Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Guest Blogger: Brianna Zichettella

The Final Frontier: 
Political Honesty and the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

Great Divide Ranch, home of the non-partisan Project Vote Smart where Brianna
completed a 10-week internship in Summer 2016. 
     Project Vote Smart calls itself the most important organization you have never heard of. And in some   ways, that is true. It was founded in 1992 and housed at Oregon State University. Seven years later, the program moved out to the Great Divide Ranch in southwestern Montana. Its mission statement is to collect and disseminate information on those holding and running for political offices in America. This research covers all levels of government from local to federal and stretches across several different types of information. In an effort to create comprehensive information about America’s electoral process, Vote Smart brings interns and paid staff to Montana. They make up the workforce of several departments ranging from candidate biographies to campaign finance information. And, as promised by Vote Smart’s slogan, very few people have heard of it. I experienced this first hand when I found myself constantly explaining to family and friends exactly what I was doing on the other side of the country.
Moose Lake, at the edge of the Great Divide Ranch
During ten weeks between May and August, I was one of fifty interns living and working at Vote Smart’s Montana headquarters. Having come from a bucolic hometown and attending college in suburban Amherst, spending the summer at the near-wilderness location was unlike anything I had ever done before. The ranch itself is situated at the edge of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness at an elevation of 6000 feet. The closest town, Philipsburg, is a forty-five minute drive, and the closest airport is about two hours to the east. However, the ranch’s isolated location does not mean that the interns are lacking in things to do. Vote Smart’s property touches the edge of Moose Lake, and the organization owns a dock and several boats. Additionally, several trailheads can be found down the road from the ranch, and most can be completed in an afternoon. A particularly memorable trail – dubbed Huff Puff by a few decades of Vote Smart interns - switchbacks up an Anaconda-Pintler foothill. The aptly-named trail ends about 1000 feet higher than the ranch and features an amazing view of the Pintler Mountain Range. 
Trailways surrounding the Project Vote Smart Camp

But my time in Montana was spent doing more than hiking and spending time on the lake. Over the course of ten weeks, each of Vote Smart’s interns spends 40 hours per week contributing to the organization’s extensive research. During my internship, I was assigned to Vote Smart’s Political Courage Test department. To attempt to provide the public with information about political candidates, the organization sends out Political Courage questionnaires to everyone running for office. This test poses fifteen yes-or-no questions across various policy areas and gives politicians the opportunity to elaborate on their responses. It is the department’s responsibility to send out these letters and post candidate responses on the Vote Smart website. Unfortunately, a very small number of candidates respond to the surveys, and those that do often return only partially completed tests. Because of this, my main obligation in the department was to research candidate websites and speeches to extrapolate their answers to the questions.
Brianna, far left, and fellow interns enjoying the outdoor activities. Interns work on a variety of
projects, collecting information that assists voters with reliable, non-partisan information. 
The work was engaging, if repetitive. Throughout the ten weeks I researched congressional candidates across the country. Some had professionally designed websites with comprehensive issue positions and governance plans. Others had typed a few sentences into WordPress and called it a day. However, the common thread linking candidates from Alabama to Wyoming was that this information is not well publicized. It usually is not too difficult to find, but the process of finding the most relevant information can take a while. The average American often does not have the time or inclination to conduct comprehensive research on all of a candidate’s positions. That is the reason Vote Smart exists. The research done by interns and staff is aggregated on Vote Smart’s website; one place with everything a voter would need to make an informed decision. Every candidate has a page that lists biographical information, public statements, voting records, submitted or extrapolated PCT answers, special interest support, and other relevant information. Considering the controversy and polarization of this election cycle, this kind of data is more important than ever. As said by Thomas Jefferson, a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. In 2016, it seems that voters will need all the resources at their disposal to parse through rampant misinformation about their candidates and electoral process. In my opinion, a resource like Vote Smart would be invaluable.
The compound where Project Vote Smart staff and interns engage
in voter education. 
This summer was an extremely rewarding experience, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to increasing political clarity in America. However, I could not have worked through the ins and outs of completing a successful internship by myself. I would like to thank Dr. Lisa Parshall and the History and Political Science Department for all the help and support I received during the application process and throughout the summer. I would also like to thank the staff and interns at Vote Smart. It was great to work with such a wonderful group of people. Thank you for making my ten weeks a truly amazing experience; it was absolutely one of the best summers of my life. 
The author, Brianna Zichettella is majoring in Political Science
with a minor in  Political Communications.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Register to Vote!

