Archives for category: Direct Democracy

Well, I had completely forgotten about this case.

The Initiative & Referendum Institute filed an initial lawsuit back in 2000, bringing a facial challenge to a 1998 ban by the US Postal Service on “soliciting signatures on petitions” on “all real property under the charge and control of the Postal Service.” 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(a), (h)(1) Violators were subject to both a criminal fine and imprisonment. Id. § 232.1(p)(2).

[For the record, I sit on the “Board of Scholars” of the I&R Institute, although I have not received any communication for years from the Institute, now housed at the University of Southern California. Also, for the record, their website is terribly awkward, not to mention, outdated.]

Seemed at the time, a tad harsh. Not to mention, unconstitutional.

But lo and behold! After several iterations by the US Postal Service modifying its rule — and subsequent litigation — the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, upheld the most recent (2010) Postal Service regulation that allows petition gatherers to solicit signatures while standing on interior postal sidewalks, but the physical act of signing a petition is not permitted on the interior sidewalk. Rather, those wishing to sign the petition must head to a designated “Grace” area to fill in the information on the petition.

But, as Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who signed the majority opinion but wrote separately in a Concurring Opinion, stated:

“…this half-a-loaf solution seems more persnickety than practical. The harms about which the Postal Service is concerned—the impeding of traffic and the appearance of
Postal Service endorsement, Majority Op. at 11–12—and, indeed, all of the harms I can imagine, accrue in the initial, permitted phase of a signature-gathering encounter: the
solicitation.”

Look for this decision to be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that reading the completely misleading headline in the “AP NewsBreak” story rushed to publication by the Washington Post and numerous other outlets.

The real headline should be, “Florida Secretary of State Admits Identifying “Potential Noncitizens with ‘Outdated’ Data.”

The pending agreement with the Department of Homeland Security is hardly a “victory” for the GOP, as the Washington Post’s headline screams.

It is true that the Department of Homeland Security reached a pending agreement with the Florida Department of State to allow the Division of Elections to access the federal SAVE database — Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — so as to more accurately identify “potential noncitizens” who might be incorrectly registered to vote in Florida. (Lord knows, the Florida Secretary of State needs help in its endeavors, as I’ve recently documented elsewhere, extensively.

It is important to disassemble the AP’s misleading story regarding the Florida Secretary of State’s “victory.”

First, the pending agreement with Homeland Security prohibits the state of Florida from using only the name and birth date of registered voters when requesting SAVE data to verify whether registered voters are noncitizens. Second, the Division of Elections may only access the SAVE database if it provides a “unique identifier” — such as an “alien number” or a certificate number on a Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship — for those who it suspects may be ineligible to be registered to vote.  But the Secretary of State does not (rightly) collect such information on voter registration forms, and the driver’s license records that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has provided to the Division of Elections are often inaccurate or outdated, leading to numerous false-positives when they are matched with the voter rolls.

In other words, if Florida Supervisors of Elections end up purging voters from the rolls using inaccurate or outdated information provided to them by the Division of Elections, they risk disenfranchising citizens, stripping them of their right to vote.

So, it is quite questionable how newly acquired access to the federal SAVE database will help ferret out “potential noncitizens,” as most citizens on the Florida voter rolls do not have a “unique identifier” that is included in the federal database.

What is not questionable from the pending agreement is that the Florida Secretary of State has admitted that it has been identifying “potential noncitizens” using ‘outdated’ information.

As Secretary of State Ken Detzner stated in a Letter to Supervisors Regarding SAVE sent to the 67 Supervisors of Elections on Saturday, July 14:

The process to identify potential non-citizens will include a carefully calibrated matching process between the Florida Voter Registration System and the driver’s license records of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles before any records are verified through SAVE. The existing file of potentially ineligible voters which was created months ago, is now outdated and will not be used as the basis for further action by the Department of State. It should be considered obsolete. (Emphasis in red, mine.)

One would hope that those individuals who are citizens and legally registered, and who were either incorrectly identified as “potential noncitizens” by the Florida Secretary of State, or worse, wrongly purged from the rolls by the Supervisors of Elections in early June because of the use of ‘outdated” or “obsolete” data, will be reinstated.

