Category Archives: Voting & Elections

Melting Pots to Fruitcakes

As fascinating as it was to explore Elections, it’s time for the Collaborative Services’ blog to tackle other topics even though – yes – some politicians are already said to be exploring a presidential run in 2016. (Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we apologize, as the next race will come soon enough!)

Credit: San Diego County News Center

Credit: San Diego County News Center

So, we now elect to move on.  But before we do, we want to thank our contributors who offered their points of view about the election.  We’d like to acknowledge:

Chrissy Faessen, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for Rock the Vote, which has been encouraging young people to register and vote for 21 years now.

Rebekah Hook, a Public Policy Assistant here at Collaborative Services who volunteered as a poll worker in the June primary election.

Jonathan Louth, a Political Scientist and Lecturer at the University of Chester in England who spoke of the merits of compulsory voting in elections.

Scott Tranchemontagne, a representative for the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH who spoke about this community’s great American voting tradition of being the first in the nation to cast their ballots at midnight at the resort.

We’d also like to thank Martin P. Wattenburg, a Professor of Political Science at the University of California Irvine, who responded to a number of our questions regarding an Atlantic article he wrote about making Election Day a holiday.

This year’s election saw the most diverse electorate ever. We celebrate that diversity with this month’s theme for the blog. This month, we will explore how different cultures celebrate the holidays both here and abroad. For instance, are we the only nation that has this thing called “fruitcake?” (Let’s hope so.)

Credit: Navy Pier Chicago

Diversity is something that empowers us as a nation. By mid-century, we will be a majority-minority nation, meaning that the combinations of different minorities – Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans – will surpass the white population.

So, although we are electing to move on from the election, we are electing to enjoy the diversity of our nation. We hope that you enjoy.

Happy holidays. May they be merry and bright where ever you may be.

Catherine Smith, President
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Changing Demographics

This month, the Collaborative Services blog has been writing about elections — and arguably the biggest story of this year’s election cycle is the impact of the nation’s changing demographics.

Here’s an interesting statistic for people wondering who our elected officials might be two decades from now:

For the first time in our nation’s history, more non-white babies than white babies were born in the U.S. in 2011. Not only does this increase our likelihood that our future leaders will be more diverse, it also means leaders need to be ready to greet a diverse voting population when these babies turn 18.

Credit: West Orlando News Online

The 2012 presidential election showed just how diverse our voting population has become.  And that fact is motivating today’s political parties to make similar adjustments to the countless businesses who have discovered it pays to court America’s increasingly diverse population.

Credit: examiner.com

The trends are undeniable in a country where citizens were able to vote this year in 68 different languages. Non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate this year. In the 2008 presidential election, that number was 20 percent.

White males, by contrast, made up just 34 percent of this year’s electorate. That’s down significantly from the 46 percent in 1972.

“The new electorate is a lagging indicator of the next America,” Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center says here. “We are mid-passage in a century-long journey from the middle of the last century, when we were nearly a 90 percent white nation, to the middle of this coming century, when we will be a majority-minority nation.”

Eight U.S. metropolitan areas – including San Diego – have already reached the point where the number of non-white voters outnumbers the number of white voters, a trend that has created a new term: “majority-minority status”.

In some ways, politicians are just now discovering what businesses such as IBM have already learned.

IBM, for instance, is reaping the rewards for its decision to reach out to the growing number of women-and minority-owned business and forge relationships with them.

The author notes, “In 2001, IBM began assigning executives to develop relationships with the largest women and minority-owned businesses in the United States. This was important not only because these business sectors are growing fast, but because their leaders are often highly visible role models, whose IT needs will grow and become increasingly more sophisticated. Already, these assignments have yielded impressive revenue streams with several of these companies.”

Credit: The Associated Press

Political strategists say that candidates today need to learn this lesson quickly and propose policies and hone their messages to attract this growing diverse population. If not, they could be doomed. This Brookings Institution story, predicted as early as May how a diverse voting population could potentially impact November’s election.

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the non-white population grew 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, with the Latino population growing the fastest at 43 percent. The Asian-American population grew 26 percent.

Young people are becoming a bigger part of the electorate, too. In this most recent election, people between the ages of 18 and 29 made up 19 percent of the electorate, according to exit polling, an increase of one percentage point from 2008.

Women, as well, are more influential. Indeed, they are not the minority. They voted in greater percentages than men and have been doing so since 1980. In 2008, more than 70 million women voted, compared to 60.7 million men.

To get an idea of our nation’s diversity, look at the many different bilingual ballots available to voters.

The Voting Rights Act orders that language assistance be provided if a minority group speaking the same language makes up five percent of the voting-age population of the community. In 2012, one in 18 jurisdictions were required to provide this language help.

Credit: Jason Margolis/KQED

One was San Diego County, where election assistance was written in Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese to accommodate the growing population of these groups. As noted in a previous blog of ours (May 23, 2012 “Words that Get Around”), meaning can be lost in translation. Getting a translation “right” is a challenge. For instance, when it came to the Vietnamese translation, the word used for “registration,” was one associated with prison camps, according to this New York Times story. The translation was changed.

Not only is the electorate becoming more diverse, so are political candidates. In this most recent election, the first openly gay American-Asian, Mark Takano, was elected to Congress.

Political candidates are also reflecting another part of the nation’s growing diversity and that is in their religious affiliations. For the first time, a Buddhist will serve in the Senate. This Pew Research Center report notes that the new Congress will also have the first Hindu to serve as well.

