Project Wonderful

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ask an Election Nerd: Post-Campaign Anxiety

I have been getting a lot of questions about campaignsickness, job search anxiety and unemployment depression, although this is one of the more extreme examples. I hope my advice below helps!
Hey Nancy. I'm currently an unemployed organizer and I've been having a really hard time dealing with the malaise and, to be honest, depression that comes with being out of work. And unemployment coupled with the fact that organizing jobs are so limited this year has left me in a perpetual state of anxiety. I've had a hard time sleeping, my skin is constantly breaking out, and I just generally feel pretty horrible all the time. Do you have any advice for dealing with this phase of campaign life?
Let me start by saying that you do not need to feel this way! That's not to say I am unsympathetic. You are not alone. I will share with you that from 2008 to early 2010 I worked on five campaigns and during that period I suffered from almost crippling inter-campaign anxiety. However, I want to make clear that while some level of job insecurity and campaignsickness are inherit to the campaign lifestyle, depression and panic attacks are not a necessary condition of campaign work and you should not accept them. If you are like me, advice is hard to take when you're depressed or upset. Please know that the following comes with all the (tough) love in my heart.

1) What else is going on? Campaigns can be a great escape from many of life's crisies from breakups to health problems to job loss. Unfortunately, these issues are still waiting for you when the campaign ends. Is it possible that your anxiety is misplaced? The same way that you can be at a stressful job and take it out on your boyfriend, you can be in a stressful relationship and it can manifest itself as career anxiety. Maybe you told yourself you would start a new diet, become more financially responsible or make another big lifestyle change after the cycle ended. Now it has and you're forced to confront the same issues and insecurities that plagued you before. Be honest with yourself about what's really bothering you and use this time to face your problems head on.

2) Idle hands are the devil's play things. On campaigns, time is your most precious resource and you can't get enough of it. Now, time is practically all you've got. Nothing breeds anxiety like having tons of time to mull things over...and over...and your head. After the inevitable post- campaign crash it can be hard get yourself motivated again. After a couple of weeks, try to get on a regular (ish) sleep schedule (I am the biggest violator of this one) and back to a normal diet. Maybe use this time to exercise, visit friends, learn a new skill or...make like I did and write a blog. Do not sit around and stew in your anxiety.

3) Give yourself some agency. One of my favorite things about campaigns is that they are so empowering. Even a first time field organizer can find herself responsible for 200 people spread throughout 4 locations in a swing county on election day. It's tough to go from that to sleeping on a friend's couch or at your parents' house without income or a means of contributing to society. It can be really soul-crushing, especially for campaign people, to feel like you're not being useful or productive. Make sure you are making progress toward your goals. Set a number of resumes or networking emails you will send out each day and stick to it. Find a way to feel like you're in control and doing something meaningful while you search for jobs. You could get a temp job to make some money between campaigns. You could even volunteer your stellar recruitment, persuasion and communications skills for a cause you would not have time to support on the campaign trail.

4) Campaigns are like relationships. When you're single, you want to be in a relationship. When you're in a relationship, as great as it may be, you can't help but chastise yourself for the things you didn't appreciate when you were single (more free time, getting to make out with a cute boy for the first time, not having to take another person's plans into consideration.) On my first campaign I used to fantasize about eating a big bowl of cereal and watching Star Trek in my pajamas the way I imagine a 15 year old boy fantasizes about sex. (Yes, I know, I am a giant nerd. Surprised?) I am sure when you were on a campaign you thought about what you would do with your free time when the campaign ended, so go out and do it! See the people whose birthdays you missed, do some yoga, travel, bake cookies. If you plan to do this job long term, you need to find a way to integrate some life balancing techniques now. Do whatever it is you said you would do with this time because before you know it you will be back to work and kicking yourself that you wasted your free time worrying over when that would be.

5) Get some help. I'm not a mental health professional (insert a joke about campaign managing here), but if you are feeling depressed or anxious in the long term, it might not be a bad idea to talk to one. As I said above, campaignsickness is a real phenomenon but it shouldn't be ruling your life. I don't mean that in a "your feelings are bad and you should feel bad" way, I'm saying that in a "you are too awesome to accept that as simply part of your profession" way. When I look back on the amount of time I wasted not dealing with my panic attacks, I could slap myself. Don't let the same happen to you.

I am very behind on answering these, so I hope your depression has been resolved long before reading this! Thank you for your question. I promise you are not the only one asking. I have no doubt you are wonderful and deserving of not just jobs, but more importantly happiness. Hang in there and feel free to reach out again with an update!

