"What needs to change so that citizens can participate more effectively in our democracy?" Our indefatigable hosts Chris Finnie and Mike LaBonte kept that question in mind as they led our Election News Hunt from June 30 through July 14, scouring the internet for journalism on what works and what doesn't in our current election system. They were joined by their fellow NewsTrust hosts and reviewers, as well as new members from our partners at PBS Engage and the documentary series P.O.V. To find out more about our Election News Hunt, check our press release, blog announcement and last week's update.
Here are some of the top rated stories we found during our Election News Hunt. They were collectively selected by our community from 231 submissions on the 2008 Presidential Election topic, with 117 stories receiving a quality rating from our reviewers.
Top Rated News
- Tax Tally Trickery - FactCheck
- Election Day - P.O.V. / PBS
- Election Protection 2008 Primary Report: Looking Ahead to November - National Campaign for Fair Elections
- Obama and the Black Church - The New York Review of Books
- Barack by the books - Salon
- State Poll Roundup: Zogby's 50 State Polls - 3BlueDudes
- Election Day Reality: no Registration = No Vote (in most states) - The National Voter
- How Chicago shaped Obama - New Yorker
- McCain Plan to Aid States on Health Could Be Costly - New York Times
- President Remains A Skilled Fundraiser - Washington Post
Top Rated Opinion
- The political establishment and telecom immunity -- why it matters - Salon
- The Week That Should Have Ended McCain's Presidential Hopes - Huffington Post
- Just Democracy - The Nation
- Jesse Helms Was No Hero - Wall Street Journal
- McCain Pledges Allegiance to NAFTA - Huffington Post
- Barack Obama and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments - FindLaw
- How the Republicans claimed the "patriotism" mantle in presidential politics - Slate
- The GOP's Carter Moment - Ross Douthat's blog at Atlantic Monthly
- Defending Wes Clark - Huffington Post
- What Patriotism Is - Campaign for America's Future
To see more, take a look at the full listing of stories rated during the Election News Hunt, sorted by rating, or by date.
Election Reform Coverage
We started our investigation with Katy Chevigny's P.O.V. documentary, Election Day, which gave us a glimpse at voters, poll workers and poll watchers from eleven locales on November 2, 2004, from dawn until long past midnight. In an interview on the P.O.V. site, Chevigny explained why she had made her film:
I would love to see more Americans interested in trying to improve the electoral system. If we were to pressure our political leaders to pay some real attention to this, we could see some changes.
Disparities in the quality of the voting experience, a key issue in the film, varied between low-, middle- and high-income neighborhoods. This appeared to still exist in 2006 and may not be resolved for 2008. Some new state laws may further complicate the system. Some argue such laws were passed to disenfranchise voters. In Florida, whose voting irregularities in 2000 became the justification for the passage of the federal Help America Vote Act, the legislature has passed a "no-match, no-vote" law, which Steven Rosenfeld writes of in a highly rated story from AlterNet, "Florida's 2008 Election Landscape Looking More Like 2000":
Allows county officials to reject new voter registration applications if the names on the forms do not match other state databases. Voter advocacy groups sued the state, claiming that database errors can cause applications to be rejected -- through no fault of would-be voters.
Rosenfeld starts with a quote from Leon County election supervisor Ion Sancho talking about the states "It really penalizes voters through no fault of their own...It strikes me as absolutely Kafkaesque."
In her review, Elizabeth Reynolds, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, notes that the author had already written a book about problems in Ohio and that his article serves to "get their registration corrected (if necessary) asap."
While Mike LaBonte found flaws in the the Florida Times Union story, "Voter law threatens to cloud elections" by Dierdre Conner, it does cover the suit brought by the Brennan Center for Justice on behalf of the League of Women Voters which maintains that state law serves to discourage voter registration drives.
On a positive note, states are taking the lead on improving voting machines. The Oakland Tribune noted in "Feinstein wants to reform electronic voting" that the Senator from California has re-introduced federal legislation requiring a paper trail for machines. While it would be surprising if any major changes take place before elections, voting activist Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, notes that most states have switched to paper records in an interview, "Q&A: E-voting activist more optimistic about voting systems," by Computerworld's Todd R. Weiss.
Meanwhile, the state of the U.S. economy, this week's featured topic, may have an effect on voting, as revealed in a story by Robert Vitale in the Columbus Dispatch, "Foreclosed-on voters using old addresses could snag election."
In Columbus, across Ohio and in other key presidential battlegrounds, more people losing their homes means more registered to vote from addresses where they no longer live.
Although federal law ensures that most still will be able to cast a ballot on Nov. 4, Ohio voters with outdated addresses risk pre-election challenges and trips from polling place to polling place. They're also more likely to cast provisional ballots that might not be counted.
And, the problem of the influence of money on campaigns continues. The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Williamson reports in "Housing Industry Ramps Up Political Donations" that
The housing industry already has given more money in political contributions this election cycle than in the entire previous cycle, while winning favorable provisions in an emergency housing bill moving through the legislature.
from consequences. And they are, in unity, spewing rank propaganda to the commoners....
Obama is drawing criticism for abandoning public financing of his campaign. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and T.W. Farnam reported in "McCain Allies Find Finance-Law Holes: Governors' Fund Recruits Big Donors; Bid to Catch Obama" that
Allies of Sen. John McCain have found new loopholes in the campaign-finance law he helped write ...In one method, a Republican Party fund aimed at electing governors has started marketing itself as a home for contributions of unlimited size to help Sen. McCain.
