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Monday, October 3rd, 2011

NYT: States Raising Hurdles at Voting Booth

Hurdle

As if voting on Tuesday wasn’t bad enough, Michael Cooper at the New York Times reports this morning on a study from our friends at New York University’s Brennan Center which reveals fourteen states have passed or are working to change the rules to making voting harder for those eligible.

These restrictions will affect everyone — from students to first-time voters to seniors. One of the restrictive changes is occurring in five states that are rolling back opportunities for voters to cast ballots before Election Day. In other words, making voting Tuesday-or-bust.

Ohio passed a law eliminating early voting on Sundays, and Florida eliminated it on the Sunday before Election Day — days when some African-American churches organized “souls to the polls” drives for members of their congregations. Maine voted to stop allowing people to register to vote on Election Day — a practice that had been credited with enrolling some 60,000 new voters in 2008. Voters in Maine and Ohio are now seeking to overturn the new laws with referendums.

The long-running argument about enacting restrictive voting laws to stop voter fraud at the polls has also surfaced yet again. It’s an argument our board member Norm Ornstein has countered is misguided. I also learned firsthand on Election Day 2008 in North Dakota that voter fraud, even in the only state in the union without voter registration, doesn’t happen with any regularity or measurable impact. Even so, these laws keep coming.

Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required at airports but not at polling sites. Democrats counter that the new laws are a solution in search of a problem, since voter fraud is rare. They worry that the laws will discourage, or even block, eligible voters — especially poor voters, young voters and African-American voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

The Justice Department must review the new laws in several states to make sure that they do not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law in 2008, saying that while it found no evidence of the fraud the law was intended to combat, it also found no evidence that the new requirements were a burden on voters.

“This year there’s been a significant wave of new laws in states across the country that have the effect of cracking down on voting rights,” said Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center, who noted that five million votes would have made a difference in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. “It is the most significant rollback in voting rights in decades.”

As Norm has also pointed out, requiring voters to carry an approved ID is a major issue, as well.

The biggest impact, the Brennan Center said, will be from laws requiring people to show government-issued photo identification to vote. This year, 34 states introduced legislation to require it — a flurry of activity that Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, called “pretty unusual.” Before this year, only two states, Indiana and Georgia, had “strict” photo identification requirements for voters, according to the conference. This year, five more states — Wisconsin, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — passed laws to join their ranks.

South Carolina and Texas estimate that between them they have more than 800,000 registered voters who may not have acceptable forms of photo identification. While both states will offer free identification cards that would be acceptable at the polls, critics of the new laws worry that the added barrier to voting could discourage people from going to the polls. South Carolina estimates that 8 percent of its voters — 216,596 people — do not currently have the proper identification.

For the complete article, click here. You can bet we’ll be staying on top of this over the course of the next year.

Photo of guy jumping hurdle via bigvalleystrider on Flickr.

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Debating Benefits of Early Voting

Early Voting Sign

A conversation about early voting is playing out in the New York Times this week. It started Monday, when chief political correspondent Jeff Zeleny reported that early voting is changing the way political campaigns are waged across the United States, if not voter participation.

The calendar may still say September, but people can begin casting their ballots on Tuesday in Ohio. Voting is already under way in Georgia, Iowa and four other states, with Arizona, California and Illinois set to start in the next two weeks.

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While people in New York must have an excuse to vote before Election Day, which is why only 5 percent cast absentee ballots in the presidential race two years ago, most states no longer have that restriction. Voting alternatives range from a pure mail-in ballot in Oregon to a three-week period of balloting in Florida, Texas and Nevada.

Early voting has hardly driven all eligible citizens to vote. Turnout has increased only slightly since 2005 when many states began making voting more convenient. But it has made it far easier for campaigns to find voters who would be likely to be supportive if they could get them to the polling place. And with 70 percent of Americans now able to take advantage of no-excuse early and absentee voting, the trend is permanent.

“It’s not going to represent a seismic shift in the number of people voting,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor who studies early voting and election law. “The convenience of voting is a factor, but it’s not the major reason that people don’t show up to vote.”

