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State Elections & Campaigns
Election-day registration considered in Illinois, its end mulled in Wisconsin
by Kate Tormey ~ March 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
While at least one Midwestern state may adopt same-day voter registration this year, officials in another have said they want to repeal it.
If approved, HB 68 would make Illinois the fourth state in the region to allow voter registration on election day. Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are among the eight states nationwide that do so already. North Dakota does not require voters to register.
Proponents of same-day registration say it improves turnout and access. Connecticut and California passed laws last year to allow it.
But citing concerns about the administrative burden placed on poll workers, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers have advocated getting rid of same-day registration. A report released last month by the state’s Government Accountability Board points out, though, that doing so would force Wisconsin to comply with a federal “motor voter” law, which requires states to offer people voter-registration materials when they obtain driver’s licenses or apply for public assistance. Compliance costs could reach $14.5 million over two years, the report found.
In other Midwestern states, voters must register anywhere from 15 days (in South Dakota) to 30 days (in Michigan and Ohio) in advance. In Nebraska, the registration deadline is the second Friday before the election.
New year, new faces: Legislative turnover high in many states as a result of 2012 elections
The 2013 legislative sessions in the Midwest will begin soon with hundreds of new lawmakers taking office, but with a balance of power between the two major political parties that remains largely unchanged. More »
Minnesota now lone Midwest state to publicly finance legislative races
In Minnesota, close to 400 people are running for seats in the Legislature as nominees of the state’s two major political parties. A vast majority of them — 87 percent — have received a public subsidy for their campaigns.
The recently released state data show the extent to which candidates have bought into Minnesota’s public financing system, which provides the subsidy in exchange for a candidate agreeing to abide by spending limits. The limits in 2012 for legislative races range between $34,300 and $90,000.
In all, this year’s candidates are receiving $1.9 million in public subsidies, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board reports. The money comes from a tax check-off program and a $1 million general-fund appropriation.
Minnesota is the only Midwestern state that provides direct public financing to legislative candidates. Wisconsin did away with its Election Campaign Fund last year, and in Nebraska, a 1992 campaign-finance law was ruled unconstitutional this summer by the state Supreme Court. Under this law, a subsidy was provided to a candidate who agreed to a spending limit and whose opponent exceeded it.
In Illinois, a unique partisan system is used to elect, retain Supreme Court justices
Although judicial elections have long been a mainstay of the electoral landscape in many states, they have seldom attracted the same level of attention routinely paid to partisan contests for legislative seats or constitutional
offices. More »
Election Day becoming ‘Election Weeks’ with rise in early voting
Election Day is officially Nov. 6, but if recent trends are any indication, a large number of voters will be casting ballots weeks in advance.
During the last presidential election, 30 percent of voters cast their ballots early — by far the largest percentage in modern history, according to professor Michael McDonald of the United States Election Project. He says the dramatic rise in early voting is due in large part to changes in state laws: allowing “no excuse” absentee voting, encouraging vote-by-mail, and opening special polling places for people to vote early.
In the Midwest, most states now allow individuals to vote early in person (by casting regular or absentee ballots). Michigan is the only state in this region that does not provide some form of in-person early voting. It, along with Indiana and Minnesota, also requires an excuse for voting by mail with an absentee ballot.
Early-voting periods begin as early as 40 days prior to the election (Iowa) and generally last at last two or three weeks. In the Midwest, an early-voting period most commonly runs up until Election Day. However, it ends three days prior to Election Day in Illinois.
As the result of recent legislative actions, the same is now true in Ohio — though an exception is made for military voters and select others. The Ohio law, and the exceptions in it, became the subject of a lawsuit filed in July by the Obama campaign.
A full ballot: Voter ID, tax hike and other issues put in voters’ hands
Name the hot-button issue in state government these days, and it’s likely to appear this fall on a statewide ballot somewhere in the Midwest. More »
Illinois measure lifts spending limits when ‘super PACs’ enter races
Under a bill passed by the General Assembly, Illinois’ caps on campaign contributions to political candidates will be lifted in races where spending by an outside group or individual reaches a certain threshold. Supporters of SB 3722 say it will counteract the impact of “super PACs” on Illinois elections in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC.
According to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, the bill sets two different thresholds: $250,000 of spending in a statewide race and $100,000 in a non-statewide race. Once the threshold is met, limits on all contributions to candidates are removed. An Illinois law limiting campaign contributions took effect last year. Opponents decried SB 3722 for weakening this law and opening the possibility of unlimited contributions in every competitive state election. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill into law in July.
