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Options for U.S. Federal Involvement in Elections

November 9, 2023

Amid growing threats to election infrastructure and the increased complexity of administering elections, legislators have an opportunity to reassess how the federal government helps state and local officials ensure secure, accessible, and trusted elections. Over the past few decades, the federal government has acted to protect elections from malign foreign actors, passed legislation to change state voter registration processes, and established the first federal agency solely devoted to election administration. The federal government's role in election infrastructure is at an inflection point that warrants reevaluation to better prepare for the challenges to come.This report lays out several options for federal involvement in elections and describes the security, accessibility, and trust trade-offs of each option. The Bipartisan Policy Center consulted with more than 40 election stakeholders in the creation of this report, including representatives from federal agencies, state and local election offices, nonprofit election groups, academic researchers, and philanthropic organizations.

Green Light to Growth: Estimating the Economic Benefits of Clearing Green Card Backlogs

November 8, 2023

Millions of people sit in green card backlogs, waiting to receive lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the United States. Some of these individuals are waiting for their petition to be adjudicated and, they hope, approved. Even if approved, many still wait decades before they receive their green card due to annual green card limits set in law. Hundreds of thousands of people will likely die before they can receive the green card for which they have already been approved.These backlogs have clear human costs. Many people face the risk of having to leave the country if they lose their jobs before they achieve LPR status. The backlog also has serious consequences for Americans, as essential jobs, such as nurses and national security staff, go unfilled while foreign workers remain in the backlog to receive their green cards.Importantly, the backlogs also have considerable economic costs. Restrictions on the jobs people can take while in the backlog prevent individuals from working in roles best suited to them, constricting productivity. Keeping people outside of the country when they have been approved for a green card prevents them from joining the U.S. labor force, contributing their knowledge and skills, and supporting an economy that is struggling with declining labor force participation due to its aging population. This report quantifies the economic benefit that would be achieved if the current employment and family-based green card backlogs were cleared.

Achieving Behavioral Health Care Integration in Rural America

May 25, 2023

Integrating primary care services and treatment for mental health and substance use conditions not only enhances patients' access to needed care but also improves health outcomes in a cost-effective way. Yet the barriers to integrated care are substantial, and it is even more difficult to achieve in rural and frontier communities, which are home to 1 in 7 Americans.Our current work focuses on breaking down the barriers to integration in rural America, where the health care infrastructure and provider composition vary in distinct ways from urban and suburban areas. Americans in rural areas face significant shortages of psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and other behavioral health specialists. More than 60% of nonmetropolitan counties lack a psychiatrist, and almost half of nonmetropolitan counties do not have a psychologist, compared with 27% and 19% of urban counties, respectively. These gaps in specialty care force rural residents to rely heavily on primary providers for much of their care.

The Illusion of Parent Choice: Lessons Learned from BPC’s Parent Survey Series

May 10, 2023

In October 2019, BPC conducted its first national survey of parents in hopes of learning, "Do parents prefer child care closer to home or work?" We wanted to know how finding child care (the supply) impacts parents and their choices. Our first survey revealed parents prefer child care closer to home, but our survey raised more questions. Why do parents choose certain child care arrangements? What factors are most important to parents?As BPC set to investigate in early 2020, the pandemic shifted our focus to COVID-19's impact on child care, including closures, increased safety measures, and how remote work impacted the need for child care.

What the Border Looked Like in FY2022

May 4, 2023

The release of fiscal year 2022 border data was again marked by headlines touting a record-breaking year for encounters. In the following issue brief, we delve into the border data further, analyzing the migration patterns and trends that occurred in FY2022, how Title 8 was used at the border in FY2022, how trends at the northern border and at sea changed this fiscal year, and what process changes were implemented at the border.

Policy to Carry Us Beyond the Next Election: The 2022 midterm election showed resilience in election administration. Now, we must build it.

