Thursday, September 11, 2014

Voting Rights Act in Yakima, Part II: Options for the City & All ItsVoters


by Krist Novoselić

A federal court has ruled that Yakima’s elections are in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Some may think that the City’s only options are to accept seven individual districts or appeal the ruling. This assumption is untrue as Yakima has more alternatives available than ceding to a district plan or wading forward with more litigation. A simple change to the voting rules can have Yakima keep at-large elections, while at the same time remedy issues of voter dilution.

Exclusive districts are not a solution mandated by the VRA. Making these so-called majority-minority districts is a decision by the parties in the lawsuit. Judge Rice’s ruling may have called on the City to submit a district plan, notwithstanding, legal precedence allows the defendant jurisdiction the choice of election systems as long its proposal actually does remedy the vote dilution. In other words — Yakima can choose to implement voting rules other than majority-minority districts.

Instead of districts, Yakima could submit fair representation voting rules similar to how many cities in Alabama, Connecticut and Pennsylvania elect their governing bodies.  When Yakima has three seats up for election, all candidates could run against one another, and voters would cast one vote. One person gets one vote to elect three people. After all the votes are counted, the top three vote getters win election. The effect of this kind of voting is that the majority rules on the local level — but the minority has a seat at the table. 

This system would solve the voter dilution issues in Yakima because in years with three council seats on the ballot, it would take 25 percent or less to get elected — a threshold the city’s Latinos voting in a bloc can cross to win a seat.  When four seats are elected, it would take just over 20 percent to win.

The one-vote system could retain key aspects of the system that was challenged. Yakima could keep its four districts and advance the top-two vote getters from the primary to the general. These candidates would run at-large, but instead of the top-two squaring off, all of the general election candidates would be on a single ballot line. If the city staggers elections, voters would have one vote to elect three seats in one year, or one vote to elect four seats in another.

For 30 years now, over 100 jurisdictions in the United States have used various fair representation systems instead of districts to remedy their VRA cases – including three VRA cases brought by the Department of Justice in the past decade. Santa Clarita, California just this year is the most recent jurisdiction opting for cumulative voting rights, which is another version of fair representation voting.  

Ranked choice voting is form of fair representation that would allow Yakima to save the costs of holding primary elections. Cambridge, Massachusetts is a majority-white city that has used this system for seventy years, and has had continuous representation of people of color on its city council since the 1950’s.

The plaintiff’s in the case seek the creation of two majority-minority districts. This way, districts would be drawn with the intention of creating Latino majorities in those areas of the city. Yakima argued in its defense that Latinos outside of these specially created districts would then be excluded — effectively replacing one VRA violation with another. In response, the court shrugged that districts “always result in a dilution of minority voting strength in the remaining districts.” Yakima can still stand by its defense — along with a meaningful choice of candidate for every Latino voter — by requesting a fair representation alternative to districts.

In 2011, Yakima voters said no to districts. By calling for an alternative remedy, the City can respect the results of Proposition 1 while still chart its own course. Using at-large arrangements like the one-vote system lets voters decide who represent them and not political elites who draw and approve exclusive districts. 

Local governments in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and many other places around the nation for years use fair representation voting to elect stable and effective representation. The plaintiff’s in the VRA case want a seat at the table. Alternatives to exclusive districts can provide this while Yakima still makes its own way for all its voters.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Voting Rights Act in Yakima, Part I: Racially Polarized Voting


By Krist Novoselić

 On August 22, United States District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled that the City Of Yakima’s voting system was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling identifies the city’s at-large voting system as the culprit for racially polarized voting. In the next installment about this issue, I will argue that the problem is winner-take-all rules and not at-large arrangements. Yakima can use this ruling to move beyond districts towards a truly inclusive voting system for all its voters. Until then, let us look at a recent instance of racially polarized voting in Yakima County.

