News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

Maybe don’t shelve those vote-by-mail concerns

The weekend newsletter is a little early because of the Fourth of July.

Not everyone trusts mail-in voting. And there were a few instances that recently came to light that highlight why folks might want to proceed with caution.

In Florida, more than 18,000 ballots didn't get counted during the presidential primary — most belonging to young, first-time and Black voters. In suburban Massachusetts, 202 uncounted mail-in ballots were found after a local election seemingly decided by just 98 votes. A little further south in New Jersey, election officials threw out almost 20 percent of absentee ballots.

Despite some people's understandable trust issues, though, more Republican leaders are getting on board with voting by mail during the pandemic. President Trump isn't one of them, though. In fact, his campaign sued Pennsylvania earlier this week to prevent loosened absentee ballot rules for November.

The drama around Florida felon's voting rights continues because following the will of the people seems to be a problem. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked for — and was granted — a stay on the trial judge's decision that the state's "pay-to-vote system" was unconstitutional. In California, though, voters will decide in November if parolees should have their voting rights restored.

If you're looking for a light read this long weekend, there's a graphic novel about fixing the country's broken political system.

May our "unalienable rights" be available to everyone this weekend.

— Tristiaña Hinton

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.


Florida felon voting rights expansion put on hold


Florida felon voting rights expansion put on hold

The on-again, off-again political rights of people released from prison in the nation's biggest purple state has been one of the most prominent democracy reform stories of the past two years. For now, they're off again.

A federal appeals court has put on hold a lower court's ruling that had opened up registration and voting to upwards of a million Florida felons.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis to stay the trial judge's decision — which for a month stood as the year's biggest victory for voting rights — and have the entire appeals panel hear the case in August, bypassing the usual practice of starting with just three judges.

Keep reading...

One Midwest win for each side in the voter purge wars

The partisan fight over how to maintain voter registration lists has delivered one victory for each side this week — both in Midwestern states central to the November election.

The top court in Wisconsin decided against fast-tracking a decision about removing from the rolls more than 100,000 people with potentially out of date registrations — a delay that benefits the cause of voting rights advocates. But in neighboring Michigan, a conservative group claimed victory and dropped its lawsuit against Detroit after the city took a group of dead people and duplicate names off the rolls.

The cases capture a debate that pitches those (mostly Democrats) who believe aggressive attempts to remove, or "purge," names from voter rolls are an attempt at voter suppression against those (mostly Republicans) who believe poorly maintained voter lists clogged with the names of the mortally or physically departed provide an opportunity for fraud.

Keep reading...

A pivotal batch of mail votes went missing. Fraud!? Town is so sorry.

At a time when the hard-to-find intersection of mailed ballots and election fraud has become one of President Trump's obsessions, 202 envelopes in a town clerk's vault in central Massachusetts may get an unexpected amount of attention.

The ballots were from a local election last week in Grafton, where the people appeared to decide — by just 98 votes — to raise municipal taxes by $4 million to improve schools and local services.

The potential consequences of what's inside the envelopes are as mathematically apparent as the recent presidential polling in many swing states. (Tax hike opponents would have to account for three of every four uncounted votes, a deficit tough but not impossible to reverse.) The reason the votes weren't counted are much less clear, providing only minimal support for a presidential outburst on Twitter.

Keep reading...

Invitations prompt a surge in absentee ballots for Michigan primary

Michigan's primary is a month away but more than 1.3 million people have already asked for mail-in ballots, three-and-a-half times the number four years ago. A million Michiganders already have their ballots in hand.

The numbers were detailed Wednesday by the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. They suggest her decision to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters statewide will assure solid turnout in the nominating contests, no matter the intensity of the coronavirus pandemic in August.

That could increase the likelihood everyone in the state is invited to vote remotely again come November, producing even more significant participation in the presidential election — when Michigan's 16 electoral votes are central to the strategies of both candidates.

Keep reading...

Lying to congressional ethics investigators isn't illegal, appeals court says

Cracking down on the financial and personal transgressions of lawmakers is often labeled a prerequisite to making Capitol Hill, and with it all of democracy, work better. The cause got set back at the federal courthouse this week.