April 10, 2023

This report is a departure from the "sky is falling" tone that has become typical of debates about election administration. Protecting democracy is and always will be urgent. However, with 20 months before the next federal election, we have a rare opportunity to consider not just the next election but the next 100: to think long term about where we want our democracy to be for future generations, and what policy changes must be made now to get us there.This report pairs long-term vision with concrete, interim reforms. We lay out six goals for the future of election administration and detail actionable policy recommendations that, if implemented soon, would help make those goals a reality. We strive to supersede partisan politics as a motivator and instead place voters and election administrators front and center.

Can Advanced Nuclear Repower Coal Country?

March 23, 2023

With nearly a quarter of the U.S. coal-fired fleet scheduled to retire by 2029, replacing retiring coal power plants with advanced nuclear, specifically small modular reactors (SMR), has been put forth as a strategy to maintain local employment and economic opportunities for existing energy workers and communities, while simultaneously pursuing national climate goals. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) recent and groundbreaking certification of the country's first SMR design pushes the technology closer to maturity. As SMRs shift toward commercial deployment, identifying the existing opportunities and hurdles is vital to create a pathway for future coal-to-nuclear transition projects.This report analyzes the benefits and challenges of a coal-to-nuclear transitionand highlights recent legislation that may hasten such a transition. 

2022 Primary Turnout: Trends and Lessons for Boosting Participation

March 6, 2023

This report examines turnout trends during the 2022 primary elections, conducted in 49 states and the District of Columbia, compared with turnout during the 2010, 2014, and 2018 midterm election cycles (Louisiana holds its primary on Election Day.) The paper also analyzes whether certain policy changes—such as unifying primary dates or adopting open primary or "top-two" or "top-four" formats—can boost voter participation.This paper is a follow-up to BPC's 2018 Primary Turnout and Reform Recommendations report, which found persistently low participation rates across states and over time.Low primary turnout should be an ongoing concern for political parties, policymakers, and the public, given primaries' outsized influence in our representative government. As these trends have intensified and turnout has yet to reach reasonable benchmarks, bold steps should be taken to increase participation in primary contests. Our analysis sheds light on the ability of various proposals to boost turnout.

Power Restored: Congressionally Directed Spending in the 117th Congress and Recommendations for Improvement

February 27, 2023

The 117th Congress (2021-2023) reformed and restored one of the legislative branch's oldest and most basic powers under Article I of the Constitution: the ability of individual members to direct federal funds to priority projects in their local communities. In 2011, through a series of formal and informal policies, Congress placed a moratorium on this mechanism, known as "earmarks." Congress's legislative capacities suffered since it established the moratorium, and the executive branch accumulated additional discretion over where and how federal funds should be invested. Beginning with fiscal year 2022, members could submit funding requests to each chamber's Appropriations Committee, which would consider and approve a portion of those requests before final floor consideration. The annual appropriations bills for FY2022 and FY2023 included directed funds for projects.This report provides a detailed overview of directed spending during the 117th Congress. The report includes background information on the history of directed spending, information about new rules and restrictions meant to improve the process, and a data-driven analysis of the trends that emerged, with comparisons to trends in the pre-moratorium period. The data reflect the requests and approvals as published by the Appropriations Committees before floor consideration and final passage. The report concludes with recommendations for further improving Congress's use of its directed spending authority.