And the upcoming Congress will set another mark signaling change: There will be 20 women senators, the most in history.

Because of the changing demographics, experts have been predicting that a new day in American politics would be dawning. In fact it may already be here.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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So Many Voters, So Many Ways to Vote

Many of us still vote the same way our great-grandparents did: We show up at the neighborhood polling station Election Day. We depart with an “I Voted” sticker and a sense of having participated in a sacred ritual of democracy.

Credit: Cronkite News

But this centuries-old tradition soon may go the way of the horse and buggy.  And as our voting methods evolve, we confront a basic question: How does the physical act of casting a ballot impact our democracy?

Today, more and more people aren’t even leaving their houses to vote. They are doing so early by mail and might soon have the options of faxing, emailing or even texting their votes. In fact, two of those options – email and fax — were made available on Nov. 6 to New Jersey residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

But is this good for democracy? Doesn’t voting together help create a greater sense of community? Look at the tiny, unincorporated town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. The voters in that small hamlet gather every election at midnight to cast their votes, which are immediately tallied. The results are the first in the nation. This year President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney tied with five votes apiece, the first time the voters deadlocked.

The voters of Dixville Notch wait to cast their ballots just after midnight for the 2012 Presidential election.
(Credit: Rogerio Barbosa, AFP/Getty Images)

Will such quirky moments be history if electronic and early voting becomes the norm? Indeed, today Election Day is a wildly diverse experience depending on where you live. In San Diego, for instance, peoples’ home garages are among those places that act as polling stations.

A polling station in the garage of a Los Angeles County lifeguard headquarters.
(Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Elsewhere, people vote in schools, libraries, wedding chapels, churches,  laundromats and Mexican restaurants. A polling place can be pretty much anywhere, as long as it well lit and doesn’t serve booze, according to this story.

Some of polling places may actually impact how we vote. For instance, if a voter happens to vote at a school, he or she is more likely to vote for initiatives that improve schools, according to Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers.

But some critics argue that the current system is outdated and actually discourages voting because it’s unable to handle the growing electorate. Lines are long. At some polling stations, voters wait hours. They get angry and frustrated. The situation in Florida – where long lines were the norm – made national news during this most recent election. As usual, Florida faced a host of election-day problems, which ranged this year from long ballots to logistical issues linked to the housing crisis, according to this report.

Credit:The Times of Israel

Another problem with our current voting system? It’s expensive. Think of the cost of machines and poll workers. Saving money is one of the reasons Oregon went to a mandatory vote-by-mail system. It’s 30 percent cheaper, according to this article.

So why not use new technology? Or, to help prevent a rush on Election Day, more early voting? Or how about another trend, the use of so-called “voting centers”? In that case, voters don’t have to go to a specific polling place. Instead, they go to one of the voting centers, which are larger and able to accommodate a greater number of voters.

Credit: The Columbus Dispatch

Early voting is a growing trend, no question. In the 2008 presidential election, 30 percent of the electorate voted early.

Harvard University government professor Dennis Thompson, for one, doesn’t think that’s a good thing.

“When citizens go to the polls on the same day, publicly participating in a common experience of civic engagement, they demonstrate their willingness to contribute to the democratic process on equal terms,” Thompson wrote in 2008.

One of the pitfalls the article also notes: Suppose you vote early and something controversial happens with the candidate you choose. There’s no going back.

And, of course, you get no “I Voted” sticker.

Today we talk with Scott Tranchemontagne, a representative for the Balsams Grand Resort, where the historic vote in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire takes place. We welcome his insights on the unique place the township and resort have in our nation’s voting history.

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The Balsams Grand Resort has a unique place in our nation’s election history. On Election Day, at midnight, the voters of Dixville Notch gather there to be the first in the nation to cast ballots. How did your establishment become the polling center?

New Hampshire has held the First-in-the-Nation Primary since 1952. Prior to 1960, another small town in northern New Hampshire, Hart’s Location, had the honor of voting first at midnight.   It started as a practical way to allow its voters, most of whom worked on the railroad, to vote without having to take unpaid time off from their day jobs. In 1960, renowned industrialist Neil Tillotson, who had purchased the Balsams Grand Resort out of bankruptcy in the early 1950s, struck a deal with a national newswire reporter. Dixville would vote at midnight and the reporter would broadcast the results nationally, sooner than results could be reported from Hart’s Location. Over subsequent elections the media gravitated to Dixville and away from Hart’s Location, as the hotel had better phone lines and overnight accommodations. Hart’s Location eventually stopped voting at midnight – and even when they began the practice again in the 1990s,  the media continued to go to the Balsams Grand Resort and report Dixville’s vote first. It’s important to recognize that Dixville is an unincorporated town that is populated almost exclusively by resort employees who live there.

How many people cast their ballots there and how do they cast them?

This year, ten voters cast ballots in the 2012 general election. Each voter has an individual voting booth and a paper ballot. At the stroke of midnight, each voter marks a ballot and then joins a single-file line in front of the historic wooden ballot box. Each voter then drops his/her ballot in the wooden box. The Town Moderator and Town Clerk then count the votes and proceed to a podium next to a tally board to announce the results. The entire process takes about 1-3 minutes, and with today’s media broadcasting live from the polling station, the world knows within moments how Dixville residents have voted.

