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Ballot measures are good democracy — but only if you can understand them

News

Ballot measures are good democracy — but only if you can understand them

Marginal improvements have been made to help voters understand the questions posed to them on the ballot this November, a new study concludes, but such ballot measures still favor the college-educated — who represent a minority of the U.S. population.

This year voters in eight states will decide the fate of a collective 36 such propositions. In a study released Thursday, Ballotpedia assessed how easy it is to comprehend what each proposal would accomplish, concluding that the difficulty level had decreased compared with the referendums decided in the last off-year election of 2017 — but not by much.

In fact, according to a pair of well-established tests, 21 of the 36 ballot measures cannot be understood by the 40 percent of the voting-age population who never attended college.

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Two states asking Supreme Court for permission to regulate Electoral College conduct

Colorado has become the second state to ask the Supreme Court to decide if states may legally bind their presidential electors to vote for the candidate who carried their state.

The issue of so-called faithless electors is the latest aspect of an increasingly heated debate about the virtues and flaws of the Electoral College that has blossomed, especially among progressive democracy reform advocates, now that two of the past five presidential winners (Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) got to the Oval Office despite losing the national popular vote.

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Democratic-backed group launches 'massive' voter protection effort

The accelerating 2020 campaign is sure to produce an alphabet soup of new groups hoping to sway the outcome — and one of the newest, unveiled this week, is the Voter Protection Corps.

The fledgling organization, the brainchild mainly of some Democratic political veterans in Massachusetts, plans to assemble a team of election law attorneys, campaign strategists and voting technology experts who can create a state-by-state playbook for combatting efforts to suppress turnout.

"We have to be clear-eyed about the reality that voter suppression efforts are likely to hit new extremes in 2020, and that many of the legal and judicial checks that helped protect the vote in the past have been badly eroded," said the head of the operation, Quentin Palfrey. "Voter Protection Corps will start laying the groundwork, immediately, for what is going to have to be a massive effort to protect the rights of all eligible voters."

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Debate

A reformer game plan for 2020: Consolidate, aspire and donate

"We must commit to coming together, understanding our respective roles, and playing them the best we can," says Reed Galen, an independent political strategist.

Community

Accelerator Awards

Get $25,000 in seed funding for your initiative making impactful and viable political reform, courtesy of Unite America, RepresentUs and the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers. The awards are prioritizing local and state campaigns that advance key structural political reforms like ranked-choice voting, redistricting, open primaries and vote by mail.

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Republicans called out at the Democratic debate, and not in a bad way

News

Republicans called out at the Democratic debate, and not in a bad way

For those who view the restoration of cross-partisan friendships as genuinely key to making democracy work better, there was a glimmer of hope at the very end of the latest presidential debate.

Each of the Democratic candidates was asked Tuesday night to speak about a friendship that would be a surprise, and nine of the dozen talked exclusively about bonding with Republicans.

The downside, however, is that only two of them mentioned Senate GOP colleagues who will still be in public life after the next election.

Kamala Harris gave a shout-out to Rand Paul of Kentucky, her partner on legislation to reduce excessive bail for criminal defendants. And Cory Booker singled out a fresh companionship with Ted Cruz of Texas while talking up the benefits of his efforts to have dinner with every Republican senator, also mentioning attending Bible study and working on legislation to improve foster care with Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Time and again, congressional veterans and students of the Capitol Hill culture volunteer that the slide into legislative gridlock, punctuated by polarizing rhetoric, has accelerated thanks to the steep decline in such bipartisan bonding — borne of a combination of tribal-style demands for partisan loyalty and scheduling pressures that stress fundraising far more than connecting with colleagues.

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Election security experts keep up pressure for more cash

As House and Senate negotiators determine how to reconcile a $350 million divide over election security spending, lawmakers headed to one of the Russian hackers' target states this week for a status report on Illinois' preparations for 2020.

While a number of states were targeted in 2016, the Illinois election system was among the most compromised, with black hats successfully gaining access to the voter registration database and positioning themselves to manipulate the data. Investigators found no evidence of any records being altered.

