CFM Federal Affairs

How to Patch America’s Patchwork Electoral Grid

As America’s elections have become more nationalized in partisanship, the electoral grid remains a patchwork of aging voting machines, uneven voting requirements and a largely volunteer workforce that oversees actual voting. Instituting nationally the Oregon voting system of automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots would help and allow reforms to center on gerrymandering, campaign disinformation and dark money contributions.

As America’s elections have become more nationalized in partisanship, the electoral grid remains a patchwork of aging voting machines, uneven voting requirements and a largely volunteer workforce that oversees actual voting. Instituting nationally the Oregon voting system of automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots would help and allow reforms to center on gerrymandering, campaign disinformation and dark money contributions.

The 2018 midterm election is mostly history (except in Florida) and post-election analysis is centering on America’s patchwork of electoral systems.

In past elections, criticism was leveled at inaccurate polling. This year, eyebrows have been raised by a cascade of miscues in an election with more than 100,000 polling places, administered by 10,000 local jurisdictions overseen by 50 states and handled by 900,000 mostly volunteer election workers.

That’s not to mention the significant variations in how states manage voter registration, voting identification and actual balloting.

So, it was unsurprising, but still unsettling that votes in Georgia were disqualified for “insufficient oath information,” New York City voting machines jammed and Maryland election officials seriously underestimated the number of ballots to prepare. 

Even Oregon, with its automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots, experienced controversy as an interest group failed to hand in on time almost 100 ballots it collected.

The New York Times published a post-election story that reassures readers no significant evidence of voter fraud has been uncovered. However, it described the nation’s election grid as lumbering, rickety and susceptible to accusations of, if not actual, manipulation.

The single incident that captured the dilemma occurred when Georgia GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp tried to vote on the state’s 16-year-old voting machines running on Windows 2000 software and his vote was initially rejected due to a computer error. Kemp is Georgia’s secretary of state in charge of elections (and now its incoming governor).

Highly charged partisanship and closely contested races have intensified discontent with the state of electoral systems. Attempts at voter suppression and legal actions to throw out gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts have added fuel to a smoldering political fire. Even some of the “solutions” have boomeranged, such as computerized voting machines that can be targets of cyber-hacking, a threat that prompted some states to return to paper ballots.

Since the 1990s when GOP Congressman and later Speaker Newt Gingrich pushed to nationalize congressional elections, voting has taken on the quality of a plebiscite of a President or party in power. Campaigns focus on what’s right or scary about political parties, often skimming over the qualifications and views of actual candidates.

The irony of nationalized electioneering is that actual elections are cobbled together state by state, with substantially dissimilar voter qualifications, and administered by local jurisdictions that sometimes are overseen by one-person departments.

Moreover, the “national” vote isn’t always reflected in the representation it elects. Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election by more than 3 million votes, but roughly 80,000 votes in a handful of critical states swung the electoral college vote to Trump. In the 2018 midterm election, Democrats nationally received somewhere around 7.7 percent votes than Republicans. That enabled Democrats to flip enough seats to regain control of the House, but Republicans actually gained ground in the Senate. 

If there was ever an issue that called for bipartisan citizen attention, the US election system is it. The system may not be entirely broken, but it is definitely wheezing and pressures are continuing to grow with sharp partisan divisions and relentless political maneuvering for advantage.

Oregon’s automatic registration and mail-in balloting system has been touted (mostly by Oregonians, but also by officials in Washington and Colorado) as part of a solution. When you provide the necessary documents to get a driver’s license, you automatically are registered to vote with an option of choosing a party affiliation or not. Your ballot is mailed to your address and voters have roughly two weeks to return ballots. To be counted, ballots must be dropped off no later than 8 pm on election day or be postmarked on election day. That eliminates the need for voting machines, cyber-defense systems and poll workers. It would invalidate voter suppression, boost voter turnout, put all Americans on the same footing and come closer to making every vote count equally. 

If implemented nationally, the Oregon voting system would allow reforms to focus on gerrymandering, campaign disinformation and so-called dark money contributions. There also would be time to assess the possibilities and drawbacks of direct democracy. Hanging chads, voting machine irregularities and awkward moments and long lines at polling stations would be headed for the history books. Americans could view elections with greater trust and the reality of nationalized electioneering would be closer to the truth.

Chinese Retaliatory Tariffs ‘Shrewdly’ Designed to Hurt Rural America

Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

Axios has posted an interactive map that shows the localized effects of  Chinese retaliatory tariffs if President Trump acts on his threat to impose another $200 billion on tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States.

