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Automatic Voter Registration Coming to Massachusetts

 

Massachusetts residents will no longer have to make an effort to register to vote. Thanks to a new law, registering to vote will take place automatically when they interact with some state agencies. Supporters hail this is a progressive way to improve voter turnout. Others see it as a solution in search of a problem.

 

Under this legislation, when someone goes to the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles to do something like get a driver’s license, or when someone seeks medical care through the state’s MassHealth program, their voter information will be updated. If they are not registered to vote, they will be. If they are already registered, then their address or other information will be updated if it has changed. A person who is automatically registered will then be sent a letter to determine if he or she wants to register with a political party or opt-out of the registration.

 

Supporters of this bill say that there are hundreds of thousands of eligible Massachusetts voters who are not registered. Automatically registering them will help boost election turnout by making the voting process easier. Opponents say that it is not difficult to register to vote, so this bill is not solving any real problem. They also worry about whether this would make it easier for non-citizens to vote.

 

This law will take effect for the 2020 election.

 

Do you support automatic voter registration?

 

Pennsylvania Looks to Change Judicial Elections

 

Voters elect legislators by districts, so should they elect appellate judges by district, too? That is the question that Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering.

 

As part of a larger anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment, state senators in mid-June inserted a provision that would require appellate judges (including state Supreme Court justices) to run by district. Currently, these judges are elected statewide.

 

The senators who support this concept point out that most of the state appellate judges come from a few areas of the state (generally around Pittsburgh or Philadelphia). Electing them by districts, according to these legislators, would provide much-needed geographic diversity for the judicial branch.

 

Opponents say this is a Republican attempt to attack the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court. They contend that there is no good reason to divide up judicial seats by geographic area, since these judges decide on statewide issues.

 

This proposed change to judicial elections came during consideration of a constitutional amendment that would establish a nonpartisan commission to draw election districts. The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the districts drawn by Republican legislators.

 

The state House of Representatives must now consider this proposed amendment. To go before voters, both houses of the General Assembly must pass an identical version of the amendment during two consecutive legislative sessions. If the House rejects the Senate’s idea, it would doom the overall nonpartisan redistricting effort.

 

Do you think that state Supreme Court justices should be elected statewide, or should they be elected by districts that would give more geographic diversity?

 

Supreme Court Allows Political Attire at Polling Places

 

When you go to vote this year, you are now free to wear a t-shirt proclaiming your support for your favorite candidate or political cause. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states cannot prohibit a person from wearing attire with a political message when they vote. Observers see this as a major victory for free speech.

 

In 2010, a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Don’t Tread on Me” and had the logo of a national Tea Part group tried to vote in Minnesota. Election officials said that his clothing violated a state law banning political attire in polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the high court ruled that this law was a violation of the First Amendment.

 

The court’s vote was 7-2, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. He noted that the state may indeed ban some kinds of electioneering inside a polling place, but that the Minnesota ban on political apparel was overly broad. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined him in his finding.

 

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from this ruling. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court should not have made a sweeping First Amendment ruling on this case; instead, the court should have sent it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to make a more narrow judgment.

 

Many states have bans on political apparel or signs in polling places. Chief Justice Roberts noted that some of those laws have more specific bans than Minnesota did, so they may be permissible. However, this ruling does lay the groundwork for anyone to challenge these laws under the First Amendment. Thanks to this ruling, there is an expectation that states should favor free expression, not restrictions on political attire.

 

Do you think that people should be able to wear clothes and buttons with political messages when they vote?

 

“Sore Loser” Law Keeps Blankenship off West Virginia Ballot

 

Coal magnate Don Blankenship’s words and actions focused national attention on West Virginia during his race for U.S. senator. Thanks to a state law, however, he will not be able to take his unique style into the general election. That has led some to call for changing how the state treats losing primary candidates who want to run for general election.

 

Blankenship may have lost the Republican primary for U.S. senator, but he still wants to run for office. The Constitution Party wants to give him their nomination. The only thing standing in their way is West Virginia’s “sore loser” law that prohibits candidates who have lost in a primary election from running an independent or third-party candidacy in the general election.

 

Forty-five other states have similar laws. These ensure that candidates can choose only one path to be on the general election ballot – a major-party nomination or an independent or third-party candidacy. They cannot try their luck in the Republican or Democratic primary and then run on a smaller party ticket in the general election.