Today, the Times has posted an online back-and-forth between columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks about what they see as the downside to early voting: voters may cast a ballot too early, before a big development in the campaign that may cause them to want to take back their vote. (more…)

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Forecast: Cloudy With A Chance Of Low Turnout

Empty Polling Place Photo

In today’s New York Times John Harwood asks a question about tomorrow’s midterm primary elections, “Angry Voters, But How Many?”, which got our attention. He highlights the fact that not only was turnout for Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election underwhelming, but that it’s probably not going to get much better than that this time around.

In 2008, when Mr. Obama’s candidacy galvanized Democrats and intrigued the nation, nearly 4 in 10 Americans declined to vote. Even at peak interest, the American appetite for democratic rituals is hardly universal.

Without a presidential race to lead the ballot, the appetite is even weaker. The last time more than half of the eligible citizens voted in a midterm election was nearly three decades ago, in 1982, census figures show.

Students of modern political history point out that this is often a problem for Democrats. Their less-affluent constituency traditionally goes to the polls at lower rates.

“We usually do well when the turnout is low,” said John Morgan, a longtime Republican demographic specialist.

Comparing 2010 to one election with modest turnout in which his party captured both houses of Congress, Mr. Morgan observed, “This smells like 1946.”

Elections with low turnout can allow parties to tilt the outcome substantially through small shifts in the composition of those voting.

In the 1994 midterms, for example, overall turnout as a proportion of eligible citizens dropped slightly. But since Representative Newt Gingrich’s party was energized that year and President Bill Clinton’s was downcast, the result earned the moniker “Republican Revolution.”

“You can have a big-wave result,” Mr. Cook said, “without a big wave of voters.”

We’ll be monitoring tomorrow’s vote here. If you’re curious why we’re voting on Tuesday, the answer is here.

Photo of empty polling place via nonnormalizable on Flickr.

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Lever Voting, The NYT, and Twitter

NYT Lever Voting Picture

Props to New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee for using Twitter to follow up on a cool voting machines story.

On May 24th I noticed her article about New York’s “love affair” with lever voting machines. New York is the only state in the Union to still use this technology, and Lee’s article outlined the debate over whether or not keeping the machines around is a good or a bad thing. But one thing was left unresolved in her article: which counties in New York would be ditching the machines in favor of optical-scan systems. So I sent her a tweet to see if she had an update.

@WhyTuesday? to @jenny8lee

A few days later, I also tweeted her with an article saying that 16 counties were losing lever voting.

@WhyTuesday to @jenny8lee #2

Ah, the power of Twitter. The next day, Lee tweeted me back saying my tweet had inspired her to do an update to her story to see what New York City’s plans were!

Jenny 8. Lee Response

The update was that New York City was resisting New York State’s push for an optical-scan pilot program and would be sticking with the lever voting machines. The reasoning?

“Participation in the pilot program proposed by the State Board of Elections is not authorized by state law,” said Gregory C. Soumas, the Democratic elections board commissioner for Manhattan. “Any expenditures for voting systems incurred pursuant to the state board’s pilot program are not authorized by law.”

You can tweet with us too. Follow Why Tuesday? on Twitter by clicking here.

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

NYT: Uphold the Voting Rights Act

NYT

As we’ve discussed here before, the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a moment in American history that is near and dear to our hearts. And in the spirit of the Voting Rights Act the Why Tuesday? team strives to find solutions to increase voter turnout and participation in elections.

Some of the same rank-and-file that participated in the fight for Civil Rights, like Ambassador Andrew Young and our founder Bill Wachtel, are the Why Tuesday? board members that push us every day to keep on in the war on low voter turnout.

Today the New York Times takes a look at an effort in Texas to repeal a specific section of the Voting Rights Act, in the name of progress, and decides that the argument being presented is flawed and counterproductive.

Some people claim that Barack Obama’s election has ushered in a “postracial” America, but the truth is that race, and racial discrimination, are still very much with us. The Supreme Court should keep this reality in mind when it considers a challenge to an important part of the Voting Rights Act that it recently agreed to hear. The act is constitutional — and clearly still needed.

