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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via McClatchy: N. Carolina ballot design may cut votes cast for president

North Carolina voters are more likely than those in other states to cast ballots in national elections without making a choice for president.

Unlike many states, a straight-party vote in North Carolina does not cast a vote for president. A ballot expert says the split makes it more likely that voters, especially new voters, will leave their polling places failing, by mistake, to vote for president.

Indeed, the story notes that there were substantial deviations from the national average in undervotes for president in 2000 and 2004 in North Carolina. The national average is 1.1% of ballots, yet in 2000 3.15% of North Carolinians did not vote for President and 2.57% failed to do so in 2004. Almost certainly this differential is the result of voters thinking that their straight-ticket selection included the presidential candidate of their choice, when, in fact, it did not.

Why is this the case in NC?

The presidential and straight-ticket votes are separate under North Carolina law. In 1967, state Democrats feared the Democratic presidential candidate would be a drag on the ticket, and decided to cut the presidential selection loose from other partisan races.

In other words: during the era of the one-party Democratic South, the Democrats in the state were concerned that the fact that in presidential elections conservative southern Democrats were likely to cross over and vote Republican and so passed a law to segregate those votes for all the others on the ticket.

This is the kind of thing that is hardly surprising, i.e., a party in power trying to construe the rules to their own advantage, but it is also the kind of thing that has the possibility of harming the quality of a given election by potentially distorting the intent of a given voter. As such, it is something that ought to be changed in the interest of the system of voting being as clear as possible.

In a practical sense, it is also the kind of thing that could lead to a court assault on the ballots if a close election ever comes down to North Carolina (which will not happen this year, but is at least a hypothetical possibility that the North Carolina legislature would be wise to take off the table).

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: North Korean leader ‘in hospital’.

Via CNN: Iranian president suffering from exhaustion.

Word on the street is that the Pentagon’s Project: Voodoo Doll has been a resounding success.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Iceland’s interest rate up to 18%

Iceland’s central bank has raised its key interest rate to 18% from 12% as it battles against financial collapse.

The rise comes less than two weeks after Iceland cut rates from 15.5%.

The central bank governor said the increase was part of its agreement with the International Monetary Fund, from which it borrowed $2bn (£1.3bn).

Iceland’s prime minister said the country needed another $4bn in loans and had approached the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve.

The value of their currency has also droped from 240 crowns to the euro–and it was fixed at 150 to the euro on Monday.

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Monday, October 27, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via MSNBC: Stevens says he’ll stay in Senate race

A defiant Sen. Ted Stevens, convicted of corruption charges, said Monday he will fight the verdict “with every ounce of energy I have.” He added he will not give up his bid for re-election.

“I am innocent,” the Alaska Republican said in a statement that indicated he will appeal. “This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate.”

Neither outcome (the verdict nor the vow to fight on) is surprising.

The likelihood is that the conviction will mean a GOP loss in the Alaskan Senate race. Pollster.com already had the Democrat (Begich) up slightly (47.4% v. 46.0%) and surely conviction on seven counts of corruption will widen that gap.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Yesterday I noted the story of now ex-prisoner of the FARC, Oscar Tulio Lizcano and noted that there was some confusion over whether he was rescued or whether he escaped.

The BBC has the updated story, and it was the latter: Farc hostage escapes with guard

A former Colombian congressman who was held by left-wing guerrillas for more than eight years has escaped, along with a rebel who had been guarding him.

Oscar Tulio Lizcano said they escaped from a Farc camp in the jungle in western Colombia, and were found three days later by Colombian soldiers.

[...]

The army initially said that they had rescued Mr Lizcano.

However, in his first appearance since being picked up from the remote jungle province of Choco by the Pacific Coast, Mr Lizcano said he had fled his captors after persuading a Farc guerrilla to leave with him.

The two men wandered for three days through the jungle evading their pursuers before being picked up by security forces.

The BBC write-up suggests that the military may have stated that Lizcano’s freedom was the result of a rescue so as to distract from a scandal involving the disappearance of 11 civilians from a Bogotá suburb (Soacha), only to be found dead later in another part of the country. Three army colonels have been fired in the case. The AP reports:

The army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, said he was removing the three colonels over serious indications of wrongdoing. He did not elaborate, or accuse them of involvement in the killings of the Soacha men, whose bodies were found in unmarked graves. Montoya also said he was turning over evidence to civilian prosecutors.

More from Colombia Reports: High army officials dismissed for Soacha disappearances.

El Tiempo‘s write-up can be found here: Desnutrición, anemia y enfermedades parasitarias padece Óscar Tulio Lizcano.