Clearly, any matching process between datafiles that are created for vastly different purposes may lead to wrongful ‘convictions,’ depriving individuals of the civil rights.

It remains to be seen whether, and how, the Florida Division of Elections will conduct a matching process with the federal SAVE database.  For the sake of the rights of all Floridians, let’s hope it is done more carefully and more transparently than the state’s feeble effort earlier this year.

In Illinois.

Attorney Dan Johnson on his blog, Progressive Advocacy, writes:

On July 6, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law SB 3722 (passed with exclusively Democratic votes) that contains two innovative and exciting provisions that will lead to more citizens voting this November. The first extends the period of time when citizens can register to vote and update their address until the Saturday before the election….I suspect more than 25,000 will be able to vote — who otherwise would have been turned away from their ballots because of government-imposed administrative deadlines — in November of 2012.

The second provision of the new law requires election authorities to offer early voting on the college campuses of the major public universities in the state. This requirement will ensure that college students (who often don’t have a car) won’t have to make their way to the obscure office of the county clerk off-campus in order to cast an early ballot, but instead will be able to go to a high-traffic area and cast their ballot during the few weeks before the election when early voting is offered.

Things couldn’t be more different in Florida. In May 2011, when they passed HB 1355, Republican lawmakers cracked down on voter registration drives, cut the days of early voting (and still prohibit it on college campuses), and made it more difficult for students and other transient populations to change their address and cast a regular ballot. And these actions preceded and were independent of Governor Scott asking his Secretary of State to strip eligible citizens of their voting rights through his bogus, systematic purge of the voter rolls.

While Illinois stands as a model for other states that want to expand the franchise, Florida returns to the days of Jim Crow, erecting barriers to prevent citizens from participating in the political process.

A good place to start is my 2005 Election Law Journal article, Veiled Political Actors, with Beth Garrett, and my 2010 Direct Democracy Scholars amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, which look at disclosure laws (and loopholes) in ballot issue campaigns.

I’ve written about disclosure in ballot issue campaigns elsewhere on these pages, and I think Justice Scalia articulated the necessity of transparency in a democracy his concurring opinion in Doe v. Reed, when he wrote:

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance…Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

So, to think corporations will be cowed into submission, or be endangered by the “palpable” threat of “retaliation” and “reprisals,”in either ballot issue or candidate campaigns, as some critics of disclosure–such as former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith now argue–I would only refer readers to Chairman Smith’s own writings. In his 2001 book, Unfree Speech, Smith grudgingly accepts a regulatory scheme grounded in disclosure. On p. 224 he admits:

Thus, there may be modest benefits to be had from a system that provides voters with information on the sources of campaign funds, through mandatory disclosure.

Indeed, disclosure not only provides “modest benefits,” it is the essential lifeblood of any democratic republic.

Unfortunately, I do not have time right now to chime in on the very important ballot measure committee contribution disclosure lawsuit, ProtectMarriage.com, which is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  I’ve served as an expert in several campaign finance lawsuits across the country, including the case California Pro-Life Council v. Getman (9th Cir. 2005), when my research was used to bolster the constitutionality of California’s ballot measure disclosure requirements.  I must say that it’s gratifying to see that my 2005 Election Law Journal article with Elizabeth Garrett that details the deceptive practices of “Veiled Political Actors” is once again being used to support the case for the public disclosure of the activities of ballot issue committee, as required under California’s Political Reform Act.

If you’re interested in the topic, I’d urge you to read the Campaign Legal Center’s amicus brief filed in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen

As the Legal Center points out in its press release, “In the last decade alone the Supreme Court has upheld disclosure laws by votes of 8-1 three times, most recently in Doe v. Reed.  In his concurrence in the case, Justice Scalia made very clear the importance of transparency to the health of our democracy:

Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.  For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism.  This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”

As the lead author of the “Direct Democracy Scholars” amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, I couldn’t agree more with Justice Scalia’s wise words or the Campaign Legal Center’s analysis.

So says a University of Arkansas press release touting my recently published article in Political Behavior, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” that I coauthored with Arkansas political science professor, Janine Parry, and her former undergraduate honors student, Shayne Henry.

The University of Arkansas press release is below, and here’s a link to the article.

