Another coronavirus victim: public access to government
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.