How government is making it difficult to vote

BY MELISSA QUINN
JULY 1, 2020 / 4:38 PM / CBS NEWS

Washington — While states are trying to expand vote-by-mail for voters in the primary and general elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters are still showing up to cast their ballots in person, leading to long lines and delays caused by the consolidation of polling locations and a shortage of election workers.

But with the November election expected to bring record turnout, state elections officials and voting rights advocates see the primaries as a snapshot of what to expect in four months and have begun taking steps to beef up their armies of poll workers.

“There are many people who value the experience of going out and voting in person, and many of those people had to weather long lines to have their voices heard in the primary,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told CBS News. “We need to make sure that we have sufficient numbers of polling places that are open to accommodate the high levels of turnout that we’ve seen during the primary and will increase dramatically during the general election, and we need properly trained — not just warm bodies — but properly trained individuals who can staff those sites on Election Day. It’s extremely critical that we get this right.”

In Jefferson County, Kentucky, where Louisville is located, the Kentucky Exposition Center served as its lone polling location for more than 530,000 registered voters.

Beth Thorpe, a Democratic strategist and communications chair for the Louisville Democratic Party, said the size of the convention center allowed those voting in-person to comply with social distancing guidelines and keep wait times below what voters in other states, such as Georgia and Nevada, experienced. But Thorpe said problems arose for some voters who were unaware of the change in polling locations and had difficulties getting to the large facility.

“There was one bus shuttle provided from a single location downtown, and we don’t know who simply couldn’t access that shuttle or get to the Expo Center because they didn’t have access to a vehicle or lived outside the public transportation network,” Clarke said. “Giving people options and thinking carefully about low-income communities and marginalized voters in particular is important.”

Thorpe was at the convention center last Tuesday when Louisville voters cast their ballots in the state’s primary, including the Democratic Senate primary between ex-fighter pilot Amy McGrath and state Representative Charles Booker. As the clock ticked toward 6 p.m. local time, when polls officially closed in the state, Thorpe recalled yelling at voters who were in their vehicles or in the parking lot to run if they wanted to vote.

“People ditched their cars, we had older people running,” she said. “It ended up being a lot of confusion.”

Both Booker, who experienced a late surge in the race, and McGrath asked the Jefferson Circuit Court to keep the voting site open three additional hours, but the request was denied. A judge did, however, order election officials in Jefferson County to keep polls open until 6:30 p.m., ensuring those who were in line at the convention center would be able to cast their ballots.

Thorpe urged Kentucky elections officials to devise a clear plan for voting in November, when turnout is expected to be far higher, especially since the coronavirus threat is not expected to fade.

“We need to start planning immediately, to do PSAs on television on how to vote in the election and partner with organizations all over the state to make sure everyone knows how to vote,” she said. “We’d like information sooner, clearer, on how it works.”

Primaries in some states that have held in-person voting have been plagued by hours-long waits at the polls, delays that are attributed in part to a consolidation of polling places and shortage of poll workers. But in anticipation of the November general election, some states have launched campaigns to expand their ranks of election workers, especially since the group typically skews older and is therefore more at risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.

In Michigan, the secretary of state’s office launched Democracy MVP, an initiative to recruit poll workers for its August primary and November general election.

By Tuesday, the state had recruited 2,245 volunteers from 78 of Michigan’s 83 counties, Jake Rollow, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said.

“We know that traditionally, many of the folks who serve as election workers are older, and what we heard from clerks are some of those people were telling them they weren’t going to be able to serve this year,” Rollow said. “We are looking for people willing to serve in their absence.”

More than half of the poll workers recruited said they heard of Michigan’s Democracy MVP campaign through social media, Rollow said, and those selected will undergo training from both the state and counties ahead of the upcoming elections.

Poll workers could work either the August primary or the November election, or could be tasked for both, and they may be in county clerk’s offices processing ballots or at in-person polling places.

“We know that Michiganders have a great desire to participate in democracy and have a healthy democracy,” Rollow said.

Iowa’s Secretary of State’s Office also helped counties with recruiting poll workers through its own statewide initiative and received more than 1,000 responses from Iowans interested in becoming a precinct election official, Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Secretary of State Paul Pate said.

