This Might Be the Best Idea for Turning Out More Voters in U.S. Elections – Thomas MacMillan July 8, 2017 9:30 am

Kicking it old-school on Election Day. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Compared to other major democracies, Americans vote in appallingly low numbers. It’s so bad, in fact, that pollsters were pleasantly surprised last month when a measly 13 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters showed up to vote in the gubernatorial primary, up from 9 percent in 2013.

Presidential election years bring out more voters, of course, but even the 2016 national election — featuring a reality TV star and the first woman to win a major-party nomination — drew only slightly more than half of voting-age Americans to the polls. That figure places the United States well below most other major developed democracies, somewhere between Estonia and Slovenia.

But it wasn’t always this way. According to get-out-the-vote guru Donald Green, voting records show that American elections in the mid-19th century drew as many as 80 percent of eligible voters to the polls, a rate comparable to the countries that now boast the highest turnout — places like Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark.

So what changed? Green, a professor of political science at Columbia University, thinks part of the problem is that voting isn’t as fun as it once was. It used to be a raucous, festive attraction, with polling places set up in saloons where voters (white men only, at that point) would spend the day carousing and casting their ballots. Over time, thanks to reforms aimed at making voting a more dispassionate affair, elections became more and more staid, to the point where the biggest excitement is a bake sale and voting often feels more like a trip to the DMV than a July Fourth barbecue.

While no one wants to go back to those days, research conducted by Green has found that organizing community festivals — with everyone invited for things like live music, sno-cones, and hot dogs — near polling sites can create a significant increase in voter turnout, often for less money than direct mail or door-to-door canvassing.

“If I had to bet on one thing that pretty much any organized group could do, it would be this,” Green said. “Right now, the evidence is pretty overwhelming.”

Green’s current research builds on studies he conducted in 2005 and 2006, when he looked at the effect of festivals at 14 polling places in 13 cities across the country, from Green Bay to Tallahassee. He compared festival sites with regular polling places and found that festivals increased turnout by an average of 2.6 percentage points, a relatively big jump in this context.

In 2016, Green carried out his experiments again, teaming up with Civic Nation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works on encouraging civic engagement. Funded by the Knight Foundation, Civic Nation worked with local partners — who also pitched in resources — to organize festivals at nine sites in 2016. Each was advertised beforehand and geared toward local interests — things like Mexican food, pizza, photo booths, and cornhole – at a cost of between $700 and $3,000.

Green found that the 2016 festivals boosted voter turnout by about 4 percentage points, an even bigger jump. “These effects are kind of eye-popping,” Green said. “Especially when you think of how low the cost per vote was.” Green said he calculated it to between $30 and $40 per extra vote. “That’s pretty darn cheap, because even the most efficient tactics are in that range and it’s certainly better than a lot of common tactics like direct mail or robo-calls.”

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Electoral College voters under intense pressure – BY JONATHAN EASLEY AND BEN KAMISAR – 12/13/16 06:58 PM EST

The 538 delegates to the Electoral College will gather at governors’ offices and statehouses across the country Monday to make President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton official.

Greg Nash

Greg Nash

The results aren’t expected to deviate much from Election Day, when Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232.

Despite media coverage, social media chatter and announcements from a handful of electors who have made their protest votes public, it’s unlikely that electors will defect in significant numbers.

Even so, scattered groups of liberals are using every means at their disposal — lawsuits, petitions, and public and private pressure — to try to convince 37 GOP electors to peel away from Trump to deprive him of the 270 votes needed for victory.

Bob Muller, a GOP county chairman in North Carolina and a Trump elector, said he’s gotten correspondence from “everywhere from Maine to California” asking him to vote differently.

“I just ignore them,” Muller said.

So far, only a few Electoral College voters have publicly declared that they will not back the candidates that their states supported — including just one of the 37 Trump voters that the self-styled Hamilton Electors, a group of mostly Democrats, need to make any noise on Monday.

And even if the rogue electors achieve their aims, they would only succeed in sending the election to a Republican-majority House, which would almost certainly certify Trump’s victory.

Virtually all Republican electors reached by The Hill said they will vote enthusiastically for Trump.

“I’m voting how the people of Florida have told me to vote,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida elector who raised money for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio during the GOP primary. “I don’t know anyone who isn’t. I appreciate people using First Amendment rights to reach out and try to convince me otherwise, but I’m obligated to support Trump because he won Florida.

“Also, I love the guy and want him to be president.”

Faithless electors are rare but not unheard of in American history.

Only 82 electors in history have voted against their state’s popular vote for personal reasons. Another 71 electors have changed their votes after the death of a candidate. None of those instances have ever changed the outcome of an election, according to data compiled by the nonprofit group FairVote.

There have been only nine cases in the past 100 years of electors breaking from their jurisdiction’s popular vote. Each of those instances happened in a separate election.

