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State Elections & Campaigns


Illinois OKs automatic registration of state’s eligible voters

by Tim Anderson ~ June/July 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »

Illinois has become the first state in the Midwest to offer automatic voter registration, a tool for increasing electoral participation already being tried in eight other states. SB 1933 received unanimous approval in the Illinois House and Senate. Under the measure, voters will be registered when they visit the Illinois secretary of state and other state agencies for services. Individuals will be able to opt out of the system.
Illinois lawmakers approved automatic voter registration last year, but that measure was vetoed due to concerns about voter fraud. Subsequent bipartisan negotiations led to passage of SB 1933 this year and the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Chicago Tribune reports.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, automatic voter registration is more convenient for a state’s residents and less prone to errors. It is one of several policies that states could employ to modernize their election systems, the center says. Other strategies include allowing for Election Day and online voter registration and establishing portable systems that allow voters who move to cast valid ballots even if they did not update their registrations.



What signature requirements do states have for ballot measures?

by Ilene Grossman ~ February 2017 ~ Question of the Month »
Six states in the Midwest have “direct democracy”-type provisions that allow voters to veto bills passed by their legislatures or to adopt statutory or constitutional changes via the ballot. One of the first steps for groups seeking a ballot proposal is to get the requisite number of signatures, and that threshold can vary — depending not only on the state, but also on the nature of the proposal (veto referendum, initiated statute or constitutional amendment). More »


The 2016 presidential race raised interest in the Electoral College, and the role of states in the process

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For 40 years, Mary Murphy has been introducing legislation and casting votes that shape public policy in her home state of Minnesota. But the longtime state representative always had her eye on being part of another vote, and this past year, she finally got the chance. In December, Rep. Murphy and nine other fellow Minnesotans met in St. Paul to make the state’s official votes in the U.S. Electoral College. A packed room of people — some of them high school teachers and students who had participated in a statewide mock election run by the secretary of state — watched the proceedings in the Senate Office Building. More »


Minnesota tops in voter turnout; Indiana sees jump in early voting

by Jon Davis ~ December 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Indiana and Minnesota set various state records for voter registration and turnout in the Nov. 8 general election, according to their secretaries of state. In Minnesota, 74.7 percent of the state’s nearly 4 million eligible voters cast a ballot — the top turnout rate in the country, according to the United States Election Project. A record 22.8 percent, or 678,336 Minnesotans, voted early by casting absentee ballots. (This was the first year of a presidential election in which no-fault absentee voting was allowed in Minnesota.) The state also set an Election Day registration record: Almost 12 percent of all voters, 353,179, took advantage of the state’s same-day registration law.
Indiana’s overall voter turnout rate was 58 percent, the same as 2012, but a record number of Hoosiers voted early: 33 percent of total votes cast in the general election. That compares to 24 percent in 2008 and 22 percent in 2012.
According to the United States Election Project, voter turnout in the region’s nine other states was 69.4 percent in Wisconsin, 68.6 percent in Iowa, 65.6 percent in Michigan, 64.5 percent in Ohio, 61.7 percent in Nebraska, 60.1 percent in both Illinois and North Dakota, and 58.7 percent in South Dakota..


How to get out the vote: States are changing registration laws, targeting outreach to young people and using social media to improve turnout rates

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Myriad factors cause the big variations in voter turnout among states— from the age, education levels and permanency of their populations to the competitiveness of their elections. But another variable is the state laws themselves, particularly procedures for registering and voting that either add obstacles to participation or remove them. More »


Across Midwest, this fall’s ballots full of big issues for voters to decide — from whether to impose the death penalty to how to set legislator pay

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Come November, voters in the Midwest won’t just be deciding on who their state legislators, governors and other elected officials will be. They also will directly decide the future of a wide range of public policies — for example, whether to impose the death penalty in Nebraska and how to set legislative salaries in Minnesota. As of early September, 20 proposals in seven Midwestern states had been certified for the November elections, according to Ballotpedia.org. They include a mix of legislatively referred constitutional amendments and citizen-initiated proposals, as well as attempts to overturn recent state legislative actions. More »



Judges move to block recent voter-ID laws in three Midwest states

by Tim Anderson ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Recent court rulings have put the future of three Midwestern states’ laws on voter registration and identification in doubt. In North Dakota, a U.S. district judge blocked the state from enforcing a 2013 law that eliminated options for people to vote if they did not have proper identification. According to The Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota has required voters to provide identification (a driver’s license, a tribal ID or long-term-care certificate, for example) for the past 12 years. However, voters who lacked the proper ID could still cast ballots by signing a sworn affidavit ­— until the 2013 law took effect. The lawsuit against North Dakota was filed by seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
In Wisconsin, two rulings made it unclear (as of August) how the state’s voter-ID law would be enforced in this fall’s general election. If one decision remains in place through November, for example, people without a valid ID could still vote if they sign statements at the polls saying they could not easily get one, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
Lastly, state court rulings have at least temporarily negated a 2013 law in Kansas requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote.


