The article originally appeared on ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
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How Voter-Fraud Hysteria and Partisan Bickering Ate American Election Oversight
The federal Election Assistance Commission has neglected key responsibilities or ceded them to other agencies — and two of its four commissioners are parroting the president’s unfounded warnings about vote by mail. Read the story.
Voting During a Pandemic
An Alabama poll worker who worked during last week’s runoff has been hospitalized with COVID-19; the state did not require voters to wear masks to vote. At least three poll workers in Texas’ McLennan County tested positive for coronavirus after working the polls; one is hospitalized. One worker estimated between 10 and 15% of voters weren’t wearing masks; the state exempted polling places from its mask mandate. (WBRC, Waco Tribune-Herald)
The Kansas secretary of state said voters won’t be turned away for not wearing a mask to the polls during the state primary. The governors of Michigan and Tennessee said masks would be encouraged, but not required, to vote in upcoming elections. (Kansas.com, Detroit Free Press, Knoxville News Sentinel)
During Geogia’s prrimary, the majority of the polling places that stayed open late were in majority non-white communities. (GPB News)
The current housing crisis and a coming wave of evictions could disrupt access to the ballot; displaced voters will have to register to vote at their new address. (Fast Company)
Preparing for In-Person Voting in the Fall
Poll worker shortages are a problem across the country; officials in Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Tennessee have recently sounded the alarm. (NBC Connecticut, WLKY, WXYZ, KSTP, WKNO)
The Nevada secretary of state says she doesn’t have the funds to run an all-mail election in the fall, and plans to return to in-person voting. (Las Vegas Review Journal)
North Carolina’s top elections official issued an order requiring a minimum number of early voting sites across the state. The order also says poll workers will have to wear masks, but voters won’t. (Associated Press)
Maryland election officials and advocates are critical of the governor’s plan for the general election to be held primarily in-person; the Baltimore election director called it a “setup for failure.” The governor said the plan offers flexibility to voters, and blamed the debate on “partisan politics.” (Baltimore Sun)
With limited access to mail voting, Mississippi will rely heavily on in-person voting. Legislators went against the secretary of state’s proposal to expand mail voting, and also decided against giving election workers hazard pay. (Clarion Ledger)
The pandemic could dampen college student turnout in California this fall. (KQED)
Because of the pandemic, more than 300,000 immigrants may not become citizens in time to vote, including 5,000 in Arizona. (The Arizona Republic)
Vote by Mail News
At least 76% of U.S. voters will be eligible to cast a mail ballot in the fall, according to a new analysis. (The Washington Post)
Per a Pew survey, about two-thirds of Americans believe voters should be able to vote absentee or early without a documented excuse. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 49% of Americans think mail voting is susceptible to fraud. (Pew Research, ABC News)
The Brookings Institution rated each state on its current vote by mail systems; only six states and the District of Columbia received an A rating. (Brookings)
The Iowa secretary of state will send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters for the general election. (CBS2 Iowa)
The Tennessee secretary of state said he opposes drop boxes for absentee ballots, claiming they posed a security issue. (AP)
The governor of West Virginia said that widespread vote by mail would be unlikely in the fall. (WV Metro News)
The D.C. Board of Elections agreed to send all registered voters a mail ballot ahead of the November election. (DCist)
President Donald Trump continued his unfounded attacks on mail voting, and worried Republican officials are reportedly asking his campaign to convince him to change his tune. (CNN)
Mail Voting Problems
Five Senate Democrats wrote a letter to the postmaster general asking him to explain the USPS’ plan to manage a huge increase in mail ballots. (Vox)
New York’s potentially high mail ballot rejection rate during the primary doesn’t bode well for the fall. Three weeks after the primary votes were still being counted, with no running count of vote totals. (The Intercept, Vice News, The New York Times)
New York City passed legislation in 2016 to create an online tracking system for absentee ballots, but the board of elections never implemented it. (Gotham Gazette)
A caveat in Tennessee’s voting law could prevent those who live in nursing homes and long-term care homes from voting absentee. (The Tennessean, ABC10)
Alaska Republicans sent out 22,000 absentee ballot applications with incorrect information prefilled on the forms. (Anchorage Daily News)
Vote by mail is worsening partisan rifts among officials in Michigan. (MLive)
Facebook said it would label posts from all presidential candidates about mail voting, regardless of whether the posts contain misinformation. (Axios)
Election Law News
Alabama: Voters won’t need an excuse to vote absentee in the fall, though they will need to provide ID and witness signatures. (WHNT, Sam Levine)
Georgia: State agencies have done little to clarify rules about voting eligibility for ex-felons who haven’t paid all their fines. If they don’t get the necessary paperwork in order to register to vote or cast a ballot, they risk prosecution. (WABE)
Idaho: The county clerk from the state’s most populous county wants the legislature to hold a special session to consider election legislation before the fall. (KTVB)
