Tag Archives: Legislature

#363: The 2020 Election in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #363, on the subject of The 2020 Election in New Jersey.

I was waiting for the vote count to be complete so I could pass the information to you, and it seems that there were a couple of congressional seats that were close enough that the counting continued into sometime Saturday.  The last to be resolved happened to be my own district, District 2, which was also perhaps the most interesting district election in the state, but we’ll get to that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all three ballot questions passed.  I say not surprisingly because in as long as I’ve been covering New Jersey political news (which is not really so long as all that, but it’s been a few years now) I have never seen a ballot question fail.  I am reliably informed that sometimes they do, but not this time.

So what do they mean?  We discussed them last week in web log post #360:  Voting in 2020 in New Jersey, but here’s a quick review and summary.

Question #1, on the Legalization of Marijuana, has been widely misunderstood by people eager to get their hands on the stuff.  It does not mean that you can now legally grow your own marijuana.  It means that you can legally buy it from state-sponsored distribution outlets, of which I understand there are eight set up to provide cannabis for medicinal use which will now also handle recreational supplies.  The legislature is expected to create some laws next year that will regulate other aspects of its legal use, but don’t rush out and set up your own business just yet.  Expect to pay the state price plus the state sales tax, plus potentially up to a 2% local municipal sales tax which the municipalities are authorized to add.

Question #2 provides Tax Relief for Veterans, extending a property tax break previously given to veterans who served in time of war to all veterans.

Question #3 updates Redistricting Rules in anticipation of the possibility that the census data might be delayed, to give the state sufficient time to create new districts in that case.

All incumbents up for re-election, which means all federal offices on which we voted, kept their seats.  That means Senator Cory Booker plus twelve members of the House of Representatives, by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross;
  2. Republican Jeff Van Drew;
  3. Democrat Andrew Kim;
  4. Republican Chris Smith;
  5. Democrat Jeff Gottheimer;
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone;
  7. Democrat Tom Malinowski;
  8. Democrat Albio Sires;
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell;
  10. Democrat Donald Payne, Jr.;
  11. Democrat Mikie Sherrill;
  12. Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman.

As mentioned, the interesting race–and the one that was decided last–was district 2.  In New Jersey, some say that what gets you elected is name recognition, others say it is party affiliation.  Van Drew has held the District 2 Congressional seat since 2012.  He might not be a household name, but his name is not unfamiliar.  On the other hand, when he was elected he was a Democrat, and during this most recent term, influenced by President Trump, he became a Republican.  So the question was, would name recognition return him to his seat, or would party affiliation get him bumped?  It was apparently close, but he remains the Congressman from District 2, giving the state two Republicans in the House against its ten Democrats.

Again not surprisingly Democrat Joe Biden carried the Presidential race in the state, and as of this writing most media outlets have declared him the winner nationally.  There are a number of legal actions nationwide, but none of them look promising enough to overturn that.  The Senate is currently 48 Democrats to 47 Republicans with five races still undetermined.  The House still has forty-two undecided races, with Democrats ahead 201 to 192; thus far Republicans have gained six seats (winning eight previously held by Democrats but losing two to the Democrats).  There is a good chance Democrats will hold majorities in both houses, but it is not certain.  Since Georgia is going to have at least one and possibly two run-off elections, it might be months before the dust settles completely.

#360: Voting in 2020 in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #360, on the subject of Voting in 2020 in New Jersey.

I was watching for my annual sample ballot, and realized that what I received instead was a mail-in ballot, and that due to its not entirely unjustified COVID paranoia the state wants all of us to mail in our votes.  They are not opening as many polling places this year, and would rather no one come to them.  (Given the public fights that have occurred over the current Presidental race, one might think that the disease issue is an excuse, but we’ll take their word for it that that’s the reason.)  In the past such mass mail-in voting systems have been fraught with fraud, and already there are reports of fraud in the present election, but the penalties are fairly severe including loss of the right to vote, so the best advice is don’t tamper with any ballot that is not your own.

My initial reaction was to write this article on how to vote.  Then I saw that both Google and Facebook were promoting pages on how to vote, and thought I would be redundant.  Then I rummaged through the pack of papers which came in the envelope and decided that it was a bit confusing, and perhaps I should tackle it.

It is important to understand that your packet contains two envelopes, and you might need them both.  Mine also contained two ballots, one for the general election and a second for the school election, so be aware of that as well.

You will need a pen with black or blue ink.  Ballot readers cannot process red ink or most other colors, and pencil is considered subject to tampering.

The school ballot, assuming you receive one, is specific to your district, and probably is just candidates for the local school board.  It should be marked and placed with the other ballot in the envelopes, as discussed below.

The general election ballot is two sided, at least in my district, with candidates for office and three somewhat extensive and controversial public questions on the other.  Avoid making any marks outside those indicating your selections.  The ballot this year includes:

  • President Trump and his Vice President Pence, with those running against them;
  • Senator Booker, with those running against him;
  • one seat in the United States House of Representatives, specific to your congressional district
  • Some number of county/local offices.

Each candidate name is in its own box, rows across identifying the office, columns down generally the political party.

