Shifting the Focus to Improving Voter Registration Access, Not Inhibiting It

In a democracy that can only boast that 71 percent of its citizens are registered and able to exercise their civic duty in any given election, access to the franchise is crucial.  For decades, millions of citizens have relied on either voter registration drives or government agencies to help them get on the voter rolls. Today, however, private voter registration drives are under attack, while some states are ignoring their responsibilities to reach unregistered citizens. If community-based drives are prevented from helping Americans get registered, and government agencies won’t help them, then who will?

In several states, elected officials and partisan groups are intent on stifling the proven effectiveness of voter registration drives run by private individuals and organizations. Despite the partisan-spun “scandals” that come with third-party voter registration drives, they are undeniably effective in reaching large portions of the population.

“According to the 2008 CPS, nearly 9 million citizens [or 8 percent] reported having registered ‘at a voter registration drive,’” wrote Doug Hess and Jody Herman in Project Vote report, Representational Bias in the 2008 Electorate. “This likely seriously undercounts the total impact of voter registration drives, however, as 9.4 million citizens (another 8 percent) reported that they registered ‘at a school, hospital, or on campus’—all locations where voter registration drives are often conducted by civic organizations and student groups.”

Another 9.7 million registered to vote through mail-in voter registration applications, many of whom presumably received these applications from voter drives or organizations that distributed the forms through the postal or electronic mail.

Voter registration drives are protected as a form of free speech under the First Amendment, as well as provisions under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (which directly protects and encourages community-run voter registration drives as the law’s primary purpose is to ensure more citizens are registered to vote). Yet lawmakers and election officials in states like Nevada are looking to regulate and criminalize voter registration drives so thoroughly, that they can create a “chilling effect on community-based voter registration, causing many organizations to curtail or cease their voter registration efforts.”

Other states are introducing regressive bills to halt otherwise effective means of registering voters. The opportunity to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time, or Election Day Registration, is available in nine states, most of which exhibit above-average voter participation rates.  Republican-backed efforts to do away with EDR are reportedly underway in Montana, New Hampshire, andWisconsin.

Perhaps the most noncontroversial and effective way to reach large numbers of historically underrepresented, low-income citizens lies in Section 7 of the NVRA, but nationwide compliance with this law is inconsistent.  The NVRA requires public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to offer voter registration services to their clients. However, in states like Louisiana, voter registration cards collected at these agencies have declined by as much as 88 percent since implementation in 1995.

On Wednesday, Project Vote, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson put Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler on notice for voting rights violations in the state.

The groups called on Schedler, the Dept. of Children and Family Services, and Dept. of Health and Hospitals, to take corrective action necessary to bring the state into compliance with the NVRA, citing evidence of the state denying numerous low-income residents of the opportunity to register to vote.

“In the past several years, lawsuits filed by Project Vote and other groups have forced other states that had been disregarding the NVRA to comply, with dramatic results,” according to the press release. “For example, applications from Missouri public assistance agencies skyrocketed, from fewer than 8,000 a year to over 130,000 a year, following settlement of a suit in that state in 2008. More than 200,000 low-income Ohioans have applied to register since a similar case was settled there in the end of 2009.”

Voter registration is the first, key step to getting involved in the democratic process. Whether provided by community-based groups or existing state and federal laws, lawmakers should focus on improving and fostering these methods of voter registration, not obstructing or ignoring them. Every eligible citizen should have equal access to the franchise in this country, and when millions rely on voter registration drives, government agency officials, and poll clerks on Election Day to provide that opportunity, we may want to rethink our approach to “fixing” the election system.

US 2010 Mid-Term Election Campaign Reader

 

West Virginia Primary
Popular Governor Joe Manchin easily won the Democratic nomination Saturday in the race to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Robert Byrd. He will face GOP primary winner and wealthy businessman John Raese who has previously run unsuccessfully for Governor and for the Senate. Raese beat out nine other Republicans. The New York Times has the full details.

