Monday, April 20, 2009

Panel discussion: The Future of Voting Technology

This is the panel that I have looked forward to most, since it is the closest to my own research in the area of online voting. I'm not sure how much time the panelists will devote to online voting compared to electronic voting; my guess is that most of the discussion will be on electronic voting machines, ballot design, open source machine software, and

The panelists:

Debra Bowen, California Secretary of State
Norman Ornstein, AEI Scholar
Aaron Burstein, UC Berkeley ACCURATE research fellow
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Founder, National Science Foundation CyberTrust ACCURATE Center

Just a guess, but I think this panel will tilt to the conservative on security issues.

Expanding Broadband Access - panel discussion

Minorities still lag behind whites in access to broadband internet service. Mike McCurry (Clinton WH press secretary) is one of the panelists discussing broadband and expanding access for poor and rural areas. The panelists are talking about expanding broadband for getting access to telemedicine, educational materials, and other info, but this is also important if online voting is ever to be tested on large scale.

Online Voting at the Politics Online Conference?

Online voting came up a couple of times at the Secretary of States panel this morning. First was an offhand comment by CA Sec of State Debra Bowen. Answering a question about privacy and security concerns with the use of new technology for registration, applying for absentee ballots, etc she said something like, "if we had online voting I would have to keep a file of all voters' iris imprints. I don't want to keep a file of your iris imprints." Then the moderator said, "But I want to vote online!" And Bowen replied, ok I'll keep your iris imprints. So, not a very serious intro to the online voting discussion, in my opinion. Then Bowen said there was a panel this afternoon devoted to online voting. Not really, it seems to me. The panel is called "The Future of Voting Technology" and seems to include alot on electronic voting machines. We'll see...

Then there was one question specifically on online voting: "Which of you Secretaries of State will have the bragging rights to being the first state to offer online voting?" Brunner: there is a program I think in Texas where one county e-mails PDFs of the ballot to overseas military personnel. We would like to do something like that. It is a slow process, we will take it slowly.
Bowen: we do that now (e-mail PDFs of ballot overseas) but then people have to fax them back and that compromises secrecy of ballot. More Bowen: we could have an online voting system now, but to have a secure system it would be prohibitively expensive. With only a few elections each year, the cost would not be worth the benefit. Also Bowen added: "I'm sure someone will figure out a way to do this, eventually." Well, maybe not if the people in this room are not even working on it.

PDFs? Faxes? For two very impressive Secretaries of State, who have made impressive progress in bringing online gvernment services to their constituents, these answers about online voting did not impress me. Clearly, online voting is not at the top of their agendas - they are working on improving technology in voting, but right now online voting is not part of it.

This conference is not about online voting. It is about campaigning and organizing online, delivering govt services online, using social networking sites for political campaigns, using electronic media effectively. But as someone who is writing a dissertation about online voting, I wish there was more work being done by the conference participants on this issue.

Live from the Politics Online Conference

I'm at the Politics Online Conference at the Ronald Reagan building in downtown DC. It is sponsored by the sponsored by the Institute for Politics Democracy at GWU and the Internet and Politics Magazine, with a big presence by Google,, and other politics/news/tech companies.

On the opening panel this morning we heard from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Brunner has created many ways for Ohio voters to go online to get info about elections - how and where to register and vote, applying for absentee ballots, candidate guides, but also capturing voter e-mail addresses so the SOS office can send reminders to send it absentee ballots. Ohio partnered with Google, Pew, and the JEHT foundation to set up sophisticated online tools for voters.

Brunner is a big fan of absentee voting and she did alot to encourage voters to choose this method. They had a program called "avoid the line," as in avoid the line on Election Day. I was in Columbus, Ohio on election day 2004 and I will never forget the long snaking lines of people standing in the rain on that gloomy November day. Back then (before Brunner, when Ohio had a Sec of State who was more interested in preventing fraud than encouraging participation) absentee voting was very limited. In 2008 about 30% of the state's voters cast an absentee ballot, and Ohio avoided the lines and bad publicity from 2004. But what if the election had been close in Ohio, like it was in Minnesota? Would Ohio have seen the same problems that Minnesota has faced since Election Day? Probably, and with a new absentee voting law in Ohio the litigation ther could have been even more of a tangled mess than it has been in MN. Did not have a chance to ask Brunner this question, but will try to catch her later if she is still here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's New Lobbying Rules