In the upper right corner of each candidate’s box is a small hard-to-see red circle.  fill in the circle completely of each candidate for whom you are voting.  You are not obligated to vote for anyone simply to have voted for someone for that office, that is, you can decide to leave a row blank.  There is a write-in space to the far right end.

In most districts, you will have to flip the ballot over to get to the ballot questions, and these are somewhat important this year.  The questions are, of course, yes/no votes, with the little red circles at the bottom of the page below the Spanish text.

Question #1:  Legalization of Marijuana.

The state wants to amend the (state) constitution to allow regulated sales of something called cannabis to those at least 21 years old.  There is already a Cannabis Regulatory Commission in the state to control our medical marijuana supply, and they would oversee this.  The bill includes a clause permitting local governments to tax retail sales.

It should be observed that the restriction to those at least 21 years old is likely to be about as effective as the similar restriction on alcohol use.  On the other hand, a lot of our court and jail system is clogged with marijuana user cases.  Yet again, whatever the state decides, marijuana use will still be a federal crime, and it will still be legal for employers to terminate an employee who fails a reasonably required drug test.

This would be a constitutional amendment, so if the change is made, it is permanent.

I have previously suggested issuing drinking licenses which I indicated could be used if the state decided to legalize other drugs.

Question #2:  Tax Relief for Veterans

When you enlist in the military, it’s something of a crap shoot:  even if you know we are at war when you enlist, you don’t know whether you will wind up fighting.  Still, there is a benefits distinction between those who served during times of war and those who served, ready to fight if necessary, during times of peace.  One of those distinctions is that those who were enlisted during times of war get property tax deductions, and those who are disabled get better ones.  Question #2 would extend those benefits to veterans who served in peacetime, including those who are disabled.

Veterans get a lot of benefits; on the other hand, we should not begrudge them these.  There might be a difference between those who fought and those who didn’t, but that’s not the distinction the law makes–it rather distinguishes those who served during a war even if they were behind a desk in Washington from those who served during peacetime even if they were part of military aid to other war-torn countries.  There are good reasons to remove the distinction, and I’m not persuaded that the reduction in property tax income is a sufficient counter argument.

Question #3:  Redistricting Rules

The United States Constitution requires a census every decade.  The states are then required by their own constitutions to use that information to create new voting districts that more fairly represent their populations.  This year the fear is that due to COVID-19 the census data is going to be delayed and will not be delivered to the state in time to create the new districts for the fall 2021 election cycle.

To address this, the legislature has proposed an amendment that states that if census data is not delivered to the governor by a specific date in the year ending 01, previous districts will be used for those elections and the redistricting commission will have an extra year to get the issue addressed.

It sounds simple and logical, but there are those opposing it as potentially racist and benefiting politicians, not people.  On the other hand, it solves a potential problem before it becomes serious.  It would apply to any future situations in which a similar information problem occurred, and while this has never happened before and might not happen even now, contingencies are worth having.

Submitting the Ballot

One of the two envelopes has some bright red and yellow coloring on it plus your name and registered address and a bar code.  Once the ballots are completed, they go into this envelope.  I will call this the ballot envelope.

It is necessary that the information on the flap of the ballot envelope be completed.  This includes your printed name and address at the top and your signature, the same signature that is on the voter registration rolls.

Once you have completed this, you have three options, one of which creates more complications in filling out the envelopes.

One is to use the other envelope to deliver the ballot by United States Mail.  This envelope has the postage pre-paid business reply certification, addressed to your County Board of Elections.  I will call this the mailing envelope.  If you do this, it must be postmarked not later than 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day (November 3 this year) and must be received within a period of days specified by law.  After having sealed the ballot envelope, place it in the mailing envelope such that your name and address on the ballot envelope appears in the clear window on the back of the mailing envelope, and seal that as well.  Your name and address should be written to the top left on the front.  It can then be mailed by any normal means.

The second is that there are reportedly ballot drop boxes, generally at polling locations, and you can insert the ballot envelope in the ballot box (without the outer mailing envelope) to deliver it directly to the board of elections.  This too must be done by or before 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day.

The third is that you can use either of these methods but have someone else deliver your ballot either to the ballot box or the mailbox on your behalf.  No one is permitted to deliver more than three ballots, including his own, in an election, and no one who is a candidate can deliver a ballot that is not his own.  A person who handles your ballot must put his name, address, and signature on the ballot envelope and, if mailed, on the mailing envelope.

So that’s the whole ball of wax, as they say.  Remember, you should vote if you have reason to do so, but you should not feel obligated to vote for any office or any issue about which you are uninformed.

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#274: Close Races and Third Parties

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #274, on the subject of Close Races and Third Parties.

The results are in for New Jersey’s third congressional district, and Democrat Andrew Kim (pictured) has ousted Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur in a very tight race.  When the dust settled, Kim had 49.9% of the votes cast, to MacArthur’s 48.8%.  That makes eleven of New Jersey’s twelve congressional seats Democratic.  We reported on the race in web log post #270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot, and on the results otherwise in web log post #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results.

Neither candidate had a majority; Kim was elected on what is called a plurality, the largest portion of the vote when no candidate has more than fifty percent.  It happens when there are third party candidates who draw votes away from the major parties.