Credit: Vermont Public Radio

How has the voting process at the resort changed, if at all,  over the years?

The voting tradition has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Every year except 2012, the vote has been held in the Balsams Grand Resort’s famous “Ballot Room”, which is a small square room approximately 25 feet wide and 25 feet deep. This year, because the hotel is undergoing major renovations, the vote was held at the Balsams Grand Resort’s Wilderness Ski Area Lodge, approximately 1.5 miles away from the hotel.

This voting process gets tons of media attention. Has it become too overwhelming at times? What special efforts and accommodations  are made at the resort in preparation for election day?

The Dixville voters and the Balsams Grand Resort take their First-in-the-Nation voting responsibilities very seriously. As such, we welcome the local, regional, national, and international media coverage. Many special efforts and accommodations are made in advance of the vote. Most revolve around communicating with the media who want to cover the event and stay over at the hotel. Over the years, as media technology has developed, the tasks have changed. Since 1960, the Balsams has always installed additional phone lines for reporters. Today, we also make sure to have space for live satellite trucks from all the major television networks, many of whom broadcast the election live. The hotel also offers WiFi as an amenity to its guests and we boost its accessibility and bandwidth for the press on election night, so they can instantly file the results from their laptops. A few years ago, a cell phone tower was installed on a nearby mountaintop to improve cell phone service. The hotel hosts many of the presidential candidates during the campaign as they visit with New Hampshire’s North Country voters. On election night, we cater a reception for the media, candidates, and election observers who come from near and far. During the presidential primary vote in January 2012, we welcomed a delegation of election observers from Sweden, as well as a group from Japan. For the general election earlier this month, we also had international visitors, as well as two political science classes from Franklin Pierce University.

The Balsams Grand Resort
(Credit: Concord Monitor)

The Ballot Room is so-named because that’s where the ballots are cast, of course. When did the room get that name? What purpose did the room serve before this?

The Ballot Room has been the location of Dixville’s First-in-the-Nation voting since 1960. The room is adorned with photos and campaign artifacts from elections past, and serves as a living museum for guests and visitors. The Ballot Room and all of its important artifacts were disassembled and carefully preserved during the current renovations. The room will be rebuilt in the new Balsams Grand Resort.

Credit: GQ Magazine

It is our understanding that the ballots are immediately counted and a winner declared. What is that process like? Does everyone who voted stay to hear the results? How is that announcement made? How does the rest of the town respond?

This year, ten voters cast ballots in the 2012 general election. Once the voters have dropped their ballots in the wooden box, the Town Moderator and Town Clerk then count the votes and proceed to a podium next to a tally board to announce the results.  The entire process takes about 1-3 minutes, and with today’s media broadcasting live from the polling station, the world knows within moments how Dixville residents have voted. Everyone who votes stays to hear the results.  Practically, there isn’t time to leave, even if they wanted to! With respect to the rest of town – its important to understand that the town of Dixville is essentially the Balsams Grand Resort. Equally important is the fact that 100% of Dixville’s registered voters show up to vote at midnight. If one person could not make it at midnight, Dixville would need to leave the polls open until that person could vote, by New Hampshire law. A voter attendance of 100% is an indication of how seriously all Dixville voters take their responsibility.

Credit: The Balsams Grand Resort

Who are some of the presidential candidates that have visited?

Many presidential candidates over the years have visited the Balsams Grand Resort, including some who became president. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Gary Hart, John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Wesley Clark, Dick Gephardt are but a few.

This year, because the resort is undergoing renovation, the vote was moved to a nearby ski lodge.  How was that location selected?

The ski lodge was chosen because it was the most appropriately sized and accessible location on the Balsams Grand Resort property.
 
One of the themes we’re looking at this month is the variety of places Americans vote and the question of whether polling places will continue to exist at a time when technology will enable people to vote by email, texting, and other methods. The tradition of going to the polls is a strong one for many Americans. What do you see in the town’s tradition and what do you think the future holds for how votes are cast there?
 
The tradition of casting paper ballots in Dixville will live on, primarily because the Dixville voters and the Balsams Grand Resort are committed to keeping this historic tradition alive. The highest voter total in any general election at the Balsams was 38 in 1988, when George H.W. Bush routed Michael Dukakis 34-3, with one vote going to Jack Kemp. On average, about 25 votes are cast in the general election. This keeps the event small and the votes easy to count and report in a short period of time.
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Thank you Mr. Tranchemontagne for continuing to keep democracy and this important voting tradition alive at The Grand Balsams Resort.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Compulsory Voting: Vote or Pay Up

Imagine if you didn’t vote on Election Day. Say you got busy. Or you didn’t like the candidates. Or you happen to believe that your vote doesn’t matter, so why bother.

Then, a week later, you get a letter in the mail saying you’re being fined $20 for not going to the polls.

In some nations, that’s the way it works.

As we mentioned in the previous Collaborative Services blog post, there are a number of concepts that exist or are being debated that could help increase voter turnout in the United States.

The method described above is known as compulsory voting. Jonathon Louth, a political scientist and lecturer at University of Chester in England, has written extensively on it with much of the work being indebted to his collaboration with and the thoughts of Professor Lisa Hill from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Dr. Louth is from Australia, where the compulsory voting bill was first  introduced to parliament in 1924 and the first compulsory election took place in 1925 causing an immediate impact on voter turn out. In terms of registered voters the previous election in 1922 had just under 60% voter turn out. The 1925 election raised voter turn out to more than 91%. Since then turn out has never dropped below 90%.

Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

He embraces the concept, saying it increases voter participation, particularly among those who might not normally vote. Compulsory voting also has its detractors who argue that the decision to vote or not should be up to the individual.

We welcome his thoughts and insights on this topic.

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As a public involvement firm, we care a lot about voting because it’s an essential way to participate in decisions. Here, voting is voluntary. Where is voting mandatory/compulsory?

It all depends on what is considered  to be a compulsory voting regime. There are certainly quite a number of countries that might make reference to the obligation of citizens to vote, but the issue is one of effective enforcement. Some 32 countries are often cited as employing compulsory voting (CV), but this number is a distortion.  Often, there is no enforcement (Greece, Thailand, Bolivia etc.)  or it is not effectively enforced (Cyprus, Turkey or Argentina) or only a region within a country employs CV (Switzerland). The actual numbers of countries that effectively enforce CV is quite small. Two of the best examples are Australia and Belgium (although Belgium is not as vigorous with enforcement as it once was). Prior to its abandonment of CV in 1967, the Netherlands was another outstanding example. It is worth noting the decline in turnout in the Netherlands since its abandonment (and Venezuela, too).

Credit: The Small Opinion

Mandatory/compulsory voting is thought to enhance democracy. How so? And, is that always the case?

For some people, there seems to be something ‘undemocratic’ about compelling people to vote. People will even suggest that if one has the right to vote, then it stands to reason that we should equally have the right to not vote. Yet rights are not something that can be simply ‘inverted’; they do not come with an equivalent and equal inverse proposition. One has the right to not be killed, abused, raped, and, at the less extreme end, the right to education, freedom of association and so on and so forth. It is a little silly to suggest that these rights are not fully realized or are compromised if the inverse is not also true (i.e. the right to be killed, raped or denied education).

It’s also worth noting that this system is really about compulsory attendance. Given that it is a secret ballot, a voter need only show up (although technically the legislation refers to the requirement to vote). They can, if they so choose, cast a blank or spoiled ballot. There is even an emerging campaign in Australia for a ‘none of the above’ option, so that a protest vote can be properly accounted for (I believe at least one, maybe two, U.S. states do this?)

Credit: Meetup

What CV does do is to help foster a more representative and legitimate legislative body. CV promotes equality and is one of the great ‘levellers’. The groups who are most likely to not vote include those from non-English speaking backgrounds, minority groups, socially vulnerable individuals, the young, those with lower levels of education and those from lower socio-economic groups. CV brings out the vote and encourages participation with the political process; in doing so some research indicates that individuals do attempt to become more informed about politics and it fosters a sense of civic duty and participation.
Further, it holds politicians to account – they are less able to ignore voices that might not normally get heard. It also challenges and refocuses political campaigns; campaigns do not have to focus on ‘getting the vote out’. The voters will be attending, the political parties have to work out how to get them to vote for their candidates. This means resources need to be directed to the politics of the issues that resonate with a broadened electorate. In respect to the U.S. electoral college, the introduction of CV may well impact the number and nature of battleground states.

Credit: WDDE 91.1 FM

You have written about compulsory voting in your country, Australia. What is the voter turn out? What happens if someone doesn’t vote?

Voter turnout in Australia is exceptionally high. In terms of registered voters (RV) it is well over 90%, often around the 95% mark. If looking at the voting age population (VAP), it sits around 80 and up to 85%. Compare this to U.S. Presidential elections and you are looking at an average 65 to 75%, but for VAP figures you are looking more at figures of around 50 – 55% (although the 2008 election pushed to nearly 58%). These figures for the U.S. are also indicative of a voter registration problem.

If you fail to vote in Australia then you are fined AU $20.00. (About $17 in U.S. dollars) Quite a small fine when compared to something like a speeding ticket. It is also quite simple to avoid the fine by providing the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) with a reasonable excuse for not voting (illness, out of the country etc.). A very small number of people have been gaoled, but these are individuals who refused to pay the fine in a very public manner, and then the AEC was obliged to take the individuals to court. The court ordered the individuals to pay, they still refused and consequently were gaoled for contempt of court (not for not voting). In the UK, the equivalent would be the ‘metric martyrs’. These were shopkeepers etc. who refused to show weights in measure etc. in imperial and the metric system.

The importance of the fine is to ensure that the voting habit is maintained. People generally do not vote to avoid the fine, as voting has become very much a part of the political fabric.

Because it’s compulsory, is election day in Australia celebrated or is there a sense of civic pride in casting a ballot?

Very much so. But this is also due to the electoral system which is a hybrid with a U.S. style senate and a UK Westminster lower house. This is coupled with the alternative vote (AV) and single transferable vote (STV) systems which means that voting is not only compulsory but one is expected to do so preferentially – that is listing who they would like to vote for in order of preference. This creates a very dynamic situation around polling booths.

Credit: Foreign Policy Journal

What forms of communication and public involvement are used to educate citizens about voting in countries with compulsory voting? When does this education start?

In the Australian system it starts from a young age, but not driven by government campaigns etc.  It has become cultural – voting is established as a low cost civic duty that everyone ‘just does’. You pay taxes, stop at red lights, … and vote. Although it is something that is certainly raised in social studies type classes in both primary and secondary school.

