The prospects for ranked-choice voting are uncertain in a handful of states that had shown momentum as the fall begins and the 2020 campaign shifts into a more intense gear.
Just days ago, the future looked brighter for one of the more revolutionary parts of the democracy reform agenda, which seeks in part to grow consensus-building and shrink polarization in politics: holding elections where voters list all the candidates they can live with in order of preference, with the winner often emerging as a person ranked close to the top on the most number of ballots.
The biggest potential setback since has come in Iowa, where Democrats hoped to couple a debut for ranked-choice voting in presidential elections with the rollout of online participation in the 2020 caucuses.
But last week national party leaders rejected the proposals from Iowa and Nevada to allow remote participation, concluding that concerns the fledgling systems could be hacked outweighed the desire to make it easier for people to participate.
If you use the telephone to declare your presidential preference, have you really participated in your party's caucuses?
Yes, say the Democrats of Iowa and Nevada, where next winter's caucuses will be crucial to winnowing the sprawling field of candidates into a handful with a genuine shot at getting nominated to take on President Trump.
In both bellwether contests, where human contact has been a central part of the process for years, it will no longer be necessary to join an evening of last-minute jawboning and deal-cutting before casting a ballot in an overheated church basement or high school cafeteria. A Democratic loyalist will be able to, quite literally, phone it in.
The tele-caucusing innovations were announced by party officials in Nevada on Monday, when the Democratic National Committee signaled its endorsement of the plan unveiled a few months ago in Iowa, home of the first contest. The states are also part of the first experiments with ranked-choice voting at the presidential level.
Sometime in the next few days, 45-year-old Milton Thomas of Nashville is going to pick up his mail and find something that symbolizes another step in his ongoing journey toward being a productive citizen.
It's his voter registration card.
Thomas lost his right to vote when he was convicted of a drug-related felony – one of an estimated 6 million people nationwide disenfranchised because of felony convictions.
His return to the voting rolls is just one example of a slowly expanding nationwide movement to restore voting rights for convicted felons – one that has sometimes sparked controversy and also made for unusual political alliances.
Nevada has become the 21st state, along with the District of Columbia, to approve same-day registration for voters.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak last week signed a package of political process changes including language permitting Nevadans to both register and cast ballots on Election Day. Other provisions intended to make it easier for Nevadans to vote include:
- Automatic voter registration: Eligible voters will be registered to vote when they apply for a Nevada driver's license or state ID card unless they opt out of registering. Voters approved automatic registration through a ballot initiative last November and this bill implements that decision.
- Allowing people to vote at a site outside their precinct: Election officials are authorized to create sites that any registered voter may use.
- Opening up absentee voting to everyone.
Under the new law, people voting after registering on the day of the election will cast provisional ballots that will be counted after the person's eligibility to vote has been verified. The secretary of state is required to establish a system, such as a toll-free phone number or website, where anyone can check whether one's provisional ballot was counted and, if not, the reason it was rejected.
A Brennan Center for Justice study released in April found that automatic voter registration had increased the number of registrations by between 9 percent and 94 percent above the increase that would have otherwise been expected. Nevada is the 19th state (along with D.C.) to approve automatic voter registration of some type. Studies have also found same-day registration increases turnout, but not by as much as AVR.