It’s been more than 100 years since a group of electors have banded together to choose a different candidate. The most recent push came in 1912 after President William Howard Taft’s vice president died.

Political experts warn that an Electoral College revolt next week — particularly one waged on the heels of such a bitterly divisive election — would cast the nation into crisis. It could roil the financial markets, further harden political divisions and set off an unprecedented struggle for power.

“It would give a lot of people serious confusion and create a sense of panic, even though it would be a perfectly legal, logical progression,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

But that hasn’t stopped some liberals from launching a last-ditch effort to block Trump through the Electoral College.

On Capitol Hill, two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Jim Himes (Conn.) and David Cicilline (R.I.), have openly advocated for an Electoral College revolt.

Lawsuits are underway in California, Washington and Colorado challenging state laws that bind the delegates to voting for their party’s nominee. A federal judge dismissed the case in Colorado on Monday as a “political stunt,” though an appeal could be in the works.

Some Democratic electors have justified their efforts by pointing to Clinton’s 2.8 million popular vote margin to argue that Trump’s victory was illegitimate.

Others are seizing on media reports about Russian interference in the election to demand intelligence briefings for all of those casting ballots, believing it could cause some GOP delegates to abandon Trump. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta publicly backed the intelligence briefings on Monday.

Meanwhile, several high-profile liberals and progressive groups, like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, academic Lawrence Lessig and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), are providing logistical support and helping the interested parties to coordinate behind the scenes. Lessig has offered legal help to faithless electors who come from states with laws that prohibit voting for anyone but the winner of the state.

With less than a week before the vote,  though, liberals have very little to show for their efforts.

Only one Republican elector, Chris Suprun of Texas, has publicly said he won’t vote for Trump. Suprun told The Hill that he’s “confident” he won’t be the only Republican to buck Trump, but no others have made their intentions public.

Democratic electors would have a better chance of blocking Trump if they joined 38 GOP electors in supporting a Republican alternative, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but there is little appetite for that on either side. Kasich himself shot down the idea of using him as a compromise candidate last week.

At this point, the effort appears to be more about undermining Trump, complicating his ability to govern and following personal convictions — and less about actually winning the Electoral College for another candidate.

“I am not looking to be satisfied with just the vote on Dec. 19 or 20, but on January of 2030, when Mr. Trump has either served no time, one term or two terms,” Suprun told The Hill. “History is going to judge my actions on whether he turned out to be Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover or Richard Nixon.”

Liberals efforts are a long shot in part because many of the GOP delegates aren’t reluctant Republicans supporting their party’s candidate but outright Trump supporters. That list includes Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general and close Trump ally, and Ed Crawford, a top fundraiser for Trump in Ohio.

Other Trump electors are GOP loyalists with political ambitions who would risk being frozen out of the party should they break from Trump.

Still, the pressure on these delegates has been intense.

While most electors say that they’re not hearing much from the Democratic delegates who are purportedly campaigning to get GOP electors on board, they’re still being flooded with letters, emails and phone calls from private citizens across the country urging them to abandon Trump.

Ballard said he has received more than 500 letters and postcards to his home address from people pleading with him not to vote for Trump. He’s also a defendant in at least one lawsuit against all of the Florida electors that claims voter fraud caused Trump’s victory in the state.

Peter Feaman, another Florida elector, responds with a form letter as long as “the sender is from Florida and is polite.”

“I will follow the will of the voters,” his response reads in part. “This is how this Republic works. It is governed by the rule of law, not individual feelings and fears. I fear you have fallen victim to the unwarranted fear-mongering put out by those that oppose Mr. Trump.”

No Republicans interviewed by The Hill are worried about the outcome.

“I don’t take it seriously at all,” said conservative lawyer Jim Bopp. “It’s inconceivable.”

Why Don’t We Hear More About The Christian Left? DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN October 6, 2016

Sen. Tim Kaine has made his Catholicism a central part of his identity on the campaign trail.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence brought their faith into Tuesday night’s debate, emphasizing their religious beliefs and even quoting the Bible. Kaine is a devout Catholic; Pence grew up Catholic but is now an evangelical Christian, and together they are proof that Christian faith can drive the beliefs of voters across the political spectrum. So one of our listeners asked recently why the Christians of one party get so much more attention than the others:

“I’m a white 33-year-old voter and I vote based, in large part, on my Christian faith, which is precisely why I am a Democrat and a big-time Hillary-supporter. Many of my former seminary classmates and other religious folks I know also vote based on their faith and are therefore Democrats. Are there any good numbers on the Christian left vote? We hear so much about the vote of the Christian right, but we rarely hear about the Christian left, with the exception of occasionally hearing about the religious dimensions of the black vote. How do religious voters of all traditions tend to factor on the left?” — Shea, from Virginia

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Democrats Hope Marijuana Will Help Elect Hillary Clinton – WILL GREENBERGAUG. 29, 2016 6:00 AM

But experts say it might be a pipe dream.


