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CRS — Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recently invalidated aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions capped the total amount that one can give to all candidates, parties, or political action committees (PACs). For the 2014 election cycle, the aggregate limit for individual contributions was $123,200.The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the aggregate limits on April 2, 2014. Alabama contributor Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) brought the case, McCutcheon v. FEC, after the aggregate limits prevented McCutcheon from contributing as desired to federal candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle. The decision does not affect “base limits” that individuals may contribute to particular candidates or parties. Instead, McCutcheon permits individuals to give limited contributions to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

This report offers a preliminary analysis of major policy issues and potential implications that appear to be most relevant as the House and Senate decide whether or how to respond to McCutcheon. With the aggregate limits relaxed, additional funds might flow to candidate committees, party committees, or PACs. Joint fundraising committees and leadership PACs might expand as tools to funnel large contributions to multiple candidate committees, parties, or PACs. Disclosure of contributors who exceed the current aggregate limits might also be a policy concern. It is important to note that whether these possibilities will occur is unclear at this time.

This report will be updated to reflect major developments. This version of the report supersedes previous versions.

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CRS — Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (updated)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides the results of recent elections in Latin America and the Caribbean. Below are three tables organized by region, including the date of each country’s independence, the name of the newly elected president or prime minister, and the projected date of the next election. Information in this report was gathered from numerous sources, including the U.S. State Department, the CIA’s Open Source, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and other news sources.

Few Americans Know Where Elected Officials and Candidates Stand on Government Support for Research and Innovation, New Polling Booklet Reveals

April 10, 2014 Comments off

Few Americans Know Where Elected Officials and Candidates Stand on Government Support for Research and Innovation, New Polling Booklet Reveals
Source: Research!America

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say it’s important for candidates running for office to assign a high priority to funding medical research, according to America Speaks, Volume 14, a compilation of key questions from public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America. Polling shows that Americans place a high value on U.S. leadership in medical innovation, yet only 12% say they are very well informed about the positions of their senators and representative when it comes to their support of medical and scientific research. www.researchamerica.org/poll_summary.

To help close this knowledge gap, Research!America and partner organizations are launching a national voter education initiative, Ask Your Candidates! Is Medical Research Progress a Priority? Through online and grassroots activities, social media strategies and on-the-ground events, congressional candidates will be urged to share their views on government policies and support for medical innovation conducted in both the public and private sectors. www.askyourcandidates.org.

Pew Index Shows 40 States Improved Election Performance in 2012

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Pew Index Shows 40 States Improved Election Performance in 2012
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

Between 2008 and 2012, state election performance overall improved by 4.4 percentage points, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest Elections Performance Index, released today. The expanded index makes it possible for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to measure how well they conducted elections compared not only with other states, but also over time.

This annual study allows states to measure election administration by looking at such indicators as wait times at polling locations, availability of voting information tools online, rejection of voter registrations, problems with registration or absentee ballots, rejection of military and overseas ballots, voter turnout, and accuracy of voting technology.

Overall, 40 states and the district improved their scores in the 2012 election, compared with 2008. The scores of 21 states and the district rose at a rate greater than the national average, 19 states’ averages improved but didn’t keep pace with the national average, and 10 states’ performance declined. The district improved the most—20 points—from 2008 to 2012 but still remained among the lower performers.

CRS — The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Issues

April 7, 2014 Comments off

The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The deadlocked November 2000 presidential election focused national attention on previously obscure details of election administration. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court had resolved the election in December, numerous bills to address the failings of the election system were introduced in Congress and state legislatures. The response at the federal level was the Help America Vote Act (HAVA; P.L. 107-252), enacted in 2002. HAVA created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), established a set of election administration requirements, and provided federal funding, but did not supplant state and local control over election administration. Several issues have arisen or persisted in the years since HAVA was enacted. This report provides background information about HAVA and its provisions, the EAC, funding for the agency and for state programs to improve elections, and a number of enduring election administration issues.

