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A look at the the candidate research tool VoteSmart

October 15, 2016 Comments off

Readers of this blog probably understand that one of my biggest goals on this site is to get information out to voters about candidates and legislation. I have created long lists of research links constituents can use to research candidates. Two examples are my list of the 2016 General Election Legislative Races and the list of the 2016 Statewide Races (both of which are available on the menu SD 2016 Ballot at the top of every page). One of the research tools I include on every entry for a politicians is VoteSmart. Vote Smart has a mission to “provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” It is a great resource to get facts about candidates. This tool also takes all of the emotional elements out of research.

For each candidate I usually link to the I Spy portion of the VoteSmart website. Below is an example of a South Dakota candidate on the VoteSmart ISpy tool. In this case I used Jay Williams because he actually completed the VoteSmart political courage test, meaning they were able to fill their database with more relevant information than others. There are sections to learn about a candidates bio, votes, positions, ratings, speeches, and funding. For some legislative races ISpy really doesn’t have information, basically because those candidates haven’t made anything about themselves publicly available or completed the VoteSmart political courage test.

VoteSmart ISpy screenshot of US Senate candidate Jay Williams

VoteSmart ISpy screenshot of US Senate candidate Jay Williams

Another tool on the VoteSmart website to use is called Political Galaxy. This is a cool little tool that lets gives a graphic representation of federal candidates and allows voters to find out a lot of information. For instance I went to the tool, entered my zip code, chose John Thune, chose “Agriculture and Food” and I see the following areas I can research for US Senate candidate John Thune:

VoteSmart Galaxy John Thune

VoteSmart Galaxy John Thune

I then clicked on “funding” and was able to see a long list of contributions Thune has received from the Ag industry:

VotrSmart Galaxy Thune Ag Funding

VotrSmart Galaxy Thune Ag Funding

It is a great tool. I believe it is only for federal candidates.

Finally I would like to mention VoteSmart’s VoteEasy. This tool can be used to uses to help voters decide which candidate is politically closer to them on issues. For instance below is the VoteEasy results for me. To get these results I had to answer a series of questions listed along the top of the screen and rate how important those issues are to me. Based upon my answers the candidates sign would move closer or further away. This could be useful for voters that don’t have time to research candidates.

VoteSmart VoteEasy showing my results for the South Dakota federal candidates

VoteSmart VoteEasy showing my results for the South Dakota federal candidates

After completing the quiz a person can choose Presidential Election on the left hand of the screen and see which Presidential candidate aligns best with them. Here is my result. No surprise I am closest to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. And yes, Clinton is so far back you can barely see her.

VoteSmart VoteEasy showing my results for Presidential candidates.

VoteSmart VoteEasy showing my results for Presidential candidates.

To learn more about VoteSmart you can watch this promotional video. For a promo video it has a pretty good overview of how to use VoteSmarts services.

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SD SOS website has removed parties not officially recognized by the State from its website reporting

October 6, 2015 Comments off

Recently the South Dakota Secretary of State (SOS) website has removed parties not officially recognized by the State from its website reporting. There were a few Libertarian Party and Constitution Party members within the state that noticed this change and contacted me to find out what happened; and more importantly find out if their registration had been changed. Some members also noticed that when signing into the Voter Information Portal (VIP) that their political party had changed to other.

I contacted Secretary Krebs about the change. Here is part of what Secretary Krebs said during our email exchange:

Any individual registered to vote with the political party of Libertarian, Constitution or any other political party that is not currently a recognized party will show up as “Other”, but their political party name they listed on their voter registration card is still in the statewide voter file.

Once a political party becomes recognized, we can automatically pull those voters from “Other” and they will show up with that newly recognized political party affiliation.  We will also list the voter registration numbers for that newly recognized political party on our website.

Secretary Krebs confirmed what I suspected was going on. No party registrations were purged or changed. Rather the SOS reporting was changed to fit within the guidelines that South Dakota uses to classify party affiliation. Getting their data to show again should provide extra motivation to the parties in question to regain ballot access as soon as possible.

Reporting active voters by the SOS falls under four main categories. Here is a screenshot of the report shown when entering the SOS elections website. It can clearly be seen that AME, CON, and LIB no longer have reported voters. I expect those categories will also be removed by the SOS in the future to clean up this report. Below the screenshot is a summary of what each item means.