 

Axios.com has posted a story with an interactive map showing areas of the country destined to feel the greatest pain from retaliatory tariffs spurred by President Trump’s trade policies.

“Industries affected by the brinksmanship are mostly concentrated in rural, deeply red, already-struggling parts of the country, with political consequences for Trump and Republicans in 2018 and beyond,” according to the Axios analysis. 

The analysis drew on data from the Brookings Institution, US Chamber of Commerce, US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Axios posted the map after a public comment period ended last week on Trump’s threat to quadruple tariffs on Chinese goods to $200 billion. China has said it will retaliate with $60 billion in tariffs on US exports.

“That's on top of 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs enacted, respectively, on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union, and by those countries against the United States,” Axios reported.

US farmers, manufacturers and consumer groups have been bracing for the blowback. The Axios map helps to localize where the most severe impact could be felt. For example, it identifies six industries in Douglas County that would be affected by retaliatory tariffs, which is 95 times more concentrated impact than the the national average. The map identifies 35 affected industries in Clackamas County.

“Employment in rural and low-population counties can be exceptionally vulnerable to gyrations in the global economy,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells Axios. "In a small county, a single meatpacking establishment can provide hundreds of jobs and make up a large share of that county's total employment.”

Muro  and a colleague wrote a previous report anticipating the impact of retaliatory Chinese tariffs with this observation: “Trade diplomacy can often seem an international and faraway activity. However, when it comes down to specific lists of tariffs on particular products that Americans produce, from ginseng to airplanes, the high-level posturing of Washington and Beijing suddenly gets more real.”

He added: “Our top line estimates suggest while the total number of jobs potentially disrupted by an all-out trade war remains modest, the count encompasses a diverse and shrewdly chosen ‘hit list’ of hallmark American industries – one that appears well-calculated to scare both red and blue America.”

Trump has assured his supporters, especially in the Farm Belt, his take-no-prisoners approach to international trade can produce positive results for US workers, businesses and farmers. In response to immediate-term impacts on soybean growers and other farm interests, Trump proposed a one-time $4.2 billion subsidy. It has met with opposition and disappointment by congressional Republicans and recipients of the aid.

 

Survey Shows Medicaid is Popular, If Sometimes Confusing

A national survey found Medicaid, despite its lower profile than Medicare, is popular and widely recognized for providing health care access to some of America’s most vulnerable citizens from low-income families to elderly adults ibn long-term care facilities.

A national survey found Medicaid, despite its lower profile than Medicare, is popular and widely recognized for providing health care access to some of America’s most vulnerable citizens from low-income families to elderly adults ibn long-term care facilities.

A national survey commissioned by Providence St. Joseph Health shows a strong majority of respondents know about and value Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income Americans and pays for long-term care and in-home care for elderly and disabled persons.

Medicaid was signed into law along with Medicare in 1965. Medicaid remained largely in the political shadows until its expansion became a key part of the Affordable Care Act’s goal of moving closer to universal health insurance coverage in America.

The Providence St. Joseph Health survey found 87 percent of respondents were aware of Medicaid, though some were confused about what it covers. More than half of respondents said they, a friend or a loved one were covered by Medicaid. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said Medicaid is very important to maintain broad access to health care.

Today, one in five Americans is covered by Medicaid, making it the nation’s largest health insurance plan. Medicaid covers nearly half of all babies born in America and 60 percent of elderly persons in nursing homes. Medicaid also provides health benefits to military veterans and people dealing with opioid addiction and mental health issues.

“In other words, these are our children, parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends and colleagues,” Providence St. Joseph health wrote in a blog about the survey. “To make matters even more confusing, many Americans may be covered by Medicaid and not even realize it because the program goes by different names in different states.” The Oregon Health Plan is the name for Oregon’s Medicaid program. In Washington, Medicaid is called Apple Health.

GOP congressional efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit have zeroed in on Medicaid and particularly federal funds that go to states to pay for expanding eligibility to Medicaid. The Trump administration is pushing to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients capable of working, though critics say this could penalize low-income workers with jobs that have uncertain schedules and  irregular hours.

There have been Medicaid-related controversies at the state level. Oregon removed nearly 55,000 Medicaid recipients who were enrolled, but later were found ineligible under the expanded program. Oregon also determined that coordinated care organizations (CCOs) were overpaid $41 million in Medicaid benefits. Fifteen CCOs were created statewide to coordinate the delivery of services to 1 million Oregonians.  

