Tag Archives: voting

The Happy Hackers Act HR 634: A Second Look

Let’s return for a moment to HR 634, otherwise known in this space as the “Happy Hackers Act of 2017.”

The link above should take you to the text of the bill as introduced by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS).  In one page the bill terminates the Election Assistance Commission, puts the OMB in charge of “transition,” fobs the duties off on the dysfunctional FEC, and off we go into the wild west of happy hackers.

The bill was introduced on January 24, 2017 and was reported out on a 6-3 party line vote in the House Committee on Administration on February 7th, the same day Democrats filed objections  (pdf) to the measure with the House Committee on Administration.  Democrats noted that the EAC plays a “critical role in holding voting machine vendors accountable and ensuring certification standards remain high.”

Placing jurisdiction over federal election system regulation in the hands of the FEC is cynical at best and destructive at worst.  Atlantic magazine reported in December 2013 that the FEC was “broken” amid a flood of cases of questionable money flowing into campaigns, with feuds boiling between commissioners, and a hack attack attributed to agents of the Chinese government. Two years later the New York Times reported the FEC was incapable of curbing election abuses in the upcoming 2016 elections.   On February 20, 2017 the Chairwoman of the FEC resigned.   It is into the hands of this commission, now with one independent,  three Republicans, one Democrat, and one vacant seat, that the House Administration Committee wants to place the future of voting machines and certification standards.   The ill-advised HR 634 would place certification standards in the hands of an underfunded, understaffed (300 employees to cover 8,000 election jurisdictions in 50 states plus the District of Columbia) agency.  This is conducive to yet another layer of backlogs as questions raised about voting machine security and certification standards would be added to an already debilitated commission. If the intention is to slash oversight on voting machine/system security HR 634 would certainly accomplish that goal.

We’ve been the unfortunate recipient of hacking into our elections at the hands of the Russian government (2016) a conclusion reached by 16 intelligence agencies and the intelligence community leadership, despite the President’s feckless commentary on the subject; and if security standards are unenforced then we’re at even greater risk of intrusion into what has heretofore been unavailable to Russian hackers — the actual vote tally itself.

It’s unfortunate the bill was reported out of committee last February, it would be even more lamentable if the bill were to make it to the floor for a vote; and yet

more calamitous should the bill pass the House of Representatives.


Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) can be reached at 5310 Kietzke Lane #103, Reno, Nevada 89511; 905 Railroad Street #104D, Elko, NV 89801; or 332 Cannon Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-NV4): 313 Cannon Building, Washington, DC 20515; 2250 North Las Vegas Blvd #500, North Las Vegas, NV 89030

Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV3): 8872 S. Eastern Avenue #220, Las Vegas, NV 89123; 413 Cannon Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1): 2464 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; 495 S. Main St. 3rd floor, Las Vegas, NV 89101.

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Filed under Congress, Nevada politics, Politics, Voting

Passion and Politics: Playing Loose with the Truth

Lincoln Cartoon “George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.” [Atlantic]

The descendents of those who passionately vilified Lincoln are with us today.   They become particularly noticeable during times when U.S. politics are polarized, polemicized, and full of more propaganda than factual content.  

Case in point: Those “30,000 missing emails” on Secretary Clinton’s server. There are, as we speak, some Internet trolls repeating the claim that Clinton ‘lost’ 30,000 emails during her tenure in the State Department. They’ve got the story bass-ackwards.

“So in 2014, Clinton’s lawyers combed through the private server and turned over about 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department and deleted the rest, which Clinton said were about personal matters.” [Politifact]

The rest of the FBI investigation?

Of the tens of thousands of emails investigators reviewed, 113 contained classified information, and three of those had classification markers. FBI Director James Comey has said Clinton should have known that some of the 113 were classified, but others she might have understandably missed.

Comey said the Justice Department shouldn’t prosecute Clinton because there isn’t enough evidence that she intentionally mishandled classified information. FBI investigators didn’t find vast quantities of exposed classified material, and they also did not turn up evidence that Clinton intended to be disloyal to the United States or that she intended to obstruct justice.  [Politifact]

So, the entire “scandal” doesn’t concern 30,000 emails, those were handed over early in the game; and, it boils down to 3 emails which can’t be shown to have been intentionally mishandled.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the investigations were entirely political, entirely overblown, and total malarkey but that’s not the point.  No matter how often the story is fact checked [MMA] [MMA] [Slate] [Star Telegram] [MJ] [WaPo] it is still being pumped by the passionate.