The state used media interviews, posts on social media and targeting in specific counties to spread the word about its need for poll workers, the number of which are needed is determined by each county.

Iowa held its primary June 2, and Pate’s office is working to determine what changes need to be made ahead of the general election, Hall said.

Clarke, of the National Lawyers’ Committee, said her organization is also working with lawyers in its network to encourage people to serve as poll workers.

“It’s critical that jurisdictions get creative in how they can activate a new generation of people to serve as poll workers,” she said.

First published on July 1, 2020 / 4:38 PM

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NM Legislators Should Set New Redistricting Criteria

At least since 2018, the platform of the Democratic Party of New Mexico has included the intention to end gerrymandering, the practice of creating or “drawing” voting districts (boundaries of electoral constituencies) in a way to favor a political party or incumbent politician(s). Item 15 of the section of the 2020 platform entitled “Ethics, Elections, and Politics” states, “We will…End gerrymandering by creating and giving authority to an independent non-partisan redistricting commission, separate from the legislative process, that will prevent the drawing of political boundaries favoring one party over another or favoring incumbents;”. The Republican Party of New Mexico’s issues statement on its website does not address gerrymandering.

For lovers of democracy, ending gerrymandering is a very important goal, for gerrymandering subverts the right to vote. For those unfamiliar with the process, the drawing of voting districts or “redistricting” occurs every 10 years after the national census. In theory, it is done in order to keep the districts reflective of the population within them. In practice, in the majority of states in which the state legislature does it, the party in power often draws them to its political advantage, in order to retain and even increase its political control. But, put in the simplest of terms, what that does is allow elected officials to choose who their voters are in their districts, instead of the voters choosing their elected officials. No single party is guilty of this manner of “rigging the system”; both Democratic- and Republican-dominated state legislatures engage in it.

Since 2016, there have been six pieces of NM legislation proposing either to amend the New Mexico Constitution in order to vest the authority and task of redistricting in an independent commission, or to study how to best reform the redistricting process. The New Mexico Democratic Party has had control of both houses of the legislature, except in 2015-2016, when the Republicans took control of the House. Sadly, each piece of legislation aimed at ending or grappling with the undemocratic practice of gerrymandering met the same fate, whether introduced in the House or the Senate. The legislature’s website designates it as “API.” which means, “action postponed indefinitely”.

We must take politics out of the redistricting process. The Brennan Center for Justice, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), independent scholars and state agencies have proposed fair and purposeful criteria for drawing voting districts. The various suggestions include several or all of: 1) equal population; 2) racial fairness; 3) compactness; 4) geographical contiguity; 5) encourage competition; 6) preservation of communities of interest; 7) preservation of political subdivisions and prior districts; and 8) nonpartisan fairness. The ten states that have created independent redistricting commissions have adopted redistricting criteria similar or identical to these.

In 2020, HM 8 proposed that the legislative council establish a task force to study redistricting and to suggest new rules and guidelines. Despite the death of HM 8 in the last session, it is my understanding that the legislative council is still considering establishing the task force. Whether the legislature does it itself or leaves it to a task force, it should not involve a gargantuan effort to develop a good set of redistricting criteria. Since model criteria have already been developed and utilized in other states, New Mexico need not reinvent the wheel. Due to the legislature’s half-hearted at best past efforts, it is too late to amend the state constitution to create and empower an independent redistricting commission in time to do the redistricting this cycle. But it is not too late to establish the criteria to be followed in the process. It’s time for Democratic state legislators to walk the walk to match the party platform talk. Republican state legislators should also get behind this since they and their constituencies have been the primary victims of gerrymandering due to decades of mostly Democratic control in the state.

John House
President, RepresentUs New Mexico

Major Development: We have changed our Name and added a new National Ally

New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics has changed its name to RepresentUs New Mexico! We have become a state chapter of RepresentUs!

We believe the new name and new relationship with RepresentUs will open up many new possibilities for us and strengthen our efforts for reform through legislative action in Washington, D.C. and in New Mexico.

