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Courtesy of Unite America

Representatives of democracy reform groups show off their Accelerator Awards given out late last week by Unite America and RepresentUs. The groups received a total of $250,000 in grants as part of the awards to promote their work on redistricting reform and expanding voting.

13 tapped for prizes to boost local democracy reform campaigns

DENVER — Thirteen local good-government groups across the country have been awarded a combined $250,000 to advance their causes.

The money is going to the inaugural winners of the Accelerator Awards, chosen from 115 applications around the country. The prizes are the creation of Unite America in partnership with RepresentUs. The two are among the most prominent non-partisan groups advocating for fixes to the problems of dysfunctional democracy.

The money was awarded to both fledgling and established organizations to advance their work in three areas: ending partisan gerrymandering, giving voters more power in elections and getting more citizens involved in elections.

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In addition to creating a statewide public financing system, a proposed ballot initiative in Arizona would make it easier for voters to cast ballots.

Crusade begins for ballot initiative overhauling Arizona's democracy

A prominent progressive group in Arizona has launched an effort to put a total overhaul of the state's election system before the voters next fall.

If the initiative is ultimately adopted, it would transform campaign financing and ease access to the ballot box in one of the nation's fastest growing and most politically competitive states. In many ways, the proposal would create in Arizona a system similar to what the congressional Democrats would nationalize under HR 1.

But the business community and Republican elected leaders in Phoenix are already signaling they're intense opposition to the package, suggesting that just getting it on to the ballot could require an expensive and polarizing campaign.

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The law permits election officials (generally not trained handwriting analyzers) to disregard mail-in ballots if they decide the signatures don't match others on file.

Liberal group sues to stop signature reviews in bellwether Michigan

Michigan has become the latest battleground over state laws that allow local election officials to discard mail-in ballots when signatures aren't similar enough to the handwriting on file.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court by Priorities USA, a liberal super PAC, claims "the state's arbitrary and standardless signature-matching laws" have disenfranchised "hundreds of voters in recent elections for no other reason than an election official's subjective and arbitrary determination that a voter's signature on an absentee ballot (or ballot application) did not match a prior signature that the voter provided to election officials."

Michigan has the potential to produce several pivotal contests next fall, underscoring the truism that every vote will count. President Trump won the state by fewer than 11,000 votes last time, the first Republican to carry it in seven elections. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters faces a stiff challenge and so do a pair of House members from each party.

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These voters in Philadelphia in 2016 could have cast a straight-ticket ballot. That form of voting would end under a bipartisan legislative deal that mainly eases access to the voting booth.

Deal would ease voting next year (but not all the way) in a big bellwether state

Some of the most important expansions of ballot access in 2020 are very likely to be in Pennsylvania, one of the biggest of the tossup states where the presidency could get decided next year.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republicans in charge of the General Assembly reached a deal this week on a legislative package that would smooth access to the polls in four ways starting with the primaries in April, which may provide a turning point in the Democratic presidential contest.

An even bigger impact could come in the fall, when Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes will be central to the strategies of both nominees and turnout will be all-important. After backing the Democrat in six straight elections, the state went to President Trump in 2016 by less than a percentage point — a gap of 44,000 votes out of more than 6 million cast.

But the bill, which is on course for approval in Harrisburg in coming days, would provide no democracy reform panacea in the nation's fifth most populous state. Instead, it is being described by its proponents as propelling Pennsylvania from the back of the pack into the top half of the states when it comes to ease of voting.

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