Next Steps: Improving the Medicaid Buy-in for Workers with Disabilities

December 19, 2022

The Bipartisan Policy Center's Health Program is building on its previous report, Improving Opportunities for Working People with Disabilities (January 2021), to address barriers to employment for Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities who often rely on Medicaid's unique services, such as home and community-based services (HCBS), to live independently in the community and work.The Medicaid Buy-In (MBI) for Workers with Disabilities refers to three eligibility groups within Medicaid that allow states to cover working individuals with disabilities who, excluding earned income, generally meet Social Security's definition of disability. The MBI for Workers with Disabilities therefore allows individuals with disabilities to work and retain their Medicaid coverage, or to use their Medicaid coverage to access wraparound services that are not covered under employer-sponsored insurance or Medicare. Enrollment in the MBI for Workers with Disabilities eligibility groups is associated with increased employment and earnings, while also having a positive impact on the economy, state Medicaid agencies, employers, and state and federal governments.In this report, BPC identifies federal policy reforms that will encourage more states to cover or optimize their coverage of the MBI for Workers with Disabilities eligibility groups. These reforms will improve access to the MBI for Workers with Disabilities programs and, thus, allow more Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities to work and achieve their employment potential. More specifically, BPC has identified a set of federal policy recommendations that Congress and the administration should advance. These federal policy reforms will clarify existing flexibilities that states can adopt when designing their MBI for Workers with Disabilities programs while also strengthening outreach, data, and interagency coordination. 

Independent State Legislature Theory Undermines Elections Principles

October 31, 2022

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case with the potential to upend both election administration and the basic principles of how American democracy works. Its ruling will be handed down less than a year before primaries begin in the 2024 election, possibly creating a massive disruption to voting just before a contentious contest.The case, Moore v. Harper, involves state legislative power over congressional redistricting. The petitioners bringing the case posit that Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution,1 commonly referred to as the Elections Clause, endows state legislatures with exclusive power to decide how federal elections are administered within their states. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of this theory, the laws state legislatures pass to regulate federal elections would become immune from the normal checks and balances of state constitutions and state judicial review that apply to all other state lawmaking activities. Legislatures could enact laws inconsistent with their state constitutions, effectively overriding the source of their own legislative power.The novel concept is named the independent state legislature theory (ISL). We believe that ISL—if endorsed by the Supreme Court in maximal form—could not be limited to state legislative control over redistricting. ISL would necessarily extend to all aspects of state regulation of federal elections under the Elections Clause.In the most extreme possibility, local election administrators could be forced to run simultaneous elections—one for federal contests and one for state contests—on different ballots and with different rules. Voter confusion and anger in 2024 and beyond would be certain.This brief focuses on three principles that are essential for U.S. election administration and how the implementation of ISL would upend them:Principle 1: State legislatures cannot move quickly enough to establish statutes, regulations, or guidance for elections in the heat of election cycles when legislatures are out of session.Principle 2: State constitutions, voter-enacted initiatives, and state courts—in addition to state legislatures—have legitimate roles in shaping voting and the administration of elections.Principle 3: The voting experience is smoother and election administration is more efficient when each state has uniform rules and practices for state and federal elections.

Fortifying Election Security Through Poll Worker Policy

October 17, 2022

The smooth functioning of elections relies on hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the United States to support the voting and counting process. Poll workers and other temporary election workers support all aspects of the voting process. They are responsible for setting up voting equipment, checking in voters, and assisting in the counting of ballots. To ensure the smooth functioning of an election, workers must conduct their job with integrity and discipline. Their role, and the public's trust in their role, is a cornerstone of the democratic process.Concerns are mounting that temporary election workers recruited and trained by organizations with nefarious intent may undermine election security and public trust. In a statement released in early October 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Elections condemned "any effort designed with the intent of using temporary election workers to undermine the credibility of the election ecosystem."The COVID-19 pandemic made recruitment of election workers more difficult and highlighted the importance of temporary election workers. Since then, there have been several isolated incidents in which temporary election workers attempted to undermine election administration in pursuit of partisan goals. Before Michigan's August primary, some poll workers were instructed to unplug voting equipment in the name of exposing fraud. On September 29, 2022 a Michigan poll worker was charged with falsifying records and tampering with voting equipment during the primary.To restore and maintain trust in the election system, the public must have faith that poll workers will uphold their duties and defend the election infrastructure that allows U.S. democracy to function. This explainer surveys the state of temporary election-worker policies across all 50 states, highlighting both the litany of protections in place and the gaps that remain.