Those in that Basket of Deplorables doing the arm-work to keep the air in that story intended to cause “distrust” of Secretary Clinton are committed to their version – no matter how untrue, no matter how politicized because it’s their version.  Long advised by right wing radio hosts to distrust the media, distrust the ‘establishment,’ and to distrust anything other than the version of events as dispensed by the hosts, they will now easily slip into dismissing any explication which doesn’t fit their personal narrative.  In simpler terms, they don’t care if a statement isn’t true – they’ll find a way to make it that way.

We could add another ten links in the paragraph above to articles debunking the email story (or any other tale for that matter) and the emotional voter will dismiss all as “liberal media.”  Not that they have any idea what the ‘liberal media’ might be – it’s just that they identify as conservative, and the media isn’t enabling their narratives garnered from right wing sources.  Therefore, the media (having been described as liberal on AM radio) must be so. 

If a cavalier dismissal of conflicting information isn’t sufficient, there’s always the conspiratorial element – the ‘liberal’ media must be discredited because “they” are always “hiding something from us.”    Both the Distrust Element and the Conspiratorial Element make up a portion of that Basket of Deplorables – the racists, the misogynists, the bigots, the Islamophobes, the intolerant – which drive some of the support for Trump’s candidacy.

It doesn’t matter how many times the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or any other major news outlet debunks and fact checks Trump’s characterizations of people and events.  These people just aren’t into facts.

Another factor is the capacity of people to filter what they are hearing.  Did Donald Trump say that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and is therefore a legitimate president?  Well, they may say slyly, that’s what he said because he had to say it, he just doesn’t really truly mean it.  Interesting that this analysis comes from people who like Trump because “he tells it like it is.”

This isn’t of course to argue that Trump’s 40% support is coming solely from the Deplorables and the Deniers – Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that there are those for whom our economic system isn’t working.  They’re frustrated, fearful, and in need of assistance not forthcoming from our current political systems.   They’ll vote “against the establishment” whatever that might be (such as Bush, Kasich, etc.) because they want some form of change.

Nor should we forget that there are those who will vote for anyone on the top of the ticket with an R.  There are yellow dog Republicans as well as Democrats.

Hence, this election in 2016 will come down to TURNOUT. Good old fashioned door knocking, phone calling, rides to the polls, TURNOUT.  We can be assured that the Deplorable element will be there, as they were for the mid-terms, and the disaffected will arrive.  It’s a matter of no small importance that Democrats make the same effort to GET OUT THE VOTE.

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Filed under Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Nevada politics, Politics, racism, Republicans

After the Balloons

DNC 2016 balloonsThe balloons dropped, the convention crews are clearing venue, and the real work begins.  On the positive side of the ledger, the Democrats reclaimed God, the Flag, and the ‘sunny patriotism’ of the Reagan afterglow. [JPP] Now the 100 days tick down to the final result on November 8, 2016.  There’s plenty of work for everyone, and pitfalls aplenty.

Pitfall warning sign small

The Republicans have been working diligently to suppress the votes of precisely those citizens who are likely to cast ballots for Democratic candidates.  We need to pay close attention to what the Brennan Center is saying about voting rights in America:

“The 2016 election season is already in full swing. As voters in a number of states face new restrictions for the first time in a presidential election, we’ve already seen problems in primaries across the country.  A new photo ID requirement led to long lines in Wisconsin. A reduction in polling places forced some to wait five hours to vote in Arizona. New rules created confusion in North Carolina. This could be an early glimpse of problems in November — as voters face the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to prevent discrimination in voting.”

Let’s not kid ourselves about what will be going on in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona, and other states in which Republicans have implemented creative ways to suppress the votes of the elderly, the young, the members of ethnic minorities, and women.   Repeating for emphasis: “…voters face the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to prevent discrimination in voting.”

“Aside from new restrictions considered in 2016, there are 17 states with voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year. The new measures range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

Those 17 states (with new laws) are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.” [Brennan]

What this means is voting registration drive efforts must be supported and enhanced in every way the laws allow. That voters must be attentive to efforts to suppress the vote by closing polling places in minority neighborhoods.  That voters must demand sufficient hours for voting, sufficient polling stations for elections, sufficient staffing for elections.  If you don’t know what these are –ask! Ask, and share the information any way you can, to any one you can.  Voter registration information for Nevada is located here.  Eligible voters in Nevada can update their information online.  The list of voting registrars and county clerks and their contact information is located here.

