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Biden Opposes Decriminalizing Unauthorized Border Crossings

Immigration has already been a big issue during the 2020 presidential race, and it will continue to feature prominently in the campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden is seeking to distinguish himself from the field of Democratic candidates by coming out in opposition to decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing.

 

Biden made his stance on this issue known during last night’s CNN Democratic debate. He said that he opposed changing the law that makes it a misdemeanor to cross the U.S. border without authorization. He was responding to the stance of some Democratic candidates who had said that having such a law on the books has led to family separation at the U.S.-Mexican border.

 

Other Democrats on the stage attacked Biden’s immigration stance, saying that he shares blame for the Obama Administration’s large number of deportations. Biden said that he does not support returning to the deportation policy of those years.

 

With President Trump’s actions to restrict immigration and impose more border control, the Democratic candidates running for president are seeking to outline how they would differ from the president on these issues. Biden is staking out a less liberal plan than some in the party, although his ideas are far more liberal than those of President Trump.

 

Do you think that it should be a crime to cross the border without authorization? Or should it be a civil citation that does not require detention?

California Mandates Release of Presidential Candidate Tax Returns

When he ran for president, Donald Trump broke with decades of tradition when he refused to release his tax returns. Under a new California law, he will be unable to appear on the 2020 primary election ballot in that state unless he does so.

 

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill yesterday that requires anyone whose name appears on the California primary ballot to submit five years of tax returns to the state. Those returns will then be posted online. The state’s previous governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill when he was in office.

 

New York’s law to require that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns to the state legislature is tied up in court. No other state has such a requirement. When he vetoed the previous California bill, then-Gov. Brown said that he was concerned about its constitutionality. Many observers think mandating the disclosure of presidential tax returns places an additional requirement for president, which the Constitution does not allow.

 

From Richard Nixon onward, presidential candidates have released their tax returns to the public. Supporters of this practice say that it gives voters information to see if there are any conflicts of interest. President Trump was the first candidate not to do this in recent times, citing a variety of concerns.

 

Candidates wishing to compete in California’s primary election have until November to submit their tax returns. There will likely be a legal challenge to the law, however, which will almost certainly mean that it will not be in effect for next year’s election.

 

Should states mandate that presidential candidates release their tax returns? Or does this requirement violate the Constitution?

Biden Backs Government Health Care Buy-In Plan

Health care is likely to be a big issue during the 2020 presidential campaign. Former Vice President Joe Biden today waded into this debate, unveiling his plan to reshape America’s health care sector. But his ideas are drawing a sharp distinction between him and more liberal members of his party.

 

Under Biden’s plan, the federal government would operate a health care program where any American could buy into. This resurrects the “public option” program that was initially part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. President Obama pushed for this type of government buy-in, but members of Congress thought that it was too problematic. It did not make it into the final version of Obamacare.

 

This public option stands in stark contrast to an idea that is increasingly popular with progressive Democratic politicians: a single-payer system, where private insurance is outlawed and the government runs the health care sector. Sen. Bernie Sanders has championed this most actively, but this idea has also gained ground with other candidates for president.

 

Biden points out that single-payer, also called Medicare for All, involves ending Obamacare. Biden said he is proud of that law and wants to build on it, not repeal it. He also notes that many people like their private insurance, so outlawing that would be a major disruption for millions of Americans.

 

Under the Biden plan, there would also be expanded subsidies for insurance purchases as well as allowing more people to access Medicaid. Biden also wants to provide more funding to Planned Parenthood. He would pay for these ideas with a new tax on investment income earned by taxpayers with higher incomes.

 

Whether it is a public option or single-payer, any such system must be approved by Congress. If Republicans maintain control of either chamber after the 2020 election, either idea seems unlikely. In fact, it is unclear how much support either idea has among Democratic members of Congress.

 

Do you support a government health care program that allows people to buy into it but still allows private insurance? Should there be a single-payer system where there is no private insurance? Or should there be some other health care reform?

High Court Rules Partisan Gerrymandering is Political, not Legal, Issue

The Supreme Court refused to wade into the fight over partisan gerrymandering. By a 5-4 decision, the high court held that drawing congressional district lines to gain a political advantage is something that should be solved the political process, not court cases.

 

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, rejecting pleas to intervene in cases where politicians had drawn congressional district lines to maximize seats for their party’s candidates. In his decision, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

 

We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.

