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When the People Draw the Lines: An Examination of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission

June 12, 2013

On November 8, 2008, a historic presidential election drove voter participation to unusually high levels. Californians cast more than 13.5 million votes for president. Much farther down their ballot, a smaller number of voters (just short of 12 million) voted on Prop 11, also known as the Voters First Act. By a margin of less than 1 percent, voters transformed the way the state went about drawing districts for state offices. Instead of the state legislature and governor (and at times, the courts), an independent citizen commission -- the California Citizens Redistricting Commission -- would now accomplish the task. With little notice in the tidal wave of the presidential race, Californians had made a major change to their state's constitution.

U.S. Immigration Policy: Family Reunification

June 1, 2007

This issue brief covers the 1965 Immigration Act, the preference category framework, the immigrant visa petition application and approval process. The author argues that family reunification is in jeopardy, and concludes with possible solutions and recommendations.

Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities

August 1, 2005

The informed and active involvement of citizens in government at all levels has long been a goal of the League of Women Voters. The League has also been highly attentive to issues of civil rights and civil liberties throughout its history. As a result, the League of Women Voters Education Fund, the citizen education and research arm of the League, initiated a multi-faceted approach to enhancing both public and policymaker understanding of the issues involved in the complex interaction of civil liberties and homeland security.In 2005, with generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Education Fund launched a project entitled Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities. The project has three main components.One component involved facilitating ten public deliberations in communities across the country in June 2005. The League asked the Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC), a national organization that works to advance deliberative democracy, to be a partner in this project. In collaboration with the League, SCRC developed a discussion guide, provided advice to local Leagues as they prepared for the public deliberations, and trained local discussion facilitators at the ten sites. The hosts were the Leagues in: Baltimore, Maryland; Black Hawk-Bremer counties, Iowa; Brookhaven, New York; Columbia, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Lexington, Kentucky; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; North Pinellas County, Florida; and Seattle, Washington. Each site hosted between 50 and 100 community members for four to six hours of conversation. Insights from these forums were collected in two forms: observations recorded by trained note takers in break-out discussions (approximately six to ten participants in each) at every site and a post-deliberation individual participant survey. Questionnaires, developed by Lake Snell Perry Mermin/Decision Research (LSPM/DR), were completed by more than 650 participants. The results areiincluded in the report. (See Appendix A for more information.)The other two components of the project involved qualitative and quantitative public opinion research to explore attitudes and values toward homeland security and civil liberties. The League hired LSPM/DR to conduct six focus groups in three cities: Bakersfield, California; Dallas, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. In addition, LSPM/DR conducted an analysis of national polling data that provide reflections of Americans' opinions toward homeland security and civil liberties.The findings from all components of the Local Voices project are chronicled in this report. Neither this report nor the ultimate Congressional action on the USA PATRIOT Act by any means signals the end of the issue or the need for conversation on this important topic.The issues -- and the decisions -- involved in the intersection between civil liberties and homeland security will continue to evolve and manifest themselves in various ways. The consequences of the decisions this country makes will have lasting effects on every American, in their lives and communities, and on the nation as a whole.This report presents a number of findings and insights gleaned from the range of public input obtained during the Local Voices project. These findings are identified and then described at length in the following pages. Some are focused on specific topics within the current debate, and some are more general and far-ranging.At the conclusion of this report, the League presents a series of recommendations. These relate to the ways government at all levels, as well as community institutions, the media, and the public itself, can work to strengthen public understanding, public involvement and public confidence in the conversations, decisions and trade-offs that have been and will continue to be made about homeland security and civil liberties.