Louisiana Primary
Voters in the Bayou State also headed to the polls on Saturday. Results are not fully in as yet but it appears that scandal-plagued Republican Senator David Vitter appeared poised for an easy primary victory over two little-known challengers. With 23 percent of the precincts reporting, Vitter has amassed 88 percent of the vote. On the Democratic Side Congressman Charlie Melancon, who also had two primary opponents, is coasting to an easy victory. Melacon has 69 percent vote with 23 percent of precincts reporting. The Vitter versus Melacon promises to be the nastiest contest this cycle. A Libertarian party candidate, Randall Hayes, will also be on the November ballot.

There is also a competitive Democratic primary in the Louisiana Second Congressional District that encompasses much of New Orleans. The seat is currently held by GOP Congressman Anh Joseph Cao. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana State Representative endorsed by much of the state's Democratic political establishment, beat out three others in that race with 64 percent of the vote.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune has live updates.

A Recount in Vermont
Doug Racine, a State Senator from Richmond, finished 197 votes behind Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin in the five way Democratic gubernatorial primary in the Green Mountain State. Under Vermont state law, a candidate trailing by less than 2 percent can request a taxpayer-funded recount. Shumlin finished with 24.48 percent, or 18,276 votes, versus 24.22 percent, or 18,079 votes, for Racine. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz finished third with 17,580 votes, only 696 behind Shumlin and 499 behind Racine. Google community relations director Matt Dunne had 15,323 votes, and state Sen. Susan Bartlett had 3,759. The Burlington Free Press has more on this story.

There's more...

Bobby Jindal’s Strange 2003 Coalition, Part 2

This is the second part of two posts analyzing Louisiana’s 2003 gubernatorial election, in which Republican candidate Bobby Jindal narrowly lost to lieutenant governor Kathleen Blanco. It will focus on racial dynamics in the 2003 election. The previous part can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Race and Bobby Jindal’s 2003 Run

In my previous post, I began analyzing the electoral coalition that voted for Mr. Jindal. As a map of the election below indicates, he drew support heavily from the New Orleans suburbs, while doing extremely poorly in the rural north:

Map of Louisiana, 2003 Gubernatorial Election

Discomfort with Mr. Jindal’s race probably accounted for most his underperformance in the rural north. Take La Salle Parish, for instance. Located in the northern stretches of Louisiana, the parish constitutes a typical example of the rural conservatism that backs much of the Republican Party. The district is very thinly populated; in 2003 less than 5,000 people voted in total. It is also quite poor; 2000 census figures indicate that per capita income was only two-thirds of the American average. And it is 86% white.

Like many of its rural peers, La Salle Parish usually votes Republican. It gave Senator John McCain 85.5% of the vote – which probably means that every single white person voted for Mr. McCain, and that every single black person voted for Mr. Obama. Mr. Jindal, however, received less than 40% of the vote in this staunch Republican district.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Jindal also did unremarkably with black voters. Exit polls indicated that he drew about 9% of the black vote in 2003. This was better than most Louisiana Republicans, but not exactly an impressive performance (reaching more than 20%, or even 15%, of black support is considered an extremely strong performance for a Republican politician – especially in the Deep South). African-Americans, it appeared, did not seem to view Mr. Jindal much differently from a typical white Republican in Louisiana.

White voters in rural Louisiana apparently did. A look at white supremacist David Duke’s 1991 run for governor provides a revealing context:

Map of Louisiana, 1991 Gubernatorial Election

Of the 19 deeply conservative, mostly rural parishes that voted for Mr. Duke, only four could bring themselves to vote for a deeply conservative but non-white Republican. Mr. Duke won two-thirds of the vote in La Salle Parish.

On the other hand, Mr. Duke lost almost all of Louisiana’s conservative southeast; he only managed to win one of the suburban New Orleans parishes Mr. Jindal dominated. These parishes vote equally Republican, if not more so, as places like La Salle Parish.

The disparate supporters of Mr. Jindal and Mr. Duke point to an interesting division in the Republican coalition of Louisiana. Usually this division is not noticed, since Republicans generally hold it together well; only rarely does one leg of the coalition bolt altogether, as in the gubernatorial elections of 1991 and 2003.

Nevertheless, there are indeed two parts of Louisiana’s Republican base. One part, represented by northern Louisiana, is largely rural and poor; in bygone days it formed the core of both Huey Long’s support and the Solid South. The other, located largely in the suburbs surrounding New Orleans, is mostly suburban and relatively wealthy; it will vote for a Bobby Jindal but not a David Duke.

