Do Negative Campaign Ads Influence Campaigns Negatively?

By Sarah Spalding

“Unfit.” “Liberal mob.” “Conservative alt right.” This election cycle and in innumerable ones past, registered and unregistered citizens eligible to vote are bombarded by this type of cacophonous rhetoric in the mail. In addition, nearly every commercial break during local broadcasts features a monochromatic “worst of” highlight reel of a candidate while a robust voice espouses fear-mongering buzzwords.

Immediately following, a brightly colored screen and positively intoned voice promotes the very same candidate, only serving to further confuse the voter on what each candidate’s stance truly is. “How can a candidate say one issue is important, but their opponent has a clip of them espousing the opposite?” “Which side is telling the truth?” A well-discerning voter may often find these questions running through their head. This begs a second question: do negative campaigns influence campaigns negatively? This answer is almost as double sides as the essence of the question: it depends.

In a world where elections have become more media driven, it’s unsurprising that negative campaign advertising has only continued to rise. During the 1960s, only 10% of all televised campaign advertisements were negative. In a massive turn of events, only 14.3% of ads in 2012 could be considered positive. A 2014 study found that when they surveyed voters and used the term “negative campaigning” in a question about that form of advertising, 55% of the respondents strongly agreed that this type of campaigning was unethical. In contrast, the group that received the same question, but the words “negative campaigning” were excluded responded positively overall. Surprisingly, the most common response was that the ad made them feel “not at all angry.” Essentially, this data tells us that if voters aren’t actively recognizing an ad as negative, they may not find the purveyor of the ad to be producing anything reprehensible.

Negative campaign advertising has been found to be effective in terms of influencing voter preference, as well as turnout at the polls. That information does  not come without qualifiers. Negative advertising can be extremely powerful for voters, but part of that power depends on who is espousing it. One commonly hears the phrase “paid for by the ____ for ____,” if one listens to the end of an attack ad or reads the fine print of a shiny flyer pulled from the mailbox. The data shows that the ads produced by Political Action Committees (PACs) was largely ineffective on voter psyche. Adversely, negative ads produced by the candidates themselves actually had a positive effect on how voters made decisions. This is due to how voters may view the credibility of the information being doled out. However, while the aforementioned study looked at for whom voters polled, another found that negative campaigns can actually affect whether or not citizens vote at all. Self-identified Republicans and Independents viewed negative advertisements as persuasive, yet they decrease overall voter turnout. This is especially polarizing for independents, who due to a less partisan allegiance, are already less likely to vote.

In the end, negative campaign advertising does not appear to have the negative impact on the public that one may imagine. Its effectiveness ultimately hinges on who is producing it and what their political affiliation may be. This leads to the ultimate conclusion that for some candidates, a negative ad may mean a positive result.

Voter ID: Voter Suppression or Election Protection?

By Brent House

Voter I.D. initiatives are on the ballot in two U.S. states this election cycle. Currently, 34 states have some form of Voter ID requirement. North Carolina and Arkansas are considering amending their state constitutions to include provisions that require voters to show valid photo IDs before they are able to vote.

In Arkansas, the initiative passed. The amendment requires citizens to provide valid ID when voting in person or when mailing in absentee ballot. This means that provisional ballot certification will shift from voters affirming that they are who they are to requiring that their identity be verified via photograph before they are certified. This isn’t the first time Arkansas has attempted to pass such an initiative. In 2013, the legislature passed a voter ID law that was subsequently struck down by the Arkansas supreme court in 2014. In May 2018, a judge blocked the current initiative before the primary election in Arkansas, calling it an unconstitutional attempt to impose additional requirements to vote. However, the Arkansas supreme court ruled that the measure could stand while the state considered the issue again.

In North Carolina, the initiative is still too close to call at as of 11PM. It seems that the measure may pass by a slim margin. The initiative is much the same as the Arkansas initiative, and North Carolina has had an equally tumultuous relationship with Voter ID requirements. North Carolina passed a Voter ID requirement in 2013 that was then enforced only in the 2016 primaries. Before the 2016 general election, federal courts rejected the majority of the provision as unconstitutional. The 2013 initiative was ruled unconstitutional because the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the state legislature had enacted the requirement with racially-discriminatory intent.