In this case, it was Constitution Party candidate Lawrence Berlinski, Jr. who took 1.3% of the vote.  Obviously people who vote for the Constitution party are not happy with either of the major parties.  However, the Constitution party is generally conservative, more opposed to the Democrats than to the Republicans, and if everyone who voted for Berelinski had instead voted for Republican MacArthur, MacArthur would have retained his seat–which might have been a preferred outcome for those three thousand eight hundred forty-six voters.  In essence, they voted against the viable candidate they would have preferred, and so gave the election to the candidate they would have opposed.

Interestingly, in Maine a system has been created to prevent this sort of outcome, and it appears to have cost incumbent Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin his seat to Democrat Jared Golden.  Maine’s experiment was to have voters not vote for one candidate but rank all the candidates from most preferred to least preferred.  Under the old system, the system in place everywhere else in the country, it appears that Poliquin would have won with a plurality of 46.3% of the votes, against Golden with 45.6%.  The remaining roughly 8% of the vote was split between two independent candidates (no party affiliations indicated for either).  However, since no candidate had a clear majority, the new Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) method was activated.  By this method all first-choice votes for the candidate with fewest are reassigned to their second choice, and then if there is still no majority winner the next candidate is so eliminated, until one candidate has the majority (50% plus one)–a perfect tie being statistically improbable.  That was done in this race, and the outcome is that Golden defeated Poliquin by about three thousand votes, giving him 50.5% against 49.5% of the vote.

Prior to the election Poliquin had filed suit claiming the system was unconstitutional.  A federal judge declined to rule on the matter, probably because until the election had been held it could not be known whether the change in system would impact the outcome, so the suit is still pending.

It is a very interesting notion which if adopted broadly would be a shot in the arm for third parties.  As we see with the Kim/MacArthur race, third parties generally are a drain on the candidate who is closest in ideology to the third party, and thus voting for a third party candidate is effectively voting against the major party you would prefer.  Had ranked choice voting been used in the third district, and most of those voting for the Constitution Party had listed MacArthur as their second choice, he would have won.  It would mean that voters could vote for third party candidates as their first choice without effectively voting against the major party candidate they would prefer, and as more people recognized this third parties would get more votes, and it would be easier for the balance to tip to push one of the third parties ahead of one of the current major parties.

I don’t know that the major parties would want that, though, so I don’t expect the Maine experiment to spread too quickly.  Besides, we are still waiting for the courts to rule on the question of whether “one person one vote” means that voters can’t list a second choice.

#271: New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #271, on the subject of New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results.

We’ll keep this short.  More information can be found in the previous post #270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot.  At the polling place yesterday I was told informally that voter turnout was well above norms for off-year elections (years in which there is not a Presidential race at stake).  The traditional political wisdom is that high voter turnout favors Democrats, and that appears to be the case this year, as the Democratic party has virtually taken over New Jersey on the Federal level.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez

Public Question #1, School Projects Bond (2018) passed marginally, allowing the state to borrow another half (B)billion dollars for schools as career and technical grants and school security projects, college career and technical education grants, and something labeled “school water infrastructure grants”.  The vote was fairly close, with about 52% of votes supporting it.

Our Democratic senior Senator Bob Menendez held his seat, with a fraction over 50% of the vote.  The Republican Bob Hugin trailed at about 46%, the rest of the vote split between four other candidates, the Libertarian and the Green getting about seven tenths of one percent of the vote each, the two independents getting half a percent each.

Looking at the House of Representatives, district by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross easily kept his seat with about 60% of the vote.
  2. Democrat Jeff Van Drew took the seat vacated by retiring Republican Frank Lobiondo, with about 52% of the vote.
  3. The Third Congressional District was still undecided as of this writing, Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur holding 49.8% of the votes counted against Democrat Andrew Kim, with 48.9%, and 1.1% of precincts not yet reported.
  4. Long-time Republican Representative Chris Smith easily retained his seat with nearly 64% of the vote.
  5. Democrat Josh Gottheimer retained his seat with a close 51%.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone easily held his seat with about 63% of the vote.
  7. With barely over 50% of the vote Democrat Tom Malinowski took the seat from incumbent Republican Leonard Lance, with about 48%.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires kept his seat easily with about 78% of the vote.
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell also easily retained his seat with 70% of the vote.
  10. Democratic incumbent Donald Payne, Jr. also kept his seat with a very strong 87%.
  11. The seat vacated by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen went to Democrat Mikie Sherrill, with about 57% of the vote.
  12. Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman took 66% of the vote to retain her seat.

It appears that New Jersey has moved from being about as neutral a state as you can have to being solidly Democratic–our governor is a Democrat and both of our state legislative houses are controlled by Democrats, both of our Senators are Democrats, and as it stands at this moment ten out of our twelve seats in the House of Representatives are held by Democrats.  Republican Representative Chris Smith continues as the longest-seated of our officials, adding two more years to his thirty-eight year streak in the fourth district, and although officially it has not been settled Republican Tom MacArthur has a slim lead to retain his seat in the third district with one percent of the precincts still unreported.