 

Blankenship, who finished third in the state’s Republican primary, is aware that the state law blocks his path to a Constitution Party nomination. He has said he would challenge the law in court, seeking to invalidate it so he can challenge the two major-party nominees in November.

 

Supporters of “sore loser” laws say they are necessary to prevent losing candidates from circumventing the primary process to get on the ballot. They contend this could lead to numerous losing candidates cluttering up the ballot, confusing voters. Opponents of these laws say that voters should have the ultimate choice as to whom they elect, regardless of whether someone lost a major party’s nomination. They also point out that primary voters tend to reflect the party’s base and may choose more extreme nominees, so sore loser laws may keep more moderate candidates off the ballot.

 

Do you think that states should bar candidates who lost their party’s primaries from running in the general election as third-party or independent candidates?

 

Supreme Court Tackles Partisan Gerrymandering

 

Should politicians be able to draw congressional districts to favor members of their own party? That is the question considered by Supreme Court justices in late March. If they decide that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, the ramifications for politicians and voters across the nation will be large.

 

The case at question in March’s deliberation involves a lawsuit over a Maryland congressional district. The district in question was represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the last decade. However, after the 2010 census, Democrats redrew the district to give their party’s voters a large advantage. This is something that Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of the state at the time, admitted during a deposition for the case. He said that the new district “would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican, yes, this was clearly my intent.”

 

In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled against efforts to draw congressional districts in ways that disenfranchise minority voters, but it has upheld congressional districts drawn with partisan ends in mind. This time, however, some justices appeared to think that the Maryland gerrymander was so partisan that it may have crossed the line into discriminating against Republicans based on their political views.

 

Some observers point out that if the courts get involved in determining how much partisan gerrymandering is too much, it will lead to many more lawsuits over district lines at not only the state level, but will also involve legislative and local election districts. They say that partisanship is the norm in redistricting, and that the only way to cure it is through the ballot box, not the courtroom.

 

Others say that there are ways to reduce partisanship, such as using independent commissions for redistricting. Governor O’Malley, no longer in power, said that he now favors such a commission to draw congressional and legislative lines.

 

The Supreme Court will announce a decision in this case, as well as a similar case involving Wisconsin, later this year.

 

Do you think that the Supreme Court should rule extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional? Or is it wrong for the courts to get involved in political disputes over election lines? Is an independent commission a better way to draw congressional districts than leaving it to politicians?

 

 

Northam Inaugural Features Promises on Obamacare, Abortion, and Gun Control

 

On Saturday, January 13, Ralph Northam took office as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He did not waste any time in discussing hot-button issues. His inaugural address touched on three issues that will be hotly contested during this year’s session of the Virginia General Assembly – Obamacare expansion, access to abortion, and gun control.

 

Here is what he had to say on these topics when he addressed the inauguration crowd:

 

  • Obamacare: “It is past time for us to step forward together and expand Medicaid to nearly 400,000 Virginians who need access to care.”

 

  • Abortion: “We should also resolve together today to refrain from any effort to curtail a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about her health.”

 

  • Gun Control: “If we are going to build a healthier Virginia for everyone, we must address the public health crisis of gun violence. Gunshots kill more people in Virginia every year than car accidents, but if you walk into the right gun show, it’s easier to get a firearm than it is to rent a car. I am ready to work with you to make Virginia safer by passing smart reforms that keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.

 

Governor Northam’s stances on these issues put him at odds with the General Assembly. While the 2017 elections narrowed their majority in both chambers, Republicans still control the legislature. As their track record under Governor McAuliffe shows, they are not hesitant to pass conservative legislation in spite of gubernatorial veto threats.

 

With an increased number of Democrats in the legislature than during Gov. McAuliffe’s term, Gov. Northam will have more allies in his legislative fights. Even so, it is difficult to see how the governor will convince legislators to expand Medicaid, refrain from passing abortion restrictions, or enact gun control measures.

 

Do you think that Virginia legislators should work with Governor Northam to expand Medicaid eligibility, preserve access to abortion, and place more limits on gun ownership?

 

Voters Make Policy Decisions in 2017 Elections

 

The 2017 elections are over. In Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats scored big victories. Voters also selected people to fill a variety of other offices in states across the country. The men and women elected will be busy making policy decisions once they take office, implementing what they view as the will of the people. But voters also made some decisions about policy directly through ballot initiatives on Tuesday:

 

  • Maine voters approved an initiative that would expand Medicaid coverage in line with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, said he would not implement this expansion until the legislature finds money to pay for it.

