Limited Voting Problems in 2008, but Racial Disparities Remain

A new survey has found that voters had generally positive experiences voting in the 2008 presidential election. Unfortunately, like so many things in the United States, those feelings were less likely if you were not white. People of color reported longer lines and being asked for ID more often than white voters.

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Earlier this month, MediaMouse.org reported that voting problems were not nearly as widespread as they were in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Now a new survey conducted by the Pew Center on the States, AARP, and MIT has confirmed this.

The survey found that overall voting in the 2008 presidential election went smoothly. 91% of those surveyed said that it was easy to find their polling place, 83% said their polling place was well run, and 75% said that they were “very confident” that their vote was counted.

However, despite the generally favorable assessment, there were concerns and problems, particularly along racial lines:

* On Election Day, African American voters waited more than twice as long to vote (29 minutes) than all other voters, who reported an average wait time of 13 minutes to vote. Early voters said they had to wait an average of 20 minutes to vote, but African Americans again reported an average wait time more than twice as long–43 minutes;

* Latinos said they were asked to show ID more often than whites or African Americans in states that require ID;

* More than half of the states require no ID to vote, yet 12 percent of voters in these states not requiring ID said they were asked to present an ID. Meanwhile, in states that require a photo ID, 20 percent of voters said they were never asked for one.

Beyond racial disparities, confidence in the voting process was also lower among early voters. Only 61% of absentee voters believed that their ballot would be accurately counted.

The survey was unveiled at a conference where Secretaries of State, election officials, and election experts were gathered to discuss electoral reform.

Obama Transition Team Includes Fundraisers and Lobbyists

Obama’s Transition Team features a number of bundlers, fundraisers, and lobbyists according to a new review by the Center for Responsive Politics.

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The Center for Responsive Politics has released a new database of Obama’s transition team members and their research suggests it might not have been just their resumes and expertise that got them places on the team. According to the research, many members of the team either contributed to Obama’s campaign or were current or former lobbyists.

The Center provides a useful breakdown of the numbers:

$824,155: Minimum total that transition team members contributed to Obama’s campaign and to joint fundraising committees formed to support his election. Like figures below, this amount may well be higher. Lacking more than just a name for many team members, CRP has not been able to match everyone to our databases.

$3,869.27: Average contribution to Obama and joint fundraising committees from those on the transition team who contributed to the president-elect this election cycle. Supporters were limited to giving $4,600 directly to Obama since the start of 2007 but could give additional money to the Democratic party.

56: Percent of all announced transition team members who contributed to Obama or a joint fundraising committee supporting his candidacy.

$2 million: Total amount that donating transition team members gave to Democratic candidates and committees this cycle.

$7,977.04: Average contribution that donating transition team members gave to all federal candidates, parties and committees this election cycle. Any individual could give up to $108,200 this election cycle. The percentage of Americans who give even $200 to federal politics is less than one-half of 1 percent.

6: Number of team members who, apparently, didn’t give money to any Democratic party committee or candidate, including Obama, but contributed to Republicans or other parties.

23: Number of transition team leaders who are, or have been since 1998, federally registered lobbyists. Seven of them were registered lobbyists as of the start of this year. Obama has prohibited currently registered lobbyists from working on his transition team in fields of policy on which they’ve tried to influence Congress in the last year. They’re also required to stop all lobbying activity during their transition work.

14: Number of transition team members who raised at least $50,000 for Obama’s campaign. Every one of these bundlers also gave at least $2,300 to Obama out of his or her own pocket.

$2.8 million: Minimum total amount bundled by members of the transition team.

Once again, it’s important to make note of these facts and to consider how they might shape progressive strategy.

Obama’s “Small Donors” — About the Same Percentage as Bush in 2004

A new report from the Campaign Finance Institute has an intriguing analysis of Democratic president elect Barack Obama’s fundraising. It finds that claims the campaign was funded primarily through small donors more of a myth than a reality.

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The nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute has released a new analysis showing that Democrat president elect Barack Obama’s claims of running a campaign primarily supported by so-called “small donors” is greatly exaggerated.