I’ll try to add a comment here when that race is settled.

Nationally, as you probably know, the Republicans gained a few seats in the Senate, but the Democrats took the House.  This is probably a good outcome, generally, for the nation.  The Senate has advice and consent for all Presidential appointments, including judicial appointments, and Republican control there means that more conservative judges will be approved to balance the spate of liberal judges appointed during the Obama years, improving the balance in the judiciary.  Meanwhile, since all spending bills must originate in the House, Republican policy can’t run wild, as compromise will be necessary for the government to continue functioning in the future.

So no one got everything he wanted this year, but no one should.

#270: New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #270, on the subject of New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot.

The election is less than a month away, so it’s time to look at what we will see on the ballot.

Republican Senatorial Candidate Bob Hugin

Although it will appear at the bottom of the ballot, one of the two things that will be on the ballot in every district in New Jersey is a ballot question:  Public Question #1, School Projects Bond (2018).  The legislature wants to borrow half a billion (with a “B”) dollars to spend on education-related projects.  They actually wanted to borrow a full billion, and they passed that, but Governor Murphy wisely said we should consider how badly that would put the state in debt (after all, when you borrow money by selling bonds, you commit yourself to paying it back with interest from future tax revenues).  Since 2007 the state has authorized $1.475 billion in bond sales, the largest chunk of that $750 million in 2012 for state colleges.  No one appears to be opposing this, which is probably sensible since New Jersey voters consistently pass such bills.  Of the half billion, $350 million is slated for schools as career and technical grants and school security projects, another $50 million for college career and technical education grants, and $100 million for something labeled “school water infrastructure grants”.  The governor is right that we should consider just how much debt we can afford to commit to the future, but the Democratically-controlled government is probably not going to think about that any time soon.

The other vote that will be state-wide is the re-election bid of our Democratic senior Senator Bob Menendez.  He was last elected in 2012; we commented on his indictment previously.  Pundits consider his seat one which the Republicans might take, in the person of Bob Hugin, a former biopharmaceutical executive.  Also in the race are four “third party” candidates, all unfamiliar independents, Tricia Flanagan of New Day NJ, Kevin Kimple of Make it Simple, Natalie Lynn Rivera of For the People, and Hank Schroeder of Economic Growth.

Two years ago incumbents won in eleven out of twelve New Jersey Congressional districts.  You can find them listed and linked in web log post #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey.  The one exception, also named and linked there, is the Democratic Congressman in our Fifth District, Josh Gottheimer.  To save space here, we will will skip the details about the districts and just give the candidates, by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross faces Republican Paul Dilks, Libertarian Robert Shapiro, We Deserve Better Paul Hamlin, and Your Voice Hard Mohammad Kabir.  The district is in question because part of it which voted for Obama in previous elections voted for Trump in 2016.
  2. Republican Frank Lobiondo is retiring.  Republican Seth Grossman is running in his place, against Democrat Jeff Van Drew, Libertarian John Ordille, Cannot Be Bought Anthony Parisi Sanchez, Together We Can William Benfer, and Time for Truth Steven Fenichel.  This district is also being watched due to a shift to supporting Trump in 2016.
  3. Republican Tom MacArthur is defending against Democrat Andrew Kim and Constitution Party candidate Lawrence Berlinski, Jr..
  4. Long-time Republican Representative Chris Smith faces Democrat Josh Welle, Libertarian Michael Rufo, Check this Column Brian Reynolds, Ed the Barber Edward Stackhouse, Jr., The Inclusion Candidate Felicia Stoler, and Time for Change Allen Yusufov.
  5. Newcomer Democrat Josh Gottheimer faces Republican John McCann, Libertarian James Tosone, and Trade, Health, Environment Wendy Goetz.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone is facing Republican Rich Pezzullo.
  7. Republican Leonard Lance is challenged by Democrat Tom Malinowski, Green party Diane Moxley, and Freedom, Responsibility, Action candidate Gregg Mele.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires faces Republican John Muniz, Libertarian Dan Delaney, and New Way Forward Mahmoud Mahmoud.
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell is defending against Republican Eric Fisher and Libertarian Claudio Belusic.
  10. Democrat Donald Payne, Jr., faces Republican Agha Khan, Libertarian Scott DiRoma, C4C 2018 candidate Cynthia Johnson, and Never Give Up Joan Miller.
  11. Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen chose not to run for another term, and is replaced on the ballot by Republican Jay Webber, running against Democrat Mikie Sherrill, Libertarian Ryan Martinez, and Honesty, Integrity, Compassion candidate Robert Crook.
  12. Finally, Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman is running against Republican Daryl Kipnis.

Once again, my advice is first to become informed, and then once you are informed to vote.

#261: A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #261, on the subject of A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra 585 U. S. ____ (2018), in favor of pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers who, under the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act), were required to communicate to their clients that the State of California was ready to assist them in obtaining abortions.

It should be understood up front that the Court did not actually rule that the FACT Act was unconstitutional.  That was technically not what was on appeal.  The National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, NIFLA, had raised a challenge to the law and requested an injunction preventing its enforcement while the case was being heard.  The lower courts ruled that NIFLA probably could not win and so was not entitled to an injunction; the Supreme Court granted the injunction, stating that NIFLA probably could win on the merits and so enforcement should be stayed until the case had been heard.

