to see what our members thought about the proposals in this brief and view the results of our advocacy work.
Government of the people, by the people, for the people. With those words,
Abraham Lincoln closed his Gettysburg Address and gave us one of the most lasting
and compelling formulations of what the American Revolution had accomplished.
To fulfill its fundamental character our system of government requires an election
system that produces elected officials who are representative of us as a people
and are responsive to our concerns.
The driving motivation for the founding and growth of the The Common Interest
is a concern that our government is falling short of its promise to be of, by,
and for us. As special interests and extreme partisans exert increasing power,
our government becomes less responsive to the broad citizenry—the people—it
is supposed to serve.
This year several proposals go to the heart of this fundamental concern by
proposing election reforms. For a government by the people, no issue is more
fundamental than how we choose those who will represent us.
2. The Problem: The Influence of Special Interests and
While special interests and extreme partisans arguably exert far greater influence
at the national level, there is plenty of cause for concern here in Idaho. Let's
start with the influence of special interests. There are more than 300 registered
lobbyists in Idaho giving us a ratio of three lobbyists to every Legislator.
Over 150 belong to Idaho Legislative Advisers, the association of lobbyists,
which is more than double the 75 who were members of that association in 1985.
Increasingly, money is the key for candidates to statewide office and special
interests are key to raising big money. In the 2006 election, the candidates
for governor raised more than $4.2 million in contributions, not counting expenditures
by groups "independent" of the campaigns. It's difficult to raise
this much money from the small individual donations that common citizens can
make. Contributions of $200 or less by individuals accounted for only $462,000,
or 11%, of the more than $4.2 million raised. For the other 89% of their total
contributions, gubernatorial candidates depended on organizations and on individuals
who could afford and were interested in giving more than $200.
The influence of extreme partisans is also concerning. The more deeply you
believe something, the more motivated you are to do something about it. That
basic truism is confirmed by research
on political involvement. At every level of involvement—including who
votes, volunteers, writes checks, and runs for party or government office—the
stronger someone's ideological views the more likely they are to participate.
Those with very liberal and very conservative views are a small minority of
Idahoans. Although the latest BSU
public policy survey indicates that only 4% of Idahoans describe themselves
as very liberal and only 16% as very conservative, those groups exert influence
far beyond their numbers. National polls show that about 60% - 65% of Americans
consider themselves moderate and independent-minded in their views and feel
frustrated by the increasing partisanship of our politcs.
Who votes is one important example of the disproportionate influence of the
small minorities with strong ideological views. In addition to confirming that
the stronger ones ideological views, the more likely one is to turnout to vote,
confirms that this effect becomes more pronounced the lower voter turnout is.
As voter turnout decreases, it is the moderate, independent-minded majority
who dropout most while the hard right and hard left turnout no matter what.
Primary elections are a particularly important part of the story of the disproportional
influence of extremists because primary turnout is far lower than turnout in
general elections. Over the last 30 years in Idaho, turnout for general elections
has averaged over 60% while turnout in primaries has averaged just over 30%.
Although it has always been the case that the passionate, ideological minority
participate at higher rates than the more than the independent and moderate
confirms that we're in an era in which the hard right in the Republican Party
and the hard left in the Democratic Party have gained even more influence, even
though the common citizens of our state and nation are more moderate and independent-minded
then ever. Voter turnout in primaries is a particularly important aspect of
these developments. Idaho turnout in primaries averaged 34% in 1976-1986, dropped
to 31% for 1988-1996, and to 29% for 1998-2006. In the 2006 primary, turnout
was less than 26%.
It's one thing to diagnose the problem that our political process is too responsive
to special interests and extreme partisans and not responsive enough to common
citizens. It's quite another to find practical, effective solutions. Can election
reforms help make our government more truly by and for us? We now turn to a
review of the evidence regarding several major election reforms.
3. Vote by Mail
The 44 county clerks in Idaho are unanimously supporting a "vote by mail"
proposal that is also endorsed by Secretary of State Ben Ysursa (Republican)
and by former Governors Phill Batt (Republican) and Cecil Andrus (Democrat).
