Some cartoonists view the 2014 mid-term election

There are some great cartoons this Sunday on the President and the mid-terms.  Here are a few.

First from Signe Wilkinson

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Another view of the President and Congress from Nick Anderson.

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And my favorite from Stuart Carlson.

 

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I have to think that President Obama is expecting the Republican Congress to erect roadblocks and force him to veto some of their legislation (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), but I’m not sure there are many Republicans left who understand that their job is to actually govern.  We shall see.

A few thoughts from Professor Krugman on unemployment and my own on the mid-term election

One of the issues in the mid-term elections is the failure of the economy to fully recover.  Having watched bits and pieces of the new Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts  I see some parallels between FDR and President Obama.  Both Presidents saw the economy begin to slow after showing good signs of recovery. In FDR’s case it actually fell back into recession.  The mistake in both cases is, at least in part, the failure to continue to fund government programs to create jobs,  to end the programs too quickly.  FDR came to understand this; Barack Obama always did.  But the current Congress doesn’t seem to get it.

Breadlines: long line of people waiting to be fed: New York City: in the absence of substantial government relief programs during 1932, free food was distributed with private funds in some urban centers to large numbers of the unemployed. (Circa February 1932)

Breadlines: long line of people waiting to be fed: New York City: in the absence of substantial government relief programs during 1932, free food was distributed with private funds in some urban centers to large numbers of the unemployed. (Circa February 1932)

At the end of my work life I got to administer some of the stimulus funding.  What I saw was not the direct creation of a huge number jobs with government  funding, but many jobs created as the result of the opening of a new business, new hotel, or new housing.  Those employed persons paid taxes which helped bolster the economy.  If the benefits of having people employed are obvious to an economic novice like me,  I don’t understand why the Republicans in Congress don’t want to fund infrastructure projects.  Road and bridge repairs, creating a grid that can tie in with alternative energy sources, construction of affordable housing:  these are just a few of the types of projects that can be government funded and that can create jobs.  While construction jobs may disappear, the infrastructure created will result in new opportunities.

Paul Krugman’s recent column helps me understand a little what may be going on.  He begins

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

People are just lazy.  Krugman continues

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

If unemployment is too costly, then any kind of jobs program must cost way too much.

…My question for today is instead one of psychology and politics: Why is there so much animus against the unemployed, such a strong conviction that they’re getting away with something, at a time when they’re actually being treated with unprecedented harshness?

Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

The bottom line:  If you are still unemployed or if you are poor it is your own fault.  Besides, those people live in a world far from the world of Fox News.

I hope that people think about the state of the semi-recovered economy when they vote and that they vote for candidates who can learn from the lessons of the Depression, will vote some funding for jobs programs and not worry so much about the deficit which is shrinking.  They should instead worry about our infrastructure which is failing.  If they fix that, they may find people aren’t lazy, they just need jobs.

 Photograph:  Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Predicting 2014

I don’t have a crystal ball and haven’t thrown the I Ching, so I can’t really say what will happen. but Mark Bittman had an amusing column in yesterday’s New York Times about years ending in four.  Bittman seems to be of the opinion that nothing much that is good happens during such years, but we can hope that he just has a selective memory.

Bittman begins with 1944, but I’ll add 1914.  That was the year Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia to begin World War I. On the plus side, the Panama Canal opened and the Boston Braves won the World Series.
Bittman writes

1944 Those of us who don’t remember this year are lucky; a soldier cited in Rick Atkinson’s brilliantly horrifying saga of the last two years of the war in Europe, “The Guns at Last Light,” quotes King Lear: “The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’ ” The end of the war was in sight; getting there was the trick, and millions were killed in the interval. Things have not been this bad since.

1954 If there was a golden era of United States foreign policy, it ended here, as Eisenhower warned against involvement in Vietnam while espousing the domino theory. Good: Joe McCarthy’s power began to ebb. Not good: The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

1964 The last year of the baby boom was mind-blowing. In the 28 months beginning that January, Bob Dylan made five of the best albums of the era — and there were the Beatles.

Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, and Lyndon Johnson single-handedly sent everyone into a tizzy by signing the Civil Rights Act, sending more “advisers” to Vietnam, talking about bombing North Vietnam and proposing the Great Society. Huh? The first anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and draft-card burnings took place. Pot smoking officially began. (Not really, but sorta.)

1964 was also the year my husband graduated from high school.  I’ll call that a plus.

Skipping to 1994

Whoa: Not only did Nelson Mandela not spend his life in jail, but he became president. The Brady Law went into effect, and Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban. (It expired in 2004.) O. J. Simpson spurred a national obsession. Four bombers were convicted of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Reagan was implicated in the Iran-contra cover-up, but it seemed more important to torture the Clintons over a bad real estate investment. (Still, Paula Jones wasn’t the Republicans’ fault, was she?) Clinton fired Joycelyn Elders for discussing masturbation.

The first credit default swap was created. Nearly everyone in Rwanda became either a killer or a victim, or so it seemed. And there was that messy thing in “the former Yugoslavia.”

