— Election Reform —

April 10, 2013

Ken Block: Data shows Master Lever Likely Helped Speaker Fox Avoid Defeat Last November

Monique Chartier

This afternoon, Ken Block released the following interesting analysis of the 2012 election results for District 4.

Reform advocate urges Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed to respect the voice of Rhode Islanders and let bills eliminating Master Lever come to vote

(PROVIDENCE, RI 4/10/13) Businessman Ken Block, who has been a leading advocate for the effort to reform elections in Rhode Island by eliminating the Master Lever, released data from the Board of Elections today which shows the outdated voting mechanism may have been the only thing that saved House Speaker Gordon Fox from defeat at the polls last November.

At the same time, Block called on Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed to allow the bill to eliminate the Master Lever to come to a vote, suggesting that if the Senate President was serious about "moving the needle" and fixing the state's economy, a crucial step is getting rid of this archaic voting option that undermines democracy in our state. "Killing the Master Lever legislation in an unaccountable way by denying the bill the opportunity for an up or down vote doesn't move the needle - it mangles the needle", said Block.

Block said the final results of the District 4 State Representative race between Fox and independent challenger Mark Binder last November show that Master Lever votes quite possibly made the difference in keeping the Speaker from being unseated. Fox won with a final tally of 3,590 votes compared to 2,595 votes for Binder. The margin of victory was 995 votes, much less than the 1,469 Democratic master lever/straight party votes which inflated Fox's vote count.

"A level playing field may have resulted in a different outcome in that race," said Block. "It is a powerful reminder that we need to demand that our elected officials put the rights of the voters first rather than promoting an outdated voting tool that helps them cling to power."

Continue reading " Ken Block: Data shows Master Lever Likely Helped Speaker Fox Avoid Defeat Last November"

April 1, 2013

Journal on Master Lever and Senate Hearing

Patrick Laverty

Yesterday, the Providence Journal also came out against the single party voting option, better known around here as the "master lever." In the editorial, the Journal cites itself from another editorial written in 1948, describing the origins of the master lever.

We note that the lever law passed under very dubious circumstances, after an all-night session, in 1948. The Senate rammed it through 20 minutes before adjourning for the year; the House, “without a word of debate, or of explanation,” as The Journal reported then.
Well, I'm so glad that our General Assembly has changed so much in the last 65 years. It's great that the Assembly never jams anything through on the final night, minutes before adjournment in the wee hours...oh wait. What was that they say about those that don't remember history and being doomed to repeat it? Anyway, the Journal also had more.
As the paper editorialized on April 30, 1948: “The purpose, of course, is to help the major parties and to hurt independent parties and independent candidates, by denying them a fair chance to win elections. The act is viciously discriminatory and, we believe, unconstitutional.”
This relates directly to the idea of fair elections and disenfranchising voters. If that's what you care about, then you're in favor of eliminating the master lever.

I'm also glad to read in the article that some Representatives are listening and learning.

“It was certainly compelling. He won my vote,” said freshman committee member Joseph Shekarchi (D.-Warwick), a bright, can-do lawyer who signaled he wants to move Rhode Island in the right direction.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Michael McCaffrey will take testimony on the bill tomorrow, Tuesday, scheduled for 4:30 pm. This may be the public's final opportunity to weigh in directly to our legislators. This is extremely important for people to do, especially in light of comments from people like Judiciary Committee member Senator Stephen Archambault, who said to Ian Donnis at RIPR:

"I think that's a minority push to try to even the playing field, to be frank with you."
Great. We have an elected Senator who is admittedly doing what he can to keep elections an uneven playing field. Is that what we want? Uneven playing fields in elections? Is he saying that if he didn't benefit from this uneven playing field that he'd then be in favor of eliminating it? Sure sounds like it. This is the mentality that we have with some at the State House and this belief needs to be held accountable. If you're available tomorrow, please consider joining in the testimony at the Statehouse and show the remaining uncommitted Senators and those like Senator Archambault why this belief in wrong and needs to be fixed now.

March 21, 2013

Meg Rogers: Abolishing the Master Lever Will Promote, Not Hinder, Democracy

Engaged Citizen

We, as a society, need to give deference to traditions upon which good governance is built, but, like corsets, manual typewriters, and LP records, the Rhode Island “Master Lever’s” time has passed. It is time to allow it to retire with dignity into the memories of our grandparents and public affairs’ historians.

Contrary to what some may say, eliminating “straight party voting” will not result in civil unrest, locusts or the plague. It will not hinder democracy—rather, it will promote it.

In an increasingly complex world, ending the Master Lever will remove a needless barrier to thoughtful voter participation. By removing it, you actually promote voter literacy because voters must pay attention to each and every electoral race and to each and every ballot question or referendum before them. In Narragansett where I live, many voters in 2012 chose the Master Lever for the Moderate Party, even though there were no Moderate Party candidates listed on our ballot. This is not working.

There are no reasons to continue this archaic practice. Please, do not keep Rhode Island behind the curve as we know the majority of states do not permit straight-party voting. Out of the more than 1500 bills submitted before you this legislative session, this one is truly a “no brainer.” Please pass this bill and get back to the business of helping business, and restoring our business climate so that people can work, live and thrive in our beautiful State.

[Meg Rogers is Chair of the Narragansett GOP. This is the testimony that she gave to the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee last week. Visit the Narragansett GOP Facebook page here.]

March 12, 2013

Moving Toward Abolishing the Lever

Patrick Laverty

The movement to abolish the master lever, or more accurately in Rhode Island, abolish straight party voting (SPV) seems to be gaining steam. A couple days ago, Andrew wrote about the majority of the House Judiciary Committee is also in favor. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 4:30, the committee will hear public testimony on the bill. If this is a bill that interests you, it might be a good idea to stop by and let the House Judiciary know what you feel on this bill.

However, some have questioned whether the master lever really hurts anything. Let's do a quick review. The point of SPV is to cast a vote for all candidates on a ballot who are a member of that party. In multiple cases, voters will cast a vote for a party that has no candidates on the ballot! In multiple cases, voters will cast a SPV vote but then vote for candidates in other parties on the same ballot! Why is that? Are they confused about how SPV works and what it means? If so, that's voter disenfranchisement and needs to be fixed immediately. The fix is to eliminate the option. The only other possibility is malice. They are either protesting or simply trying to cause confusion on their ballot. So again, let's eliminate the ease that someone can create this level of confusion on their ballot.

There's also the issue of undervotes. A SPV vote only goes to candidates who are a member of that party and running in a partisan race where parties matter. Many races on a ballot are considered "non-partisan", which means the candidates are not running for the seat as a member of a party. If a voter casts a SPV vote, any candidate in a non-partisan race does not get a vote, unless the voter specifically casts a vote in that non-partisan race. If the voter does not, that's called an "undervote."

Some will say that many people don't care about these races. They're often for things like school committee and many voters are there simply to vote for President or Congress. They don't care about the down-ballot races. But, looking a little deeper into the numbers that they've dug up over at masterlever.org, they found that on ballots that contained a SPV vote, 45% also had an undervote for non-partisan town council races. On those ballots that did not have a SPV vote, only 19% contained an undervote. In non-partisan school committee races, 31% contained an undervote without the SPV line marked while 58% had an undervote when the SPV line was connected.

That indicates people don't fully understand what the straight party vote is doing on their ballot. This hurts the integrity of elections in those non-partisan races. This is doing a disservice to the candidates in those races. The data bears out the fact that when Rhode Island joins the many others who abolished straight party voting that we will then have more true elections and a great deal of integrity will be restored.

Please consider stopping by the Statehouse tomorrow night and telling the House Judiciary to Abolish the Lever.

March 10, 2013

House Judicary Majority Supports Eliminating the Master Lever. So They Should Vote to Eliminate the Master Lever

Carroll Andrew Morse

The weekly legislative review will start a little early this weekend.

On Wednesday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee will hear several bills on removing the master lever (i.e., the straight-party option) from Rhode Island election ballots. For various reasons, the most important of these bills is H5778, submitted at the request of the Secretary of State.

Consider this: According to Ken Block's Eliminate the Master Lever website, there should be enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to pass this bill...

House Judiciary Committee
Supports Eliminating the Master Lever?
Representative Edith H. Ajello (Chair)Yes
Representative Joseph S. AlmeidaYes
Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski
Representative Doreen Marie CostaYes
Representative Robert E. Craven, Sr.Yes
Representative John J. DeSimone (Vice-Chair)No
Representative Donald J. Lally Jr.
Representative Charlene LimaYes
Representative Michael J. MarcelloYes
Representative Peter F. Martin (Secretary)Yes
Representative J. Patrick O'Neill
Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi
Representative Donna M. WalshYes

...meaning that for H5778 to go before the full House membership, all that has to happen is for Judiciary Committee members who have said they support eliminating the master lever to vote for what they say they support. Neither leadership, nor anyone else outside of the House Judiciary Committee, has the power at this stage of the lawmaking process to prevent H5778 from reaching the House floor It only be denied a floor vote if the declared supporters of eliminating straight-party voting decide to let someone else decide the issue.

To fully understand this, consider how the vote to hold for further study is described in the House rules: a vote on "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study". A vote for passage is described similarly: a vote on "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of passage". Both actions result in the bill being reported to the House, the difference being that a bill reported with a recommendation for passage must be acted on by the full House while a bill held for further study, according to a express rule, need never be heard of again. The rules are murky on what can happen next after a bill is held, and the practice in the Rhode Island legislature has been to leave it solely to the leadership to decide if a held bill is returned to committee. But the leadership does not assume this power to decide a bill's fate and has no actual power to block any bill from reaching the floor (provided it has been submitted early enough in the session) until a majority of committee members decide that they are going to surrender their power to decide on a bill.

Make no mistake however, it is not the existence of the "further study" rule nor any other rule at the Rhode Island General Assembly that has made the open committee process subservient to decisions made behind closed doors. The real problem is that a great majority of Rhode Island really believe they must wait for leadership permission before they can vote the way they want to in committee on every single issue that comes before them. There is no rules change that can fix this; only representatives willing to act on the principle that making their own decisions is more important than following orders can.

So are there any Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee that would consider taking the radical for Rhode Island step of saying "let's vote on this" when the master lever bill comes up for consideration this Wednesday? I believe there are no less than three strong possibilities...

  • Representative Michael Marcello, the primary legislative sponsor of the abolish the lever bill, sits on the House Judiciary committee. If he hears nothing during its hearings to change his mind about the bill he sponsored, and thinks it has the votes to pass, it would be entirely appropriate for him to motion for this bill to be sent to the floor for consideration, rather than be held for further study.
  • The chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee is Representative Edith Ajello, also a supporter of abolishing the Master Lever. Perhaps someone can politely point out to her that a majority of her committee supports passage of this bill, and that it would be appropriate for her to send the bill to the House floor, rather than hold it for further study (assuming that she does not believe that part of her job as a committee Chairwoman to block bills that have majority support from her members, until she gets permission from elsewhere).
  • And if the powers that be don't want to take action on the bill immediately, Representative Doreen Costa is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She (as does any member of the Judiciary Committee) has the right to ask that the bill be voted on immediately during Wednesday's proceedings, instead of it being subjected to further study, and she may be inclined to be less reticent about being the first one to stand up and say we should vote on this than some other Reps.
Despite what people who are complacent with the existing power structure may try to tell you, it will not lead to unmanageable anarchy if a group of legislators who are in the majority tell the leadership that they don't have to wait for permission to vote on a bill they support. That is, in fact, what they were elected to do.

January 13, 2013

Master Lever Master Confusion: What Happens to Votes Cast For An Unaffiliated Candidate?

Monique Chartier

In a post yesterday describing some of Ken Block's findings about apparent voting problems with the master lever, Patrick wrote

115 times [in Burrillville], the line was connected in favor of the Moderate party, but then all but 18 times, the voters chose someone else for Governor.

The initial temptation is to make a glib comment about the apparent intellectual capacity of these voters. In fact, however, from everything I've heard and read, not just in the last week or so, the master lever throws a serious monkey wrench into a voter's ability to accurately cast his ballot. That, in fact, is much more likely to be the cause of the seeming irreconcilable intent of these voters.

In an important "ferinstance", there is conflicting information as to what happens to the vote cast for an unaffiliated candidate in a multi seat race, like town council, when a master lever is pulled. Councilman Jim O'Neill of South Kingstown (who runs unaffiliated and is a smart guy about this stuff) swears up and down that if someone pulls the Democrat (or Republican) lever but then votes for him, the vote for him is thrown out.

However, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis says that the opposite would happen! Who is right?

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

January 12, 2013

How Straight Party Voting is Broken

Patrick Laverty

Since the topic of straight-party voting has come up, of course there are those who want the option to stay. They believe that if I don't want to use it, I don't have to, but why take it away from those who do want to use it? Hey, great question. Let's answer that.

Because many use it incorrectly and that skews elections.

First, what's the point behind the straight-party option? The intent is that a voter can enter the voting booth, connect the line for the party and that will tally a vote for every candidate in a partisan race who is a member of that party. If there are non-partisan races or referenda on the ballot, no vote is tallied for those unless one is specifically marked on the ballot. All good so far, right?

Additionally, if there is a partisan race where the voter does not want to tally a vote for the member of the party that they connected the straight-party line for, they can override that vote by marking the ballot in that race. Here's an example. Let's say for example, I want to vote for every Democrat on the ballot. So I connect the line for the Democrat party in the straight-party option. But, I want to vote for the Republican for Lieutenant Governor. I can then connect the line for the Republican in that area and then turn in my ballot. I don't have to connect all the other lines for Democrats. The option is still there, though I'm not entirely certain why it's that hard to draw a one-inch line for each of the other candidates, but that's not the point here.

