In 1986, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith declared, “If everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.” But for decades, the consensus among scholars and journalists has been the opposite. In their seminal 1980 study on the question, using data from 1972, political scientists Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone argued that “voters are virtually a carbon copy of the citizen population.” In 1999, Wolfinger and his colleague Benjamin Highton again came to the same conclusion: “Outcomes would not change if everyone voted.” Their argument rested upon the fact that polling data did not show large differences in opinions on most issues between those who voted and those who did not. However, a growing literature both within the United States and internationally suggests that, in fact, policy would change rather dramatically if everyone voted. Does this mean that Galbraith was right all along? Not exactly. The reason for the recent shift in the findings is not that the early studies were wrong, but that the preferences of voters and nonvoters are becoming increasingly divergent.
2015 will be an interesting year for politics. Whether you love it or hate it, social media is completely changing the landscape of voter participation, one Facebook post at a time. The social media company is no stranger to watching voting and post activity analytics, keeping track of trends with some intriguing and perhaps unsettling blog updates regarding national voter turnout on Election Day. However, one of the bigger controversies is the question of how our newsfeeds might influence our decisions. According to The Verge, “Facebook had been running another newsfeed experiment, giving news stories an algorithmic boost for certain users to see if it heightened civic engagement, as measured by a questionnaire.” Do these algorithms guarantee that Facebook viewers gain exposure to unbiased items in their news feeds? If not, then it’s certainly possible that our newsfeeds could subtly influence a user’s affinity for specific candidates or party alliances.
The Internal Revenue Service says it won’t come out with new proposed rules for so-called dark money groups until late spring at the earliest, increasing the likelihood that no changes will take effect before the 2016 elections. These groups — social welfare nonprofits that can engage in politics, but do not have to disclose their donors — have become a major force in elections, pouring at least $257 million into the 2012 elections. The Wesleyan Media Project estimates that dark money paid for almost half the TV ads aired in the 2014 Senate races. The IRS originally issued a draft version of the rules for dark money groups more than a year ago, but withdrew them for revisions after receiving intense criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Some advocates of campaign finance reform have touted tighter IRS controls as the best shot of reining in the influence of such groups ahead of the 2016 presidential race.
Sen. Rand Paul could have a financial edge over many of his prospective presidential rivals in 2016 due to a quirk in timing and election law that lets him to tap his biggest donors for campaign cash twice. Paul has said he plans to seek Senate reelection and, if he runs, the Republican presidential nomination simultaneously. And because he would be campaigning for two federal offices, he would be eligible to have two open federal campaign committees at the same time. Thus, his largest donors could give $2,600 to his presidential primary campaign and another $2,600 to his Senate account for the primary. While federal rules do limit how he could spend the money, veteran election lawyers say diligent accounting could allow for legal cost-sharing between the two committees, saving Paul’s presidential bid precious dollars and letting him collect bigger checks from his biggest contributors. “The two big advantages you can think of are the ability to double-dip from donors and the ability to allocate your costs between two different entities,” said Neil Reiff, a Democratic campaign lawyer.
Based on the big elections in Virginia in recent years, the Old Dominion is turning reliably blue: victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, two Senate wins by Democrats in two years, and Terry McAuliffe’s triumph in between. So how is it that Republicans have a stranglehold on the state’s congressional delegation, holding eight seats to Democrats’ three? That question is at the heart of a legal battle over whether Republicans have improperly leveraged their power over the redistricting process. The outcome could have far-reaching implications because the contours of congressional districts drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures are seen as a driving reason why Democrats may be locked in the House minority until at least after the next census in 2020. In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to redraw the lines to make some GOP districts more competitive after a panel of federal judges ruled recently that the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to pack African-American voters into the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, was motivated purely by race — a violation of the 14th Amendment. Other battleground states such as North Carolina and Florida also have redistricting battles pending.
A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider a decision allowing residents of Kansas and Arizona to register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a one-sentence ruling denying a request from the two states. The appeals court ruled in November that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand help from federal officials in enforcing state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship.
Kansas and Arizona have asked a federal appeals court panel to revisit its decision allowing residents of those states to register to vote using a federal form without having to provide proof of citizenship. The states submitted a petition late Monday asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel to rehear the case, saying they believe the court overlooked certain legal issues when it ruled against them in November. The appeals court ruled that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand federal election officials help them enforce their state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. The panel overturned a March ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren that required the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to tailor its federal voter registration form for those states to require those proof-of-citizenship documents.