In a vote by mail system, like that used in Oregon, voters complete ballots
that have been mailed to them and then return the ballot by mail. The bill sponsored
by the clerks, House Bill
94, would give counties and cities the option of adopting a vote-by-mail
system but would not require it. This bill passed the House State Affairs Committee
on a 11-7 vote in spite of strong opposition from the Republican leadership
team in the House. Several days later the Chairman of that committee said that
new problems with the bill had come to light that had not been considered in
the hearing. He successfully moved to have the bill sent back to the committee
where it now awaits another hearing. We consider the new concerns below.
If a given county or city adopted vote by mail, they would send every registered
voter "by nonforwardable mail an official ballot with a return identification
envelope and a secrecy envelope." These would be mailed out 14 to 18 days
before election day. The voter can then complete the ballot, place it in the
secrecy envelope, place that within the self-addressed return identification
ballot, sign it, put a stamp on it, and put it in the mail. The ballot must
be received by 8:00 pm on election day. Voters also have an option of delivering
their ballot directly to the office of the county clerk or dropping it at other
designated deposit places in the county up until 8:00 pm on election day. Non-registered
voters can also register and then immediately receive a ballot. They also have
until 8:00 pm on election day to return it. You can see more details about this
proposal, including a video on the steps in the process, at the following website:
The proponents of voting by mail argue that one of the main reasons Idaho should
adopt it is that it will significantly increase voter turnout. Higher voter
turnout, accordingly, could make our government more responsive to common citizens
by lessening the problem of the disproportionate influence of extreme partisans
when turnout is low, particularly in primaries.
So what does the evidence say about vote by mail's ability to increase voter
turnout? Three rigorous studies that examined Oregon's experience soon after
they went to vote by mail statewide were published in peer-reviewed journals
. Karp and Banducci
in 2000; and Southwell
and Burchett in 2000; and Berinsky,
Burns, and Traugott in 2001 all found that it increased voter turnout significantly,
in some cases by as much as 10%. However, Gronke,
Galanes-Rosenbaum, and Miller presented the preliminary findings from the
most recent study on voter turnout at a conference just this January and it
provided less positive support. Their investigation included the elections in
Oregon since those that came soon after Oregan went state-wide with vote by
mail and found a much smaller overall increase in voter turnout attributable
to vote by mail. It appears that part of the initial boost was a novelty effect
that has worn off some over time, particularly in general elections.
Nevertheless, both the Berinsky
et al earlier study and the recent Gronke
et al study indicate that vote by mail does increase voter turnout in low
profile elections such as primaries and local elections. Since low voter turnout
in primaries is a major part of why we end up with elected officials who are
more extreme than we are as a people, the evidence suggests that vote by mail
helps reduce this problem.
shows that any increase in voter turnout does not change the partisan outcomes
of elections. Republicans and Democrats have the same chances of winning or
losing with or without vote by mail. However, to the extent that vote by mail
does increase voter turnout, it tends to turnout moderate and independent-minded
voters somewhat more again suggesting the vote by mail may make it somewhat
easier for moderate and independent-minded candidates who are more representative
of the electorate at large to prevail.
Another potential effect of vote by mail on how representative our elected
officials are involves the question of ballot security and secrecy. The county
clerks and the Secretary of State argue that vote by mail elections are more
secure and less prone to fraud than traditional polling place elections. Under
our current system, a voter must sign the poll book at the polling place to
get a ballot. Although the signatures can be checked against the signature on
that voter's registration card, this is rarely done. The poll workers don't
have access to the registration card signatures at the polling place. So signatures
are checked only when there is reason for suspicion, and even then, it is checked
only after the fact. Although the fraud may be subsequently investigated, and,
if the person is found, they may be prosecuted, the ballot they completed still
counts in the election because nothing in the system connects a given ballot
with a given voter's signature.
In the proposed vote by mail system, each voter must sign a secure envelope
in which they enclose their ballot. Before the ballot is ever counted, the election
workers check the signature on the envelope against the signature on the registration
card, which are now available electronically. If the match is questionable,
the ballot is pulled for further investigation and is not counted until it's
confirmed that it was submitted by the designated registered voter.