Proponents of voter ID requirements claim that it will help prevent voter fraud, while opponents claim that it is conducive to voter suppression and racial discrimination. The Arkansas amendment will provide a free valid ID to any eligible voter without one in an attempt to have the best of both worlds. The North Carolina amendment does not contain the same provision, and that may lead to it being considered more problematic than its Arkansas counterpart.

When Looking for a “Blue-Wave,” Sweat the Small Stuff

By Joe Scherpenberg

Meet Aftab Pureval: the 36-year-old Democratic challenger to Steve Chabot in OH-01. Pureval’s star shot up after winning an election for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 2016. As one of the more closely watched congressional races in the country, Pureval’s campaign has been derailed in the last two months by allegations of election law violations. 

For some background, OH-01 was one of the more competitive congressional districts in the country before the 2010 census, despite Chabot being elected for 22 out of the last 24 years. A Republican-led state legislature redrew district lines adding in solid-red Warren County to OH-01, which offset the predominately-blue city of Cincinnati. Since redistricting, Chabot has won the seat comfortably by at least 19 percentage points, although lack of interest in the race from national Democrats certainly has resulted in candidates with a lower ceiling. Pureval’s entrance was supposed to change this.

Pureval first won county-wide office by defeating incumbent Tracey Winkler. The Winkler name is synonymous with the Republican power brokers in Hamilton County, who have had a tight hold on county offices for a generation. Armed with his clever campaign ads, Pureval is seen as the leader of the next generation of Democrats in Ohio. Despite only holding office since 2016 and not living in the district at the time, Pureval entered the race for OH-01 hoping to capitalize on a “Blue-wave.”

It seemed like Pureval was primed for another upset when in July, Sabato’s crystal ball elevated the race to “toss-up.”Then what seemed like the crest of Pureval’s personal wave hit from repeated allegations of campaign finance violations in September. Essentially, Pureval was accused of using funds from his “Clerk Of Courts” campaign to pay for polling on his congressional bid. Pureval denied any wrongdoing but his campaign couldn’t shake the allegations. A lawsuit was filed against Pureval’s campaign. Then, more recently, allegations were thrown at Pureval’s campaign, this time involving a campaign volunteer posing as a volunteer for Chabot’s campaign.            

The litigation from these allegations didn’t seem to go anywhere. The allegations of campaign finance were dismissed by the Ohio Elections Commission, with the exception of a $100 fine for paying a photographer from the wrong Venmo account, and no charges were formally filed by the Chabot camp for the supposed “double agent.” 

While the legal consequences appear not to have come to fruition, the political ones certainly can be felt by Pureval. Since the high water mark of Sabato moving the race to a toss-up, the allegations dogging the campaign has seen his polling fall back, resulting in the race moved to “lean Republican” and the resignation of Pureval’s campaign manager

The lesson here is the losing the control of the message that can result from any allegation of impropriety, even when they don’t result in formal repercussions.

Felon Voting Rights & the 2018 Midterm Elections

By Ellen Hancock

Whether or not convicted felons can vote varies widely between states. In the most lenient states (Vermont and Maine), felons never lose their right to vote, while in the harshest (such as Kentucky), felons do not regain their vote until they are specifically pardoned by the governor.

These policies effect a massive number of potential voters. According to The Sentencing Project, 6.1 million Americans cannot vote due to prior felony convictions. Even more shocking is how disproportionally these laws effect historically disenfranchised groups of people. As of 2016, 1 in 13 black adults could not vote due to a prior felony conviction, compared to 1 in 56 for non-black voters.

Three states, New York, Virginia, Alabama, have experienced significant changes in felon voter rights since the 2016 election, and the midterms will be the first chance to see how these changes will affect election outcomes.

In New York, Governor Cuomo re-enfranchised New Yorkers on parole. Prior to Executive Order 181, New York felons had to wait until they finished both their incarceration and parole in order to regain their right to vote. This executive order returned the right to vote to 35,000 parolees and ended confusion about voting rights in regard to the difference between people on parole and on probation.