With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans, Democrats are hoping that if the top of the ballot doesn’t excite voters this November, maybe the bottom will. Marijuana liberalization and minimum-wage hikes will get a vote in a handful of swing states for the presidential candidates. But there’s reason to think these issues might not galvanize voters the way they once did.

In previous presidential elections, down-ballot races have helped turn out voters in key states. In 2004, proposed same-sex marriage bans helped President George W. Bush secure reelection. President Barack Obama appears to have gotten a boost in Colorado in 2012 as residents there voted to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is on the ballot in nine states this year—five voting on legalization and four voting on medical marijuana—and Democrats hope the measures will be a draw for liberal voters. The conventional wisdom, says Josh Altic of the nonpartisan political reference site Ballotpedia, is that marijuana measures attract a lot of young voters who support legalization but wouldn’t otherwise vote, and that these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

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It won’t happen, but compulsory voting might be the only solution to political ignorance in America – SEAN ILLING THURSDAY, AUG 11, 2016 03:00 AM PDT

It won't happen, but compulsory voting might be the only solution to political ignorance in America

Voting booths in St. Joris Weert, Belgium, June 13, 2010. (Credit: AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The success of Donald Trump reveals a number of troubling truths about our country, but voter ignorance is the most glaring. If more Americans were involved, if more were informed and discerning citizens, Trump’s political existence would not be possible.

Love him or hate him, Trump is a reflection of the country. He sports his idiocy like a badge of honor, knowing his supporters do the same. He knows nothing of the world he wants to lead. He doesn’t understand the issues and makes no effort to pretend otherwise. Virtually everything he’s said about policy or geopolitics is false.

None of that matters.

Trump knows his audience. “I love the poorly educated,” he famously said. They love him back, too. Recall that Trump earned the most primary votes in the history of the Republican party, and he did it with overwhelming support from less educated voters. That’s hardly surprising. You have to be blinkered by rage or woefully benighted to regard a man who speaks “just below a 6th grade level” as fit for the presidency. And yet millions of Americans found him refreshing, a welcomed blast of anti-elitism.

Trump’s rise says much more about us than him. It’s clear we have an ignorance problem in America. There’s nothing we can do to stop demagogues from preying on illiterate voters, but it turns out there are ways to reduce voter ignorance. We know that people who vote regularly tend to know more than those who don’t. The issue is that not enough people vote.

Among major democracies, U.S. voter turnout is uniquely low. In 2014, for example, a paltry 36 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls. Even in presidential election years, voter turnout peaks around 60 percent. This is a national embarrassment. A quick glance at the data gathered by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance offers some perspective. Here are just a few countries whose turnout dwarfs America’s:

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Voter Discord Isn’t Over Wages – By JOSH ZUMBRUN Updated Aug. 7, 2016 1:50 p.m. ET

Divide between income gains and sentiment among voters underscores anxieties that remain since financial crisis

Voters in the U.S. are deeply unhappy, but wage and income gains have improved significantly since the last presidential election, suggesting the roots of their concerns aren’t economic.

Voters in the U.S. are deeply unhappy, but wage and income gains have improved significantly since the last presidential election, suggesting the roots of their concerns aren’t economic. Photo: Gerry Broome/Associated Press

It’s becoming harder to find signs of discontent among voters by looking in their pocketbooks.

Wage and income gains in the U.S. have improved significantly since the last presidential election, yet voters remain deeply unhappy. The divide underscores the scars and anxieties that remain top of mind even as the severe 2007-09 recession fades into the background.

It isn’t just measures of American households’ net worth and the stock market reaching new highs this year. Nor is it just the latest monthly jobs report showing wage growth picking up last month.

Those figures mostly capture averages. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta also track how individuals’ wages have changed over time. They found that median wage growth has climbed from less than 2% in 2012, to 3.6% over the past year. That means half of workers received a raise above that level and half below. Thanks largely to falling gas prices in recent years, those pay increases are well above inflation.

One of the most stubborn measures depicting stagnation has been the Census Bureau’s annual figure on median household income. The latest reading was nearly $4,000 lower than in 2007, adjusted for inflation.

Two congressional intern selfies. Only one actually looks like America. – Updated by Victoria M. Massie on July 20, 2016, 4:30 p.m. ET

It’s hard for a party to “Make America Great Again” if it doesn’t look like the America it’s trying to lead.

Republicans and Democrats alike are vying to lead America’s future this year as President Barack Obama concludes his second term in the White House. But a couple of new selfies with congressional interns suggest one party at least looks more like the America it’s hoping to lead.