Now, let's take this one step further, as I'm assuming that the scenarios I've mentioned make sense. You connect the line, your intent is to cast a vote for everyone in that race. However, Ken Block has done a little research of his own. As he mentioned on Newsmakers this week, in just the town of Burrillville, during the 2010 election, 560 ballots were cast with a straight-party vote. He broke that down and just looked at those where there was a straight-party vote for the Moderate party. 115 of the 560 qualified there. Based on that and what we discussed earlier about the intent of straight-party voting, we'd have to assume that each Moderate party candidate would have received some number of votes close to 115. However, the official results showed that the Moderate Party candidate for Governor (Block himself) was credited with 18 votes. Out of those 115 ballots, here is how the votes were actually counted:

John Robitaille42
Frank Caprio35
Ken Block18
Lincoln Chafee17
(Data taken from Ken Block on Newsmakers episode)

No, this is not a mistake by the Burrillville Board of Canvassers. This is how the people actually voted. 115 times, the line was connected in favor of the Moderate party, but then all but 18 times, the voters chose someone else for Governor.

Maybe people liked the Moderate Party but not Ken Block? Well, Moderate Party Attorney General candidate Chris Little received 31 votes. The voters chose someone else in the other race 84 times. Additionally, 60% of those 115 straight-party votes did not go to any Moderate Party candidate on the ballot. Even in the 2012 election, 9,000 straight-party votes were cast for the Moderate party even though they only had candidates on four ballots around the state. If you don't have a Moderate on your ballot, why are you connecting the line for the Moderate Party? (Yes, I know you did it as a form of protest mangeek, but a write-in would serve the same purpose.)

Clearly, this data shows that the voters are not using the straight-party option as it is intended, and quite often, it may not even be as the voter intended.

Here is one example of a ballot where the Moderate Party straight-party option was marked and every single other race also had a specific vote cast, and none for the Moderate candidate. Why? This is what is seen hundreds of times in each town around the state in every election.

This data may be representative of the rest of the state as it was only from one town and one party, so if the problem is seen so easily in this data set, we can clearly see what a problem it is for our elections. People got all up in arms during the last election cycle when there were mere allegations of impropriety with our voting system. Very little credible evidence was given with those allegations yet people wanted change to our election system. Here we have solid, indisputable evidence about a problem with our voting system in Rhode Island. Let's make the change. No one gets hurt, not one gets disenfranchised, and voting is no harder when we simply ask that a person draw a one inch line on their ballot another few times. This one is easy. Make it happen.

January 10, 2013

A Majority of RI Reps Are On-the-Record for Eliminating the Master Lever

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ken Block's Eliminate the Master Lever in Rhode Island! website is now reporting that a majority of the members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives say they support the elimination of the straight party option (a.k.a. the "master lever") from Rhode Island general election ballots.

The RI Senate tally still shows 10 votes in favor on the same question.

January 9, 2013

Just 5 More RI Reps Needed for an On-the-Record Majority for Eliminating the Master Lever

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Ken Block, founder of the Rhode Island Moderate Party and creator and sponsor of the Eliminate the Master Lever in Rhode Island! website, just five more State Representatives out of a total 31 undecideds are needed for a majority of Reps to be on record as supporting the elimination of straight-party voting (a.k.a the "master lever") from Rhode Island elections.

In the other chamber, 10 Senators have gone on record as supporting elimination of the master lever, with 10 more needed to get to a majority of 38 (with only one Senator on record as opposing the bill, with 27 undecided).

January 7, 2013

Ban the Master Lever!

Patrick Laverty

We've written about this multiple times before, banning the master lever, also known as straight ticket or straight party voting. It's that option at the top of a ballot where you can simply connect one line and vote for every candidate on the ballot affiliated with that party, in partisan races. I believe this should be eliminated from our ballot, like most states have done. However, in the past, the idea hasn't been able to gain any real traction because it didn't have a person with the time or resources to really drive it in a meaningful way. Robert Healey, a frequent candidate has pushed for its elimination, and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis has advocated for this law change, but without any real campaigning.

Now, one-time candidate for Governor and Moderate Party chairman Ken Block is starting a push to eliminate straight ticket voting from our system. His web site, masterlever.org has information about the use of the lever, bi-partisan comments from supporters of removing the master lever, a running tally of those who support and oppose his action in the Statehouse as well as an easy way for people to write to the state's leaders and request that this change is made.

Sure, it's easy to say that I support this simply because I am not a Democrat and it doesn't help me. But let's take a look at the masterlever.org web site and see if there are any Democratic supporters.

Rep. Edith Ajello, Rep. Raymond Hull, Rep. Peter Palumbo, Rep. Frank Ferri, Rep. Lisa Tomasso, Rep. Teresa Tanzi, Rep. Spencer Dickinson, Rep. Donna Walsh, Rep. Larry Valencia, Rep. Michael Marcello, Rep. Gregory Costantino, Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Rep. Gregg Amore, Rep. Joy Hearn, Rep. John Edwards, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Rep. Peter Martin
Sen. Louis DePalma, Sen. Marc Cote, Sen. William Walaska, Sen. Leo Raptakis, Sen. Susan Sosnowski

Right there are twenty-two Democrats at the Statehouse that are in favor of this. That's more than the entire Republican caucus, so it'd seem fair to label this issue as bi-partisan.

Plus, there have been studies on the subject and the results have indicated that if our goal is to preserve the integrity of elections, using the master lever is not the way to go. Statistics show great amounts of undervotes on ballots when using the straight party option. An undervote is when a vote is not tallied in a specific race. Many towns have non-partisan races for some seats and these are not covered by the straight ticket option. So if a voter didn't take the time to go down and vote in these races, how do we know how many other races the voter did not intend to vote in?

High ranking elections officials have also advocated for the elimination of this option, including the John Daluz, the Chairman of RI Board of Elections:

"the Board voted 3-1 to support the repeal of Rhode Island General Law 17-19-15 Party Levers, to reduce undervotes and eliminate voter confusion."
The good government groups also support this change:
"the master lever, threatens to reverse that process. It's time to eliminate it from Rhode Island's ballot." - Margaret Kane, President, Operation Clean Government
"Almost two decades ago Rhode Island had the foresight to move into the 20th century with our voting machines. Unfortunately our ballot design is stuck in the 19th century with the outdated and confusing master lever. It's time for it to go." - John Marion, Executive Director, Common Cause RI
"The best academic evidence indicates that when voters use the master lever their true preferences for candidates and parties are not realized." - The American Journal of Political Science, 2012
And lastly, even the guy who is in charge of the entire Rhode Island election system, the Secretary of State, a Democrat himself has suggested that we eliminate the straight-ticket option:
"The master lever has the potential to inadvertently disenfranchise some voters and causes too many others to question the fairness of their elections. I'm convinced the time has come to take it off the ballot"
When the evidence is that overwhelming from people who have actually studied this issue, our politicians in opposition to banning the lever at the Statehouse look pretty silly when they testify about this and begin their statements with "I think..." or "I believe...". The data is there. The proof is there. Voters can be disenfranchised when this is an option. Voters' true intent is often not realized.

It's time to join the other 34 US states who have decided to ban the straight party option. Contact your Senator and Representative, as well as Governor Chafee and tell them you support eliminating the master lever.

Quotes taken from http://www.masterlever.org

November 25, 2012

Getting to Root of RI Voting Problems

Patrick Laverty

Edward Fitzpatrick has a column today in the Providence Journal about some comments from state officials on their findings about how the voting went during this month's election. Unfortunately, the focus is always on the precincts that had the most trouble, especially the Juanita Sanchez precinct in Providence where it was reported that some people waited upwards of three hours to cast a vote. Did that happen anywhere else? Not that I've heard. Other than that horror story and some ballots sent to the wrong towns, it all seemed to go relatively smoothly. Sure, I had to wait about 30 minutes at my precinct where normally I can get in and out in less than about three minutes. But unlike primaries and non-Presidential years, this year people were excited to vote. Many of the polls were pointing at a dead heat in the campaign for President, so possibly more people made sure they got out to cast their vote.

As for situations like the Juanita Sanchez precinct, state officials are trying to figure out how to make things better and unfortunately, some may be making the typical mistake by inferring causation from correlation, even where there is none. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis is quoted in Fitzpatrick's column:

Mollis noted that in 2008 Juanita Sanchez was the polling place for 1,136 people and 599 voted there, but this year it was the polling place for about 3,000 voters and 1,251 voted there. “Slightly more than double voted there,” he said, “so that had to have an effect.”
Sure. This year, the maximum number of voters per precinct was increased from 1,900 to 3,000. If there were only 1,251 who voted, still fewer than the half allowed and still fewer than the previous maximum, that does not appear to be the problem. The problem would seem to be that while the state reduced the number of precincts from 541 statewide to 413, quite possibly they did not increase the number of staff working the polls or increase the number of machines at the precincts. In the example above, Mollis pointed out that Juanita Sanchez had 599 voters there in 2008 and 1,251 this year, more than double. Did they double the number of workers? Did they double the number of machines? Or did they keep those numbers the same? Or were the issues at this one precinct merely a statistical anomaly that no one could possibly have accounted for?

When those 128 precincts were eliminated, that must have freed up another 128 voting machines and 128 sets of poll workers. Many of those will not be necessary, as that was the whole point of cutting, but clearly some were. Were any of those extras used to beef up any precincts that needed the help? Does the Board of Elections have someone on call who can deliver machines or staff on short notice?

One other issue that baffled me on election day and others reported similar findings, was also mentioned by Board of Elections Chairman Robert Kando:

And he said some polling sites did a poor job of splitting voters into different lines based on the first letter of their last name, so you might have 200 voters in the A-to-L line and 500 voters in the M-to-Z line. In the future, the Board of Elections will advise polling sites on how to split the voting rolls more evenly, he said.
I was in the A-L line and it was about 30 people deep and took about 30 minutes to get through. The M-Z line was non-existent. People with a last name in the second half of the alphabet were able to walk in and right up to the table. Why? I thought the split was made on the number of registered voters in the town, not by the approximate halfway point in the alphabet. If you have 1,000 people in the A-L lists and 500 in the M-Z lists, why break them up that way? Was this part really lacking this much common sense?

Lastly, and the part that I would put more weight on being the problem is that of the uninformed electorate. C'mon people, is it that hard to educate yourself before heading to the voting booth? If this is the first time you've even read everything on the ballot, how in the world are you going to make a smart decision on any of the referenda?

But more than anything, “those multiple-page ballots killed us,” Kando said. “In Providence, it was three pages, with five sides, and a lot of people didn’t know who they were going to vote for. They just walked into the voting booth and started reading.”
Not knowing "who" you're going to vote for before you get in there is mind-boggling, so when you add in not knowing "what" you're going to vote for and seeing how long some of the referendum questions were, that alone is going to clog up the system.

I'm hoping that the state does figure out how to fix the problems for next time. However my fear is they will use the turnout numbers from this past election for planning the next election which is actually a non-Presidential primary, a voting day with normally the lowest turnout of the all the statewide election possibilities.

November 8, 2012

No, Ralph, No

Patrick Laverty

I will admit that when Ralph Mollis first ran for Secretary of State (SoS), I was no fan of his or his candidacy. It seemed that while there wasn't anything direct to pin on him, there was always a cloud of trouble around him as mayor of North Providence.

However in the six years or so that he's been the Secretary of State, I've always found him and his staff to be available and helpful. Plus, I haven't heard of any controversy swirling around him. As is fitting with his office, he's kept a low profile.

Then yesterday, he told Tara Granahan on WPRO that in light of the election day mixups, it might be time to roll the Board of Elections under the Secretary of State's office.

In a word, NO.

We currently have a blurred line between the two offices. The SoS is responsible for setting up the ballot and upholding the election laws. The Board of Elections (BoE) is responsible for running the elections on election day and tallying the results.

However, the SoS is a publicly elected and partisan office. The Secretary is beholden to the voters. On the other hand, the BoE is a seven-member board, nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate and specifically may not hold any current state-wide public office. (RIGL 17-7-2)

We need to keep partisan politics out of the administration and oversight of elections as much as possible. A board who has to answer to one person who is elected to a partisan seat, is a bad idea.

I also wish the problems that came up Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening never happened. But we do need to find the correct solutions to the problems. If Secretary Mollis needs a pet cause to raise his profile for when his term is up, I'd suggest he start trumpeting his call for eliminating straight ticket voting again. That is one cause that I will get right in line with him and advocate for loudly right there with him. That needs to be done immediately. But allowing the Secretary of State to oversee the election details is not the correct solution at this time.

November 6, 2012

Just Think How Much More Suspenseful It Would Be Around Here Today...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...if Rhode Island didn't award it's electoral votes on a winner take-all basis, unless a candidate exceeded 62.5% of the popular vote! Why 62.5%, you ask? Read the answer here; it will remain valid at least through the 2020 election.

Proportional allocation with winner-take-all above a certain threshold could be put into effect for the next Presidential election, requiring only the action of the Rhode Island legislature and no other -- meaning that folks concerned that Presidential candidates haven't been paying enough attention to RI, because of current rules for allocating electors, should be able to get behind this right away!

November 4, 2012

Want a Million Dollars?

Patrick Laverty

Apparently the state of Rhode Island doesn't. The state is owed $1,245,200 as of August, and possibly more by now. According to a monthly report from the RI Board of Elections, more than 250 politicians, candidates and Political Action Committees (PAC), both past and present, owe amounts ranging from as little as $25 to as much as $132,831.

Usually, the reason for this is because of late or unfiled campaign finance reports. The initial fine for being late is $25 and then $2 per day is added until the fine is paid. Ultimately, it is the candidate or the head of the PAC who is responsible, however all will also have a Treasurer responsible for filing timely reports.

In full disclosure, I have served as a Treasurer on a campaign and I did also file my a report (my first) late. My candidate immediately paid the fine and was in the clear.