Kentucky: The secretary of state is working on cleaning up the voter rolls to remove deceased and nonresident voters. (WTVQ)
Michigan: Lawmakers aim to hold an urgent hearing on legislation that would allow clerks to start processing ballots before Election Day. (WILX)
Mississippi: The governor signed a bill that allows voters to cast an absentee ballot if a doctor asked them to quarantine or if they’re caring for someone under quarantine. (Daily Journal)
New York: Legislators reached a deal on automatic voter registration. (NY1)
Rhode Island: Lawmakers passed a bill that asks the secretary of state to send all qualified voters a mail ballot in the fall and waive mail ballot witness requirements. (Providence Journal)
The Latest From The Courts
Alabama: A federal appeals court upheld the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it is not racially discriminatory. (AP)
Alaska: Advocacy groups sued over the decision to send out absentee ballots to registered voters over age 65, excluding younger voters. (SitNews)
Arkansas: In a lawsuit over absentee voting, a circuit judge gave plaintiffs a week to prove they’d be harmed by the state’s mail voting practices. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
Florida: Parties reached a settlement over the state’s mail voting procedures. In another case, a judge refused to issue an injunction to order Miami to open more early voting sites. (Tampa Bay Times, CBSMiami)
Maine: Visually impaired voters sued the state over the accessibility of absentee ballots. (Maine Public Radio)
Michigan: An appeals court upheld the state’s identification rules for registering to vote. The ACLU sued Flint over how the city is processing absentee ballot applications. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio)
New York: Candidates and voters filed a lawsuit after the state threw out thousands of ballots due to postmark problems. (Gothamist/WNYC)
North Carolina: A prosecutor doubled charges against a Black North Carolina woman who voted while on probation in 2016 and says she didn’t know she was ineligible. (The Guardian)
Tennessee: A judge upheld the state’s vote by mail laws for the state primary, but said he would consider whether to block them for the general election. A lawsuit was filed to enfranchise felons who were convicted in another state. (AP, AP)
Texas: In a lawsuit, civil rights groups asked the state to change in-person voting to protect voters’ health and prevent disenfranchisement. (Texas Tribune)
National: The Supreme Court’s recent decisions not to intervene in voting rights cases have concerned some experts. Nationwide, at least 151 election lawsuits have been filed through July 15. (The New York Times, USA Today)
Election News From Washington
Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis passed away at age 80 last week. After his death, House Democrats plan to reveal new voting legislation that would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act, one of Lewis’ legacies. (The New York Times, The Hill)
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing on elections yesterday as senators consider whether to provide states more funding for the general election. (CourtHouse News)
President Trump wouldn’t say if he’ll accept this year’s election results, falsely claiming the mail voting will “rig” the election. His comment alarmed experts, who warned of a potential post-election crisis. (The Washington Post, CNN)
“What the president is doing is willfully and wantonly undermining confidence in the most basic democratic process we have,” William A. Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, told the Post. (The Washington Post)
Matt Masterson, a senior adviser at DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, warned that some city and county election officials have “been sharing passwords over email or default passwords are being used.” (State Scoop)
More than 30 states have asked the National Guard to provide cybersecurity help for the election. (WVIK)
This article originally appeared on ProPublica.org, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Kentucky and New York held presidential primaries last week with elections also taking place in Massachusetts, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
Kentucky was in the spotlight due to a reduction of polling places; a judge ruled against opening additional sites in the state’s most populous counties. There were long lines reported in Lexington. (Courier-Journal, WAVE)
In Jefferson County, Kentucky there were shuttle buses to the one polling site, a convention center, and Lyft also offered free rides. (WLKY)
About 85% of Kentucky voters cast a mail ballot; only 15% voted in person. (WHAS11)
“Us standing in line for two hours is nothing compared to people who got shot and killed, dogs turned on them, hoses turned on them to vote,” a Kentucky voter said. “So, my two hours in line, even though I got a bad ankle, I’m gonna do it. Because what else are you gonna do?” (WFPL)
A Kentucky voter had to convince officials that her dog literally ate her mail ballot in order for her to vote in person. (Kentucky.com)
In Kentucky, this election was the first time former felons could vote since the law changed late last year. (WFPL, Lex18)
At Jefferson County’s polling site, poll workers cheered when first-time voters checked in. (John Boyle)
In New York, some voters didn’t receive their mail ballots as the state received a large number of requests. More than 1.7 million voters requested ballots, a tenfold increase over 2016. (Gothamist, The New York Times)
In New York City, some voters were given only one of two pages of ballots , and there were other poll-related problems. Some polling sites opened late because of COVID-related subway closures. New York City’s Public Advocate called on the Board of Elections to make changes before November. (The City, Gothamist, AMNY)
