Political MoJo

The War on Voting May Have Swung These 4 Races

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 3:12 PM EST

In several races around the country on Tuesday, the victors won by razor-thin margins. Many of these races were in states that had recently enacted voting restrictions expected to depress turnout amongst minorities, young voters, and the poor, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Brennan Center. No one knows how many of the newly disenfranchised may have voted. Nevertheless, the report's author Wendy Weiser notes, "[I]n several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." Here's look at the numbers in some of those elections, all via Brennan:
 

Kansas Governor: Republican Gov. Sam Brownback got 33,000 more votes than his Democratic challenger Paul Davis.

In 2011, Kansas implemented a requirement that voters provide documentation of citizenship to vote, and just before the 2012 election, the state enacted a strict photo ID law.

More than 24,000 Kansas voters tried to register this year, but couldn't because of the state's proof of citizenship law. In addition, it's estimated that the state's photo ID law reduces turnout by about 2 percent, or 17,000 voters.
 

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.
 

Virginia Senate: Democratic Sen. Mark Warner beat GOPer Ed Gillespie by a margin of just over 12,000 votes.

Voters this year faced a new voter ID law that the state enacted in 2013. This type of law tends to reduce turnout by about 2.4 percent, according to New York Times pollster Nate Silver. Applied to the Virginia Senate race this year, that would mean that turnout was reduced by over 52,000 voters.
 

Florida Governor: Republican Gov. Rick Scott eked out a victory over former Democratic Gov. Charlie Crist by roughly 72,000 votes.

In 2011, Florida reduced the early voting period. The same year, Scott imposed a measure making it nearly impossible to vote for convicts who have already served their time. The move essentially disenfranchised nearly 1.3 million formerly incarcerated Floridians, about one in three of whom are African-American.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 6, 2014

Thu Nov. 6, 2014 11:45 AM EST

A US Marine returns for a homecoming event after spending six months in the Pacific region. (DoD photo by Cpl. Scott Reel, US Marine Corps)

Watch Bernie Sanders Perfectly Predict Big Money's Domination This Past Election Day

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 9:38 AM EST

"If Chevron can roll over you, they and their buddies will roll over every community in America," Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a crowd two weeks ago in Richmond, California where the energy giant was attempting to influence local elections. "You can stand up and beat them will all of their money. You're going to give hope to people all over America that we can control our destiny."

It turns out, Richmond residents were listening. On Tuesday, the town took heed of Sanders' warnings and rejected the slew of candidates backed by Chevron, an outcome many perceived as a dismissal of the energy giant's attempt to control their vote.

But unfortunately for the rest of America, big money interests came out frighteningly successful on Tuesday. In fact, this past midterm election is going down as the most expensive ever and we don't need to remind you of the bloodbath that swept through the country.

Sanders, the sole independent senator in America, sat down with Bill Moyers just days prior to Election Day to condemn billionaire interests and outline what progressives can do to squash out big money's influence for elections to come.

"I think what we have to do, Bill, is lay out an agenda which says we are going to take on the billionaire class," Sanders told Moyers. "You know what? We're going to overturn Citizens United. We're going to move to public funding of elections so these guys don't buy elections."

Watch the clip below for more:

If Millennials Had Voted, Last Night Would Have Looked Very Different

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 5:13 PM EST

The GOP’s big Election Day victory may have a lot to do with who didn’t show up at the polls—and one of the groups that stayed home at a record rate were young people. According to an NBC News exit poll, the percentage of voters aged 60 or older accounted for almost 40 percent of the vote, while voters under 30  accounted for a measly 12 percent. Young people’s share of the vote is typically smaller in midterm elections, but the valley between age groups in 2014 is the largest the US has seen in at least a decade.

NBC News

And that valley made a huge difference for Democrats, because younger voters have been trending blue. Some 55 percent of young people who did turn up voted for Dems compared to 45 percent of those over 60.

