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.


 
Students ask to combine voter, class registration

By Besty Cohen
Published April 29th 2008 in Missoulian News
 
If University of Montana students have their way, theirs could be the first college campus in the nation that lets students register to vote at the same time they register for classes.

On Monday, student government leaders will ask UM's top administrators to partner with Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that engages young people in the political process.

Provided the idea gets the green light, here's how it would work, according to Dustin Leftridge, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana: When students go to Cyberbear, the Internet site where UM students register for classes, they will also find Rock the Vote's widget - an online registration tool. When students click on the icon that says “Register to Vote,” a one-page voter registration form will pop up, asking which state they want to be registered in.

Once the information is completed, it is a legal registration form ready for printing. When the document is printed, it comes with directions on how and where to mail the form.

The widget isn't anything new to ASUM, which has had the free tool on its Web site since last fall, but it didn't get a lot of traffic, Leftridge said.

While pondering how to raise the tool's profile, Leftridge was approached by Matt Singer, CEO of Forward Montana, a Missoula nonprofit that is also dedicated to engaging young people politically.

Singer's suggested attaching the widget to Cyberbear.

“The whole idea is to make it easy for students to have a centralized place to go to register,” Singer said. “Students go to Cyberbear and Rock the Vote's tool makes it easy.”

Although he's the one who took the idea to ASUM, putting the widget up on Cyberbear originated from Alex Gosline, a UM student Singer met while interviewing students for internships at Forward Montana.

Singer got behind the concept because it made a lot of sense.

“It struck me that UM would be a good testing ground, that this kind of thing has a great level of civic involvement and UM administration has been very supportive of that kind of thing in the past,” he said.

If Monday's presentation goes smoothly, and everything falls into place, Leftridge and Singer said they'd like to have the widget up and running on April 14, when UM students begin registering for fall semester courses.

“We'd love to have the tool available for students in this next registration period because the primary election is going to be a huge event here,” Singer said. “We want to make sure students and young people are involved and we want to make sure students are registered in advance.”

Getting young voters to register isn't just a good idea, Singer said. Recent history proves young Montana voters are critical to who gets elected to office.

“Here in Montana one of the little known facts about elections in '04 and '06 is that there were more voters under the age of 30 than over the age of 65, which is our way of saying young voters are already an important voting block in Montana,” he said. “Our vote matters.

“Montana decided the fate of the United States Senate, and we may end up deciding who is president this time. That's a lot of power and it's a big opportunity for our state - and students definitely need to be a part of that.”

Since Rock the Vote launched its registration widget in July, more than 750,000 people have downloaded voter registration forms from its Web site, said Chrissy Faessen, media contact for the Washington, D.C., nonprofit.

“It's an excellent tool, and it is a great idea if the University of Montana made it accessible during online registration for classes,” she said. “No one is doing that yet that I know of. It's a good idea.”

If it were to happen, Rock the Vote would be ever-closer to its ultimate goal, Faessen said.

“Our goal is to register 2 million young voters,” she said. “And not only to get them registered, but to turn out to the polls and support candidates in record numbers.”

After UM's executive officers hear about the tool for the first time on Monday, Leftridge said he expects the matter will be mulled over for a few days before a definitive answer is reached.

“I look forward to the conversation,” said Jim Foley, UM's executive vice president. “On this campus and in this state, there hasn't been this much focus on the presidential election since the 1960s, and we should think about how best to connect to and involve young people.”

Rock on

To learn more about Rock the Vote, log on to www.rockthevote.org. To navigate Rock the Vote's voter registration widget on the Associated Students of the University of Montana Web site, log on to www.umt.edu/ asum/reg_vote.htm.

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.