Justice Thomas wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Gorsuch.  He observed that the law appeared to be targeted specifically at clinics and similar services which focused on alternatives to abortion and attempted to encourage women to give birth to their babies, often providing prenatal and post-natal care for such mothers.  Clinics run by licensed professionals or run under a state license were required to deliver a notice consisting, in English, of forty-two words (one hyphenated) plus a phone number (top notice in the picture), informing clients that the State of California was ready to help them kill their unborn babies if they so wished.  This notice had to be prominently posted in large letters within the facility, included as a full-sized document with any papers given to clients, and included in any advertising.  Further, this notice had to be delivered in every language recognized by the local county as a major spoken language within the county–at least English and Spanish, and in Los Angeles County thirteen distinct languages.

Thomas observed that this was requiring an organization whose very purpose was to reduce the number of abortions to communicate the reverse message, that abortions were readily available elsewhere.  He further observed that this was a controversial message, and that the weight of the requirement was excessive–if such a licensed organization decided to post a billboard in Los Angeles County that said “Choose Life” with a phone number, that billboard would also have to have that forty-two word notice in thirteen languages in the same sized print as the core message, overwhelming the intended message with what amounts to paid advertising for their competition.

It would be something like requiring all politicians of any party to include in their paid advertising equal space promoting each other candidate in the same race.

Facilities serving the same purpose that were not licensed or run by licensed personnel were required similarly to post a shorter notice, again in all the same ways and places, stating that California has not licensed them as medical care providers.  Again, it was to be posted prominently, included in all advertising, and given to clients in printed form.  Further, the legislation was worded such that the requirement would only apply to pro-life organizations.

So egregious was this animosity toward pro-life organizations that Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Gorsuch, attacking the “viewpoint bias” of the law.  The legislative history made it clear that legislators were attempting to force opponents of abortion to publish material contrary to their views.  He observed that the official history included a self-congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California’s legacy of “forward thinking”, and then wrote,

[I]t is not forward thinking to force individuals to “be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] fin[d] unacceptable.” Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U. S. 705, 715 (1977).

That amounts to religious/political discrimination, and again a violation of the First Amendment.

*****

Writing the dissent, and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Justice Breyer makes several significant points.

The fact is we regularly require organizations to post informational signs at least obliquely relevant to their purpose.  One example leaps to mind.  A few years back New Jersey had a problem, that several newborn babies were rescued from public trash cans because young parents did want them and could not care for them.  Today, all emergency rooms and many other care clinics have signs on the walls informing anyone who enters the building that there are safe drop points where you can abandon a child no questions asked.  Obviously that notice is irrelevant to the majority of clients in those facilities; just as obviously such locations are good choices for reaching persons who need that information.  We might debate whether such a program fosters teen-aged irresponsibility (a mother who would never dream of putting her baby in a trash bin might abandon it at a safe drop point if made aware of such, and so free herself of the task of caring for the child), but creating and promoting the option saves lives.  Other notifications are posted; the lawfully-required notices on tobacco products and in tobacco ads are clearly counter to the interests of tobacco companies.

However, Breyer attempts to sweep away the aspect that these laws were carefully tailored to target pro-life organizations.  He tells us that organizations that are not pro-life don’t need to be required to tell women about the availability of abortions, as they are probably already doing so.  That’s hardly a sufficient basis for a distinction regarding compelled speech.

For the moment, all that NIFLA has won is a delay, that the law cannot be enforced until the case has been heard.  However, the majority opinion and the significant concurrence are filled with good reasons for the law to be overturned, and as the case returns to the lower courts NIFLA has a good chance winning, probably without another Supreme Court intervention.

#259: Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #259, on the subject of Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees.

Four decades ago the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case entitled Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209 (1977).  In it the Court ruled that it was not a violation of constitutional rights for unions representing public employees to charge what was called an “agency fee” to all public employees who were not members of the authorized public employees’ union.  Since the law required that the union represent such non-members equally with members (that is, same pay, benefits, and protections), the rule was intended to prevent “free riders” who got the benefits of union representation, union pay and benefits, without paying for it.

This year, in Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et al., 585 U. S. ____ (2018) they announced that they were wrong, and overturned the precedent.

This is not entirely unknown, but it is rare.  The Court has a rule it calls a doctrine and names stare decisis, which in essence means the decision stands.  It happens sometimes, but usually the Court puts a lot of work into making it possible for any previous decision to still be enforceable in narrower circumstances and new rules to apply to most cases.  That did not happen this time.  Janus overturned Aboud.  According to the Court, requiring persons who do not agree with union policies to pay to support the union is a First Amendment violation, because it compels such persons to support speech with which they disagree.