An interactive predictor on the Fusion, the news site targeted at millennials, indicated how Democrats could have gained if young people had shown in greater numbers. Using 2010 vote totals and 2014 polling data, the tool lets users calculate the effect of greater turnout among voters under 30 in several key states.

On Tuesday, according to preliminary exit polls, young voters in Iowa favored Democrats by a slight margin—51 percent—but they made up only 12 percent of the total vote, leaving conservative Republican Joni Ernst the winner. In Georgia, 58 percent of young voters went for Democrat Michelle Nunn, but they made up 10 percent of the total who showed up to cast their ballots. In Colorado, where a sophisticated political machine delivered Democratic wins in 2010, the calculator shows that a full 71 percent of young people voted for Dems in 2010; exit polls indicate that young voters made up 14 percent of the final tally, leaving Mark Udall out in the cold.

If historical voting patterns hold, it's possible that these Democratic leaning millennials will turn out in greater numbers in the future. If so, that will bode well for Dems—as long as these voters don't also become more conservative as they age.

Felix Salmon, Fusion

California Voters Helped Kick Off the Prison Boom. They Just Took a Huge Step Toward Ending It.

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 4:29 PM EST

Voters in the birthplace of mass incarceration just gave it a major blow. With California's passage of Proposition 47, which reclassifies nonviolent crimes previously considered felonies—think simple drug possession or petty theft—as misdemeanors, some 40,000 fewer people will be convicted of felonies each year. Thousands of prisoners could be set free. People with certain kinds of felonies on their records can now apply to have them removed.

The state's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the reforms will save California hundreds of millions of dollars annually, money that will be reinvested in school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.

The proposition's passage represents a pendulum swing: Just two decades ago, California overwhelmingly passed a three-strikes ballot initiative that would go on to send people to prison for life for stealing tube socks and other minor offenses. Last night, the state's voters turned back the dial.

The new law requires the savings from reducing prison rolls to be reinvested into other areas that could, in the long-term, further reduce the prison population. Take dropout prevention: Half of the nation's dropouts are jobless, and according to a 2006 study by the Gates Foundation, and they are more than eight times as likely to get locked up.

The same goes for increased funding to aid the mentally ill. In California, the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled over the last 14 years. Mentally ill inmates in state prisons serve an average of 15 months longer. Lockups have become our country's go-to provider of mental health care: the nation's three largest mental health providers are jails. There are ten times as many mentally ill people behind bars as in state hospitals. Sixteen percent of inmates have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, which is two and a half times the rate in the early 1980s. Prop 47 will provide more money for mental health programs that have been proven to drop incarceration rates. For example, when Nevada County, California started an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, average jail times for the mentally ill dropped from 521 days to just 17.

Keeping drug users out of prison and putting more money into drug treatment is probably the most commonsense change that will come out of the measure. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. Yet there is growing evidence that incarceration does not reduce drug addiction. And while 65 percent of US inmates are drug addicts, only 11 percent receive treatment in prison. Alternatives exist: a pilot project in Hawaii suggested that drug offenders given probation over being sent to prison were half as likely to be arrested for a new crime and 70 percent less likely to use drugs.

California's vote comes at a time when it seems more and more Americans are questioning how often—and for how long—our justice system incarcerates criminals. Last year, a poll of, yes, Texas Republicans showed that 81% favored treatment over prison for drug offenders. The passage of Prop 47 is yet another example that prison reform is no longer a partisan issue. The largest single backer of the ballot measure was Bradley Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative multimillionaire who has been a major financial supporter of Republicans and Karl Rove's American Crossroads. His donation of $1.3 million was second only to contributions from George Soros's Open Society Policy Center.

The passage of Prop 47 might inspire campaigners to put prison on the ballot in other states. It might also push lawmakers to realize they can ease the penal code on their own without voters skewering them for letting nonviolent people out of prison—and keeping them out. 