Add this one to the long list of setbacks for the FARC. Lizcano was not as high value a prisoner as those rescued in July (i.e., Betancourt and the three Americans), but he was still a high level politicians (a member of the Congress). Further, the fact that the guard defected with him and helped him escape is yet another example of the seeming waning of cohesion within the FARC.1

  1. Not as dramatic as killing one’s boss (as was the case with Iván Ríos) or the reported attempted slaying of El Mono Jojoy. []
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Sunday, October 26, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via Bloomberg: Colombia Frees FARC Hostage Lizcano After 8 Years, Caracol Says

Colombian security forces rescued former lawmaker Oscar Tulio Lizcano today after he was held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for eight years, Radio Caracol reported in its online edition.

Another version states that Lizcano escaping (also via Bloomberg): Colombia’s Lizcano Escapes From FARC After 8 Years, Santos Says.

The BBC describes the situation as follows:

Colombia’s army says it has rescued a former member of Congress, Oscar Tulio Lizcano, from left-wing Farc rebels who abducted him in 2000.

The operation was conducted in the mountains of the region of Choco, in Tamana, San Jose del Palmar municipality, it said.

[...]

“The army and the police, in a joint intelligence operation, succeeded in rescuing Doctor Lizcano at 0815 in the morning (1315 GMT),” AFP news agency quoted an official as saying.

Lizcano was the Representative from the department of Caldas when he was kidnapped. He was a member of the Conservative Party.

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By Steven L. Taylor

For example, Karl Rove was on FNS this morning with this map:

Really, why does Karl Rove want Obama to win?

What’s worse, Chris Wallace actually quoted an ABC/WaPo poll as well as an NYT/CBS poll and an AP poll! (doesn’t he know that they are all biased?). Really, what is going on here?

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By Steven L. Taylor

I think that I have figured out the cause of the problem with the “Next Page” link and the archives. If you were having trouble in the past, could you try those links and let me know if they work for you?

Thanks.

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By Steven L. Taylor

I found the headline of the following LAT piece to be of interest, as it shows that the paper is trying to keep the horse race alive: Election’s endgame is no sure thing. The reason it strikes me that way, is because if one reads the article, there really isn’t much of an argument being made about how the endgame could turn out differently than we currently now expect. This is another example of the fact that headlines aren’t written by the author’s of a given piece1 and that the title is written to draw attention to the piece. It is also interesting, as it run counter to the notion that press is so in Obama’s pocket, that they will only say nice things about him and write piece about his triumph. In point of fact, they are probably going to pull back from too much talk about sure victory, given that viewers and readers will not tune in/buy papers if there is no drama. Of course, the stories about pending victory won’t go away, as the numbers are what the numbers are. Still, I predict a bit more focus on possible drama this week.

Beyond that, in reading the piece, I was struck by the following:

“It wasn’t too long ago that people thought McCain was on a pathway to sure victory,” said David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign chief.

When was that? There was a time, mostly right around the RNC, that it looked like the race was going to be competitive, but it is really hard to look back and see when it was that McCain was on the fast-track to victory. Perhaps this is the ol’ Lou Holtz routine of talking up the opposition.

At any rate, look at the polling trends via Pollster.com for the entire year:

I know that there is a narrative out there that McCain was up until the financial crisis hit, but that doesn’t really take into account the overall trends, and especially ignores state-level polling. Such an argument also inflates the significance of his post-RNC bounce. While it is clear that the financial crisis is helping Obama, I don’t think that it will have been the decisive element in his victory, assuming things go as it seems that they will.

  1. A fact that I can personally attest to be the case. Indeed, I wasn’t too keen on the title of the piece I published this morning. []
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By Steven L. Taylor

From today’s Press-Register:

Election Day raises more questions than it answers
As usual, long-awaited Nov. 4 may raise far more questions than it answers
Sunday, October 26, 2008
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

Elections are cool.

That may be neither an especially eloquent or intellectual statement, but it is nonetheless true.

Even amidst the difficult times before us, whether it be financial crisis or war, there is something magical about the assemblage of citizens on that first Tuesday following the first Monday in November who gather together to exercise their own small bit of governing power.

However, while one can see some romance surrounding the electoral process, one is also quite capable of recognizing how reality does not fit the ideal.

There are, no doubt, many citizens who will go to the polls in just over a week armed with less than sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions; or, worse, many others will stay home and eschew the process altogether.

Beyond that, you can look at the ballot and see a number of areas wherein you might prefer that the process better met the ideal. Two to focus upon at the moment are the congressional races and the constitutional amendments.

(more…)

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