Indeed, these two strands of Republicanism are present not just in Louisiana but throughout the nation. Which strand the Republican Party decides to model itself after in the future will play a great deal in shaping the future of the party, as well as that of the nation.

Post-mortem: Following his 2003 defeat, Mr. Jindal campaigned heavily in the rural regions that had voted against him. In 2007, the Republican was elected governor with 54.3% of the vote; his next closest opponent won 17.6%. Mr. Jindal won almost every parish in the state, including many of the rural, conservative parishes that had voted against him in 2003 – proving that racism is not an impossible obstacle to surmount.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Bobby Jindal’s Strange 2003 Coalition, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing Louisiana’s 2003 gubernatorial election, in which Republican candidate Bobby Jindal narrowly lost to lieutenant governor Kathleen Blanco. The second part can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Bobby Jindal’s Strange Coalition

In 2003, an ambitious Bobby Jindal ran for Louisiana governor against Democratic candidate Kathleen Blanco. Despite holding a narrow polling lead throughout most of the campaign, Mr. Jindal ended up losing by a three-point margin.

The story of the coalition that voted for Mr. Jindal, however, constitutes quite the interesting tale. It is much different from the Republican base as commonly envisioned in the Deep South.

To begin, let’s take a look at a map of the election – which is also substantially different from most modern electoral maps. Here it is:

Map of Louisiana, 2003 Gubernatorial Election

The first thing that strikes the eye is the sheer number of parishes Mr. Jindal lost. He was absolutely crushed in rural Louisiana.

This is a remarkable thing. In the United States of today, it is usually an accomplishment for a Democrat to win a state’s rural counties, even in a landslide. Democrats almost never win the rural vote when the election is close.

Mr. Jindal, of course, got 48% of the vote somewhere. As it turns out, these votes came mainly from the state’s most populous parishes. The state’s most populous parish – Jefferson Parish – voted for Mr. Jindal by more than a 3-to-2 margin. In New Orleans, with the endorsement of Mayor Ray Nagin, Mr. Jindal did as well as possible for a Republican, winning almost one-third of the vote.

In other words, Mr. Jindal used strong margins from metropolitan, suburban Louisiana to counter Ms. Blanco’s rural strength and New Orleans – a strategy more familiar to Democrats than Republicans.

Here is a more “normal” election in Louisiana:

Map of Louisiana, 2002 Senatorial Election

Although it does not look like it, Republican candidate Suzanne Terrell did only one point better than Mr. Jindal.

There are substantial differences in their coalitions, however. Ms. Terrell did worse in the populous southeast, although the map does not show it well. She lost Baton Rouge (which Mr. Jindal won) and took only one-fifth of the vote in New Orleans, compared to the one-third Mr. Jindall racked up.

On the other hand, Ms. Terrell performed far better in rural, northern Louisiana – winning a number of thinly populated, poor parishes that Mr. Jindal lost. It was Mr. Jindal’s performance that constituted the aberration; deeply conservative, these parishes are a core part of the Republican base.

The next section will focus on the racial dynamics that caused this effect.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Kicking Our Addiction to AC—Why DC Needs to Step Up

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

This summer, Americans are cranking up their air conditioning. At the same time, Senators are letting climate legislation cool its heels in Washington. Ultimately, both of these summer trends are contributing to climate change. Air conditioning dumps greenhouse gases into the environment, and without climate legislation that caps the country’s carbon emissions, America’s share of global carbon levels will only continue to grow.

But if it’s hard for individuals to give up air conditioning on some of the hottest days in decades, it’s even harder for the country to give up fossil fuels altogether. Just yesterday, BP finally capped the well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf—it took the company almost three months. Yet even in Louisiana, the state hardest hit by the BP oil spill, workers are supporting the oil industry and pushing back against the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.

How can the country give up the controlled climate it has become accustomed to? We depend on fossil fuels to keep us cool and to keep our economy pumping. In both cases, the answer is not to go cold turkey, but to come up with an innovative solution.

Brrr, it’s cold in here!