As a professor who has taught a class on Lobbying and Ethics for many years, I want to commend President-Elect Barack Obama on the historic new ethics rules for his administration. The President-elect’s record as an ethics and lobbying reformer continued yesterday with his new requirements for members of his transition team and prospective members of his administration. His campaign pledge to change the way Washington works with the lobbying industry became a reality yesterday with the toughest ethics rules of any presidential transition in the history of the United States. His revolving door and gift ban rules for the transition team will help bring trust in government and the way decisions are made in Washington. He shuts the revolving door of lobbyists working on issues in government that they were advocating outside of government. The new ethics rules are great for our democracy. The rules include the following:
  • Federal lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.
  • Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.
  • Lobbyists are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied if they have lobbied in that area in the last 12 months.
  • If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.
  • There is a gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

In sum, this is a great start for the Obama administration and the renewal of our democracy and the way Washington works.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogging from NBC

It is really quiet here in the NBC studio in Washington, DC. Most of the action tonight is in New York... unfortunately, we have no giant ice rink with the electoral map painted on it here.

Along with Professor Thurber one of the experts here tonight is Ken Duberstein, a Republican strategist. He just said, "If Sarah Palin is Cinderella, it's just about to strike midnight for her."

Also, off camera he was just told that NBC is calling Ohio for Obama. His response: it's over.

I am actually surprised that it is taking so long for the networks to call this thing...

Live on NBC

Professor Thurber is in the NBC studio tonight in Washington, DC, sitting at the anchor desk with Pete Williams. I am here too, providing research assistance and election analysis as needed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Election Forecasting Event

Professor Thurber moderated a panel discussion Monday, October 27, at the National Press Club, hosted by the American Political Science Association and featuring three prominent political scientists who will present their forecast models for the upcoming election.

The power point presentations can be viewed and downloaded from the CCPS website.


  • James E. Campbell is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. He is editor of the presidential election forecast symposium in the October 2008 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics and author of The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections, Cheap Seats, and The American Campaign and the co-editor of Before the Vote. His research interests include election forecasting, swing voters and presidential elections, congressional district competition, electoral realignments, and the polarization of the electorate. He has been widely published, including numerous books and in the major political science journals.

  • Alan Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University. His areas of specialization include American politics, political parties, elections, and voting behavior and his current research involves party realignment in the U.S. and its consequences for presidential and congressional elections. He is the author of dozens of scholarly publications, including Voice of the People: Elections and Voting in the United States (2004).

  • Michael Lewis-Beck is Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. His areas of specialization include American and Comparative Politics, and he has authored or co-authored dozens of publications on American and European politics—including most recently The American Voter Revisited (2008).


James A. Thurber is Distinguished Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He is author and co-author of numerous books and more than seventy-five articles and chapters on Congress, congressional-presidential relations, congressional budgeting, congressional reform, interest groups and lobbying, and campaigns and elections. Recent publications include Campaign Consultants, Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Voters in American Elections (with Candice J. Nelson and David A. Dulio, 2005).

Election forecasts are a biennial feature of the APSA journal PS: Political Science & Politics, and draw upon the expertise of prominent political scientists from around the country to forecast the outcome of U.S. presidential and congressional elections. PS is a quarterly journal of the APSA (est. 1903), the leading professional organization for the study of politics, which has over 14,000 members in 80 countries. For more news and information about political science research visit the APSA media website at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Panel 3: Working with a Polarized Congress

Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress is chairing this panel. Before coming to CAP, Scott was Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee and served in many other leadership roles in his 30 year career on the Hill.

Other panelists are:

Tom O'Donnell, who was chief of staff to House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt

Professor Jim Pfiffner of George Mason University and Professor Stephen Wayne of Georgetown University

Clay Johnson keynote speech

1:30 question from National Journal reporter:
With all of the secret natl security memos in the Bush admin, how can we be sure the next intelligence officials will be knowledgeable about everything they need to know?
Johnson: Confident that the director of National Intelligence (Mike McConnell) will prepare the incoming team to the best of his ability.