Register, check the status of your registration, (any name change? change of address?) help someone else register to vote.  Given the efforts at voter suppression in this election cycle it may not be enough to simply show up to vote, especially in those 17 states listed above, it may require a little extra effort, more volunteers, and more resources.  Support the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, Voto Latino, and other groups in the community who work to expand the electorate. 

Take hope – the North Carolina voting discrimination law has been declared discriminatory by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a major win for voting rights.  The anti-voting law in Texas was struck down by the usually very conservative 5th Circuit Court.  There’s hope, but it’s still going to take some extra effort.

Pitfall warning sign small

Don’t expect the top of the ticket to be the end and be all. As Democrats learned to their sorrow in the last mid-term elections (and in too many mid-term elections previously) that state and local elections matter.  Nevada has an excellent candidate for the U.S. Senate: Catherine Cortez Masto, who wants to overturn Citizens United, protect Medicare and Social Security, Raise the minimum wage, and enact comprehensive immigration policy reform.

There’s a credible candidate in Nevada’s heavily Republican Congressional District 2, Chip Evans.  Evans’ tells us: “Growth comes from reinvesting in our middle class. We must modernize our infrastructure to remain competitive, repeal laws providing tax breaks for companies sending jobs overseas, and leverage public/private partnerships to train workers while rebuilding our manufacturing base.”

There’s a really stark contrast in Nevada’s Congressional District 4: Ruben Kihuen versus the ever-inarticulate, gaffe-o-matic, Bundy sympathizer, Cresent Hardy.  In case anyone’s unsure about Hardy’s ethno-nationalist perspective, remember he’s the one who won’t debate Kihuen on a local Spanish language broadcast. No, Cresent, no one is asking you to speak Spanish – bless his heart he has enough trouble with English.

There are State Senate and State Assembly seats up for election, there are county commissioners, and school board, and other local elections in this election.  And, please remember that for many candidates the local elections are often the incubators for future candidates for statewide and national elections.  No national leader, executive or legislative, can do it alone. There must be a support system at the state and local level.

Call, register, volunteer, or as Secretary Clinton reminded us, be a good ‘Methodist,’

Wesley Quote

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Filed under Nevada Democrats, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Vote Suppression, Voting

Vote Suppression Bills Emerge in Nevada Legislature

Vote suppression 2 Here they go again: SB 433AN ACT relating to elections; requiring the county clerk and city clerk to publish the voter turnout for each day of early voting by midnight of the following day; prohibiting an election board officer from displaying a political preference or party allegiance while serving; requiring the county clerk and city clerk to use certain criteria in determining polling places for early voting; revising the hours and days for early voting;…  And they’re off, galloping toward making it more difficult to cast a ballot in Nevada elections —

Sections 4, 5, 12 and 13 of this bill provide that no permanent or temporary polling place may open before 7 a.m., remain open after 7 p.m. or open on Sundays during early voting.”

This in a state in which one of the leading employers is the “hospitality” sector, and people in that sector work various shifts which are generally not associated with so-called ‘standard hours.’   Here’s a conservative idea: How about allowing local governments some discretion in how they conduct their elections?

Consider for a moment the section in the bill which alleges to be “fair” about the location of polling stations.  Heretofore, county clerks and local election officials have had some latitude to establish these on the basis of local returns and traffic.  However, SB 433 adds some language which contains another wrinkle.  The Bill says,

“2. The county clerk shall: (a) Provide by rule or regulation for the criteria to be used to select permanent and temporary polling places for early voting by personal appearance . [; and] The criteria used to select permanent and temporary polling places for early voting by personal appearance must, without limitation: (1) Ensure that permanent and temporary polling places are located near residential areas of the county, to the extent possible. (2) Ensure that a permanent or temporary polling place is located in every geographic area of the county, to the extent possible. (b) At a meeting of the board of county commissioners, inform the board of the sites selected as permanent and temporary polling places for early voting by personal appearance. 3. The number of permanent and temporary polling places for early voting by personal appearance in a county with multiple assembly districts must be divided equally among the assembly districts.” (emphasis added)

First, there’s the waffling language inserted “to the extent possible,” without specifying what criteria should be used to determine whether a location is feasible.  Secondly, take a another look at the portion underlined above.  What counties have multiple assembly districts?  Clark (Las Vegas), Washoe (Reno-Sparks), and in general members of the Nevada Assembly represent about 64,299 residents.

