Eight days to the Wisconsin primary and almost every aspect of it remains up in the air, from the rules for how people will vote to whether the election will even take place.
The state, which already looms as the essential presidential battleground in November, has quickly become the heart of the national debate about the propriety of voting during a pandemic. It is the only state that has not in some way delayed an April presidential primary, the main rationale being that some state and local contests on the ballot are for jobs that become vacant without a timely election.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers shifted course Friday and, after saying the polls should be open April 7 as usual, proposed that 3.3 million ballots be printed and delivered to every voter in the state in time for them to be filled in and sent back on schedule. Republicans in charge of the Legislature, who would have to pass a bill for that to happen, said the idea was a logistical impossibility.
Open government advocates and Democratic leaders in Congress are angry the Trump administration seems to be walking away from crucial transparency language in the economic stabilization package.
Aside from the funds to make voting safer and more convenient this fall, the democracy reform movement was pleased most by a provision in the law creating an independent watchdog to oversee a $500 billion fund to bail out companies crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
But after signing the $2 trillion package last week, President Trump signaled he would decide what this inspector general could share with the public and Congress. And when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought Sunday to dispel concerns about government accountability in administering the biggest domestic economic relief package in American history, he refused to pledge that the IG would be permitted to testify on Capitol Hill.
The state at the epicenter of the American coronavirus pandemic is now positioned to be the final big prize in the Democratic presidential race.
New York on Saturday became the 11th and by far the biggest state to postpone primaries during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak. Such delays are just one example of the broad array of ways states are responding to the historic public health emergency.
Also over the weekend, a push intensified in the biggest battleground state, Florida, to expand voting by mail in time for November. One judge was pressed to ease the Arkansas absentee voting deadline, while another judge made it temporarily easier to get on the ballot with petitions in Virginia. But the obvious problems gathering signatures during mandatory social distancing prompted the end of a ballot referendum drive in Arizona.
The country's new voting plan needs to include RCV, argue Rob Richie and David Daley of FairVote.
Join Business for America's nationwide call on April 7 to talk about the importance of voting by mail and how the business community can help make it happen.
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In case you forgot, it's Saturday. It's also day 14 of staying at home for millions of us, with at least three more weeks to go for almost all of us. There has been a lot happening around the country to help figure out what the rest of this year's election timetable will look like thanks to the coronavirus. A quick look at the highlights:
- Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes $400 million to make voting safer — but the bill says nothing about how that money is supposed to be spent. Democrats say they'll be back for more, because $2 billion is needed to boost vote-at-home, early voting and online registration nationwide.
- A pair of Florida poll workers tested positive for Covid-19, just a little over a week after the state's primaries. The state says the workers only came in contact with about 300 voters — but it's unclear how worried they should be.
- Speaking of worried voters, a few states — including Georgia and Nevada — are helping all voters get absentee ballots so that no one has to come to the polls in person.
Public access to the government has been limited across the country — from California to North Carolina. City and state officials are trying to keep folks from gathering in large groups, but in the process, some citizens are losing access to meetings they were previously entitled to attend.
Some non-coronavirus news:
- A donor to a Republican super PAC will likely live in anonymity no longer after the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to keep the ID of "John Doe" a secret.
- Colorado is nixing prison gerrymandering — at least for federal and state redistricting purposes.
- Utah is hopping on the bandwagon of scrapping straight-ticket voting.
College students were once hailed as a crucial voting bloc in 2020, but their momentum may be halted by the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered campuses from coast to coast.
Registration drives, absentee ballot parties, political forums and new voter trainings are all on hold. Students are scrambling to chase down absentee ballot forms that were mailed to campuses but must now be forwarded to a home or other address. Newly designated campus polling places will stand empty for the remaining primaries, several of which have been delayed in any case. And students who return this fall will have little time to prepare for Election Day.
Advocates for making the coronavirus pandemic the time for changing American voting habits are taking heart there won't be any polling places for three of the next four Democratic presidential contests.