A Securities and Exchange Commission rule designed to limit conflicts of interest in state contracting is becoming less effective amid the rise of super PACs and should be broadened, groups that track campaign finance say. The SEC’s so-called pay-to-play rule, which applies to state officials including governors, could become a prominent factor in the 2016 presidential election given that four or more Republican governors who would be in office during the campaign have said they may run or are thought to be considering a candidacy. The rule effectively prohibits certain employees of financial-services companies that do—or might do—business with state agencies from contributing to the officials who oversee those agencies. The rule, adopted in 2010, was intended to prevent political contributions from influencing state contracting decisions.
An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday. The I.R.S. has admitted that before the 2012 election it inappropriately delayed approval of tax exemption applications by groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement, but the I.R.S. and its parent agency, the Treasury Department, have said that the errors were not motivated by partisanship. Republican lawmakers, dismissing the Obama administration’s denials, have suggested that the delays were not only politically motivated but also orchestrated by the White House. Some of the most strident comments have come from Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has issued subpoenas to compel testimony from administration officials and held a series of tumultuous hearings on the I.R.S. scandal.
The last-minute flurry of action by the Senate Tuesday included filling three of four seats on the federal Election Assistance Commission, which had languished without commissioners since 2010 — or two election cycles, to put it in Washington terms. The Senate confirmed Thomas Hicks, a former election law counsel on Capitol Hill, Matthew Masterson of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, and Christy McCormick, a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, to the commission. A fourth nominee, Matthew Butler, former CEO of liberal media watchdog Media Matters, has yet to be confirmed. House Republicans have tried to shut down the EAC, and Senate Republicans resisted nominating commissioners. But reviving the commission was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan panel formed by Obama to look into long voting lines during the 2012 election. For one thing, the Election Assistance Commission is in charge of setting federal standards for voting systems, which haven’t been updated since 2005.
Was this election the most expensive midterm in history? It’s possible, but nobody really knows for certain. That’s because we don’t know the total cost of the 2014 elections, or pretty much any federal election. Here’s why: Despite the efforts of the Federal Election Commission, which has been faithfully disseminating campaign finance data since 1975, there are limitations in the ways that data is collected and summarized that make generating totals and comparisons very difficult. And there are other problems, too. In describing federal elections, users of the F.E.C.’s data — The New York Times among them — have regularly cited statistics that are aren’t strictly accurate or have made comparisons without regard to the impact of inflation or population. In a paper presented at the American Political Science Association conference this year, Robin Kolodny, a political-science professor at Temple University, challenged the idea that we know each election is more expensive than previous ones, or that we even know how much campaigns really cost. This lack of knowledge fuels our perceptions of money in politics as an issue, she concludes.
National: The pros and cons of all-mail elections, as told by two Republican secretaries of state | The Washington Post
Weeks before Election Day, every registered voter in Oregon, Washington and Colorado got a ballot in the mail. They didn’t have to sign up, and no one had to make any special plans to head to out-of-the-way polling places within a specific window: Elections in those three states are conducted entirely by mail. It’s a controversial practice: Democrats who passed legislation creating all-mail elections say they help boost participation, especially for those who have to work on Election Day. Some Republicans say it’s a transparent attempt to tip the scales toward Democratic candidates, and that it’s ripe for fraud and abuse. But the Republican view on all-mail elections isn’t uniform: Kim Wyman (R), Washington’s secretary of state, is a big fan. Scott Gessler (R), Colorado’s secretary of state, isn’t.
National: Party fundraising provision, crafted in secret, could shift money flow in politics | The Washington Post
A massive expansion of party fundraising slipped into a congressional budget deal this week would fundamentally alter how money flows into political campaigns, providing parties with new muscle to try to wrest power back from independent groups. The provision — one of the most significant changes to the campaign finance system since the landmark McCain-Feingold measure — was written behind closed doors with no public debate. Instead, it surfaced at the last minute in the final pages of a 1,603-page spending bill, which Congress is rushing to pass to keep government operations from shutting down. Under the language in the bill, a couple could give as much as $3.1 million to a party’s various national committees in one election cycle — more than triple the current limit.