 

The justices were deliberating on cases involving gerrymandering in both Maryland and North Carolina. In each state, legislators had devised congressional districts that were drawn in ways that gave maximum advantage to candidates from one party and made it difficult for candidates of the other party to win. Voters in each state sued, saying that this type of partisan gerrymandering deprived them of their right to fair representation.

 

A majority of justices did not necessarily disagree that these maps were unfair. Instead, they held that the solution to this problem is through the elections, not going to court. The four dissenting justices disagreed, saying that there was indeed a constitutional violation in these cases. They argued that such gerrymandering threatens free and fair elections.

 

In most states, elected officials (usually legislators) draw the lines of congressional and legislative districts. However, some states have empowered independent commissions to devise these lines, which supporters claim lessens partisan meddling in the process.

 

Do you think that partisan gerrymandering should be unconstitutional? Should legislators or independent commissions draw congressional and legislative district lines?

Most Democrats Embrace Iran Deal During Debate

The large field of Democratic candidates held their first debate last night, with a variety of issues being discussed. One thing where nearly all candidates agreed was reviving the nuclear deal with Iran. Everyone on stage except Sen. Cory Booker raised his or her hand when asked if they supported the deal.

 

In 2015, President Barack Obama entered the U.S. into a multinational agreement that was aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Many on the right criticized him for this, saying that it would ultimately lead to a nuclear-armed Iran. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from this deal, saying it was “disastrous.”

 

The question about the U.S. once again joining this agreement came during a period of increased tensions with Iran. That nation shot down a U.S. drone last week. President Trump considered retaliating with a military strike, but ultimately did not do so. He imposed sanctions, instead. The president has verbally sparred with the Iranian leadership during the course of his term, at times threatening war with the nation. He recently ordered more military personnel to the Middle East.

 

Senator Cory Booker broke with his fellow Democratic candidates in supporting the Iran deal. He backed it in 2015, but now says that conditions have changed. He said he supported some kind of agreement with Iran, but it would differ from the one agreed to by President Obama.

 

Do you think the U.S. should re-enter the multinational nuclear deal with Iran? Should the U.S. take military action against Iran?

Warren Unveils Federal Voting Mandates

With 50 states comes 50 different procedures for voting. Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to see this end – at least for federal elections. This week she unveiled a proposal that would mandate a number of procedures that states must follow for federal races. She’s hoping this will appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that has been vocal about voting rights.

 

Sen. Warren’s plan has a number of new mandates on states, including:

  • Automatic voter registration (with individuals being able to opt out)
  • Same-day voter registration
  • Prohibiting the removal of people from the voting rolls unless states have objective evidence of a reason to remove them
  • Fifteen days of early voting
  • Voting by mail
  • A uniform federal ballot

 

The proposal would also prohibit gerrymandering for political reasons, requiring states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines. Election Day would be a federal holiday.

 

These requirements would only be mandatory for federal elections. However, since many races for state and local office also occur at the same time as federal elections, it is likely that states would use the same procedures for these non-federal races. In effect, Sen. Warren’s proposal would impose uniform federal rules for elections nationwide.

 

Supporters of these ideas argue that they are necessary to prevent states from enacting voting rules that reduce turnout for minority voters or voters from certain political parties. They say that the U.S. should not have a patchwork of rules for voting. Opponents counter that this is another federal power grab from states that have always had the power to set election rules to meet local concerns.

 

Sen. Warren’s proposal is unlikely to see any legislative action in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, she will use it as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

 

Do you think that the federal government should mandate uniform federal rules for elections? Should states implement automatic voter registration and same-day registration?

Gillibrand Touts “Democracy Dollars”

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand wants to be president. The junior senator from New York is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, hoping that ideas like “Democracy Dollars” will propel her to the front of the pack.

 

Sen. Gillibrand has proposed that the federal government give ever voter $600 to donate to federal candidates. Under her plan, this money could be given in $200 increments to candidates for president, the House of Representatives, or the Senate.

 

According to Sen. Gillibrand, this will help remove the influence of the wealthy and corporations on the political process. To pay for this plan, Sen. Gillibrand has proposed increasing taxes on CEOs who earn high salaries.

 

While Sen. Gillibrand argues that this plan would help reduce what she calls the corrupting influence on elections, opponents counter that it will not do much. They point to a similar program in Seattle that does not have large public participation nor does it seem to have much of an impact on election results.


Do you think that the federal government should provide voters with money to contribute to candidates?

Sanders Backs Inmate Voting

Restoring the voting rights of ex-offenders has become a cause embraced by both conservatives and liberals in recent years. Now Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, wants to expand the franchise even further. This week he came out in favor of allowing currently-incarcerated individuals to vote.