To begin to understand this, we need to recall that money is fungible–something we discussed in our second web log entry nearly five years ago, and which the majority opinion mentions.  To recall the example, if I have a dollar and I’m going to go to the corner store to buy candy and comic books, it’s likely that I’ll wind up with fifty cents’ worth of each.  If, though, my mother gives me another dollar, and tells me that I am not to spend any of the money she gives me on candy, I will spend her dollar on comic books and my dollar on candy, and now I have twice as much candy because she paid for the comic books enabling me to rebudget my own funds to cover more candy.  In much the same way, the money given by non-members to cover the “costs of negotiating”, even if our bookkeeper tells us that all of it went to that purpose, probably frees funds to go for other purposes we might not approve.

Abood was not so naive as that.  It required unions to do an accounting, separating “chargeable” from “non-chargeable” costs, and bill non-members only for their share of the “chargeable” costs.  Political spending was to be “non-chargeable” and anything that was part of enabling the union to negotiate was “chargeable”.  In practice, however, “non-chargeable” had come to mean contributions to political candidates, and anything else was lumped into “chargeable”.  In the present case, the union billed non-members for costs ranging from lobbying for legislation to paying for the member convention (which presumably non-members did not attend).  Non-members were entitled to sue if they believed something non-chargeable had been included, but the summaries provided by the unions were so lacking in detail that it would require thousands of dollars in attorney and accountant fees just to determine what was and was not charged.

More fundamentally, though, Janus argued that the very act of negotiating with the government for pay and benefits is itself a fundamentally political action and thus a form of political speech.  Janus says that he is not of the opinion that the State of Illinois where he works should raise salaries for unionized public employees; the state has the lowest credit rating of any state in history because of its overspending and indebtedness.  Janus opposes the union’s argument that the state needs to raise taxes to increase salaries and benefits for state workers.  He thus highlights the fact that asking for money from the state is fundamentally political speech, and being required to subsidize the bargaining process makes him party to that speech against his will.

The Court agreed.

For what it’s worth, almost immediately upon the release of the opinion, many liberal lobbying groups sent emergency funding requests to supporters, claiming that they will have to make up for the shortfall they expect to incur since public sector unions will have less money to give them–this according to the New York Times (as cited by Investors.com).  It is of course possible that these groups are lying to their supporters, that in fact the unions have not been misusing non-member money to support political causes and there will be no reduction in such support, but the fear of it makes a good campaign motivator to bring in more.  Preferring to think better of them, we are forced to face the possibility that indeed the union has been using non-member agency fee money to support political causes and lying about it in their accounting (or perhaps believing that they have very little chance of being taken to court over it and at least a fair chance of winning the case if they are).  So one way or another, the liberals appear in a bad light:  either they have been lying about the inappropriate use of non-member money to support political objectives, or they are lying now about anticipating a reduction in the money available for such objectives.

Or perhaps they’re expecting to lose revenue due to a mass exodus of union members.  Why, though, would that be?  If people believe in the union, would they not want to support the union and be part of the union process?  Or is it the case that vast numbers of public employee union members feel coerced into membership because it has cost nearly as much not to belong as it did to belong?

Or maybe they’re just confused.

It has also been reported that a Democratic New York State Senator is proposing legislation to end-run this by permitting the public employee unions to include in negotiations payment from the state to cover the costs of representing non-members.  Seriously, if it is an impingement on free speech to require non-member public employees to pay costs of the union which benefits them in negotiations, it must be far more so to require it of taxpayers whose only connection to this is that they have to pay the amount given to the union.  They seem confused to me.

Justice Kagan’s dissent culminates in an insistence that Abood should stand primarily because of stare decisis, and because of the extensive reliance on the decision.  She notes that at least twenty-two states are going to have to legislate new laws regarding their public service unions, and thousands of contracts relying on agency fees will have to be renegotiated.

Before she reaches that point, she in essence reargues Abood, asserting that it is good law well founded and that the majority overturned it merely because the majority didn’t like it.

The fundamental point of Abood was always that it is to the benefit of the government’s ability to manage its employees to have them represented by exclusive negotiators, unions, which are well-funded and independent of government.  Agency fees were considered a reasonable way to achieve that.  She further argues that (application aside) the Abood distinction between political spending and costs of bargaining and contract management is a clear one.  She objects outright to the notion that the question of whether governments should give their public employees more in salary and benefits is a political one within the context of the employer-employee relationship, because it is essential to that relationship.  She further forecasts a gloomy future in which the number of “free riders” increases as union members recognize how much they can save by leaving the union coupled with the fact that the union must continue to represent them equally whether they are members or not.

Wait a minute.  Did I already say that?

It is not at all clear that unions will be unable to function without the agency fee support.  It is certainly the case that unions have abused the “chargeable/non-chargeable” distinction of Abood (is it really credible that three quarters of the cost of union membership goes exclusively to union contract negotiation and administration costs?).  It is also the case that public sector unions appear to operate successfully in states which do not permit agency fees.

I am not persuaded that this will cause all the chaos predicted.  It does not change the exclusive negotiator rule, that is, if you are not a union member but are in a public employee union shop the union is still your exclusive representative for negotiations.  Nor will it completely eliminate union membership, since one must be a union member to have any impact on policy.  It will weaken unions some; they will have less money to spend on their political pursuits.  However, there is a serious issue concerning whether public employee unions ought to be involved in political pursuits at all, and if we believe that the unions as a whole have a right to speak on issues of public concern, we must also believe that public employees individually have the right not to support those entities with which they disagree.