Does Secular Education Impact Religiosity, Electoral Participation and the Propensity to Vote for Islamic Parties? Evidence from an Education Reform in a Muslim Country

April 6, 2014 Comments off

Does Secular Education Impact Religiosity, Electoral Participation and the Propensity to Vote for Islamic Parties? Evidence from an Education Reform in a Muslim Country (PDF)
Source: Institute for the Study of Labor

Using a unique survey of adults in Turkey, we find that an increase in educational attainment, due to an exogenous secular education reform, decreases women’s propensity to identify themselves as religious, lowers their tendency to wear a religious head cover (head scarf, turban or burka) and increases the tendency for modernity. Education reduces women’s propensity to vote for Islamic parties. There is no statistically significant impact of education on men’s religiosity or their tendency to vote for Islamic parties and education does not influence the propensity to cast a vote in national elections for men or women. The impact of education on religiosity and voting preference is not working through migration, residential location or labor force participation.

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond

March 18, 2014 Comments off

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond
Source: RAND Corporation

Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election is the most important political event in that country’s decade-long transition to democracy. A successful election would be a major blow to the Taliban and al Qaida, and would renew Afghan efforts to bring the war to a favorable conclusion. The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a major setback for similar groups worldwide, many of which look to Afghanistan as a sort of template for how to accomplish a jihadist takeover. By contrast, a failed election and a renewed push by the Taliban could become a rallying cry and a morale boost to the same groups. Because the stakes are high, the international community should recognize that, despite a dozen years of frustration and halting progress, Afghanistan’s political and economic reconstruction needs one more push before the milestone election. Helping Afghanistan across the electoral finish line will increase the odds that the country will find some sort of solution to its internal stability and, thus, be able to deny safe haven to al Qaida and its affiliates.

CRS — Congressional Redistricting and the Voting Rights Act: A Legal Overview (updated)

March 13, 2014 Comments off

Congressional Redistricting and the Voting Rights Act: A Legal Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of Iowa Law Library)

The Constitution requires a count of the U.S. population every 10 years. Based on the census, the number of seats in the House of Representatives is reapportioned among the states. Thus, at least every 10 years, in response to changes in the number of Representatives apportioned to it or to shifts in its population, each state is required to draw new boundaries for its congressional districts. Although each state has its own process for redistricting, congressional districts must conform to a number of constitutional and federal statutory standards, including the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

CRS — The State of Campaign Finance Policy – Recent Developments and Issues for Congress (updated)

February 19, 2014 Comments off

The State of Campaign Finance Policy – Recent Developments and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via MSPB Watch)

Minor and major changes have occurred in campaign finance policy since 2002, when Congress substantially amended campaign finance law via the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC and a related lower-court decision, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, arguably represent the most fundamental changes to campaign finance law in decades. Citizens United lifted a previous ban on corporate (and union) independent expenditures advocating election or defeat of candidates. SpeechNow permitted unlimited contributions to such expenditures and facilitated the advent of super PACs. Although campaign finance policy remains the subject of intense debate and public interest, there have been few legislative or regulatory changes to respond to the 2010 court rulings. This report considers these and other developments in campaign finance policy and comments on areas of potential conflict and consensus.

The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

February 10, 2014 Comments off

The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PDF)
Source: Presidential Commission on Election Administration

The Commission’s focus in this Report remained resolutely on the voter. We discovered, as officials, experts, and members of the public from across the country testified, that voters’ expectations are remarkably uniform and transcend differences of party and political perspective. The electorate seeks above all modern, efficient, and responsive administrative performance in the conduct of elections. As the Commission sets out in its Report, election administration must be viewed as a subject of sound public administration. Our best election administrators attend closely to the interests, needs, and concerns of all of our voters — in large and small jurisdictions, and in urban and rural communities — just as well-managed organizations in the private sector succeed by establishing and meeting high standards for “customer service.”

This view of administration will not only reduce wait times where they occur, but also improve the quality of administration in many other ways, from the registration process through the selection and design of polling places, to improved access for particular communities of voters, such as those with disabilities or limited English proficiency, and overseas and military voters. The Commission has found that the problems encountered with election administration overlap and intersect, and improved management at one stage in the process will yield benefits at later stages. Improving the accuracy of registration rolls, for example, can expand access, reduce administrative costs, prevent fraud and irregularity, and reduce polling place congestion leading to long lines.

