When it comes to running elections and counting votes, states and counties have come a long way over the past dozen years. Nothing demonstrates their progress better than watching other people try to do the same job. During the Republican presidential primary campaign this year, several states were embarrassed by snafus with their caucuses, which are run by political parties rather than by public officials. In Iowa, an eight-vote election-night win for Mitt Romney was later converted into a 34-vote victory for Rick Santorum, with party officials admitting that they didn’t, in fact, know the actual number. (The state party chair resigned.) Counting was slow enough in Nevada to raise doubts during the delay, while in Maine, the GOP decided to declare Romney the statewide winner before some counties had even held their caucuses. “It’s been stunning to watch,” says Cathy Cox, a former Georgia secretary of state. “Caucus voting looks like the Wild West of voting.”
Imagine, for a moment, that you didn’t need to raise money to run for office, that the government would pay you to run. Who would that help? Would it encourage more moderate candidates, who are usually pressured out of nomination contests by party money because they don’t stand for anything? Or would it enable the extremists, whom are normally de-funded due to concerns about their toxic views? Well, we actually don’t need to imagine. Arizona and Maine had just such a system in place for state legislative elections during the last decade. So Michael Miller and I collected roll call votes from those states and compared those who first got elected through “clean” funding with those who achieved offices through traditional funding methods. We report the results in our new paper “Buying Extremists,” which we’re presenting next week at the meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.
Republicans have spent 2010 overhauling voter laws to design their ideal electorate. Last night, voters in Maine fought back, approving Question 1, which restores Election Day registration. It won easily by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.
As I detailed in the November issue of the magazine, when Republicans gained control of Maine’s legislative chambers and governor’s office, they set their sights on building a permanent majority by passing restrictive voter laws. They failed to push a voter-ID bill through the legislature, but Republican Governor Paul LePage signed a repeal of Maine’s Election Day registration this summer.
Sometimes political operatives go too far. Opponents of Maine’s long-standing and popular same-day voter registration system killed it in the legislature this year – but they still have to face an unhappy public at the polls. Sadly, their main campaign tactic appears to be producing lists that smear the good names of Maine residents, and the integrity of the state’s elections, with unfounded insinuations of election crimes.
First there was the list of 206: 206 students living at the University of Maine, who had come to identify Maine as their new home, but paid out-of-state tuition under the University’s strict rules. Suddenly a politician holds a press conference, and their hometowns, initials, and birth dates appear on a blacklist of students that “may have committed voter fraud.” The secretary of state then folded this list into a serious criminal investigation, which proceeded in spite of the easily-discovered fact that the sole criterion used to compile it – that the 206 paid out-of-state tuition – has nothing to do with their eligibility to vote in Maine.
Voting Blogs: Portland Maine’s Instant-Runoff Mayoral Election: Innovative Voting, Constitutional Questions | State of Elections
On November 8, 2011, Portland, Maine residents will vote for mayor for the first time in nearly a century. For the past 88 years, Portland’s city councilors annually appointed the mayor. However, last year Portland residents voted to popularly elect the mayor. The impetus behind the change is the hope that an elected mayor will carry more political clout in Augusta, the State Capitol. This sudden creation of a very powerful political figure is drawing lots of attention from academics assessing the potential political impacts.
However, the election changes more than just Maine’s political balance and who chooses the mayor. It also establishes a controversial voting procedure for how the mayor is chosen. The 2011 mayor race will use instant-runoff voting (IRV), which encompasses voters’ preferential choices. Here’s how IRV works: each voter votes for as many candidates as he wants, ranking them from his first to last preference. The instant runoff ballot might look like this. Once the votes are collected, voters’ first choices are tallied. If any candidate carries more than 50% of the vote, then that candidate wins. However, given that there are 16 candidates in Portland’s mayoral race, it is extremely unlikely that one candidate will carry the necessary 50% of the vote. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, then the candidate receiving the lowest number of first place votes is eliminated, and his votes are redistributed to the candidates his voters ranked as their second choice. This process is repeated from the bottom up until one candidate carries the necessary majority.
Editorials: Who Stole the Election? Dominating many state legislatures, Republicans have launched a full-on assault on voting rights | American Prospect
When Charles Webster was a member of the Maine House during the 1980s and 1990s, he and his Republican colleagues routinely proposed bills that would create restrictive voting laws—or, as Webster sees it, legislation to tamp down on the rampant threat of voter fraud. “Every year we tried to solve this problem,” he says, “and it was always a partisan vote,” with Democrats supporting laws intended to increase turnout. As a result, Webster says, “We have one of the most loosey-goosey, lax election laws in the country.”