Despite backlash from Democrats, good government groups think the language in the year-end spending bill that alters campaign finance law benefits both parties’ pocketbooks too much for it to be carved out. The watchdogs were among the first to criticize provisions buried deep in the “cromnibus” released Tuesday night that would dramatically ease spending limits on individual contributions to national political party committees. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi followed suit. The California Democrat said she learned about the provisions only one day before the carefully negotiated agreement was released. Pelosi, one of the top fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced she’s “deeply troubled” by how that part of the package would increase by tenfold the amount of money wealthy individuals can contribute. Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Steve Israel of New York, former chairmen of the DCCC, joined in the criticism of the legislation that would allow a single individual to contribute to each national party’s three committees a total of $1.5 million per two-year election cycle.
Political groups independent of candidates spent more than $814 million to influence congressional elections last month, a record for the midterms and nearly twice the spending in 2010, Federal Election Commission records show. The most obvious explanation for the rapid increase is the effect of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court and the rise in spending by super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions. This year the groups jumped into Democratic efforts to maintain control of the Senate, and into the ultimately successful campaign by Republicans to retake it. The total includes Democratic and Republican party committees for House and Senate candidates, which are not permitted to coordinate with their candidates when making independent expenditures, but even excluding those four committees the amount ($605 million) would still be a midterm record. It does not include some groups, mostly non-profits, that spend money to influence elections without explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a candidate.
Three days after conceding the loss of his U.S. Senate seat, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich may have hit on just the trick to make him the most popular lame duck ever. On Nov. 20, the soon-to-be ex-senator introduced a bill that would allow voters to block robocalls from certain political organizations by adding super PACs and dark money groups (politically active non-profits that do not disclose donors) to the “Do Not Call Registry” maintained by theFederal Trade Commission. The “Do Not Disturb Act of 2014” comes a little late for this year’s voters, including many in Begich’s state. But an analysis of data — including filings due at the Federal Elections Commission at midnight — using Sunlight’s Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker suggests that such a measure could put a serious crimp in the nation’s gross political product. Outside expenditure filings show that outside groups spent nearly $8 million dialing voters across the nation last year. Because of vagaries in how these calls are described in filings to the FEC, it’s hard to say exactly how many of them were the types Begich would ban: automated “robocalls” or the “push-polls” (faux surveys that attempt to create favorable or — more typically — unfavorable impressions of candidates by the way questions are phrased). Still, we found more than $1 million worth of calls that were explicitly identified as “automated” or “robocalls.”
Election Day was a month ago, but the winners of many races are still being decided, and not just by recounts or runoff elections such as Saturday’s Senate runoff in Louisiana. There are a handful of elections across the country that ended in a tie, in which the winner has been decided by drawing lots, flipping coins or other games of chance. With hundreds of seats in Congress, thousands of seats in state legislatures, and tens of thousands of mayor, city council, county judge and local dog catcher elections being regularly held, it’s almost certain that each year some will end up tied. But because tied elections are so rare for any given office, most state and local election boards do not lay out guidelines for resolving them. In many states, the law indicates that ties should be broken by a “game of chance,” but details are rarely specified. This can create interesting tiebreakers.
Aldo Tesi will step down as chief executive officer of Omaha-based Election Systems & Software on Jan. 1, the company announced Wednesday, and will be succeeded by Tom Burt, the company’s current president and chief operating officer. Tesi, 63, joined the company as president in 1999 and was named president and CEO in 2000. He added the role of chairman in 2013 and will remain in that position. … ES&S is the largest provider of voting machines and election support services in the world. The company’s voting systems and services are used in a majority of counties across the United States in addition to countries including France, Venezuela and England. Under Tesi’s direction, ES&S has grown from about 250 employees 15 years ago to 460 employees today.
Senate Democrats are making one last try to bring their chamber’s campaign finance records into the 21st century, but their effort to attach to it a critical government funding bill will likely require them to make concessions to Republicans to succeed. Unlike House candidates, presidential hopefuls and political action committees, Senate candidates are not required to electronically file their campaign finance reports. The result: Reporters, campaign finance experts and everyone else must manually scroll through Sen. Mary Landrieu’s latest pre-runoff fundraising report, which clocks in at nearly 1,300 pages and is not searchable. So some Senate Democrats are pushing for a bill requiring e-filing to be attached to an expected omnibus government spending bill that would fund the government until next September, according to sources in both parties familiar with the discussions. With Republicans taking the Senate in January, Democrats are hoping for one last opportunity to modernize the campaign finance record-keeping by marrying it with the must-pass omnibus.