Do any Midwestern states require post-election audits to ensure that electronic voting systems accurately record and count votes?

by Laura Kliewer ~ June/July 2016 ~ Question of the Month »
Three states in the Midwest (Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin) currently have laws requiring these audits, which are done by comparing a hand count of voter-verified paper records with totals collected by the electronic voting system, according to the Verified Voting Foundation. Legislators have established these mandatory checks to deter fraud, find errors, reveal when recounts are necessary, and promote public confidence in the elections process. More »


Minnesota moves from presidential caucuses to primary system

by Tim Anderson ~ June/July 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Four years from now, at least one Midwestern state will be trying a new way of selecting the two major political parties’ presidential candidates. Minnesota’s SF 2985/HF 3594 moves the state from away from its existing caucus system in favor of a presidential primary. The measure was signed into law in May after receiving bipartisan legislative support. According to Secretary of State Steve Simon, this change will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of the many conveniences now afforded voters for other elections — for example, early voting, same-day registration and no-excuse absentee balloting.
In 2016, Minnesota was one of five Midwestern states that used a caucus system for the presidential primary. The others were Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota. (In Nebraska, the Democratic Party used the caucus system; the Republicans held a presidential primary.)
Under the new Minnesota law, voters at the polls must sign on to the following statement: “I am in general agreement with the principles of the party for whose candidate I intend to vote, and I understand that my choice of a party’s ballot will be public information.”


Iowa reworks overseas voting rules to help members of military

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Under a new law that received unanimous approval in the state Legislature, Iowa is making it easier for members of the military and other overseas residents to vote. HF 2147 gives overseas voters an extra 30 days to request and return special absentee ballots. (The period of time was extended from 90 days to 120.) Statutory language also was changed to prevent overseas ballots from being rejected by county auditors.
Across the country, through a four-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, The Council of State Governments has been working to improve the voting process for members of the military and other citizens living overseas. Late last year, a working group of state officials (brought together by CSG) made recommendations for improving the absentee voting process, including:


Straight-ticket voting no longer an option in Michigan elections

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A recent decision in Michigan to eliminate straight-ticket voting leaves the Midwest with only two states that offer this option on ballots. At one time, states commonly allowed individuals to vote for all partisan candidates through a single selection — their choice of party. But according to Ballotpedia, this began to change in the 1960s and 1970s. Before the passage of SB 13 in Michigan, Wisconsin had been the last state in this region to end straight-ticket voting, in 2011.
Indiana and Iowa continue to provide this option to voters. In 2014, 37 percent of Iowans voted a straight-party ticket in the general election, according to The Des Moines Register. In that state, as well as Indiana, bills have been introduced to eliminate the option. Proponents of this change say election choices should be based on the people running rather than their party affiliation. They also say straight-party voting can lead to voters not casting ballots in nonpartisan local races.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, though, has called for the straight-party voting option in his state, The Wichita Eagle reported last year. His reason: More votes would then be cast in down-ballot races.


Age gap: Voting rates fall among young, remain steady among old

by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the last election cycle, partisan control of the U.S. Congress, the nation’s state legislatures and 36 governorships were all up for grabs. A vast majority of the nation’s youngest eligible voters seemingly didn’t care. Only 23 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds voted — the lowest participation rate in elections among this group since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting the data in 1978. More »


First in the Midwest: Kansas' leading role in the women's suffrage movement

by Mike McCabe ~ March 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920, American women secured one of the most precious rights of citizenship — the right to vote. The amendment, which represented a significant milestone in the larger and ongoing struggle to ensure equal rights for women, was also the culmination of a 70-year campaign focusing on voting rights. Along the way, several states played key roles in opening the door to women’s suffrage. Here in the Midwest, Kansas would prove to be the trailblazer. More »


Minimum-wage hike expands to two more states in Midwest after November 2014 elections

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Due to a mix of legislative actions and ballot initiatives this year, the minimum wage for workers has recently increased in two Midwestern states and will rise in two others starting in 2015. Proposed wage hikes appeared on ballots in Nebraska and South Dakota in November and won by comfortable margins. More »


Republicans maintain, and strengthen, control of Midwest's state legislatures in 2014 elections

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With the notable exceptions of Illinois and Minnesota, this November’s elections did little to change the partisan balance of power in Midwestern states. When legislatures meet next year, the Republican Party will continue to have control of them and the governors’ offices in Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Democrats, meanwhile, lost single-party control in the only two states where they had it. The GOP now holds a majority of seats in the Minnesota House, and Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost his
re-election bid. More »


In Indiana, a new way to register to vote — via your smartphone

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »

Indiana residents had a new way of registering to vote this election season — via a “full-service” application on their smartphone. The app allowed Hoosiers not only to register to vote, but also to view the candidates on their ballot and how to get to their polling location. Other features include the ability to track absentee-ballot applications and contact local election officials.
The Indiana secretary of state’s office rolled out the new tool for voters in September, in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day. It is part of a regional and national state policy trend that is changing at least part of the elections process for voters.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, five states in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska) are among the 24 nationwide that offer or will soon offer online voter registration. Two years ago, Washington became the first U.S. state to give voters the chance to register via Facebook, USA Today reports.
Meanwhile, same-day voter registration expanded in the Midwest this year as the result of Illinois’ passage of HB 105. Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin already have laws that permit residents to register on Election Day.