Section 5, often called the heart of the Voting Rights Act, requires some states and smaller jurisdictions to “preclear” new voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. When they do, they have to show that the proposed change does not have the purpose or effect of discriminating against minority voters.

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In last fall’s election, despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by Section 5. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.

If Section 5 is struck down, states and localities would have far more freedom to erect barriers for minority voters — and there is little doubt that some would do just that. We have not arrived at the day when special protections like the Voting Rights Act are not needed.

We’ll keep on top of this story. To read the complete New York Times editorial, click here.

For more on our connection to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and to learn more about what we do, click here. Still don’t know why we vote on Tuesday? Here’s the answer.

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Why Tuesday? in The New York Times

NYT Op-Ed

The following Op-Ed, penned by our board member Norman J. Ornstein and U.S. Representative Steve Israel, is running today in the New York Times.

Washington

BY Nov. 4, more than $5 billion will have been spent trying to persuade voters to cast their presidential and congressional ballots one way or another. Despite all the money and the news media hysteria, and even with record numbers of Americans heading to the polls, the United States won’t even come close to the top nations in the world for voter turnout. We will be well behind — to name just a few — Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand.

What do those countries, among many others, have in common? Their citizens all vote on a weekend day. But in the United States, for more than 150 years, we’ve voted on Tuesday. Why? It’s not in the Constitution. It isn’t to avoid holidays. And it’s not because people hate Mondays.

The reason we vote on Tuesday makes perfect sense — at least it did in 1845.

To understand the decision Congress made that year, let’s imagine ourselves as members of early agrarian American society. Saturday was for farming, Sunday was the Lord’s day, Monday was required for travel to the county seat where the polling places were, Tuesday you voted, Wednesday you returned home, and Thursday it was back to work.

It’s a safe bet that today most Americans don’t follow the same schedule as our farming forefathers. In fact, for many, Tuesday is one of the most inconvenient days to hold an election. One in four people who didn’t vote in 2006 said that they were “too busy” or had “conflicting work or school schedules.”

Legislation now before Congress would finally tailor our voting system to modern American life by establishing weekend voting for national elections. (Mr. Israel is sponsoring the bill in the House.) Here’s how it would work: The presidential election would be held on the Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, while for those who aren’t often home on the weekends, there would be a few days of early voting.

Our current system penalizes single parents, people working two jobs, and those who have to choose between getting a paycheck and casting a ballot. Two weekend days of voting means those working families would have a greater chance of making it to the polls. It means easing the long lines during rush hour at the polling sites. It means more locations, more poll workers and more voters.

Some have suggested making Election Day a holiday, but that would involve a serious cost to the economy. Moving Election Day to the weekend means more convenience and less expense.

Making a change like this won’t be easy, but it’s not unprecedented. In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday law, which moved Memorial Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Washington’s Birthday from their original dates to Mondays. If we can alter our federal holidays to benefit shoppers and travelers, surely we can change Election Day for the benefit of our voters.

Let’s take a cue from the Congress of 1845 and ensure that voting is available to as many working Americans as possible — not just those who can make it to the polls on a Tuesday.

To learn more about Why Tuesday? click here.

Illustration by Ivory Simms for The New York Times.

About Us

Why Tuesday? is a non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2005 to find solutions to increase voter turnout and participation in elections... More

The Answer

In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote... More

Recent Comments

In France they last voted on a Sunday. France is despite the Bourbon legacy a largely Catholic country, yet they vote on Sunday...

Posted by Patrick on blog post Why Do We Vote On Tuesday?

I think weekend voting would make the most sense, as people wouldn't have tu run home after work or wake up early to hit the polling stations beforehand.

Posted by Zander on blog post Why Do We Vote On Tuesday?

Sunday would be inconvenient for Christians. We should, 1. Move the voting day to Saturday. 2...

Posted by John on blog post Why Do We Vote On Tuesday?