The Board of Elections now has their Electronic Reporting and Tracking System (ERTS) that they put in place about six years ago. Previously, the campaign needed to get a paper copy of the report to the Board of Elections by the deadline. The ERTS system allows for all the reporting to be done online. If nothing has changed, then the campaign merely needs to log in and press a single submit button. It just takes seconds.

Take a look at the list though and I'm sure you'll recognize many of the names. You can also go back and see older reports by simply changing the date in the URL to the report. You'll see some of the amounts increasing each month. Why aren't these being paid off by people who are still serving in office or running for office.

Here's a solution. If you owe a fine to the Board of Elections on the election filing day, you may not run for office or your lobbying license is revoked.

Why do we let these fines just go on for years? We even see some in there from former politicians who move on to other politically connected positions. There's no good reason for them to ever pay these off. Let's put some teeth back in the law and the fine system. If a candidate can't even be responsible enough with their own campaign budget and sticking to deadlines and rules, why should we allow that person to make decisions on taxpayer money? We shouldn't. Pay up or get out.

October 10, 2012

Debates, Independents and Answering Matt

Patrick Laverty

Well this must really be absolute crazytown. When I'm on the same side of an issue as Bob Plain and opposite from WPRO's Matt Allen, it really makes me wonder if I've been replaced by aliens or something. Tonight on his radio show, Matt was debuting the new and more crotchety Matt Allen. A changed man. His opinion on whether non-Republicans, non-Moderates and non-Democrats should be allowed in to the debates has changed and he feels they should not. They're a distraction and a nuisance just looking to make a spectacle of it all. And I mostly disagree.

Matt made many arguments as to why he now feels this way but I think each argument he made was on the extreme side and wasn't completely vetted yet. Some callers were also backing Matt with similar comments. A more common feeling that stuck out to me is they don't want to have "all those" people up there debating. Someone even picked a number and said that we don't want to have "thirteen" people up on the debate stage. Well, I can see that point, but it's being taken to a ridiculous end. There are only three that will be on the ballot. I don't see why it's hard to include just one more person. If we're talking about the Congressional race, we are talking about people who had to get at least 500 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. To me, for a Congressional race, if you're on the ballot, you're usually serious about your candidacy, with only some obvious exceptions.

Another opinion was that if you're serious, don't run as an Independent, go build something like Ken Block did with the Moderate Party. All Independents have to do is get signatures and they're on the ballot. Yeah, that's true but that's all Republicans, Moderates and Democrats have to do as well. So I don't see how it's any different for Independents. Just because they skated their way to election day? Heck, we have many GA races in this state that go unopposed because no one even bothered to go get signatures and simply "skate" onto the ballot. It makes perfect sense to me if you want to run as an Independent because your views don't align with one of the parties in this state.

The argument that I make about the chicken and the egg also came up. How can someone get the 10% support in a poll (that is WJAR's policy) if they aren't getting the coverage? Give them the coverage and maybe they'll get better support. It was also asked, why is it WPRI or WJAR or even WPRO's job to make a campaign for these non-traditional candidates? It's not. It's no more their job for the non-traditionals than it is for the D or the R or the M candidates, but the party candidates don't have as much trouble getting coverage? Why? Because they chose a certain letter that isn't "I" next to their name?

Plus, we can't just throw out a blanket statement that Independent candidates aren't serious. We've had some get elected to the General Assembly. Lincoln's Senator Edward O'Neill was elected as an Independent. Should his candidacy have been shunned? Of course not, it was obviously very viable. There's even another politician in this state that ran and won as an Independent. Mayor Buddy Cianci.

Then there's the argument that the non-traditional candidates have so little support and somewhere around a zero chance to win that they're a waste of time. Using that line of reasoning, we might have some major party candidates that are wasting our time. We see some are trailing in polls by 20-25 percentage points. We don't see them as a waste of time simply because of the party label they have attached to their name.

Lastly, an argument was made that if these non-traditional candidates are serious and really are about serving the people and not serving themselves then they'd be back for at least a second try, but they rarely do. It's one and done for them. So that shows that they were never serious in the first place. Clearly this is bunk as well. Republicans and Democrats take one bite at the apple time and time again and then disappear, never to be heard from again but they don't face the same criticism.

I get it, I understand that we don't want to fill the stage with Vermin Supreme or Jimmy MacMillan but if we have someone who is clearly serious and trying hard, I don't think we should turn that person away. I am glad that WJAR is allowing Abel Collins in to their debate and I disagreed with WPRI's decision to not let him in.

Just to add, my cutoff for Presidential debates is that if you're on enough ballots to actually win 270 electoral votes, you should be allowed in to the debates. Anything less and you're out. Want to guess who gets to decide who is allowed in to Presidential debates? Yep, the Republicans and Democrats.

We know that the two-party system is broken but if we're just going to make it harder for non-Democrats and non-Republicans to campaign for office, then we're a big part of the problem.

September 24, 2012

Early Voting

Marc Comtois

"35% of the presidential ballots probably will be cast before election day":

Early voting is often promoted as a convenience for harried citizens. But it may be a bigger boon for candidates, enabling them to deploy money and personnel more efficiently as they work to corral votes as soon as possible.

"By encouraging our supporters to vote early, we can focus our resources more efficiently on election day to make sure those less likely to vote get out to the polls," said Adam Fetcher, an Obama campaign spokesman. "We've made early investments in battleground states, where we've been registering folks and keeping an open conversation going with undecided voters for months."

....Early voting can insulate a candidate against a damaging gaffe or negative news story in the closing weeks before election day. The disclosure of a decades-old drunk-driving charge against George W. Bush five days before the 2000 election may have cost him as many as five states, Rove, his chief strategist, later wrote. Late damage could be reduced this year, when more than 35% of the vote is expected to be cast early, compared with less than 15% in 2000.

But the dynamic works both ways. Early voting could mute the boost from a positive event — like a strong showing in this year's final televised debate on Oct. 22, only 15 days before the election.

It might be convenient, but it just doesn't seem very smart. Who knows what could happen, right? Now, I could see maybe a day or two out (which, according to the story, is when a majority of "early voting" occurs), but even then, who knows? As we've learned though, maybe the problem isn't the "early" part of this sort of voting, it's the "mail-in" part.

September 17, 2012

The Board of Elections Needs to Assure Rhode Islanders that Every Vote Counts

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mutliple sources are reporting that William San Bento has ended the day with a one vote lead over Carlos Tobon in the District 58 (Pawtucket) Democratic primary for State Representative. Apparently four different recounts have produced four different results, with further recounts possible. According to the Associated Press...

...the final tally came down to a single mail ballot that was initially not counted.
Ethan Shorey includes a short timeline of the multiple recounts in his coverage in the Valley Breeze.

Given that the election in Pawtucket could be decided by a margin as small as a one or two mail-in ballots --it was mail-in ballots that flipped the original election night result, from a 6-vote Tobon lead to a 3-vote San Bento lead -- has anyone asked the state Board of Elections for their accounting of how the mail-in votes seen in the Erasmo Ramirez surveillance video, as well as any other ballots that may have been obtained in the course of the related investigation (if there was a related investigation), were dealt with, and specifically whether any ballots from voters registered in District 58 were involved? As the result in District 58 is proving, no number of tainted (or suppressed) ballots should be too small for the Board of Elections to be concerned about.

September 12, 2012

Nothing to See Here

Marc Comtois

By all accounts, Voter ID went pretty well yesterday in Rhode Island. But all right-thinking people know it's election reform* is not needed. Heck, look at Maryland (h/t)....

Wendy Rosen, the Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st Congressional District, withdrew from the race Monday amid allegations that she voted in elections in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008....State Democratic Chairwoman Yvette Lewis said an examination of voting records in Maryland and Florida showed that Rosen participated in the 2006 general election and the 2008 primaries in both states.

On a semi-related note: I arrived at my near-empty polling place (I was the only voter there at 5:30 PM) and informed them what party I was registered to. The pleasant poll worker then informed me that I could only vote in one primary. Huh. I wasn't aware I had a choice. She did ask for my ID, though.

*NOTE: I clarified because apparently my use of the indefinite article (or is it an indef. pronoun?---really not sure, truth be told--I'm rusty on the parts of speech!) "it" was taken by some to mean "voter ID" (I can see that) when I meant "election reform" in general. I guess tagging the post under the category "Election Reform" and touching on various topics that all broadly fall under said category wasn't clear enough. Especially if someone was looking to pick a nit.

September 4, 2012

Mail-In Ballots: Completed With a Number Two Pencil. And It's A Problem.

Monique Chartier

Last week, Anchor Rising spoke to two people at the RI Board of Elections with regard to the requirement that mail-in ballots be completed with a pencil, not a pen.

Gregg McBurney, Program and Planning Specialist for the RI BOE, advised that mail-in ballots must be completed with a number two pencil because the BOE employs an optical scan reader, similar to that used for standardized tests, which tabulates the votes on the ballots by "seeing" the lead marks.

Additionally, Mr. McBurney pointed out that, if the voter makes a mistake in filling out the ballot and accidentally does not vote for his preferred candidate, the ballot does, in fact, contain the instruction that the voter must contact the BOE to arrange for a replacement ballot. Mr. McBurney stated that, if the voter merely erases his erroneous vote and then correctly marks the ballot for his candidate, there is a danger that the scanner will read this as an overvote (i.e., a vote for more than one candidate in the race) and the ballot would not be tabulated but would be kicked out for manual review.

However, in a separate conversation, BOE Executive Director Robert Kando confirmed that it is possible to erase an erroneous vote sufficiently so that the scanner would not see that mark and not kick it out as an overvote.

Now, let's go back to that video released by the ProJo a week ago Saturday. On it, we see a man offering to sell to a Gemma campaign operative mail-in ballots made out for Anthony Gemma and stating that he had (allegedly) done so in a prior election for the Cicilline campaign.

Many of the ballots purportedly came from senior high rises. We have yet to learn whether these were legitimate ballots cast by real voters. If they were, we have to wonder, minimally, how Mr. Ramirez was so sure that the votes on those ballots were cast for "his" candidate ... and how he was able to confirm this to his "client", the campaign for which those votes were cast. Mail-in ballots are supposed to be completed and then promptly sealed in an envelope to be mailed to the Secretary of State's office. Were all of the ballots that Mr. Ramirez handed to the Gemma operative NOT actually sealed into envelopes upon completion?

Think of how easy it would be for a "runner" to either get the voter not to seal the envelope or to place the ballot in a new envelope that he had printed ... after he had spent a minute "correcting" the ballot with an eraser and his own number two pencil.

In a post last week, I was, of course, joking when I tweaked the Gemma campaign for seeming to be unaware of technology - the mimeograph machine - from forty plus years ago. It is now clear that the technology of almost the same vintage currently utilized by the Rhode Island Board of Elections to tabulate votes is not at all a joking matter.

An upgrade to the state's mail-in ballot technology is overdue. It doesn't have to be a huge upgrade; just from a scanner that reads pencil marks to a scanner that reads pen marks.

Rhode Island's election system is vulnerable to monkey business on several fronts. It time to close off those "opportunities". Voter i.d. was a critical first step. An erasable ballot that is not immediately fed into a vote tabulator is the next order of business.

August 28, 2012

Re: Patrick Lynch on Voter Fraud: Not To Worry, Statute of Limitations Is Only a Year

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique mentioned earlier today that former Rhode Island General Patrick Lynch had tweeted that...

Rhode Island legal trivia: There is a one year Statute of Limitation for most voter fraud and election offenses. webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE
Technically, his statement is correct. However, a chapter of the law (ch. 17-20) separate from the one that former AG Lynch referred to (ch. 17-23) contains its own definitions and penalties for crimes related to mail-in ballots...
17-20-30 Penalty for violations -- (a) Any person who knowingly makes or causes to be made any material false statement in connection with his or her application to vote as a mail voter, or who votes or attempts to vote under the provisions of this chapter, by fraudulently signing the name of another upon any envelope provided for in this chapter, or who, not being a qualified voter and having knowledge or being chargeable with knowledge of the fact, attempts to vote under this chapter, or who votes the ballot of another voter, or who deliberately prevents or causes to prevent the mail ballot to be received by the voter or to be returned to the board of elections, or who falsely notarizes or witnesses the voter signature on the ballot application or mail ballot, or who deceives, coerces, or interferes with the voter casting his or her ballot, and any person who does or attempts to do, or aid in doing or attempting to do, a fraudulent act in connection with any vote cast or to be cast under the provisions of this chapter, shall be guilty of a felony.
...and there doesn't appear to be a chapter-specific statute of limitations in chapter 17-20.

What may be of more immediate interest, however, is section 27 of chapter 17-20, where what is supposed to happen to ballots, requests for ballots, and envelopes containing notarization and witness affirmations of ballots, after an election, is defined...

17-20-27 Sealing of ballots and voting list – The state board shall, at the completion of the count of all votes cast at any election, securely store all ballots cast in the election, and after the certification of the results of the elections, the state board shall place all ballots received from mail voters together with the certified envelopes containing the ballots in a steel box or package...and thereafter no steel box or package shall upon any pretense be reopened by any person, except upon order of the general assembly or a court of competent jurisdiction, but shall be held by the board until the first day of September in the second (2nd) year after the ballots were cast, when they may then be destroyed...
In case you don't have a calendar handy, this says that materials from the 2010 election can legally be destroyed, beginning this Saturday (i.e, "the first day of September in the second (2nd) year after the ballots were cast").

I'm not sure how quickly the Rhode Island Board of Elections normally disposes of materials from a previous election cycle, but given the questions about mail-in ballots that have been raised by the Erasmo Ramirez video, shouldn't the RI BoE, whether on its own or at the request of an investigating authority, take definitive steps to preserve potential evidence which under the law should still exist and that might help build a case against perpetrators of voter fraud, suppression, and/or intimidation?

August 27, 2012

You Make the Call: Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression, or Voter Intimidation

Carroll Andrew Morse

The video obtained by the Projo of Erasmo Ramirez offering to sell mail-in ballots filled out for Anthony Gemma may not be direct evidence of voter fraud, given what voter fraud is commonly understood to mean.