Disturbingly, they report that
the pitch is aimed at individuals, including many top contributors to the controversial Swift Boat group that targeted Sen. Kerry. Texas developer Bob Perry, the largest financial backer of the Swift Boat group, also is the largest individual donor to the governors group, at $250,000. Carl Lindner, a retired insurance executive in Ohio and another top Swift Boat financier, has contributed $100,000 to the governors' fund. The campaign-finance lawyer for the Swift Boat group in 2004 now serves the same role for the governors association. The McCain campaign and the individual contributors all declined to comment on their involvement.
The problem of smears, made famous by the "swift-boating" of John Kerry has raised its head in another form: an Internet rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In "An Attack That Came Out of the Ether," the Washington Post's Matthew Mosk looks at scholar Danielle Allen's attempts to determine how the rumor started. He notes,
By the time it reached Allen on Jan. 11, 2008, it had spread with viral efficiency for more than a year.
During that time, polls show the number of voters who mistakenly believe Obama is a Muslim rose -- from 8 percent to 13 percent between November 2007 and March 2008. And some cited this religious mis-affiliation when explaining their primary votes against him.
...when I e-mailed those who sent them (well-educated, normally well-informed relatives), informing them that the e-mails were false and requesting that they correct the record, I ran into quite a lot of resistance--one even claiming that "those Snopes people are all under Obama's spell." So the next time I receive one of these e-mails I will also be able to link to this article, which effectively discusses their genesis.
After reading that story, I was happy to discover the work of Michael Cornfield, a political scientist who specializes in the study of the media and American politics and directs research for Pew's Democracy Online Project. He writes a brief analysis of Obama's efforts to counter the rumors in his blog post for the Century Foundation, "The 'MyBarackObama" Experiment." The problem of course, is that an attempt to counter a rumor may actually strengthen it. He proposes that increasing online literacy revealed in the Pew study "The Internet and the 2008 Election" may yield a solution:
using the net to consider, first, the source of a disputed and/or disturbing truth-claim (via Google); second, the prevalent pattern of interpretation (partisan/bipartisan, easily scanned for national news via Memeorandum), and, third, the best available evidence (a matter of recognizing authenticated documents). Truth claims anchored in viewable evidence and attributable to a source acknowledged as credible on a bipartisan basis stand a decent chance of being valid.
In an interesting turn, Obama's own computer platform, MyObama.com has been used by activists to try to influence his vote to grant immunity to telecom companies which cooperated with the Bush Administration to conduct warrentless domestic eavesdropping. Chris Finnie recommends Micah L. Sifry at TechPresident who writes in "The FISA Protest and myBO: Can We Talk? Can They Listen?" that
The fact is, we're all entering completely new territory here. There have always been efforts to influence political candidates to take or change positions during a campaign (or afterward), but we've never before had a national campaign create an open platform for mobilizing supporters AND THEN seen a salient chunk of those supporters openly use that platform to challenge the candidate on a policy position. Indeed, while the net is inherently a two-way, many-to-many medium, no politician has yet used it to listen to his supporters as a group. Yes, the Obama campaign has asked its supporters to share their stories about their health care woes, and some of those anecdotes have made it into the campaign's blog or policy papers. But we have no norms for a collective, public discussion--even though we now have the capacity for one.
It has been posited that the 2006 elections marked not an end to disenfranchisement, but its overpowering effects on the election outcome. And thus, I'll close with two articles in the League of Women Voters magazine, The National Voter. The first is a 2006 article, New Barriers to Voting, brought to my attention by Project Vote. The second, "Election Day Reality: no Registration = No Vote (in most states)" by Shirley Tabata Ponomareff, Jeanette Senecal, points out
registering voters just as important as getting voters to the polls...in the majority of states, "no registration" is equivalent to "no vote."... seven states (Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming)...allow Election Day (same-day) registration, and... [in] North Dakota...no registration is required. .... In the three previous presidential elections, more than 80 percent of all registered voters went to the polls.
I hadn't realized that such a high number of those registered vote. I'm not sure it follows logically that increased registration will increase those getting to vote to the extent they say, but it certainly can't hurt.
Thanks to our Partners: P.O.V. and PBS Engage
For this Election News Hunt, the NewsTrust community had the pleasure of collaborating with the documentary series P.O.V. and PBS Engage.
P.O.V. is the longest running showcase for indy film on television and has won numerous awards including three Oscars, 18 Emmys, 36 Cine Golden Eagles and 11 Peabody Awards. NewsTrust is honored to have worked with the folks at P.O.V. who make this excellent series possible. In particular, we would like to thank Theresa Riley, Catherine Jhee, Cathy Fisher, Cynthia Lopez, Jessica Lee, Anne del Castillo and Simon Kilmurry for all the time and resources they dedicated to spreading the word about this News Hunt.
PBS Engage is the Public Broadcasting Service's social media lab. Engage explores how social media can help PBS fulfill their mission of delivering high-quality, non-commercial content "that fosters knowledge, public dialogue and civic engagement." Thanks to Jayme Swain, Christopher Baker, Kevin Dando, Amy Baroch, Laura Hertzfeld, Craig Stoltz, Jonathan Coffman, Kenneth Dykes and Betty Alvarez for their wonderful promotion of the partnership on both PBS Engage and on the PBS homepage.
Join our next News Hunt on the U.S. Economy
This week's featured topic is the U.S. Economy. The Federal bailout of government-sponsored mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae is only the latest in a series of troubling events this year for the world's largest economy. Help us find good journalism on this important topic, then review stories on our U.S. Economy topic page.
And if you'd like to help host the topic, write us at editors-at-newstrust-net.