Netscape Navigator was released.

1994 was an important year for me.  We got married and I moved to Boston.  Thomas Menino was mayor but not yet The Mayor.

Which brings us to 2004.

2004  Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic convention and there seemed reason for hope; then John Kerry went windsurfing and W., incredibly, became president again (what were 62 million of us thinking?) several months after endorsing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which Massachusetts had already legalized. (By 2013, even Utah is on the right side of this issue.) W. also promised to improve education and access to health care; we all know how that worked out. Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France; we all know how that worked out, too.

And also in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years ending the mythical curse of Babe Ruth.

So, 2014.  I know what I hope for:  the Democrats retain control of the Senate and, at a minimum, creep closer to a majority in the House. I hope the ACA enrolls so many people who like their benefits that we don’t have to listen to Ted Cruz reading “green eggs and ham” again.  I hope, though it seems unlikely, that we get tax and immigration reform.  I hope that President Obama has a better year. And I hope everyone comes home safely from Afghanistan.  I wish Marty Walsh all the best as he becomes mayor and I hope that Michelle Wu gives up her crazy idea of voting for Bill Linehan for City Council president and picks Tito Jackson instead.  Most of all, I hope that all of us have a safe and healthy year.

2014

Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

Republican gerrymandering

With the Supreme Court saying that Section 4 of the voting rights act needs a do over thus making Section 5 void, many of us are not happy.  The odds of Congress coming up with a new formula are pretty slim.  But, all may not be lost.

We know that the Republican controlled state houses used the 2010 Census to draw districts that allowed them to hold on to the House last year.  This despite Section 4 in at least some of those states.  This morning, Politico.com published a story by Alex Isenstadt in which he points out that this gerrymandering may have unintended consequences for them.

No one disputes Republicans used the once-a-decade redistricting process to  lock in their House majority — almost certainly through 2014 and possibly until  the next round of line-drawing in 2020.

But the party could pay a steep price for that dominance.

Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the  party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right —  narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future  rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the  recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise  meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the  increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.

Opposition to immigration reform by the Tea Party.

Opposition to immigration reform by the Tea Party.

These gerrymandered districts are also less diverse.

Gerrymandering and partisanship, of course, aren’t new phenomena in the  House. But the post-2010 redistricting process driven by GOP-controlled state  legislatures — Republicans wielded line-drawing power in nearly five times as  many districts as Democrats — produced significantly more districts that are  overwhelmingly conservative.

Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor  Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down  from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the  2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.

They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After  redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the  average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75  percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing  demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where  the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.

My Ezra Klein Wonkbook email this morning pointed out

The conventional wisdom around Washington these days is that the Republican Party needs to pass immigration reform if it’s going to survive. But remember: House Republicans aren’t the same thing as “the Republican Party.” And they probably don’t need to pass immigration reform to keep their majority. In fact, passing  immigration reform — at least with a path to citizenship — might put them in more danger. Two figures from Janet Hook in the Wall Street Journal show why.

First, “only 38 of the House’s 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% or more of the population.”

Second, “only 28 Republican-held districts are considered even remotely at risk of being contested by a Democratic challenger, according to the nonpartisan Cook  Political Report.”

So for about 200 of the House’s Republicans, a primary challenge by conservatives angry over “amnesty” is probably a more realistic threat than defeat at the hands of angry Hispanic voters, or even angry Democrats. “Our guys actually do primary over immigration,” a top House Republican aide who wants to get immigration done told me.

Of course, that leaves some 34 Republicans who have reason to fear a Democratic challenge. And  it leaves dozens who privately support immigration reform and don’t have much to fear from either Democratic or Republican challengers.

So the Republican House members mostly represent people like themselves and need to become more conservative, not less, to keep their seats.  We aren’t talking just about immigration reform here, but a whole range of issues.  It also explains why the House’s favorite vote is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What does all this mean for Democratic chances to take back the House in the next election?  Isenstadt writes

New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign  Committee, argued that Republicans in moderate suburban and exurban areas will  find themselves under increasing pressure in the months leading up to the  midterms.

“The problem for many Republicans in these specific districts is that if  they’re less partisan, they face a primary from the right. If they protect  themselves from a primary by being more partisan, they’re in trouble in the  general election,” Israel said. “They’re getting squeezed. We’re going to make  sure that hole is very small.”

The question is:  Are there enough of those districts for the Democrats to take the House?

It would appear that much of what is holding up legislation in the House are internal Republican fights.

When House Republicans have rallied behind legislation, it’s often been for  something deeply conservative. Two weeks ago, Republicans passed a measure that  would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Just six GOP members  opposed the bill, including two because it didn’t go far enough.

To the conservatives, softening the GOP’s positions isn’t what’s going to  save the party in the long run.

“Political success doesn’t come from moderation,” said Arizona Rep. David  Schweikert, a Republican who opposed the farm bill and supported the  anti-abortion measure. “It’s from having principles and articulating them in a  forthright fashion.”

