Archives for the month of: December, 2011

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has certified the first initiative to qualify for the November 6, 2012, ballot.  If it is approved by voters, the initiative–known by proponents as “Paycheck Protection” and opponents as “Paycheck Deception”–would restrict political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.

It’s time to set the record straight on the origins of this deceptive ballot measure, which traces its history to anti-tax crusader, and Republican insider, Grover Norquist.

In the late 1990s, Norquist and his DC-based Americans for Tax Reform organization backed several conservative initiatives on statewide ballots, including so-called paycheck “protection” measures. The major source of his funding for his efforts, it was later revealed,was the Republican National Party.  In 1993, Norquist had authored a mock policy memo (fictitiously dated “November 9, 1996”) addressed to “Republican Congressional Leaders.”  His fictitious memo detailed the GOP’s hard won “success” in the 1996 elections.  Noting the electoral power of initiatives, Norquist wrote, “I believe the wave of initiative elections in 1992 and 1994 paved the way for Republican electoral victories this year [1996].”  He highlighted how initiatives limiting legislative terms, cutting taxes and government spending, as well as anti-crime, victims rights, and parental rights ballot measures, brought fiscal and “social conservative Republican voters to the polls.”

Republican leaders apparently were convinced by Norquist’s electoral prediction.  In October 1996, the Republican National Committee (RNC) quietly contributed $4.6 million in soft money to ATR to promote federal candidates by broadcasting issue ads. While Norquist’s nonprofit did not have to disclose its subsequent expenditures, a congressional investigation (Minority Report) into campaign finance abuses in the 1990s found that ATR acted “as an alter ego of the Republican National Committee [RNC] in promoting the Republican agenda and Republican candidates, while shielding itself and its contributors from the accountability required of campaign organizations.”

Norquist’s ATR subsequently funneled a substantial amount of the RNC money to issue groups in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada that were sponsoring paycheck protection ballot measures.

For example, in 1998, ATR was a major contributor to the sponsors of Oregon’s Measure 26, a paycheck “protection” initiative that qualified for Oregon’s November, 1998 ballot.  ATR also helped to finance paycheck “deception” measures in Nevada and Colorado, but they were stymied by the courts in Nevada and stalled by a union-led counterproposition in Colorado.

Earlier in 1998, Norquist’s ATR successfully spearheaded the financing of a California ballot measure designed specifically to weaken organized labor. During the crucial petition gathering phase of the campaign, ATR transferred $441,000 to the Campaign Reform Initiative in California, one of four issue committees advocating Proposition 226, a paycheck “protection” measure.  In the end, California voters defeated the measure at the polls, in large part because labor unions spent over $23 million fighting the June 1998 primary initiative.

Rather than paycheck protection, the history of these ballot measures is steeped in deception.

For more background on paycheck “protection”/”deception” ballot measures, see Daniel A. Smith. 2004. “Peeling Away the Populist Rhetoric: Toward a Taxonomy of Anti-Tax Ballot Initiatives,” Public Budgeting and Finance 24 (4): 88-110, and Elizabeth Garrett and Daniel A. Smith. 2005. “Veiled Political Actors and Campaign Disclosure Laws in Direct Democracy,” Election Law Journal 4 (4) 295-328.

So says the Pew Center on the States.

Florida ranks 7th overall in the PEW study, receiving “excellent” marks on “content” and solid marks for “lookup tools,” but it ranks in the bottom half of the states when it comes to the “usability” of the Secretary of State’s website.

Here’s a link to PEW’s evaluation of Florida, which is excerpted below:

 

Researchers assessed state election websites for the Pew Center on the States between May-November 2010 using detailed criteria evaluating the content, lookup tools, and usability. Websites may have changed since they were assessed. See methodology (PDF).

Strengths include:

  • Comprehensive voter registration and ballot information, including details on registration eligibility and residency requirements, deadlines, forms, and information for college students, felons, the homeless, hospitalized voters, and voters residing in long-term-care facilities.
  • Concise, quickly absorbed text used throughout the website, with easy-to-scan bullet points and hyperlinks.
  • Lookup tools that allow voters to view their registration status, polling place location, sample ballots, and absentee ballot status.
  • Comprehensive listings of candidates and candidate party affiliations, contact information, and incumbency status.
  • Full texts, summaries, and nonpartisan analyses of statewide ballot measures.
  • Campaign finance data links for state and federal candidates.
  • Election results in a section that displays them in user-friendly ways, such as by county, in percentages, and with maps.
  • Text resizing function helps visually impaired users.

Recommended improvements include:

  • Create a section of information geared toward people with disabilities (36 states offer).
  • Use more specific informational labels for links to guide users to content from the home page, rather than vague labels such as “Voter Information.”
  • Improve navigation throughout the website so that it is logical and consistent on each page and makes important information prominent and accessible.
  • To avoid confusion, place lookup tools on a page that does not look like a different site.
  • Improve the lookup tool’s accessibility for visitors with screen-reader software, which cannot “see” the squiggly words (CAPTCHA System) that a user must enter.
  • Explain how to obtain a replacement if a requested absentee ballot does not arrive in the mail (19 states offer), or is lost or damaged (18 offer).
  • Provide a tutorial on how to complete a ballot (38 states offer).
  • Offer instructions for people with disabilities on how to use voting machines at polling places (33 states offer).
  • Provide a lookup tool for voters to check the status of their provisional ballot (19 states offer).
  • Present important information in HTML format rather than in PDF documents, which are more difficult to read and search online.

Noteworthy Feature: A “Candidate Tracking System” tracks candidates throughout the election process, describing their status, campaign finance activity, personal photos, and contact data. This information is updated regularly as candidates file and update their information.

Initial Quick Fix: Include a noticeable link from the state website home page to the voting information website.

Summary: Florida’s site scores highly and provides excellent voting information, including four out of five recommended lookup tools. Improved navigation and accessibility for voters with visual disabilities would enhance usability.

http://election.dos.state.fl.us/index.shtml was assessed for content, lookup tools, and usability.

Daily Show correspondent John Oliver investigates Amazon.com’s effort to use a ballot measure to overturn a a state law requiring online retailers to pay sales tax in the state.

California’s foul-mouthed Democratic Party chairman, John Burton, steals the show.

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