Claim Democracy
Claim Democracy encourages networking and collaboration among national, state and local democracy groups in order to build support for and strengthen a national infrastructure for a pro-democracy movement within the United States.  Its most significant accomplishment thus far has been our November 2003 and 2007 Claim Democracy conferences, which brought together representatives of more than 100 organizations and more than 500 people for intensive private meetings and public dialogue inWashington, D.C. In light of recent election administration problems and high-profile obstacles to fair elections in the public interest, its major goal for 2008 is the Democracy SoS (Secretary of State) project, designed to develop a comprehensive agenda for action by Secretaries of State and other elected officials who influence election policy.

The vision for Claim Democracy is to help create and support a network of state-based organizations that work to secure, enhance and exercise the right vote through a range of reforms and activities. Rather than exclusively focus on one particular reform or another, these organizations would be able to coordinate and pool resources to advocate one of a number of reforms that meet clear pro-democracy goals. Examples include: expanding the electorate, increasing citizen participation, providing fair representation, promoting better political debate, freeing voters to support their candidate of choice and supporting equality in the political process. Potential activities include plans to:
  • Establish a new website with a range of information about pro-democracy issues, blogs from several leading pro-democracy advocates and easy means to find pro-democracy advocates in one’s state or locality. An internal invitation-only set of pages would facilitate communication among leaders of pro-democracy groups.

  • Promote creation of and support for a network of state and local groups working to promote participation and reform in their state – ideally seeking to integrate efforts to boost citizen participation with reform efforts and seeking to establish lasting relationships with elected officials able to enact change.

  • Coordinate regular meetings of a pro-democracy roundtable of national and local groups, designed to promote strategic thinking, greater communication and coordination in the pro-democracy movement and support for state/local efforts.

  • Develop a “war-room” communications ability able to spotlight deficits in our democracy and work being done to address those efforts.

  • Develop and work with caucuses of pro-democracy elected officials, at local, state and federal levels – coordinating strategic initiatives that can be carried out at different levels.

  • Develop curriculum about the history of expansion of democracy in the United States as a whole and individual states to be used in K-12 schools.

Ohio prepares for long ballots, long lines

By Mark Niquette
Published June 16th 2008 in THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
AWith many Ohio elections officials still haunted by the memory of long lines at the polls in the 2004 presidential election, they are watching the lengthening list of possible state and local issues for the Nov. 4 ballot with growing trepidation.

A long list of issues not only would increase the time it takes voters to cast a ballot when a record turnout is expected, it means higher costs for counties to print and mail absentee ballots, too.

"I think everybody's thinking about it," said Shannon Leininger, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

In addition to the presidential race and other candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot, seven statewide issues are being proposed -- although only three have been approved so far and at least one appears to be a long shot.

Up to eight municipal bond issues might be on the ballot in Columbus, while an income-tax increase might be slated for Westerville, its second-biggest suburb. School levies are a possibility in Franklin County's three largest school districts, including Columbus, and four of the five biggest.

Experts say a lengthy ballot in the 2004 election in areas such as Columbus, which included eight bond issues, combined with huge turnout and a lack of voting machines, contributed to long lines that made national and international news as Ohio wound up deciding the presidential race.

Matthew Damschroder, deputy Franklin County elections director, said this year is different in part because the county now has about 4,500 voting machines compared with about 2,800 in 2004.

The county plans to use research to decide how many voting machines should be allocated to each precinct this fall, then hold a public hearing on the proposal, he said.

Also, since 2004, the state has adopted "no-fault" absentee voting, in which any Ohioan can cast an absentee vote before the election. Officials statewide are pushing absentee voting as a way to ease crowds on Election Day, and Damschroder expects as many as one-third of Franklin County voters will cast ballots early this fall.

Still, an increase in absentee votes means more paper ballots. And at 30 cents a page in Franklin County -- plus the cost to mail the ballot to and from the voter -- the price adds up as the number of pages needed for all the candidates and issues increases.

Paper ballots also are needed for provisional voters on Election Day. And Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner plans to require that Franklin and more than 50 other counties using touch-screen voting machines make paper ballots available for voters who want them.

Damschroder said elections staff members are still calculating the additional cost but he expects the county commissioners will be asked for more funding.

Dayton Legal Blank, which prints ballots for about two-thirds of Ohio counties, is planning for a 260 percent increase in ballots and costs this year compared with 2007, and a 40 percent increase over 2006.

"For some counties, they're really having issues (with the costs)," company president David R. Keeler said.

Brunner noted that the state legislature recently allocated $3 million to help counties pay for mailing costs related to absentee ballots.

Keeler said he's also advocating handing out a booklet explaining the state issues to voters waiting in line to minimize the time needed to cast their ballots, and election officials hope voters study the issues before coming to the polls

State law sets a five-minute limit to vote, but it's rarely if ever enforced, Brunner said.

Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.

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