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American Democracy for America's Capital

Sounding Off
by Ilir Zherka

LWV in Action: Protecting Civil Liberties

by Shirley Tabata Ponomareff
In 1942, national League President Marguerite Wells cautioned that in times of crisis such as war, “the citizen loses sight of government and what government is doing, who is doing it, how it is being done.” She summed up the League’s objective in that wartime period: the support of democracy. Today, as our country wages a war against terrorism, the League continues in this proud tradition. From the time that the USA PATRIOT Act became law in 2001, the League has actively lobbied in support of legislation that would limit some of the law’s extreme provisions. At the same time, it has promoted education through panels and workshops as well as its “Local Voices” project.

Transparency, Liberty and Security

In an exclusive interview, Rick Blum, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, answers questions on open access to government, individual liberties and security. He emphasizes the importance of citizens “asking questions, documenting successes and problems, and really pushing aggressively to defend participation and democracy.”

Local Voices on Liberty and Security

by Kelly McFarland Stratman and Nancy E. Tate
The League of Women Voters Education Fund launched its multi-tier project, Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities, in February 2005. The project combined one of the League’s strongest traditions—convening community dialogues—with established methods of public opinion research. A complete report of the project’s findings and the League’s recommendations for action was released on September 7. Citizen desire for a transparent and open government is among the project’s important findings. The League’s recommendations in a nutshell: When it comes to the critically important relationship between our civil liberties and our nation’s security, government openness and public involvement are not just desirable—they are essential.

Emerging Issues in Election Reform

The League’s March 2005 forum highlighted a number of urgent priorities for policymakers, election officials and others. The League has refined the priorities into four key steps to bring our election system back to health: professionalization of the system; a new focus on service for the “customer,” the voter; 21st century research and development; and new federal resources and commitment.

Campaign Finance Reform: "527s" Emerge to New Prominence

by David B. Magleby, Kristina Gale, Betsey Gimbel Hawkins, and Richard Hawkins
In spite of the BCRA ban on party soft money, soft money managed to find its way back into the political system, mainly through “527” organizations. During the 2004 presidential and congressional campaigns we saw tremendous growth in the number of these groups, their fundraising and their electioneering activities. Shortly after the 2004 elections, bipartisan legislation to bring “527” organizations within campaign finance laws was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.

Redistricting Reform

by Thomas E. Mann
Redistricting, a deeply political process, has long been a prominent and much-criticized feature of American politics. Incumbents actively seek to minimize the risk to themselves via bipartisan gerrymanders or to gain additional seats for their party through partisan gerrymanders. Recent developments, including the sharp decline in competitive seats in the House and in most state legislatures and the growing ideological polarization between the two major parties, have given new urgency to this issue and precipitated the most serious effort to reform redistricting processes in many years.

Campaign Finance Reform: The Way Forward

by Trevor Potter
This article is the first in a new series of articles on Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) that will be published in this magazine. With Election 2004, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) completed its first test. There have been positive outcomes, but there are further issues emerging on the way forward in CFR. They include the so-called 527s that saw considerable growth and activity in Election 2004 and, connected to the regulation of these 527s, the Federal Election Commission itself. Another urgent concern is the failing public funding system for presidential candidates.

Security vs. Liberty: A Balance in Crisis

by Laura W. Murphy
The 2001 counter-terrorism bill known as the Patriot Act contains a series of provisions that are scheduled to “sunset” by the end of 2005. The sunsets were put in place to have some mechanism that would force Congress to give the Patriot Act a second review. In 2001, many members of Congress uneasily voted in favor of the bill with good reason. Now they have an opportunity to review and revise the Act to achieve the proper balance between security and liberty.

Election 2004 and HAVA: What Next?

by Shirley Tabata Ponomareff
Long lines and long waits were the big news for Election 2004. A number of factors are being examined as likely causes for the long lines. Whatever the causes, the long waits posed an unacceptable barrier to citizen participation. Voter mobilization and voter protection made huge contributions, and voter participation was high. Nevertheless, voters encountered serious problems with voter registration systems, provisional ballots, voting machines and inadequate polling place procedures. This story includes sidebars on the youth vote, election protection efforts, pre-election HAVA implementation survey and Election Day surveys.

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