The Citizens United ruling blocks states from controlling independent expenditures by outside groups. Prior to the decision, seven Midwestern states (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin) had laws banning corporations and/or unions from spending money to advocate for or against candidates. States can still ban direct contributions to candidates.
After huge GOP wins in 2010, partisan control of Midwest's legislatures up for grabs again
When voters go to the polls this November, much of the attention will be focused on the race for president and partisan control of the U.S. Congress. But the elections will also determine which party enjoys majorities in the Midwest’s 20 partisan legislative chambers. More »
Minnesota, Kansas and Wisconsin in middle of national voter-ID fight
The flurry of activity over voter-ID laws that began in 2011 has continued this year, in state courthouses and capitols across the Midwest. More »
Higher voter turnout, lower election costs aim of new South Dakota law
by Tim Anderson ~ March
2012 ~ Stateline Midwest
South Dakota lawmakers have adopted a plan to expand the use of vote centers and “e-poll book” technology — a move that Secretary of State Jason Gant is lauding as “the most significant advance in expanding voter participation in South Dakota in a generation.”
SB 58, passed by the Legislature with only one “no” vote, was signed into law in February.
According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the voting centers provide more flexibility to voters: Rather than having to go to a specific polling place, they can cast a ballot at any center within their jurisdiction. These centers also reduce the number of poll workers needed for elections and decrease rent costs (due to a smaller number of polling locations). Indiana has been experimenting with vote centers since 2007, and last year, it passed legislation (SB 32 and HB 1242) allowing all counties in the state to use them.
These vote centers employ secure, encrypted electronic poll books, a technology that replaces paper voter lists with real-time records of voter activity.
Minnesota Public Radio reports that the use of e-poll books is being considered in Minnesota as well, potentially as an alternative to a measure requiring voters to present photo IDs. This system would allow election workers to view a voter’s driver’s license photo electronically or to take a new photo at the polling place.
Indiana statute focus of legal debate over state robocalling laws
by Tim Anderson ~ January 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest
An Indiana statute that places restrictions on political “robocalls” was upheld in December by the state Supreme Court but still faces an uncertain future due to ongoing federal litigation.
Under the state’s Autodialer Law, automated calls to households are allowed only if a live operator obtains the consumer’s permission or if the recipient has agreed to receive such calls. A group that makes political robocalls challenged Indiana’s law on grounds that it violates free speech protections.
Indiana’s victory in state court came three months after it suffered a setback in federal court. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, a federal judge ruled that Indiana’s law was pre-empted by a U.S. statute governing interstate communications. Indiana is appealing that decision.
A 2010 study by the Illinois General Assembly Legislative Research Unit found that many states have enacted political robocalling laws that are more restrictive than existing federal regulations. For example, along with Indiana, Minnesota and North Dakota have live-operator requirements. Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota are among the states with disclosure rules, the study found, and Nebraska also requires a state permit.
What is the National Popular Vote compact, and how many states
have adopted it?
by Ilene Grossman ~ January 2012 ~ Question of the Month »
A. The goal of the proposed
National Popular Vote (NPV) compact is to guarantee that the U.S. presidential
candidate who receives the most popular votes wins the presidency. More »
Supreme costs: Five Midwestern states have among most expensive
elections in nation
The trend toward big spending on state supreme court races took at least two
new turns during the 2009-10 election cycle, according to a report issued in
October by three judicial watch groups. And at the center of these changes are
several states in the Midwest. More »
4 Midwestern states get in early on choice of presidential nominee
As it does once every four years, Iowa’s presidential caucus will kick off the run for the White House (on Jan. 3 in 2012).
But that state isn’t the only one in the Midwest expected to determine the Republican nominee for president. Other early primaries and caucuses have been scheduled in this region as well.
Under a bill signed into law in October (SB 584), Michigan’s presidential primary was set for Feb. 28 — a week before “Super Tuesday,” which includes North Dakota’s Republican caucus. The move, Gov. Rick Snyder told The Holland Sentinel, “helps ensure Michigan is relevant in the selection process.” However, by setting its primary date ahead of March 6, Michigan is also non-compliant with Republican Party rules and risks losing half of its convention delegates, according to Davidson College professor Josh Putnam, who tracks news on presidential primaries through the blog Frontloading HQ.