Consider the following: On the surveillance video, Robert Cappuccilli (the potential vote buyer) reads names and addresses off of sealed envelopes purportedly containing completed mail-in ballots. It is possible that each ballot provided by Ramirez was honestly filled out by a legal voter, who took it to Erasmo Ramirez to be notarized (Ramirez makes a point to tell Cappuccilli that he is a notary) and that after notarizing a ballot, Ramirez offered to drop it into the mail as a convenience to the voter, but in reality added it to his collection of votes-for-sale instead.

In this case, there would be no "voter fraud" as the term is usually defined, i.e. someone ineligible to vote casting a vote, or someone attempting to vote multiple times in the same election. But Ramirez would be engaging in voter suppression, if he didn't turn in all of the ballots that he harvested.

There is another violation of the law seemingly evident on the video. Ramirez claims to know how all of the ballots in his possession are marked, even though they are sealed inside of their envelopes. Assuming that he's not outright lying to Cappuccilli (not a 100% safe assumption), this is unlikely unless Rhode Island election law has been systematically and repeatedly broken...

17-20-23(d) -- Voters receiving a mail ballot pursuant to subdivisions 17-20-2(1), (2), and (4) shall mark the ballot in the presence of two (2) witnesses or some officer authorized by the law of the place where marked to administer oaths. Voters receiving a mail ballot pursuant to subdivision 17-20-2(3) do not need to have their ballot witnessed or notarized. Except as otherwise provided for by this chapter, the voter shall not allow the official or witnesses to see how he or she marks the ballot and the official or witnesses shall hold no communication with the voter, nor the voter with the official or witnesses, as to how the voter is to vote. Thereafter, the voter shall enclose and seal the ballot in the envelope provided for it. The voter shall then execute before the official or witnesses the certification on the envelope. The voter shall then enclose and seal the certified envelope with the ballot in the envelope addressed to the state board and cause the envelope to be delivered to the state board on or before election day.
That's the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is potentially more troubling -- for some reason, hundreds of people involved enough in the political process to request mail-in ballots have decided that they cannot fill out their ballots, until they are directly under the watchful eye of Erasmo Ramirez (or one of his associates). How did a message of don't fill out your ballot until Ramirez can see you get out to hundreds, maybe over 1,000 voters, in the absence of intentional misinformation as a best case scenario and intimidation as the worst?

Finally, one more way in which Ramirez may have broken the law is suggested at the end of W. Zachary Malinowski's article which accompanied the video: straightforward voter fraud, if all of these names and addresses on the ballots don't belong to people eligible to vote.

If Robert Cappuccilli actually purchased ballots, then state authorities should have plenty of names to follow up on (including the names and addresses read on the videotape) to determine what scheme Erasmo Ramirez used; voter fraud, voter suppression and/or voter intimidation, to obtain the mail-in ballots he was carrying in his car. And as news of this story spreads, the BoE should be prepared to be contacted by anyone who honestly filled out a ballot and was betrayed by Ramirez. The BoE should inform the public of how many people that is.

August 21, 2012

How To Eliminate Straight-Ticket Voting

Patrick Laverty

The straight-ticket, straight-party or master lever (just a line in Rhode Island) is an anachronism from long ago and its time has more than come to be eliminated. Each year, a bill is submitted to the Assembly to eliminate it, but you can probably guess what happens to the bill. Yep, held for further study.

Even the guy in charge of elections in the state, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, is in favor of eliminating this option. But yet it stays. Why? Clearly it's because it gives one side a huge advantage.

One example of this advantage is in the 2006 Governor's race. That was the anti-Bush, anti-Republican election year and Governor Carcieri was one of the few Republicans to survive the figurative bloodbath. Democrats pointed to Carcieri's weakness in that he only won by two points, 51-49%. However, when one looks closely, we see quite the difference in the straight ticket votes. Charlie Fogarty, the Democrat in that race, pulled in more than 70,000 straight ticket votes. Carcieri garnered 17,000, which is quite the difference. I'm not going to claim that none of those votes would have gone to the respective candidates, but not all of them would have either.

I'll readily admit, the option would not change the result in most races, but there have been some that could have been changed. There was one in my hometown where even if you assume that 80% of the votes still would have been cast for the respective party's candidate, the final result would have been changed. Interestingly, the winner in that race had even been bragging about his straight ticket votes advantage well ahead of election day.

So how do we eliminate this option? How do we get people to pay attention and agree it's a bad thing? That's easy. Just use it. Advertise it and use it. I mean all Republicans. If many Republicans were to connect that one line and tell everyone that it's exactly what they did, it might be enough of a wake up call for the Democrats to start to think "Uh oh, they're figuring it out!" and immediately look to eliminate this "advantage" that the Republicans have used.

So there it is. Republicans, Moderates, all parties. Use it. Tell everyone you're using it. Tell all your friends what a great thing this straight ticket voting is. Go into the booth, connect one line and votes for everyone in your party! It's easy, it's fast, and there's very little thinking involved. Connect the line.

August 10, 2012

Instant Runoff Election: Pick the Bridesmaid

Marc Comtois

Hm. I'm not sure what I think about this idea of a an instant runoff election, yet.

In an instant-runoff election voters will rank candidates by preference. If in the election no candidate wins a majority the last place candidate is eliminated and the second choice pick of voters who selected that candidate counts. The process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

The process is designed so that voters do not feel like their vote does not count or that they are wasting their vote if they select an unlikely candidate.

If Rhode Island had run-off elections in place during the governor’s race in 2010 it is possible the election would have had a different outcome. Moderate candidate Ken Block, who received 6.5% of the vote would have been the first to be eliminated spreading his votes between Independent Lincoln Chafee, Democrat Frank Caprio, and Republican John Robitaille. Caprio who received 23% of the vote would likely have been eliminated next. Those votes would be divided between Chafee and Robitaille, which would have provided one of them with a majority of the vote.

After the 2010 election in which Governor Lincoln Chafee won with 36% of the vote to Robitaille’s 33% the General Assembly voted to establish the commission. The commission is expected to report its findings next year.

On the face of it, ensuring that whomever wins a particular elected office actually does so by winning the majority of all votes cast--sorta--is probably better than, say, having a Governor win with around 36% of the vote. Then again, this could also give the (eventual) winner the misconception that they won with some sort of mandate when they were actually the second choice of the people that actually put them over the top. And that leads to the biggest problem. It's entirely conceivable that the person listed as everyone's second choice could end up being governor. Maybe this should be called Bridesmaid Runoff Reform.

March 9, 2012

How the Rhode Island Legislature Can Bring More Presidential Campaign Attention to Rhode Island All On Its Own

Carroll Andrew Morse

Supporters of the "National Popular Vote" interstate compact for Presidential elections frequently explain that one of their goals is to have to have Presidential candidates pay attention to more than just a handful of "swing states" during their general election campaigns. But Rhode Island has the ability to increase its share of Presidential campaign attention by acting on its own.

Presently, Rhode Island allocates its Presidential electors according to a winner-take-all rule. The legislature could replace this with a system where winner-take-all only occurs if the leading vote-getter exceeds a certain vote threshold. Otherwise, if no candidate exceeds the threshold, Presidential electors would be assigned proportionally.

If the popular vote percentage was multiplied by the number of electors and rounded to the nearest whole number, and the winner-take-all threshold was set at the same percentage that would move a proportional split from 2-2 to 3-1, then the difference between winning close in Rhode Island and winning a supermajority would be 2 electoral votes. That would make it worthwhile it for candidates to actively pursue a supermajority win, or, conversely, to do enough to deny an opponent a supermajority win. Putting 2 electoral votes into play in this manner would give Rhode Island roughly the same influence it would have in a popular vote system and where landslides in either direction were possible.

There is no obvious Constitutional objection to this method of allocating electoral votes, so it would allow progressives and conservatives interested in more Presidential campaign attention for Rhode Island to unite behind it. And one feature-not-a-bug (depending on your perspective) is that it might provide progressives with an opportunity to laugh at me at a later date (probably not this year), when some future Republican Presidential candidate ekes out a 50.1 - 49.9 victory in Rhode Island, only to get 2 electoral votes out of it.

Finally, the ability to implement this system is fully under the control of the Rhode Island legislature. They don't have to wait for any other state to act. If those legislators who support NPV are truly interested in bringing more attention from Presidential campaigns to the state of Rhode Island, this could be implemented in time for the 2012 election, where the candidates will be going after every vote that's in play.

February 13, 2012

Eliminate Political Parties in RI

Patrick Laverty

We've finally gotten there, it's time to fully eliminate political parties in RI. I've long advocated for this as the whole party system is extremely antiquated anyway. The only real purpose they served was in a time when it was very hard to disseminate information to everyone, where farmers could be miles separated from their nearest neighbors. This wasn't exactly a time when a candidate could "walk the district." Instead, it would be easier for a candidate to toe the party line and then people could simply vote along party lines when they didn't understand the individual candidates' stances or were just unaware of them. This sort of thing is also what brings us straight ticket voting. Today, these are more for the uneducated or lazy voter. It's for someone who doesn't want to take the time to get to know the candidates and their stances on the issues.

But with that aside, one of the bills that Andrew mentions below will also deal such a blow to the political party system that they may as well be eliminated completely.

H7089: Allowing voters to choose their political party on the day of the primary, instead of having to be registered 90-days beforehand.
I often hear the exasperation in Dan Yorke's voice when he continually tries to educate his listeners on what political parties are and their primary means. Political parties are intended to be semi-private organizations who choose a candidate to rally around and to support for a given office. If you're not a member of this organization, not only should you not be allowed to help decide who its standard-bearer will be but even moreso, why should you care? I'm not a member of the YMCA but I don't get to vote for their leadership. I'm not a member of AARP, so I don't get a vote in their leadership elections either. Nor do I even care. If I'm not a member of the RI Democratic or RI Republican or RI Moderate party, why should I get a vote to elect their candidates either? Why should I care who their candidate is, I'll get to vote in the general election anyway.

Currently in RI, if you're a registered voter but carry the "Unaffiliated" designation, you can decide on primary day which party's ballot you get to cast a vote on. That in itself is ludicrous, as I've written about before. Affiliated yourself with a party and vote accordingly. If you don't want to affiliate, show up in November for the general election. Simple.

But what House Bill 7089 wants to do is not just blur this line for the Unaffiliated voters, it will do the same for people who are affiliated! If I'm a registered Democrat, why should I get the choice on the day of the primary to vote in the Republican election and vice versa? (Or the Moderate Party, not forgetting you guys, Ken) If this is what we're going to do then what's the point of political parties at all? The whole point is to let the organization choose their candidate to send to the general election. If we're going to eliminate that, then let's just eliminate the parties entirely and make everyone run on their own stances. Heck, all we ever hear is "He's a RINO" and "She's a DINO", so why not? They're all useless labels anyway and this bill will just remove the last vestiges of what the parties can do. I say, wipe 'em out.

February 8, 2012

Why Rhode Island Passed Voter ID: Or, Who is 'El Macho'?

Marc Comtois

Simon Van Zuylen-Wood--Brown grad and writer for the liberal New Republic--has written a piece trying to explain how "blue" Rhode Island has joined "red" states in passing a Voter ID law. His first instinct is that it's about race.

The perpetrators are all Hispanic and the accusers are mostly not. This underlines what is most likely at play in Rhode Island— anxiety over the state’s changing demographics. Since 2000, the state’s white population has declined by 55,000, while its Hispanic population has increased by 45,000, or nearly 50 percent. The immigration boom, coupled with a 10.8 percent unemployment rate (the third-worst in the country), has contributed to the open hostility toward Hispanics.
Zuylen-Wood also basically tags Senator Jon Brien as sort of the white puppet master manipulating fear and distrust amongst minorities to get Voter ID passed.
Voter ID proponents subtly capitalized on these fears. The bill’s main House sponsor, conservative Democrat Jon Brien, has “anti-immigrant credentials like no other,” says Latino activist Pablo Rodriguez. Brien has argued that illegal immigrants are usurping government resources, taking American jobs, and now, voting.
However, Zuylen-Wood doesn't think its solely a racial thing; apparently a form of modern day Know-Nothingism is also present as "here-firsters" are aggravated by newbies, regardless of whether they are in the same racial demographic:
A couple of established Latino state representatives voted for the bill, suggesting that they too may have concerns about the political influence of newly arrived immigrants.
Meanwhile, liberal college professors and anonymous state legislators thinks its much ado about nothing:
Besides, as Providence College professor of political science Tony Affigne told me, minority legislators who voted for the law weren’t necessarily fabricating their tales of voter fraud—they were just ascribing too much importance to them. “I’ve seen [some voter fraud] with my own eyes,” Affigne told me. “But it’s certainly not the kind of problem that [necessitates] a statewide draconian law.” One state legislator agreed, telling me, “I think they’ve fallen for the urban legend stuff,” adding that, because of their naïveté, they’re “being used as pawns by the anti-immigrant conservatives.”
Poor pawns, can't think for themselves. That brings us to the story of 'El Macho':
How does this alleged voter fraud work? According to [State representative Anastasia] Williams, a candidate hires a “recruiter,” who obtains a list of likely non-voters, and then pays willing foot soldiers to cast ballots in their place. A large Hispanic man who calls himself “El Macho” and works for the Providence Water Supply Board is rumored to be the most prominent recruiter. George Lindsey, a prominent South Providence African American, told me that candidates have long paid El Macho five or six thousand dollars per election. “What he’ll tell you is he’s basically a hired gun.”
I bet it would be interesting to figure out who exactly 'El Macho' is and get him to talk. Seems like there's a story to tell there, no?