In Virginia, over 172, 298 people have had their voting rights restored since 2016. Originally in 2016, Virginia governor signed an executive order with the goal of restoring voting rights to over 200,000 people with felony convictions. However, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned this order, which required the governor to take a different route: individually reviewing records and regranting voting rights.

In 2017 in Alabama, the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act refined the list of crimes that kept a person with a felony conviction from having voting rights to less than 50 crimes. The Southern Poverty Law center estimates that this could give voting right back to thousands of felons in Alabama.

While three states are looking at how this change in felon voting laws will affect the outcome of their elections, Florida used the election to change theirs. This week Florida voted to pass Amendment 4 which will return voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, parole and probation. Estimates say that that this amendment could return voting rights to 1.4 million people with felony convictions in Florida. (Except for those who have been conflicted of murder or sexual assault.) This change in Florida’s constitution is specifically significant considering that Florida previously held some of the strictest felony voting laws in the country.

Around 3% of the U.S. population has a felony conviction (even higher for African Americans at 15%), which demonstrates the importance of felony voting policies. Especially when elections are close, giving this massive number of people the right to vote or taking it away, can have a major impact on the outcome of an election.

The Day that the Rights Went Out in Georgia

By Joe Scherpenberg

U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross granted an injunction mandating that Georgia allow some 3,000 individuals vote.The voters were “purged” from eligibility because their signatures did not live up to the controversial “exact match” standard, which flags voter registrations for small discrepancies as potentially noncitizens. Interestingly, the top election official in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, is running for governor. 

This race has been especially contentious, even generating a call from former President Jimmy Carter for Kemp to step down as Secretary of State.

Of heightened concern is how race is playing into the supposed “purging.” The NAACP, one of the plaintiffs in the Federal Suit, alleges that this is occurring disproportionately to minority voters. Judge Ross cited this very reason in her opinion granting the injunction. The “exact match” problem may have affected upwards of 55,000 voters

 The exact match law is in place for the first time in 2018. This is especially pertinent because prior to the Supreme Court’s decision In Shelby County v. Holder, a change such as this would have been subject to pre-clearance from the United States Justice Department. Since this decision, where Chief Justice Roberts determined that incidents such as this were things of the past and that our country has changed, states that were formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act have been free to implement changes to voting laws without approval from the Justice Department.

These changes have included voter identification laws, redistricting maps, and of course, Georgia’s “exact match” law. All of which, it has been alleged, disproportionately suppress minority votes

What is Marsy’s Law?

By Chase Thomas

On the Kentucky ballot this year, as well as the ballots of five other states, is a constitutional amendment to provide what is being called “rights for crime victims.”

If you are in Kentucky, you may have seen several commercials promoting this amendment. It depicts what we assume to be a crime victim being followed by her former assailant until they finally meet. So what is not to get about this law? It seems very straightforward by the depiction of the commercial. It may also have seemed very clear on the ballot what the amendment is about. However, neither of these sources tell us what the amendment truly does.

The bill began in California after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her family, a short time after the incident, was in a grocery store when the ex-boyfriend, who had been released on bail without the family’s notice, confronted them. This lead Henry Nicholas, Marsy’s brother, to start a campaign to amend every state constitution allowing victims to have the right to have notice of their accused’s court proceedings.

What does this tell us about the amendment currently on the ballot? It tells us that the law is meant to provide a victim the right of knowing the accused’s status in the court system and if they may be released. What is the down side? Well, some assert that the law would violate an accussed’s due process rights.

Marsy’s law operates under the assumption that a victim has a right to know of their accused’s process in the court system. This means that the whole notion of “innocent until proven guilty” may be reduced under Marsy’s law due to the fact the accused is presumed guilty of the crime towards the victim. What this means is that to have a victim be defined as a crime victim, there must be a crime. If this amendment presupposes that a crime has taken place, then guilt has been given to the accused. This is a point brought by those who opposed the law, such as the ACLU of Kentucky and Kentucky Association of Children’s Advocacy Centers, among others.