During the Pennsylvania primary, most Democrats voted by mail while most Republicans voted in person. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
More than 1.46 million Democrats are registered to vote by mail in Florida in November, compared to 1.16 million Republicans. (Politico)
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that only 41% of Iowan voters say they are likely to vote by mail in the fall. Democrats were nearly twice as likely to say they’d vote by mail as Republicans. (Des Moines Register)
Close to 7,000 Nevada primary ballots weren’t counted because of signature match problems. (Associated Press)
Ahead of Louisiana’s July primary, there’s already been an uptick in mail ballot requests from senior citizens. (The Advocate)
A left-leaning donor group announced a $59 million effort to support vote by mail. (Associated Press)
President Donald Trump made more false claims about mail voting this week, alleging without evidence that foreign powers would print fake mail ballots. This is a theory originally floated by Attorney General William Barr and has been widely disputed by experts. Asked by a reporter to give examples on vote by mail fraud, the president gave an example that is not actually fraud. (Politico, The Guardian, Seth Masket)
This week, former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, a Republican, said that discouraging vote by mail could hurt GOP candidates. (The Hill)
Ongoing Coronavirus Impacts
A nonprofit group called the Voter Protection Corps released a report on how to protect in-person voting, which some say is getting overlooked in the discussion of ramping up mail voting. (Boston.com)
Poll workers, voters, election board members and election observers testified before the Georgia legislature on the problems they faced during the chaotic primary. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Part of this year’s poll worker recruitment problem involves workers cancelling at the last minute over health concerns. (USA Today)
Kansas City will give city employees paid days off to work the polls during Missouri’s upcoming elections. (Kansas City Star)
After Georgia’s primary, a temporary Dekalb County elections employee tested positive for COVID-19. (The Champion)
A Philadelphia poll watcher tested positive for coronavirus less than 2 weeks after the election, but voters and election workers won’t be notified. (Penn Live)
A Brennan Center for Justice study found that a reduction in polling places and fear of the pandemic affected primary turnout among Milwaukee voters. (Madison 365)
Voting Legislation News
California: The governor signed legislation to require election officials to send a mail ballot to every registered voter in November. State lawmakers approved a ballot measure that will allow Californias to decide whether to restore voting rights to those on parole. (Associated Press, Sacramento Bee)
Delaware: The state House of Representatives passed legislation that would expand vote by mail for the general election. (WDEL)
Georgia: A bill advanced in the House of Representatives that would prevent election officials from sending vote by mail applications to voters. (GPB News)
Pennsylvania: Legislators are considering a bill to allow officials to start counting ballots before Election Day. The governor signed legislation to require the Department of State to publish a report on the primary and identify problems ahead of November. (Penn Live, PA.gov)
New Mexico: The legislature approved a bill that would allow clerks to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, but not automatically send ballots themselves. (Santa Fe New Mexican)
South Carolina: The House of Representatives decided not to expand voting options for the general election, which may lead to lawsuits. (Post & Courier)
National: A Republican senator blocked legislation to expand early voting and the amount of time for mail ballots to be counted. (The Hill)
The Latest Election Lawsuits
Arkansas: Voters filed a lawsuit demanding no-excuse absentee voting during the general election. (Arkansas Times)
Connecticut: A group of Republicans filed a lawsuit claiming the secretary of state’s plan for expanding absentee voting is unconstitutional. (Fox 61)
Florida: The governor asked the court of appeals to put a hold on a ruling that lets felons vote. Meanwhile, a federal judge denied requests for injunctions to expand mail voting, and said that requiring postage for mail ballots is not a poll tax. (Tampa Bay Times, News Service of Florida)
Kansas: The ACLU sued the secretary of state asking to disclose the names of voters who voted by provisional ballot in 2018. (AP)
Louisiana: A judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the secretary of state’s emergency voting plan. (AP)
Minnesota: The secretary of state said absentee ballot witness requirements will be waived for the August primary; two judges recently ruled differently on the issue. (Star Tribune)
Missouri: The state Supreme Court sent a case over expanding vote by mail back to a circuit court. (Missourinet)
Pennsylvania: Citing problems during the primary, the NAACP sued the state demanding a variety of changes for the general election, ranging from more polling places to sending mail ballots to all voters. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Tennessee: The state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t block a ruling to allow for the expansion of vote by mail ahead of the state’s August primary. (AP)
Wisconsin: A progressive group filed a lawsuit over voter ID requirements for college students; two other lawsuits are languishing in the courts. (Wisconsin Watch)
The latest lawsuits, cybersecurity issues, and vote by mail.