Thurber follow up: Are the pres candidates being briefed now on intelligence matters?
Johnson: Not sure if they are specifically on this, but he agrees that this should be part of their preparation.

Question on budget:

1:25 Josh Bolton (WH CoS) asked Johnson to organize the preparation of agencies for transition. On July 18, Johnson send a list of "to-dos" to the agencies, such as appointing an agency coordinator for all transition activities. Many of the things he asked them to do are supposed to be completed by Nov. 1. Others: have a senior career person in charge of every part of the agency until a political appointee is assigned; prepare senior career people for the event of a national security incident (if one occurs before a political apointee is in place).

1:20 Johnson: The next president needs to be ready to take over right away - there is no time once he gets into office to say he is "preparing to govern". The outgoing administration is taking its responsibility very seriously to make sure the incoming administration is prepared.

1:15 pm Clay Johnson is well known in Washington for being a longtime close friend and confidante of President Bush. He has been invited to speak to many groups working on the transition, including the House admin subcommittee hearing last month. He speaks passionately about his role in Bush's transition, and he seems genuinely committed to working hard to make the next transition smooth.

(sorry for the formatting problems below... no time to fix now)
Prof. Thurber reminds us in his intro that Clay Johnson led what was perhaps the most difficult WH transition – George W. Bush’s, a transition that couldn’t really start until after the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore made Bush the winner.

Balancing act between rewarding your loyal friends and people who helped get you elected, and the people who are really best for the job.

Getting the leadership team in place (cabinet secretaries). This needs to be done quickly – but they need to go through Senate confirmation. In 2001, it took 90 days on average for a cabinet official to be confirmed. Clay says this time needs to be cut in half (45 days from the time the president names the official to the time they take office).

Panel 2: From the Election Through the First Hundred Days: Opportunities and Hazards

11:30 Sullivan analyzes his presidential scheduling data to see what presidents spend their time on in the first 100 days.
Working alone: Carter and Nixon did this most
Traveling: Nixon traveled most, Eisenhower traveled least
Bush spent the most time on "Commander in Chief" issues; Kennedy spent the most time on "economic" issues

Sullivan also creates an "isolation index" to measure how much advice presidents get from advisors: external advisors, cabinet members, congressional leaders, WH staff, and heads of state.

11:15 Terry Sullivan has a handout showing the work schedules of the first 100 days of presidents from Eisenhower through George H. W. Bush. I will try to get an electronic copy to post here. A few of his findings, which are based on 50,000 observations of 20,000 events over 4 decades (drawn mostly from presidential diaries and presidential papers):
- modern era (post-Nixon) presidents have an average workday of 13.5 hours
- pre-modern presidents worked around 9.5 hours per day
- workdays of presidents get longer and more efficient over the 100 days

11:10 Kumar reminds us of the stories in the news media last Spring, that criticized Obama for already thinking about his transition team ("he is already measuring new drapes for the Oval Office, and he hasn't even been given his party's nomination!"). Kumar says that Clay Johnson (who is delivering the keynote lunch speech today) was brought on as Bush's tranistion director in 1999. It is important for these candidates to be planning early for the transition of the federal government; the news media should not be mocking them for it.

11:00 am Martha Kumar recently testified before a congressional hearing on the upcoming transition. Cong. Adolphus Towns is chairman of the subcommittee of the House administration committee that is responsible for overseeing the transition - along with several other federal agencies (including OMB, OPM and GAO) and other congressional committees (including the Senate Government Affairs Committee).

Kumar: some of the big problems in the first days of new administrations is with the appointment (and approval from Senate) of cabinet members. The failed nomination of Zoe Baird as Clinton's attorney general took up lots of time and energy in Clinton's first weeks. If she had been properly vetted, they could have avoided this.

10:45 am Michele Jolin, who is running a transition project at CAP, introduced the panel. CAP has a big transition report coming out on November 12.

Prof. Martha Kumar of Towson University is Director of the White House Transition Project.