While acknowledging this aspect of enhanced ballot security, critics have identified
other potential security problems unique to vote by mail. The potential problems
stem from the fact that the ballot is not obtained at a polling place, completed
in the privacy of the voting both, and returned there. With mailed ballots,
buying and selling votes is easier. Under the traditional system, if someone
wants to buy a given registered voter's vote, the voter still has to go to the
effort of actually going to the polling place to vote and, with the secrecy
of the polling both, the buyer has no assurance that seller voted the way the
buyer wanted. With vote by mail, the buyer can simply purchase the seller's
blank ballot, complete it, and copy a sample of the seller's signature. Or,
the seller can sign the ballot after the buyer knows it's been completed the
way he or she wants.
Critics argue that less explicit versions of voter fraud, or of improper vote
influencing, are even more concerning under this system. We have not been able
to confirm them independently, but stories are told in Oregon of occasions when
someone who has strong views about the election has invited their friends and
families to come over to a ballot signing party in which they all complete the
ballots the way their friend or family member tells them to. Concerns are also
expressed that even without a ballot party, voters will be subject to greater
pressure to vote the way family or friends want them to vote.
Supporters of vote by mail respond that there are already stiff laws and penalties
against buying votes and other kinds of voter fraud that make blatant fraud
unlikely. While the potential for less blatant but inappropriate vote influencing
is increased with vote by mail, there is little empirical evidence that this
potential becomes a reality very often. A large random sample of Oregon voters
were assured confidentiality and asked about their experience with such practices.
Of 863 respondents surveyed,
221 (26%) said that someone else was present when they completed their mail-in
ballot. Of those, only three (.3% of the 863), said that they felt pressure
to vote a certain way and only one (.1% of the 863) said that they would have
voted differently if they had been alone when they voted. Although this is the
best empirical evidence on this question we were able to find, it should be
interpreted with caution. Evidence shows that even in confidential surveys,
people will sometimes report the answer that seems social desirable even if
it isn't true. For example, estimates of voter turnout based on asking people
whether they voted always are higher than indicated by the actual number of
Two other reasons for going to vote by mail are offered by county clerks that
have less to do with improving the representativeness of election outcomes.
finds that voters who have experienced vote by mail overwhelmingly prefer it
(usually around 80%) to traditional voting. Second, the county clerks argue
that vote by mail will decrease the costs and improve the feasibility of running
the election system. The county clerks point to the savings of not having to
train and pay all the polling place workers and not having to purchase and maintain
all the equipment for each polling place. These costs factors loom particularly
large as voting technology changes. The federal Help America Vote Act, passed
in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that there be one high tech,
and expensive, voting machine at each polling place to accommodate handicapped
voters. With vote by mail, these costs would be avoided while still providing
accessibility for handicapped voters. Idaho is the last of the 50 states to
use punch card ballots to any extent. Many of the most populous counties in
the state still use them so that nearly 60% percent of Idaho voters record their
vote with a punch card ballot. The problem is that no one manufactures punch
card ballot machines and parts any longer. Consequently, all of the counties
will need to convert to new optical scan technologies, probably within the next
four years or so. Ada and Canyon counties are already planning to convert. If
they had the vote by mail option, counties could purchase fewer of the expensive
optical scanning machines because they would have more time to process the votes.
Besides costs, county clerks point to the feasibility problems of recruiting
enough election workers. They report that they have already been struggling
to find enough poll workers in recent years. With the advent of new voting technology,
it becomes even more difficult they report. Most of the workers they hire to
work immediately on and around election day are retired people who feel less
comfortable getting up to speed with the new technology.
Opponents of vote by mail also offer several other arguments for rejecting
this proposal. First, they argue that the increase in voter turnout is not necessarily
a good thing. They argue that those who would not go to the effort to show up
at a polling place but who would be willing to return a mailed ballot will tend
to be people who care less and are less informed. Proponents respond that there
are many citizens who care and are informed but will face significant and understandable
obstacles on a given election day such as having a sick child or unexpected
travel for work. Proponents also point out that many rural Idahoans must travel
extensive distances to vote. At the hearing in the House State Affairs Committee,
the county clerks testified that some of their citizens have to drive more than
an hour one way to vote.
Second, opponents argue that by extending the period in which most people vote
from one day to a couple of weeks, you have voters making their choices based
on different information. Imagine, they argue, that we experience a dramatic
event like September 11 two days before the deadline for vote-by-mail ballots.