 

  • Voters in Ohio rejected an initiative that would impose price controls on what the state could pay for prescription drugs.

 

  • New Yorkers voted in favor of a proposal that will allow judges to end pension payments to public officials convicted of a crime.

 

  • An advisory ballot measure on whether Washington legislators should raise the state property tax was rejected by voters.

 

In Douglas County, Colorado, voters did not vote directly on education policy. However, they elected a slate of school board candidates that opposed private school vouchers and a program that paid teachers based on performance. This reverses the school board’s policies over the past eight years.

 

What do you think of voters’ decisions in this year’s elections?

 

New Hampshire House Resolution 7

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in New Hampshire, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Resolution 7, Restrict Political Contributions of Those Not Eligible to Vote: Passed 210 to 74 in the state House on February 9, 2017.

 

To call on the US Congress to consider a constitutional amendment prohibiting campaign contributions unless the donor is eligible to vote in that federal election.

 

Comment below to share what you think of New Hampshire House Resolution 7!

 

 

Trump a Big Factor in Virginia Governor’s Race

 

Donald Trump may not be on Virginia’s ballot this year, but he is certainly making his presence felt in the commonwealth’s gubernatorial race.

 

During a recent debate between Republican candidate Ed Gillespie and Democratic candidate Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, the president and other national issues played a large role in the discussion. In fact, moderator Judy Woodruff led off the questioning by asking about President Trump.

 

Lt. Governor Northam did not hold back, saying:

 

“I believe that our president is a dangerous man. I believe that he lacks empathy. You need to look no further than his mocking of the journalist. That’s all that I needed to see. And he also has difficulty telling the truth. And it happens again and again. As we say on the Eastern Shore, he lies like a rug.”

 

Gillespie countered by saying that it would do Virginia no good to have a governor who insults the president: “When you hear the lieutenant governor, he calls his campaign the resistance. Resistance 2017. What are you going to do as our governor? Call the White House and say, ‘please put me through to the narcissistic maniac?’”

 

While promoting good ties with the Trump White House, Gillespie did make it clear that he has differences with the president. For instance, Gillespie supports funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, which Trump’s budget proposal slated for elimination.

 

During the debate, Northam stressed his opposition to hydraulic fracturing, his support of gun control, his desire to see Medicaid expanded to cover Virginians with higher incomes, and his opposition to restrictions on birth control. Gillespie discussed his plans to cut taxes, his support for gun rights, and said that he would work to end “sanctuary cities.”

 

This was the first in a series of three gubernatorial debates.

 

Do you think that gubernatorial races should focus on what President Trump is doing? Or do you think that governors and gubernatorial candidates should focus on state-level issues?

 

Virginia Senate Bill 872

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 872, Override Veto of Requirement for Photo ID for Absentee Ballots: Failed 20 to 19 in the state Senate on April 5, 2017.

 

To overturn the governor’s veto of legislation that requires that anyone requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a copy of his or her photo ID with the request. Exempt from this requirement are military and overseas voters as well as voters with disabilities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 872!

 

Iowa House Bill 640

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Iowa, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 640, To Require the Iowa Secretary of State to Spend $150,000 to Inform Voters of Iowa's Voter Registration Laws: Failed 41 to 56 in the state House on April 17, 2017. 

 

To amend a budget fill that funds several departments to require the Iowa Secretary of State to spend $150,000 "to provide information and education to Iowa’s voters about Iowa’s voter registration laws." The office of Secretary of State Paul Pate, who supported the voter-ID bill enacted by the Legislature this session, said it would spend $50,000. Opponents of the bill said that amount was not enough.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Iowa House Bill 640!

 

 

Virginia Senate Bill 1253

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 1253, Override Veto of Requiring Photo in Voting Pollbooks: Failed 21 to 19 in the state Senate on April 5, 2017. 

 

To override the governor’s veto of a bill requiring that electronic pollbooks contain a photo of a registered voter. If there is a photo for the voter in the pollbook, the election officer would be required to verify the voter by the photo. In these cases, the voter would not need to present a photo ID to vote.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 1253! 

 

 

North Carolina House Bill 253

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in North Carolina, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 253, Show Political Party Labels of Nine Counties' School Board Candidates: Passed 34 to 13 in the state Senate on June 29, 2017.