Americans are as addicted to A/C as they are to oil. “Just since the mid-1990s, as the U.S. population was growing by less than 15 percent, consumption of electricity to cool the residential, retail and automotive sectors doubled,” writes Stan Cox at AlterNet. That cool breeze creates greenhouse gas pollution—the equivalent of 400 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Cox talks to several admirable people who live without air conditioning. They offer advice like consuming pitchers of ice water, opening your windows at strategic times, and canny use of fans.

At Care2, however, GinaMarie Cheeseman rebels. “My response to the…premise that we just have to learn to live without air conditioning is a definite, ‘Hell, no!’” she writes. Her solution? Not to give up a modern technology that improves many days, but to turn to an atmosphere-friendly product—a new-fangled A/C unit called DEVap, which is “50 to 90 percent more energy efficient than traditional air conditions,” she reports.

Highway to ‘Hell, no!’

Across the country, the response to an offshore drilling moratorium has echoed Cheeseman: “Hell, no!” After a federal judge (with a financial interest in the oil industry, of course) shut down the initial ban, the administration came back this week with a new version that “is based more on specific safety concerns and less on the simple depth of the well,” as Public News Service reports.

In The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard talked to Louisianans who disapproved of the ban altogether.

“When a airplane crashes, do you ground every plane in the country? No. You find out what caused the problem and fix it. You don’t punish the entire industry,” one fisherman told him. Hertsgaard came away with a surprising conclusion:

“It may be shocking to read in The Nation, but a blanket moratorium on new deepwater drilling may not be the best policy to pursue in the wake of the BP disaster. No state in the union is more addicted to oil than Louisiana; the oil and gas industry is responsible for roughly 25 percent of the state’s economic activity. If you abruptly cut off a hardened heroin addict, you can kill him; there is a reason physicians prescribe methadone rather than cold turkey.”

At GritTV, Hertsgaard and I discussed the problem of how to move forward, if a ban on oil drilling won’t fly.  The country needs to adopt new solutions—like Cheeseman’s A/C unit—before throwing out the old. Hertsgaard learned, for instance, that Louisiana has the strongest program for solar energy in the country.

“Louisiana has by far the strongest solar tax credit—50% off of your solar installation,” Hertsgaard said. “And if you add onto that the 30% credit that Obama administration passed earlier in his presidency, Louisiana homeowners can go solar for 80% off.”

PACE-ing ourselves

Why doesn’t every state have such a strong solar program, though? Even a disaster like the BP oil spill could not budge federal leaders to move the country towards a safer, cleaner energy future via strong policies. The version of energy legislation that now looks most likely to come to a vote in the Senate drops a carbon cap altogether. It could require renewable electricity standards which mandate that a certain amount of electricity production comes from renewable energy sources, but many states already have similar, if not better standards.

One way to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels is to improve the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. There are huge gains to be made here. Better efficiency across the economy could reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030, according to the Center for American Progress. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans encouraged homeowners to build houses that met federal efficiency standards. But a decision last week by the Federal Housing Finance Agency essentially killed this type of assistance.

“Cities can continue to offer PACE, but then Fannie and Freddie must impose stricter lending standards on all local borrowers—even those who never intend to take out PACE loans,” Alyssa Katz explains at The American Prospect. “In effect, the new guidelines force mayors and city councils to choose between promoting energy efficiency and improving the health of their already battered real-estate markets.”

Two cities that were using the loans—San Francisco and Boulder—have stopped issuing them, Katz reports. Yesterday, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) did introduced the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2010, which requires the FHFA to support PACE, but there’s no guarantee that legislation will pass through Congress, Grist reports.

Policy trumps innovation

That chilling effect is exactly the opposite of the sort of policies the country needs from Washington. As Christian Parenti writes in The Nation, fancy devices (like Cheeseman’s DEVap) cannot fix the climate crisis on their own:

“An overemphasis on breakthrough inventions can obscure the fact that most of the energy technologies we need already exist. You know what they are: wind farms, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal and tidal power, all feeding an efficient smart grid that, in turn, powers electric vehicles and radically more energy-efficient buildings.”

“According to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid large-scale implementation,” Parenti explains. “In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but rather about new policies.”

It would be nice if those new policies pushed the country to decrease energy use, instead of mimicking programs states already have in place, or worse, undoing good work that’s going forward on the local level.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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