Most of you know that New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics is a New Mexico nonpartisan, nonprofit corporation founded in 2017 that works on several democracy reform goals including reforms of campaign finance, lobbying and gerrymandering, and strengthening and protecting voters rights. To bring about real campaign finance reform, we have for a long time allied with American Promise, a national organization out of Boston, MA, whose single goal is to get Congress to pass, and 2/3s of the state legislatures to ratify, a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United and other poorly-decided U.S. Supreme Court and lower court cases that have unleashed torrents of money from extremely wealthy persons, giant national and multi-national corporations and special interests.  But we realized that to make a larger impact upon our other reform goals we needed another national partner whose aims dovetailed with ours.

We found that perfect fit with RepresentUs. RepresentUs is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in November 2012 that advocates for state and local laws based on model legislation called the American Anti-Corruption Act. It is a proposal to overhaul lobbying, transparency, and campaign finance laws and voters’ rights and protection. RepresentUs is headquartered in Florence, Massachusetts. It has been able to garner expert supporting members and consultants to forge its anti-corruption campaign including Harvard Law School constitutional law and ethics professor Lawrence Lessig and Fordham University Law School constitutional law professor and former candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 2014, Zephyr Teachout. To find out more about RepresentUs, go here.

A lot of work has been put into this effort, but there is still much to be done. Until we complete the new website, which will be representusnewmexico.org, and a new Facebook page, please continue to go to the website www.nmmop.org and the NMMOP Facebook page for the latest news, updates on our progress and notices of upcoming events.

We are planning a public event to launch RepresentUS New Mexico on July 7, 2020. We plan to have important NM elected Officials with whom we have worked in the past to speak, a RepresentUs speaker to talk about it and how it works with local chapters, and more. Considering that we are still feeling the effects of the Coronavirus, at present we contemplate that the event will be conducted virtually, through Zoom or another similar platform. Stay tuned for updates and more details about the launch in the coming weeks.

We hope you will be as excited about this tremendous new development as we are! And we hope you will join us on July 7 for the launch!

John House
President of RepresentUS New Mexico

June 6, 2020 Letter from Josh Silver Director and Co-Founder of RepresentUs

RepresentUs was founded holding deep American ideals: that all people are created equal and that we the people govern ourselves in the interest of every one of us.

There are times when saying nothing is to be complicit. We welcome diverse views from across the political spectrum, but we have zero tolerance for racism or bigotry. Discriminatory treatment of minorities, including the Black community, has plagued America for far too long and we’re witnessing a disturbing shift in the direction of race relations in our country. RepresentUs condemns the mistreatment and misrepresentation of minority communities and we denounce government actions to suppress Americans’ first amendment right to assemble peacefully.

Now is the time for Americans to engage in dialogue and actions that eradicate racist policies that have stood for far too long. A country that remains unequal and unjust based on the color of one’s skin is not a country that works for all. We are doubly committed to fixing the root cause of political dysfunction and corruption in order to create a government that works for all Americans. We believe that the remedies we are pursuing will have a direct and positive impact on this gross inequality:

Elections that represent the voice of the people. We do this by making voting accessible and safe to all Americans and fixing our broken election systems so that people from all backgrounds can participate in our democracy.

An end to gerrymandering, which allows politicians to choose their voters instead of the other way around. When we establish fair redistricting, we make our elected officials accountable to the voters.
Strong anti-corruption laws that end secret money and lobbyist influence over elected officials.

You can find more information about our policy platform here.

Belief in the good of our country is about much more than waving the American flag or singing our national anthem. It’s about working every day to build a just, accountable, and representative government for all Americans. It’s about ensuring your voice is heard with your vote. By working together, we can make America live up to its highest ideals. If you haven’t already, be sure to request a mail-in or absentee ballot here.

Josh Silver
Director and Co-Founder of RepresentUs

What Should We Think About the Recent Episode of Dark Money in New Mexico Politics and How Should We React?