This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections.
The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse — Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?
Postal delays and mistakes have marred primary voting, and after years of budget cuts and plant closures, mail delivery has slowed so much that ballot deadlines in many states are no longer realistic. Read the story.
Georgia Election Aftermath
The secretary of state announced proposals to prevent a repeat of the chaotic June 9 primary, but said the state would not send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the fall like it did for the primary. One new measure would assign a technician to each polling place to offer technical support. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, GPB News)
The state extended the amount of time voters have to correct signature problems on mail ballots, giving them three business days from the time they’re notified. (CNN)
Voter turnout tripled compared to the 2016 primary. (NBC News)
In the wake of the election, celebrity chef José Andrés said he’d give food and water to voters waiting in long lines in November, and basketball star LeBron James teamed up with other athletes and entertainers to start a voting rights group. (Fox 5, The New York Times)
An NAACP-organized protest convened hundreds who marched in Atlanta to demand criminal justice and voting reforms. (GPB News)
The Latest on Vote by Mail
Michigan voters can now request an absentee ballot online. Last week, a group of Trump supporters burned absentee ballot applications during a protest. (MLive, The Detroit News)
Hawaii, which has a robust vote by mail system, is holding its first all-mail election in August, with “voting service centers” in lieu of traditional polling places. (Hawaii News Now)
Almost half a million New York City voters requested absentee ballots ahead of the June primary, but some haven’t received their ballots yet. (Gothamist)
The Wisconsin Elections Commission agreed to send absentee ballot request forms to most registered voters ahead of November 3. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
The District of Columbia will send all registered voters a mail ballot in the fall. (DCist)
Because of the delays in counting mail ballots, experts warn it’s unlikely we’ll know the result of the presidential election on election night. (NPR)
Coronavirus Impact Continues
Jefferson County, home to Louisville, has a single polling site open for early voting and on Election Day next week — an exposition center. “I think it’s going to work,” the county clerk said. “And maybe I’ll just have to eat my words, but we’ll see.” Meanwhile, a pending lawsuit calls for more polling locations. (WLKY)
The government of Kentucky is supplying masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and gloves to all 120 counties for poll workers to use during the primary. (Paintsville Herald)
After months of requests from election supervisors, Florida’s governor issued an emergency order giving them some flexibility to address pandemic-related problems in holding elections in August and November. (Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald)
Alaska will hold two statewide elections and one round of local elections in the coming months, but it also has an acute shortage of poll workers. In Anchorage, 95% of the municipality’s regular election workers decided not to participate this year. (Anchorage Daily News)
Minnesota is facing a poll worker shortage ahead of elections in August and November. (Mankato Free Press)
Several North Dakota election officials quit while counting ballots because some workers refused to wear masks. (Valley News Live)
The Brennan Center published a state-by-state resource guide on how elections will work during the pandemic. (Brennan Center)
The National Guard will assist with election cybersecurity assistance during the general election. The West Virginia Guard recently helped with cybersecurity protection during this month’s primary. (Bank Info Security, DVIDS)
A pilot program run by the Election Assistance Commission and the Center for Internet Security will scrutinize epollbook security, though it likely won’t issue a report until after the November election. (The Washington Post)
The Latest Lawsuits
Alabama: A judge lifted certain absentee and curbside voting restrictions during next month’s runoff election. (AL.com)
California: A district court judge temporarily halted the governor’s executive order on the number of in-person voting centers must be set up in each county. (CalMatters)
Florida: A federal judge denied the state’s motion for a stay on his order on felon voting rights. (Tampa Bay Times)
Minnesota: In settling two lawsuits, the state will not require a witness signature on absentee ballots for the August state primary, but the rule doesn’t apply to the general election. (Star Tribune)
Tennessee: A judge threatened to hold the state in contempt for not adhering to her order to allow mail-in voting for voters concerned about getting sick. (Newsweek)
Texas: The Texas Democratic Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the case to expand vote by mail. (Texas Tribune)
Voting Legislation Updates
Illinois: The governor signed election bills this week that make Election Day a state holiday and require election officials to send absentee ballot applications to those who voted in recent elections. (Block Club Chicago)