Washington State held a primary election in August of 2012. One race for a seat on the State Supreme Court raised concerns over the issue of racially polarized voting in the Yakima area. Election returns revealed vote count disparities in the race between Steve Gonzalez and Bruce Danielson. Danielson, an obscure lawyer from Kitsap County beat Gonzalez who was an incumbent by appointment to the bench. Research points to voters choosing the candidate on surname alone – voters simply rejected the Latino.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Standing With Eddie Vedder and the Real Possibility of Peace

Palestinian / Israeli Separation Wall
Thank you Eddie Vedder for speaking up for peace in our world. Eddie has gotten some criticism over comments he made about the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. That situation has been messed up for so long, it is no wonder that even mentioning it is toxic. Let’s face it, the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a disaster! I don’t know how many times I have heard the same explanations and excuses and it matters not, there is a continuing catastrophe between those two peoples.

Our world is connected as never before. People from all corners of the planet share culture and commerce at the click of a mouse. In contrast to this great convergence of humanity, Israel is building tall concrete walls while Palestinians fire rockets over them. There's a shared recent history between these people, and I think there could be a shared future that's more in tune with what's going on with our ever-connected universe.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Youth Vote: A Cheap Date

Nate Cohn writes this article in the April, 28 NYT’s Why the Democrats’ Turnout Problem Is Worst in NorthCarolina. The issue for Democrats is that young voters tend to sit out midterm elections. Sen. Kay Hagan is up for reelection this year and this situation is bad news for her. Hagan’s margin of victory in 2008 came from voters under the age of 30 — a voting bloc that gave her 71 percent of their vote that year. The Obama-mania of 2008 responsible for this turnout is long gone. Cohn makes this point and how it will be tough for Hagan to achieve these numbers with the youth vote this year.

Hagan is a Democrat, and like the GOP, these "state parties" are basically soft money conduits around individual campaign contribution limits. A party is supposed to be a group of likeminded people who pull others into the arena of elections. Instead, the two state parties cling to voting rules that push people away. And they use social media in accordance with their top-down group structures. It is an exclusive system that never follows up when constituencies like youth show up to vote.

Democrats have been doing this for too long. I recall the 1992 election with the big Rock The Vote effort that helped elect the Clinton / Gore ticket. There was a huge youth turnout and all the Democrats could do for this constituency was the Motor Voter Bill. My point is that there was no real effort to keep these voters engaged. The 1992 and 2010 midterms had a similar dynamic and, by what Cohn is reporting, we’re set to see it gain in 2014.

I am not a youth voter. I want a democracy for all ages. Part of making this happen is a willingness to abandon the two state parties for new forms of association. This is why I am interested in using new political social networking platforms. I want to associate with people who want to engage elections with new tools to challenge the current broken paradigm. This means advocating reforms and running candidates outside of the state party structure in 2014 and 2016. 

With the right tool, we can build a democracy for the ages.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Punk Rock Gender Parity

Backstage Life
I am so happy about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event and how it went so well. Earlier that week there were three long days of rehearsals in NYC. I feel we conjured the spirit of the band, and we could not have done that alone. This, for me, is a bittersweet notion as we all miss Kurt so much. But considering we were inducted, the show had to go on. Joan Jett was first on my list to be out front. I spoke to Dave about it and he ran with the idea of having all women lead. We felt that would be a good tribute to Kurt and what Nirvana was about. 

It was a good balance of females as Joan Jett and Kim Gordon are matriarchs of Punk Rock, while St. Vincent and Lorde represent the powerful up-and-coming women in Rock. Every one of these performances nailed a Nirvana tune in their own way. Joan - Smells Like Teem Spirit, Kim - Aneurism, St. Vincent - Lithium and Lorde - All Apologies. I had fun on the last song because I got to play accordion and all of our guests were on stage for a gala closing! Our set will be broadcast in high quality television in May so check it out.

We also did a club gig afterward that was a lot of fun. I will have more on that soon but thank you to J Mascis and John McCauley for your great contributions!!!!

Our "all female" Hall of Fame set also had me thinking about the political realm (Imagine that!) At FairVote we have done a report regarding the state of women's representation. I will have more to say about this, especially how at-large districts tend to put more women in office, at another time. Until then, enjoy this short and engaging video about the study narrated by Marie Wilson.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Leave it to those Millennials!

Millennial Makeover in Pennsylvania’s 10th district.
Nick Troiano today announced his independent campaign for US House in Pennsylvania’s 10th district. I find his campaign intriguing for many reasons. First off, he is a Millennial and if you’ve ever read the book Millennial Makeover, there is a good theory about how this generation will make waves when it comes of age. Read my review of this book here and the following is an excerpt.