Helping America Vote: Safeguarding the Vote

July 1, 2004

In 2002 Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) authorizing $3.9 billion to modernize and improve federal elections. Debate over how to fulfill the requirements of the new law has focused on new technology, both new voting machines and computerized statewide registration systems.Yet, as election officials well understand, new, sophisticated technology alone will not solve the ills that surfaced in the 2000 presidential election. Sound administrative practices are equally necessary to ensure that elections are run both fairly and accurately. And much less has been said on this subject.According to the law's congressional authors, HAVA is intended to ensure that eligible voters are able to cast a vote and have that vote counted accurately. The law established minimum federal requirements to protect both eligible voters and valid votes, thus providing stronger security for the election process.In this report, the League of Women Voters focuses not on the technology, about which much has already been said and written, but on the administrative framework that will deploy new technologies and management systems to meet the goals of greater accuracy and security. The report sets forth a set of recommended operational and management practices for election officials that protect eligible voters, ensure valid votes will be counted and bolster voters' confidence.In "Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues," (2003) a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, three widely accepted elements of defense against security risks are cited: technology, personnel and operations. This League report adopts that framework, but focuses primarily on the latter two elements, personnel and operations.Technological security defenses will be addressed by guidelines developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).In 2002, elections officials in Florida discovered the cost of focusing on technology without equal emphasis on personnel and operations. One county purchased all new electronic voting systems only to discover in the 2002 gubernatorial primary that its process for administering the new machines was flawed -- ballots were incorrectly loaded -- and its poll workers had not been adequately trained on how to operate the new machines. As a consequence, many polls opened late and some never opened at all.The same principle holds true with regard to voter registration. Example: In 2000, Florida paid a firm to conduct a computerized match of the voter rolls against felon lists. The resulting list of felons that the state then transmitted to counties for purging had an accuracy rate of only 80 percent. Counties that purged the voters without verifying the information found that they had erroneously removed eligible voters from the rolls. In both cases, technological solutions provided voters no protection against flawed management of that technology.As states purchase new voting machines and create statewide registration systems, they will need to pay equal attention to administrative and management practices.This report culls from interviews with election officials and other experts a set of practices that can provide a more secure foundation for two key components of election administration: voting systems and voter registration systems. The recommendations offered below are based on practices already in use. In other words, they are not theoretical but practical.

A Time for Action: A New Vision of Participatory Democracy

January 23, 2004

For over eighty years, the League of Women Voters has been a voice for women and men of all backgrounds, rising above partisan disputes to help citizens fully and intelligently exercise their rights -- and their responsibilities -- as participants in the American experiment. The League has earned a reputation for integrity and fairness, and generations have relied upon League resources to help them make the kind of informed decisions that keep policymakers responsive and truly give weight and meaning to the hallowed phrase "consent of the governed."The League has cultivated expertise on electoral behavior and public policy at national, state, and local levels, and has been a leader in identifying and researching political trends. In recent years, one of the most distressing trends has been the ongoing decline of civic participation, in the voting booth and beyond. If one measure of the health of democracy is the rate at which citizens participate in elections, the fitness of the American body politic has been spiraling downward ever since voter turnout peaked in 1960.Recognizing the need for new insights and strategies to attack this problem, the Chicago chapter of the League convened a Task Force of recognized experts and leaders from the community to spearhead an examination of the factors at play. Concerned organizations of many stripes have studied the situation over the years, but there has been no authoritative summary of what we know and what we yet need to learn that can be turned into real steps toward a solution. Why are people dropping out of the political process....and what can be done to draw them back? What creative strategies hold the most promise for capturing Americans' attention, raising their awareness, and inspiring them to participate?The Task Force's findings are often disturbing, yet they also give cause for optimism. Americans may be keeping to themselves in growing numbers, but they do not do so solely from apathy or indifference; and want only to be invited to share their views, to be assured that government will pay attention, to be shown how and why they can make a difference. Young people especially have felt shut out of the process, despite knowing as well as anyone what matters to them and their communities. It's time they were invited back in. In this deeply polarized political moment, it is vitally important that we remind all Americans that civic engagement isn't merely about the often arcane and alienating world of politics -- it's a way to share in something bigger than ourselves, to express our devotion to our country and our community, to assure that (in Abraham Lincoln's timeless phrase) "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."Here in the state that was home to the author of those words, in the city where he was nominated for the presidency, we can take the first steps toward reinvigorating the vision he expressed. It is the hope of the League and the Task Force that this report will point the way toward those steps.