In the lead up to elections the AEC will run campaigns in print, radio, television and social networks to remind people of the need to register, to vote and how to vote.

The children of 6P Hamilton South learn about voting at the Australian Electoral Commission division of Canberra.
(Credit: 6P Hamilton South)

The United States typically has a voter turnout around 50%. Are there lessons the U.S. can learn from country’s that require voting to increase our voter turn out, yet still keep voting voluntary?

There are many things that will improve turnout within an electoral system. The key is to increase the perceived worth of an individual’s vote; the idea that their vote my actually make some impact. This can be done by moving away from first-past-the-post to proportional systems, it can be improved by having a unicameral and unitary political system (one house – U.S. has two; and one national electorate  – the U.S. is federal). Holding the election on weekends or on a public holiday, extending the voting period. Allowing for automatic or easier voter registration. As you will note nearly all of these scenarios do not describe and are unlikely to ever describe the U.S. system. CV is an instant and the most effective means to immediately effect turnout and to engage a wider and more diverse number of citizens.

Are people more aware and engaged about the candidates and key issues under compulsory voting? Or because voting is mandatory do you find that it causes the opposite?

I’ve touched upon this above. Although there are arguments that CV just forces the apathetic and unknowledgeable to vote (random votes and in an uneducated manner is the insinuation), there is no convincing evidence to suggest that people do not become more engaged because of compulsory voting. Admittedly the number of spoiled ballots increases under CV, but much of this – as has been shown by examination of ballots – is due to mistakes made on the ballots as opposed to a deliberate attempt to cast spoiled ballots (remembering that Australia’s AV and STV systems are more complicated than a simple first-past-the-post system). Adding to the democratic dimension of CV a minority of the spoiled ballots are protests votes, with the voter expressing their dissatisfaction on the ballot paper.

What is evident is that political debates have to take into account a broadened electorate. The AEC goes to great lengths to make sure that everybody is given the opportunity to participate – including going to great lengths so that remote indigenous groups have the opportunity to register, vote, and have an understanding of the process. (However, it was not until 1967 that a referendum gave all Aborigines the right to vote.)

What is heartening is that the mere compulsion means that the majority of people will take the time to consider their political position.

Can you provide an example of countries where you believe compulsory voting is done wrong or being abused?

Not abused because of CV per se. Certainly in some less developed democracies corruption and vote rigging can occur – and some of those countries in question will claim to be employ CV. But this is not an issue that relates directly to or is a consequence of CV.

However, CV can be poorly executed – it is most effective when it is properly supported with appropriate (minor) sanctions for not voting. Effective education and a willingness to promote the importance of voting as a civic duty needs to be a part of this process too.

What role or effect does changing technology play in compulsory voting?

The role of technology in respect to voting more generally is having an ever greater impact. This is especially true of e-voting, e-referenda, outreach and education, voting machines etc. However, the link to CV is tangential – technology can assist with reaching and informing voters (reminding them of their obligation). It can play a role in how people actually physically or virtually cast their vote. It can also play a role in how parties and candidates may try to reach as many within their electorate as possible.

Credit: Meta Q

Any last thoughts?

That all said, there are still many similarities between CV and voluntary systems. One shouldn’t suggest that CV is a panacea or that it is a variable from which many vagaries that constitute modern elections might be compared. What it does offer is a direct intervention to deal with the democratic deficit that is evident when one looks at falling turnout rates of many developed democracies throughout the world.

CV is simple. It increases turnout, it widens participation, and it helps to develop and maintain a sense of civic duty.

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Thank you Dr. Louth for sharing your thoughts on compulsory voting. Increasing engagement is a mission of our firm, so we find such topics fascinating. To hear more from Dr. Louth follow him on Twitter @JonathonLouth.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Get out the Vote: Can We Do Better?

Why don’t more people vote? It’s a fair question, given that some elections, particularly midterm ones, don’t generate all that much passion. The 2010 election, for instance, saw just 37.8% of the electorate cast ballots. Even though such elections can be critical – the sitting President can either gain or lose power depending on which party wins control of Congress – the races don’t seem to excite voters.

At Collaborative Services, we’re all about engaging people in public decisions, whether about projects, policies, or resources. So today we turn our attention to ideas that could help improve voter turnout.

One way to bump up turnout is to make voting mandatory. In more than 30 nations, if you don’t vote, you get fined. Australia took that step in 1924 after seeing 59% of the people vote in the 1922 election. (That turnout is similar to what the U.S. averages in presidential elections by the way.) In 1925, when mandatory voting was the law of the Australian land, 91% of the electorate took part. So, yes, it worked. (However, it was not until 1967 that a referendum gave all Aborigines the right to vote.)

Advocates say a larger electorate would put a dent in the current polarization of today’s smaller voting block. Critics say government shouldn’t intrude into our lives, where it’s not needed, such as the decision to vote.

Indeed, some question whether voting is even worthwhile. After all, few races are ever decided by a single vote.  The authors of “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” made that argument here. But if everyone thought that way, the system would collapse. No one would vote.

There are other ideas to increase voting turnout  besides compulsory voting. One idea is rather simple: Move Election Day to the weekend. Why do we vote on a Tuesday? Well, the answer goes back to how we conducted our lives in the the mid 19th century. Tuesday was selected so that farmers could travel to the county seat on a Monday and return to their homes by Wednesday.  That decision dates back to 1845.