2008-2012 American Community Survey Voting Age Population by Citizenship and Race

February 4, 2014 Comments off

2008-2012 American Community Survey Voting Age Population by Citizenship and Race
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

This tabulation from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey shows estimates of the citizen voting age population by race for small areas of geography.

The downloadable files show the population 18 and older by citizenship status and race for the nation, states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, counties, minor civil divisions, places, tracts and block groups. The files reflect both the population living in housing units and in group quarters, such as college dormitories. The new files and technical documentation along with previous versions of the files can be found on the Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data website.

This is the fourth year in a row that the American Community Survey has produced estimates of this population for even the smallest geographic areas. Prior to the American Community Survey, communities would have to wait 10 years for an update on the citizen voting-age population. Internet address: http://www.census.gov/rdo/data/voting_age_population_by_citizenship_and_race_cvap.html

CRS — Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns (updated)

January 28, 2014 Comments off

Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

There is a consensus that the presidential public financing program is antiquated and offers insufficient benefits to attract the most competitive candidates. No major candidate accepted public funds in 2012. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama became the first person, since the public financing program’s inception, elected President without accepting any public funds. For some, these developments signal an urgent need to save the public campaign financing program that has existed since the 1970s; for others, they suggest that the program is unnecessary.

CRS — Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress

January 2, 2014 Comments off

Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions are intended to reduce the risk of real or perceived corruption. The aggregate limits cap the total amount that one can give to all candidates, parties, or political action committees (PACs). For the 2014 election cycle, the aggregate limit for individual contributions is $123,200.

The Supreme Court of the United States is currently considering a challenge to the aggregate contribution limits. Alabama contributor Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) brought the case, McCutcheon v. FEC, after the aggregate limits prevented McCutcheon from contributing as desired to federal candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle. On October 8, 2013, the Court heard oral argument in the case. A decision is expected during the Court’s current term. Regardless of the outcome, the case provides an opportunity to consider arguments surrounding the aggregate limits and to examine issues that might be relevant for Congress if the limits are altered.

This report offers a preliminary analysis of major policy issues and potential implications that appear to be most relevant as the House and Senate prepare for the ruling and decide whether or how to respond. If the outcome in McCutcheon changes the status quo, debate is likely about whether existing provisions prevent the real or perceived corruption that some believe accompanies large contributions (or, in this case, a larger number of limited contributions). If the current aggregate limits were relaxed or eliminated, additional funds might flow to candidate committees, party committees, or PACs. Joint fundraising committees and leadership PACs might expand as tools to funnel large contributions to multiple candidate committees, parties, or PACs. Disclosure of contributors who exceed the current aggregate limits might also be a policy concern. It is important to note that whether these possibilities will occur is unclear at this time.

Political advertisers and TV stations ignore disclosure rules

December 20, 2013 Comments off

Political advertisers and TV stations ignore disclosure rules
Source: Sunlight Foundation

In a 2003 Supreme Court opinion on the biggest campaign reforms in a generation, Justice Stephen Breyer reflected on a little-known provision that required outside groups to disclose additional details about their political ad spending at local TV stations. “Recordkeeping can help both the regulatory agencies and the public evaluate broadcasting fairness,” Breyer wrote, “and determine the amount of money that individuals or groups, supporters or opponents, intend to spend to help elect a particular candidate.”

But a decade after the Supreme Court ruling, an extensive review of these documents by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that TV stations often fail to report even the most basic information about the political ads that outside groups buy on their airwaves. As a result, the records that Breyer said would facilitate public watchdogging are spotty or don’t exist. There’s no way to total reliably how much is being spent for or against a candidate, or, in some cases, who is doing the spending. A systematic review of 200 randomly-selected ad buys made by outside groups found that fewer than 1 in 6 ads targeting federal candidates disclosed the name of the candidate or election mentioned.