Iowa: The legislature concluded its session and passed a budget bill that included language requiring voter ID for early voting. It also passed a bill to limit the secretary of state’s emergency powers. Meanwhile, legislators killed an amendment to enfranchise felons, but the governor promised to sign an executive order to enfranchise felons by the fall. (Des Moines Register, Radio Iowa, KCRG)
Massachusetts: The state Senate approved legislation to expand early voting and vote by mail, including sending an absentee ballot application to every voter. (Mass Live)
North Carolina: The governor signed legislation to expand vote by mail, fund public health measures for in-person voting and mail-in ballots will now require one witness signature instead of two. (News & Observer)
Ohio: Democrats in the state legislature came out against a bill stripped of amendments like allowing online absentee applications and more than one polling location per county. Meanwhile, the secretary of state says Ohio will send an absentee ballot application to all registered voters ahead of the general election. (Columbus Dispatch, Reuters)
Election News Grab Bag
Facebook will launch a “Voting Information Center” and aims to register 4 million voters before the general election. (The Wall Street Journal)
An effort coordinated by the Republican National Committee seeks 50,000 people to act as poll watchers during the general election. In some states, poll watchers can challenge a voter’s eligibility. (NBC News)
The influential Trump lawyer on the frontlines to limit who can vote this year was one of the lawyers involved in the Shelby County v. Holder landmark case that rolled back parts of the Voting Rights Act. (The New York Times)
The Southern Poverty Law Center will disburse $30 million in grants to nonprofits in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi to help mobilize voters of color. (NPR)
Trans and nonbinary voters face barriers to voting in states that require photo ID. (The Guardian)
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Marissa Pittman, right, is a 17-year-old senior at White Station High School who won the National Civil Rights Museum’s student Freedom Award for her work in educating young women of color about politics and running for office.
This article was originally published on Chalkbeat
Marissa Pittman wants to see more politicians at career fairs. As a high school senior in Memphis, she can’t remember a time when politics was discussed in a way that encouraged young people to get involved.
“They always talk about being a doctor or an engineer and that’s it,” said Pittman, 17, a student at White Station High School. “This is about shifting the narrative.”
She started an organization called Pumps and Politics 901 to encourage young women of color to run for office and get involved in every level of the political process.
Her work earned her the Keeper of the Dream Award from the National Civil Rights Museum this week. The museum’s highest honor for students comes with $500, a trophy, a one-year family museum membership and two tickets to anywhere Southwest Airlines flies in the continental United States.
Pittman wants to reach young women ages 15 to 24 but for now, mostly focuses on high school students. She helped lead a student walkout at her school last year, part of a nationwide movement to call for gun reform and reduce school shootings. The event turned into a community fair of sorts with nonprofit groups presenting advocacy issues relevant to students.
“I did that so students would have the opportunity to channel their anger somewhere else instead of keeping it inside,” Pittman told Chalkbeat. “It’s all about building connections and empowering the community and that’s what I tried to center the walkout on and have youth voice.”
Chalkbeat sat down with Pittman after the museum’s award ceremony and student forum. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What got you interested in politics?
Honestly, I can’t remember. But I’m going to attribute it to all the times I watched political shows and political stations like CNN and just listening to my parents talk with their friends about things going on in the community and their perspectives. I’m the oldest of three girls so I was nosy. I just hear about these things and I want to know.
PHOTO: Shelby County SchoolsMarissa Pittman
When you look at who is not represented equitably in politics, I realized the lack of diversity there. From there, I started looking at the city council website, the state legislature website and looking at local politicians from Memphis and I realized there was something wrong. There were few females of color in office.
What sparked the idea for Pumps and Politics?
I was really involved in Let’s Innovate Through Education (LITE), a student entrepreneurship program, my freshman year. They gave me some funding to try to solve a problem in my community. I started thinking about things that make me angry and the lack of political representation came up again.
I was at a student body meeting at White Station High School and I was the only female person of color. And White Station is supposed to be a microcosm of the city. If this was happening here, what’s happening everywhere else?
What kind of events do you do? What does the training look like?
The first event that I held was at City Hall and was sponsored by Councilwoman Patrice Robinson and my mentor state Rep. London Lamar was also present and now-state Sen. Katrina Robinson was present too. And we talked about the barriers and disparities that come up when people try to run for office.
