All-Mail Voting Increases Turnout and Saves Money in Hawaii Special Election
Thursday, May 27, 2010
PERMALINK: http://www.progressivestates.org/node/25177 
Results from Hawaii's recent all-mail special election for Congress are in--and the clear winner was the mail voting system that dramatically increased turnout and saved the state sorely needed money.
After two costly special elections in 2002, state lawmakers passed a law allowing an all-mail voting system under the extraordinary circumstances requiring a special election. Hawaii has actually held two mail-only special elections since the law’s enactment, in order to fill mid-term vacancies on the Honolulu City Council — turnout was already significantly higher  than a similar City Council special election held in 2002. But this month’s embittered special election for the 1st Congressional District involved about six times as many voters as either of last year’s races, and was the first congressional race in the state to be decided by an all-mail system.
Voters were required to mail ballots by a May 22 deadline and had the option of using City Hall as an absentee polling place for 10 days to allow voters the option of walk-in voting, although no polling places were open on the actual Election Day of May 22. The result?
Democratic Party of Hawaii Chairman Dante Carpenter praised  the election for being “expeditious” and “less costly,” stating that mail-in elections are “a coming thing.” Though Hawaii is slated to have traditional polling places for this year’s general election, the success of its mail-in system offers a great lesson in how states can, easily and cheaply, further democracy.
Though 28 states  currently allow any voter to choose a mail-in absentee ballot, states can go one step further and implement an all-mail voting system. Not only are vote-by-mail contests cheaper to pull off, more efficient, and less of a logistical challenge, but as Oregon and now Hawaii have seen, mail-in elections help restore the democratic process by increasing voter turnout and lessening the impact of expensive tactics in the final days before an election.
Immigrant and workers' rights advocates celebrated a victory  in Rhode Island this week with the announcement that State Rep. Peter Palumbo's anti-immigrant bill, closely based on Arizona's widely criticized  SB 1070 , would not get a hearing. Palumbo, a conservative Democrat from Cranston, a community with many immigrant residents, was planning on holding a hearing on his bill this week. Rhode Island was the fourth state to introduce legislation based upon Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070  , the nation's most sweeping anti-immigrant law to date, which Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed at the end of April. Legislators in 18 states have announced they will introduce anti-immigrant legislation similar to the recently-passed law in Arizona, but introduction does not guarantee passage or committee consideration. Few states are likely to pass such a bill this year as most legislatures have already adjourned, and will reconvene in early 2011.
Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox came out in opposition to Palumbo's bill , and decided to table it -- the proposal was drafted roughly ten days ago, just before the end of the state's legislative session. Fox noted enforcing immigration laws is a federal matter, and his announcement late Monday night came on the heels of large community mobilizations on the House of Representative floor against Palumbo and his bill. Though Fox denied his decision was informed by immigrant advocates mobilizing against the bill, his decision does seem linked to widespread protests  against the bill.
As we explained in greater detail in previous Dispatches, Arizona's recent and misguided anti-immigrant law actively encourages racial profiling by requiring all state and local police officers to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they feel exhibits 'reasonable suspicion' of being undocumented. SB 1070 also makes it state crime to not have proof of legal immigration status at hand at all times.
One of the immediate benefits of the Affordable Care Act is the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program . Beginning June 1, 2010, this new reinsurance reimbursement program  is available to group health plan sponsors who provide medical coverage to early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses and dependents.
Program Goal: Many Americans who retire without employer-sponsored insurance and before they become Medicare eligible are faced with the possibility of seeing their retirement savings disappear because of unaffordable, exorbitant rates in the individual insurance market. The goal of this temporary program  is to provide financial assistance to employers to help them maintain the coverage they offer for their early retirees. Early retirees are individuals age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare and who are enrolled in health benefits under the employer-sponsored plan.
Employers will be reimbursed for the cost of providing certain health benefits , including medical, surgical, hospital, and prescription drug benefits. This will encourage employers to continue to provide health coverage to early retirees until the state health exchanges and federal subsidies for health coverage are implemented in January 1, 2014.
State Governments Are Eligible: Entities who are eligible to participate in the reinsurance program can be private employers, state or local governments , employee organizations, voluntary beneficiary associations or a multi-employer plan that already offers health benefits to their retirees. Both self-funded and insured plans are permitted to apply.
To receive assistance, plans must have their applications approved and certified by HHS. A number of requirements must be met in order to participate in the reinsurance program. One such requirement is that the plan sponsor must have in place programs and procedures  that have or have the potential to generate cost savings for participants with chronic and high-cost conditions. Chronic and high cost conditions are defined  as a condition for which $15,000 or more in applicable claims are likely to be incurred during a plan year by one participant.
Reimbursement: Plan sponsors  must first submit an application to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to become certified to participate in the reimbursement program. Once a sponsor is certified to participate in the program, the claims submitted for reimbursement must be between $15,000 and $90,000 per year (determined on a per-participant basis). The partial reimbursements are limited to 80 percent of the costs attributable to claims that exceed $15,000.
Maintenance of Effort: While employers can use the savings  to either reduce their own health care costs, provide premium relief to their workers and families or a combination of both, one important caveat of the program is a maintenance of effort requirement . This means participating sponsors must agree to maintain funding levels to support their applicable plan or plans. The federal statute requires that funds dispersed under the reinsurance program cannot be used as general revenue . The sponsors will need to indicate how the funds they receive will be applied to maintain their level of effort in supporting the plan.