Campaign finance in the Midwest: Federal and state court rulings have led to big changes for candidates and contributors alike

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
From Citizens United to McCutcheon, recent rulings by U.S. Supreme Court have changed the rules of campaigning across the region. More »


Transforming elections: Changes in state law have more people registering online, voting early and casting ballots in centralized locations

by Ilene Grossman ~ June 2014 ~ PDF of Stateline Midwest article »
States largely determine how elections are run and administered in this country, and in recent years, new laws have been enacted that change how people vote. More-stringent requirements for voter ID have captured much of the attention, but other changes have had a significant impact as well — for example, the rise in in-person, no-excuse early voting; increased data sharing among state election officials; online voter registration; and the use of centralized vote centers. More »


In most Midwestern states, many 17-year-olds have right to vote

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For the first time in Illinois, most of the state’s 17-year-olds had the chance to cast ballots in this year’s primary elections. Their participation was the result of a bill passed by the General Assembly in 2013. HB 226 opened up voting to 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the general election. According to the Chicago Tribune, the measure received widespread bipartisan support, with proponents saying it would encourage young people to get involved in the political process.
Since 1971, the U.S. Constitution has required that anyone 18 or older be able to vote in local, state and federal elections. (Previously, the minimum voting age was 21.) Electoral participation by those younger than 18 is left to the states.
According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, 17-year-olds can vote in primaries and caucuses in half of the U.S. states, including eight in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio. Their participation is either the result of state law or party rules. In Kansas and North Dakota, the center reports, 17-year-olds may take part in the Democratic caucuses, but are barred from participating in the Republican caucus.


In Nebraska, winner doesn’t always take all in presidential election

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
As early as the late 18th century, political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson were pondering a political question left open to each state: How should our Electoral College votes be awarded? Fast-forward to this year, and Nebraska legislators were debating the same question. Right now, the Cornhusker State is one of two U.S. states without a winner-take-all system, in which all of the electors go to the presidential candidate who wins the statewide vote.
Since 1992, Nebraska has instead awarded electors partly by congressional district. In 2008, Barack Obama won one Nebraska district and was awarded one of the state’s five Electoral College votes. LB 382 would make Nebraska a winner-take-all system, a move that supporters say would help prevent partisan gerrymandering and consolidate Nebraska’s limited power in presidential elections. The bill’s opponents, however, point to the 2008 election as an example of the current system’s merits. Because a part of Nebraska was electorally “undecided,” they say, campaign spending and political interest in Nebraska rose.
At one time, states used varying ways of awarding electors. But by 1836, Jefferson and others had decided on a winner-take-all system — in part because of a desire among states to maximize their voting influence in the Electoral College.


Ohio legislators revamp rules on third-party access to the ballot

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When do minor political parties qualify to have their candidates appear on state ballots? The answer varies widely across the country, depending on each state’s set of ballot-access requirements. Ohio became the latest state to change its law with this fall’s passage of SB 193. Two days after the bill was signed into law, the Libertarian Party of Ohio challenged the measure in federal court. The legal showdown comes less than a decade after a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Ohio’s previous rules were too restrictive.
Under the new law, minor political parties will appear on the 2014 ballot if they collect signatures of registered voters that equal at least 0.5 percent of the vote from the last presidential or gubernatorial election, The Toledo Blade reports. They can then remain on Ohio ballots for four years by capturing 2 percent of the statewide vote for governor in 2014 or president in 2016. These two thresholds (number of signatures and vote percentage) increase in ensuing years.
Except for Nebraska and South Dakota, minor-party candidates appeared on ballots in the last gubernatorial elections of every Midwestern state. Minnesota had the region’s highest number of minor parties on the ballot (five) and largest percentage of votes cast for a third party — 12 percent for the Independence Party candidate.


What states in the Midwest allow no-excuses absentee or early voting, and what are the key differences in these states' laws?

by Ilene Grossman ~ July/August 2013 ~ Question of the Month »
Every state allows citizens to either vote early or vote absentee (by mail or in person), and most states allow both. States offer these options to make it more convenient for people to vote; in-person voting also avoids some of the delays encountered when sending applications and ballots up and back by mail. More »


Minnesota now lone Midwest state to publicly finance legislative races

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ September 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Illinois measure lifts spending limits when ‘super PACs’ enter races

by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.


Minnesota, Kansas and Wisconsin in middle of national voter-ID fight

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.


Supreme costs: Five Midwestern states have among most expensive
judicial elections in nation

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
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 »


The map-maker: Using the ‘competition model’ as an alternative to current redistricting process

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
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 »



Sizing up the size of legislatures part of redistricting discussions

August 2011 ~ 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?

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2011 ~ Question of the Month
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

by Kate Tormey ~ January 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
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

by Ilene K. Grossman ~ February/March 2010 ~ PDF of Firstline Midwest article »
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 »