Voters who had already voted might have voted differently with this information.
Proponents respond that this also diminishes the effect of negative advertising
and "robo calls" late in a campaign.
Third, opponents argue that vote by mail robs us of the communal experience
of coming to the polling place and seeing our neighbors as we exercise this
fundamental right within our system of government by the people.
Two concerns have been raised since the hearing that Chairman Loertscher has
said were not addressed at the first hearing on the vote by mail bill. First
and foremost, there is a concern with the constitutionality of the bill. The
first section of Article 6 of the Idaho Constitution is entitled "Secret
Ballot Guaranteed" and says, "An absolutely secret ballot is hereby
guaranteed, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to enact such laws as
shall carry this section into effect." Those concerned about this argue
that with the words "absolutely secret" the Framers were
emphasizing how crucial this right is to a system of government by the people.
Vote by mail, critics argue, cannot provide an absolute guarantee of secrecy
since it eliminates the secret polling booth. Under vote by mail, they argue,
a voter may face pressure to show their ballot to someone else and thus feel
pressure to vote differently than the voter thinks best. Proponents of vote
by mail argue that the same problem is true of absentee ballots but that no
one has complained about the secrecy problem there and courts have not found
absentee ballots to be unconstitutional. Opponents counter that since a person
chooses to have an absentee ballot sent to them, they, in effect, willingly
waive their right to an absolutely secret ballot, but this would not be true
of vote by mail.
Second, there is a concern that much of the current transparency of the election
process will be lost under vote by mail. Idaho
Code 34-304 provides that authorized representatives of each political party
may be present at each polling place to challenge whether a given voter is in
fact a registered voter and to watch the general conduct of the election at
that polling place. Opponents of vote by mail argue that this transparency helps
protect the integrity of the voting process. Proponents of vote by mail respond
that today this provision is rarely used and so is not of great significance.
Opponents counter that simply the possibility that a political party may exercise
this right provides an important measure of protection.
This bill has not received another hearing to address these concerns since
they were raised and it looks likely that no additional hearing will be held.
However, two possible compromise bills are being discussed. The essence of these
compromise bills is discussed in a new section at the end of this brief.
4. Open vs. Closed Primaries
At their 2006 convention, the Idaho Republican Party endorsed a proposal to
close Idaho's open primary system as part of their platform. In Idaho's current
system, we don't declare a party affiliation when we register and anyone can
choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. In a closed primary
system, voters register as members of a given party or as independents. Voters
can then vote only in their party's primary and independents, about one-third
of Idaho voters, are not allowed to vote in primaries at all. Much of the motivation
for this proposal is a concern that committed members of a rival party cross
over to vote in the other party's primary in order to elect a more extreme candidate
who will be easier for their own party's candidate to defeat in the general
Despite concerns about the possibility of cross-over voting, rigorous research
has found that open primaries produce significantly more representative winners
than closed primaries. Specifically, the evidence
indicates conclusively that in states with open primary systems the winners
of Congressional seats are significantly more ideologically representative of
their districts than the winners in states with closed primary systems. Since
a party's own activists also tend to vote for more
extreme nominees, and they constitute a larger percentage of closed primaries,
these election systems produce more extreme, less representative winners.
Interestingly, this same rigorous research
finds that there is a version of primaries that produces elected officials who
are substantially more representative even than those produced by open primary
systems. In states with modified closed primaries, like in states with fully
closed primaries, voters must register as members of major political parties
or as independents and those who are registered as members of a given party
can only vote in primaries for their party. Unlike in fully-closed primary states,
however, independents in modified close primaries can choose to vote in whichever
primary they want.