February 7, 2012

Another Witness to Voter Fraud

Carroll Andrew Morse

When Rhode Island passed voter-ID into law this past summer, the RI Chapter of the ACLU responded by saying it had been passed "in order to address a non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud". State Representative Charlene Lima, who has introduced a bill in this legislative session to repeal voter ID, told WPRO radio (630AM) that "there is no voter fraud as far as people posing to be someone else at the voter booth".

Given the strong position taken in such claims, the buried lede in Simon van Zuylen-Wood's RI voter ID story at the New Republic website is the author's mention of another Rhode Islander (the first being State Rep. Anastasia Williams) who has directly witnessed vote fraud...

Besides, as Providence College professor of political science Tony Affigne told me, minority legislators who voted for the law weren’t necessarily fabricating their tales of voter fraud—they were just ascribing too much importance to them. “I’ve seen [some voter fraud] with my own eyes,” Affigne told me. “But it’s certainly not the kind of problem that [necessitates] a statewide draconian law.”
With the claim that in-person voter fraud doesn't exist having been put convincingly to rest (from a number of different sources), progressives in opposition to voter-ID laws are now left to explain how much cancellation of the votes of law-abiding citizens they accept as being consistent with the principle that every vote counts.

February 3, 2012

RE: Voter Fraud in Florida

Marc Comtois

As Patrick points out, while, apparently, voter fraud happens in Florida, it can't happen here....right? Breitbart has more:

A local Florida station invented an unprecedented way to check for voter fraud: jury excusal forms. NBC2 compiled a list of jury excusals based on not being a citizen of the United States and compared it to a list of registered voters in two counties. They discovered almost 100 illegally registered voters, many of whom had voted multiple times. "I vote every year," one woman told NBC2, despite the fact that she is not a US citizen. The woman had told the court that she couldn't serve on a jury because she wasn't a US citizen, but she doesn't seem to have a problem voting like one.

Based on the NBC2 investigation, local election offices say they'll now request a copy of every jury excusal form where residents say they can't serve because they're not a citizen.

Here is part 1 and part 2 of the complete report from NBC2 in Florida.

The Problem that Doesn't Exist

Patrick Laverty

We've heard State Rep Charlene Lima liken Rhode Island's new voter ID law to "Jim Crow". We've heard from people like Dr. Pablo Rodriguez that it is "a solution to a problem that doesn't exist." And Providence immigration lawyer, Roberto Gonzalez said in reference to the law "They based their support on some perceived fraud that no one has been able to establish actually existing. So based on some phantom problem..."

People have said that there are few to no known cases of voter fraud in Rhode Island. Well guess what, until a local television station in Florida had done the research, few known cases existed there either. Their reporter dug up 94 cases pretty easily. We can easily surmise that they missed some, simply because of their methodology. They went through all the jury duty recusals due to "Not being a US citizen" and crosschecked that with the registered voters. So if you begged off jury duty due to not being a US citizen, yet you're registered to vote, that was flagged. So how many did they miss that have not been called to jury duty or those non-US citizens who did serve and didn't call out their own status?

This is a problem that doesn't exist? No, it's simply a problem that isn't known about. The voter ID law is a step in the right direction toward better protecting the legitimacy of our elections.

January 24, 2012

"Not Widespread" - Minimizing the Need for Voter I.D. By Cranking Up The Voter Fraud Threshold

Monique Chartier

Rep Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) has put in a bill to repeal Rhode Island's new voter id law.

What's interesting is that, in her arguments, Rep Lima is attempting to shift the metric by which the need for voter i.d. is measured.

Until now, opponents of voter i.d. have argued against its implementation by attempting to diminish the problem of voter fraud to the point of non-existence. It really wasn't a problem. There had been no prosecutions. Voter i.d. had been "a solution in search of a problem".

Now, however, as she has made the media rounds to discuss her bill, the rep from Lima ... er, Rep Lima has moved the goalpost. Now we don't need voter i.d. because voter fraud is "not widespread".

Presumably, this pronouncement is intended to be reassuring. Upon reflection, however, it is difficult to find solace in it.

Firstly, its credibility. As WPRO's John Depetro, among others, correctly pointed out, whether non-existent or widespread, it is not possible to quantify the extent of voter fraud in the absence of a voter i.d. requirement.

Secondly, the margin which it represents. Think about how many elections have ended in a vote count that was "not widespread". You don't have to ponder too long - Governor Chafee won by less than three percentage points.

Sorry, "not widespread" is not an acceptable level of voter fraud. Opponents of voter i.d. speak of protecting an individual's right to vote. Indeed, it should be - the right of all legitimate voters for their votes not to be diluted or negated by fraudulent vote casting.

July 7, 2011

Extrapolating (Possibly Unscientifically) the Extent of Voter Fraud in Rhode Island from Rep Williams' Experience

Monique Chartier

Though I was as surprised as Justin at its passage, bravo that Rhode Island has put a voter i.d. law on the books.

Arguments were made against the measure right until and even after Governor Chafee signed the bill, however. Rep Larry Valencia went so far as to say that we would be fixing a problem that doesn't exist. Inasmuch as he sits near a victim of voter fraud in the House of Representatives, someone who also is the mother of a victim of voter fraud, it is completely unclear how the rep can make this assertion.

Such inattention aside, let's do some numbers.

Rhode Island has 702,000 eligible voters.

In 2006, Rep Anastasia Williams and her daughter went to vote and were told that they had already voted. Their votes had been stolen from them. (She's the colleague whom you want to inform, Rep Larry, that voter fraud doesn't exist.)

Rep Williams is one member of a 113 member body. 1 / 113 = .009

[Feel free to correct any of this math.]

So the percentage of General Assembly members who have been victims of voter fraud (that we are aware of) is .9%. That becomes our multiplier.

Final step: 702,000 Rhode Island voters X .009 = 6,318

Accordingly, presuming the rate of voter fraud victimization is the same for the general population as it is for members of the General Assembly (one in 113), there have been 6,318 instances of voter fraud in Rhode Island, with the caveat that the multiplier and the total for the state change considerably if even just one more member of the G.A. has been a victim.

RE: Voter ID Surprise

Marc Comtois

Justin wonders if there's a catch with the ease with which voter ID sailed through the legislature and the Governor's inbox. Here's a theory for you: RI GOP Chair Ken McKay was in for WHJJ's Helen Glover this morning and had on someone from GOLOCALProv touting their story about the disparity between census data and voter rolls in traditional Rhode Island "vacation" communities. They didn't go over specific numbers, but here they are:

A comparison of the new U.S. Census data with public voter registration records revealed significant discrepancies in at least four communities in 2010:

■ Block Island had 888 year-round residents aged 18 years and older recorded in the Census while 1,468 people were registered to vote—a difference of 65 percent.
■ Jamestown had 362 more registered voters than residents.
■ Little Compton had 236 more voters than residents.
■ Westerly had 2,289 more voters than residents—a discrepancy of more than 15 percent. (See below chart for the complete breakdown.)

Admitting he was cynical, McKay tied Voter ID into it and wondered if GOLOCAL was tipped off to the disparity by someone looking to suppress conservative-leaning, shoreline property owning (and property-tax paying) out-of-staters from voting in Rhode Island. As McKay pointed out, RISC started as the Rhode Island SHORELINE Coalition (since renamed the RI STATEWIDE Coalition) and advocated for voting rights for those who owned property in Rhode Island. He also prompted the GOLOCAL editor to give RISC a call for their thoughts. Further along in the piece, the possible repercussions are raised:
[T]he new state law on voter ID could have an impact on the number of vacationing New Yorkers and others voting in Rhode Island elections. The law mandates that voters show a photo ID at polling places. “If they produce a New York license that doesn’t work because you can’t have a New York license that has a Rhode Island address,” said the former state election official.

Instead, out-of-state voters would have to bring a passport, birth certificate, or other form of ID in order to satisfy the new rules.

Overall, the estimate is that there are around 10,000 out-of-state voters voting in Rhode Island. They can vote here if they declare RI as their legal residence and don't vote elsewhere.

Voter ID Surprise

Justin Katz

Voter ID legislation moved along with surprisingly little fanfare, so much so that opponents weren't sure that Governor Chafee had signed until three days after the fact. Perhaps I'm just too cynical, but I can't help but feel as if I'm missing something.

The bill text is somewhat light on details, so I suspect that the ID cards will be easier to get than most Anchor Rising readers would like. Strictness and enforcement will also be critical aspects to watch. But still, the legislation looks promising.

This being Rhode Island, though, I can't help but wonder what the catch is or what other piece of legislation was bought with this coin.

August 24, 2010

Robert Healey, on the Master-Lever Lawsuit

Carroll Andrew Morse

The second subject I asked Robert Healey about at Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse was the status of his lawsuit to eliminate the master-lever from the Rhode Island ballot by this November's election. In addition to his own suit, Mr. Healey also discussed a second suit, filed by independent Gubernatorial candidate Joe Lusi, seeking to have the master-lever removed...

"Our case is coming up for a hearing on September first. We're going to get a full-day hearing. Our expert witness that we have is Dr. William Salka, out of Eastern Connecticut State University...he ran the numbers we provided him from the Board of Elections and there's a clear pattern that in cities and towns that have non-partisan races the master lever would impact those races in a negative way..."Audio: 48 sec

"...Joe [Lusi] is on the ballot and Joe has filed a Federal lawsuit as of yesterday...he's challenging the master lever and he's challenging the placements on the ballot because of the lottery situation. And he raises a very interesting point, because there's a Rhode Island statute that says that your name cannot appear twice on any ballot, and yet if you pull the Republican lever, you have a choice of pulling the lever, which is one time on the ballot or, if you pull the candidate lever, it's twice on the ballot..."Audio: 1m 32 sec

"...Judge Smith has indicated at a conference that he would probably decide the matter within two days, so we should have a pretty definitive answer on the master lever at the end of the day on the third of September."Audio: 22 sec

June 16, 2010

In NY Town, Vote Early and Vote Often (Legally)

Marc Comtois

Apparently, this is the new definition of "fair voting":

Voters in Port Chester, 25 miles northeast of New York City, are electing village trustees for the first time since the federal government alleged in 2006 that the existing election system was unfair. The election ends Tuesday and results are expected late Tuesday.

Although the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic, no Latino had ever been elected to any of the six trustee seats, which until now were chosen in a conventional at-large election. Most voters were white, and white candidates always won.

Federal Judge Stephen Robinson said that violated the Voting Rights Act, and he approved a remedy suggested by village officials: a system called cumulative voting, in which residents get six votes each to apportion as they wish among the candidates. He rejected a government proposal to break the village into six districts, including one that took in heavily Hispanic areas....

It's the first time any municipality in New York has used cumulative voting, said Amy Ngai, a director at FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group that has been hired to consult. The system is used to elect the school board in Amarillo, Texas, the county commission in Chilton County, Ala., and the City Council in Peoria, Ill.

The judge also ordered Port Chester to implement in-person early voting, allowing residents to show up on any of five days to cast ballots. That, too, is a first in New York, Ngai said.

I get that everyone gets 6 votes, be they white, black, brown or Martian, so it is "fair"...but if you can't understand the fundamental problem with this...

February 10, 2010

Ahh, the Transparency of the Campaign Finance Reform Inspired 527 Schemes

Marc Comtois

We've heard the caterwauling in reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding corporate political donations. But, whether you like the idea of big business giving directly to political candidates or not, you have to admit that at least it's a relatively transparent process. A simple check of any number of sources will readily reveal who gave how much to whom. The same cannot be said of other organizations--particularly 527's. Here's a good example of the shenanigan's that go on (emphasis is mine):

Continue reading "Ahh, the Transparency of the Campaign Finance Reform Inspired 527 Schemes"

January 23, 2010

On Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court Decision: Reflections from April 30, 2005 on Correcting the Bizarre Incentives Created by Campaign Finance Reform Laws

Donald B. Hawthorne

A nearly five year old blog post, reposted here in response to this week's Supreme Court decision about free speech:

Andrew has a terrific, focused posting entitled First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts... that gets to the heart of the latest fallout from campaign finance reform here in Rhode Island. Once again, we have an example of how legislation has unintended consequences that, in this case, affect our freedom of speech.

Dating back to the post-Watergate reforms in the 1970's, I continue to be amazed at how people think it is possible to construct ways to limit the flow of money into politics. And so we have concepts such as hard money, soft money, donation limits by individuals, donation limits by corporate entities, political action committees, 527's, etc.

Like water flowing downhill, money simply finds new ways to flow into politics after each such "reform." Does any rational person really think all these limitations have reduced the influence of money on politics? Surely not. Have all these limitations changed behavioral incentives for people or organizations with money? Quite clearly, as the 527's showed in the 2004 elections. But all we have done is made the flow of money more convoluted and frequently more difficult to trace. Are we better off for all the changes? Hardly. And, the adverse and unintended consequences will only continue into the future.

What can we do differently? Here is an alternative, and arguably more straightforward, view of the world:

1. Government has become a huge business, which means there is a lot of money for various interest groups - of all political persuasions - to grab, some for legitimate reasons and much in the form of pork. Money flows into politics to buy influence because so much is at stake financially. While no one wants to talk about it openly, the flow of large sums of money into politics is yet another unfortunate price we pay for allowing government to become such a pervasive part of our lives. If we truly had limited government, the pressure to buy influence would be much reduced. It is nothing but foolish ignorance to seek limits on the flow of money without first reducing the structural incentives that currently give people an economic reason to buy influence.

2. Since money is going to flow into politics, one way or another, then we should stop setting up barriers to free speech like Morse notes have come out of the latest campaign finance reform law. Rather, why not take all limits off political contributions in America in exchange for requiring ALL details about such contributions be posted in a standardized report format on the Internet within 24 hours of receipt by either an individual politician or by a political party? Total transparency and accountability, unlike today. If a George Soros or a Richard Scaiffe contributes vast monies, anyone paying attention will see it and the public scrutiny will be immediate. No more PAC's, no more 527's, no more hard versus soft money distinctions, etc. Eliminate the incentives to play fundraising games like the alleged misdeeds by Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.