Rising frustration with Washington and conservative electoral victories across much of the United States are feeding a movement in favor of something America hasn’t done in 227 years: Hold a convention to rewrite the Constitution. Although it’s unlikely to be successful, the effort is more serious than ever before: Already more than two dozen states have called for a convention. There are two ways to change or amend the founding document. The usual method is for an adjustment to win approval from two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then be ratified by three-quarters of the 50 states. There have been 27 amendments adopted this way. The second procedure is separate from Congress. It requires two-thirds of the states, or 34, to call for a convention. The framers thought this might be necessary because Congress wouldn’t be likely to advance any amendments that curtailed its powers. But this recourse has never been used. Two states, California and Vermont, have called for a convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that permits huge amounts of unregulated money into federal campaigns. Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, wants a convention to adopt sweeping changes, including a single six-year presidential term, and concomitant House and Senate terms to create more of a parliamentary system. Petitions to adopt term limits for members of Congress have circulated for years. But much of the current impetus comes from fervent fiscal conservatives. This includes calls for an amendment requiring a balanced budget and other restraints on the federal government’s spending and taxation powers.
National: With no money to replace them, can we count on old voting machines? | The Kansas City Star
Election authorities in Kansas and Missouri are growing nervous. Their touch-screen and optical-scan election machines that voters poked and punched just a few weeks ago are growing old. Some devices now exceed their expected life cycle and need to be replaced. But the enormous cost of buying new election equipment has left legislators and budget officers with little appetite for the job. Replacing all the voting machines in just Jackson and Johnson counties would cost between $10 million and $20 million, according to some estimates, far more than lawmakers have set aside for such purchases. As a result, election officials say, voters in the 2016 presidential election may confront old, unreliable machines — and the potential for another Bush vs. Gore debacle. “We’re just really concerned,” said Bob Nichols, the Democratic election director for Jackson County. “Going into a presidential election year with old equipment — we don’t want to be another Florida.” The Presidential Commission on Election Administration warned of a voting machine crisis in a report it issued nearly a year ago. “This impending crisis arises from the widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago,” it wrote. “Jurisdictions do not have the money to purchase new machines, and legal and market constraints prevent the development of machines they would want even if they had the funds.”
National: A Facebook Change Makes It Harder for Political Campaigns to See Your Friends | New York Times
When you log in to a politician’s Facebook app, the campaign enjoys relatively easy access to your friends on the social network. But starting next year, that automatic access will go away. That may provide users with some relief from unwanted messages. It will certainly help Facebook respond to complaints that it shares too much of its users’ information without their consent. But it also could lead to more campaigns advertising on the platform, which is good for the company’s bottom line. President Obama’s 2012 campaign used Facebook to create a list of 1 million people; users who signed into its website via Facebook used the campaign’s custom app to do so. They were then asked to authorize the campaign to access information about all of their Facebook friends. When granted, the campaign could compare those users with existing voter files in order to help better define the voters it needed to reach. Now many political campaigns have their own Facebook apps, not just pages.
The Federal Election Commission impermissibly narrowed disclosure requirements for corporations and labor organizations that finance electioneering communications, the political ads that run close to an election, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. In setting aside an FEC regulation, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the commission initiated a rulemaking in response to a Supreme Court decision, but that nothing in the Supreme Court case amounted to a basis for the FEC to narrow the disclosure rules Congress had enacted. She said the FEC regulation was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law.
On the gridiron, it takes a team to win, and some elected officials around the South are looking to band together rather than brawl over the 2016 presidential primaries. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is among those pushing a regional March 1, 2016 contest known as the “SEC Primary,” named after the Southeastern Conference and would include states like Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi and possibly Alabama and Louisiana. “As someone who went to the University of Georgia and lives in Athens and understands how powerful the Southeastern Conference is in football today, that is exactly what we want to be when it comes to presidential politics,” Kemp said. Although the state primaries would be held for each party, much of the focus would be on the large group of Republican presidential contenders expected to vie for the nomination.
A Democratic group says it will file a formal complaint with federal regulators against three Republican organizations after a CNN investigation revealed that they shared internal polling data before the midterm elections by posting the information on anonymous Twitter accounts. The liberal advocacy group American Democracy Legal Fund alleged in a complaint meant to be filed Monday to the Federal Election Commission that the National Republican Congressional Committee, the American Action Network and American Crossroads broke federal rules that prohibit coordination between campaign committees and outside groups. “The NRCC and outside groups appear to have engaged in illegal coordination through sharing internal polling data,” according to the complaint, which was provided to CNN by American Democracy Legal Fund. “By hiding their communications on a public website, Respondents intentionally tried to create a loophole in the coordination rules. Such an intentional effort to knowingly flout campaign finance laws cannot be condoned.”
