LWVUS National Convention, Chicago, June-July 2018

by Akkana Peck

This is a summary of the caucuses and talks I attended. I'll write about the business conducted in the plenary sessions separately.

Some of my notes ended up far too long for something like a La Palabra summary. You can read the long notes from individual caucuses and program sessions here: LWV National Convention, June-July 2018, Chicago.

Thursday night Program Session:

A Conversation on Redistricting with Nick Stephanopoulos and Ruth Greenwood

Stephanopoulos and Greenwood gave an excellent talk covering their efforts to expose gerrymandering inequities, bringing statistical and symmetry metrics and the "efficiency gap", mathematical measures of districting fairness, into play.

They discussed cases in several states currently in the courts, particularly Wisconsin and North Carolina. They highlighted some of the evidence they've found for clear partisan intent in district mapping. In various cases, they uncovered quotes like ""The maps we pass will determine who's here ten years from now", and an official state document that said the intent of their map was to keep the same Republican/Democrat ratio: to "maintain the current partisan makeup".

In another case, officials were caught trying to destroy hard drives, but the FBI impounded the drives in time and was able to reconstruct the missing data. Then there was the Florida case, where the state ran a contest solicit possible district maps from citizens, but when they announced the winning map, from a college student, when the student in question was later contacted it turned out he had never submitted a map, didn't even know about the contest and had no idea his name was being used.

They didn't talk much about the details of measuring fairness, and although they showed graphs showing some aspects of partisan gap, the graphs were mostly unlabeled. But they did give two URLs where you can get a lot more information: PlanScore.org: https://planscore.org and All About Redistricting: http://redistricting.lls.edu.

How can the LWV help?

The first step is a fair census. Also good would be forums where people talk about their communities. That's important if the goal is to draw districts that keep communities together.

Thursday Caucus: Advocacy Strategies for Our Existing LWV Position to Abolish the Electoral College

This was mostly a strategy plan to encourage people to vote on Friday to allow consideration of the proposal, which had been listed by LWVUS as "Not Recommended" and so needed a majority vote on Friday to allow it to be discussed on Saturday.

There wasn't any discussion of the plan itself or the problems with the electoral college: that was taken as a given (reasonable since LWVUS already has a position opposing it).

But maybe they should have had a little discussion, because it turned out on Friday that there were two similar proposals: one to support the National Popular Vote compact and one to abolish the electoral college. People urged them to coalesce their two proposals into one. but the Abolish people apparently refused. During Thursday's caucus I had thought they were talking about the NPV, and I didn't realize until writing up these notes that it was probably the other group.

In the end, both proposals were approved on Friday for discussion, but only the NPV (the achievable goal) was added to the LWVUS platform for the next two years.

Friday: Redistricting Caucus

This was the best caucus I went to during the convention -- very useful. Several people spoke about how they'd succeeded in getting redistricting proposals passed in their states, and there were good ideas that we can use in New Mexico.

It's important to leave a role for the legislature while trying to improve the process, or you'll never get support. Involve people high in the power structure of the legislature. They looked at 50 successful bills, and most went for a legislature-plus model: for instance, the legislature picks some members of the redistricting committe, someone else picks other members. Most went for Democrats, Republicans and some sort of expert; a few included independents. 80% had room for judges at some point in the process. Picking the committee chair is important: often an independent picked by the legislature.

Speakers from New York and Ohio had similar stories: in both cases, the key was education campaigns they ran throughout the state to get voters educated and interested enough that they'd put pressure on their legislators. There's overwhelming popular support for redistricting if you can get people to understand the issues.

New York ran a contest to get people to name gerrymandered districts. They had some great names like "Abraham Lincoln riding a lawnmower" and "The claw". It was funny, engaged people, provided visibility and attracted attention. Ohio also named their districts: they had "snake on the lake" near Cleveland, and "the duck". The Ohio speaker commented, "you should not have districts you can name after animals."

New York provided PowerPoints and training for people to go around the state speaking to groups about the issue. Other groups want to work with LWVNY because they have lots of local leagues and are good at distributing information throughout the state.