Such reform even has the potential to weaken the power of incumbents in both parties and create real competition in our political races. Think about Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's various campaigns where each challenged the status quo and all of which were the result of having committed financial sponsors. Today many candidates have to be wealthy so they can spend their own money. Limiting the pool of candidates does not result in a better pool of candidates.

Total transparency and accountability in politics, with the potential for greater competition. Should not those be the policy objectives underlying our campaign finance laws? And, if successfully implemented, wouldn't that be a novel concept?

Of course, it is sadly ironic that achieving such transparency, accountability and competition will only happen if our incumbent politicians vote for new laws. Yet, given their own self-interest, our politicians have no incentive to support such changes and that lessens our freedom as American citizens. Yet another price we pay for big government.

Numerous links to commentaries about the Supreme Court decision can be found in the Extended Entry. If you do nothing else, listen to the Cato Institute video.

Continue reading "On Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court Decision: Reflections from April 30, 2005 on Correcting the Bizarre Incentives Created by Campaign Finance Reform Laws"

January 22, 2010

Supreme Court and Campaign Finance

Marc Comtois

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is being extolled or excoriated as the end of McCain/Feingold type campaign finance reform. There are many places to go for extended analysis and I won't even pretend to understand the intricacies of the legal arguments. However, Matt Welch's explanation is the most cogent I've seen:

Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the "Citizens" ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. Forget for the moment the broad characterization of the ruling -- such as The New York Times claim that it "sweep[s] aside a century-old understanding" -- and drill down to the individual case in question.

Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled "Hillary: The Movie." By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television.

Let's boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government.

You don't have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment's "Congress shall pass no law" restrictions. And you don't have to be a Hillary-hater to imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if MoveOn.org's 501(c)(4), Campaign to Defend America, had been blocked by George W. Bush's Federal Elections Commission from broadcasting "McCain: The Movie"? Wouldn't that stink, too?

Besides, it's not like there is no money in politics now?

March 31, 2009

House Judiciary Committee Throws a Spanner into Voter ID

Monique Chartier

Chairman Lally and the House Judiciary Committee have voted to hold Bill H 5097 "AN ACT RELATING TO ELECTIONS - VOTER IDENTIFICATION" over "for further study". The vote to do so was thirteen to one; the one "nay" was Rep Rod Driver.

What aspect of this concept might still need to be studied?

Let's see, there's the question of necessity.

The lack of a photo ID system creates the perception of voter fraud, shakes voter confidence and leads to lack of voter participation

Some of us would have stated the case a little more strongly than Secretary of State Mollis in 2007 by omitting the words "the perception of" and by appending a long list of instances of voter fraud, including here in Rhode Island. Excessive tact aside, does the Committee disagree with the substance of the Secretary's statement?

Secondly, the potential that a financial burden might be placed on the voter by this new law. Ah, but Section 2(a) of the bill stipulates that

voter identification cards will be issued upon request, and at no expense to the voters ...

... to provide voter identification cards to those voters who do not possess the identification listed in subdivision (a)(1) and (2) above.

Thirdly, constitutionality. But surely the Committee would be pleased to learn that the US Supreme Court settled that issue last year in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board when they affirmed the State of Indiana's voter identification law. In the main opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote

The application of the statute to the vast majority of Indiana voters is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process

Necessity, cost, constitutionality - fully studied and answered. Why wasn't this bill given the green light to be voted on by the full House? Doesn't Rhode Island's electoral process deserve the same "integrity and reliability" as Indiana's?

February 10, 2009

Bi-partisan Effort to Stop Straight-Party Ticket Option

Marc Comtois

A couple freshman RI legislators--one a Democrat and the other a Republican--have introduced a bill (PDF) to discontinue straight-party ticket voting in RI. From the Projo Politics blog:

Freshmen Representatives Brian C. Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican and Democrat Michael J. Marcello, of Scituate, have teamed up to submit legislation that would prohibit straight-party voting: the law allowing voters to cast their entire ballots for one party's candidates by checking a single box at the top of the ballot.

Rhode Island is one of just 16 states that still allow straight-ticket ballots, a holdover from 19th century party machine politics. For years, Rhode Island Republicans have fought to eliminate the option, saying it makes it harder for GOP candidates to break the Democratic party's hold.

But rarely have Democrats and Republicans come together to push for the change.

"While the straight ticket voting option does make the voting process quicker for some, the controversy surrounding its use has unfairly called into question the legitimacy and fairness of elections," Marcello said in a statement, ironically issued by the Republican caucus.

"I believe that people who want to vote for all candidates from a particular party will continue to do so, and the elimination of straight-party lever will finally end the speculation that somehow election outcomes would be different."

"By eliminating this option, it would force candidates to reach out to communities and make their positions known, as opposed to relying on their party hold," Newberry said in the same statement."

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing, but none has yet been scheduled.

I'm not holding my breath for a hearing. But we'll see.

January 9, 2009

Election Bills Before the RI House

Carroll Andrew Morse

There are two bills regarding election procedures, already pending in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, that are worthy of public attention:

  • H5051, sponsored by Representatives Al Gemma (D-Warwick), Patricia Serpa (D-Coventry/Warwick/West Warwick), Joanne Giannini (D-Providence), Peter Kilmartin (D-Pawtucket) and Gregory Schadone (D-North Providence) which, to quote the official description, "would require all voters to provide proof of identification with their photograph issued by the state or federal government before voting."
  • H5052, sponsored by Representatives Gemma, Peter Petrarca (D-Johnston/Lincoln/Smithfield), John DeSimone (D-Providence), Laurence Ehrhardt (R-North Kingstown) and Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) which would place a non-binding question on the next general election ballot, asking if the straight-party voting option should be discontinued in RI.

December 2, 2008

California Does Away with Gerrymandering

Marc Comtois

Christian Whiton and Larry Greenfield report:

Proposition 11, which passed with the narrowest of margins (50.8 percent), could mark the most serious challenge to the political class by voters since the foiled term limit movement of the 1990s. It strikes at the core pillar of power: incumbency guaranteed through gerrymandered districts. Californians took away from their legislature the power to draw its own districts--a key element of nearly uninterrupted Democratic control since 1970. The task will now be handled by an eight-member commission chosen much like a jury, whose members cannot come from the political class.

Incumbent legislators have lost perhaps their best tool for avoiding competitive elections, long a disgraceful ritual in Sacramento and other state capitals following the once-a-decade census. The legislature still gets to draw districts for U.S. House seats, but here too it must adhere to rules that bind the new commission--namely keeping counties and cities whole as much as possible. Gerrymandered districts will now be more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Good idea, so how does it work?
The eight-member commission will consist of three Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. Most voters can apply to be on the commission, but anyone linked to elected officials, parties, lobbyists or political consultants is excluded, as are major donors. Independent auditors choose 20 applicants from each of the three groups. State leaders from both parties are allowed to strike up to eight people total from each group, similar to jury selection, and auditors then choose randomly the final eight commission members from those who remain.

The initiative passed narrowly, but undoubtedly attracted considerable non-Republican support in a state where registered Democrats exceed Republicans 44 percent to 31 percent and where Barack Obama won 61 percent of the vote. The California Democratic party opposed the measure, as did teachers and other government employee unions that have the most to lose in a fair redistricting of the state. A range of good government types from across the political spectrum joined the Yes on 11 campaign. These included groups as diverse as the AARP, the League of Women Voters and the Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, since Rhode Island doesn't have a voter initiative, forget about it happening here.

November 19, 2008

RE: Matt Allen Show - Straight Party

Marc Comtois

As a follow-up to my appearance on Matt Allen tonight, I thought it worthwhile to provide a link to VotersUnite.org, which I mentioned to Matt. As I said, they indicate that there are only 15 states that provide the straight-party option, though there are some caveats. For instance:

[1] North Carolina:
A straight party vote DOES NOT include the President. The ballot says:

"The offices of President and Vice President of the United States are not included in a Straight Party vote. This contest must be voted separately."

[2] Oklahoma:
Ballots often have straight-party voting options in multiple places on the ballot. A straight-party vote applies ONLY to the set of offices it precedes on the ballot. This means to vote straight-party in all contests, you must mark several separate straight-party selections.

So, for example, as this Tulsa County sample ballot shows, you can vote straight-party for one or more of: a) Presidential office, b) State Officials, and c) Congressional Officers. A straight-party vote for the Presidential office WILL NOT count for the state and congressional officer contests.

November 18, 2008

Most Agree: Straight Party Option is Bad

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's Ed Achorn used some of my data in his latest column in which he explains why the straight-party vote option in the Rhode Island is a stumbling block towards a two-party state.

This scheme...gets pernicious...farther down the ballot, in legislative races with lesser-known candidates. Minus the straight-ticket option, many voters who are ignorant of those candidates and their issues would leave those races blank, letting more knowledgeable voters decide the matter. With the option, voters blindly sweep into office candidates they’ve never heard of.
Rep. David Segal "tend[s] to support getting rid of the straight-ticket lever," but thinks Achorn is blaming all of the GOP woes on the SPV option and observes that most of the legislature would have gone Democrat without all SPV option votes anyway. True, but I don't think Achorn is blaming it all on the SPV, just pointing out that it is but one of the stumbling blocks to having a two-party state, which even George Nee supports (if with a wink). Besides, if a party is built from the bottom up, then it's not at the Legislative level--where Segal focuses--but at the school committee and town council level where candidates cut their teeth. As I've shown, Republicans and especially Independents are really outgunned when faced by the SPV option in such local, down-ticket contests.

TPublico, a contributor at RI Future, has also run the numbers (in more detail than me) and is similarly against the SPV option. He also notes of his fellow RI Futurites:

...it’s no wonder that some on this site don’t see a problem with straight ticket voting because though it’s true that Dems hold a significant edge on the SPV, it’s the so called “Progressive” candidates that lead the pack in SPV averages in the precincts and districts that they run in. Or maybe that’s a consequence of going door-to-door, or making phone calls, or sending out literature to vote “straight democrat”. But to push something as undemocratic as straight party voting on a voter goes against the very principles of elections because it’s no longer a person running for office – it’s a party that is… it’s a political party whose qualities are considered - and not a person. This is more than one party against another party, and how their strategies differ as to how they take advantage of the master level. This is about a voter putting into office a qualified candidate, not a vanilla version of some party principles.
A comment by Matt Jerzyk to TPublico's post provides proof to this point:
Well...we ran a kick-ass "vote straight Democrat" campaign in South Providence and I am glad to see that it worked.

Reps. Almeida, Diaz and Slater received 3/4 of their votes through straight Democratic voting.

Never underestimate the power of an organized electorate!

Matt also responded to Segal's post on the topic:
The bottom line is that the RI Republican Party is horrible at the basics of running a party:

1) identifying candidates
2) raising money
3) training candidates
4) running a GOTV program.

If and when they get to a point when they can do 1-4, then we can talk about systematic "hurdles" to getting elected.

Baby steps, RIGOP, baby steps.

So whether or not the SPV is unfair is only relevant if certain conditions are met by the party out of power? This is all just smoke-and-mirrors meant to convey "open-mindedness" to the idea of abolishing the SPV option whilst trying to make it impossible to affect by creating arbitrary milestones. Setting aside the "who" and "how" of determining when the milestones outlined have been reached, explain to me how these would apply to an Independent candidate? No, there will be no push to abolish the SPV option by those currently in the political majority, no matter their rhetoric. Fairness is relative, after all, especially if it may impede the maintenance of raw power.

ADDENDUM: The NEA's Bob Walsh has weighed in:

The greatest irony...in this entire debate is that the elimination of straight party voting empowers the groups that Achorn dislikes the most, as down-ballot candidates will be more, not less, dependent on the grassroots get out the vote efforts they (we) bring to the table.
Fine, let's get rid of it and let the vaunted grassroots do their thing. But I think that both Walsh and some commenters, including Matt J. and "Greg", are using Achorn's column as an excuse to gloss over the MAIN point that both TPublico and I are trying to pound. The SPV option should go because it enables so-called machine, party-over-person politics.

November 9, 2008

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part Three

Monique Chartier

Early Voting/Multi-Day Voting - Oh, No

And here is where the Secretary of State gets a little carried away. He announced this component October 21 on WPRO's John DePetro Show (podcast no longer available). Citing thirty one other states who engage in some form of the practice,

Part of our 2009 legislation package, we will be, I will be putting forth a early voting piece of legislation. Our original goal ... was to the point of having people vote on the Saturday before Election Day. But we're going to expand that thought in our new legislation and actually, hopefully open it up to more than just that one particular day before Election Day.

We're hoping to put forth a situation where you would be able to vote hopefully the week before Election Day.

This is a bad idea.

Ballots, blank and cast, as well as all the other polling place paraphernalia will have to be packed up and stored at the end of each voting day. Look at what happened during the West Warwick primary. Through an honest error, eighty seven signature cards went missing - fortunately, only temporarily.

If multi-day voting is introduced, will the workers at every polling place carefully pack and accurately inventory every piece of paper and the boxes which contain them with 100% accuracy at the end of an election day? Will they carefully unpack, re-check and assemble everything the next day with 100% accuracy? Can we count on this being done 100% of the time at all polling places? No. We're all human. It is much too easy to envision honest errors, along the lines of, "Wait a minute, we're missing some boxes from the storage location. Okay, people, who took what last night?" or, after the election, "Damn. I left a box in my car." Or, if all voting materials are left at the polling place, "Uh oh, someone was here last night ..."

Multiply by how many election days and how many polling places in Rhode Island?

The opportunity for honest - not to mention dishonest! - mistakes in our electoral process must be kept to an absolute minimum. Multi-day voting unnecessarily endangers the integrity of our precious electoral process. The fact that thirty one other states have engaged in multi-day voting provides no comfort, only the knowledge that the election process of those states has been subjected to such avoidable mistakes.