Screen capture from SD SOS Website

Screen capture from SD SOS Website

  • NPA – No Party Affiliation. This includes anyone that didn’t put a party affiliation on their voter registration card or made it other wise known that no party was chosen.
  • IND – Independent. This is the fastest growing bloc of voters in SD. Technically there is no independent party in South Dakota, but anyone that puts Independent or an I on their voter registration card will fall under this category.
  • Parties
    • AE – Americans Elect. This party was created for the 2012 election to allow an Independent candidate to easily run for President. The AE ballot access created throughout the US was never actually used for that purpose in 2012. In 2014 the party lost ballot access because it did not run a candidate for Governor (technically the party no longer existed, it had been disbanded and replaced by the new project Level the Playing Field).
    • CON – Constitution Party. CON lost ballot access in 2014 when their gubernatorial candidate failed get enough signatures for ballot access. The South Dakota Constitution Party is currently working to regain ballot access for 2016.
    • DEM – Democratic Party. DEM is recognized as a party in SD.
    • LIB – Libertarian Party. LIB lost ballot access in 2014 when they failed to run a candidate for governor. The Libertarian Party of SD is currently working to regain ballot access for 2016.
    • REP – Republican Party. REP is recognized as a party in SD.
  • Other – Other includes any political party registration in SD that is not currently recognized by the state. This would include anyone registered Libertarian Party or  Constitution Party.

 

A kudos to Secretary Shantel Krebs for how the SOS office is running

June 30, 2015 2 comments
Shantel Krebs speaking in Aberdeen. Photo by Ken Santema

Shantel Krebs speaking in Aberdeen. Photo by Ken Santema

During the 2014 election in South Dakota one of more interesting races to watch was that for Secretary of State. In particular I found then State Senator Shantel Krebs to be a good fit for the office (a point many non-Republicans have beat me up on, because they look only at party). Now fast-forward to 2015 and I must say that I am happy with the performance of Secretary Krebs thus far.

On the election side she has just validated two ballot referrals (SB 69 & SB 177). For the purpose of this post I won’t look at either referrals. Instead I want to look at the process used by Krebs. During the whole process Secretary Krebs sent out tweets showing what was being done and gave some insight into the process using her office Twitter account @SOSKrebs. This is the type of transparency I wish more elected officials would embrace. And it is the type of transparency many of us would expect from the office running elections in South Dakota.

Furthermore Secretary Krebs has dramatically increased the efficiency of filing business reports with the SOS office. My wife deals with the office often and has noted that it seems almost like a night and day difference between filing business reports now as compared to a year ago. Additionally she feels the office has become more professional when having to work with them over the phone.

Sometimes I think as a blogger it is important to point out when elected officials are doing things right. This is one of those times and I extend a kudos to Secretary Krebs on how she is managing the SOS office. Hopefully she will continue to increase the transparency and professionalism at the SOS office.

PS. Nothing in this post should be taken to believe I agree with Krebs on all issues. There are still some things I disagree with her on, and probably will be more issues in the future. But I can disagree with someone and still respect how they perform their duties.

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Some interesting news about military voting costs in the SD Boards of Elections minutes

June 27, 2015 6 comments

election-panda-cleanI was just browsing the draft minutes (pdf) for the SD State Board of Elections (BOE) meeting held on June 15, 2015. Since the BOE put its name on SB69 I decided to keep this board on my radar. I didn’t notice anything about ballot access or anything to do with SB 69. Most of the meeting seemed to revolve around HAVA funds (the Help America Vote Act of 2002). While that is a topic worthy of blog space, it is not what caught my eye.

Here is a section of the minutes that peaked my immediate interest:

Kea Warne mentioned that the UOCAVA program was put together in 2010 and has been used since. iOASIS, which was created and funded by the $668,831 FVAP grant ran into a bug with security clearances for military personnel trying to use their Common Access Card (CAC) and the iOASIS program. In 2014, only 24 voters were able to use iOASIS which amounted to the per voter expense being very high. All military and overseas citizens can use UOCAVA but just military personnel can use iOASIS. iOASIS does allow military individuals to also register to vote electronically but the UOCAVA system does not include that option. In the future, the Secretary of State’s office will review the cost of this as the $50,000 maintenance fee will need to be paid for as the FVAP grant funds will run out.

Linda Lea Viken asked if we will continue to use UOCAVA and iOASIS. Kea Warne stated yes through the 2016 General Election but after that we will review the costs of the maintenance fee for iOASIS and determine if the expense is justified.

