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The Alliance for Youth Action is pushing Congress to improve access to the ballot, "especially for young voters."

Petition of young voters launched to press Congress for easier ballot access

An advocacy coalition is working to galvanize younger voters to pressure Congress to improve voting rights before the presidential election, a cause that remains a decided long shot.

The Alliance for Youth Action, an umbrella organization of groups working to enhance the political power of younger voters, has launched a petition drive urging action on Capitol Hill to "protect voting rights and access to the ballot — especially for young voters."

As of Thursday morning — one week after the launch of the petition — more than 28,000 people had signed on.

The alliance hasn't publicly announced a goal for signatures. But it seems highly likely that no number would change the mind of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said no legislation to revamp the political system will move through the Republican-majority Senate before November 2020.


The petition is timed to coincide with the 54th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act's enactment. "Too many young people still face obstacles to exercising their constitutional right to vote," it says. "It is crucial that young people have a voice in government and the chance to secure a more equitable future."

Members of the alliance have been behind several successful voting rights expansions at the state and local level, including boosting young voter registration and creating the nation's first automatic voter registration system in Oregon, enacting Colorado laws permitting online registration and pre-registration by people as young as 16, and bringing same-day, online and automatic registration to Chicago.

Virtually all the items on the alliance's wish list for boosting the youth vote nationwide — automatic voter registration for anyone who gets a new driver's license, pre-registration for high schoolers, longer early voting calendars, Election Day registration, voting by mail — would be instituted in every state under the comprehensive political process overhaul House Democrats passed this spring. But that bill, HR 1, is tops on McConnell's roster of legislative dislikes.

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Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?

With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.

But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.

"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."

In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.

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The 13 states where election security matters most

Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.

Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.

Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.

[Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?]

With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.

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"Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy," argues Wambui Gatheru.

For the young, getting big money out of politics is the cause of our time

Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.

When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.

And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.

Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.

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Howard Dean and Barack Obama pioneered the drive for small-dollar contributors. Now, such donations have become an important measuring stick and may be contributing to increased polarization.

Small-dollar gifts hardly a cure-all for money’s smear on politics, one professor argues

The explosion of small-donor political contributions is often celebrated and extolled as one of the few positive developments amid all the problems facing the democracy reform movement.

Not so fast, argues New York University law school professor Richard Pildes. In a new essay published in the Yale Law Journal Forum, he argues the proliferation of modest contributions to candidates may be contributing to more political polarization and, at least, requires more careful examination.

Pildes also says the proposals to promote more small-donor giving that are part of the House Democrats' comprehensive political process overhaul, known as HR 1, could have unintended negative consequences.

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