 

During a CNN town hall, an audience member asked Sen. Sanders what he thought about allowing people in prison to vote, even those who had committed sexual offenses or individuals like the Boston Marathon bombers. Senator Sanders said he supported such voting for all U.S. citizens, with no exceptions.

 

“Yes, even for terrible people,” said Sen. Sanders, “because once you start chipping away and you say, 'Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,' you're running down a slippery slope.”

 

The state that Senator Sanders represents, Vermont, allows prison inmates to vote, as does Maine. All other states prohibit felons who are incarcerated from voting. Nearly every other state allows either some or all felons who have completed their sentences to vote, depending on meeting certain conditions. Only Kentucky permanently bars someone with a felony conviction from voting.

 

Do you support allowing people who are serving time in prison to vote?

Buttigieg Touts National Service Plan

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is getting a lot of interest from the media and public in his long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now he’s floating an idea that others have proposed, but which has never been enacted – a national service program for young Americans.

 

Buttigieg discussed the idea recently with MSNBC television host Rachel Maddow. He did not get into specifics on how the program would work, but the general idea he suggested was a program for young adults to serve their nation. This could either be through military or civilian service.

 

Touting what he saw as the military draft’s positive effects in past generations, Buttigieg said that a national service program could help bring Americans together. He said that people of differing races and backgrounds could work side-by-side, bringing more social cohesion to the nation. He declined to say whether this would be a mandatory program, but did say that it would be a theme of his campaign.

 

Opponents of this idea say that the government should not coerce people into national service. They point out the many problems caused by the draft, including the ability of people with connections to avoid it.

 

It remains to be seen what exactly Buttigieg will proposes for his national service plan, and whether other Democratic candidates will back it.

 

Should young Americans be required to serve in the military or a civilian national service program? Should the military draft be re-instituted? Do you think the nation was more united when the military draft was in effect?

Sweeping Election Law Passes the House

On a party line vote of 234-193, the House of Representatives on Friday passed a major overhaul of election and campaign finance law.

 

H.R. 1, cosponsored by 236 House Democrats, would make numerous changes to U.S. election procedure and place new restrictions on organizations that engage in political speech. Among other things, it would:

  • Mandate that certain nonprofit corporations engaging in political speech report their donors to the government
  • Mandate that social media companies report the names of those who pay for political ads to the government
  • Require members of Congress to use personal funds to settle employment discrimination suits
  • Require states to implement automatic, online and same-day voter registration
  • Mandate how states remove ineligible voters from the rolls
  • Establish a pilot program to provide government funding for citizens to contribute to candidates

 

This legislation was part of the Democrats pledge during the 2018 election to reduce what they perceive as barriers to voting and combat what they call “dark money” in elections. Their argument was that states are discouraging people from voting by making it more difficult, so the federal government has a responsibility to step in and standardize how states run elections. They also contended that some nonprofit corporations are engaged in electioneering when they talk about public policy issues, so this spending should be more heavily controlled by the government.

 

Republicans pushed back against this bill, saying that many of its provisions violated free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union also raised these free speech concerns, saying that parts of H.R. 1 were an unconstitutional restriction on speaking freely. Some members of Congress also objected to the federal government removing much of the ability of states to run elections.

 

While no Republican voted in favor of the bill, some did offer amendments. One amendment would have expressed the sense of Congress that free speech, including contributing to political speech, was a fundamental right. Republicans also attempted to return the bill to the Judiciary Committee with the instruction to add language expressing disapproval of illegal aliens voting (some localities, such as San Francisco, allow residents to vote in some local elections regardless of citizenship status). None of these Republican attempts was successful. A Democratic amendment to lower the voting age to 16 also failed with broad bipartisan opposition.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will almost certainly not schedule a vote.

 

Do you think that nonprofits that engage in political speech should report their donors to the government? Should voter registration be automatic? Should 16-year-olds be able to vote? Are you concerned about cities allowing illegal aliens to vote in local elections, such as for school board?

Bernie Sanders Announces Presidential Run

 

The Democratic presidential field became a little more crowded today. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, announced that he was once again running for president.

 

Sanders, who is 77, is making his second try at the highest office in the land. He campaigned for the Democratic nomination in 2016, an effort that surprised many for how strong it was. Calling himself a democratic socialist, Sanders is aiming at pushing the party to the left on a host of issues that he supports.

