Clean & Fair Elections Update - Election Reform: What's Moving in 2009



As a new legislative session gets underway we are resuming our election reform updates.  Pasted below are recent election related articles we've sent out as part of our bi-weekly e-mail newsletter on progressive policy in the states - the Stateside Dispatch.  You can sign up to the receive the Dispatch here.

Recently PSN has launched a new website that, while not yet fully developed, we hope will serve legislators and advocates alike as a convenient knowledgebase of progressive state election reform issues.  Pages include brief issue descriptions and links to key resources, legislation, organizations, and news.  I encourage people to e-mail me at with recommendations of additional resources.

Christian Smith-Socaris
Election Reform Policy Specialist
Progressive States Network

Clean & Fair Elections Update

Election Reform: What's Moving in 2009

BY Christian Smith-Socaris

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Clean & Fair Elections Update

By: Christian Smith-Socaris

Election Reform: What's Moving in 2009

Only a month into most legislative sessions, and facing devastating budget crises, election bills are just starting to move around the country.  Here are the notable legislative actions so far.

Voter ID - Always out of the gate with a bang, voter ID and proof-of-citizenship bills are being pushed with vigor in a number of states.

  • Texas and Mississippi are fighting the most fierce battles, while the fate of a bill moving in Oklahoma, almost guaranteed to pass the legislature, lies in the hands of Gov. Brad Henry.  Senators in both Texas (where it might come back to haunt them) and Tennessee are ramming bills through by exempting voter ID legislation from cloture rules.  Committees have also acted on bills in South Carolina, and Utah; while action is expected soon in the Kansas House and in Georgia (where there was a high profile GOP defection).
  • Bills have been batted down in Colorado, Alabama, and surprisingly in Wyoming where both the Republican Sec. of State and the clerks were opposed.  [For more info see Voter ID: The Landscape for 2009 below].
  • Indiana, a state with one of the strictest ID laws in the nation, is moving a bill to allow college students to vote with IDs that lack expiration dates, a serious problem in the last election.

Felon Reenfranchisement - Kentucky's automatic restoration bill has advanced out of committee, as has a bill allowing absentee voting or inmates in Hawaii.  A Virginia House committee killed legislation there, but subsequently the full Senate passed a restoration bill.  In Alabama, however, a bill backed by the attorney general seeking to codify a list of 70 disenfranchising offenses has passed out of committee.

Mail-in and Early Voting - A permanent absentee bill that passed both houses in slightly different form last year has moved out of committee in New Jersey, and a no-excuse bill has done the same in Alabama.  Virginia's hopes for an in-person early voting bill were dashed very early in the session.

National Popular Vote - Fresh off a victory in the Michigan House at the end of 2008, as well as and an astounding pile of poll numbers in battleground and other states, the compact has moved out of committees in New Mexico and Arkansas.

Election Day Registration - A bill in Montana to repeal the state's limited EDR statute was beaten back by strong grass-roots opposition; and in West Virginia a bill enacting same-day registration during early voting has moved from a joint committee to the floor.  In Wyoming a bill is moving that would halve the registration blackout period from 30 days before the election to 14.  And EDR is also moving in the Hawaii Senate.

Youth Voting - In Virginia, a law requiring that a voter "live in a particular locality with the intention to remain there for an unlimited time,” has moved out of subcommittee.  Internet voter registration has passed out of committee in the Colorado House and the Indiana Senate.  And in Kentucky a bill requiring that secondary schools provide voter registration information to 12th graders has moved to the floor calendar.

Clean ElectionsKentucky lawmakers are looking to regain a high position on public transparency rankings with a bill moving to require electronic campaign finance disclosure.


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A Roundup of Recent Election Reform Dispatch Items

RNC Files Lawsuit to Strike Limits on Soft Money Spent in States

February 12, 2009

The Republican National Committee has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission, hoping to prevent restrictions on donations to political parties designated for spending on state-level campaign work and congressional redistricting, among other things.  The RNC has teamed up with James Bopp, the country's top crusader against campaign finance regulations, who has had substantial success of late.  He argued the Wisconsin Right to Life case that eviscerated McCain-Feingold's ban on corporate and union spending on advertisements in federal elections.  (He is also himself a member of the RNC and counsel to the rightwing, socially conservative group Focus on the Family).  Previously his mission has been to tear down all restrictions on independent groups, but in this case Bopp is expanding his goals to include the political parties themselves.  And while new Democratic National Committee Counsel Bob Bauer, late of the Obama campaign and an election law scholar in his own right, thinks the law and the constitution are on their side, the Robert's Supreme Court is clearly on a path toward dismantling the campaign finance regime we have now. Read more...