The 42 Assembly districts include 30 districts wholly within Clark County, 8 districts in the Washoe County/Carson City/western Nevada area, and 4 Assembly districts within the 2 rural Senate districts.”  [nvleg]

Now, if each of the Assembly elections in multi-district counties have the same number of polling stations what would the impact of this be on those districts which have more than the average number of residents and those which have less?  This is a problem which could easily be sorted by local officials who know how many people live where – but the Republican bill would treat everyone “equally” when such a solution might not in itself be equitable. 

There are three “overpopulated” districts in Nevada after the 2010 census:  Clark Senate District 9, 173.9% overpopulated;  State Assembly District 22 at 246.7% overpopulated; and,  Nevada Assembly District 13 with 298.8% overpopulation. [ballot]  Perhaps we might want to think about installing more polling stations in those districts which are overpopulated rather than being “fair” by allowing all districts an equal number no matter the overpopulation figures? Interestingly enough those two overpopulated Assembly seats are currently held by Republicans, as is Senate District 9.  It’s hard to conceive of Republicans advocating long lines in polling places for their own incumbents – but perhaps when ideology trumps common sense that could be the outcome?

This could also prove to be the case in the infamous SB 169, photo ID bill.  What makes SB 169 of special interest is that it only recognizes state, federal, and tribal identification forms of identification.  The result is essentially disenfranchisement.  And, disenfranchisement with a big price tag for taxpayers:

“The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee because of its undermined cost of providing voter identification cards to those who lack other acceptable forms for photo ID.

There’s also the expense of educating voters on the requirement, Story said, adding Indiana, on which the Nevada bill is modeled, spent millions of dollars on such efforts.’ [LVRJ]

Additional, costly, voter identification measures to solve a non-existent problem, combined with the shrinking number of hours available for voters is a recipe for vote suppression, exactly what Republicans have been clamoring for in recent years.  Bill Moyers compiled a short but illustrative guide to GOP vote suppression thoughts, which deserves a review at this point before the Republicans in Nevada make voting the preserve of the rich and all but impossible for the poor.

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Spooks, Haunts, and other Scary Things in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature Scary Things

The GOP controlled Nevada Legislature is haunted. Specters and spooks dog the steps of the members of the Assembled Wisdom, wraiths point toward things of which we must be afraid, very afraid.

We must be afraid of voter impersonation fraud.  The fact that it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that we ought not to writhe in terror at the prospect.  Speaking of ghosts of elections past, we have Sharron Angle to add her wail to the cries of alarm:

“Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Harry Reid, testified for the bill, saying “we do have a voter impersonation problem across the country.”  Anderson asked if she has found examples of voter impersonation in Nevada in her investigations. Angle said no, but that there is “anomalous activity that goes on in Nevada elections that is not easily explained.” [LVRJ]

One might reasonably guess that “anomalous activity” is one of those terms which might be analogous to the Spectral Evidence allowed in the Salem Witch Trials?   However, we might just as well place this within the glossary of meaningless phrases, which while sounding erudite, mean almost nothing, such as “stocks are down on profit taking,” or “there’s lots of cash on the sidelines.” [Ritholtz] Or, such unverifiable and empty notions like “highway miles.”  Or, those gratuitous and equally meaningless phrases which appear in job opening announcements, “self starter,” “team player,” and “highly qualified.”

The point being is that bills like SB 169 (photo ID) are necessary to solve the Republican problem of not being able to win elections if lower income, non-white, young people, and the elderly are allowed to vote.