 

During his time in the Senate, Sanders has supported “Medicare for All,” a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free community college, a 77% tax rate on billionaire estates, and the Green New Deal.

 

In 2016, Sanders offered a progressive alternative to Clinton. His views, far to the left of the eventual nominee, earned him a rabid following. This cycle, however, many of his fellow candidates for the nomination are embracing policy positions similar to his. It remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of primary voter support for Sanders.

 

What is your opinion of Sen. Bernie Sanders running for president? Do you think that the minimum wage should be $15? Do you support Medicare for All? Should community colleges be tuition-free?

Harris Campaign Focuses on Rent Relief

Senator Kamala Harris is the latest entrant into the 2020 presidential field. The California senator is running on a platform aimed at appealing to the liberal wing of the party, with a platform that calls for bail reform, single-payer health care, and lower-income tax cuts. But she is also championing an issue that may make her stand out in what will surely be a crowded field – rental assistance.

 

Under Sen. Harris’s plan, renters whose income is less than $100,000 and spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities would receive a tax credit. This tax credit would vary based on income, with lower-income individuals receiving a larger credit than those with higher incomes. The credit would also be refundable, meaning that someone who owed no income tax would still receive money from the government. Estimates put the price tag on this program at $76 billion.

 

According to Sen. Harris and those who support this idea, this is a way to help millions of Americans who struggle with high rent. They say that this will allow people to be more mobile, moving to areas that have jobs but also high rent.

 

Critics point out that the problem of high rent is often due to the lack of housing in an area. They say that increasing the housing supply by relaxing government restrictions is the best way to help both renters and home buyers. They argue that by subsidizing rent, Harris’s plan will actually increase the cost of rent, with landlords receiving the ultimate benefit.

 

Do you think the government should subsidize rent in areas with high-cost housing?

Felon Voting Rights Proposal Dies in Virginia

Virginia is just three states permanently bar felons from voting. Thanks to a recent vote in a legislative committee, it won’t be restoring felons’ voting rights any time soon.

 

On Wednesday, a Senate committee voted down a proposed change to the state constitution that would have removed the ban on felon voting. Currently, the Virginia constitution bars felons from being able to vote unless their rights have been restored by the governor.

 

This issue has been an area of contention for Virginia in recent years. The state’s former governor, Terry McAuliffe, attempted to use an executive order to restore the rights of felons who had completed their sentences. That effort was stymied by the legislature and the state’s Supreme Court. He then undertook efforts to restore these voting rights on an expedited case-by-case basis. 

 

Critics of the ban on felons voting note that nearly every other state allows some form of voting rights for felons. Some states even allow those in jail to vote. They say that this van is an impediment to rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Supporters of the ban note that it is proper to punish those who commit serious crimes by imposing serious penalties.

 

In the 2018 election, Florida voters overturned their state’s ban on felon voting. Beginning this month, felons in that state have begun to register to vote.

 

Do you think that felons who have completed their sentences should see their voting rights restored?

Democrats Tee Up Campaign Finance & Ethics Bill

On their first day in control of the House of Representatives, Democrats plan on tackling two issues that they think will be winners for them: campaign finance reform and stricter ethics rules. They know that their legislation has no chance of becoming law, but they think its passage will send a message that they plan on doing things differently.

 

In the weeks after the 2018 elections when voters elected a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi announced that the first legislation the House would vote on in January would be a sweeping set of campaign and ethics reforms. This has been introduced as HR 1. Among other things, this bill would:

  • Establish a voluntary system of campaign matching funds at a rate of 6-1 for small donations to qualifying candidates
  • Mandate that certain nonprofits engaged in public policy debate report their donors to the government
  • Mandate that social media companies disclose to the government the source of money being spent on political advocacy ads
  • Require that the president disclose his or her tax returns
  • End the practice where members of Congress can use office funds to pay for sexual harassment suits
  • Prohibit office funds from being used to purchase first-class plane tickets
  • Impose a new ethics code on the Supreme Court
  • Enact a national system of automatic voter registration
  • Prohibit states from removing certain names from their voting rolls

 

The Democrats pushing this legislation argue that it is needed to restore trust in government and end practices that have allowed politicians to game the system. They say that it will open the door for more people to vote and to curb the influence of big money in politics. Opponents counter that it would enlarge the power of the federal government over elections, something that the Constitution largely gives to states. They also say that this will lead to more government control over what people can say during elections and is an infringement upon the First Amendment.

 

The House of Representatives plans to vote on this after new members are sworn in on January 3. The Senate is unlikely to consider the legislation if it passes the House.