The reason that these modified closed primaries produce more representative
winners is that, it turns out, there is empirical evidence for the cross-over
voting that motivated this bill. Researchers
distinguish between two kinds of cross-over voting. First, there is "strategic"
cross over voting in which voters vote for who they think is the weakest candidate
so that it will be easier for their preferred candidate to win in the general
election, the kind of cross over voting that motivated this bill. Researchers
identify a second type of cross-over voting which they call "genuine"
cross-over voting. In this case, someone who is not a member of a party votes
in that party's primary for the candidate they would most like to see win the
general election. Since research
shows that independents tend to be more moderate than party members, conventional
wisdom and political science theory suggest that independents will tend practice
genuine cross-over voting to vote for moderate candidates who they really want
to win and who are more representative of the electorate as a whole. On the
other hand, committed party members should be more likely to engage in strategic
cross-over voting that will produce candidates with more extreme ideological
views that will be easier to defeat. The evidence
confirms that the reason modified closed primaries produce more representative
elected officials that open primaries is that they prohibit the strategic cross-over
voting of rival partisans while facilitating the genuine cross-over voting of
The original bill proposed by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives
would have moved Idaho to a fully closed primary in which the roughly one-third
of Idaho voters who are independents would not be allowed to vote. These primaries
would still have been paid for with state and local government tax revenues.
On a narrow 9 - 8 vote, the House State Affairs Committee voted to not "print"
this bill, meaning that it would not even get a hearing in which the merits
of the bill would be debated and then voted on.
The Republican leadership then drafted a new bill that would create a primary
system in which Idahoans would register as members of a party or as independents.
Each party would then have the option of allowing independents to vote in their
primary or not rather than requiring that independents be able to vote in the
primary of their choice.
Proponents argue that since allowing independents to vote in their primaries
will help parties nominate candidates who will be more likely to win in the
general elections, parties would tend to allow independents to participate in
their primaries under this bill. Opponents point to the decision in the Republican
convention to close primaries and to the original bill proposed by Republican
leadership in the House as evidence that the Republican party will not choose
to let independents in or at least not consistently so. Besides, opponents argue,
if the intent really is to let independents vote in the primary, then there
is no need for party discretion and that part should simply be taken out of
Proponents respond that the purpose of a primary is to select who will represent
a given party in the general election. Consequently, the party, and no one else,
should be able to decide how it chooses its nominee. Proponents argue that anything
other than this limits party members' fundamental right to freedom of association.
These proponents argue that astring of U.S. Supreme Court cases makes it increasingly
clear that, in the Court’s view, open primaries violate the fundamental
constitutional right of freedom of association by forcing people to associate
politically with those who have different political views. For links to these
Supreme Court decisions, CLICK
Opponents first counter that primaries determine nominees who will run to represent
all citizens in a given district, not just the members of one particular party.
Second, they counter that if proponents really want to argue for party discretion
on the basis that party nominations are purely an internal party matter protected
by the freedom of association, then the government that represents all citizens
and that is supported by all taxpayers should not administer or fund the party's
To read a column in the Boise Weekly by a Democrat discussing his views on
Democratic cross over voting in Idaho CLICK
5. Instant Runoff Voting
Like most states, Idaho has a plurality rule for elections. That means that
in races in which there are more than two candidates, the candidate with the
most votes wins, even if he or she receives less than a majority of the votes.
In fact, under this system candidates who are opposed by a majority of voters
can nevertheless be elected to represent those voters, an outcome that seems
fundamentally at odds with genuine representative government. The disturbing
result that a majority oppose the winner becomes more likely the more candidates
there are. Particularly crowded races also tend to work to the advantage of
those who have narrow, but passionate, support.
Many point to the 2006 Republican primary for Idaho's 1st Congressional District
as an example of this kind of problem. Conservative state representative Bill
Sali won this race even though there was wide opposition to him among mainstream
Republicans as perhaps the most controversial Legislator in Idaho. In spite
of this broad Republican opposition, Sali had enormous financial support from
the Club for Growth, a national political organization that supports very conservative
candidates against more mainstream Republicans in Republican primaries. As one
of the pro-life activists' most visible champions in the Idaho Legislature,
Sali also had the passionate support of this group. He won with 26% of the votes
cast in the primary (in a primary that had less than 26% voter turnout). Given
the broad opposition to Sali, it appears quite possible that a similar dynamic
will occur in 2008 since there are already rumors of four or five Republicans
considering challenging Sali in the primary. It also appears likely that Senator
Larry Craig will not run for re-election and many think there may be a crowded
race for that open seat or that Congressman Mike Simpson will run for this seat,
leading to a crowded race for his 2nd Congressional District seat.
