Campaign Finance & Elections

Voting in Texas: A Handgun License is OK, a Student ID is Not

Rebecca Leber: “Texans casting a ballot on Monday, when early voting begins, will need to show one of seven forms of photo ID. A concealed handgun license is okay, but a student ID isn’t. The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to go forward with this controversial voter ID.”

As Ian Millhiser argued at ThinkProgress: “If a confused voter brings an ID to the polls that they do not need to have, they will still get to cast a ballot. But if the same voter mistakenly forgets their ID (or fails to obtain one) because they were confused and believed that their state’s voter ID law was not in effect, then they will be disenfranchised.”

“Actual voter fraud, which is the problem that Republican legislation supposedly addresses, is difficult to find … The consequences of voter ID laws, on the other hand, are much easier to track … Existing ID requirements reduced turnout in some states during the last presidential election, particularly among young and black voters. Now, imagine the impact is even larger, because it is spread over the 33 states that now require some form of photo ID to vote. [And] costs of acquiring the needed ID ranged between $14.50 to $58.50 for 17 of the states.”

How Citizens United Puts Our Judicial System Up for Sale

Norm Ornstein warns that the impact of Citizens United on the American political system will be devastating.

Citizens United—and its progeny, SpeechNow and McCutcheon—are … about a new regime of campaign spending that dramatically enhances corruption in politics and government … It also gives added traction to extreme groups threatening lawmakers with primary devastation unless they toe the ideological line.”

But “the worst comes with judicial elections—and that worst could be worsened by a pending Supreme Court case that may allow sitting judges actively to solicit campaign funds for their own elections.”

“Here is the reality: If judges fear multimillion-dollar campaigns against them, they will have to raise millions themselves, or quietly engineer campaigns by others to do so. Who will contribute, or lead those efforts? Of course, those who practice in front of the judges will, creating an unhealthy dynamic of gratitude and dependency.”

“Worse, imagine what happens when judges are deciding cases in which the stakes are high, and well-heeled individuals or corporations will be helped or damaged by the rulings. The judges know that an adverse decision now will trigger a multimillion-dollar campaign against them the next time, both for retribution and to replace them with more friendly judges.”


Are We a Nation of Bystanders?

E.J. Dionne contends “that structural changes in our politics are making campaigns more mean and personal than ever … Outside groups empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision are using mass media in ways that turn off Americans to democracy, aggravate divisions between the political parties and heighten animosities among citizens of differing views.”

“There is far too much complacency about big money’s role in this year’s campaigns, on the grounds that both sides have plenty of it. This misses the point … A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice details how, at a relatively modest cost to themselves, a privileged few can change how government that is supposed to be nearest to the people is actually carried out.”

“Like everything else in our politics these days, Citizens United is usually debated along ideological lines. Progressives typically hate it. Conservatives usually defend it. But citizens of every persuasion should be worried about what this precedent-shattering decision has unleashed. More than ever, politics is the only profession that regularly advertises against itself. If voters feel cynical, the outside groups — on both sides — are doing all they can to encourage their disenchantment.”

“Thus the tragic irony: Citizens United is deepening our divisions and turning more citizens into bystanders. Our republic can do better.”

I Like My Member of Congress. I Hate Yours

Gallup: “In the U.S., the majority believes that most members of Congress are out of touch with average Americans, more focused on special interests than the needs of their constituents, and are corrupt. Americans are slightly more likely to say each of these things than they were in the past. At the same time, they are much less likely to say these descriptions fit their local member of Congress than to say they fit most members.”

“The majority of Americans might believe that their member is above average or the exception. Or, it could be that the average American perceives that systems and procedures in Washington need to be changed in fundamental ways that transcend the particular group of people who are elected to serve in Congress at any given time.”

“All in all, Americans’ relatively positive attitudes about their local representatives, spread out across 435 congressional elections, help explain why so many members of Congress return to Washington year after year — even while these same Americans so negatively assail the institution to which these members belong.”

Americans’ Views of Congress: Most Members and Your Member

The Voter ID Law: An Anti-Democratic Sham

New York Times Editorial Board: “Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.”

Voter ID laws “have been aggressively pushed in many states by Republican lawmakers who say they are preventing voter fraud, promoting electoral ‘integrity’ and increasing voter turnout. None of that is true. There is virtually no in-person voter fraud; the purpose of these laws is to suppress voting.”

“Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.”

“The next time voter ID laws reach the justices, they should see them for the antidemocratic sham they are.”

Courts Strike Down Voter ID Laws in Texas and Wisconsin

Adam Liptak: “The Supreme Court on Thursday evening stopped officials in Wisconsin from requiring voters there to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election.”

“Three of the court’s more conservative members dissented, saying they would have allowed officials to require identification.”

“The Supreme Court’s action was seen as a setback for Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who, along with a Republican-controlled Legislature, approved the law in 2011. He faces a re-election challenge from Mary Burke, a Democrat.”

“Around the same time, a federal trial court in Texas struck down that state’s ID law, saying it put a disproportionate burden on minority voters.”

“Thursday’s ruling from Texas, issued after a two-week trial in Corpus Christi, found that the state’s voter ID law ‘creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,’ Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote.”