 

To disclose school board candidates' party affiliations on voter ballots in Beaufort, Carteret, Cleveland, Dare, Hyde, Madison, Onslow, Pender, and Yancey counties.

 

Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 253!

 

 

New Hampshire Senate Bill 33

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in New Hampshire, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 33, Limit the Period of Applicability for Regulations on Organizational Speech, and Expand the Type of Communications that are Regulated: Passed 14 to 9 in the state Senate on February 23, 2017.

 

To expand state restrictions on speech by "political advocacy organizations"  60 days prior to an election, without regard to whether they are engaging in "express advocacy" (speech urging a yes or no vote for or against a candidate or measure).

 

Comment below to share what you think of New Hampshire Senate Bill 33!

 

 

Virginia Senate Bill 872

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 872, Override Veto of Requirement for Photo ID for Absentee Ballots: Failed 20 to 19 in the state Senate on April 5, 2017.

 

To overturn the governor’s veto of legislation that requires that anyone requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a copy of his or her photo ID with the request. Exempt from this requirement are military and overseas voters as well as voters with disabilities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 872!

 

 

Virginia Senate Bill 1105

 

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Senate Bill 1105, Override veto of investigating inflated voter rolls: Failed 21 to 19 in the state Senatea on 5 April, 2017.

To override the governor’s veto of a bill requiring local boards of elections to investigate when the number of voters in a county or city exceeds the number of people in that area who are 18 years old or older. This bill directs the local board of election to determine if anyone is improperly registered.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 1105!

 

 

The Hunt for Vote Fraud

 

President Trump has not been shy about raising questions about voter fraud or election integrity. He brought it up repeatedly during his campaign for president, and discussions of fraudulent votes and stolen elections have been occurring across the political spectrum since November. Now the president is working to resolve this issue on a national level.

 

His latest action on this front is the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This commission has requested that states provide the names of registered voters as well as their addresses, dates of birth, political party affiliations, last four digits of social security numbers, and voting history going back to 2006. The commission does qualify the request by asking only for information that is publicly available.

 

This request has caused a lot of controversy with state election officials and the public. Some states are complying, others are refusing, and some are only supplying partial information. State officials are under no obligation to provide this information to this commission.

 

Supporters of the commission say it is necessary to examine the rolls of registered voters to see if they contain non-Americans, felons who are barred from voting, and people registered in multiple states – and then to see if these ineligible voters have cast ballots.

 

Opponents of the commission claim that this is a way to purge the voting roles of minority votes and others. They say that this is just another attempt to suppress voting and disenfranchise voters.

 

There are different aspects to the issue of election integrity. One pertains to voter registration rolls. Because these rolls may not be updated often or checked against other databases, they may contain the names of people who have died, people who have moved to another state, or those who are legally ineligible to vote for other reasons, such as citizenship status. Another issue is whether those ineligible voters have actually voted.

 

As is so often the case, the debate over these matters is tied up in partisan politics. Many Republicans want stricter scrutiny of voting, contending that it is necessary to ensure that only those who are eligible to vote do so. Democrats, meanwhile, attack such scrutiny as attempts to suppress the votes of people who are likely to vote Democratic.

 

What do you think? Do you support efforts to examine the voting rolls more closely? Or do you think that this effort is nothing more than a way to keep certain people from voting?

 

Nevada Assembly Bill 462

 

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Assembly Bill 462, To require a voter to provide identification at a polling place under certain circumstances: Passed 25 to 17 in the state Assembly on April 20, 2017 and 14 to 7 in the state Senate on May 19, 2017

 

To prohibit a candidate from holding an elected office if a court declares before the election that the candidate does not meet the qualifications for the office. The bill would also require that a candidate use the address at which the individual actually resides as the address to qualify for an elected office.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 462!

 

Nevada Assembly Initiated Legislation 1

 

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Assembly Initiated Legislation 1, Approve motor voter initiative: Passed 41 to 0 in the state Assembly on April 5, 2017

 

To automatically register as a voter anyone who obtains or renews a driver’s license.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Initiated Legislation 1!

 

Ohio Senate Bill 44

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Ohio, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 44, Expand access to electronic filing for campaign finance reports: Passed 33 to 9 in the state Senate on March 15, 2017

 

Expands the categories of political entities that are permitted to file their campaign finance statements electronically to include candidates for the State Board of Education and certain local candidates and political entities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Ohio Senate Bill 44!

 

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