While the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District was particularly
crowded, it is by no means rare to have more than two candidates in an Idaho
election and have the winner get less than a majority. The Republican primary
for Superintendent of Public Instruction had three candidates with the winner,
Tom Luna, getting 42% of the vote, edging out Steve Smylie by 893 votes. As
the Secretary of State's results
show, there were also six primaries for state legislative seats in which there
were more than two candidates and the winner failed to get a majority, often
edging out the second place candidate by a few hundred votes.
Republicans faced a similar, though more extreme version of Idaho's 1st Congressional
District challenge in their 2002 primaries for Utah's three congressional districts.
They had three candidates for one seat, 10 for another, and 12 for the third.
Utah Republicans successfully dealt with the situation by using an innovative
voting method known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) that is specifically designed
to deal with just such situations.
Instant Runoff Voting is only used in elections with more than two candidates.
In those cases, everyone votes for their preferred candidate like in most elections.
Unlike in most elections, voters also indicate their second choice, third choice,
and so on. If one candidate wins a majority of the first choice votes, he or
she wins. If no candidate wins a majority of the first choice votes, the candidate
who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. The second choice
of those who voted for the eliminated candidate are then counted. If that gives
any candidate a majority, then that candidate wins. If still no candidate gets
a majority, then the next lowest vote getter is eliminated. This process continues
until one candidate gets a majority.
This method thus provides the advantage that the candidate with the broadest
support wins but without the expense and delay of a traditional run off. Instant
Runoff Voting has been adopted to ensure that the most representative candidates
are elected in a variety of places ranging from Republican nominations for Congress
in Utah to city elections in San Francisco. Two states—Colorado
considering IRV bills in their current legislative sessions. CLICK
HERE to see the details of how it worked in Utah.
Proponents of IRV claim two other benefits. First, they argue that it reduces
negative campaigning. Since candidates face the possibility that rival candidates'
supporters will choose them as their second or third choice, candidates have
an additional incentive to respectfully consider the important issues raised
by rival candidates rather than risk alienating a rival's supporters with negative
attacks. Second, proponents argue that IRV increases voter turnout. Though plausible
arguments for both these claims can be made, little rigorous empirical research
supports them as yet.
The chief criticism that is made of Instant Runoff Voting is that it's too
complicated for voters. Proponents argue that it's actually fairly simple to
indicate one's first, second, and third choices. They also point out that voters
have the option of only indicating their first choice if they want to. The empirical
evidence indicates that the more complicated nature of IRV can be an issue for
voters, though not a particularly large one. A survey
of over 1,600 participants in San Francisco's 2005 use of IRV for its city elections
found that 52% of voters said they "understood it perfectly well",
36% "understood it fairly well", 10% "did not understand it entirely",
and 3% "did not understand it at all."
A related criticism is that voters lack sufficient information to thoughtfully
rank candidates. In the San
Francisco study, 67% of those surveyed had ranked two or more candidates,
while 33% voted only their first choice. The most common explanation given among
the 33% who chose not to give more than their first choice was that they didn't
know enough about the other candidates (31% of that 33%) and that no other candidates
were acceptable to them (21% of that 33%). Fifteen percent of the voters surveyed
said that ranking was "difficult" or "very difficult," while
the rest, 85%, did not find it difficult.
One of the chief obstacles to Instant Runoff Voting in Idaho is the kind of
ballots we use. It is more cumbersome, though possible, to use punch card ballots,
which 60% of Idaho voters must currently use. Optical scan and paper ballots,
the other two kinds of ballots used in Idaho, can easily accommodate Instant
Runoff Voting. There are few enough races with more than two candidates, however,
that it should be possible to use Instant Runoff Voting in those races, even
with punch cards. Since punch card ballots are quickly becoming obsolete and
counties will be changing to optical scan ballots in the next few years, this
appears to be a near term challenge.
Aside from the obstacle of having the right voting equipment, perhaps the biggest
argument against adopting Instant Runoff Voting for all elections in the state
is simply that this would make Idaho the first in the nation to do so. On the
question of open vs. closed primaries there are many states who have taken a
variety of approaches over many years, so there is considerable evidence based
on actual experience to draw on. On the question of vote by mail, Oregon has
used it statewide for almost ten years now, and other states provide a local
option to use it, providing a significant base of experience to draw on. This
level of experience with Instant Runoff Voting does not yet exist.