We must be very afraid of criminals.  Not only must we quake in alarm, according to the GOP Gun Club we must arm ourselves and await the day when we will be called upon to open fire on the evil-doers in our midst. Unfortunately, this serves to remind us that one person who tried this at the Las Vegas Wal-Mart ended up as a victim. [SFgate] No matter, by the lights of the Gun Club we must all be allowed to carry concealed weapons – anywhere – unless maybe not on school grounds.  (AB 148) 

As of 2013 there were 2,790,236 people in the state of Nevada.  There were 16,496 violent crimes reported.  We should put this in some perspective.  First, if we divide the number of violent crimes (victims) by the total population the result is 0.00591.  Shift the decimal to create a percentage and we have 0.59%. [TDC]  Is the likelihood of victimization in a violent crime in Nevada so high that all the dangers associated with carrying a concealed weapon worth the effort? Secondly, there were 163 murders, 1,090 rapes, 5,183 robberies, and 10,060 assaults in Nevada as of the 2013 reporting period.  [TDC]   The numbers don’t suggest a need for a proliferation of arms among ordinary citizens.

But but but… What if the criminals think there will be armed opposition to their nefarious endeavors! That will prevent them from carrying out their heinous designs! Really?  The armed robber already has his or her gun in position, ready to fire. The gun in my purse or holster is going to take a moment to get “into position.” Thus, the obvious outcome is that the robber gets the money, and the firearm.  Then there is the “collateral damage” consideration.  What if the “burglar” isn’t a criminal after all, but some family member who has lost a key?  In public spaces, how does Our Concealed Carry Hero determine if another Concealed Carry Hero is, or is not, a perpetrator of the shooting? The questions go on, but the bottom line is that in the fanciful world of the gun enthusiasts every hero can make practical decisions at 2 in the morning, make every shot count, and insure that every shot is aimed at and will hit the criminal.  It’s a scenario right out of the made for TV melodramas. Legislation should be crafted upon a foundation of facts and rationality, not the fevered imaginings of the frightened.

We must be afraid that someone somewhere is taking money away from us, and that every accumulation of government revenue is robbery, and every public service employee is unworthy.  Those comfortably ensconced in the upper 0.01% of income earners may very well be able to buy all the books they want (therefore there is no need for public libraries) or to spend a vacation on a private island or in a private resort (therefore there is no need for any public parks), and they may elect to spend money on private security, or pay for service firefighting, or pay the tolls on roads and highways, or send the kids to private schools.  When money is no object, other people’s money is little more than a object of attraction. 

Unfortunately, the upper 0.01% has been effective over the last three decades in convincing ordinary people earning $50,000 per year that a public school beginning teacher earning $37,000 is a Pig At The Public Trough.  The median wage of an employee of the State of Nevada is currently $46,590.  Hardly a figure, when agency heads are included, to describe an opulent living.   Yet, public employees are taking fire in this edition of the Legislature.

However, it’s not just the public sector employees who are drawing the attention of the Needy Greedy.   State Senator Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) wants to repeal the state’s minimum wage.  Hardy’s SJR 6 (pdf) would repeal Nevada’s minimum wage provisions and let the legislature determine if an employer is providing health insurance if the cost is not more than 10% of the employee’s gross taxable income.  Here’s a thought – How about, instead of allowing more employers to pay less than $8.25 per hour, Nevada enacted an increase in the minimum wage? Period.

Want to see fewer people have to rely on housing subsidies to keep roofs over their heads? Raise the minimum wage.  Want to see fewer people have to resort to the SNAP programs? – raise the minimum wage. Want to see fewer individuals have to avail themselves of Medicaid assistance? Raise the minimum wage. 

For too many years we’ve been told the people (including the disabled and the elderly) aren’t working hard enough.  They should get more education (despite the costs and time involved), get more gumption (this in the face of a 5% multi-job rate), work more hours… take individual responsibility!  This is all lovely palaver from the heights, the concepts tend to disintegrate when applied in the real world.  The question could as easily be reversed. For example, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, with sales and revenue reported as $14.58 billion in 2014, and net income of $2.84 billion, couldn’t spring for more than a paltry $8.25 per hour?  The question ought to be why can’t employers pay more than $10.10 per hour, or a living wage of $15.00?

In the real world most employers do pay more than the minimum already.  Minimum wage workers comprise about 4.7% of the total employed workforce.  The chart shows national trends for minimum wage workers:

Minimum Wage workers

“Leisure and Hospitality,” where have we seen that category before? L&H is the largest employer in the state, accounting for approximately 398,000 jobs earning an average annual wage of $31,600 (net of benefits.)  So, here we sit in a state in which most employees are engaged by a sector most likely to pay earnings at or below the federal minimum wage – and we can’t figure out that those who need housing or SNAP assistance might not fall into those categories if the wages were increased? So, let’s ask again: Why are Nevada employers unwilling to pay wages which would support their employees above the rate at which they are eligible for public assistance?

