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Maine on course to be the 18th state with automatic voter registration

Maine looks to become the latest state to embrace an increasingly popular initiative for boosting turnout in elections: automatic voter registration.

The Democratic-majority state Senate voted, 19-14 along party lines, for its own so-called AVR bill on Monday. As soon as Wednesday afternoon the senators were expected to cast an identical vote for similar legislation approved last week in the Democratic state House. After a budgetary review, the bill would go to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills for her expected signature.

Under the bill, starting in January 2022, eligible Mainers who have not registered in their municipalities would be automatically added to the voter rolls when doing business with the motor vehicle bureau or another agency that collects similar information – unless they ask to opt out.

Republicans in Augusta have been united in opposition to AVR. The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center says it would open elections to "potential fraud and abuse," citing California's mistaken addition of hundreds of voters to the rolls last year.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted automatic voter registration in time for the 2020 presidential election.

The liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, which promotes easier ballot access, says that in each state where AVR has been in effect for a while, registration has increased well above what it would have been otherwise. The biggest gain was in Georgia, where between 2014 and last fall the rolls swelled to almost 7 million from 6 million — what the center calculated as a 94 percent increase above what would have happened without automatic registration.

How Arkansas elects top judges challenged by civil rights group

A prominent civil rights group, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has gone to federal court to get Arkansas to change the way seats on its top courts are filled.

The statewide election of all the judges on the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals violates the Voting Rights Act by denying "black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process," the group argued in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The state's population is 16 percent black but, because of the statewide election process, the suit maintains, no African-American candidate has ever been elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The suit asks a federal judge to strike down the current election procedure and replace it with a new one. It suggests using a cumulative system, in which voters can choose several candidates on the ballot and those with the most votes fill the vacancies.

"Judges matter," said Natasha Merle of the NAACP. "Black voters in Arkansas have been consistently denied fairness and the opportunity to elect judges of their choice."

The named plaintiffs are three African-American voters and a pair non-profits, Christian Ministerial Alliance and Arkansas Community Institute.

Grants in the offing to strengthen faith-and-democracy bond

Have an idea to promote public engagement at the intersection of faith and democracy?

If so, a Washington-based funding consortium called Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) is soliciting proposals and plans to distribute about $300,000 to support five to seven projects.

"This exploration is a natural extension of PACE's mission to deepen and enrich philanthropy's support of democracy and civic life," Kristen Cambell, executive director of PACE said in a statement announcing the funding.

A great deal of attention has been paid in recent years to seeking ways to bridge the social and political divides in the country. But, PACE says in its funding announcement, the potential of faith as a catalyst for these sorts of efforts has been largely unexplored. "While many institutions seek to engage people of faith in bridge-building and pluralism efforts, few organizations are funding specific interventions to engage people of faith in using their faith to support the well-being of democracy," the group says.

More information about the initiative and a link to the RFP to apply for funding is here.

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