Saturday, January 12, 2013

What Happened at Ross Miller's Symposium

So Ross Miller has been making headlines again this week. And his election reform bill now has a number: SB 63. Yesterday, he held a symposium to discuss SB 63 and the larger topic of election reform at UNLV. Robert Lang moderated, and among the other panelists were Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D), Las Vegas political consultant Andres Ramirez, and NYU Law School's Brennan Center's Lee Rowland.

Andres @RamirezGroup speaking @rossjmiller's #SB63 #Voti... on Twitpic

The symposium started off pretty level-headed. Dr. Lang asked Ross Miller for more details on SB 63.

And Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had a chance to explain why he's been pushing something very similar in his own state.

The Brennan Center's Lee Rowland also had a chance to explain the need for change to the election system.

But after opening statements and questions from Lang, questions came from the floor. Initially, there was a wonky discussion on how SB 63 opens up the real possibility of secure same-day voter registration.

But sadly, that didn't last long. Instead, a few "tea party" speakers saw the opportunity to hijack the discussion and spew out crazy Sharron Angle approved conspiracy theories on nonexistent "VOTER FRAUD!!!".

Lots of #nvp2 @nvdems & #teaparty @NVGOP's in @rossj... on Twitpic

And herein lies the reason why SB 63 is facing such epic hurdles in Carson City. Even as Ross Miller may be seeking genuine policy solutions to the shortcomings of Nevada's election system, the Legislature is mired in a political brouhaha fueled by these very inaccurate conspiracy theories. G-O-TEA politicians have been pursuing voter suppression measures in order to please their "tea party" base and prevent likely Democratic voters from casting ballots.

What makes this worse is the budget brawl that's likely to consume Carson City this spring. As we discussed earlier this week, Democratic Legislature leaders may be aiming to prevent their Republican counterparts from scoring any kind of "leverage" that they can use to force further budget cuts and/or conservative policy "wet dreams". Unfortunately for Ross Miller, SB 63 may very well land into the crossfire of Carson City's budget war.

@TheLMurrieta asking ? @rossjmiller's #SB63 #VotingRight... on Twitpic

@rossjmiller chatting w/ #Vegas media after heated #SB63 #Vot... on Twitpic

Last month, we looked into the "Election Geek Jiu-jitsu" behind what we can now call SB 63.

This may indeed be a brilliant strategy to secure progressive election reforms that otherwise would never be considered. Elections officials have wanted to replace those printed poll books with something more 21st century for some time. But because of the ongoing budget brawl and more pressing funding demands, they've been left in the dust. This may indeed be the best, and perhaps the only, way for Ross Miller to deliver the goods and upgrade our antiquated system.

And as we've discussed before, this may very well solve logistical problems that have stood in the way of expanding voter participation. How can extreme "tea party" outfits keep challenging and intimidating legal voters if poll workers can instantly verify those voters? And how can those same outfits continue arguing against reforms like same-day voter registration if the equipment is available to register and verify those new registrants right on the spot?

The key problem that Miller faces is that hardly anyone else in Carson City sees what he sees. Miller looks at SB 63 and sees a unique opportunity to revolutionize the election system. However, teabaggers just look at SB 63 and see a lack of robust voter suppression. And Republican Legislature leaders probably just notice SB 63 and see a chance to gain "leverage" in budget negotiations. And Democratic Legislature leaders still gaze at SB 63 and see an unnecessary distraction that can possibly metastasize into a horrendous way to derail a sensible budget deal while simultaneously causing more election problems in the future by disenfranchising legal voters.

This is why SB 63 faces some daunting hurdles in Carson City this spring. Can Ross Miller somehow overcome them? That remains an open question. How well does jiu-jitsu work in a land dominated by archaic fist fights?

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