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part Two

Monique Chartier

Voter Identification - Yes

The Secretary of State's electoral initiative includes a requirement for all voters to show a picture identification when voting.

On the one hand, it is good news, indeed, that this critical measure has been proposed by the Secretary of State. It stops cold not one but two significant election frauds: voting a ballot that is in someone else's name and voting the ballot of someone who does not exist; e.g., fictional voter registration drive-and-dumps such as undertaken by ACORN.

At the same time, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision confirming Indiana's voter i.d. law on April 28 of this year. My enthusiasm for this initiative is a little dampened, therefore, by its tardiness and the realization that the Secretary of State's decision to put it forward in 2009 instead of 2008 enabled a presidential election to take place in Rhode Island without the requirement for voters to show identification.

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part One

Monique Chartier

Marc's two thorough analyses of straight party voting last Tuesday is a good cue to break the bad news that the legislative package to be introduced in January by Rhode Island's Secretary of State - one of the guardians of our electoral process - does not include elimination of the straight party lever. (That does not, however, preclude some good-government-minded legislator from introducing such a bill.)

I have broken the three important aspects of Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis' initiative into three posts, this first dealing with the aforementioned

Straight Party Lever - Untouched

About this omission, the Secretary of State, via his Communications Director, Chris Barnett, said in late October:

On Election Day 2006, about 20 percent of voters used the straight-ticket option -- 61,357 voted Democratic and 18,424 voted Republican, which was roughly the same proportion of voters in each party. Given that one-in-five voters used the master lever, we know that a significant number of voters value the option to vote straight party. Unlike a few critics of straight-ticket voting, we presume the best about Rhode Islanders. People who take the time to vote know their own minds. Straight-ticket voting is an endorsement of a platform of policies specific to a particular party. The straight-party option also has flexibility, too. You can vote straight-ticket and vote for an off-ticket candidate or candidates on the same ballot. A vote for a particular off-ticket candidate negates the straight-party vote for that particular office only.

Elimination of the straight party lever is long overdue. If a voter wishes to vote only in a particular race or on a particular issue, he or she can simply leave the rest of the ballot blank. As commenter Patrick said, straight party voting is

lazy, thoughtless and really just irresponsible.

And leaving the straight party lever in place is not only irresponsible but a bad governing practice.

November 7, 2008

Straight Party Voting - Down the Ticket

Marc Comtois

As I've mentioned, I've been looking at the election returns* with a specific interest in straight-party ticket voting. What follows is an analysis of how straight-party voting may have affected a few down-ticket contests.

The most extreme example I can offer is the race for 4th District Senator (North Providence, Providence) between incumbent Dominick Ruggerio (D) and Christine Spaziano (R). Ruggerio won the race handily by a margin of 7614 to 3317. Included in Ruggerio's total were 2982 straight-party (Democrat) votes (Spaziano received 533 GOP straight-party votes)--Spaziano would have nearly lost just based on the straight-party vote! 39% of Ruggerio's votes were via the straight party lever vs. almost 16% for Spaziano. She didn't stand a chance. Unfortunately, this just exemplifies the sort of hurdle that any Republican has to surmount to run in Providence.

On the other side, I took a look at Bob Watson's race in East Greenwich. Watson, the incumbent Republican, defeated Jean Ann Guliano 4052 to 3384. Watson benefited from 631 (15.6% of total) straight-party votes while Guliano garnered 621 (18.4% of total). A much smaller differential than the aforementioned Providence race and Watson's straight-party votes were onl slightly above the average GOP straight-ticket rate of 14%.

Next, I looked at a couple tight races involving incumbents, one from each party. Incumbent Republican State Representative Nicholas Gorham (Coventry, Foster, Glocester) lost to Scott Pollard (D) 3723-3605. Gorham benefited from 504 straight-ticket votes (14% of his total) while Pollard received 613 (16.5% of his total). Pollard beat Gorham by 118 votes and he received 109 more straight-party votes than Gorham. Take those away, and Gorham would have still lost, but by a razor-thin margin.

I also looked at the three-way race in Senate District 11 between Incumbent Democrat Charles Levesque (Bristol, Portsmouth), Republican Chris Ottiano and Independent John Vitkevich. The overall vote breakdown was:

Levesque - 5499
Ottiano - 5383
Vitkevich - 1547

Obviously, as an Independent, Vitkevich didn't benefit from a straight-party vote. Levesque benefited with 1333 votes (24.2% of his total) while Ottiano received 749 (13.9%). That's a straight-party vote differential of 584 and it's clear that Levesque owes his victory to the straight-party vote option.

Finally, based on a comment from my previous post, I checked out the affect that the straight-party option can have on such down-ticket positions as School Committee. Not all Rhode Island cities and towns designate these positions as partisan, but South Kingstown does. As a result, the four Democrats who ran started out with 1447 votes thanks to the straight-party option. The one Republican benefited with 668 votes and the Independents started from 0. Here's a breakdown of each candidate with the percentage of their total garnered by the straight-party option.

DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 7649 (21%)
INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7548 (0%)
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 7081 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 7036 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 6402 (25%)
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327 (0%)
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5543 (12%)

There are many ways to look at this race with "ifs" and "buts". Taking all of the straight-party votes away won't accurately reflect what the totals would look like. Yet, if the straight-party vote option is the refuge of the uninformed or protest voter (aka college Obamaniacs at URI or many fed up Rhody Republicans), then let's assume that half of the straight-party voters were there for the Presidential race and had no clue about school committee. That would give the Democrats 809 votes and the Republican 334 (and the Independents still nada). The new tally would be:

INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7649
DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 6739
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 6272
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 6227
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 5593
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5209

That's a bit of a different School Committee, no? Of course, I'd also note that, in this just past election, the benefits of the straight-party option for the Republican were probably far outweighed by having to declare his party!

Anyway, the takeaway is that the straight-party option clearly benefits the Democrats in Rhode Island, particularly those running for down-ticket offices during a Presidential election year. Even in "Republican" enclaves like East Greenwich, the straight-party voters are roughly equivalent. None of this is a real surprise, now we just have the numbers to prove it.

But all is not lost. Based on another comment, I looked at the Town Council races in Coventry, which saw the GOP take 4 out 5 seats.

DISTRICT 1 - GOP won by 243 votes. DEM had 74 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 2 - GOP won by 80 votes. DEM had 209 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 3 - DEM won by 211 votes. DEM had 289 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 4 - GOP won by 125 votes. DEM had 220 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 5 - GOP won by 1885 votes. DEM had 287 straight-party vote advantage. This GOP Candidate ran UNOPPOSED!

So, its possible, but the GOP (and Independents) are still way behind the 8-ball with the edge the state Democrats have in mindless straight-party voting.

*NOTE: The original returns I looked at were obtained on 11/5/2008. I downloaded the data again on 11/13/2008 and updated the above post accordingly.

November 6, 2008

Straight Party Vote Advantage

Marc Comtois

I've begun looking at the statewide election result metrics (found at the RI BoE). The first thing I've focused on is the straight party ticket vote, and what I've learned is no surprise.

Statewide, nearly 27% of all votes for Barack Obama came via the straight party ticket vote. That percentage was just above 14% for John McCain.

Take home point: The average Democrat starts with about a 50% straight party vote advantage over the average Republican.

Here are the towns for which there were above-the-average straight party votes for each party's Presidential nominee [with %s rounded and total straight ticket votes in ( )]*.

First the Democrats
Central Falls - 59% (1811)
Providence - 46% (20405)
Woonsocket - 38.0% (3180)
Pawtucket - 36% (6302)
East Providence - 31% (4542)
North Providence - 30% (2892)

Then Republicans:
Central Falls - 25% (158)
Providence - 21% (1680)
Newport - 20% (574)
Jamestown - 20% (236)
Barrington - 19% (656)
Scituate - 18% (519)
Woonsocket - 18% (784)
West Greenwich - 17% (265)
Coventry - 17% (1177)
East Greenwich - 16% (545)
Exeter - 16% (228)
Tiverton - 16% (449)
Smithfield - 15% (662)
Hopkinton - 15% (241)
North Kingstown - 14% (851)
East Providence - 14% (849)

Couple points on the above:
1) The highest % rate of straight party GOP is lower than the lowest above-the-average community for Democrats.
2) For the communities with 20% or greater GOP straight party votes, it looks like the straight party option was used as a quick and easy method to lodge a protest vote against the entrenched party.
3) Though not on the list, the largest amount of straight-party votes for the GOP came from Warwick (2162) and Cranston (1874), which were just below the average of all GOP votes cast for President in those communities. Compare that to the highest for the Democrats.

I've also looked at the same overall stats for the congressional votes. The Democrats are about the same, with 26% of all votes for the Democrats (Kennedy and Langevin) coming via straight-party ticket voters and almost 20% for the Republicans (Scott and Zaccaria). As to the last, it would appear that, given their significantly smaller vote totals, a greater percentage of their votes came via the "protest" method alluded to above.

More to come....

* Updated 11/13/2008 with final numbers from BoE.

May 6, 2008

Re: MIA: Voter I.D. and Scrapping of the Straight Party Lever

Monique Chartier

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis appeared on WHJJ's Helen Glover Show this morning. He attempted to explain why a voter I.D. law that passed a US Supreme Court challenge by six to three cannot be brought to Rhode Island during this legislative session

The only logistic barrier to this law is the absence of a mechanism for the state to provide, free of charge, picture identification to those voters who presently lack it. The Secretary of State has been aware of this requirement for several months and has even suggested that such a requirement could be fulfilled by the DMV. Yet he took no steps in the interim months to facilitate this solution in time for legislative action.

What, then, is the real reason for the delay to this important election reform?

May 1, 2008

MIA: Voter I.D. and Scrapping of the Straight Party Lever

Monique Chartier

It appears that Secretary of State Ralph Mollis left the two most important reforms to Rhode Island's electoral process out of his "Voter First" Legislative Package.

The Secretary of State does not address at all his exclusion of a voter identification requirement from the package. As for the straight party lever, Secretary Mollis had this to say in yesterday's Providence Journal:

Mollis, however, said he does not want to get rid of straight party voting because so many state voters cast such ballots. In 2006 roughly 20 percent of Rhode Island voters chose to cast a straight party ballot, Mollis said.

“I’m opposed to removing something that, in 2006, one out of every five voters in Rhode Island used,” said Mollis.

Approximately one out of every five Rhode Islanders smokes, too. That is not a basis to encourage or faciliate such an unhealthy habit.

April 29, 2008

Supreme Court Rules on Voter Identification

Monique Chartier

The New York Times is predicting gloom, doom and lawsuits as far as the eye can see. But anyone who values honest elections is breaking out the champagne to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling yesterday which upheld Indiana's voter i.d. law, a law which is hopefully coming soon to a polling place near you.

From the Indianapolis Star:

“States should have the ability to implement appropriate and constitutional steps to protect their electoral systems from fraud,” Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said in response. “We can move forward in Indiana with a process that provides constitutional protections to its citizens protecting their vote from potential fraudulent activity.”

While the ruling creates a precedent for other states to pass similar laws, it will also have an immediate impact specifically in Indiana as it was handed down just in time for that state's presidential primary.

The ruling means the ID requirement will be in effect for next week's presidential primary in Indiana, where a significant number of new voters are expected to turn out for the Democratic contest between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The results could say something about the effect of the law, either because a large number of voters will lack identification and be forced to cast provisional ballots or because the number turns out to be small.

March 16, 2008

Eliminate the Primary?

Monique Chartier

[Note: the Devil's Advocate signed in for this post to write the concluding paragraph.]

From today's Woonsocket Call:

A move by the General Assembly to grant a waiver of the traditional waiting period for disaffiliating from a political party could put more voters at the polls for Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for the late Roger R. Badeau’s State Senate seat.

Badeau’s death while in office on Jan. 25 set the stage for a special election in the East Woonsocket and Cumberland Hill district to replace the veteran Woonsocket senator. The candidate filing period yielded three Senate hopefuls — Rosina L. Hunt of 68 Hamlet Ave., Roger A. Picard of 764 Mendon Road, and Cumberland’s contender, Thomas J. Scully of 66 Beamis Ave. All three are Democrats and without a Republican contender, the contest will actually be decided on Tuesday for all intents and purposes.

The changing of the rules to open up this primary and effectively render it a general election [edit] enable recently disaffiliated voters to participate is for a noble cause in this case: to ensure that all more voters in Senate District 20 have a say in the selection of their state senator.

The less lofty practice of cross party primary raids, whereby members of a party will attempt to pick the candidate of an opposition party by changing affiliation and voting in the primary of that party, is certainly not unheard of. Perhaps one of the better known examples of this is the recent "campaign" by a National Radio Talk Show Host urging Republicans to cross over and vote for a particular Democrat presidential candidate. "Do-overs" are presently being contemplated for the Democrat presidential primaries in Florida and Michigan, whose delegates were eliminated by the DNC because they moved up the dates of their primaries in violation of DNC rules. [In this matter, I agree with another National Radio Talk Show Host.]

In short, primaries are not always carried out as intended. Is it time to eliminate the primary altogether? Undoubtedly, they drag out the election process, a condition that has been exacerbated by the recent trend of states moving the dates of their primaries up and up so as to have a greater influence in the selection of presidential candidates. They can make it far more expensive to run for office. Under the American electoral system, we select our candidates by a plurality, not a majority. In that regard, there is no need to narrow the field with a primary. So why shouldn't we go straight to a general election?

March 4, 2008

Counting All of the Votes

Carroll Andrew Morse

Given that the State Board of Elections website is showing that 2 of Hugh Cort's 22 votes came from my precinct, I feel quite confident that here in the United States, every vote gets counted.

May 2, 2007

ProJo Looks At '06 Voting Discrepencies

Marc Comtois

Paul Edward Parker of the ProJo investigated the voter rolls and found some discrepancies.