Prof. Terry Sullivan of Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill is Executive director of the WH Transition Project (WHTP)

The WHTP was orignally funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to create an archive of past presidential transitions -- to create an instittutional memory that will last after the staff of the outgoing president is gone.

Martha and Terry will likely provide some good historical perspective, and some good stories from transitions dating back to President Johnson.

Panel 1: Structuring a White House Legislative Affairs Office

The first panel is going now. It includes Patrick Griffin, who worked in President Clinton's legislative affairs office, and Gary Andres, who worked in the first President Bush's legislative affairs office. They are sharing lessons learned from their experiences working with Congress from the perspective of the White House. Even when the president shares the same party as the majority in Congress - as President Clinton did when he took office in 1992 - there are still many obstacles to a President getting his agenda passed. Remember health care reform? So even if Obama wins (as many polls are now predicting) and there is a strong Democratic majority in Congress, his path to legislative success will not be an easy one.

Live at the Presidential Transitions Conference

We are at maximum capacity here at the Center for American Progress -- every seat is full and the standing room-only lobby is just about full too. If you were not lucky enough to get in the room today, you can watch us live on C-Span 2 which is also live-streamed to their website:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Presidential Transitions Conference: From Campaigning to Governing - October 15, 2008

American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and the Center for American Progress Action Fund will host a conference discussing this shift in power and how the next president will work with Congress titled “Presidential Transitions: From Campaigning to Governing,” from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Center for American Progress offices located at 1333 H St., NW, 10th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The conference will include both academic and professional participants, who will comment on the upcoming presidential transition by looking at the successes and failures of past transitions. There will be a specific focus on the promise made by both presidential candidates to change the way Washington works, exploring how these changes can take place, if these changes should take place, and how presidential-congressional relationships can improve.

Also sponsored by AU’s Kennedy Political Union, the conference will include three panel discussions: structuring a White House legislative affairs office, policy making in a polarized Congress, and working with Congress: lessons from past presidential transitions. A key note speech will be given by Clay Johnson who organized President George W. Bush’s transition in 2000.

DRAFT Agenda

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Registration and light breakfast

9:00 – 9:15 a.m. Welcome
Scott Lilly, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and former Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee
Dr. James A. Thurber, Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and editor of Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations

9:15 – 10:30 a.m. "Structuring a White House Legislative Affairs Office"
Chair: Dr. James A. Thurber
Dr. Patrick Griffin, Former Assistant to President Clinton for Legislative Affairs and Academic Director of the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University
Dr. Gary Andres, Former Assistant for Legislative Affairs to President George H. W. Bush and Vice Chairman of Public Policy and Research at Dutko Worldwide

10:30 – 10:40 a.m. Break

10:40 – 12:00 p.m. "From the Election through the First Hundred Days: Opportunities and Hazards"
Michele Jolin, Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress Action Fund and Editor, "Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President"
Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar
, Professor of Political Science at Towson University and Director of the White House Transition Project
Dr. Terry Sullivan, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Executive Director of the White House Transition Project

12:00 – 12:45 p.m. Buffet lunch

12:45 – 1:30 p.m. Clay Johnson III, Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management Budget and former Executive Director of the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition

1:30 – 1:45 p.m. Break

1:45 – 3:30 p.m. "Working with a Polarized Congress"
Chair: Scott Lilly

Thomas J. O’Donnell, Executive Vice President at the Gephardt Group and former Chief of Staff to House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt
Dr. Jim Pfiffner, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running
Dr. Stephen Wayne, Professor of Government at Georgetown University and author of The Road to the White House and The Legislative Presidency

3:30 – 3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Professor Thurber on the Diane Rehm Show 10:00 am

Professor Thurber will be on the Diane Rehom show today at 10:00 am.
Click here to listen live.

Congressional Reaction to Pressure for a Wall Street Bail-Out

Guest host: Frank Sesno

President Bush warns the economic damage will be "painful and lasting" unless a financial bailout bill is passed. Guest host Frank Sesno and guests examine how record low approval ratings for Congress and the White House are affecting efforts to convince the nation that a Wall Street rescue plan is vital to the country's economic future.


Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Prof. James Thurber, Director and Professor at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; coauthor with Thomas Mann of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track"