Such omissions deprive the voting public of important information. TV ad files have become an increasingly important tool for tracking otherwise undisclosed political spending by groups that run the gamut from well-known trade associations and unions to lesser-known operations whose anodyne names offer little information about the financial or political interests behind them: “Americans for Job Security,” for instance, or “Checks and Balances for Economic Growth.” In the wake of court decisions making it easier to route big money through outside groups, broadcast political TV ads jumped to an estimated $5.6 billion in 2012 — up 30% from 2008. Yet in spite of this massive payday, stations still find it hard to fill out paperwork about their benefactors.

CRS — Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections

December 17, 2013 Comments off

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Open CRS)

This report provides the results of recent elections in Latin America and the Caribbean. Below are three tables organized by region, including the date of each country’s independence, the name of the newly elected president or prime minister, and the projected date of the next election. Information in this report was gathered from numerous sources, including the U.S. State Department, the CIA’s Open Source, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and other news sources

CRS — Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns

December 17, 2013 Comments off

Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

There is a consensus that the presidential public financing program is antiquated and offers insufficient benefits to attract the most competitive candidates. No major candidate accepted public funds in 2012. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama became the first person, since the public financing program’s inception, elected President without accepting any public funds. For some, these developments signal an urgent need to save the public campaign financing program that has existed since the 1970s; for others, they suggest that the program is unnecessary.

Eight bills introduced in the 113 th Congress would terminate all or parts of the program. These measures—H.R. 94, H.R. 95, H.R. 260, H.R. 270, H.R. 1724, H.R. 2019, H.R. 2857, and S. 118—are discussed in the next section of this report. The 112 th Congress also considered terminating the program; two bills passed the House but died in the Senate. On January 26, 2011, the House passed (239-160) H.R. 359, sponsored by Representative Cole, to repeal public financing of presidential campaigns and nominating conventions. In addition, on December 1, 2011, the House passed (235-190) H.R. 3463. The latter bill, sponsored by Representative Harper, proposed to terminate the public financing program (in addition to eliminating the Election Assistance Commission) and transfer remaining amounts to the general fund of the U.S. Treasury for use in deficit reduction.

This report provides a brief policy overview and raises potential issues for congressional consideration.

CRS — Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (updated)

December 6, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The capacity, transparency, and legitimacy of Afghan governance are considered crucial to Afghan stability after U.S.-led NATO forces turn over the security mission to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but the government remains weak and rampant with corruption. Even as the government has struggled to widen its writ, President Hamid Karzai has concentrated substantial presidential authority through his powers of appointment at all levels. But, he is constitutionally term-limited; presidential and provincial elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014, and Afghanistan is beginning to transition from the Karzai era. Several major figures—some close to Karzai and others opposed—have registered to run for president; many of their slates include faction leaders long accused of human rights abuses. Some candidates are concerned that Karzai will use state machinery to favor a particular candidate. Fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) was extensively documented, but Afghan officials, scrutinized by opposition ties, civil society organizations, and key donor countries, have taken some steps to limit the potential for fraud in the April 2014 elections.

Fears about the election process are fanned by the scant progress in reducing widespread nepotism and other forms of corruption. President Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same bodies have faltered from lack of support from senior Afghan government leaders who oppose prosecuting their political allies.

No matter the outcome of the Afghan leadership succession process, there is concern among many observers that governance will founder as the United States and its partners reduce their involvement in Afghanistan.

President Karzai is appealing to nationalist sentiment to attract Taliban support to rejoin Afghan politics, but Afghan civil society activists, particularly women’s groups, assert that a full reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics could reverse some of the human and women’s rights gains since 2001.

Combining Forecasts: An Application to Elections

November 21, 2013 Comments off

Combining Forecasts: An Application to Elections
Source: International Journal of Forecasting, Forthcoming (via Social Science Research Network)

We summarize the literature on the effectiveness of combining forecasts by assessing the conditions under which combining is most valuable. Using data on the six U.S. Presidential elections from 1992 through 2012, we then report the reduction in error obtained by averaging forecasts within and across four election forecasting methods: poll projections, expert judgment, quantitative models, and the Iowa Electronic Markets. Across the six elections, the resulting combined forecasts were on average more accurate than each of the component methods. The gains in accuracy from combining increased with the number of forecasts used, especially when these forecasts were based on different methods and different data, and in situations involving high uncertainty. Combining yielded error reductions ranging from 16% to 59%, compared to the average errors of the individual forecasts. This improvement is substantially greater than the 12% reduction in error that had been previously reported for combining forecasts.