Petition Signing Draws Infrequent Voters to Polls

Research suggests Wisconsin governor faces tough recall election

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Janine Parry, professor, political science, University of Arkansas.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Given the 1 million signatures on a petition to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, research on the voting behavior of petition signers suggests that Walker faces a tough time in the June special election. A study published in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior finds that people who sign petitions are more likely to show up to vote.

“Not only does recall history generally suggest that the governor’s odds of surviving a special election are low, but our study demonstrates that the people who signed the petitions and who become uncharacteristically motivated may well drive his ouster,” said political scientist Janine Parry of the University of Arkansas.

Parry teamed up with Daniel Smith of the University of Florida and Shayne Henry, then an Honors College undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, to analyze data from 1,000 registered Arkansas voters, 1,100 registered Florida voters, and all 71,119 registered voters in Gainesville, Fla., to measure the relationship between petition signing and voting. The researchers matched individual petition-signers with their election behavior and found that voters who signed petitions were more likely to go to the polls.

While the data showed the probability of voter turnout was higher for voters of all voting histories who signed a petition — from functionally inactive voters to super voters — petition signing had the greatest effect on irregular voters and on voters in off-cycle elections, such as the recall election in Wisconsin. The researchers found that infrequent voters who signed a petition were sometimes as much as 20 percentage points more likely to turn up at the polls compared to those who did not sign a petition.

“The magnitude of the effects was most surprising and unexpected for voters with the spottiest records,” Parry said. “Having a 20 point increase in anything in social science is pretty amazing.”

Few studies have focused on the significance of petition signing as motivation for individual voters to go to the polls. This study is the first to couple actual ballot petitions with official voter records, because the data were available through the Know Thy Neighbor online database, a publicly available database of those who had signed a statewide constitutional initiative against gay marriage and adoptions.

“The data have never been available for scholarly purposes because no one has the time to type in 100,000 names and then cross check it with registered voters,” Parry said. “Most people don’t have the time or staffing to digitize that kind of information.”

In recent election cycles, having controversial social issues on the ballot has driven voter turnout.

“If you can get a hot-button social issue out there, people are more likely to respond and show up to the polls,” said Parry. “Parties and candidates were banking on this process, hoping to drive turnout, like in 2004 with George W. Bush and gay marriage, or in 2006 when the Democrats tried with somewhat less success with minimum-wage ballot measures.”

In contrast, Parry said, “Our findings add more authority to the claim that campaign contact matters and that it matters a lot for certain people.”

Parry is a professor of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Arkansas Poll. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Florida. Henry was an Honors College student at the University of Arkansas and now studies law at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” appears in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior.

Crack reporter, Nicholas Confessore, in his story, “Anti-Gay Marriage Group Recommends Creating Tension Between Gays and Blacks,” recounts a classic tale of an interest group trying to use a ballot initiative to drive a wedge into a party’s base.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the GOP using this tactic in California and Colorado. No time to summarize it here, but here’s a link to my 2001 article, Initiative to Party, with Caroline Tolbert on the topic, and it’s also retold in my book, Educated by Initiative.

 

Well, it looks like the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s hard-hitting TV issue ads that ran in Colorado in 2008, calling out Ward Connerly for his deceptive effort to ban Affirmative Action, were spot-on.

New York Times has the latest in the alleged con-job he’s been running.

Here’s an excerpt from my 2005 Election Law Journal article with Elizabeth Garrett on “Veiled Political Actors” in ballot issue campaigns, which highlighted some of Connerly’s deceptive practices, which turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg :

Using 501(c)s to shield the identities of entities active in direct democracy is likely only to increase. The American Civil Rights Coalition
(ACRC) was established by Ward Connerly in 1997 following the passage of California’s Proposition 209, the successful 1996 anti-affirmative action initiative. The ACRC was the sponsor of Proposition 54, a racial privacy initiative that attempted to prohibit state and local governments from collecting data on or using classifications based on race, ethnicity, color, or national origin. According to campaign finance filings with the FPPC, ACRC contributed 94 percent ($1,570,400 of $1,671,958) of the total raised in 2001–02 by the ballot issue committee, Yes on Proposition 54/Racial Privacy Initiative Sponsored by American Civil Rights Coalition.112 The contributions made to ACRC were subsequently transferred to its sister ballot committee to help finance the paid signature-gathering effort to qualify the measure.113

Florida State Senator Paula Dockery, a Republican from Lakeland, and Representative Richard Steinberg, a Democrat from Miami Beach, have filed companion bills that would permit citizens to “veto” certain bills if signed into law by the governor.  Budgetary and emergency legislation would be exempt from citizen vetoes under Dockery’s Senate Joint Resolution 1490 and Steinberg’s House Joint Resolution 1231. If passed by the state legislature, the legislation would be put forth to the voters in 2012 in the form of a constitutional amendment, which would need 60% + 1 approval for passage.