Obama Addresses Midterm Election Results

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 1:55 PM EST

Update: President Obama has concluded his press conference. It was the second longest of his presidency. Here is a transcript from the Washington Post.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss the results of the midterm elections this afternoon. To briefly recap: Having seized the Senate for the first time in eight years, Republicans now control both houses of Congress. They also scored a handful of key governor races. To top it off, a new age of the McConnellsance has been all but solidified.

How will the president frame the bloodbath that was Election Day 2014? A shellackin'? A whoopin'? Tune in at 2:50 PM (EST) to find out.

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2014 Bright Spot: South Dakota County Named for Judge Who Pushed Out Indians Changes Its Name

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:18 PM EST

Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds easily won the South Dakota Senate race on Tuesday, taking advantage of a split field that included progressive Democrat Rick Weiland and an iconoclastic ex-GOP senator, Larry Pressler. Weiland had hoped that American Indian voters, boosted by expanded voting access on reservations, would push him over the top, just as they did with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in 2002. That didn't happen.

Shannon County, which includes much of the Pine Ridge Reservation, voted overwhelmingly for Weiland (he took 81 percent of that vote). But turnout dropped from its 2012 level, and the race wasn't close enough for votes on the reservation to matter. There was a silver lining, though: 2,161 residents voted to change the county's name. Shannon County was named for former Dakota Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Shannon, whose principle accomplishment was to help kick American Indians off their land in the 1890s. The new name: Oglala Lakota County, after the tribe that calls the reservation home.

No word on how many of the no voters were named "Shannon."

Last Night's Other Big Winner: Minimum Wage Increases

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 8:36 AM EST
Protesters rally outside a Burger King in Chicago as part of a campaign to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers.

Election Day 2014 has been disastrous for Democrats, but on one top priority—hiking the minimum wage—the party made major gains, even in red-state America. Ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage passed with broad bipartisan support in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where the measure polled better than any major statewide candidate from either party.

18-Year-Old Wins State Legislature Seat in West Virginia

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 6:30 AM EST

The Republican wave lifted many boats last night, including that of 18-year-old Saira Blair. The college freshman was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in a landslide—she earned 63 percent of the vote to her 44-year-old Democratic opponent's 30 percent—and officially became the youngest lawmaker in the country. She'll represent a district of about 18,000 people in the eastern part of the state, near the Maryland border.

The Wall Street Journal describes Blair as "fiscally conservative," and she "campaigned on a pledge to work to reduce certain taxes on businesses." Her website boasts an "A" rating from the NRA and endorsements from West Virginians for Life. As a 17-year-old, Blair primaried the 66-year-old Republican incumbent Larry Kump and advanced to the general election—all while legally being unable to cast a vote for herself. Democratic attorney Layne Diehl, her general election opponent, had only good things to say last night about the teenager who beat her: "Quite frankly, a 17- or 18-year-old young woman that has put herself out there and won a political campaign has certainly brought some positive press to the state."

Blair, an economics and Spanish major at West Virginia University, will defer her spring classes to attend the legislative session at the state capitol. There, she'll join her father and campaign manager, Craig, who is a state senator.

Sam Brownback Holds On

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:53 AM EST

Sam Brownback lives to see another day. The embattled Kansas governor won his reelection bid, defeating Democrat Paul Davis. Polls headed into Tuesday had given Brownback poor odds for retaining his job, but being on the ballot during a horrendous year for Democrats nationwide proved to be enough for Brownback to hold on.

Four years ago Brownback coasted into the governors mansion by 30-points. But during his first-term in office he drove moderate Republicans out of his party in order to implement one of the steepest state-level tax cuts in history. Since then, tax revenues have dropped precipitously and the state's credit rating has been downgraded. The next session of the state legislature will likely have to enact sweeping budget cuts or revoke Brownback's tax cuts, an unlikely scenario now that he's maintained his job.

Davis ran a quiet campaign, banking on dissatisfaction with the incumbent rather than running a proactive campaign laying out his own vision. A campaign based on being Not Sam Brownback didn't prove to be enough in the end.