Here’s a selfie taken by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) that he posted on Instagram last Saturday with Capitol Hill interns:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at Jul 22, 2016 6.09

Here’s a selfie taken by Audra Jackson, an intern for Rep. E.B. Johnson (D-TX), that was released Tuesday, of interns for the House Democrats:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at Jul 22, 2016 6.10

The differences are stark — and I’m not just talking about the fact that one party representative was more willing to trust the interns with selfie duties.

According to the Pew Research Center, the 2016 electorate is expected to be the most racially and ethnically diverse body of voters in US history, with people of color comprising 31 percent of eligible voters in November.

There are a few reasons for this shift. While the proportion of black and Asian voters has stayed relatively the same since 2000 (12 percent and 2 to 4 percent, respectively), the proportion of Latino voters has grown from 7 percent to 12 percent, most of whom are also millennials (44 percent).

In comparison, the number of white voters has remained relatively stagnant. Between 2012 and 2016, new white voters only increased by 2 percent. Meanwhile, white voters were overrepresented among voters who died during that same time period (76 percent).

America is changing. And while Donald Trump and the Republicans promise to “make America great again,” the America they stand for, at least as portrayed in Ryan’s photo, simply no longer exists.

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Ohio Official Blasts ‘Sickening’ Voting Restriction BY ALICE OLLSTEIN APR 18, 2016 2:57 PM

In Ohio’s March 15 presidential primary, a car crash blocked a major highway near Cincinnati, leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars as the polls were set to close. A local judge received calls from voters frantic about losing their chance to cast a ballot, and ordered the polls to remain open just one hour later than scheduled. Now, a Cincinnati Republican is pushing a bill to make sure it’s much more difficult, and expensive, to get such an emergency extension in the future.

If legislation sponsored by Republican State Senator Bill Seitz is approved, anyone petitioning a judge to extend voting hours would have to put up a cash bond to cover the cost, which could range in the tens of thousands of dollars. If a court later finds that the polls should not have remained open, the voter would forfeit all the money. Only those who are so poor they can be certified as indigent would be exempted.

Rep. Dan Ramos, a Democrat who represents the working class Lorain community, told ThinkProgress he finds the effort “sickening.”


Ten House seats Dems hope Trump will tilt – By Lisa Hagen and Cristina Marcos – 04/03/16 03:11 PM EDT

Getty Images

Democrats are feeling emboldened about their prospects of taking back the House.

Donald Trump’s tough week on the campaign trail, which has underlined concerns about his appeal to women voters, is only giving Democrats more hope that it’s possible a wave election could be forming.

Democrats would need to gain 30 seats to retake the House, an exceptionally tall order. And some of these districts still lack a candidate.

Yet the division within the GOP and the prospect that a badly-damaged Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could be the nominee, is making Democrats more optimistic they can widen the playing field.

Swing-district seats held by Republicans such as Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Will Hurd (Texas) would be competitive in any election cycle. But Democrats believe a number of other seats are being brought more into play by the GOP presidential race.

Multiple competitive races feature freshman GOP incumbents who aren’t as well known to their districts, making it easier for Democrats to tie them to the candidate at the top of the ballot.

Here’s a look at 10 of them:

I (Wish I) Voted – Susan Milligan April 1 2016

WALTERBORO, SC - FEBRUARY 20:  Erica Levine, 20, a poll manager at the Colleton County Fire & Rescue polling precinct cuts "I Voted" stickers on February 20, 2016 in Walterboro, South Carolina.  Statewide voters will cast ballots today in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary, the "first in the south."  (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The battle lines are already being drawn for the general election in November, and Democrats are eager to line up African-Americans, Latinos, women, senior citizens and young voters, all of whom the party believes could form a formidable team to thwart a potential Donald Trump presidency and wrest the Senate majority from the GOP.

That is only, however, if all those people will be able to vote. And given the sweeping new regulations and restrictions a number of states have placed on voting, that’s not a given.

[READ: Targeting White Voters in the North Is the New ‘Southern Strategy’]

In this year alone, ten states are implementing laws that usher in new restrictions or hurdles, ranging from cutting early voting to imposing cumbersome voter identification rules, according to tracking by the ACLU, which is battling many of the laws in the courts. Those ten states are home to over 80 million people and account for 129 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency, the civil liberties group reports.

That’s on top of 11 other states that have put new voting restrictions in place since 2010, according to the New York City-based Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit at New York University School of Law. Of the 21 total states, 16 have restrictions in place for the first time for this year’s presidential election. Many, but not all, of the new rules were enabled by a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v Holder, which threw out a critical part of the Voting Rights Act. That section, which required certain states to get “pre-clearance” from a federal court of the Department of Justice before changing voter registration or voter laws, would at least have delayed, and possibly blocked, some of the new laws, says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voter Rights Project.

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