No further comments or questions

Before looking at what is a red flag above it might be helpful to go through some of the terms used.

  • UOCAVA refers to the system first put into place in South Dakota by then Secretary of State (SOS) Chris Nelson for use in the 2010 election. It was named after the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act, which was signed into law by President Reagan in 1986. According to the SOS website  “The UOCAVA system allows all military and overseas voters to submit their absentee ballot application electronically and receive their absentee ballot electronically.”
  • iOASIS was a system implemented by former SOS Jason Gant and stands for Innovative Overseas Absentee-Balloting System.  According to the SOS website the iOASIS system “turned a 24 hour process into a 5-minute transaction. “
  • FVAP stands for the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

That clears up some of the terminology. Now to look at a comparison of the two military voting systems used in South Dakota (from info on the SOS website):

  • Both the UOCAVA and the iOASIS systems require the voter to print out an absentee ballot and mail it to the county auditor.
  • The iOASIS system can only be used by active duty military personnel; while the UOCAVA system can be used by all overseas voters, including military personnel.
  • The UOCAVA system can take up to 24 hours to process, while the iOASIS system can take up to five minutes to process.
  • UOCAVA was created utilizing a $100,000 HAVA grant; iOASIS was created utilizing a $668,831 FVAP grant. The iOASIS system also requires a $50,000 maintenance fee each year.

All of the above bullet points were created using information found on the Secretary of State website.

I find it mind-boggling that SOS Gant spent over half a million dollars to implement a system that doesn’t appear to give a great amount of value over the system that cost under $100,000. I remember at the time thinking this sounded like a great new system for military voting, but I don’t recall it being mentioned that it basically did what the current system already did.

Additionally it was reported in the BOE minutes above that due to bug in the iOASIS system that only 24 active duty military personnel were able to utilize that system during the 2014 election. Given the price of $668,831, I would agree with the statement from those minutes that stated “the per voter expense being very high”. In fact as a taxpayer I wonder if the $668,831 in HAVA funds couldn’t have been better spent in other ways. And I also wonder if South Dakota should continue to use such a single-purpose system that will cost an additional $50,000 in maintenance, when there is a system the state already owns that does basically the same thing without the ongoing maintenance costs.

This is a topic that definitely deserves more attention. Hopefully SOS Shantel Krebs will look closely at this system and determine whether it would be prudent to consider iOASIS a sunk cost that is better left in the past. It is almost too bad, the implementation of iOASIS is one of the few things I gave SOS Gant credit for; and now it appears that credit may have been premature.

Stop Common Core social media push continues

November 14, 2013 2 comments

I’ve had a couple people message me today asking why I was doing an increased number of posts about Common Core this week. This is because the grassroot organizations fighting against Common Core have chosen this week for a social media push. This was posted on the Truth In American Education website:

1395880_10201899999596843_1783665425_nYou are encouraged to change your Facebook profile picture to a “Stop Common Core” picture this week from November 12th to November 15th.  We use our profile pictures to reflect who we are, what we love and what are passions are.  So why not use it to show your opposition to the Common Core State Standards for four days.

So this week we urge you to change your profile picture to the red and white picture seen to the right.

Leslie Beck of Iowa who is spearheading this effort said, “Use the same red and white picture as everyone else who does this. Do not show your creativity. Do not show your unique style. Show the world what it would be like if we were all the same, even if it is just in this one way. That is Common Core.  That is what we are doing to our children if we adopt Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Next up will be the Social Studies standards if we do not stop this train wreck. We are each unique and so are our children.”

Anyway, I’m changing my profile picture over tomorrow and I encourage you to do the same.

P.S…. we can do the same on Twitter as well.

So far this social media push seems to have been successful. There has definitely been an increase ‘buzz’ involving Common Core this week. Hopefully this will translate to more parents taking an interest in the education of their children. But no matter what I believe the success of this social media drive will be mirrored by activists in the future. Social media is truly becoming a great way to spread information about social issues!

Categories: election Tags: ,

2012 was a great year for independent voters

December 30, 2012 Comments off

MM900173989[1]2012 has been an incredible year for independent voters. Years like this give one hope that the current two-party system will begin to change. Even if the two-party system itself doesn’t go away, I believe there will be more voters that don’t vote straight party lines. Here are some of my highlights from the 2012 election season:

IVN Hosted the first online Presidential Debate. My thoughts of this debate can be found here. This debate was held completely online between Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Even though there were some technical difficulties, overall it was a great debate. It was amazing to watch a debate with to very different viewpoints. Unlike the big two-party debates, both candidates took very different positions and treated each other with respect. Being the first to offer such a debate IVN had set the stage for the future of politics in the United States. As a side-note I have also found IVN to be one of the best places to read non-partisan political news on the Internet.