The youth vote always seems up for grabs but that’s not really any news. In their book Millennial Makeover, authors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais tell us more. They say the party that connects with the Millennial Generation will dominate the political landscape for the next forty years. (Millennial refers to people born between 1982 and 2003.) 
The authors point to generational theories in analyzing American society since the Jackson era. This thinking separates different periods of history as being led by either civic or idealist generational types. It’s a cycle where one era follows the other – each lasting about forty years.
For example, the GI Generation dominated the civic era of the Great Depression, WWII, the 50s and early 60s. They were “outer-fixated”and reared in a protective manner that affected their adult lives in ways that made them problem solvers and institution builders.

Then came the idealist Baby Boomers – “inner-fixated” who were “reared in an indulgent manner and are driven throughout their lives by their deeply held beliefs.” This generational type, who started shaping culture and politics in the mid-sixties, is dominating the current idealist era.

Winograd and Hais paint a picture of how tech savvy the Millennial generation is. Again, no real news but they put it in historical context. They say “waves of technological change and innovation…. have oscillated in harmony with its generational cycles”. They give an account of the impact of the telegraph regarding media and the debate between Lincoln and Douglas and the realigning election of 1858. The narrative follows technology through radio and television up to the current emergence of social networking that’s defining our era. The thesis is that we’re due for a generational realignment so watch out for the techie Millennials and their civic era attitudes - views which include a positive perspective on government and politics.
Troiano’s independent campaign is a sign of this generation coming into its own. And look at how he’s doing it: First, he has abandoned the two major institutional parties for an independent campaign. And second, he is using the new communication paradigm to abandon the constituencies who dominate the institutional parties. Troiano on his site says,

I believe people should be the driving force of our democracy, not well-funded special interests. My "America Deserves Better” campaign will only accept contributions from individuals –– not PACs, corporations, unions or lobbyists. Please make a contribution of whatever you can afford to help me change politics as usual.

Public Financing is Dead, Long Live Citizen Financing!

 

Have you seen the public financing bill in the US House? It proposes a pilot program in three states where citizens can buy “My Voice” vouchers worth 50 bucks that go to candidates. I could go into more detail but that would be too archaic — like describing how a wire recording machine works. My point / analogy is that this voucher pilot program bill is obsolete even before it is voted on — Troiano, and other candidates to come, are a new paradigm manifesting. Why join some clunky state voucher pilot program when you can just donate to Troiano’s, or some other forward thinking candidate's citizen funded campaign?


We’re getting close to filing deadlines for the 2014 election. This means the playing field is solidifying for the season.  It will be interesting to see how much the new paradigm appears in this election and what kind of impact it makes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Let's Talk About Love


Carl Wilson has released a new edition of his book Let’s Talk About Love – Why other people have such bad taste. I, among others, contribute an essay to this edition. I was reading my contribution and want to expand on a point. I believe that one of the ways that Nirvana was successful is how Kurt Cobain connected with so many people on a personal level. I get approached so many times by people of all ages about how Nirvana changed their life. This is about countless individuals who are all on their own trip so I can’t expand on it except that it is very real.

I really like this book. Wilson is not a hipster music snob; you know, one those subversive types who in actuality are not subversive but cliché. If I sound judgmental about so-called hipsters, Wilson writes about judgments and comes out on the side of the notion of humanity. This book is not about scenesters or even Celine Dion – it’s about the connection between music and our humanity.

You’d think Wilson, who has served in the trenches of alternative news weekly writing, would come out gunning for Dion. Instead, he takes on the notion of subversion as an image or identity. He’s not a hater and in the process of trying to figure out why anybody in the world would listen to Dion, he becomes sympathetic to the singer and her league of followers.

Wilson knows his Indy rock. He's a believer, however, his apostasy is not about enchantment with a global pop singer. I’m not sure he even likes Dion’s music but he has utilized the phenomenon of her celebrity to make a point. He examines Dion’s appeal with the rigor of an academic, but this is not Social Psychology treatise. It is indeed a journey to the end of taste; reverse engineering of how certain music interacts with the individual in society. 

Read this book!