“Medicaid has served as a vital safety net since it was signed into law in 1965, along with Medicare, as part of the Social Security Act,” according to Providence St. Joseph Health. “There’s plenty of room to improve the program, and Providence St. Joseph Health is pursuing innovative ways to provide the best care in the right setting for this population. At the same time, it’s important for everyone to know what this program does and who it covers, because it affects so many of us.”

[NOTE: Providence Health & Services and Providence St. Joseph Health are long-time CFM clients.]

 

What Birth Rates Say about Immigration

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

A lot of research we read about centers on what people think. Some of the most informative research focuses on what they actually do.

A good example is fresh findings by Pew Research on the impact of births by immigrant mothers on US birthrates. The data show that in 2015 immigrant mothers accounted for more than three in 10 births in California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland. Nineteen percent of births in Oregon and 27 percent of births in Washington were by immigrant mothers.

Immigrant mothers includes any childbearing woman not born in the United States.

Whether you think that’s good news or bad news, it is real news that has a significant effect on overall US birthrates. From 1990 to 2015, Pew found overall birth rates increased in half of the states and declined in the other half. Oregon and Washington registered slight increases in birthrates over that period, according to Pew’s data.

From a demographic point of view, births by immigrant mothers from 1990 to 2015 helped to sustain the birth rates in many states with declining birth rates by US-born mothers, including Oregon, Washington and California. The only state with a notable increase in births by US-born mothers was Nevada. There were moderate increases in Utah and Idaho and modest increases in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. The states with the largest decreases were in the Rust Belt and New England.

The sons and daughters of immigrant mothers, whether in the United States legally or illegally, born here are US citizens. In political discourse, these offspring sometimes are conflated with people who immigrate to the United States. The percent of the US population that is foreign-born stands around 13 percent, according to Pew Research data, but is projected to keep rising to nearly 18 percent by 2050.

A useful way to see the impact of immigration over time is to assess second and third generations of immigrants. Pew Research says the number of first, second and third generation immigrants in the United States has topped 300 million people and could reach 400 million by 2050.

For the majority of America, immigrants have helped to maintain or grow populations and workforces in the face of declining birth rates by US-born mothers. Despite the economic benefits of immigration, these trend lines have created cultural and racial fissures that are animating political debate in the nation. It also has made it easier for Americans who feel disenfranchised to point a blaming finger at an increasing number of people, many of whom, it turns out, are also Americans by birth.

 

Rising Tide of Digital Political Campaigning

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Just as companies are discovering how to capitalize on their databases, digital strategists are using similar techniques to zero in on voters with targeted online advertising and engagement.

A recent Reuters article predicted political candidates could spend as much as $1 billion for online advertising and engagement in the 2016 election, using more sophisticated techniques than the Obama campaign employed in 2012.

While Obama's team lapped the field in 2012, Republican and Democratic operatives are playing on a more level field heading into next year's election in scouring publicly available data to find hooks for directed appeals. The Reuters story noted that targeting has reached the point where a campaign seeking to reach environmentalists could identify registered voters who had typed Toyota Prius into a Google search.

No one says digital outreach will outstrip television advertising, which remains the surest way to deliver a message to a wide audience. But broadcast media is increasingly segmented. Few ads run during major sporting events because they are expensive and there are too many eyeballs watching that belong to people who aren't registered voters. You can waste a wad of money without a smart, targeted media buy plan.

However, when the airwaves are clogged with political ads – the $1 billion digital estimate is less than 10 percent of total projected political advertising in 2016 – you need other options. Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

The handful of boutique firms that specialize in digital political advertising aren't eager to share their special sauce. But it isn't rocket science. They are leveraging mounds of information contained in databases to laser in on target voters. This allows campaign message managers to use customized messaging for various voter groups.

Targeting has reached the point where families in a neighborhood may be watching the same TV show, but see totally different political ads based on their demographic and voting characteristics. That is greatly more refined and granular than having Republican candidates advertise on Fox and Democrats on MSNBC.

Digital outreach also affords opportunities for interactions, which can be a key to converting a contact into a contributor. Both political parties have learned the ropes of competing for PAC, SuperPac and dark money contributions and will need a swatch of online contributors to demonstrate they have broad support, not just a few rich patrons.

While digital campaigning has come out of the shadows, its practitioners aren't sharing all their newly developed tricks. Those won't become apparent until the campaigns are more fully underway. Other than Hillary Clinton, most of the presidential candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring are fighting to gain name familiarity ratings in double digits. They are trying to reach anybody they can.