Credit: Futurity

One organization, Why Tuesday,  thinks it is high time to reconsider a new voting day, one more in tune with today’s society. In 2012, perhaps the time has come for a weekend voting day instead of a Tuesday. And consider this statistic from the nonprofit organization: Of the 172 nations, the United States ranks 138th in voter turnout, and dead last in voter turnout on average – 47.7%-  since 1945.

Ouch.

While many states in the U.S. have some form of early voting, 15 do not, according to Why Tuesday. Tuesday is the only day people in those states can vote.

Other people advocate that we make Election Day a national holiday. That way people wouldn’t have to worry about using their lunch hour to vote or head to the polls in the early morning or evening – when the polling stations are much more crowded. Or, if they had to wait in line for seven hours, at least it wouldn’t be on a work day.

A Huffington Post blogger suggests we make presidential elections a national holiday. That way it would be only one day off every four years. A variation on that theme was offered by Martin P. Wattenberg, a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. He came up with the idea of merging Election Day with Veterans Day, in this 1998 article published in The Atlantic. The idea was endorsed by The Carter-Ford Commission, which was created to study America’s voting problems after the 2000 election. But Veterans’ groups were strongly against it and eventually the House of Representatives voted for a resolution expressing disapproval of combining election day with the holiday.

Credit: Veterans Today

That brings us back to mandatory voting. A twist on that idea would be instead of levying a fine, let voters have a shot at getting rich. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in an Washington Post article: “Finally, if we can’t persuade more Americans to vote with the threat of a fine, how about the promise of untold riches? Millions lined up — sometimes waiting all night — for a shot at the Mega Millions lottery in March. How about another lottery, where your vote stub is a ticket, and where the prize is the money collected from the fines of those who didn’t vote? The odds of the mega-jackpot were about 1 in 176 million — we’d like to believe that the chances of fixing American politics are a bit better than that.”

Credit: HEAVE MEDIA INC.

For more insight on voter turnout, our next guest interviewee this week is Jonathon Louth, Political Scientist and Lecturer at the University of Chester in England and co-author of “Compulsory Voting and Turnout: The Australian Case.” Look for his thoughts in our next post.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Every Vote Matters, So Does Every Volunteer

Americans volunteer for many causes.  We’ve seen that now with the volunteerism to help fellow citizens recover from Hurricane Sandy. We volunteer at food banks. We volunteer at homeless shelters. We volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, churches, libraries, and sports teams. Name it and Americans are  giving it their time, attention, and  resources.

Credit: Striving for Simple

And Americans – of all races, gender and income levels – also volunteer on Election Day. Volunteering on Election Day signifies a deep belief in this all-important process, which keeps our nation unique and truly a model for the world. It also insures that the process will viable and strong for years to come.

Despite the differences of opinions we collectively hold, we come together as a nation to vote. Yes, we choose the president, who holds the highest office in the land. But we also choose our local leaders – people who will lead our school districts, city councils,  judicial systems, and water districts.

Credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press Photos

As a public involvement firm, Collaborative Services specializes in engaging  people in projects and developments. That’s what Election Day is all about, of course.  And so we thought it would be fitting to chip in and help by having two of our own team members volunteer at San Diego-area polling places for the June primaries.

We’re not alone in fostering such participation. The American Bar Association (ABA) also encourages its members to volunteer as non-partisan poll volunteers through its “Lawyer as Citizen” campaign.

According to an ABA new release, There is “a shortage of citizens willing to act as election officials on Election Day,” said Jack Young, chair of the Lawyer as Citizen Initiative and co-chair of the Advisory Commission to the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law. “Lawyers can play a significant role in the voting process by serving as these officials. … The ABA’s ‘Lawyer as Citizen’ program seeks to fill the gap in the number of election officials and thereby work to improve our electoral system.”

Credit: The American Bar Association

We are happy to highlight one of our team members, Rebekah Hook, who volunteered at the polls in June. Not only a skillful outreach team member, she is a lover of all things political. We welcome her thoughts and insight on her experience.

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To which polling station were you assigned?

I was assigned to a polling station at the Plymouth Congregational Church located at Pershing Avenue and University Avenue in North Park.

What did your duties include?

Originally, I was assigned by the County’s Registrar of Voters to be an “Alternate” on the Primary Election Day. Two days before the election, I was called and asked if I would be a Touchscreen Inspector. I completed three trainings, one online and two in person. I was required to set up the touchscreen, help set up the poll, take care of voters, and close the poll. At the end of the night, I went to the collection center with the Precinct Inspector and dropped off supplies and the completed ballots.

Credit: The Christian Science Monitor

How would you describe the experience?

Working at a polling place was great! Working from 5:45 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. makes it a long day and a lot of work, but I really am happy to have  had the experience. I live near this polling station so it was great to see members of my community civically engaged and voting.

At first, I was nervous because if the electronic voting machine broke down it was my responsibility to make it work. There was a lot of pressure. But once I got the touchscreen machine set up, I had no problems. Most of my day was spent checking voters in, making sure they got the correct primary ballot and answering any questions they had.

Have you ever volunteered at a polling place before?

No. This was my first time. The other volunteers I was working with have volunteered at the polls for several elections and were very proud of their service.

What kind of engagement took place between the poll workers and the voters?