Voter ID: The Landscape for 2009

January 29, 2009

Despite a dearth of recent successes and mounting fiscal crises in most states, rightwing voter ID legislation designed to suppress voter turnout continues to be pressed around the country.  So far this year at least 17 states have seen bills introduced to institute or enhance ID requirements for voting or registration (AL, CO, GA, IN, MD, MN, MS, MO, NY, OK, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, WY).  It appears we now know enough to predict the landscape of the voter ID battles in this legislative session. Read more...

Notable in Election News

January 15, 2009

Early Voting Shows Big Gain Nationally, Hits Majority in Ten States 
The final numbers for early voting have been posted by the United States Elections Project at George Mason University and they are big: 30% of votes nationwide were cast early and a majority of voters cast their votes either by mail or in person before Election Day in ten states.  The total increase is 50% over the number cast in the 2004 presidential election. And even more striking, Coloradans cast 79% of their votes early, the vast majority through mail-in ballots.  These numbers make clear that the electoral landscape is changing in many states, and the endorsement by so many voters will likely fuel further adoption of early voting this session and beyond. Read more...

Battles Over Voter ID Requirements Loom Large in 2009 Sessions

January 8, 2009

Last year we saw the incredible wave of voter ID legislation promoted nationwide by rightwing activists seem to peter out. High profile campaigns for restrictive photo ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements, which limit the voting of many legal citizens (see here and here), were met with defeat. But the proponents of voter ID have apparently not been deterred. The good people at Project Vote, who have been monitoring voter ID legislation across the country, are finding that rightwing lawmakers in key states continue to place voter ID at the top of their to-do list. This is despite the passing of another election without any evidence of the type of fraud that voter ID requirements would help prevent - someone attempting to register and vote twice in the same state. Read more...

Electoral College Killed Auto Industry Aid Bill - And Michigan House Approves NPV Bill to Kill Electoral College

December 15, 2008

When the U.S. Senate killed the auto industry rescue bill last week, some conservative commentators saw it as payback for Michigan voting the wrong way in the November election. William D. Zeranski at the popular rightwing American Thinker site argued, "We know which way those 17 Electoral College votes will go. So, how does helping bailout the Big Three help the GOP?"  Local Michigan Republican leaders themselves began worrying that national party leaders would begin ignoring state concerns after McCain lost the Great Lakes states.   As Republican pollster Steve Lombardo said after the election, "It's a matter of worry...It may be that Republicans begin to write off Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota."  Of course, the writing off of all Michigan voters only makes sense politically because of the Electoral College. Read more...

Universal Voter Registration: A New Initiative to Increase Electoral Participation and Reduce Voter Suppression

December 1, 2008

The elections of 2008 served as a critical test of the nation's election systems.  With changes in voting machines and procedures, coupled with expectations of record voter turnout, election administrators held their breath and hoped their system wouldn't fail. 
While the system didn't fail, voters faced serious obstacles in exercising their right to vote.  Voter registration ended up being the problem that affected the largest number of voters.  Even before the first votes were cast, it was apparent that our voter registration systems were woefully inadequate.  While in other nations 90% or more of the eligible voter population is registered to vote, in the United States less than 75% of eligible voters are registered.

We can do better.

Changing Electorate Promises Bright Future for Progressive Politics

November 14, 2008

In last Tuesday's election, there was a dramatic demographic and geographic shift in who supported progressives all the way down the ballot.  These changes could lead to long-term electoral support for progressives if they deliver on the promises they made to voters. Read more...

How our Election Systems Held up Under a High Turnout Election

November 14, 2008

This year election administrators, many of whom were fielding new voting equipment for the first time, faced record turnout.  After the pervasive problems with the previous two presidential elections and the fears of more election problems, both real and imagined, voters across the political spectrum faced the election with deep skepticism about its fairness and integrity.  Today we give a brief overview of whether the expectations for the election were born out, and what election day tells us about where to focus reforms. Read more...


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The Clean & Fair Elections Update is written by Election Reform Policy Specialist Christian Smith-Socaris. Please feel free to contact Christian if you have feedback, resources, or for more information.


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