In a season of rough campaign attack ads, the one aimed at a North Carolina judge was among the roughest. “Justice Robin Hudson sided with the predators,” viewers were told. “Justice Robin Hudson — not tough on child molesters, not fair to victims.” Hudson, a Democrat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was one of the state-level judges targeted this year by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent $4 million nationwide on an effort to tilt state courts in a conservative direction. Though Republicans took control of the Senate and many governors mansions in the midterm election, the committee’s courthouse campaigns fell short of unseating Hudson and judges it targeted in Montana, Tennessee and Missouri. Judicial campaigns once were typically sedate affairs, little noticed outside of bar association dinners, but that is changing rapidly under a new wave of campaign spending driven by outside political groups and unlimited donations. Court campaigns in several states set spending records, according to a study that counted about $14 million in television advertising in state Supreme Court races — about $2 million more than in 2010.
In North Carolina, early voting was cut by seven days. In Kansas, 22,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship. And in Texas, Democrats say the country’s toughest voter ID law contributed to a one-term congressman’s losing a tight race to his Republican rival. After an Election Day that featured a wave of new voting restrictions across the country, data and details about who cast a ballot are being picked over to see if tighter rules swayed the outcomes of any races or contributed to the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. Since 2011, a dozen Republican-led states have passed strict voter ID requirements, some blocked by courts, measures that Republicans describe as needed to increase confidence in elections and critics call the modern equivalent of a poll tax, intended to suppress turnout by Democratic voters. Few are arguing that the laws drastically affected the overall results in a year that produced sweeping Republican victories, or that they were the dominant factor in voter participation. Although some Democrats claim the new laws may have swung close elections this month, voting experts caution that it is too soon to tell.
The voter ID debate isn’t going anywhere. The issue is largely a state-by-state one. Generally, Republicans rise to control in certain states and pass legislation, and then liberal and minority groups and supporters sue to overturn. And with the GOP obtaining full control of even more states after the 2014 election — they now have 24 — more states could look at such laws in the near future. So where do the American people stand? Well, on the surface, polls show they are overwhelmingly in favor of the concept of presenting identification before voting. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a pretty deep divide on the basis for such laws. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people which they thought was a bigger problem: voter fraud or voter disenfranchisement. Forty percent of Americans said the former, while 43 percent said the latter — about an even split.
David G. Herro, a well-known money manager in Chicago, has given more than $2 million to political campaigns and causes over the last seven years. So perhaps it is not too surprising that a United States senator and other prominent politicians have dropped by his offices just to chat. “A lot of the time they just want to sit and talk,” said Mr. Herro, the son of an accountant and a nurse who raised six children in Milwaukee, and a partner at Harris Associates. “But the reason they do want to see you, eventually, is for financial support.” Just like his approach to picking investments, his strategy for giving is specific: He supports mostly Republican candidates who share his worldview that people deserve the same opportunities — including education — but that government should serve more as a referee, not an active player. He is more likely to give if a race looks to be tight. And some of his larger donations have been to a political action committee that defended Republicans who were supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay rights.
In the aftermath of the midterm elections, there’s no shortage of easy explanations for the outcome, and everyone’s an expert. Pundits say the Democrats didn’t allow President Barack Obama to campaign enough, or featured him too much. They didn’t talk enough about the economy. They went too negative, or weren’t negative enough. The Republicans ran better, less extreme candidates. Variously, gerrymandering, vote suppression, vote fraud, or big money made the difference. Of course, the real reasons are far more complex. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll comb through the data to learn more, but right now one fact is painfully clear: Citizens showed up to vote at lower rates than in any federal election since the middle of World War II. Preliminary data indicate that national turnout was below 37 percent. That means nearly 2 in 3 eligible voters, or approximately 144 million American citizens—more than the population of Russia—chose to sit this election out. The nation hasn’t seen turnout this low in any federal general election since 1942. Even in recent midterms, when the turnout was remarkably low, it still exceeded 40 percent, meaning millions more Americans voted in 2006 and 2010 than in 2014.