There are some things about which we should be legitimately concerned, those just don’t seem to have made it into the consciousness of the Legislature’s majority. Here are two examples:

Nevada has an income inequality problem.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI] (emphasis added)

This situation is economically unsustainable.  As middle income and lower income earners tighten their belts and shave their budgets, there are simply not enough high income earners to create the demand for goods and services over time.

Nevada has infrastructure issues.  Only in the categories of waste water and solid waste does the state of Nevada get a ‘good’ grade, a B, from the ASCE.  We seem to be handling the excremental elements of our state rather better than our school buildings and our dams.

If the Legislature can move past Guns Galore!, Labor Bashing, and Vote Suppressing, we might want to address these and other pressing issues in the Silver State.

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Filed under Crime Rates, Gun Issues, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

NRS 293.463 and Nevada Voters

Ballot BoxWith all the recent discussion of vote suppression strategies and tactics emanating from the right wing of our national politics, there’s at least one aspect of the issue that isn’t getting much attention.  What is the economic impact of suggestions to curtail voting, especially those ideas put forward which would eliminate early voting, voting by mail, and other such concepts?

A Time and Distance Problem?

The crux of the issue for employers is that “Employees in Nevada are entitled to a sufficient period of time off to vote, without penalty, if there is not sufficient time outside working hours when the polls are open.”  [BizTK] The entire framework is set forth in NRS 293.463:

 NRS 293.463 Employees may absent themselves from employment to vote: Procedure; penalty. 1.Any registered voter may be absent from his or her place of employment at a time to be designated by the employer for a sufficient time to vote,  if it is impracticable for the voter to vote before or after his or her hours of employment. A sufficient time to vote shall be determined as follows:  (a) If the distance between the place of such voter’s employment and the polling place where such person votes is 2 miles or less, 1 hour.  (b) If the distance is more than 2 miles but not more than 10 miles, 2 hours. (c) If the distance is more than 10 miles, 3 hours.  2. Such voter may not, because of such absence, be discharged, disciplined or penalized, nor shall any deduction be made from his or her usual salary or wages by reason of such absence. 3.Application for leave of absence to vote shall be made to the employer or person authorized to grant such leave prior to the day of the election.

Note that in the Nevada statute the “sufficient” time involved in voting is determined by the distance between the polling station and the place of work.  It is not qualified by the number of minutes — or even hours — a person is standing in line waiting to vote.  In short, Nevada’s statutes allow for travel time to get to the polls, but not wait time.* An Attorney General’s opinion (pdf) from December 2, 1986 sought to clarify the statute:

“NRS 293.463 is a statute which should be interpreted and applied in a liberal manner in order to achieve its salutary purpose of ensuring that employees have the unfettered opportunity to vote during an election.  If it is impracticable for an employee to vote before or after the workday and the employee meets the other qualifying terms of the provision, the plain language of the statute affords the employee a specified amount of time absent from the workplace in which to vote.”

An employer is not liable for any penalty under the provisions of NRS 293.463 if the law has been generously applied so that the employee has an “unfettered opportunity” to vote.   The statute doesn’t mention any fetters applied when the prospective voter gets to the polling station, stands in line and watches the minutes tick away until the “deadline” is reached. At this juncture both the employee and the employer are at the mercy of the election officials.   What happens when a shortage of ballots, a shortage of election machines, a shortage of polling stations, or other inopportune situation creates long waits at the polls?  Is a worker to be penalized wages lost if he or she is standing in line for more than 3 hours at the polling place 3 miles from work?  Is the employer to continue to pay an employee who, at no  fault of their own, exceeds the maximum number of hours absent for the purpose of voting? Extending voting times, including the use of early voting opportunities, helps resolve some of the questions otherwise left to the judgment of employees and employers.  Employees and employers who have “regular” hours, 9-5 Monday through Friday, can put these issues aside if the employee can avail him or herself of Saturday voting periods.

