California is the closest thing we have to a political lab for engineering a solution for the country’s voter apathy problem. From permanent absentee voting to term limits and redistricting reform and now a top-two primary system, California has tried just about every remedy imagined to help boost voter participation in the state. The result: turn-out in the Golden State last year for both the primary and general election was the lowest it has been in recorded history. Did reform fail? Was it a failure of candidates themselves? Or is there something more that California’s lack of voter interest can tell us about why/how reforms to voting systems impact actual voting behavior? At a conference organized by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley – called California Votes 2014 – some of the smartest and most plugged-in political professionals in the state tried to diagnose the state’s lack of interest in the 2014 election. Before we get to the question of why voters didn’t turn out, it’s notable that California’s low turn-out election didn’t bring Republicans the success they found in other parts of the country last year. Democrats actually swept all seven of the Golden state’s partisan offices and picked up one seat in the House. The joke out in California is that the GOP wave of 2014 stopped at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some have attributed this to the younger and more diverse (i.e, heavily Hispanic) electorate. But, the Latino turn-out was just 15 percent – 4 points less than it was in 2012. And, young people didn’t show up either.
In 2013, Kelli Griffin went to vote in a local election in Montrose, Iowa. She had been through some hard times — a survivor of domestic abuse who had suffered from drug addiction, she was convicted in 2008 of a drug-related crime, and served five years probation. But now Griffin was turning her life around, and voting was a rite of passage. She even took her four kids to the polls to teach them about the democratic process. “I felt good,” said Griffin, 41. “I mean, it’s one of the steps to being back into society, to fulfilling that I am just like everybody else. I mean, I’ve overcome a lot.” But what happened next would make clear that in the eyes of the law, Griffin wasn’t at all like everybody else. It would set this shy stay-at-home mom who never graduated college on a path to challenging her state’s highest officials. And it would help spark the latest step in a growing push-back against a set of laws that, five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, still disenfranchise millions of Americans.
The chairman of the state Senate elections committee said Thursday that one of the reasons he wants to move school board and city elections from spring to fall is to dilute the voting power of teachers in low-turnout elections. A spokesman for the state’s largest teachers union said it’s ridiculous to think teachers, who are often in conflict with their school boards, are controlling those elections. Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, said he wants to reduce teachers unions’ influence in local elections in a news release on a bill he’s calling the “Help Kansas Vote Act.” Holmes, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, introduced the bill in his committee Thursday. “The teachers unions do not want to give up the majority they currently enjoy in low turnout, off-cycle elections,” Holmes said in his release. “But this act is not about protecting incumbency or special interest groups, it is about giving community members representation in local issues.” Holmes did not return a message seeking comment.
Voting precincts in rural Nebraska could see a jump in turnout if lawmakers pass a bill to expand the use of mail-only ballots, Secretary of State John Gale said Thursday. Gale told a legislative committee that counties which use mail-only voting have saved money because they’re no longer required to haul special equipment to polling sites to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s also helps turnout in areas with bad roads or bad weather on Election Day, he said. “It definitely improves the voter turnout because the ranchers and the farmers and small businessmen in those rural precincts are able to cast their ballot by mailing it back,” said Gale, a Republican. “It’s been very well-received by the citizens who are in those precincts.”
What if there was an election and no one showed up to vote – not even the candidates themselves? That’s precisely what happened in the recent Hagerman school board election. Three candidates ran unopposed: None received a single vote, not even their own. It was a lack of opposition and not a lack of interest in education that kept the town’s 1,034 eligible voters away from the polls, said Superintendent Ricky Williams, who supervises the three-school district of fewer than 500 students. The fact that the candidates were unopposed – and that the election was held in Roswell 26 miles away – may have had something to do with it, he said. Polling stations were not open in the southeast New Mexico community, a decision made by Chaves County.
North Carolina: Voting machine replacement to cost Guilford County more than $6.5 million | News & Record
Replacing the county’s voting machines to comply with a new state mandate could cost more than $6.5 million. “It’s going to be pricey,” Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt told the Board of Commissioners at its annual retreat Friday in Colfax. “There is no outside funding from the state, or any other body.” Guilford County residents currently cast their ballots via touch-screen voting machines, which tabulate votes electronically but spit out paper rolls that officials can use to audit election results. Under the mandate, passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2013, touch-screen machines are still allowed. But votes have to be counted using paper ballots. “What’s tabulated has to be on paper,” Collicutt says. “So our machines will be illegal.”
A Tallahassee legislator wants to bring voting registration into the Internet age. And he has the backing of the supervisors of election whose offices must deal with all the paper generated by the electorate. Florida would be the 21st state to implement an online voter registration system should lawmakers approve Rep. Alan Williams’ HB 227 this legislative session, according to the Pew Center. Williams, D-Tallahassee, hopes the system would be ready by the 2016 election. It will save money and get more people involved in the electoral process, he said. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, has filed a companion bill (SB 228) in the Senate. “The byproduct of it is more people engaged in the electoral process,” Williams said. “We cannot continue to embrace a typewriter mentality in an iPad world.” Currently, a prospective voter can download a voter registration form online but still must mail it to a local supervisor of elections office, which must scan the document and mail it to the state to be approved, said Ion Sancho, Leon County supervisor of elections. The state then notifies local offices if the person is approved.
Utah has gone from a state with one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the nation to one of the lowest in the past 30 years, and a group of Democrats and Republicans are banding together to find out why. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, revealed a new piece of bipartisan legislation Friday, HB200, that would create a task force to find out why Utahns are not voting. Arent said the task force would study voter trends in Utah and other states, review possible administrative barriers to voting, and look at other Utah-specific issues that might be affecting the turnout.