In the analysis, the Campaign Finance Institute finds that while a high percentage (49%) of Obama’s contributions were $200 or less, only 26% of his donors were so-called “small donors,” a number that is barely higher than President George W. Bush’s percentage of small donors in 2004.

To be sure, Obama reached more small donors than previous candidates and a larger percentage of his money came from small donors. However, big donors–those contributing over $1,000–were significant players in his fundraising efforts. 47% of his donors gave over $1,000, accounting for 33% of his fundraising totals. According to the Campaign Finance Institute:

“Much of this money was raised the “old fashioned” way. Since only about 13,000 of those who started out small for Obama ended up crossing the $1,000 threshold, that means the bulk of Obama’s $213 million in large-donor contributions during the primaries came from about 85,000 people who started out giving big and stayed there. Much of this large-donor money – perhaps close to a majority – came to the campaign through bundling methods initially perfected by Bush.”

Hopefully as the election hype winds down, a debate will occur about Obama’s fundraising and his decision to forgo public financing. Because while he did raise considerable money from small donors, it was hardly the popularly funded, “every person” campaign that it is often made out to be.

Statistics from the analysis:

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Anonymous Donors Dominated Michigan Supreme Court Campaign

The Michigan Supreme Court race was dominated by money from anonymous donors who funded some of the most controversial ads in the race. Undisclosed donors bought more than 60% of the ads aired during the campaign.

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Anonymous donors dominated the race for Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, contributing more than 60% of the total spending in the race according to a new review by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

In the race between Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and Judge Diane Hathaway, much of the spending was “off the books” in that it was candidate-focused “issue” advertising that is not subject to disclosure laws. This money–which is not reported in campaign finance reports–included a number of controversial ads:

  • The Michigan Democratic Party spot that featured a dramatization of a sleeping judge and testimony of a litigant who claimed that Chief Justice Taylor slept during oral argument of her case.
  • The Michigan Chamber of Commerce spot that encouraged viewers to contact Judge Hathaway and tell her not to be soft in sentencing sex offenders, as an unnamed assistant prosecutor asserted she had been in the past.
  • The Michigan Republican Party spot that showed a bikini-clad woman frolicking on a beach and said that Judge Hathaway previously had pursued a seat on the Court of Appeals so she could have a light work load and enjoy leisure time on the beach.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Democratic Party and the Michigan Republican Party spent $3.75 million on television ads in the race.

Unfortunately, this unaccountable spending is nothing new. Since 2000, issue ad spending has almost equaled the amount of money raised by candidates.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network is advocating for three policy reforms to improve the situation:

  • Require full disclosure of the receipts and expenditures for campaign advertisements that feature the name or image of a candidate, whether the ads mention voting or not.
  • Update disqualification standards for the Michigan Supreme Court to acknowledge the potential for conflict of interests when justices hear cases that involve major financial supporters of their election campaigns.
  • Develop a system of public financing for Supreme Court campaigns, so candidate committees have a viable alternative to soliciting financial support from interest groups and attorneys who may be involved in future cases.

Looking Back on Campaign Finance in 2008

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network has released a look back on campaign finance in the 2008 election, reviewing important topics such as Obama’s fundraising, the Michigan Supreme Court campaign, and the correlation between money spent and electoral victory.

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Campaign finance has been something that MediaMouse.org talked a lot about in 2008. Often times our numbers came from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, an excellent source looking at the relationship between money and elections in Michigan.

Yesterday, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network released an analysis of the 2008 elections and the lessons learned. The group examines Obama and his fundraising, the Michigan Supreme Court race, the relationship between spending and victory, and more. It’s definitely worth reading the entire article, but here are some interesting points from its conclusion:

“Extremes of campaign finance were on display in 2008.

The stem cell ballot proposal was the third-most expensive ballot question since 2000, after the racino proposal of 2004 ($27.6 million) and the school voucher proposal of 2000 ($19.6 million). Proposition 2 of 2008 ran over $15 million, with proponents spending over $9 million for their successful campaign and opponents spending over $6 million. Developer Al Taubman gave the proponent committee more than $5 million and the Michigan Catholic Conference gave the opponent committee more than $5 million.

Barack Obama was supported by millions of contributors in the biggest and most broadly based campaign in American history.