On the other hand, the main claim of Instant Runoff Voting is less in need
of empirical evidence than the claims of the other reforms we've considered.
Until rigorous research had been done, people made reasonable competing claims
about whether open, closed, or modified closed primaries produced more representative
candidates. Even the research-based answer to the question of vote by mail's
effect on voter turnout changed just this January when a new study came out.
In contrast, no one claims that Instant Runoff Voting fails to produce winners
with broader support than plurality voting rules for races with more than two
Five Instant Runoff policy options appear feasible for Idaho at the present
- Use Instant Runoff Voting for all races with more than two candidates starting
with the 2008 election. This is what the bill
in the Minnesota Legislature proposes. This would immediately eliminate the
problem of candidates winning without majority support, but implementing this
quickly would pose logistical challenges.
- Use Instant Runoff Voting for all races with more than two candidates starting
with the 2010 election. This would eliminate the problem
of candidates winning without majority support reasonably soon and do so at
a time when the logistics would be much easier because all counties will likely
have converted from punch card ballots.
- Use Instant Runoff Voting for all races with more than two candidates starting
with the 2012 election. Although this would allow candidates
to win without a majority for two more elections, the change would be made
after counties had moved from punch card ballots and had had experience with
the new equipment.
- Establish an interim legislative committee to explore whether Instant Runoff
Voting should be used and how soon it could practically be used. This is part
of what the bill
in the Colorado Legislature proposes.
- Give counties and cities an option to pilot Instant Runoff Voting and then
draw on this experience to consider whether it should be adopted statewide.
This is the other part of what the bill
in the Colorado Legislature proposes.
Additional IRV Information
To see a demonstration of how IRV:
Works generally, CLICK
Would have worked in a recent three-way race for the
US Senate in Washington, CLICK
Would have working in the 2000 presidential election
in Florida, CLICK
Websites dedicated to IRV:
In depth articles:
Runoff Voting" by Robert Richie in the Election Law Journal
and Expanding the Right to Vote: Ranked-choice Voting" published by
the American Constitution Society for Law & Policy
6. Robo Calls
"Robo calls" are becoming a more common part of the
election experience. These are the automated, recorded phone calls that campaigns
and "independent" organizations make on behalf of candidates or issues,
often in the closing days of a campaign. Their use is increasing in large part
because they are so cheap, as little as 3 or 4 cents per call compared to 20
cents for a postcard. Robo calls are also used for marketing products or services.
A proposal in the Legislature would regulate these phone calls
by requiring that they can only be placed to people who have indicated their
willingness to receive such calls in advance, or placed from one entity to the
home of someone with whom they have a pre-existing relationship. Robo calls
could still be made if neither of these two requirements were met as long as
a live operator first called, identified on whose behalf the call was being
made, and the recipient agreed to hear the recording.
Supporters of this proposal argue that these calls are becoming
increasingly a nuisance to citizens with little redeeming value and so should
be limited in this way.
Opponents argue that there are perfectly good options already
available to people who don't wish to listen to these phone calls. First, more
people have caller ID all the time which would allow them to screen such calls.
Second, if one picks up such a call and doesn't wish to hear it, they can simply
More importantly opponents argue, this proposal limits the fundamental
Constitutional right of free speech. In particular, it limits political speech
which has long been regarded by American courts as a form of speech that deserves
special protections. Even if the courts would allow this intrusion on this right,
opponents argue, it is not wise public policy to do so. The Idaho Association
of Realtors is among the opponents making this argument, noting that they had
over 100,000 such calls placed to voters in Idaho on behalf of gubernatorial
candidate Butch Otter, one of those "independent expenditures", in
the closing days of the 2006 campaign. Some commentators have speculated that
these calls may have made a difference in this race which polls had showed to
be too close to call just a few weeks before election day.
Some who are not great supporters of robo calls, but who nevertheless
concerned about limiting free speech have suggested an alterntive proposal that
would simply require that the call disclose who was sponsoring the call on whose
behalf much like what is now required of political television ads.