The popular referendum–which dates to the early 1900s in several states–allows a person or group to file a petition to have a public vote on a bill that the legislature has already approved. Every one of the two dozen states that permit the initiative process also allows citizens to propose popular referendums, except for Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi. The popular referendum, which has been used with more frequency in the past decade, is effectively a public veto of a law. Proponents may qualify popular referendums for the ballot by collecting a certain percentage of signatures in a set amount of time following the passage of the legislation in question. It’s the quintessential “gun behind the door” that allows citizens to keep their elected officials in check.

Despite the popular support for direct democracy in Florida, the political environment at this moment is not very conducive for the state legislature to devolve power to citizens.

I have a 2008 article, “Delegating Direct Democracy: Interparty Legislative Competition and the Adoption of the Initiative in the American States,” that was published in the American Political Science Review with my graduate student, Dustin Fridkin, that investigates the widespread adoption of direct democracy–specifically the citizen initiative–during the early 20th century.  It is available here for download.

From the abstract:

Between 1898 and 1918, voters in 20 American states adopted constitutional amendments granting citizens the power of the initiative. The embrace of direct democracy by voters invites inquiry into why some state legislatures opted to delegate to citizens the power of the initiative, while others did not. Drawing on an original data set, this article uses Event History Analysis hazard models to explain the puzzle of why legislatures might devolve institutional power to citizens. Our longitudinal, macrolevel analysis of socioeconomic and political forces reveals that political considerations—interparty legislative competition, party organizational strength, and third parties—are the most powerful predictors of a legislature’s decision to refer the initiative to the ballot. Although several of our findings comport with the conventional wisdom explaining the adoption of the initiative during the Progressive Era, others are surprising, offering us new theoretical insights into why and when legislative bodies might be willing to divest themselves of their institutional power.

Absent interparty legislative competition in Florida (Republicans are dominant) and the utter lack of third parties in the state, I don’t think the time is ripe for the legislature to place a popular referendum on the ballot. This is unfortunate, as the citizen’s veto–as the popular referendum is often called–has proven to be an effective tool for citizens to use to keep their unrepresentative legislature in check and more responsive to the people.

Doubtful.

But State Senator, Republican Paula Dockery, along with Democratic Representative Richard Steinberg, have filed companion bills that would permit citizens to “veto” certain bills if signed into law by the governor.  Budgetary and emergency legislation would be exempt from citizen vetoes under Dockery’s Senate Joint Resolution 1490 and Steinberg’s House Joint Resolution 1231.

“Constituents reach out to me on a daily basis expressing frustration with the maze that is the legislative process,” Dockery said in a statement released today. “In this political climate, the bulk of the power is held by wealthy special interests. This joint resolution would place that power where it rightly belongs: into the hands of the citizens.”

“Like many states, Florida should afford its citizens the opportunity to reject legislation that they deem detrimental to the state,” Steinberg added.  “In a democracy, it is the citizens who should have the final word on whether to accept or reject a law.”

The popular referendum–which dates to the early 1900s in several states–allows a person or group to file a petition to have a public vote on a bill that the legislature has already approved. Every one of the two dozen states that permit the initiative process also allows citizens to propose popular referendums, except for Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi. The popular referendum, which has been used with more frequency in the past decade, is effectively a public veto of a law. Proponents may qualify popular referendums for the ballot by collecting a certain percentage of signatures in a set amount of time following the passage of the legislation in question. It’s the quintessential “gun behind the door” that allows citizens to keep their elected officials in check.

Most recently, Ohio voters in the November 2011 election used the popular referendum to overturn Senate Bill 5, which repealed the anti-public sector legislation signed into law by Governor Kasich.

The Dockery legislation is available here.

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