With a total allocation of $5 billion , the program will end January 1, 2014, when early retirees become eligible to choose their insurance coverage through state health insurance exchanges.
Who benefits from hyping criminal enforcement as the solution to the immigration issue?
As a Service and Employees International Union (SEIU) campaign  highlights, one key player profiting off the nation's broken immigration system is the private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA operates and profits significantly from private prisons across the country, many of which house immigrants in detention, a kind of legal limbo in which immigrants are imprisoned while their cases are being considered, or who are in the process of being deported. Roughly 40 percent of CCA's profits stem from operating jails that house immigrants. In fact, the corporation earned over $1.7 billion in revenue  in 2009 alone -- much of it from contracts with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Marshals Office, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to cope with the influx of nonviolent immigrants in the nation's prison system. CCA has also been a long-time funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and member  of its Private Sector Executive Committee, which advocates on behalf of CCA to push prison privatization as a model for states.
While most believe prisons are operated by state or federal governments, they are increasingly privatized. As the number of immigration prosecutions continue to skyrocket  and comprehensive immigration reform languishes in Washington, DC, this makes the business of operating prisons all the more lucrative for private firms. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), immigration prosecutions reached record levels  in federal fiscal year 2009. The Department of Homeland Security initiated 67,994 immigration prosecutions that year alone, a 459 percent increase from 2000 and a 973 percent increase from 1990.
Filling Up Prisons with Non-Violent Immigrants: In addition, federal immigration authorities are increasingly targeting nonviolent immigrants, whose only offense is attempting to unlawfully cross the border, via efforts such as Operation Streamline , which focuses on apprehending nonviolent border-crossers. According to a May 2010 study  by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, projects such as Operation Streamline that focus on immigrants who haven't committed any crime in the US divert  precious federal resources from apprehending drug cartels and human traffickers that frequently operate with impunity along stretches of the US-Mexico border and are responsible for much of the violence in the region. These record numbers of nonviolent immigrants are, in turn, filling jails and immigration detention centers to capacity: contributing to growing costs to states and higher profits for private prison companies like CCA.
The Failures of Prison Privatization: Both federal and state governments have utilized private firms to operate prisons, despite evidence of systematic failures . Privatization only exacerbates the challenges faced by states, communities, and families dealing with the broken immigration system. For example, the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy finds  that there is no compelling evidence that prison privatization has led to savings, while the Private Corrections Institute analyzes several issues  with privatization, which include “major riots, sex abuse scandals”¦ improper billing by private prison companies”¦ employment law violations, higher employer turnover rates, increased levels of prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff violence, lack of transparency and public accountability, and higher recidivism rates for inmates released from privately-operated prisons.”
When privatization involves prisons and detention centers, the profiteering comes at the expense of constitutional safeguards, democratic oversight, and public trust. In this case, it also undermines legislative efforts to promote progressive immigration reform. Lawmakers should take action to prevent such debacles from occurring by either halting failed privatization schemes. For example, Indiana Rep. Gail Riecken's introduced a bill  to end privatization of social services in her state. Legislators can also consider requiring augmented transparency of state contracting , much like initiatives in Alabama , Hawaii , and Vermont .
Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output from January 2010 Through March 2010  - This Congressional Budget Office report finds that Recovery Act spending raised the level of real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 4.2 percent, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points, increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million, and increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.8 million to 4.1 million compared with what those amounts would have been otherwise.
The State of Metropolitan America - This Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report portrays the demographic and social trends shaping the nation’s essential economic and societal units -- its large metropolitan areas. It highlights the rise in exurban sprawl at the same time new patterns of density are also rising in urban and suburban areas, the rising diversity of the population, the aging of the population, the effects of uneven higher education attainment, and income polarization across different metropolitan areas.
America’s Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends  - This National Council of La Raza (NCLR) data book offers 25 indicators of child well-being for Latino children across the nation. The data and trends clearly show that Latino children face multiple obstacles and inequalities that impede them from enjoying a successful adulthood.
Health Care Implementation and Reform:
Out of the Shadows: Massachusetts Quasi-Public Agencies and the Need for Budget Transparency  - A majority of Massachusetts quasi-public agencies do not provide the public with complete information about their budgets or finances, even though they perform vital state functions, such as operating bus and rail systems, building schools, and delivering drinking water, according to this report by MASSPIRG. MASSPIRG finds, "the quasi-public agencies represent almost one-third additional government activity that is exempt from even limited normal transparency and oversight rules." The group recommends budget transparency as a means to promote efficiency and prevent potential abuse and corruption.
Progressive States Network - Permanent Vote by Mail Option Approved in First State East of Mississippi 
Immigration Policy Center: The Legal Challenges and Economic Realities of Arizona's SB 1070 
The White House - Fact Sheet: Early Benefits from the Affordable Care Act of 2010: Reinsurance Program for Early Retirees 
Immigration Policy Center - US Border Enforcement Prioritizes Non-Violent Migrants Over Dangerous Criminals 
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman , Executive Director
Please shoot us an email at email@example.com  if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.