Sheer Numbers

The population of the United States of America in the first census of 1790 was 3,929,214 individuals.  Since women could not vote we must subtract 1,541,263 free white women from the voting total.  We must also subtract the 694,280 enslaved persons from the total eligible to vote.  There were 791,850 free white males under the age of 16, and ineligible to vote, so we have to subtract these numbers from the total as well.  The vote was the province of property owning white males, who comprised between 10% and 16% of the total population.   If we take the most generous figure, 16%, then we can conclude that there were only 628,674 eligible voters in the entire country in 1790.   In short, the entire voting population in 1790 was less than the current total population of Denver, Colorado (634,265.) [Pop] The relatively small numbers fit the original establishment of an election day in the United States:

“The United States was an agrarian society in the mid 1800′s, and it was believed that November would be the best month to hold elections, since harvest would have been completed. Tuesday was the best day of the week because it did not interfere with the Sabbath, yet gave farmers enough time to travel to the polling places. Wednesday was traditionally market day, and therefore not a good choice.” [IslandLaw]

Thus, now an industrial/financial predominantly urban  nation has an election day set for an agrarian, predominantly rural society.   The time it takes to vote is not only a function of the time allowable for the electorate to show up at the polls, but also of the capacity of the officials to conduct the election itself.

Numbers also show us the problems associated with this task in Nevada. The state’s total vote in the national election of 1920 was 27,194.  In the 2012 election 1,014,918 voters cast ballots in the national election.  Obviously, a system and staffing which could handle less than 30,000 voters statewide would be over-run by an increase of 3632%. Nevada Total Votes castThe notion that the state of Nevada could realistically accommodate the needs of Nevada’s employers and employees on a single election day in a single block of time from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. doesn’t seem possible given the increasing numbers of voters who have been casting ballots at our polling stations. Nor does it seem reasonable to conclude that even the voting population of Clark County (Las Vegas, and environs) could be reasonably accommodated under previous systems and protocols. Clark County Population IncreaseThe single day, single block of hours, which worked from 1920 to 1950 would have been stressed by 1970, and overwhelmed by at least 1990? The picture is essentially the same in the other major population area, Washoe County: Washoe County Population Increase

Options

If the “single day/single time block” system for voting cannot reasonably allow voters to cast ballots within the times specified, then adjustments must be made if the spirit of NRS 293.463 is to be followed.   One option is to hire more staff and create more polling sites, with more election supplies and equipment. This option has been commonly adopted nationwide because EAVS statistics confirm that the number of precincts has increased from 167,037 in 1980 to 185,994 in 2004. [pdf]  Most states have between 1 and 2 precincts per polling place; Nevada, as of 2004, had about 3 per polling station. [pdf] However, there comes a point at which combining precincts and creating new polling places becomes prohibitively expensive.  The applicability of the option is proportional to the willingness of the community to tax itself in order to expand its voting operations.

Nevada employers, as patriotic as anyone else, are faced with the prospect of impeding that “unfettered opportunity to vote during an election” required by NRS 293.463, or the option of higher local taxation to pay for making voting more accessible in a single day/single time block system.  Ironically, it may be the employer who could find his or her opportunity to vote in a single day/single block system impinged by having to cover for employees tied up in voting place lines during working hours?

Another option for handling these Sheer Numbers is in early voting, which in 2014 will be from May 24 to June 6 for primary elections, and from October 18 to October 31 for the general elections.   Early voting allows the election officials to spread the work load along an extended time period.   It also gives employers some relief from having to release employees during working hours, and from, in some instances, having to cover for them and pay them for lost time during regular working days. Several counties have adopted mail in ballots for small and/or remote precincts.  Information regarding “mail in precincts” is available from county clerks or voting registrars.  Rural counties have adopted these precincts/mail vote systems to reduce the expenses involved in establishing fully staffed and equipped voting places in areas where the total population is such that the expense isn’t judged justifiable.

The Objections

The most common objection to modifying the single day/single time block voting system is that it somehow “diminishes the civic experience.”   The argument is generally supported by the contention that if people have given their lives and honor for the right to vote, current voters can at least stand in line for a few hours.   The logic of this contention depends on conflating the Right to Vote with the Exercise of Voting Rights.   Indeed, many have lost their very lives for the Right to Vote, but one might reasonably assume that no one has given their all for the Right to Vote in A Single Day, Single Time Block Voting System. What people want, from all sides of the political spectrum, is the capacity to exercise those voting rights, to take advantage of the opportunity to vote in our democracy.