Michigan’s state Supreme Court campaign was mainly under the table and we don’t know who put up most of the money.

Off-the-books campaigning is particularly toxic for Supreme Court campaigns because we can’t see whether a prospective party to an appeal is spending big to make sure its case is heard by the judge of its choosing. The U.S. Supreme Court has assured that all parties, including corporations and unions, can spend their money for electioneering communications, but the spending should not be allowed in a way that conceals potential conflicts of interest, and those conflicts of interest should not be ignored. All electioneering spending should be reported and more stringent standards for recusal should be enacted.

In a concession to reality, Michigan should rededicate its public campaign fund to Supreme Court campaigns so candidate committees have a viable alternative to soliciting funds from interest groups and individuals who may be part of an upcoming appeal. Michigan’s gubernatorial public financing system is broken in precisely the same way as the presidential system, but the fund could support viable Supreme Court campaigns. Michigan Supreme Court campaigns are among the most infamous in the country, but they can be cleaned up. Policymakers just need to make a stand for integrity over expediency.”

Green Party Claims 2008 Victories

Despite receiving little attention for their 2008 presidential campaign, the Green Party is claiming a small number of victories across the United States.

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Despite running a presidential campaign that received little coverage both nationally and locally, the Green Party is claiming some victories in the 2008 election.

According to the third party, the Green Party’s candidates for the United States House of Representatives doubled the number of votes they received in 2006. The Party set a new record for the highest percentage of votes received by a Green candidate, with Deb McFarland receiving 23.33% of the votes in Arkansas’ 2nd District. The Party also received its highest percentage ever for a House candidate with Rebekah Kennedy receiving 20.59% of the votes in the US Senate race in that state.

Aside from record vote totals in those two races, the Green Party also won some victories. Among the more significant ones cited by the Party:

* Richard Carroll was elected to the Arkansas State Legislature, representing District 39

* Bruce Delgado was elected Mayor of Marina City, Monterey County, California (pop. 25,000). Mr. Delgado joins California Green mayors Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond and Craig Litwin of Sebastopol.

* Ross Mirkarimi was reelected to his District 5 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in California, with 77% of the vote.

* The District of Columbia had the greatest number of Green victories on November 4, with seven DC Statehood Green Party candidates elected to Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats

Here in Michigan, Green Party candidate Korine Bachleda won reelection as Newberg Township Clerk in Cass County.

As of October 20, 2008, 225 Greens held office across the United States.

Voting Problems Nowhere Near as Widespread as 2004, Opportunities Still Exist for Improvement

Far fewer voting problems were reported in Grand Rapids and the country as a whole compared with 2004, but there are still several opportunities to reform the voting process according to the nonpartisan group Election Reform.

Unlike the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, there was relatively little discussion of voting problems this year. While scattered problems were reported across the country–and in Michigan–the problems were largely under reported in light of Obama’s substantial victory.

In Grand Rapids, there were several reported problems. Most of the problems had to do with excessive lines at Alexander Elementary School. At the school, voters waited as much as two hours to vote in Precinct 17 of Grand Rapids’ Ward 3. The City of Grand Rapids blamed the delays on the high number of voters in the precinct and record turnout. However, given that similar problems occurred in the 2004 election, these problems should have been prevented. Beyond these problems, The Grand Rapids Press also reported that there were some problems with Republican challengers.

Across Michigan, problems were reported with long lines–especially in Detroit. In Detroit, voters reported waiting as long as three hours to vote. In addition, there were reports of faulty voting machines. The nonpartisan group Election Protection received reported receiving calls about 569 problems in Michigan with the majority being classified as “polling place problems.” This broad category included everything from voters being told they couldn’t vote at a polling place to polling places running out of ballots.

However, despite the absence of major problems this election, Election Protection says that there are still a number of reforms () that would help enhance voting rights. These include:

IMPROVE VOTER REGISTRATION PROCESS

The most prevalent and alarming challenge to our electoral process today came in the form of voter registration problems. Voters across the country arrived at the polls to find that their registrations had never been processed, that their names had been purged from voter lists, or that they had missed the registration deadlines altogether. Our first priority for improving this flawed system should be to make the registration process fair, accurate and efficient.

