President Barack Obama was joined in Selma, Alabama recently by many officials, dignitaries, and even some of the original marchers including George Congressman John Lewis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That watershed federal legislation, which some of the brave marchers in Selma in 1965 died to bring to the forefront, was designed to remove structural and practical barriers to voting, especially for African-Americans and others of color. But that historic legislation has come under attack by a right-of-center U.S. Supreme Court that thinks the voting hurdles put in place by slave states in the Deep South following the Civil War nearly 150 years ago are no longer needed.

Voting In America On Long Road To Recovery

The findings in a biennial voter turnout report released last week by Nonprofit VOTE should come as no surprise to election watchers who know America still has a long way to go until it can truly declare itself the greatest democracy in the world. In it’s report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, which is based on final data certified by state election offices, the report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this historically low-turnout election.

“Clearly there’s much work to do to foster a healthy democracy when well below half the electorate votes in a national election,” states Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “The good news is that higher turnout states show us how we can increase voter turnout across the nation.”

Miller’s concern is justified, given that just 36.6 percent of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II. Turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent, and Colorado at 54.5 percent. Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30 percent of their eligible voters participating.

Voter Rolls Down In Ohio

The report said Ohio tied for the nation’s seventh-largest voting drop (22 percent) from 2010 to 2014. Only 36.2 percent of eligible voters in Ohio cast a ballot in last year’s General Election, ranking it 34th in turnout compared with 19th in the 2012 presidential election. Ohio’s low turnout might also be attributed to the fact that it does not have Election Day registration. Seven of the top 10 states in turnout last year allow eligible voters to register or fix a registration issue at the polls or at their local elections office on Election Day or during early voting. None of the bottom 20 does. Ohio is among almost two-thirds of the states that allow “no excuse” early voting.

The number of registered voters in Ohio has also dropped considerably, as statistics from the Ohio Secretary of State show. As recently as 2008, Ohio had 8,287,665 registered voters, 69.97 percent of whom cast a ballot in that presidential election year in one of 11,107 precincts. Four years later, when President Obama won a second term by winning Ohio a second time by a plurality of voters, the number of registered voters had dropped 3.62 percent to 7,987,203 voters, 70.53 percent of whom cast a ballot. Ohio now has now dropped to 7.7 million registered voters.

California, Oregon Moving Forward On Voting

It’s not likely that Ohio lawmakers will do anything to reverse both the decline in registered voters and the percentage that do vote, but the poor voter turnout in this month’s Los Angeles city election, is stirring a conversation about how to do it. The Los Angeles Times reports that California lawmakers are considering a massive expansion of vote-by-mail balloting and legalizing pop-up polling stations at shopping malls to help increase the convenience and appeal of voting. Some strategies being pondered are opening polling stations weeks early and allowing teenagers to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election, strategies already being used in Colorado and Oregon respectively.

Making voting news Tuesday was the State of Oregon, which took another big leap to broaden participation by automatically registering people to vote. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill that puts the burden of registration on the state instead of voters, 17 years after it became the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots. Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013 but hasn’t registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.

Nonprofit VOTE researchers found that early voting, both in-person and by mail, continues to increase across the country. Last year, 28 percent of the electorate cast a ballot before Election Day, an increase of 3 points in four years.

Some Ohio Voting History

According to an analysis of voting in Ohio races for governor, George V. Voinovich, a Republican, had the highest percent of the vote (71.77% in 1994) in the sixty-six gubernatorial contests. Current Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, received the second highest percent (63.64% in 2014). And for Republicans who are actively trying to trash Ted Strickland’s chances to be the Democratic nominee to challenge first-term U.S. Senator Rob Portman next year, his raw vote total of 2,435,384 in 2006, the most ever, should show them the former governor has plenty of heft.

So when the narrative that Gov. Kasich shellacked his Democratic opponent by a nearly 2-1 margin last year, remember that his win looks very much tainted based on only 36.2 percent of eligible voters voting. By this standard, Gov. Kasich really only received the endorsement of fewer than one in four registered voters, no a stellar statistics if he wants to point to his electoral prowess last year as his bonafides for winning a national election for president.

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    Under National Popular Vote, every voter, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.
    In 2012, 56,256,178 (44%) of the 128,954,498 voters had their vote diverted by the winner-take-all rule to a candidate they opposed (namely, their state’s first-place candidate).

    And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don’t matter to candidates.

    In 2008, voter turnout in the then 15 battleground states averaged seven points higher than in the 35 non-battleground states.

    In 2012, voter turnout was 11% higher in the 9 battleground states than in the remainder of the country.

    If presidential campaigns polled, organized, visited, and appealed to more than the current 63,000,000 of 314,000,000 Americans, one would reasonably expect that voter turnout would rise in 80% of the country that is currently conceded by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns.

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    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes, and thus the presidency, to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by replacing state winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes in the enacting states.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of Electoral College votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). The candidate receiving the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) would get all the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states.

    The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founders. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founders in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. States can, and have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Historically, major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).

    Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in every state surveyed recently. In the 39 states surveyed, overall support has been in the 67-83% range or higher. – in recent or past closely divided battleground states, in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.

    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


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