CRS — Georgia’s October 2013 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications

November 20, 2013 Comments off

Georgia’s October 2013 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report discusses Georgia’s October 27, 2013, presidential election and its implications for U.S. interests. The election took place one year after a legislative election that witnessed the mostly peaceful shift of legislative and ministerial power from the ruling party, the United National Movement (UNM), to the Georgia Dream (GD) coalition bloc. The newly elected president, Giorgi Margvelashvili of the GD, will have fewer powers under recently approved constitutional changes.

Most observers have viewed the 2013 presidential election as marking Georgia’s further progress in democratization, including a peaceful shift of presidential power from UNM head Mikheil Saakashvili to GD official Margvelashvili. Some analysts, however, have raised concerns over ongoing tensions between the UNM and GD, as well as Prime Minister and GD head Bidzini Ivanishvili’s announcement on November 2, 2013, that he will step down as the premier.

In his victory speech on October 28, Margvelashvili reaffirmed Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic foreign policy orientation, including the pursuit of Georgia’s future membership in NATO and the EU. At the same time, he reiterated that GD would continue to pursue the normalization of ties with Russia.

On October 28, 2013, the U.S. State Department praised the Georgian presidential election as generally democratic and expressing the will of the people, and as demonstrating Georgia’s continuing commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration. The State Department called for all Georgian political forces to work together to ensure Georgia’s political stability and stated that the United States looked forward to building upon the strong bilateral strategic partnership and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

CRS — The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: History, Implementation, and Effects

October 1, 2013 Comments off

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: History, Implementation, and Effects (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. §1973–1973aa-6), legislation had been urged for over two decades that would create a national voter registration system designed to make registration easier and more uniform from state to state. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA, P.L. 103-31, 107 Stat.77, [42 U.S.C. §1973gg et seq.]), the so-called “motor-voter” bill, was signed into law by President Clinton on May 20, 1993. It required states to establish voter registration procedures for federal elections so that eligible citizens might apply to register to vote (1) simultaneously while applying for a driver’s license, (2) by mail, and (3) at selected state and local offices that serve the public. The law took effect on January 1, 1995, for most states.

Proponents argued that the NVRA would make it easier to register to vote, provide more-thanadequate measures to prevent voter fraud by making violations a federal offense, and cost states very little to implement, based on the experiences of states that previously used some form of “motor-voter” registration.

Opponents, on the other hand, argued that there was little evidence that increasing the number of persons on voter registration rolls would lead to higher voter turnout. By making it so easy to register, they believed the act would increase the likelihood of election fraud. Furthermore, according to opponents, implementation would be costly to the states, in terms both of dollars and other administrative costs.

The NVRA has been the law of the land for over 20 years and has been in effect for 18 years. Between 1992 and 2012, voter registration increased nationally by over seven percentage points. The courts have resolved many of the initial issues. A review of the required NVRA reports appears to indicate that the states have come to terms with the provisions, despite the fact that they would still like the federal government to provide funding for the implementation of aspects of the act. While amending parts of the NVRA in minor ways, the Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002, also created additional voter registration demands on the states (HAVA, P.L. 107- 252 [42 U.S.C., Subchapter III, Part A., §15482(a), 15483]).

However, there are still some problems with implementation at the local levels and in some selected state agencies, as well as with the training of non-election officials who are responsible under the NVRA for providing voter registration services. Some would like to curtail parts of the NVRA. Some do not think the NVRA has gone far enough. Proposed legislation introduced in the 113th Congress to deal with various aspects of the voter registration process includes, among others, H.R. 12, H.R. 97, H.R. 280, H.R. 289, and H.R. 2115. This report provides an historical background for voter registration reform and the NVRA, a description of the major aspects of the act, a discussion of the implementation and post-implementation actions, and a catalog of subsequent efforts to amend or repeal the act. It will be updated as needed.

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