7. Public Financing Options for Campaigns
Bill 1290 takes on the issue of big money influence in Idaho politics. If
candidates can raise enough donations between $5 and $100 from at least a minimum
number of registered voters, they qualify to receive funds for their campaign.
For example, if a candidate for governor receives these small donations from
at least 2,500 registered voters, he or she would qualify for the public funds.
A commission would establish how much candidates for each kind of office would
receive for a given election. The bill would also create a trust fund to finance
this measure. Revenue for the trust fund would come from fines for violating
various campaign laws and from other sources to be determined by the Legislature.
This bill is patterned after similar programs currently in place
in Arizona and Maine. For more information, go to: www.publicampaign.org
To view a video with Bill Moyers about this effort go to: www.publicampaign.org/video
8. Motor Voter Registration
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, also know as the Motor
Voter Law, required that a state must provide the opportunity to apply to
register to vote for federal elections by three means:
- Provide individuals with the opportunity to register to vote at the same
time that they apply for a driver's license or seek to renew a driver's license,
and requires the State to forward the completed application to the appropriate
state of local election official.
- Offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public
assistance and all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged
in providing services to persons with disabilities. Each applicant for any
of these services, renewal of services, or address changes must be provided
with a voter registration form of a declination form as well as assistance
in completing the form and forwarding the completed application to the appropriate
state or local election official.
- Provide that citizens can register to vote by mail using mail-in-forms developed
by each state and the Election Assistance Commission.
States were able to opt out of the Motor Voter Law if they offered same registration.
This means that a person can show up at what would be their polling place, register
to vote, and then immediately vote. Six state, including Idaho, availed themselves
of this option. The other 44 states now operate under the Motor Voter Law.
Supporters of this idea also argue that even if Idaho does not go to vote by
mail, it would still be better to come under the Motor Voter Law. First, they
argue, this will boost voter registration and participation as it has in the
44 states that opted into it. Supporters also argue that same day registration
is too prone to abuse. For example, if someone owns more than one property at
which they receive a utility bill, they can simply take each utility bill to
the specified polling place, register, and then vote.
The original opponents of the Motor Voter Law in Idaho argued that citizens
should be required to put forth the effort to go to a polling place to register
and to vote. Those who will only register to vote if they can do so when they
get a drivers license, opponents argue, would tend to be those who would be
less informed to vote anyway. Proponents respond that making voting registration
more difficult than it needs to be is no way to promote government by the people.
Opponents also argue that the Motor Voter Law also makes it more difficult
to purge the registration rolls of registrations that have become invalid or
of those who have not voted. Under current Idaho law, the state can purge a
voter off the registration list if they haven't voted in four years. Before
they are purged, notice is sent to the registered voter giving them the chance
to stay registered if they wish to. According to the Secretary of State's Office,
many of these notices are returned because the voter has moved or passed away.
Under the Motor Voter Law, eight years without voting in an election have to
pass before this notification and purge process can occur. Opponents argue that
this leads to over-registration and inaccurate voter registration lists.
9. Compromise Vote by Mail Proposals
Given that Republican leaders who oppose the clerks' original
vote by mail proposal will likely hold that bill in committee and let it die
there, two compromise ideas have been developed. First, the statutes governing
Idaho's current absentee ballot provisions could be modified to allow voters
to become an "ongoing absentee voter." Ballots would then be sent
to that voter on an on-going basis unless that status was terminated because:
- The voter requested that they no longer be sent
- The voter died or was disqualified as a voter
- The voter's registration record was cancelled
- A mailed out ballot was returned as undeliverable
Supporters argue that this bill would provide voters who liked the mail in
ballot that option while still honoring the constitutional guarantee of a secret
ballot since they would only receive this status if they voluntarily asked for
it and, by implication, waived their right to vote in a secret voting booth.
The second idea would enlarge the maximum size for mail ballot precincts. Under
current state law, a county may designate any precinct with no more than 125
registered voters as such a precinct. The election for those precincts is then
conducted as a vote by mail system. This compromise proposal would increase
that maximum size to precincts with no more than 250 registered voters. Supporters
argue that this would address the problems for election officials and voters
who live in very rural areas. There are 60 precincts in Idaho who are eligible
to be mail ballot precincts. If the maximum was raised to 250 registered voters
an additional 120 precincts would be eligible.