#255: On Sveen: Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #255, on the subject of On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries.

It’s a good thing it’s summertime, because the Supreme Court is taking us back to Minnesota, this time for Sveen et al. v. Melin and the first look at the Contracts Clause of the Constitution in a quarter of a century.  Sound dull and esoteric?  Well, no–it cost Kaye Melin a substantial amount of money, and might similarly impact an unknown number of divorcees throughout the country.  As Ambrose Bierce once said, “Death is not the end; there remains the litigation over the estate.”

Let’s start with the facts.

In 1997 Mark Sveen, father of two children by a previous marriage, married Kaye Melin.  The next year he bought a life insurance policy, naming her as beneficiary and his two children as contingent beneficiaries.  The ordinary expectation with life insurance is that it is a contract, that upon the death of the insured a sum of money will be paid to the primary beneficiary or beneficiaries, but in the event that the primary beneficiary predeceases the insured the money will be paid to the contingent beneficiary or beneficiaries; if they have also died, the money is paid into the estate to be distributed in accordance with the will or by the laws applying to intestate estates.

In 2007 the couple divorced, apparently amicably.

In 2011 Mark Sveen died.

Apparently neither of them had been made aware that in 2002 the Minnesota legislature passed a law stating that when a couple divorces each divorced spouse is automatically removed as beneficiary from any legal documents of the other.  It was apparently a surprise to Melin.  She claims that she and Sveen specifically left her as beneficiary on that policy partly because they were still friends and partly because the payments were made from their joint account.  However, the stepchildren claimed the money was theirs, based on this law.

The trial court agreed with the stepchildren, the Circuit Court overturned in favor of the divorced spouse, and the Supreme Court has just restored the original judgment.  Women’s groups are aghast, and Melin appears to have been cheated of her reasonably expected benefit by the stroke of a legislative pen of which she had no notice.

Justice Gorsuch is on the side of the women.  He says that there is absolutely no way that the application of this law in this situation can survive even modest scrutiny under the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Contracts Clause appears in Article I Section 10 Clause 1.  It reads “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.”  The critical point is the “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”.  Everyone agrees that this was because early state legislatures were often passing private legislation excusing influential citizens of debts to foreign creditors, and the Federal government (particularly the Federalist party) saw the danger that such unilateral cancelations of loan contracts would impede much-needed foreign capital investment in the new nation.

Gorsuch agrees that it would be possible for Minnesota to pass such a law which going forward impacted future insurance contracts.  That is, once the law is on the books it is presumed that anyone buying a life insurance contract is made aware that divorce will alter the beneficiary status, because the law exists.  However, the point of the Contracts Clause is to prevent states from altering contracts retroactively–that is, whatever Sveen believed he was contracting at the time he purchased the policy is what Sveen should get, and that means that since he named Melin as beneficiary and had no notice at the time that this would be changed without his knowledge or explicit consent, he should get what the contract says, and that means his primary beneficiary Melin should receive the proceeds.

Justice Kagan, writing for the 8-member majority, disagrees.  She says that the State is simply creating by law what it perceives to be the normal expectation of divorcees, that if they have failed to remove their divorced spouse as beneficiary on their policies it is undoubtedly an oversight.  Melin’s claims to the contrary in this case are immaterial, and the law certainly permitted Sveen to contact his insurer and reinstate his divorced wife as beneficiary, so it was a simple matter to correct.  Indeed, had the life insurance policy been included in the divorce settlement decree, that would have overridden the effect of the law.  Further, Sveen has lost nothing because the insurance policy was paid to his contingent beneficiaries; he has gotten what he wanted.  No significant term of the policy was altered.

If that sounds like garbage to you, it did to Gorsuch, too.  Even the majority admits that the beneficiary is a significant part of the contract, and Gorsuch would say the most significant part.  There was evidence that Sveen did not “change” the policy to “restore” the initial primary beneficiary because he was unaware that any such change was necessary–his copies named Melin, and Melin’s testimony suggests that this was what he wanted.  The notion that failing to remove a divorced spouse as beneficiary would be a simple oversight but that failing to restore such a spouse to that position without any notice that it had changed could not possibly be an oversight is completely incomprehensible.

However, even the dissent agrees that laws such as the one in Minnesota can affect subsequently purchased policies and trusts and similar financial instruments, and the majority has stated that they can be retroactive.  Quite a few states have such laws, which are an ordinary part of state regulation of the interpretation of the intent of a decedent where any point is unclear.

Thus the short version is this warning:  if you have gotten divorced and you have any legal instruments by which one spouse has named the other as beneficiary, and these have not been specifically assigned in the divorce decree, check to be sure that these will be treated according to your expectations and not cancelled by a state law of which you are unaware which is attempting to enforce what the legislature presumes is your actual intent despite your contractual statement otherwise.

#251: Voter Unregistration Law

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #251, on the subject of Voter Unregistration Law.

As I was reading the majority opinion of Husted, Ohio Secretary of State v. A. Philip Randolph Institute et al., 584 U. S. ____ (2018), I wondered how anything so obvious could possibly have been a controversial five-to-four decision along ideological lines.