The Board of Elections — which oversees the counting of votes — says 392,884 voters cast ballots in the Nov. 7 general election.

The secretary of state’s Elections Division — which oversees the state’s Central Voter Registration System and tracks who voted in which elections — counted 387,952 voters in the same election as of Jan. 16. In a new tally Monday, that number had risen to 390,340.

That leaves 4,932 ballots that were cast without a voter voting — or 2,544, depending on which number you use from the secretary of state.

The Providence Journal began examining the results of the November election this spring, after reporting last fall that the names of nearly 5,000 registered voters in Rhode Island appear on a federal list of dead people. The Journal sought to find out whether any of those dead people voted.

The newspaper’s review found no evidence of systematic fraud by people casting ballots in the names of voters who had died. But it did find a voter tracking system susceptible to error that could throw into doubt the results of close elections.


Robert Kando, executive director of the Board of Elections, attributed the discrepancies to errors in how voter tracking information was entered into the secretary of state’s computer system. “I don’t have the slightest inclination there was ballot stuffing.”

Kando said that comparing the number of votes cast to the number of voters who checked in at each precinct is not part of the process of declaring the results of an election. “We certify winners without doing that. That doesn’t mean we don’t validate our system by examining that.”

Feeling confident? You can find the numbers for your town here.

May 1, 2007

RI Senate Voting on Various Election Reform Bills

Marc Comtois

Perhaps I should say "election change"...? Today, the RI Senate is supposed to discuss and vote on:

S0020 - "This act would reduce the waiting period required for disaffiliation with a political party from 90 days to 29 days."

S0760 - "...an individual cannot file a declaration of candidacy for more than one elected public office, either state or local, in the same election cycle and the filing of a declaration thereby withdraws any previously filed declarations for an elected public office, either state or local, in said election cycle."

S0740A - "...move the primary date for election of delegates to national conventions from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February beginning with 2008 and every fourth year thereafter."

S0725 - "...limit political party committees from contributing more than $25,000 to any group of candidates as opposed to present law which limits such amounts to any one candidate. In addition, it would limit it to one thousand dollars ($1,000) the maximum allowed contribution that a political party committee can make to any candidate more in any one calendar year."

S0189 - "...prevent employees of local canvassing authorities from serving on local canvassing boards."

Stay tuned...

Charles Bakst on Election Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

Choose for yourself which one of Projo columnist Charles Bakst’s thoughts on election reform is worse.

  • Bakst opposes requiring photo-IDs at the polls…
    Without more evidence than I know of that voter fraud is a genuine problem, [Secretary of State Ralph Mollis] courts heartache by raising the prospect of requiring a photo ID at the polls. The idea will engender ill will and suspicion among disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders who now lack such cards and would find it inconvenient, or insulting, to have to acquire one.
    In other words, we have to wait until voter fraud occurs before we do anything -- even though we already know how we would improve the system if massive fraud were to occur. It’s like saying a dam might break, and we know how to make some improvements that will improve its strength, but since it hasn't broken yet, there's no need to do anything right now!

    There is a serious dose of the soft-bigotry of low expectations built into the anti-photo ID argument; if voter registration cards that include a photo are issued during the standard voter registration process, then why should disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders be more insulted than anyone else who registers to vote? And on top of that, shouldn't suspicions held by law-abiding individual citizens towards a lax process that can be easily gamed count for anything in our civic culture, or do you have to declare yourself as a member of an identity politics-focused interest group to have a voice in these matters?

  • And then, for something completely different…
    A bold step would be to find a way to deter candidates from hurling slime at one another, or at least improve the public’s ability, now nearly nonexistent, to sort through it.

    Negativity and distortion especially plague races for higher office. One candidate runs an attack ad, the foe retaliates with a response ad yelling “Liar!” and the arms race is on. People decide one candidate is as bad as the other and throw up their hands.

    Let’s see Mollis & Co. propose a vehicle, some kind of legally constituted arbitration tribunal, to which candidates aggrieved by a particular ad or exchange of ads could turn and obtain a judgment as to whom is telling the truth. Maybe retired Supreme Court justices could sit on it.

    Would this panel have an ability to impose penalties? If so, there’s a real first amendment problem with the government potentially punishing people for the content of their speech.

    But penalties or not, ask yourself this question: who would ultimately be responsible for disseminating the findings of Bakst's panel to the public. The answer, of course, is the media -- the media that is already capable, on its own, of explaining the truth, falsehood, and nuances of the political and policy issues arising during a campaign.

    Whether he meant it or not, Bakst's implication is that mainstream media credibility has slipped to the point where the MSM now needs the voice of government behind it in order to make statements during political campaigns that will be trusted.

    This idea of forming a Ministry of Truth to monitor political campaigns needs to be filed under the category of "things not entirely thought through".

Charles Bakst on Election Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

Choose for yourself which one of Projo columnist Charles Bakst’s thoughts on election reform is worse.

  • Bakst opposes requiring photo-IDs at the polls…
    Without more evidence than I know of that voter fraud is a genuine problem, [Secretary of State Ralph Mollis] courts heartache by raising the prospect of requiring a photo ID at the polls. The idea will engender ill will and suspicion among disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders who now lack such cards and would find it inconvenient, or insulting, to have to acquire one.
    In other words, we have to wait until voter fraud occurs before we do anything -- even though we already know how we would improve the system if massive fraud were to occur. It’s like saying a dam might break, and we know how to make some improvements that will improve its strength, but since it hasn't broken yet, there's no need to do anything right now!

    There is a serious dose of the soft-bigotry of low expectations built into the anti-photo ID argument; if voter registration cards that include a photo are issued during the standard voter registration process, then why should disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders be more insulted than anyone else who registers to vote? And on top of that, shouldn't suspicions held by law-abiding individual citizens towards a lax process that can be easily gamed count for anything in our civic culture, or do you have to declare yourself as a member of an identity politics-focused interest group to have a voice in these matters?

  • And then, for something completely different…
    A bold step would be to find a way to deter candidates from hurling slime at one another, or at least improve the public’s ability, now nearly nonexistent, to sort through it.

    Negativity and distortion especially plague races for higher office. One candidate runs an attack ad, the foe retaliates with a response ad yelling “Liar!” and the arms race is on. People decide one candidate is as bad as the other and throw up their hands.

    Let’s see Mollis & Co. propose a vehicle, some kind of legally constituted arbitration tribunal, to which candidates aggrieved by a particular ad or exchange of ads could turn and obtain a judgment as to whom is telling the truth. Maybe retired Supreme Court justices could sit on it.

    Would this panel have an ability to impose penalties? If so, there’s a real first amendment problem with the government potentially punishing people for the content of their speech.

    But penalties or not, ask yourself this question: who would ultimately be responsible for disseminating the findings of Bakst's panel to the public. The answer, of course, is the media -- the media that is already capable, on its own, of explaining the truth, falsehood, and nuances of the political and policy issues arising during a campaign.

    Whether he meant it or not, Bakst's implication is that mainstream media credibility has slipped to the point where the MSM now needs the voice of government behind it in order to make statements during political campaigns that will be trusted.

    This idea of forming a Ministry of Truth to monitor political campaigns needs to be filed under the category of "things not entirely thought through".

April 25, 2007

RE: Mollis Recommends Photo ID... Mollis forms "Voters First Advisory Committee"

Marc Comtois

Building on Andrew's post (and apparently this is a case of lunch-hour, blog-posting serendipity) Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times reports:

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis has assembled a bi-partisan "Voters First Advisory Committee" -- which includes the woman who ran against him in the November election - to hash out a list of 10 election-related issues.

The North Providence Democrat says he wants the panel's input on those matters so they can be addressed with laws to be crafted by his office that he hopes can be in place for the 2008 election.
Some of the Mollis proposals the group will look at are sure to be controversial - such as his call for all voters to show a photo ID a the polling place.

"The lack of a photo ID system creates the perception of voter fraud, shakes voter confidence and leads to lack of voter participation," according to materials distributed by the secretary of state's office. "A fair and equitable photo ID system that would stand the test of our judicial system and address the concerns of our community needs to be established."
The photo ID requirement was one of the grounds for agreement between Mollis and his Republican opponent last year, Susan Stenhouse of Warwick.

Stenhouse is now a member of the commission, as is GOP Sen. June Gibbs. Other members include Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien, Providence Rep. Joseph Almeida and Providence Sen. Juan Pichardo, all Democrats, as well as Ken McGill, registrar of the Pawtucket Board of Canvassers; Robert Kando, executive director of the state Board of Elections, and Jan Ruggiero, director of the division of elections in the secretary of state's office. Mollis will be chairman of the committee.

"It was a little weird when I got the call," to be on a panel of advisors to the man who defeated her, Stenhouse confessed in response to a question. "I almost fell out of my chair." Nonetheless, she said, "these are issues I am passionate about and I have always felt you don't have to have the title to make a difference."

Good for Mollis and a smart political move, too. Now, let's hope this actually goes somewhere.

April 5, 2007

The National Popular Vote Fallacy

Marc Comtois

Some proponents of having the Electoral College replaced by a National Popular Vote to elect the President write:

In today's climate of partisan polarization, the current system shuts out most of the country from meaningful participation by turning naturally "purple" states into simple "red" and "blue."

The result is a declining number of Americans who matter and a majority who don't. Youth turnout was fully 17 percent higher in presidential battlegrounds than the rest of the nation in 2004—double the disparity just four years before. The presidential campaigns and their allies spent more money on ads in Florida in the final month of the campaign than their combined spending in 46 other states....Candidates for our one national office should have incentives to speak to everyone, and all Americans should have the power to hold their president accountable. We're well on our way toward that goal with the Free State Initiative—escaping the shackles of the current bankrupt Electoral College system.

E.J. Dionne, Jr., who supports the idea, explains that the plan is a justifiable circumvention of the Constitutional Amendment process:
Yes, this is an effort to circumvent the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution. That's the only practical way of moving toward a more democratic system. Because three-quarters of the states have to approve an amendment to the Constitution, only 13 sparsely populated states -- overrepresented in the electoral college -- could block popular election.
By over representation, Dionne means that Rhode Island, which has 4 electoral votes that are worth around 250,000 people each, has more electoral college power than California, whose 55 electors each represent around 665,000 people. So, yes, on the face of it, Rhode Island's people have a disproportionate amount of power over the people of California when it comes to electing the President. A fact that some Rhode Island legislators want to "rectify" by introducing National Popular Vote legislation in both the Senate and House.

But should this national popular vote idea take hold, there will undoubtedly be some consequences for small states that the popular vote proponents fail to acknowledge. Dionne attempts to knock down some anti-popular vote arguments

Opponents of popular election invent scary scenarios to continue subjecting our 21st-century nation to a system invented in the far less democratic 18th century. Most frequently, they warn about having to conduct a nationwide recount in a close election.

But direct election of presidents works just fine in France and in Mexico, which managed to get through a divisive, terribly narrow presidential election last year. Are opponents of the popular vote saying our country is less competent at running elections than France or Mexico?

Well, some would say yes.

Yet, as the point is often made, the U.S. is a Republic and the system was designed to work this way such that there are really 50 separate presidential elections every four years. It's consistent with our Federal system and also in the spirit of the Founders inclination to distrust direct democracy (like it or not). At the heart of that distrust lay an antipathy to "factions." As Madison wrote in support of the current electoral system:

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.
For instance, besides state-centered factions, there was a very real country vs. city dynamic and a wariness against having a disproportionate amount of electoral power--especially when it came to the presidency--in the hands of one or another of these "factions." The reasoning behind this was that urban and rural people often have very different concerns and priorities. Breaking up the presidential election into separate state elections mitigated against the urban "factions" gaining too much power over the rural--or vice versa--because most states contained both rural and urban "factions." As such, politicians would be forced to address the needs of both groups.

Popular vote proponents make much of the fact that only certain battleground states get the lion's share of attention under the current system and smaller or more uncontested states are ignored. By going to a popular vote, they seem to think that the focus away from a few battleground states. There is also a flaw in the logic that argues that small states have too much proportional power yet don't get enough attention as "battleground states" under the current system. After all, despite all of the apparent electoral power that Rhode Island has over California, the Presidential candidates weren't exactly streaming into the state in 2003/4, were they? But, proponents would argue, that a national popular vote would make "every vote count" no matter where it is. Well, I wouldn't bet on it (some would count more often--badump-bum, tip your waitress, please).

Where can candidates get the most bang for their buck (and they're sure raising the bucks, aren't they)? In the cities. And while Dionne attempts to discount the shibboleth of a national recount, I wouldn't be so quick to do so. 3,000 Palm Beach Counties anyone? However, while I do harbor a fear of widespread vote fraud and corruption in the cities, my biggest concern is that candidates will be encouraged to concentrate on places where they are already popular for the sole purpose of cranking up their vote totals.

So while a Democrat could incessantly campaign in Rhode Island to jack up an overall popular vote tally, they would probably acutely focus on bigger population centers like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston etc.to maximize their turnout and run up their their popular vote tallies. Under a popular vote scheme, they could do that and still get the Rhode Island votes anyway. So where's the Democrat incentive to visit a small state like li'l Rhody for the sake of marginal popular vote gains when the big numbers can be had in the big cities?

Similarly, a Republican could adopt a similar, more rural strategy in a state like Utah or Wyoming, though it would be a whole lot more work because the population is more dispersed. They still might try it though, or they might try to take the Democrats on, city by city. If this were to happen, then the interests of the rural and suburban citizens could very well fall by the wayside--or at best be of secondary concern--as both political parties sought to tailor their message to the voters who live in large population centers.

What the popular vote movement does is replace one "ignored" population for another, all under the cloak of "equality." It's really just an electoral shell-game cloaked in populist rhetoric. There will still be battleground states, they'll just tend to be the ones that have big cities and big populations.

And maybe that's exactly the way the popular vote crowd wants it.