Others would call Maine’s voting laws a striking success. Most states struggle to get citizens to the polls; national turnout for a presidential election hasn’t topped 60 percent since 1968, and turnout for midterm elections hovers in the 30s. That puts the United States far below the participation level in other Western democracies. Yet for the past four decades, Maine has stood apart. With an array of regulations that encourage voting—the state has allowed voters to register on Election Day since 1973—Maine consistently places among the top five states for turnout. Seventy-two percent of the eligible population voted in 2008 when Barack Obama carried the state.
Republicans like Webster, who now chairs the state GOP, argue that too many people are voting in the state—at least, too many illegal immigrants, out-of-state college students, and people who live in hotels. “What I don’t want is somebody coming in stealing elections who doesn’t live in the town,” Webster says.
Well over a year before the 2012 presidential election, there’s a battle going on over next year’s ballots—how they’ll count and who will get to cast them. At stake is an attempt to distort the voters’ will by twisting the rule of law. Most recently, Pennsylvania has been the focus of this battle. Dominic Pileggi, the state Senate majority leader, wants to change the way the Keystone State distributes its electoral votes, divvying them up according to how each presidential candidate performed in each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the candidate who won the popular vote.
So while Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2008 netted him all 21 of its electoral votes, the Pileggi plan would have shaved that figure to 11 electors. (Nationwide, Obama won 242 congressional districts while John McCain got 193.) The change would be even sharper as Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is expected to have 12 of the state’s 18 seats drawn to favor the GOP. Obama could win a majority of the Keystone vote again but only score eight of the state’s 20 electors. Do we really want to bring gerrymandering into presidential elections?
Voting Blogs: College Students and Voter Fraud: Charlie Webster’s Maine Problem | State of Elections
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster is “on a mission to make Maine a better place.” The trouble is, the “better place” he envisions lies on the other side of what may be an insurmountable controversy.
Since famously brandishing a list of 206 alleged voter frauds—all college students—a few weeks ago, Webster has been branded the leader of a witch hunt. The chairman maintains that Maine law is very clear that residency must be established before voting. This is true, but Webster’s opponents on this issue are quick to point out that doing so is almost trivially easy, and certainly not beyond students’ ability. Webster insists on implementing several harsher residency requirements, such as paying income taxes.
He intends to prevent students attending schools away from their hometowns from voting in communities where their interests may run counter to the residents’. At the center of this issue is Maine’s Election Day registration law, which was repealed in June but may be on its way back from the grave. Webster contends that students—especially out-of-state students—who register and vote on their Maine campuses on a day-of basis may be committing fraud. Few such students think to notify their original place of registration of their new voting locale, and many are registered in two places at once. However, dual registration alone is not voter fraud, and Webster’s critics claim that Maine has virtually no issues with voter fraud, that voting machines are designed to protect against this issue, and that voter registries are routinely updated to account for changes of address.
Editorials: The Old Electoral College Switcheroo: The Devastating Consequences of Pennsylvania’s Proposal to Game the Electoral College | Joshua Spivak/Huffington Post
With a close 2012 presidential race approaching, Republican-dominated legislature is now looking to deliver a big blow to President Obama’s electoral strategy. The state is debating whether to switch its allocation of its Electoral College votes from the winner-take-all system used by nearly every other state to the congressional district-based system of dividing votes.
The result of such a switch could seriously damage Obama’s chances of reelection. He won 21 electoral votes in Pennsylvania in 2008. Under the district-based system, he would have only won 11. But the effect on 2012 is not the real problem with such a switch — instead it could cause a quadrennial havoc and serve as another body blow to any public confidence in the electoral system.
The Electoral College has already come under massive criticism following the 2000 presidential debacle, with numerous legislative attempts to revamp or junk the College. Whatever the merits of the complaints, one of the positives of the system is that most voters may view the Electoral College as a simple process — win a state, win its votes. However, the winner-take-all, also known as the “Unit Rule,” allocation method of the Electoral College is not mandatory. It is used by forty-eight states. But the other two, Nebraska and Maine, hand out two votes to the winner of the state, and give the rest of their votes (combined, they have nine) to the winner of each congressional district. And only once, in 2008 when Obama won one vote in Nebraska, have those two states split their vote.
Voting Blogs: It’s Not Just Who You Are, It’s Where You Live: Domicile and the Elections Stained Glass Window | Doug Chapin/PEEA
The past week’s headlines have a number of stories about the importance of political geography:
+ In Indiana, the state Supreme Court refused (for the time being) to take a case challenging the eligibility of Secretary of State Charlie White to serve, given allegations that he had registered to vote at an address where he did not live;
+ In New Jersey, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated former Olympian and current state Senate candidate Carl Lewis to the ballot after a trial court removed him because of the state’s “durational residency” requirement for candidates; and
+ Maine’s GOP chair cited evidence that 19 medical students registered to vote in 2004 from a South Portland Holiday Inn Express in arguing that the repeal of the state’s same-day registration law should stand.