All posts by Tabatha Abu El-Haj

“Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding”

Looking forward to reading Jake M. Grumbach‘s (Department of Political Science, University of Washington) new book, Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics, which was profiled a few weeks ago on NPR. In the meanwhile, I have been reading the earlier article, Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding. The article uses “a new comprehensive measure of electoral performance”–one that considers a range of factors such as “average polling place wait times, same-day and automatic voter registration policies, and felon disenfranchisement” and then uses “Bayesian modeling to estimate a latent measure of democratic performance.” The conclusion is that between 2000-2018 states have witnessed “democratic backsliding.” What explains this? Here is where the article offers an analysis that supports what many observers have already concluded: “Republican control of state government reduces democratic performance.” And that this not party competition, polarization, demographic change or a range of other factors is the significant driver of the backsliding that is occurring.

There is obviously lots of nuance to the findings, but what I think is most interesting is that this approach potentially offers a starting point for scholars to begin to think about where democracy is working best (including by more ambitious measures such as policy responsiveness) in the United States–and from there to think about what we can do to nudge the rest of the country in that direction.

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Lower courts ruled this week in favor of easier access for voters and parties

BallotAccessNew reports two new cases in the lower courts:

  • A Montana state court has ruled that the Montana Constitution bars the legislature from having repealed election-day registration.
  • U.S. District Court has struck down Arkansas ballot access procedures for new or previously unqualified parties, finding the 3% petition, the early deadline, and the requirement that all signatures be gathered in 90 days too onerous.

More details on their site.

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Rank Choice Voting: A Scaleable Reform?

As more jurisdictions are considering introducing rank choice voting (the issue will be on the ballot in Nevada this fall), Politico offers this long-form essay on Alaska’s experience. Can Alaska “point the way to a more moderate, more nuanced way of doing politics”? Or is rank choice voting a product of Alaska’s uniquely independent culture? Politico spoke to Ivan Moore, “a longtime Alaska pollster who is considered one of the foremost experts on the state’s politics.”

“Number one, that ranked choice voting worked well. Pretty flawless performance by the Alaska Division of Elections.

. . .

[Sarah Palin lost because] Sarah Palin is indeed very unpopular.”

Interestingly, the relationship of a state’s culture to the potential for reform is a longstanding question. Early adopters of vote by mail, early voting, and same-day registration, for example, were often states that already had high turnout. This often led political scientists (and I believed them) to conclude the reforms were not scaleable. But 2020 seems to have proved them wrong.

By way of clarification, even if the Nevada ballot initiative is successful, the earliest the reform could be implemented is 2026. Amendment to the state constitution must be passed in two consecutive cycles. Rank choice voting is on the ballot in nine jurisdictions this fall, but the rest are at the municipal level.

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“Ticket-splitting voters were going extinct. Now they may decide 2022’s biggest races.”

Fascinating new NBC report on polling: “In battleground states from Georgia to New Hampshire to Ohio, a potentially decisive slice of voters tell pollsters they’re supporting a Democrat for one high-profile office and a Republican for another. Nowhere is the dynamic clearer than in Pennsylvania.” Most interesting of all, police unions in Pennsylvania seem to be splitting their endorsements.

“Within the past two weeks, an Oz campaign co-chair was spotted at a Shapiro fundraiser while two major police unions, one representing Philadelphia officers and the other Pennsylvania state troopers, offered endorsements of Oz and Shapiro.”

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“GOP congressional candidate Joe Kent’s ties to white nationalists include interview with Nazi sympathizer”

This headline from CNN says it all. Actually to be fair, Joe Kent has offered various explanations of this interview. But the bottom line appears to be: “The lady doth protest too much.”

“While Kent has tried to shift his campaign rhetoric toward the center – including by removing calls to adjudicate the 2020 election from his website sometime between June and July – his campaign has been bogged down by associations with white nationalists and extremists, whom Kent has repeatedly had to distance himself from.

. . . Kent’s website also features an endorsement from Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers who was censured by the Republican-controlled Arizona senate after she gave a speech to the white nationalist conference calling for public hangings.”

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“Judge upholds Georgia election laws on all counts in voting rights case”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Fair Fights Action has lost its 2018 challenge to Georgia’s election laws after four years. Georgia’s voter registration and absentee ballot practices, while not perfect, the Judge concluded, did not violate either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The judge ruled in favor of Georgia on all counts. The full opinion is embedded in the article.

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“Where Democrats’ Grip on Minority Voters Could Slip in Midterm Elections”

Unfortunately, behind a firewall, the WSJ offers an interesting and nuanced analysis of the likely impact of increased support among voters of color for the Republican Party. The bottom line is turnout next month will be key. As per usual, a low turnout election will benefit Republicans whereas a high turnout election offers the Democratic Party its best chance.

“Black voters are a prime example of the balance between voter turnout and party preference. The median shift toward Mr. Trump in heavily Black neighborhoods was 1.5 percentage points. But Democrats retained overwhelming support among Black voters, winning about 90% of their votes. That suggests that Democrats gained substantially more from higher Black turnout than the party lost in defectors to the GOP.”

The analysis is based on a study of census tracts in which 70% of residents are persons of color. The WSJ compared how those neighborhoods voted in 2020 as compared to 2016. The study– which includes charts if you have access–confirms the consensus that the Republican Party did make inroads with nonwhite voters in 2020. But it offers a nuanced analysis:

“National figures show that U.S. Latino, Asian-American and Black voters backed President Joe Biden in 2020, though by smaller margins than Democrats won four years earlier. At the same time, more of these voters turned out than in 2016, producing a net gain in votes in many places for Democrats.”

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“Trump allies have interviewed nearly 200 election officials to probe for weaknesses”

Jen Fifield at Vote Beat reports on “a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election” in an effort to exploit for vulnerabilities for political gain.

“The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.”

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“Gerrymandering Isn’t Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect”

Nate Cohn for The Upshot offers an intricate analysis of the 2022 congressional maps in historical perspective. Lots of interesting graphs to get to his basic take:

“In reality, Republicans do have a structural edge in the House, but it isn’t anything near insurmountable for the Democrats. By some measures, this is the fairest House map of the last 40 years.”

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Election Law is Local

In recognition of the fact that election laws vary by states, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and All Voting is Local have released 7 state-specific guides for election officials that explain the legal safeguards in place to prevent a poll worker from disrupting the voting process and the actions under the law that election officials can take to prevent or stop a poll worker from interfering in elections. These guides cover the following battleground states: ArizonaFloridaGeorgiaNevadaPennsylvaniaWisconsin, and Ohio. (A comparable guide for Michigan was published in June.)

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“Ginni Thomas claims 2020 election was stolen in meeting with House Jan. 6 committee”

U.S.A. Today reports on Ginni Thomas’ meeting with the January 6 Committee, where she “repeated claims the 2020 election was stolen, despite a lack of evidence.” The New York Times’ take on the hearing is here and the Washington Post’s is here. It adds the following:

“In an opening statement provided to the committee and obtained by The Washington Post, Thomas denied discussing her post-election activities with her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She also denied that her husband has ever discussed his work at the court with her.

“I can guarantee that my husband has never spoken with me about pending cases at the Court. It’s an iron clad rule in our home,” Thomas added. “Let me also add, it is laughable for anyone who knows my husband to think I could influence his jurisprudence – the man is independent and stubborn, with strong character traits of independence and integrity.”

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