COMBATTING DECEPTIVE PRACTICES

Voters in nearly a dozen states today received misinformation about polling locations, times and rules. It’s easier than ever to disseminate deceptive information quickly – and with new mediums – and our election system needs to adapt accordingly to combat these practices and minimize the effects of partisan tricks.

UPGRADE THE ADMINISTRATION PROCESS

Today in Ohio, Missouri, Virginia and numerous other states, eligible voters were forced to cast provisional ballots because of ballots shortages, and were hampered by poorly trained poll workers, and broken voting machines. These problems could have been avoided if the administration of our electoral process provided officials and poll locations with the resources needed to handle the weight of full participation.

EXPANDING THE VOTE

We saw fewer problems in states with early voting. Early voting takes pressure off the system by easing the crush on Election Day, and by providing a margin for error when testing new systems of election administration. Today’s voters should not be constrained to a single day in which to cast a ballot.

On its website, Election Protection features a detailed report that advocates particular reforms that would address these areas.

Here in Michigan, the Michigan Election Reform Alliance is advocating many similar reforms.

Democrat Defeats Republican to become Chief Justice of Michigan Supreme Court

Democrat Diane Hathaway won an upset victory to become Chief Justice of Michigan’s Supreme Court. Hathaway defeated Republican Cliff Taylor by a solid margin.

In what a watchdog group dubbed the “dirtiest” Court race in the country for the large number of attack ads aired, Democrat Diane Hathaway has defeated Cliff Taylor to become the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Hathaway’s victory was unexpected given that Taylor had a significant fundraising advantage of $1.8 million to $370,00 and was on the non-partisan section of the ballot. Additionally, outside money favored Taylor over Hathaway. Hathaway won with 49% of the vote compared to Taylor’s 39%. Libertarian Robert Roddis received 11% of the vote.

Democrats Maintain, Gain Education Posts

Democrats have either maintained or gained seats on a number of state level education boards this election.

Democrats in Michigan have either maintained or gained seats on a variety of state level education boards:

State Board of Education

[ WINNER ] Straus, Kathleen (i) Dem 2,308,124 27%

[ WINNER ] Austin, John (i) Dem 2,258,253 27%

Jenkins, Scott GOP 1,729,151 21%

Zeile, Richard GOP 1,508,520 18%

Adams, Karen UST 192,229 2%

Hall, Bill Lib 127,999 2%

Reynolds, Dwain Grn 94,729 1%

Graeser, Gail UST 94,604 1%

Steinport, Jeff Lib 93,210 1%

University of Michigan Board of Regents

[ WINNER ] Ilitch, Denise Dem 2,370,007 29%

[ WINNER ] Deitch, Laurence (i) Dem 2,098,107 25%

Brown, Susan GOP 1,740,659 21%

LaFond, John GOP 1,470,766 18%

Morgan, Kerry Lib 130,727 2%

Larson, Eric Lib 128,255 2%

Boal, Ellis Grn 102,033 1%

Sanger, Joe UST 98,930 1%

Ryskamp, Richard UST 92,760 1%

Wayne State Governors

[ WINNER ] Pollard, Gary Dem 2,110,393 26%

[ WINNER ] Massaron, Paul (i) Dem 2,071,828 26%

Karmanos, Danialle GOP 1,750,919 22%

Bridges, Torion GOP 1,490,475 19%

Michalak, Nicole Lib 151,685 2%

Guttshall, Margaret Grn 139,867 2%

Butkowski, Rick UST 111,516 1%

Haines, Terry UST 109,325 1%

Keizer, Dan Lib 102,796 1%

Proposals Pass to Allow Medical Marijuana and Stem Cell Research

Proposals allowing stem cell research and the regulated use of medical marijuana passed yesterday.

Both statewide ballot proposals passed in Michigan, allowing the use of medical marijuana and stem cell research. Proposal 1–legalizing the regulated use of medical marijuana–passed 63% to 37%. Proposal 2 passed by a much closer 53% to 47% margin.

In Ottawa County, voters also overturned a 1976 law that banned the sale of beer and wine on Sundays.