Judge Thomas Wingate of the Franklin County Circuit Court blocked the Secretary of State from certifying the results on the amendment due to the language on the ballot being too vague. Tonight’s vote on the amendment has the results at 63.53% for and 36.47% against. But it remains to be seen on whether this amendment will actually take effect, which will occur only if the trial court’s ruling is reversed on appeal.

Fear and Loathing on Election Day

By Silas Montgomery

As much as Kentucky loves its Bourbon, alcohol sales were prohibited on election day until 2016! Before KRS §244.290 took effect on July 15, 2016 Kentucky had a statewide ban on alcohol sales while polls were open. Until recently, the only other states still clinging to similarly antiquated prohibition-esque laws were Indiana and South Carolina.

This dated policy banning alcohol sales stemmed largely from politicians using alcoholic incentives to buy votes on election day years ago when it was common for saloons to double as polling stations. This morally ambiguous policy was obviously problematic but the main take away was that opportunistic politicians would offer booze in exchange for ballots on election day at the poll/bar. “[O]ne way to do that was to keep the voters liquored up and basically seduce them or bribe them with drinks, free drinks, and it could actually skew the results of the election.” Jim Holmberg of the Filson Historical Society of Louisville told WFPL.

Apparently, buying votes with alcohol is a bonified American tradition dating all the way back to our very first president George Washington. As Daniel Okrent wrote in his book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition:

"When twenty-four-year-old George Washington first ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he attributed his defeat to his failure to provide  enough alcohol for the voters. When he tried again two years later, Washington floated into office partly on the 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer his election agent handed out—roughly half a gallon for every vote he received."

KRS 244.290 allows “[a] licensee authorized to sell distilled spirits or wine at retail shall be permitted to sell and deliver distill spirits and wine during the hours the polls are open on any primary, or regular, local option, or special election day unless it is located where the legislative body…prohibits the sale of distilled spirits and wine.” Put plainly, KRS § 244.290 allows for authorized alcohol distributors to sell alcohol on election day unless the county is dry and wouldn’t be allowed to do so otherwise.

Indiana repealed its ban on election day alcohol sales back in 2012, Kentucky’s bill was passed back in 2013 but as mentioned above took effect in 2016, and South Carolina followed suit in 2014 repealing the last remaining ban on election day alcohol sales nationwide. 

For better or for worse, bottoms up!

Mississippi: the Land of Many Elections

By: Hannah Walker

Running for office is always a complicated undertaking. There is fundraising, strategic planning, and countless hours spent canvassing and phone banking. However, for the candidates in Mississippi’s Senate race, things just got more complicated. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) was appointed by Mississippi’s governor in April. Now, in order to hold on to her seat, she will face not one, but three challengers.

The insider challenger is Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel. The two Democratic challengers are former U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Mike Espy and Tobey Bernard Bartee. All the challengers will appear without a party affiliation.  

However, there’s a snafu: if no one wins a majority of the vote,then the top two will get to do the election all over again at the end of November.

While the race is for the U.S. Senate, the winner won’t get a standard 6-year Senate term. Instead, the winner will finish out the last two years of the term. Which mean the winner will be running 3 elections in less than 3 years. 

Electronic Voting Machines, Panacea or Gateway to More Trouble?

By Scott Sullivan

After the Florida recount debacle of 2000, there was a big push to modernize voting processes with electronic voting machines.

Electronic voting offered States a myriad of advantages over old paper ballots such as no “hanging chads”, dimpled ballots, or double votes; and near instantaneous tabulation at the close of voting. To support states transition to more modern voting infrastructure, Congress in 2002 passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA provided funding to states to allow them to meet minimum standards in election administration across such areas as: updated voting equipment, provisional voting, registration, and identification.

States allocated funds—both internal and those provided by HAVA—to modernize voting methods. Today, most jurisdictions utilize an electronic machine, optical scan ballot or both. An optical scan ballot has the voter complete a ballot by “coloring in” an oval corresponding to the candidate of your choice (similar to how you take many standardized tests), which is then counted by a machine and ballots retained. Electronic machines, on the other hand, have the voter directly use the machine to enter their vote, and its tabulated immediately.

