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.


Register Everybody

Published June 29th 2009 in Roll Call
Among the developed countries of the world — and even some less-developed ones — the United States has the lowest voter registration rate with just 68 percent of registered voters actually signed up to do so.

What’s more, as voting experts assert, registration is the single largest cause of problems on Election Day.

So, it’s time for Congress to fix this, amending the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002 in the wake of election snafus in Florida to encourage states to automatically register citizens and provide local election officials with computer access to statewide voter databases.

Appropriately, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee has held a hearing on the subject, and Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to write legislation. We hope he will find Republicans willing to help him write a bipartisan bill.

A report on international registration patterns was just issued by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. According to it, Argentina registers 100 percent of its voting-age population, followed by Belize, Great Britain and Canada’s Saskatchewan province at 97 percent, and Mexico, Sweden and Peru at 95 percent.

Germany, Australia, Austria and even Indonesia and Burundi are in the 90s, trailed by South Africa at 77 percent, the Bahamas at 75 percent and the United States at the bottom.

The Brennan report asserts that the difference is automaticity. In high-registration countries, “election officials routinely add new voters to the rolls based on information that other government agencies provide,” so “there is no need for these voters to interact with election officials directly and no corresponding mountain of paperwork.”

In the United States, according to Republican elections expert Trevor Potter, HAVA caused states to establish statewide voter databases, but new registrations and residence change notices are left up to voters themselves.

What follows are frantic election-year registration drives by independent groups that often deluge election officials with illegible, duplicate — and sometimes, fraudulent — registration forms. Mix-ups on Election Day are inevitable and lead to constant complaints of voter “disenfranchisement.”

Instead of relying on outside groups — ACORN is the most controversial, but hardly the only organization doing this work — states should use their own motor-vehicle, welfare-department and tax databases to construct voter lists. They also should access federal databases, presumably excluding the Internal Revenue Service.

Then, letters should go out to those on the lists advising them that they are registered to vote in a specific precinct and advising them they can opt out, change addresses or correct errors.

This wouldn’t entirely eliminate partisan differences over what identification requirements should be imposed when voters who aren’t registered show up at the polls, but this presumably is a question for the states to decide. It should not prevent Republicans and Democrats in Congress from coming together on the principle that everyone eligible should be registered to vote.