Minnesota is the region’s other early primary/caucus state, with the Republican caucus set for Feb. 7. Here are the other dates in the Midwest: March 10, Kansas caucus; March 20, Illinois primary; April 3, Wisconsin primary; May 8, Indiana primary; May 15, Nebraska primary; June 5, South Dakota primary; and June 12, Ohio primary.
The map-maker: Using the ‘competition model’ as an alternative to current redistricting process
He was fascinated by maps as a child, teaches physics at Northern Illinois University, and is a former alderman and mayor who helped redraw ward boundaries in his hometown.
It is no wonder that Illinois Rep. Mike Fortner has taken a keen interest in redistricting since joining the state General Assembly in 2007. More »
2011 becomes election year due to surge in recall campaigns
Five states in the Midwest allow for the recall of state legislators, and it is an electoral procedure being used now more than ever before in the region.
This summer, more than a quarter of the Wisconsin Senate faced the prospect of being recalled; most of the nine sitting senators prevailed in their elections. Meanwhile, an effort is under way in Michigan to remove a legislator who serves as chair of the House Education Committee. These recall drives were launched in the two states following contentious debate over taxes, spending cuts and collective bargaining.
Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota are the three other states in the region that provide for the recall of state legislators. In Kansas, a petition must include signatures equal to 40 percent of the votes cast in the previous election for the position held by the officeholder. The other states use a 25 percent requirement (usually based on votes cast by the electoral district in the previous governor’s race). In Minnesota, the state Supreme Court must determine if there are sufficient grounds for a recall. Elected officials in that state can be removed from office for one of three reasons: “malfeasance,” “nonfeasance” or a “serious crime.” Like Minnesota, Kansas sets specific grounds for a recall. That is not the case in Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Sizing up the size of legislatures part of redistricting discussions
~ Stateline Midwest
The latest round of redistricting has some lawmakers re-evaluating the size and number of legislative districts in their states.
In North Dakota, The Bismarck Tribune reports, this sort of re-examination has in the past led to a reduction in senators and representatives. The Legislature currently has 141 members, down from 159 in the 1980s. However, some lawmakers have suggested reversing this trend. Adding new members, they say, would keep already large rural districts (where population is declining) from having to greatly expand. The North Dakota Legislative Council estimates the 10-year cost of adding a district (three legislators per district) at $1.2 million. The North Dakota Constitution allows for as many as 162 members and as few as 120.
Most constitutions in the Midwest establish the exact size of legislatures or set size limits. (The lone exception is Minnesota, where size is prescribed by statute.)
Most states are already at their limit. One state that is not is Nebraska, whose Unicameral Legislature has 49 members. A proposal was made this year to increase the size to the 50-member maximum. LB 195 failed to advance, as did another proposal (LB 233) to eliminate four districts. The Unicameral must have between 30 and 50 members.
More Midwestern states will
require photo ID at polls in 2012
by Kate Tormey ~ July/August 2011
~ Stateline Midwest
Starting next year, roughly half of Midwestern states will require voters to show photo identification at the polls — a shift in state policy seen either as a tool for preventing election fraud or as an instrument of voter suppression. More »
Minnesota leads nation in voter turnout
by Tim Anderson ~ March 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
For policymakers looking to improve voter turnout, no state offers a better model than Minnesota.
At least so says George Mason University professor Michael McDonald in a paper examining the 2010 midterm elections and historical voter turnout data. More »
What kind of population variations among state legislative and U.S. congressional districts are legally permissible?
The once-a-decade task of redistricting is now in full swing in the Midwest, a region that will lose six seats in the U.S. Congress as the result of reapportionment and that, like the rest of the country, continues to see shifts in population from rural to metropolitan areas. More »
Midwestern states prepare for redistricting in 2011
As the legislative session began in Iowa, state officials started the process of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
But in Des Moines, the process won’t be the same as it is in other Midwestern state capitals, where legislators get the first crack at reconfiguring political districts based on new population data. More »
How do states in the Midwest handle recounts in legislative and statewide elections?
December 2010 ~ Question of the Month
Election recount laws vary greatly in the Midwest. In some states, recounts are automatically triggered in close races. In addition, a number of states in this region allow candidates, election officials or the voters themselves to request recounts. More »
Drawing the lines: Midwestern lawmakers turn their attention to redistricting
Thirty years ago, Iowa passed landmark legislation that changed how its legislative and congressional districts are redrawn.
Today, the state’s process remains a unique approach, and policymakers in this region have been looking at Iowa’s model in recent years as they consider redistricting reforms in their own states. More »