In the move to electronic machines, it appears that some jurisdictions lost sight of the key feature of a voting system …  public confidence in the results. Many jurisdictions, including my precinct in Kentucky, use electronic machines, specifically Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machines (DRE),  without the ability to audit or recount the results. With all their shortcomings, one of the key features of paper ballots was the ability to recount the results without reference to the original report. Many of the machines in use across the nations spit out a ballot count at closing lacking an independent way to verify the accuracy of that count. Any recount is limited to reexamining the arithmetic that went into adding the various machine generated reports. There exists a fix for this problem, equip DREs with voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), effectively a “receipt” that the voter verifies then drops into a ballot box. The VVPATs are then used for any post-election counts, whether they be a standard procedure, random audit or directed recount by a state’s election authority. To date, 31 states have statutes requiring some form of permanent voter record, whether it be VVPAT or paper ballot.

What does this mean for elections moving forward? When we hear talks of recounts after tonight’s elections, the type of machine used may play an important role in how that recount proceeds.

Pro-Choice v. Pro-Life: The Abortion Debate Takes Center Stage with State Constitutional Referendums in Three States

By Shannon Rutherford

           Since Roe v. Wade, a woman’s right to and access to abortion has been one of the most hotly contested issues during election cycles. The 2018 midterm elections are no exception. Three states—Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia—have ballot initiatives aimed at abortion access.

            In Alabama, the proposed Constitutional Amendment would give a fetus personhood rights. The Amendment would make it “state policy to ‘recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.’” The proposed Amendment contains no carve out exemptions for abortion in a crises situation.

            In Oregon, the proposed Constitutional Amendment would end all public funding for abortions; however, the Amendment does state that if the abortion is “medically necessary or required by federal law” then public funds could be used. This would reach woman who are public employees or who rely on Medicaid as their primary form of health insurance.

            In West Virginia, the proposed Amendment is known as the “No constitutional Right to Abortion Amendment” and would severely restrict public funding for abortions. The Amendment states that the West Virginia Constitution has nothing that “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” In a 1993 West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case, Womens' Health Center of West Virginia, Inc. v. Panepinto, the Court held that denying Medicaid coverage of an abortion for poor women was discriminatory in its effect. Since then, Medicaid coverage in West Virginia has paid for abortion; however, if passed, the Amendment would render the case ineffective. Beyond having the ability to ban publicly funded abortions, the Amendment would also allow state legislatures to enact more restrictive abortion laws and the lead sponsor of the Amendment stated that was the main goal of the Amendment. The proposal does not contain a “carve out” for rape and incest even though there was a proposed addition of an exception, which was rejected.

            Many states already have made abortion access restricted. For example, in West Virginia, there is only one abortion clinic which is in Charleston, West Virginia. The city is extremely far away for citizens along the southern border and northern and eastern panhandles. In general, the number of abortion clinics have declined six percent primarily in rural areas across the country. These proposed Amendments, particularly the ballot initiatives in Alabama and West Virginia, appear to impose the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey standard of an “undue burden” because the Amendments could be a mechanism for the legislature to place a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” The Alabama proposal gives personhood status to a fetus, which was rejected in Roe, and the West Virginia proposal would allow an increasingly conservative legislature to enforce more restrictive laws. The Medicaid funded portion of the West Virginia and Oregon proposals would likely not give rise to a Roe challenge because there is generally a federal ban on Medicaid funding of abortions, but some states allow Medicaid funding to be extended to abortions. The proposed Amendments come at a time when several states have begun passing extremely restrictive abortion laws, which points towards a potential Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood in the future. Now with a more conservative Supreme Court, it leaves open the question of how the Court would rule on restrictive state constitutional amendments, which could lead to a long standing question of if Roe and Planned Parenthood would be overturned. Thus, these ballot initiatives are important to the national conversation about abortion and what potentially lies ahead in abortion rights and access.