The Primary Election made this a unique experience in that voters had to tell you which primary ballot they wanted to vote. California typically conducts closed  presidential primary elections, meaning only voters who have identified a party preference can vote for that party’s presidential nominee. Political parties can also choose to hold modified-closed presidential primary elections if they submit the proper notification to the State Secretary. In modified-closed presidential primary elections the party also allows voters who have not identified a  party preference to vote for their nominee. To me, this became a very personal conversation with each voter because they had to disclose their party preference. In some cases, their party preference was something they did not want the person they came to vote with to know about.

How was voter turnout at your polling station?

I am not quite sure how the over all turnout was according to the data. But we had a steady stream of voters throughout the day. In fact, we ran out of one of the ballot options. I think it was the non-party preference. Once we ran out of hard copies, voters who wished to vote that ballot had to do so on the electronic touchscreen,  which I set up for them.

Credit: ABC News

Did you sense any kind of a mood among voters?

Voters were very excited to vote. We did not have any long lines like the ones we witnessed this election in Florida, Ohio, and other states. The voters here were very appreciative that there was not a long wait time.

What surprises, if any, did you encounter?

I was pleasantly surprised that no ID was required in order to vote in California.  I am from Washington State and before this election, had only ever voted there. In Washington, voting is done mostly by mail-in-ballots. It was great to see that in California voters could arrive at a polling location, and their name and signature was all that was required to vote. This was a simple, yet effective process to verify voters.

You’re politically engaged and received your Masters in Political Science. Why are you so involved?

We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world. Civic engagement is at the very core of a democracy and I think it is not only our right but our duty to take part in that process. For a long time in this country, not all men and women had the right to vote. How can I not partake in something that so many before me fought for? If people do not demand to be given access and opportunity for their vote be counted, then are elected officials true representatives of their constituents?

I am involved and so passionate about encouraging others to be politically active, because I believe in the power of the people. And I believe that government should work for its people and be held accountable. Political leaders are only put into positions of power because, we the voters, put them there. Utilizing the power of voting has become even more important since the Citizen’s United case was decided.  It is important for voters to know that if they support an issue, a candidate, or want something changed, their vote matters, and change begins through voting.

Credit: The University of Oregon

You’re a member of the “Millennial Generation”. Earlier this week we interviewed Rock the Vote Vice President Chrissy Faessen about this generation’s participation. What are your thoughts about the millennial’s political engagement?

I was in High School when 9/11 happened. In the years following, I saw classmates of mine enlist in the armed forces and sent off to fight two different wars. I graduated from college at a time when unemployment was at an all time high since the Great Depression. My student loan rates have gone up and down depending on the political climate. Yet, I am part of a generation who invented Facebook and Twitter.

I think my generation’s political engagement is a product of the world that surrounds us. We are constantly affected by local, state, and federal policies- funding education, access to good paying jobs, safe neighborhoods, clean drinking water, immigration, national security, healthcare- to name a few. These issues, partnered with access to endless streams of information, has ignited many to become politically engaged and make sure they have a part in determining the direction of their communities, cities, state and nation. In fact, the youth vote in this election made up a higher percentage of the electorate than in 2008. The enthusiasm gap that many thought would be present in 2012, turned out not to be the case.

To me, the passion to be politically engaged stems from my belief in the political process, in my elected officials, and that my vote does make a difference.

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Thank you Rebekah for sharing you experience as a poll worker. And kudos as well for being so politically engaged.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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From Madonna to Miley: Rock the Vote Keeps Rocking

Rock the Vote has indeed been rocking the vote. Young people are voting in numbers rarely seen before, and Rock the Vote, which encourages young people to get involved in the political process – particularly through voting – has played a significant role.

In the 2012 election, for instance, its goal was to register 1.5 million voters. It’s shown it can do so. In 2008, Rock the Vote registered more than 2 million voters.

Credit: Rock the Vote

What’s the secret when it comes to reaching young people who historically have shied away from the voting booth? Look at the progress that’s being made. In 2008, the percentage of people age 18-24 who voted was 48.5 percent. In 1988, that number was a woeful 39.9 percent.

Chrissy Faessen, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for Rock the Vote, says adapting to the changing habits and likes of young people is key. “You have to continue to stay on the cusp of how young people are communicating,” she said.

It may be hard for some of us to grasp this, but Rock the Vote is now 21 years old. In the early 1990s, when Rock the Vote was founded, a mobile phone was a novelty that was not yet a essential part of modern living. Office computers, yes. But home computers? No, not yet the norm. Facebook was an idea still more than a dozen years away.

At that time, Rock the Vote reached young people through MTV and VH1 and used celebrities such as Madonna to motivate young people to action. Here’s Madonna wrapped in an American flag in Rock the Vote’s first public service announcement.

Madonna for Rock the Vote in 1990
(Credit: Betty Confidential)

Rock the Vote continues to recruit pop culture icons to promote the importance of voting. It’s a tried-and-true tool. Miley Cyrus, for instance, leads this 2012 star-studded Rock the Vote production. The production value is, well, a wee bit better than the one featuring Madonna.

Miley Cyrus as part of Rock the Vote’s 2012 #wewill campaign
(Credit: Rock the Vote)

But the organization, which is nonpartisan and reliant on grants and donations to operate, has greatly broadened its outreach, notes Ms. Faessen. It realizes that today’s young people are on the forefront of taking advantage of new communication technologies, and Rock the Vote is very much plugged into that.