Voting in Alaska and Hawaii will now join Wyoming's caucuses in being conducted entirely remotely, among the latest wave of changes in the world of elections during a historic public health emergency.
While several states moved to make voting easier, Wisconsin pressed ahead with plans for a traditional primary April 7 and has now been confronted by four federal lawsuits hoping to force changes. And Florida reported the first known cases of poll workers subsequently testing positive for coronavirus.
After more than two years of work, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service has produced 164 recommendations for improving education about how our country works and for encouraging more people to engage in public service.
Most of the attention on the 225-page report released this week, titled "Inspired to Service," has focused on a single recommendation: requiring women to register for the draft the way men have had to for four decades.
What's being missed is how critical the panel views public service in all forms — from joining the military to volunteering at the local food pantry. Also lost is the report's comprehensive overview of where the country stands in civic education and public service and its detailed agenda for improvement.
Uriel Epshtein is executive director of the Renew Democracy Initiative, created three years ago by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov to combat populism, promote core constitutional values and offer a home to political centrists. He came to the job after stints at the Boston Consulting Group, DoorDash and Uber. As a Yale undergraduate, he founded and continues to chair the Peace & Dialogue Leadership Initiative, which promotes campus college dialogues on policy in the Middle East. That experience had a profound influence on him, he says, as he began to see increasing similarity between polarized partisan U.S. politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.
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RDI produces content with the goal of empowering the American public to understand and prioritize core constitutional principles.
Even as the streets empty and people retreat into their homes,"it is essential we maintain our commitment to protect each other," writes Auburn professor Jesús Tirado.
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Advocates of open government are sounding the alarm that local, state and federal officials are too quickly sacrificing public access to the cause of public health during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is the worst time to be putting up obstacles to access," said Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of state and national organizations promoting access to the meetings and records of government.
Bevarly is referring to a recent flood of emergency legislative changes, courthouse closures, orders from governors and mayors, and legal guidance from attorneys general making it more difficult to watch government in action — and at a time when officials are making sometimes unprecedented economic and public safety decisions in managing the Covid-19 outbreak.
Six of the most influential democracy reform groups are at the core of a new coalition, dubbed Fix the System, with the goal of putting more conservative and corporate muscle behind a cause that's generally dominated by progressives.
The effort comes at a time when many in the good governance movement worry their efforts are too diffuse and disconnected, and tilted too far left at a time of divided government. The hope is that, during a time of pandemic fear and economic distress, political polarization will ease enough to permit some good governance changes to muster bipartisan support.
The alliance has been in the works for months but was formally unveiled this week, along with its first public effort: getting Congress to include money to make voting easier and safer this year in the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization package.
Utah is the latest state to end straight-ticket voting, which means providing a single spot on the ballot for supporting one political party's entire slate of candidates.
That form of voting was once a big feature of American elections but has steadily lost support in recent years. The argument mainly espoused by Republicans, that participatory democracy is improved by requiring separate choices in each contest, has triumphed over the argument mainly advanced by Democrats, that speed and convenience at the polls will assure strong turnout especially in urban precincts.
Utah is the seventh state to do away with the practice in the past decade. With its switch, signed into law by Republcian Gov. Gary Herbert this week, just five states are expected to have the single-vote option this fall: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Michigan.
The goal of Hands Across the Hills isn't to change anyone's mind. "We listen to one another, speak about family, struggles and our hopes. We speak face to face as human beings and discover what we have in common," writes founder John Clayton.
It doesn't debut until 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, but the HBO documentary "Kill Chain: The Cyber War on American's Elections" looks like must-see TV for those worried about American democracy's fragility. A follow-up from the same team that made "Hacking Democracy" for HBO back in 2006, the film follows Finnish cybersecurity expert Harri Hursti as he travels across the United States and around the world revealing how our voting systems remain dangerously vulnerable.