 Free & Equal hosted two online third-party Presidential Debates. As election day approach the Free & Equal group hosted two third-party candidate debates. The first debate was hosted by Larry King and broadcast on TV by CSPAN and RT. Many online media outlets also broadcast this debate digitally. Four candidates were included in this debate: Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), Jill Stein (Green Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), and Rocky Anderson (Justice Party). This debate was by far the best of all Presidential Debates this fall (including the Obama/Romney debates). My thoughts from this debate can be found here. I’ve heard it said having Presidential Debates with more than two candidates would be a nightmare. This debate proved that to be wrong! Even better Free & Equal let the viewers choose the winners of this debate and participate in a second debate. The second debate was held between Johnson and Stein just before the election. I still feel the networks should have covered this final debate (if not all of them). But no matter what Free & Equal has shown that debates can be done very well with more than two candidates.

Percentage of Americans self-identifying as “Independent” are on the rise. In early 2012 Gallup released poll results showing that 40 % of Americans self-identify as Independents. That is much greater than the 31% who identify as Democrat and the 27% who identify as Republican. An interesting addition to those statistics is that most of the independent voters are against big government. Independent voters take away that advantage the Democratic Party has over the Republican Party. It will be interesting to see how many people self identify as Independent the next major election cycle. If this trend continues politicians will need to work harder to find out what Americans want, instead of just doing what their extremities want them to do.

Now, just because more people are self-identifying as independent doesn’t mean third-party candidates will increase in popularity at the same rate. But between more coverage for third-party candidates and more individuals self-identifying as independent it gives me hope that future political debates will have more true content.. and actual DEBATE. It will be interesting to see how the next few years turn out!

South Dakota Republicans and Democrats should think hard about the next US Senator

November 30, 2012 Comments off

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outlineApparently its never too soon to announce a bid for office. The 2012 election season is barely over and former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds has officially announced he will run for South Dakota US Senator in 2014. While the move is not surprising, I really thought it was too soon for such a move. He could have at least let newly elected officials take office before launching a campaign.

Not to be outdone current US Senator Tim Johnson also put his pre-announcement into the ring. At least Senator Johnson admits it’s too soon for such announcements by this statement: “As in past campaigns, I will make my formal announcement later next year”.

I for one hope neither candidate is chosen during the state primaries.

In Mike Rounds case I believe he is the wrong direction for the Republican Party. What the Republican party needs is true small government conservatives. The South Dakota US Senator should have the high moral values to lead coupled with fiscal conservatism this country is in need of.  Looking back at Rounds two terms as Governor I don’t see him being the greatest representative of either high moral value or fiscal conservatism (that’s not meant as an attack, just an observation).

I would also like to expand upon ‘high moral leadership’. A true leader sets an example that people can look up to and follow. If a leader has to dictate (or in this case legislate) their morals then they have failed in becoming a good leader. Going forward the Republican Party must stop trying to legislate their moral code upon everyone else. “Forced morality” is in itself a contradiction. But, I expect the Republicans to continue down the same path to irrelevance. They can always blame licentious libertarians for that I guess.

As for Senator Tim Johnson I believe it is time for him to leave office. He has served three terms as US Senator for South Dakota. That will make 18 years Tim Johnson has spent in Washington. That is simply too long for any single person to hold such a politically powerful office. I am a supporter of a two-term limit on US Senators. The longer a Senator stays in Washington the more they become disconnected with their home state. I feel this way no matter what party the Senator happens to belong to.

It would be better for the South Dakota Democratic Party to choose a new leader from among their ranks. Senator Johnson could then use his political power and popularity to assist the campaign of that chosen candidate. To gain independent votes the Dems should focus their campaign around what the Democratic social programs are doing for people in South Dakota. Instead of attacking the Republicans they should show how the Democratic candidate can work within the Senate to make the social programs work. The only attacks they should place towards the Republicans is to point out their lack of alternative plans.

When the primary elections happen I really hope both parties consider their actions and what is truly best going forward. However since we are talking politics I cannot imagine that either party will show an abundance of wisdom in choosing their candidates.

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