From there it shifted to be more of a social media campaign because when people see politics and event it kind of scares them off. I realized that in order to make a difference you need to make it to where people can understand politics. So, now I’m working on a workbook for young women who want to run for office including information on mental health, advice about branding, making alliances, partnerships, and endorsements. Those are the “hidden rules” of getting into the political realm and changing the culture to where people think, “Oh, I could be a politician too.”
I look at national organizations and see what they’re doing and I’m trying to mimic that but also change it to where it’s impactful and not too time-consuming for people. I may still do events like an overnight training camp with the workbook and lectures from different female politicians too.
Were you learning any of this in school?
No. Well, not until 12th grade but I think that’s too late. I take AP Government and that’s really the only time you can take a government class. We’re being affected by government and policies as soon as we’re born. We talk about social studies in elementary and middle school but that’s not really in-depth. The most we hear about politics is during presidential election years for like 20 minutes. Any time anybody talked about politicians it was always negatively. You never hear about them doing great things like securing funding for a local project. I want students to know what the job of a politician entails. People always push engineers, but they don’t always push getting politically involved. I think that’s a big problem and could lead to lower voter turnout levels later on in life because people don’t really have the opportunity to learn.
“People always push engineers, but they don’t always push getting politically involved.”Marissa Pittman
What do you think schools should do to encourage students to make their voices heard?
Having discussions about political systems and integrating social studies into other subjects. Politics touches everything. Inviting politicians to career fairs, inviting nonprofit leaders and neighborhood organizers. Having those avenues available for students to explore. I think it’s about access, honestly.
Also creating space for students to express their political views is important — as long as they’re not hateful. At White Station, our principal does a very good job of that, but that’s not at every school. We have a political action club that just started.
Even at a “dress for success” event saying it’s not just for interviews but if you want to lead a political campaign, this is how you dress up or something like that. Little things add up and plant seeds in young people’s minds.
PHOTO: Shelby County SchoolsMarissa Pittman, far right, with other student winners (in front) and the National Civil Rights Museum’s honorees for Freedom Award (in back from left) Hafsat Abiola, Gloria Steinem, and John Legend.
Are there any education issues you’re rallying or organizing around?
Well, I don’t like vouchers. When we talk about Tennessee education, that’s something that always comes up because it’s going to be implemented in Memphis and Nashville. All the representatives in those two cities didn’t want it.
And the City of Memphis doesn’t give a dime to Shelby County Schools as far as public education and that angers me a lot. County commissioner Tami Sawyer’s mayoral campaign talked about that a lot and it wasn’t something I thought a lot about. That’s the great thing about having more women in the political process. They will bring things that you don’t really think about.
In state politics, voter suppression is something I’m really trying to figure out how I want to make an impact in next, especially going into college.
Will we see your name on a ballot soon?
Maybe! I don’t know. I think before I do the work, there’s so much that needs to be done to dismantle broken things in politics like voter suppression. I’m more focused on making the ballot box equal for people, especially non-violent felons who have been released. And just making elections more accessible to people. I don’t understand why there’s not early voting in every state.
A lot of people have been telling me that I need to run for school board (She can when she’s 18). I think we need a student representative on the school board and not just a token. The student congress doesn’t do as much as I would like them to see them do. They plan an event once a year, the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) conference, but there are more things that students should have a voice in.
I feel like in a lot of these systems, there’s an exclusion of the youth voice. They think we’re not old enough to have input. But we’re experiencing these things on a daily basis and we know what we’re talking about when it comes to things that teachers do and the quality of education in Shelby County Schools. I feel like we’re left out of that sometimes. They’ll come around with surveys for us to do, but are they really evaluating the surveys? Things like that.
I had a few girls texting me saying they were reading the Mueller report. Even if some girls don’t want to go into politics, I want them to be inspired. We may not be able to run for office right now, but we’ve got to get involved.
Nationwide map of 2016 U.S. presidential election results shaded by vote share in each county. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
For the past couple of decades, the question, “Do the Democrats have a religion problem?” has seemed to answer itself. Of course, they do!
The basis for this conventional wisdom is what came to be known in the early 2000s as the God gap. Measured in terms of the preference for Republicans among those who say they attend worship at least once a week, the gap grew from 5 percentage points to 20 between 1990 and 2000. That is to say, by the 2000 election, weekly worshippers (of all spiritual persuasions) were voting for Republican presidential and congressional candidates by a margin of 60% to 40%.