A front page article by political reporter Michael Gerstien in the Thursday, May 14, 2020 edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican declared “Dark money’ groups back U.S. House candidate in packed primary”. See https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/elections/dark-money-groups-back-u-s-house-candidate-in-packed-primary/article_410d8624-95fd-11ea-853b-0702cf3dd2a8.html.  The story cited the fact that two dark money PACs, Perise Practical Inc. and Avacy Initiatives Inc. had spent more than $300,000 on TV ads in support of Democratic candidate for New Mexico Congressional District 2, Teresa Leger Fernandez. Two other stories on the subject of the revelation from information derived from reports to the Federal Election Commission also appeared that day in the online periodical POLITICOhttps://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-score/2020/05/14/garcia-notches-big-win-for-republicans-in-ca-25-787606 and the Albuquerque Journal  https://www.abqjournal.com/1455968/cd3-candidate-criticized-for-support-from-dark-money-groups.html. On May 25, 2020,  the Santa Fe New Mexican  published a follow up article. See https://www.santafenewmexican.com/search/?f=html&q=Dark+money+candidates+CD3&d1=2020-05-25&d2=2020-05-30&sd=desc&l=25&t=article&nsa=eedition.

Since then, Ms. Leger won the primary race on June 2, 2020.  Before and after the election I was involved in many conversations about what to think about these revelations of Dark Money being behind the favored and ultimately victorious candidate.  One statement I heard over and over was that Ms. Leger “took” or “received” Dark Money in her campaign.  I want to make one thing very clear: Ms. Leger did not accept or receive this Dark Money.

The term “Dark Money” is used to describe campaign money that is spent by a third party, usually a PAC, that benefits a candidate but does not go directly to him or her.  In this case, as is it is with many, the money was expended by the PACs to produce campaign materials—TV commercials—urging people to vote for her. Under FECA, a candidate and the third party PAC are not supposed to communicate or “coordinate” their actions. Otherwise, it would be classified as a contribution, which is regulated and limited, whereas, as an expenditure, it is not.  Despite that, It is widely believed by most people knowledgeable about campaign finance (other than the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court) that when hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars are at stake, the right hand knows exactly what the left hand is doing

At first glance, it is certainly not surprising that the two Democratic candidates for CD3 who amassed by far the most money in the race according to data reported on  open secrets.org, Ms. Leger and Valerie Plame, were the only ones not to sign the American Promise Candidate and Elected Official Pledge (the AP Pledge) when we asked them to do so.. Perhaps it may have something to do with the fact that they most benefited from the current system which allows vast amounts of Big Money and Dark Money to flood into our elections to the clear detriment of the other candidates. They placed first and second, respectively, far ahead of the rest of the pack.

But the AP Pledge does NOT ask the signer to say, “I won’t take Big Money contributions” or “I won’t benefit from Dark Money”. It only says that if he or she wins, he or she intends to use his or her office to advance a constitutional amendment (no particular language for the amendment is locked) to reform campaign finance to fix the problem of too much money in political campaigns!  Many candidates have said that they don’t like to have spend 40 to 60% of their time begging for large contributions and would like the system to change. So why won’t  more candidates agree to sign the pledge? Objectively, it would appear they would want to sign it. According to the results across the state, even in CD2, 37%-43% of New Mexico voters would be “much more likely to support a candidate that strongly pushes for campaign finance reform,” while only 2-3% would be “much more likely to oppose a candidate that strongly pushes for campaign finance reform”. See https://www.commoncause.org/new-mexico/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2019/01/Final-CC_PUBOP_Tracked.pdf.

Big Money from wealthy persons, large corporations and special interests and Dark Money from whom nobody knows are plagues on our democracy. Virtually given a carte blanche to spend unlimited amounts by the U.S. Supreme Court in such cases as Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and lower court cases like SpeechNOW.org v. FEC. (2010) that struck down massive pieces of campaign finance laws, big powerful movers behind the scenes have been allowed to influence our elections from the shadows and  more than ever before.

Money in elections has to be responsibly regulated again in order to return the power of government to the people. The only way that can happen is if there is a constitutional amendment that overrules the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous opinions that have allowed it to happen. That is not going to happen if we don’t convince our representatives in Congress that we really want them to take that step. Otherwise, they won’t. Why are so many elected officials and incumbent candidates reluctant to sign the AP It’s not difficult to figure out. They are the beneficiaries of the current, corrupt system! That’s how most of them got where they are.  The great roadblock to meaningful campaign finance reform is the fact that a campaign finance system that works well for those in power but not for the people!

That’s why RepresentUs New Mexico (formerly NMMOP) will continue to work hard to make our political representatives realize that the people earnestly want them to enact a constitutional amendment to brake up the stranglehold of Big Money and Dark Money upon our representative democracy.

John House
President of RepresentUs New Mexico