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.

Disenfranchised Over There
Let's defend the voting rights of those who defend us

By Hans A. von Spakovsky & Roman Buhler
Published May 12th 2008 in The Weekly Standard
Over the past 40 years, starting with the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress has sought to guarantee the right of every American citizen to vote. But there is still a large and significant group of Americans who are needlessly disenfranchised: the millions of men and women who serve abroad in our armed forces.

A survey by the Election Assistance Commission shows that of almost 1 million ballots requested in the last election by overseas and military voters, only about one third were successfully cast and counted. The most common reasons for this failure were that the requested ballots sent to voters were returned as "undeliverable" and that marked ballots were received too late to be counted.

Military personnel based outside the United States are still dependent on the mail to receive and cast their ballots. When an election official sends a ballot overseas, it can take three weeks (or more) to reach a soldier in Iraq or a sailor on a ship halfway around the world. Even if the soldier or sailor completes the ballot immediately, it may take another three weeks to get back. Many ballots simply do not get home in time.

The Pentagon spent millions on a high-tech solution that transmitted ballots over the Internet, but abandoned the effort because of serious security risks. Some states now allow completed ballots to be faxed to election officials from overseas voters, but many soldiers in the field don't have access to fax machines, and faxing ballots imperils the secrecy of the vote. Some states also allow ballots postmarked overseas before the date of the election to be received, unlike all other ballots, after the close of polls. Unfortunately, given the unreliability of some overseas postal authorities, this poses significant risk of fraudulently postmarked ballots, especially in a very close election.

Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy has just introduced the Military Voting Protection Act, which would require the Pentagon to collect absentee ballots overseas and deliver them stateside by express air transport. This could shorten the delivery time for overseas ballots from three weeks to only four days. It would mean that many thousands of ballots that were rejected in 2004 would count in 2008.

A more comprehensive solution, though, could be crafted from the historical example of the first absentee ballots cast by American soldiers. The election of 1864 was held in the middle of a civil war when large numbers of voters were fighting in the field. Wisconsin decided to allow its soldiers to vote absentee, and other states quickly followed suit. Rather than a slow and cumbersome ballot-by-mail process, the states simply set up polling sites in the field encampments of their soldiers. This was easier to do in 1864 when soldiers in many military units came from only one state or community. But modern technology should be able to overcome any obstacles today.

Imagine a system where Congress and the states coordinated an effort to set up early voting sites at or near military installations all over the world. Once a voter provides proper identification that matches his or her name on the voter registration lists each state is required to maintain by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, an electronically uploaded ballot provided by that state could be printed out for the soldier. The ballots completed at each overseas early voting site could then be sent back to the appropriate election officials in the United States through express mail.

Except in extraordinary circumstances such as special forces teams in the field or sailors on ships far out at sea, ballots completed by the Friday before the election could be in the hands of local election officials by the close of polling on Election Day. Early voting sites and an express mail delivery system would enfranchise hundreds of thousands of military voters who today never get their vote counted.

And while establishing overseas early voting sites would take time, a system for express delivery of completed ballots from military bases and U.S. consulates could be implemented in 2008, if Congress and the president worked together. Surely, improving the voting rights of our men and women in uniform is a strong enough motivation.

Dwight Eisenhower, a general who went on to become president, once said that "the future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter." Those hands should include all of those who protect and defend this nation and fight to keep it free.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Roman Buhler is a former elections counsel for the House Administration Committee.

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