Schweikert, who represents a conservative Scottsdale-area district that Mitt  Romney carried with nearly 60 percent of the vote, called the Senate immigration  bill a “nonstarter.” His district is 12 percent Hispanic.

The bottom line is that so-called national Republican leaders who currently do not hold elective office along with some governors and Senators who have to run statewide campaigns can call for the party to moderate positions all they want.  The House has hitched its horse to some very conservative ideals so Republican members can get re-elected.  In the long run, this is probably good for the Democrats.

Photograph:  AP

Voting in America

We all saw the lines on television last November. A lot of us stood in them.  In Florida, in Ohio.  I saw at least a 20 minute wait on election morning as I timed a friend who went into vote while I was outside handing out Warren/Obama literature.  This was much longer than usual at my precinct.  It turns out that these are only the outward manifestations of larger problems.  President Obama has said fixing the problems is one of his priorities.  Now he can look at a couple of studies to see exactly what needs to be fixed.

Voter buttons

First the Daily Kos posted a story about the MIT study showing that black and Hispanic voters waited longer to vote than other voters.

You’d think after two hundred years (including some awkward Constitution-patching, here and there) we would finally have this “voting” thing down. Nope:

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.

So how are states going to fix this?  Maybe by making it harder to register and then harder to vote.

…In states like Virginia, in fact, they’re still trying their level best to make sure certain people don’t have to wait in long lines to vote by making sure certain people aren’t allowed to vote at all. Newly passed legislation would:

eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card.

Well, so long as you’re still taking concealed handgun permits.

Since most of those now-banned documents are still perfectly acceptable for obtaining “real” ID’s, like drivers licenses, the possibilities for thwarting rampant voting fraud are approximately nil. The only substantive outcome is to make it ever more inconvenient for certain people (i.e. poor, elderly, and those that don’t have cars, those city-living bastards) to vote.

So I’m not sure that we can depend on states to fix their own problems.

On the heels of the MIT study comes Pew Research.  The New York Times reported on the study which looked at 17 factors.

The flaws in the American election system are deep and widespread, extending beyond isolated voting issues in a few locations and flaring up in states rich and poor, according to a major new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The group ranked all 50 states based on more than 15 criteria, including wait times, lost votes and problems with absentee and provisional ballots, and the order often confounds the conventional wisdom.

In 2010, for instance, Mississippi ranked last over all. But it was preceded by two surprises: New York and California.

The project includes an interactive tool that allows rankings by individual criteria or clusters of them.

Some states, for instance, lost very few votes because of shortcomings in voting technology and voter confusion, with the best 10 reporting failure rates of 0.5 percent or less in 2008. In West Virginia, by contrast, the rate was 3.2 percent.

I hope you will click on the interactive link and look up your state.  The study covers the 2008 and 2010 elections and will be updated with 2012 data when it is available.  Massachusetts is only ranked in the middle at 64% overall which is interesting as I would have guessed it would have been higher.

The study also covered the new trend of voting by mail.

The shift to voting by mail, which now accounts for some 20 percent of all ballots cast, tends to eliminate lines. But it has also produced new problems, especially in places where mail voting has soared because the state does not require an excuse or a new ballot request for each election. Arizona and California, where voting by mail is commonplace, had among the highest rates of problems with voter registration and absentee ballots.

In 2010, California rejected absentee ballots 0.7 percent of the time, a higher rate than any other state.

Dean C. Logan, the registrar for Los Angeles County, said the rate was partly a byproduct of the popularity of voting by mail in California and partly a function of how the state defines rejected ballots. Its definition includes ballots that voters requested but that the Postal Service returned to election officials as undeliverable.

“Voter behavior is changing and evolving,” Mr. Logan said. Young people do not sign their names as consistently as older ones, he said, and mail delivery is becoming less reliable.

He also cautioned that statewide results can mask the fact that “the elections process is extremely decentralized.”

Provisional ballots are also a potential problem according to the study.

Charles Stewart III [cited also by the Daily Kos], a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Pew adviser, said that high provisional ballot rates were an important signal of potential trouble.

“Nationwide, a bit over 1 percent of voters are given a provisional ballot,” he said. “In Arizona in 2008, the rate was 6.5 percent. In the battleground state of Ohio, it was 3.6 percent. While these numbers may seem small, in a recount or election dispute, they would be huge.”

There are lots of things to consider as we look at ways to fix things.  How can people more easily register to vote?  What kind of ID, if any, should a voter have to show?  Do we vote by mail?  Online?  In person?  How many options should voters be offered?  I don’t know how many of the issues raised by the Pew study are local and how many can be federally mandated.  I believe that the federal government may have more say if the election is for a national office and is not just a state or local election.

I hope we can tackle some of these issues before 2014 and more of them before 2016.

Professor Stewart said the study should focus attention on the infrastructure of democracy.

“Among all important areas of public policy, election administration is probably the most episodic and prone to the problem of short attention spans,” he said. “What would the world be like if we only gave intense attention to education, corrections, transportation and public health problems for a one-week period every four years?”

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special electio...

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special election in May 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)