Some state lawmakers are joining together in a bipartisan effort to limit legislative control over redistricting. A House bill introduced Wednesday calls for an amendment to the state Constitution that would establish an independent redistricting commission to determine districts starting in 2030. The commission would propose three plans to the General Assembly for the election of state House and Senate members and U.S. representatives. If legislators fail to act within 120 days, the commission would adopt one of the three plans. The bill sets up a nine-person commission with two members chosen by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, three by the governor and the remaining four by the leadership in both houses. Membership on the commission would be limited to those who had not held or ran for a public office four years prior to being appointed and prohibited from holding public office for four years after leaving.
Virginia: Arlington election officials look to start from scratch with new voting machines | Inside NoVa
Big changes could be on the horizon at Arlington polling places in time for the 2016 presidential election. County election officials are considering scrapping their entire stock of voting machines, replacing them with new-generation equipment to the tune of about $1 million. “We don’t want to go with older technology,” Arlington Registrar Linda Lindberg said of the proposal to upgrade equipment. “We might as well just go whole-hog and replace the whole thing. We may not like it, but we’re going to have to do it.” Lindberg briefed Electoral Board members on Feb. 5, and will go before County Board members in March to detail the plan. If put into place, Arlington voters would see the demise of the popular touch-screen voting machines, which are being phased out statewide because they do not provide a paper trail to be used in case of recounts or malfunctions.
The voting age in Japan is set to be lowered from 20 to 18 in the current Diet session, the first such revision to the election law in 70 years. The two ruling coalition parties and four opposition entities agreed to the measure Feb. 6. As all six parties occupy a majority in the Diet, it is certain to be passed. The policy change will almost certainly be first applied to the next Upper House election, scheduled to be held in summer 2016. The voting age was last lowered in 1945, from 25 to 20. Officials noted that the change will bring Japan into the international norm. According to the National Diet Library, people aged 18 or older have voting rights in about 90 percent of approximately 190 countries or regions in the world whose data is available. In some countries, the voting age is as low as 16.
Nigeria’s electoral commission will postpone next Saturday’s presidential and legislative elections for six weeks to give a new multinational force time to secure north-eastern areas under the sway of Boko Haram, an official close to the commission told the Associated Press on Saturday. Millions could be disenfranchised if the voting went ahead while the Islamic extremists hold a large swath of the north-east and commit mayhem that has driven 1.5 million people from their homes. Civil rights groups opposed to any postponement started a small protest on Saturday. Police prevented them from entering the electoral commission headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Armed police began deploying to block roads leading to the building. The Nigerian official, who is knowledgeable of the discussions, said the Independent National Electoral Commission would announce the postponement later on Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“Nigerians Shocked!” proclaimed one headline reporting that presidential elections due to take place next Saturday had been delayed for six weeks. It was certainly a topic for discussion as people headed to church on Sunday in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital and a city where the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari has much support. The electoral commission said they were postponing elections by six weeks because troops needed to protect polling stations were occupied fighting Boko Haram militants. But reaction seems to have split along party lines, and many here saw the delay as a ploy to give the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) an opportunity to gain ground in the campaign. The news did not dampen electioneering, however, with APC youths chanting “change, change, change” as they headed for an afternoon rally in Ikoyi. Sweeping the road symbolically with brushes, they were vocal about their suspicions.
A referendum to prevent granting new rights to gays in Slovakia, an ex-Communist state in the European Union’s east, failed Saturday due to a low turnout as opponents of the popular vote urged people to stay at home. Only 21.4% of 4.41 million eligible voters cast their ballots, below the required 50% quorum in this predominantly Roman Catholic country of five million people to make the national-vote results legally binding, final results released Sunday by the Slovak electoral commission showed. They confirmed preliminary results published late Saturday. The final tally also showed that between 90.3% and 94.5% of 944,209 Slovaks voting in the referendum agreed to all three questions it asked: whether marriage can only be a union of a man and a woman; whether to ban same-sex couples from adopting children; and whether parents can let their children skip school classes involving education on sex and euthanasia. The Slovak antigay vote followed a similar referendum that succeeded in Croatia, also a Roman Catholic EU member, in 2013. The different results reflect cultural differences within Europe on gay rights. Some people in mostly ex-Communist eastern EU states, including also Hungary and Poland, are against what they view as excessively liberal policies such as legalizing various forms of same-sex unions and children adoptions by gay couples possible elsewhere in the 28-nation bloc, including Austria and the Czech Republic.
Almost 1 million people cast their ballot in the February 7 referendum which, as its initiators say, sought the protection of family. The turnout, however, failed to surpass the required 50-percent quorum as only 21.41 percent of eligible voters went to the polling stations. It was the third lowest of the eight referendums already held in Slovakia and surprised analysts as pre-referendum polls suggested that about 35 percent would attend the voting. Despite the failed vote, both the referendum’s organisers and representatives of the LGBTI community consider the results a success and claim they want to continue with the discussion it has opened. “For me, as a sociologist, the turnout is really surprisingly low,” Martin Slosiarik of the Focus polling agency told the public-service Slovak Radio (SRo), adding that a pre-referendum poll Focus conducted for the Sme daily suggested the most pessimistic variant for turnout at about 30 percent. Of more than 4.4 million eligible voters, only 944,674 people came to cast their ballot. The highest turnout was in Prešov Region (32.31 percent), while the lowest was in Banská Bystrica Region (15.84 percent).