The “civic experience” is reduced, not by extending opportunities with extended or early voting, or with mail in ballots, but when people do not have convenient access to Exercise the rights they appreciate.  Why should voting be convenient?  Because it is an essential part of our “civic experience,” which should be shared by as many eligible voters as possible.

Other objections are predicated on campaign processes.  It is said that early voting requires campaigns to recalibrate their expenses.  Of all the stake holders in the election process, the campaigns may have the least grounds for objections — they entered into the campaign voluntarily, and if they seek voters to their candidate or cause, they need to take the “calibration” of the electorate into consideration before calculating their own campaign’s “calibrations” and ad buys.

A few have objected that “all the facts” aren’t available to those who vote early, and who thereby miss the last minute advertising, and campaign press releases.  This argument might have more merit if the last minute campaign rhetoric weren’t so often specious and spurious.   All too often, waiting until the the eve of an election day garners only the most questionable information, and the attendant cynicism that the information was released at the last minute because it couldn’t withstand 24 hours of fact-checking.

Those who oppose the mail in system for extending the exercise of the vote object to the potential for abuse.  One right wing blog proposed that spouses of a different political party could “lose” the person’s ballot.  If we have so many marriages in this country which are on such shaky ground, then our problem isn’t on the calendar or at the precinct, it’s in the paucity of affordable marriage counseling.

Evidence for “mail in ballot” abuse most often comes from absentee balloting, although one case in Oregon concerned their mail in ballot system. Oregon, which uses mail in ballots, experienced one problem in Clackamas County with a temporary election worker. ” State Department of Justice officials won’t talk about the criminal investigation into allegations that a temporary elections worker cast additional votes for Republicans in races voters left blank.” [Oregonian] Tampering with ballots in Oregon is a Class C felony, with an ‘ up to five year prison term’ and a $125,000 fine.  The Swenson Case was the first involving the mail in votes, and the Oregon City woman pleaded guilty to the offense in April, 2013. [KATU] Oregon is reviewing its ballot handling and processing procedures.

“The misconduct occurred less than a week before the general election, creating concern that the legitimacy of some results would be questioned. The tampering, however, apparently did not affect any races. All the suspect ballots were reviewed to identify voter intent — or, in this case, lack of intent — and then counted.”  [KATU]

Thus much for this much cited case. The last common objection is that mail in balloting and extended voting depress turnout.   Here we meet the Wisconsin Study, and a new term “civic stimulation.”  However, the study contains some elements which cast doubt on the simple conclusion.   In some states campaigns reduced their activities based on the early returns.  It could as easily be argued that if this reduction in campaigning caused less turnout, then the turn out is a function of the campaigning and not the election process itself –The campaign having made a calculated decision that it had probably reached all the voters it was going to get. In short, it depressed its own turnout. The research also concluded that even when extended voting was available the depression factor was reduced if same day registration was allowed.

What depresses turnout?  Voter Suppression Tactics

“The study, conducted by University of Massachusetts Boston professors Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien, examined restrictive voting laws proposed between 2006 and 2011. That included voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, voter registration limits, early voting and absentee voting restrictions, and restrictions on felons’ voting rights. They found that “the more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed.” [TP]

No surprise there, and only abetted by the creative ways the ‘suppressionists’ have devised to gut the Voting Rights Act. [NYT] In the mean time, arguments for making voting more arduous, or to enhance that “civic experience” or “civic stimulation,” can’t erase the sheer numbers of voters who must be accommodated by local election officials.  Nor do such arguments assist employers and employees who seek unfettered opportunities to vote in Nevada elections.

The Bottom Line

The economic impact may not be easily quantifiable, but if we conjecture that the losses in terms of wages and productivity must be increased as more employers find they have to release more workers for longer periods of time to exercise their right to vote, then the result isn’t good for either the employers or the political system.   What might be calculable at a micro-level is the reduction in expenses when employees can exercise their voting rights on their own time.   An employer with five employees, all of whom have access to mail in ballots or extended voting times, will be paying far less to satisfy the requirements of NRS 293.463 than the employer who has to release five employees during the day to stand in polling place lines.

* See also: Labor and Employment Laws in the State of Nevada, Fisher & Phillips LLP, PDF

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Filed under Economy, Politics, Vote Suppression, Voting