Illinois election officials told members of the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday that the state has improved its digital security but more needs to be done to block future hackers.

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Numbers don't lie: Copies of the Constitution are selling at a record pace

Civic education has disappeared? Print is no longer the best way to consume important information? Try persuading nearly a million people who have purchased copies of the Constitution in the past four years — at a record-setting pace.

Donald Trump's presidency, and the persistent challenges to democratic norms and the separation of federal powers it has spawned, sure seem to be the reason.

"There have been some other smaller spikes in Constitution sales in recent history — such as 2010, following the 2009 founding of the Tea Party," said Kristen McLean, a publishing industry analyst for the market research and retail sales tracking firm NPD Group Inc. "That spike is dwarfed by what we have been seeing since these last few years. Regardless of your political affiliation, there is no doubt that our current political climate has done wonders for constitutional engagement."

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Debate

Statehood for D.C.: Are we truly a democratic republic?

Not allowing Washington residents representation disenfranchises more than 700,000 people. Rep. Gerald Connolly argues that opposing D.C. statehood is an issue of race and partisanship.

Community

Protecting Our Vote: A Conversation with Eric Holder and Ari Berman

Join former US Attorney General Eric Holder and Mother Jones senior reporter Ari Berman as they discuss the current state of voting rights in America at George Washington University on Oct. 23.

Newsletter

Biden backs some, but hardly all, of democracy reform agenda in time for debate

News

Biden backs some, but hardly all, of democracy reform agenda in time for debate

Just in time for the first presidential debate of the fall, Joe Biden has laid out a plan for improving government ethics and campaign finance regulation that adds more substance to a democracy reform agenda he hasn't been very vocal about.

But the former vice president's package still does not come close to the expansiveness or specificity of the "good government" proposals of Elizabeth Warren, who currently stands near Biden as the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, or the other top-tier presidential candidates.

Whether these issues get any air time when a dozen of the candidates meet Tuesday night is an open question, however. To the dismay of democracy reform advocates, and in defiance of polling that shows fixing the system's brokenness is among the voters' top desires, the issue received only minimal attention in the three debates so far.

One reason may be that the debate moderators have chosen to emphasize the differences among the candidates on the most prominent issues likely to define President Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, and the dozen Democrats on stage in Ohio stand in broad agreement on most of the top proposals for improving democracy.

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De-politicizing maps gains support in some red stretches of Wisconsin

Two-thirds of the counties in Wisconsin — home to more than 70 percent of its population — have gone on record in favor of de-politicizing the state's legislative mapmaking.

A coalition of good-government groups has been leading the effort to gain support among county governments to end partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. They are advocating for legislation that has some bipartisan support in Madison but is still seen as a long shot. It would take redistricting responsibility out of the hands of the Legislature in 2021 and give it to state bureaucrats, who would be barred from considering partisan voting patterns in drawing boundaries.

Wisconsin is the first state to consider such legislation since the Supreme Court this summer said federal courts had no role in settling partisan gerrymandering claims.

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No stricter scrutiny for Kentucky inactive voters who show up this year

Kentucky may not set higher bureaucratic thresholds for recently inactive voters who decide they want to cast ballots this fall, a state judge has ruled.

The decision is a victory for voting rights and for the state's Democratic Party, which sued last week to prevent the state from subjecting 175,000 people labeled "inactive voters" to stricter scrutiny at their polling places. The party believes most of those voters are on their side, and could prove crucial to the fortunes of Andy Beshear, the state's Democratic attorney general, who's in a tossup race for governor against Republican incumbent Matt Bevin.

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Debate

The one question every American can ask themselves about impeachment

In a polarized environment, it can be easy to make snap judgements. Erica Etelson of Better Angels argues that it's time to use your "slow brain" and look at everything with "reason and logic."

Community

Represent San Antonio Unbreaking America Screening

J. Law fan in the San Antonio area? Join Represent San Antonio on Oct. 17, for a screening of a new film featuring the Academy Award-winning actress and a discussion about fighting corruption in your community.