You have to be relentless, get lots of people understanding the problem and supporting you, then wait for your opportunity. Legislators may be ready to compromise once they feel pressured. The legislators were upset about how much money it was going to take to defeat an amendment with that much popular support, so they were ready to bargain.

Friday Caucus: Better Single-Winner Voting Methods for a Better Democracy

I arrived late to this one; they were doing a sample vote on Brownie vs. Chocolate Chip Cookie vs. Lemon Bar (looks like the chips won using pretty much every voting method). It looked like a fairly reasonable overview of the various voting methods. I notice that they used the terms Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) interchangeably, whereas people in New Mexico seem to feel very strongly that they are not the same thing. I've been unclear on the difference and had hoped this caucus might enlighten me, but it looks like people outside NM may not make the same distinction.

Saturday: Redistricting Caucus

Somehow I ended up in another redistricting caucus on Saturday. This one was okay but not as useful as Friday's. There were five speakers covering four very different situations.

California said that big factor in their success was that everything was very open: everything was online, streamed or otherwise made public.

Colorado is trying to get something similar to CA's plan on the ballot. Their proposed committee has 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, 4 unaffiliated. They hired 5 lobbyists (very helpful!) and were surprised how much support they got in both the Senate and the House; they expected to need a petition drive but didn't need it.

The speaker from Michigan stressed three points:

North Carolina: their position isn't as good as the previous three. They can't put anything on the ballot by petition, but must get it through the legislature, and Republicans have a supermajority in both houses. Their legislators won't even meet with them: legislators have been instructed not to cooperate the League because of the lawsuit. So they're relying primarily on the courts.

Washington state is just trying to improve transparency and get independents on their currently bipartisan commission.

Then we broke into groups, but there wasn't much time left and we didn't really accomplish anything, and there wasn't even much time to ask questions.

Saturday Plenary Speaker: Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the US

Rios was terrific. I didn't take notes, but one of her main themes was under-representation of women. How many US bank notes feature women? None, though Rios did manage to arrange for an upcoming series of quarters, one from each state, which will show famous women.

Look at statues in public places. There are more statues of men than of women, yes, but it's more than that. How many statues of men -- "up there on his high horse, literally" -- portray real people, famous and accomplished men? Okay, now look at the statues of women. How often do they portray a real person? More often it's Lady Liberty, Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, a goddess, or some sort of abstract figure. Many of us hadn't noticed that, but once it's pointed out to you it's glaring.

She also briefly mentioned what sounded like an awesome school project: visualize yourself on currency: redesign currency so it has your picture on it. What a fantastic idea for an image processing workshop! I may have to arrange to give a class like that at our local makerspace.

Rios had a lot more to say about public art and about setting examples for girls. I almost wish I'd taken notes, but I was too interested in listening.

Banquet Speaker: Elaine Weiss, author of The Women's Hour

The banquet was intensely, ear-splittingly LOUD, with speakers blaring bad music and a roomful of a thousand people trying to shout over them. We asked if the music could possibly be turned down and were told no. We contemplated guerilla action (the speakers were above us on the staircase) but chickened out (chicken is always appropriate for banquets, don't you think?)

And then Chris Carson mounted the stage and said something like, "I gather from the noise level that you're all having fun tonight." Oh, is that how it's measured? Could you maybe add a jackhammer so we could have even more fun?

I'm sure everyone was relieved when they turned the music down and let Elaine Weiss take the stage. Weiss gave an entertaining history of women's suffrage over the years. I didn't take notes, but everyone enjoyed the talk.

Sunday: Health Care Caucus

This was a speaker who discussed the terrible state of health care in the US -- "You don't know if you have good health insurance until you have to use it", that a lot of people who gained insurance through the ACA did so with a high-deductible plan. (Is there any other type on the exchange? I sure haven't seen one.) And she mentioned that there are three healthcare lobbyists for every member of Congress.

They distributed goody bags that included a DVD and flyers in favor of single-payer/Medicare for All.

I was disappointed. I'm sure most of the people in the room already knew about the sorry state of health care in this country, agreed with the national position in favor of single-payer health care, and were there hoping to find out what we can do to improve things. But that wasn't what the caucus was about. I didn't learn anything useful that we can apply to advocacy.

...Akkana Peck

Up: LWV National Convention, June-July 2018, Chicago