Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sanders, End Game, and Election Reform

I don't mind being redundant if I have to be. Some points can't get made enough.

As we close in on end game of the Democratic nomination process late on DC primary day, Bernie Sanders spend a chunk of the day in The District on The Hill talking to colleagues. And he came out of the meetings moving in the right direction, and talking about process reform. Article 1:
"We need major, major changes in the Democratic Party in converting it to a party of the people — welcoming working people and welcoming young people," Sanders said. 
"And we need an electoral process which is worthy of the Democrats."
He called for same-day voter registration, an increase in staffing at precincts, a guarantee of open primaries and an end to the party's use of superdelegates. 
The first two electoral reforms would likely be easy sells — the party has no direct control over either, so its platform planks would only serve as a statement in support of those policies. But the other two will be more difficult, as they cede power from both the party establishment and its voters.
The Vermont senator called for replacing Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, enabling open primaries so non-registered Democrats can vote, and better staffing to prevent long lines and difficulty being able to vote. Sanders pointed to Arizona, where both Democratic and Republican officials denounced the long lines and fewer polling stations available in the March 22 primary. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won that contest.

"How many people simply gave up their right to vote — gave up their right to vote and walked away," Sanders said. "We are taking for granted that in California it will take weeks for votes to be counted and I'm not sure the votes have yet been counted in Puerto Rico."
Most of these things are good ideas. Some are easier to achieve than others. Team Bernie needs to come away with some sort of immediate victory and Debbie has GOT to go before the convention. Having Wasserman Schultz wield the gavel would be rubbing their noses in it. Superdelegates will of course need to be in the discussion. Those are things the Democrats can deal with all on their own.

I grew up with election day registration in Wisconsin, was overjoyed to get it in Iowa in 2008, and would love to see it implemented nationally. That'll require a federal election bill, which won't happen before this fall. And unless the Hillary landslide over Trump crests into a wave, it'll require getting a bill through a Republican House, because I'm not even sure with the gerrymandering if there are 218 winnable Democratic districts.

And a GOP House would mean tradeoffs. What if the cost of election day registration (and nationwide early voting, an issue Sanders may not have mentioned) is... photo ID?

The last major federal election bill was the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) act of 2002. It was grabbed off the shelf late in the session, and it was drafted by people who didn't know election administration. So it has had a lot of unintended consequences.

Which is what worries me about "better staffing to prevent long lines." Obviously the Arizona primary was inexcusable. But if a federal election bill gets into the deep deep weeds of pollworker and resource allocation, they'd better talk to some election professionals and choose the right metrics...

...and registered voters is not the right metric. Take last week's primary. We has seven voters in Iowa City Precinct 5, which on paper had 1293 registered voters. Almost all of them live in dorms that were empty for summer break. If you have a federal election law that allocates workers based on registration, you could easily have more workers than voters, at considerable taxpayer expense.

Also note that no election varies more in turnout than a primary. Two years ago we had a very hot Republican Senate primary; this year Iowa City and Coralville Republicans got a nearly blank ballot.  That had an effect, to say the least, on turnout.

Not to belittle the problem. But it's very, very hard to craft a one size fits all formula that both avoids an Arizona like crisis yet doesn't create the spectacle of 20 workers playing cards waiting for the third voter of the day.

Some of this stuff won't get fixed with a federal law. Most election law is state law, and each state has long standing traditions and cross pressures especially when it comes to primaries. Open primaries aren't one fight - it's 50 fights in 50 state capitals.

Open primaries are also up against a tough cross-pressure. State election law tends to affect both parties... and many anti-Trump Republicans want CLOSED primaries.

So there's some good ideas here, but it's not something a national committee can deliver on short notice.

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