For instance, when Rock the Vote registers young people to vote, it also asks for their mobile phone numbers, Ms. Faessen said. That mobile phone list is nearly unrivaled in scope, she said. In addition to engaging young people with contests and political quizzes through the devices, Rock the Vote also reminds the young people when and where to vote through texts.

Ms. Faessen said the method has increased voter turnout by as much as 4 percent among young people. “It’s extremely effective.”

Credit: popgadget

But that’s just one component of its outreach, she noted. Rock the Vote could be considered the very model when it comes to using social media to attract and engage its target audience of young voters. Check out this partnership with Splunk Inc. And check out Rock the Vote’s use of social media regarding its “We Will” campaign.

Rock the Vote also noticed how today’s young people are big into computer gaming and so it even formed a partnership with Microsoft to encourage voting through its Xbox system.

Credit: zwee!

The organization also performs outreach in more traditional ways, too. For instance, last year, it started Democracy Class, in which it reaches out to schools to teach students the importance of voting and taking part in the Democratic process. The one-class period is taught on March 23, the anniversary of the passage of the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

The educational outreach is needed because civic classes have been all but eliminated from public high schools due to budget cuts, Ms. Faessen said.  “We want to give educators all the tools they need,” she said.

But one can’t help but wonder: Why does it take such effort to motivate young people to vote? Why are they not compelled to take part in such an important civic duty naturally? Ms. Faessen believes politicians rarely target these young people, so they don’t feel as if they are even a part of the process. They also don’t have much money, so they can’t donate as much as more established voters. Politicians are apt to respond to those funding their campaigns. And registering can be difficult and taxing as well. Young people are more mobile than the rest of the population. They may go to college in a different state from where they originally registered and get stumped by yet another new system.

Credit: The Busy Signal

“The voting system was not built for the 21st century,” she argues. “We’re trying to bring the system into their world.”

The effort is working. Voter turnout among young people has increased in each of the past four election cycles. This year’s election turnout was uncertain, though, because young people are, like so many other voters in the nation, discouraged about the economy. They are struggling financially and this article, argues that leads to a lower voter turnout.

Ms. Faessen said the economic situation has left many young people discouraged. “People expected immediate change,” she said of the 2008 election results. “They are frustrated at the pace of change.”

Yet Rock the Vote keeps the effort going – even during non-presidential election years – even though it has a skeleton staff and relies heavily on volunteers. The people are devoted to the cause. Ms. Faessen has been with Rock the Vote since 2007 and joined after a stint with an advertising agency.

Credit: Rock the Vote

She worked on women’s global health issues, but was worried that if young people weren’t voting, policies might not change, regardless of how strongly those changes were lobbied. Young people have tremendous voting power, she notes. They are 46 million strong and make up one-fourth of the electorate. In addition to registering voters, Rock the Vote also stresses to young people that they weld considerable power – if they vote, that is.

“I wanted to try and understand where young people are at,” she said. “These are our future leaders and I wanted to help them prepare for that role.”

Thank you Ms. Faessen for rocking this interview. It’s great to know that Rock the Vote, all grown up at 21, is still motivating young people to head to the polls and let their voices be heard.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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It Only Happens Every Four Years and We’re not Talking the World Cup

Few other events galvanize Americans more so than presidential elections. Take the 2008 election, for example. More than 132 million Americans cast ballots, the most ever. But how does that compare with other big events? For example, last year’s Super Bowl attracted 111 million viewers! The 57 percent voter turnout in the 2008 election was the highest since the 1968 presidential election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, when 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

Credit: The Guardian

That’s not bad, but in 1840, 80 percent took part in that presidential election, which is the record for the highest percentage turnout ever. For history buffs, incumbent Martin Van Buren lost to William Henry Harrison, in what was a pretty nasty campaign. Van Buren’s opponents called him, “Martin Van Ruin.”

Martin Van Buren (left) and William Henry Harrison (right)
(Credit: Internuts with Chris!)

As we all know, today’s presidential elections have their share of bite, as well. Political TV advertisements throw some pretty tough punches. The debates for this year’s contest were feisty. And many pundits argue that the electorate is more divided than ever, as we head to the polls this Election Day.

But when we do our civic duty, the most amazing thing will likely happen. If recent history is a guide, the voting process will be done in a mostly peaceful, civilized manner. We may have our differences – some of them stark – but we cherish our right to vote as a people.

Credit: Associated Press

As a public involvement and communications firm, we see the positive, enthusiastic response we get from people when they are allowed a voice in projects. That involvement is key to bridging gaps and reaching a consensus. Last month’s “Big Project” theme showed that some of the nation’s most meaningful projects were in large part due to that involvement and ongoing communications so that people could envision as well as live through the construction… and pay off the project bonds – together. We know what a difference it makes when people participate.

Credit: Politics PA

It’s why we find Election Day so compelling. And it’s why our election process will be the subject of this month’s blog postings. We applaud it, celebrate it and don’t take it for advantage.

We will begin our look into Elections, with interviews from two upbeat people. We’ll hear from Chrissy Faessan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Rock the Vote, which involves pop culture stars and social media strategies to energize young people to vote. And, we’ll hear from our own team member, Rebekah Hook,  about her experience volunteering at the polls to help people vote.

Later in the month, we’ll hear from guests about how our voluntary system stacks up against mandatory voting systems in other nations, as well as look at ways we may vote in the future.

Just one day to go to elections. May we all  –  young and otherwise – rock our vote.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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