Update:  If you sent in your registration form you should be receiving your voter information card in the mail from the county board of elections sometime before Nov. 8. 

They are understandably very busy at this time of year. Please note: you do not physically need your voter registration card to vote - although it does tell you where your local polling place is.  

You may look up your polling place on most county board of election sites (for Erie County go here).  So, even if you haven't yet received your voter registration card in the mail, you should still go to the polls on election day - if your form was processed your name will be in the voter rolls allowing you to cast your ballot. 

As noted below, you can check the status of your registration online (here) -- the database is updated regularly -- or you can call your county board of elections directly to check on the status of your registration. 

To check on the status of your application for an absentee ballot, please call the county board of elections (county where you are registered to vote). 

Election Day is November 8, 2016

Daemen College encourages all students, faculty, and staff to exercise their political and civil rights by registering to vote and participating in the electoral process.

The History & Political Science Department is more than happy to help you get registered to vote. Watch for our nonpartisan, voter registration table  which we will host as part of National Constitution and Citizenship Day, on Friday, September 16 at the Wick Center Lobby from 11:30-1:00. 

In the meantime, here is some information to help you vote in New York State:

Registering to Vote:
How do I check if I'm already registered to vote or not? You can look up your voter registration information with the New York Board of Elections here.

How to I register to Vote? 
New York Voter Registration forms are always available through the New York State Board of Elections online here (English version) and here (Spanish version).

You can also pick up a voter registration form in the History & Political Science Department. Just stop by DS 139 and ask for a blank voter registration form: we're always happy to help you with any questions you might have about the voting registration process.

Am I Eligible to Vote? 

In order to vote you must:
  • be a United States citizen;
  • be 18 years old by December 31 of the year in which you file this form (note: you must be 18 years old by the date of the general, primary or other election in which you want to vote);
  • live at your present address at least 30 days before an election;
  • not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction; 
  • not be adjudged mentally incompetent by a court; 
  • not claim the right to vote elsewhere.
At what address should I register? 
As a college student you may register at either your local college address (provided you will have lived there for at least 30 days before the election) or at your home-town address.  The address at which you are registered will determine your polling place on election day.  So, if you want to vote here in Erie county, you should register using your Erie County address.  

What if I am not registered to vote at my local (Erie County) address? 
If you are registered to vote at your non-college address (for example, if you are registered to vote in NYC but you physically will be in Buffalo on November 8) then you will need to apply for an absentee ballot. 

How do I apply for an Absentee ballot? 
If you are filling out a new voter registration form you can simply check the box on Item 15 in order to have an absentee ballot application sent to your local address.

If you are already registered, you can request an absentee ballot from your county board of election. Absentee ballot requests forms can be found here (English) and here (Spanish).  The application request must be received by the board of election by mail no later than 7 days before the election (or the day before if submitted in person at the Erie County Board of Elections). 

See here  for complete information on absentee voting.  

You may also choose to fill out a new voter registration form to update/change your registration to your local (Erie County) address, provided you will have lived there at least 30 days before the election in which you are seeking to vote.  

What do I do with the completed voter registration form? 
Once you've filled out and signed the form you should then mail it to your county board of elections.  In Erie County, the address to which you should direct your voter registration form is: 134 West Eagle St., Buffalo, NY 14202.  You can look up the addresses for other New York counties here.

What is the deadline for registering to vote? 
Voter Registration forms must be postmarked no later than October 14 and received by a county Board of Elections no later than October 19 in order for you to be eligible to vote in the General Election on November 8.

You may also register in person at any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or at the Erie County Board of Elections on 134 West Eagle St., in Buffalo up to October 14, 2016.

What happens after I mail in my voter registration form? 
After you mail it in and once the board of elections has processed the form, you will receive your voter registration card in the mail. This card will list the polling location where you must vote.

You can also look up your registration/polling place information with the New York State Board of Elections here.

