)
We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states. But in Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is hoping there's still time for one last full-court press to rescue the state's strict voter-ID law. State courts in two different cases—one brought by the League of Women...

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