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Progressive Voter Guide to Democracy And Elections

Progressive Voter Guide to Democracy and Elections

From voter suppression to trust in public elections, a look at the candidates' positions on 10 important voter issues.

By AlterNet.
Posted October 17, 2008

For full story see…
Progressive Voter Guide to Democracy and Elections

American democracy is both vibrant and deeply imperiled in 2008. As millions of Americans pay attention to the presidential campaign, with thousands volunteering in battleground states, there is no doubt Americans are concerned and engaged. However, the foundation of our representative democracy, the voting process and public trust in elections, is threatened in unprecedented ways. America's democratic infrastructure -- the way we vote and count those ballots -- has deep systematic problems. The country could be on the verge of the third consecutive presidential election in which a mix of bad election administration, unreliable vote-counting technology and deliberate partisan tactics will sully the vote count and the legitimacy of the next president.

The progressive focus on democracy issues has evolved to reflect these concerns. A decade ago, campaign finance reform was the priority. At that time, Sen. John McCain was known for shepherding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act through Congress. That bill sought to dilute the impact of wealthy people and interests by further regulating political donations. Progressives supported the bill and were enthusiastic about state-level public financing campaign reforms. Before Sen. Barack Obama was elected to federal office, he supported public financing as a candidate and as a law professor.

But during the 2008 campaign, both candidates have made generally vague statements about protecting the right to vote. And McCain and Obama each have flip-flopped on previous stances to suit their presidential campaign strategies, with Obama rejecting public financing and McCain turning to notable numbers of lobbyists to staff his campaign.

So which candidate comes closest to addressing the pressing issues associated with recent national elections? AlterNet reviewed Obama and McCain's voting records and recent statements to see how the two compare on everything from election management to voter suppression.

1. VOTER REGISTRATION

Tens of millions of Americans do not vote, in some cases because they have to jump through bureaucratic hurdles to qualify and register as voters. Some of those hurdles are designed by Republicans to keep certain sectors of the public from voting because higher voter turnout would threaten their majorities. When Republicans cite "voter fraud" as a concern, they usually are seeking to make voting more arduous than necessary to deter voter turnout. Across the country there is a range of registration laws, with every state except North Dakota requiring voters to register. A few states have Election Day registration, meaning residents can register and vote on Election Day. In the other states, registration can be a simple or more complex process, with deadlines and ID requirements. The more complicated the process, the greater the likelihood that people will not vote.

Solution: Election Day registration (or same-day registration for early voting) is the best solution, in tandem with early voting opportunities (where eligible voters can register and then vote). The best way to combat exaggerated partisan claims about voter registration fraud, or the same person voting more than once, is public education. Voters need to ensure their registration is current, bring the correct ID to the polls, and have confidence they will be able to vote, even if the GOP threatens to challenge their credentials at polling places, as some Republicans are now doing.

Obama's position: Obama supports Election Day registration. His campaign recently sued the Republican Party in Michigan over threats by local party officials that the GOP would be challenging the voter registrations of people who lost their homes to foreclosures.

McCain's position: McCain supports making voter registration easier. His campaign has not taken a position on Election Day registration, although he told WhyTuesday.org that he does not favor making Election Day a holiday. The Republican National Committee and state party operations have said Democratic "voter fraud" is an issue needing policing.

Learn more: ProjectVote.org, TruthAboutFraud.org, BrennanCenter.org, AdvancementProject.org, CampaignLegalCenter.org, Demos.org

2. VOTER SUPPRESSION AND BARRIERS TO VOTING

For decades, partisans have used the voter registration process and ballot access rules to try to shape the electorate to their advantage. In general, the more complex the voting process, the greater the chance of deterring eligible citizens from voting. Perhaps the most controversial example of this concerns Election Day voter challenges, in which some states allow political parties to station volunteers at polling places to challenge individual voters' registrations. In those cases, the challenged voters -- who tend to be first-time voters such students, poor people and people of color -- must document that their registration information matches their current address to vote.

Solution: Voters who verify that their registration information is current before Election Day and bring the correct ID to vote will be allowed to vote, as long as they are in line before the close of polling places. State laws or rules banning the voter challenge process, such as Ohio's recently instituted rules, created by a 2008 secretary of state directive, are also a preferred solution.

Obama's position: Obama co-sponsored S. 804, the Count Every Vote Act, which amends federal law with new requirements for verified voting and vote count audits, provisional ballot use and counting, allocation of voting machines and Election Day resources, and new standards for purging voters, early voting and deceptive election practices.

McCain's position: McCain has taken no known position, but his Florida campaign recently has sent mailers that could be used to create challenge lists, and a GOP county chair in Michigan also spoke of creating challenge lists from voters who recently lost their homes due to foreclosure.

Learn more: VotersUnite.org/news.asp, BrennanCenter.org, ProjectVote.org, CampaignLegalCenter.org, CommonCause.org

For full story see…
Progressive Voter Guide to Democracy and Elections

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