People may not be prosecuted for lying to the Office of Congressional Ethics, which the House created a dozen years ago to do much of the heavy lifting in policing member behavior, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Tuesday.

The ruling is a setback that could hobble the pace of inquiries that often increase in election years, when political opponents and the media are paying heightened attention to what House members are doing away from the office. But the judges said the situation could be fixed by adding a few words to the federal law against obstruction of justice.

Keep reading...


Will it be Chief Justice Roberts who helps save democracy?

"If he perceives President Trump as a threat to fundamental democratic institutions, does Chief Justice John Roberts use the Supreme Court's power to protect those institutions? Or does he defer?" asks author Lawrence Goldstone.


Election R&D Dialogues: Special Guest John Chiang, former California treasurer

John Chiang, former California treasurer and fall 2020 fellow at the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, joins co-directors Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy to discuss the pandemic's lasting economic impact on California and its implications for the November election and beyond.


GOP support for mail voting is growing, but hard to hear over Trump


GOP support for mail voting is growing, but hard to hear over Trump

President Trump's increasingly hyperbolic attacks on voting by mail, amplified by Attorney General William Barr and the Republican National Committee, have triggered alarms that the country is heading toward another contested election.

Trump appears to be gearing up to cast doubt on an outcome that doesn't go his way. Primaries marred by hours-long lines, voting machine malfunctions and controversies over absentee ballots have many bracing for a meltdown starting Election Day. A much bigger surge of mailed-in votes in November virtually guarantees the results won't be known for days, setting the stage for a crisis in voter confidence if the results are close enough to be challenged, as happened in 2000.

Yet for all that, voting rights advocates mobilizing to secure the election and neutralize Trump's divisive voting rhetoric have surprising and influential allies in their corner: many leading Republicans.

Keep reading...

Small but significant number of mail-in ballots uncounted in Florida

More than 18,000 ballots were mailed in but not tabulated in Florida's presidential primary, researchers have found. And the envelopes returned by young, first-time and Black voters were the most likely not to get counted.

The number of uncounted absentee ballots is one component of an analysis of the March 17 primary published last week by the Healthy Elections Project, created by experts at Stanford and MIT.

While the number of uncounted mail ballots is a tiny fraction — 1.3 percent — of the total number of mail-in ballots in the primary, it nonetheless represents a significant number of voters in a state renowned for its razor-thin election results.

Keep reading...

New felon rights win: Californians will decide on letting parolees vote

Another big moment for efforts to expand the voting rights of former prisoners will come in November, when Californians decide whether almost 50,000 parolees should be given access to the ballot box.

Sponsors of the referendum, which last week won final legislative approval for a spot on the ballot, say they're confident the vote will go their way. That would add the nation's most populous state to the roster of 16 that permit felons to vote as soon as they get out of prison.

Restoring the franchise to ex-convicts has become a top cause of civil rights groups, who say democracy is enhanced when political power is given back to people who have paid their debt to society. The campaign has gained additional momentum this summer from the nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism.

Keep reading...

TRENDING: Trump campaign sues Pennsylvania over easier absentee voting

President Trump is taking his crusade against voting by mail to a new level: His campaign has gone to court for the first time to combat liberalized absentee ballot rules — in Pennsylvania, a state central to his prospects for re-election.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh, seeks to make the sixth most populous state abandon for November several of the ways it collected and counted mail-in ballots in the primary, alleging the procedures were both unconstitutional and against state law.

Although the Republican Party sued last month in an unsuccessful effort to limit the delivery of mail ballots to everyone in California, and is vowing to spend $20 million or more defending restrictive voting laws that Democrats are challenging in 18 states, Pennsylvania is the first place where the president's campaign has gone on litigious offense.

Keep reading...


Registration lists are under attack. We have a moral obligation to protect them.

"When voices are silenced, our democracy perishes," argues Pattie Arduini of the American Ethical Union.


2020 Future Summit

Future Summit provides new and innovative perspectives, bridging the partisan divide, and adding to the ranks of audacious young leaders ready to chart a new path forward.