It’s not so easy to say why this happened when it did. President Bill Clinton was a regular churchgoer, a Southern Baptist who believed abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” opposed same-sex marriage and instituted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” LGBT policy in the military. But then there was the Lewinsky scandal and, thanks to serious grassroots politicking by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the coming of age of the religious right.
Democratic presidential candidates participate during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
However it is explained, the 20-point gap persisted in the 2002 midterms, and by 2004 Democrats were beginning to worry. In the keynote address that launched his national career at the Democratic convention that year, Barack Obama famously pointed out that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states.” Which was nothing if not an acknowledgment that the blue states had come to be seen as dominated by the godless.
Obama’s claim notwithstanding, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry didn’t handle religion very well. Albeit a pretty observant Catholic, he was pro-choice and, like most New England politicians, averse to speaking about his faith on the campaign trail.
After Kerry went down to defeat, the party chairmanship fell to Howard Dean, another New England pol with a secular style. But Dean, determined to change the party’s image, recruited a black Pentecostal woman to do religious outreach and rounded up candidates around the country capable of engaging religiously. Lo and behold, in 2006 the Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress, as the gap shrank to 12 points.
Two years later, two books by prominent journalists chronicled the Democrats’ apparent revival: “The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap” by Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan and “Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right” by The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne.
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha attend Easter church service at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2011. Official White House Photo/Pete Souza/Creative Commons
Indeed, the 2008 election cycle saw a lot of religion on the Democratic side. During the primaries, Obama and Hillary Clinton competed in religious outreach. During the general election campaign, the prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren conducted high-profile interviews of Obama and GOP nominee John McCain. But religion proved to be more of a burden than a balm for Obama as president, and in 2012, it more or less disappeared from his presidential campaign.
At the presidential level, none of this mattered. Regardless of the degree of attentiveness to religion by the Democratic nominee, the 20-point God gap persisted.
Here it’s important to recognize that the gap is mostly about white Christians — Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals, Greek Orthodox and Mormons. Among non-Christians, only Orthodox Jews go Republican. Among people of color the only group that doesn’t vote strongly Democratic are Latino evangelicals, who divide equally between Democrats and Republicans.
The gap is also more about frequently attending men than frequently attending women. The former vote strongly Republican; the latter have tended to be closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.
And then there are the nones, who since 1990 have risen from under 10% to a quarter of the U.S. population. They make up a large portion of what can be called the godless gap — the portion of the electorate that says it goes to worship infrequently if at all, and that votes strongly Democratic.
I suspect that one of the reasons we’re not hearing much from Democratic operatives about dealing with the God gap in this election cycle is because they think it matters less and less. Sure, frequent attenders continue to vote Republican, but there are fewer and fewer of them — and more and more nones.
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Consider what’s happened to the prime antagonists in the culture wars, white evangelicals and nones, in the crucial swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to PRRI’s American Values Atlas, as of 2014 white evangelicals in Pennsylvania were at 18% and nones were at 19%. In 2018 white evangelicals had dropped to 17% and nones had risen to 23% — for a 6-point swing. Comparable swings took place in the other states as well: 7 points in Ohio, 5 points in Michigan, 5 points in Wisconsin and 6 points in Minnesota.
So why bother with religious outreach?
For one thing, white evangelicals punch above their weight when it comes to voting, and nones punch below theirs. For another, there’s a real opportunity to pick up votes among women who are frequent churchgoers.
The gender gap — women’s proclivity to vote Democratic — tied its high-water mark of 11 percentage points in the last presidential election, and in last year’s congressional races reached an all-time high of 19 points. At the moment, while men are disapproving of President Donald Trump’s job performance by a few percentage points, women are disapproving by close to 20.
If I were advising the Democrats on how to deal with the God gap, I’d say attack the hard-line anti-abortion laws being passed around the country while embracing the old Clintonian “safe, legal and rare” mantra. I’d emphasize the Trump administration’s assault on the Affordable Care Act, up to and including its facilitation of exemptions from the contraception mandate.
And I’d say do something else: Make the climate crisis the pro-life issue of our era. It’s about our children’s lives, and the lives of their children, and all the children who will ever live on Earth. With time running out and a president who has set his face against even acknowledging its existence, it is the political imperative of the moment.
It is also the spiritual challenge of our time. If the Democrats can’t manage to take it up, they really do have a religion problem.
A lawsuit over a Mississippi election law, if successful, will change the way that state elects its governor.
Four African Americans filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2019, charging that the way their state elects its statewide officials violates the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment and the principle of “one-person, one-vote.”