Then I read the dissent, and realized that this was not a simple case, and it is not a mystery why it kept flip-flopping its way up the ladder to the Supreme Court.  Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether when we read the statute we read it as and or or.

Here’s the background.  Prior to 1993–which for some of you seems like ancient history, but is really not that long ago–state governments had a lot of ways of removing voters from the registration lists so that they couldn’t vote.  One of the most egregious was that if you missed an election one year the system concluded that you had either moved or died, and removed your name from the lists with the result that if you arrived the next year you would discover that you weren’t registered and couldn’t vote.  To remedy this, the Clinton administration passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which both required states to maintain current voter registration lists (which included removing ineligible voters) and limited how they could remove persons from the list.  It was tweaked a bit in 2002 when Bush (the second Bush) signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which attempted to clarify some of the statements in the previous law.  Ohio has a system which it maintains is consistent with the requirements of those laws, by which it removes persons from the voter lists based on a multi-step process.  The majority agrees; the dissent disagrees.

It will help significantly to look at the statutes themselves, large portions of which Justice Breyer appends to his dissenting opinion.

The focus of discussion begins with §8(b) of the NVRA

Any State program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of an accurate and current voter registration roll for elections for Federal office—

(2)

shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

The HAVA modifies that to say solely by reason of the person’s failure to vote, probably because of confusion with §8(d).  That section lays out a somewhat complicated process for verifying that a voter has moved out of the voting district in which he is registered.  The simple way is for the registrant to confirm in writing that he has moved.  The law recognizes that a lot of people won’t do that, and so provides an alternate method involving sending (by forwardable mail) a postpaid return card which permits the recipient to respond confirming that he still lives at the stated address or that he does not.  If the card is returned, the registrar of voters accepts the statement as true and the matter is resolved.  If the card is not returned and the voter does not vote in the next two federal elections he may be removed from the list.  (Federal elections occur every other year because terms for The House of Representatives are two-year terms.)

At issue is under what circumstances such a card can be sent.  §8(c) specifies that if the state obtains change of address information from the Post Office, it must verify that information by following the procedure just outlined.  However, §6(d) specifies that the same confirmation process should be used if voter registration materials are sent to a registrant by non-forwardable mail and are returned as undeliverable.  It thus appears that there is more than one way by which the registrar of voters might have reason to believe that a voter has left the voting district, triggering the §8(d) process.

Here is where it gets tricky.

Ohio’s system works like this.  If a registered voter fails to vote for two consecutive years, or to engage in any other voter-related activity such as signing petitions, a forwardable post-paid return card is sent to that voter’s registered address.  If the card is returned, that’s the end of the matter.  If the the card is not returned, Ohio gives four additional years (covering at least two Federal elections at least one of which is a Senate race and one a Presidential race) to vote or engage in other voter activity, after which the non-voting voter is removed from the voter registration list.

The majority says that this is a reasonable method, perfectly in keeping with §8(d).  The failure to vote alerts the registrar of voters that this person might not live here anymore, and because the person fails to respond to the return card confirming their presence and at least two additional Federal elections pass in which they do not vote, they can be removed.  The majority takes the language in §8(b)(2) to put an end to the practice of removing voters solely for failure to vote by requiring the confirmation process of §8(d).  They note that some states send such cards regularly or randomly to confirm addresses, and Ohio’s system complies with their understanding of the §8(d) process.

The dissent says that such cards are for confirmation of information gained by some other means, such as from the Post Office (§8(c)) or through a different mailing verification process (§6(d)).  They assert that the point of §8(b)(2), that no one should be removed soley for failure to vote, means that failure to vote cannot be the trigger to send the returnable card.  They claim that the §8(d) confirmation process must be triggered by something other than failure to vote.

Perhaps the strongest point in favor of the dissent’s position is that one of the stated purposes of these two laws is to increase voter registration and prevent eligible voters from being removed from the list inappropriately.  The fact that someone doesn’t vote for a couple years does not mean they are no longer in residence in the district, and the fact that they fail to return a postpaid card confirming that they are present is not a particularly telling confirmation of anything.  As the dissent argues, the majority of people probably won’t bother returning such a card.

The majority points to the statute on that, noting that both the Federal legislature and the State of Ohio believed that the non-return of such a card would be an adequate indicator that the person has moved.  The argument is that a person who does not vote and does not return the card is not being removed “solely” for failing to vote, but for failing to vote over the course of six years and failing to return a confirmation card.  The question is whether the state can send the confirmation card based on two years of failure to vote, or whether that constitutes removing them “solely” for failing to vote.

In favor of the majority, though, if §8(b)(2) means what the dissent claims it means, it is poorly worded.  The majority reading is not at all awkward or implausible, and the Ohio system appears to fit the §8(d) requirements with room to spare.  Despite the ranting of the minority, the majority opinion does seem the more natural reading of the text.

The upshot is that the Ohio system stands, and many other states with similar systems will not be challenged.  Removal from the voter rolls solely for failure to vote is not permitted, but it can be the trigger that leads to an inquiry by mail as to whether the voter still lives in the district.