I'm Already Registered, but How Do I Change or Update my Information? 
To update or change your  name or address just fill out a new voter registration form and mail it, same as above, to your county Board of Elections

You may also fill out a new form to change your party registration, but please note that in New York, party membership changes will not be processed until after the next general election.

Should I register as a member of a Political Party? 
In New York you may only vote in a political party's primary (nominating) elections if you are a registered member of that political party.  So, if you want to vote in the primaries, on Box 14 of the voter registration form, you should select the party in whose primaries you wish to regularly participate.  You will be recorded as member of that party and will be eligible to vote in only that party's primary elections.

You can change your party affiliation by filling out a new voter registration form, but please note that in New York, such changes will not be processed until after the next general election. See here for information on changing your party registration.

If you wish to remain unaffiliated or independent (no party registration) then you should check the box "No party" on Box 14 of the voter registration form.

Registering as a member of a political party only affects eligibility to vote in partisan primary elections. It does not in any way affect which candidate or party you may vote for in the general election.

On election day, you must report to the designated polling place for the address at which you are registered to vote. If you're not sure where your polling place is, or you lost your voter registration card, you may look up your information here.

In New York, POLLS OPEN AT 6 AM - CLOSE AT 9 PM on November 8. New York does not have an early voting period. 

What if I'm not able to go to my polling place on November 8? 
If you are not able to report to your registered polling place on election day for any of the reasons listed below, then you will need to request an absentee (mail in) ballot. Information on requesting an absentee (mail-in) ballot, along with the absentee ballot request form, can be found here. Upon completion, applications must be mailed to your county board no later than the seventh day before the election or delivered in person no later than the day before the election.

You are eligible to vote absentee if you are:
  • Absent from your county or, if a resident of New York City absent from said city, on Election Day. 
  • Unable to appear at the polls due to temporary or permanent illness or disability; or because you are the primary care giver of one or more individuals who are ill or physically disabled. 
  • A patient or inmate in a Veterans' Administration Hospital. 
  • Detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony.
Students: You should check "absent from county" (i.e, away at college) when filling out your absentee ballot form.

Do I need ID to vote? 
New York does not have a voter ID requirement, but it does not hurt to have some form of ID with you when you go to the polls in the event your identity or eligibility is challenged. 

I've never voted before, what can I expect? 
There will be trained poll workers to assist you at the polling place. Generally, there is a line/table with poll workers where you check in.  The poll workers will check the voter registration rolls for your name.  Once you are verified as properly registered, you will be given directions by the poll workers as to the voting process.

Erie County uses a DS 200 ballot scanner. You will be given a paper ballot and directed to booth or area where you complete the ballot in privacy.  You will then feed the completed paper ballot into a scanning machine in order to have it counted.  A video on the process can be found here. You can find information on the various voting equipment used in other New York counties here.  If you encounter any difficulties, just ask a poll worker for assistance. 

What if I am turned away at the polls? 
If, for whatever reason, a poll worker tells you that you are not eligible to vote and you believe that this is an error and you are lawfully entitled to vote, you may ask for a provisional ballot.  

Provisional ballots are set aside until the Board of Elections clarifies your eligibility/registration status. If it is determined that you are legally entitled to vote, your ballot will be counted.  If it is determined that you are not eligible/properly registered, the ballot will be destroyed.  You may be asked to fill out/sign an affidavit as to your eligibility/status when casting a provisional ballot.

What if I'm working on Election Day? 
New York does not allow voting by absentee ballot due to your work schedule but it does entitle all workers who do not have at least four consecutive hours free during the period in which the polls are open, to take time off of work (without a loss of pay for up to two hours) in order to vote. Please note that the law requires that you notify your employer and verify eligibility at least 2 days (but no earlier than 10 days) before election day.  You can read the law here and should consult with your employer. 
What if I'm Out of State Resident/Voter? 

If you are not a New York state resident, you may register to vote by completing the National Mail Voter Registration Form:

You may also contact your State's board of elections for state-specific information on registration and absentee voting rules in your state of residency. 

Information for Military and Overseas Federal Voting can be found here.

Still have questions?
Feel free to stop by the History & Political Science Department for help. We're always happy to answer your question or help direct you to the right place to get information.  And remember, you can always contact the NY State Board of Elections, or the Erie County Board of Elections, directly for voter registration assistance.