To win election, a candidate for governor of Mississippi has to win an outright majority of the popular vote – and win a majority of the state’s 122 House districts.
Today, Mississippi is one of only two states where the winner of the popular vote does not automatically become governor. Vermont is the other. In the 19th century, however, many states had such laws.
The damage that these laws did to democratic legitimacy and political stability in the 1870s, ‘80s and ’90s was not conjecture. These laws were intended to entrench the rule of the party in power.
This November, Mississippi is preparing for its first close gubernatorial election since 1999. The election law that is the focus of the lawsuit could decide who wins. Its origins and the track record of similar laws in more competitive states bear investigation.
They included the majority vote and state House district provision in the constitution as a backstop to preserve white control of Mississippi. However, voter suppression and a racially polarized electorate have produced few competitive elections in Mississippi, ensuring that the backstop has rarely been necessary.
In the 19th century, many states with similar election laws had much more competitive elections. The bad results these laws produced in close contests demonstrate the worst-case possibilities of Mississippi’s system.
The crowbar governor
These anti-majoritarian laws in governors’ races caused what legal scholar Edward B. Foley termed “a veritable epidemic” of crises during the Gilded Age.
In West Virginia (1888), Rhode Island (1893) and Tennessee (1894), partisan legislatures overruled the voters to install governors in office who had failed to win the most votes.
The 1890 drama in Connecticut provides the worst example of these laws in action.
Democratic candidates running for governor won the most votes in every Connecticut election during the 1880s. But with multiple parties running, they never captured a majority. The legislature, gerrymandered to favor the Republicans, installed their candidates in office 4 out of 5 times, even though they never even won a plurality.
In 1890, the Connecticut legislature was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. That year’s gubernatorial election was thrown to the legislature. Deadlock ensued. In a three-way race, where the Democrat had won nearly 4,000 more votes than his Republican opponent, Republicans in the state Senate refused to seat him.
Though the Democrats held the moral high ground, the Republicans had the election law on their side. With the stalemate, the sitting Republican governor, Morgan G. Bulkeley, who had not even run for re-election, simply stayed in office for two more years.
While Bulkeley’s supporters commended him for stepping in to “hold the fort,” his unelected tenure provoked a crisis of legitimacy that ground state government to a halt.
When the legislature refused to appropriate funds for the state budget, Bulkeley borrowed $300,000 ($8.3 million today) from his family’s company – Aetna Life Insurance – to pay for state operations. Neighboring states refused to acknowledge the legality of arrest warrants he issued. At one point, the Democrats changed the locks on the governor’s office and Bulkeley popped them off with a crowbar.
But Bulkeley’s methods had damaged the Republican Party’s reputation. In the regularly scheduled 1892 election, the Democrat who had won the most votes in 1890, Luzon B. Morris, won an outright majority and became governor.
The hero of Gettysburg
In Maine in 1879, a similar election law came close to provoking a civil war.
The sitting Democratic governor, Alonzo Garcelon, placed a distant third in the election, behind the Republican and Greenback candidates. Because no one won an outright majority, the new legislature, which Republicans expected to control, would decide the winner.
As the incumbent, however, Garcelon had power over certifying the legislative election results. Using every trick in the book, Garcelon’s cronies overturned enough election results to give his allies control of the new legislature.
The state’s supreme court ruled his actions illegal, but Garcelon ignored them and seated his illegitimate legislature, hoping they would vote to re-elect him governor.
Bands of armed Mainers from both sides of the dispute began gathering in the capital. Only the intervention of Civil War hero and former Maine Gov. Joshua Chamberlain averted bloodshed. Chamberlain, head of the state’s militia, refused to take sides. When a group of Garcelon’s supporters pushed into Chamberlain’s office, he opened his shirt and dared them to do what the rebels had failed to at Gettysburg.
The supreme court again ruled that the Republicans had the right to organize the legislature and appoint the governor. For two more weeks Garcelon refused to back down, but when Chamberlain publicly accepted the court’s decision and sided with the Republicans, the crisis came to an end.
If the civil rights lawsuit against the gubernatorial election process succeeds, it will mark a repudiation of Mississippi’s legacy of racial disfranchisement.
If it does not succeed, then Mississippi’s legislature and governor might want to consider the examples of Connecticut in 1890 and Maine in 1879.
Laws that place anti-democratic restrictions on the popular vote have a bad track record in competitive elections. At best they add unnecessary complexity and instability to what should be a simple system.
At worst they undermine the principle of popular rule, damage voters’ faith in democracy and provoke crises of legitimacy.