 

Do you think that the federal government should enact automatic voter registration in every state? Should nonprofits that engage in political advocacy have to report their donors’ names to the government? Do you support a program that gives federal matching funds to candidates for small political donations?

 

Trump, Senate Exploring Russian Sanctions

 

Punishing Russia is the hot topic under consideration at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

President Donald Trump is considering signing a new Russian sanctions order while the Senate Banking Committee is looking at the effectiveness of sanctions. As evidence of Russian misdeeds continues to emerge, both the president and Congress face pressure to increase U.S. punishment on this nation.

 

Through legislation and executive orders, Russia already faces a variety of sanctions. President Trump may sign an order today aimed at punishing individuals or companies that interfere in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies would be empowered by this order to act if they determined that Russians or other foreigners were attempting to influence the electoral process.

 

In the Senate, the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing to assess the various tools used by the federal government are working to counter Russian activities. Experts testified about how sanctions should be shaped to exert maximum pressure on Vladimir Putin or other officials responsible for anti-U.S. actions.

 

These actions come on the heels of increasing amounts of information from U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian activities attempting to influence the 2016 U.S. election. With the 2018 mid-term elections approaching, there is a strong desire among some government officials to ensure that such meddling cannot occur once again.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should impose stronger sanctions on Russia for trying to influence the 2016 election? Are you worried that Russian or other foreign entities will attempt to meddle in this year’s election?

 

 

New Hampshire Says Students Must Be Residents to Vote

 

College students who come to New Hampshire from other states will now find it a little more difficult to vote. Under new legislation, they must become state residents if they want to cast a ballot in New Hampshire. Proponents say this will restore integrity in the state’s voting process, while opponents liken this new requirement to a poll tax.

 

There has long been concern in New Hampshire over the votes of out-of-state college students. In 1972, a federal court invalidated a New Hampshire law that only allowed college students to vote if they intended to stay in the state. That court said that the Constitution protected someone’s right to vote where they lived. In 2015, the state Supreme Court overruled another law that told potential voters that they could register only if they intended to live in the state indefinitely.

 

During that time, the standard for voting in New Hampshire depended on whether you domiciled in the state, which is defined as living in New Hampshire more than any other state. Under the law recently signed by Governor Chris Sununu, now someone must establish residency in New Hampshire in order to register to vote. That residency process involves obtaining a state driver’s license and registering one’s car in New Hampshire (which means paying a state fee).

 

Because of constitutional concerns over the law, legislators asked the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on its legality. By a 3-2 vote, the court issued an opinion that the new laws was legal under the state’s constitution.

 

The legislators who backed this law say that it is necessary to prevent out-of-state students who aren’t state residents from influencing New Hampshire’s elections. Opponents say that since establishing residency would trigger state fees, this amounts to a poll tax that is illegal under the U.S. Constitution. They say that this is an attempt to squelch the votes of liberal-leaning college voters.

 

Once this measure goes into effect, there will likely be a court case challenging its legality.

 

Do you think that New Hampshire is right to make students establish residency in order to vote in the state?

 

Minnesota Candidates Call for Refugee Resettlement Suspension

 

Minnesota has a long history of taking in refugees who flee their home countries to live in the U.S. Two candidates for governor want to pause this effort, however, citing their concerns over cost.

 

There is a large refugee community in Minnesota, with many refugees from Somalia settling there in recent years. The federal government funds part of these resettlement efforts, but there are also costs that Minnesota bears, too. However, efforts to calculate those costs have proven difficult to do, since many state programs do not ask about refugee status.

 

A Republican candidate running for governor, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, has said he wants to work with the federal government to suspend the refugee program until the state can figure out how much it costs taxpayers. Another Republican in the race, former Governor Tim Pawlenty, agrees.

 

These candidates contend they are not opposed to refugees coming to Minnesota, but simply want to ensure that tax dollars are being used wisely. They say that if the program can become more cost-effective, they would support it.

 

One Democrat running for governor, Erin Murphy, says she vigorously disagrees with this proposal. Other groups in the state have also pushed back, saying that the state should welcome those fleeing war or persecution in their home countries.

 

Refugee resettlement is done by the federal government. If either Johnson or Pawlenty is elected, he would have to obtain federal cooperation to suspend the placement of refugees in Minnesota.

 

Do you think that refugee resettlement in Minnesota should be suspended until the state figures out the cost? Or do you think that it is unfair for state officials to deny homes to refugees over cost issues?

 

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?

 

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