The Voting Wars Heat Up

Richard Hasen, writing in Slate: “The fights in our states over how hard or easy it is to vote have been filling the courts and are headed toward the Supreme Court.”

The stakes are high … for the protection of voting rights in the next decade.

“Over the past decade, in the period I have called ‘the voting wars,’ we have seen both an increase in restrictive voting rights legislation passed by Republican legislatures, such as voter ID laws, and litigation from both Democrats and Republicans to manipulate the election system to their advantage.”

“The principle the Supreme Court should apply, although it may not apply, is that legislatures should not be able to put significant burdens on minority voters or any other voters without a decent reason for doing so—and a ‘good’ reason for a voting rule is not to secure party advantage in the next election.”

“The longer-term prospects for court protection of voting rights appear bleak. We cannot expect the Supreme Court to read voting rights protections broadly, and we cannot expect a polarized Congress to pass any new voting rights protections to make up for the loss of preclearance. Instead, the battle over voting rights will have to be fought state by state, through political action and agitation.”

“We ignore what’s coming at our peril.”

The ‘Hell No’ Caucus and the Farm Bill

Jonathan Chait comments on Rep. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) position on the farm bill.

“Cotton currently serves in the House as a frequent member of the ‘hell no’ caucus, which votes against nearly everything. The trouble is that one of those things was the farm bill, which is popular in Arkansas because it lavishes subsidies upon major state industries.”

Cotton’s claim: “President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turning it into a food stamp bill.”

“In his untrue ad, Cotton argues that he voted as he did because ‘career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones.’ The bad idea here, in Cotton’s telling, is food stamps. The good idea is farm subsidies.”

“There is no persuasive economic rationale for why the government should write checks to people who operate farms as opposed to textile mills or construction firms or any other business … Farmers are also more affluent than the average American. Since they are overwhelmingly white and conveniently spread throughout nearly every state, their claim to public subsidy has gained some popular legitimacy.”

Cotton also argues that food stamp recipients “live high on the hog: ‘They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.'”

The facts: “The program offers a benefit averaging $1.50 per person per meal, and its beneficiaries are quite poor.”

Liberals Use Dark Money Too

Thomas Edsall argues that “it’s not only the right that uses secretive organizations to keep rich donors anonymous while it seeks to influence elections and policy. Liberals do the same, and the press in large part gives them a pass.”

Edsall uses the liberal Democracy Alliance as an example.

“The Democracy Alliance is an organization of roughly 100 very rich men and women who agree to contribute at least $200,000 annually to a list of roughly 20 liberal think tanks and advocacy groups, according to documents obtained by Politico. The Alliance itself makes no contributions. Nor does it pay for television ads or engage in other direct campaign activity.”

“In effect, the Alliance helps guide an estimated $30 million a year. It does not disclose its members or the groups that are recipients of its members’ contributions.”

“In the long run, the relatively modest (but growing) dependence of Democrats on dark money, mega-dollar contributors to ‘super PACs’ and other funding mechanisms is corrupting, even as it comes alongside the party’s parallel success in building a powerful small donor base … Insofar as the Democratic Party moves in the same direction, it will be unable to act as a counterbalance to the right.”

“While neither the left nor the right has clean hands, liberals have far more to lose, and much less to gain, from continued hypocrisy.”

A Bleak View of American Government

Gallup: “More than one in four Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, while nearly three in four are dissatisfied … Although the 27% who are currently satisfied is higher than the record-low satisfaction seen last October during the partial government shutdown, it is still below where it was in September 2013, before the shutdown began.”

“The partial government shutdown affected Americans’ views of many things, including a sharp drop in economic confidence and a rise in the percentage saying dysfunctional government was the most important problem in the country. While views on a number of these issues have improved since the shutdown ended, many Americans continue to have low opinions of the country’s government. Currently, Americans are not satisfied with the way things are going in the country and are less trusting of the executive and legislative branches than they were in 2013. With voters set to go to the polls in a little more than a month, incumbents seeking re-election may face a more challenging fight than in the past.”

Trend: Americans' Satisfaction With the Way the Nation Is Being Governed

Majority Want a Third Political Party

Gallup: “A majority of U.S. adults, 58%, say a third U.S. political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties ‘do such a poor job’ representing the American people. These views are little changed from last year’s high. Since 2007, a majority has typically called for a third party.”

“Though the desire for a third party exists, it is unclear how many Americans would actually support a third party if it came to be. Americans’ preference for a third party may reflect their frustration with the way the Republican and Democratic parties are performing, as well as the idea that the system ought to be open to new parties, regardless of whether this is viable in practice”

Americans' Opinions of a Need for a Third U.S. Political Party

Americans Now Hate Both Parties Equally

Gallup: “Americans’ views of the Democratic and Republican parties are now similar, mainly because of their more positive ratings of the GOP. Since bottoming out at 28% last fall during the government shutdown, Americans’ opinions of the Republican Party have grown more positive and are nearly back to pre-shutdown levels. Over the same time period, ratings of the Democratic Party have generally held steady.”

“Neither party is viewed positively overall, and thus voters may be choosing between two unappealing options this fall rather than between two appealing ones, and thus claims of a voter mandate by the party that does better in the Nov. 4 elections may be more wishful thinking than reality.”

Recent Trend of Favorable Ratings of Major U.S. Political Parties