Campaign Love and Mine,


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: Taxes

Hey Nancy so this is my first time filing taxes after being a field organizer. What's the deal with deductions and all that stuff?

Wonderful question! Sadly, I have no idea. I put this question out to my tumblr audience and received the response below. I don't know the person who responded so please bear that in mind taking his/her advice. That said, thank you so much anonymous tax knight in shining armour!

Taxes. I’m not a tax attorney, but I do handle taxes as a legislative issue on the Hill. Sooooo … I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. :)

For your campaigner asking for help with campaign related expenses, first off, I’m assuming they were paid as an employee, not an independent contractor. I hate hate hate campaigns that pay people as contractors. It makes paying taxes hell for young campaigners. Oh, and it’s what Republicans do.

You can deduct Employee Business Expenses (mileage) AND Moving Expenses, but this would be an Itemized Deduction. Most people just take the Standard Deduction ($5,950 for a single taxpayer). In its infinite wisdom, our government has decided that Itemized Deductions are hella confusing, so they just hand out a standard deduction that says “We’re sure you did some shit that earned this, we trust you.”

So it doesn’t make sense to take the Itemized Deduction UNLESS your cost of moving PLUS the mileage are more than the Standard Deduction. You can also itemize a lot of other things, like medical expenses, state and local taxes, mortgage payments, etc. Hopefully you didn’t get medical expenses on the campaign, but those dog bites can happen.

At the IRS’s reimbursement rate of 55.5 Cents Per Mile for driving, and 23 Cents Per Mile for moving, let’s say you moved from DC to Jackson, Mississippi (Hey, I did once) for a total of 978 miles (ish). That’s $224.94. You’d have to have driven around 10,409 miles on the campaign in order to have a reason to itemize the deduction instead of taking a standard deduction. That’s a lot of driving. And that’s for the campaign. That’s not going from your apartment to the office. That’s going from one field office to another field office, or to an event, and back again. Or driving beloved yard signs to a county party in the middle of no where …

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: How Do I Network?

Nancy I feel clueless about networking! I want to put myself out there but don't know how to start. I feel like I'm coming off as desperate. How should I begin to start networking?
Great question! As operatives, we're taught that it's not about "us," it's about the campaign. Accustomed as you may be to making "the ask," asking for help with your own career can be a whole different ball game. This is especially true of women. Women are notoriously great fundraisers for other people, but women candidates often have difficulty making the ask for themselves. Check out this post I wrote last year about women in the workplace. Networking, like any other skill, improves with practice and the better you get, the more comfortable you'll feel using it. Here are some tips to exercise your networking muscle:

1) Network Before You Need It. Networking is not about "using" people, it's about fully participating in your professional community. One of the great joys of my professional experience has been connecting people. A former organizer wants to go to Minnesota for the recount and I happen to know the Field Director. A classmate wants to work for the Sierra Club and I attended a training with someone who works there. Not only have I helped my colleagues find jobs or staff, but I know that there are competent people working for the causes in which I believe. By building a network before you need it, you enable yourself to help shape your professional community and people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes. (And you'll feel better about asking).

2) Value Yourself and Your Experience. You have every right to reach out to your colleagues and people you've done good work for. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. If a friend of a broworker wanted to pick your brain for advice or you were in a position to forward your former intern's resume, wouldn't you be happy to help? Why shouldn't you expect the same professional courtesy? Campaign people tend to be especially giving in this capacity because we understand what it takes to be a committed and effective organizer and we want to promote those traits. Assuming you've done good work in the past there is no reason for them not to help you unless a) they are insanely busy b) they are a being a jerk or c)they don't feel you'll use their time wisely (see below).

3) Ask For Advice. People like when you ask their advice. It makes them feel admired and important. (Hello, advice column I am in the midst of writing.) Asking career advice is a great way to get useful information and establish a relationship at little cost to the advisor. Good questions to ask include, "Who should I be talking to?" and "If I want x job eventually what kind of experience do I need?" Asking these questions is a useful exercise in and of itself. You should only ask questions to which you genuinely want the answer. That said, one of the things I love about campaign people is that as a community we tend to be very forthcoming when it comes to promoting and connecting people, especially those who have proven themselves competent. You may find that your questions are rewarded with an offer to help. If not, once you've established a relationship you can follow up with "That's a great idea, do you know anyone there? Would you mind forwarding my resume?" etc.

4) Do your homework. I will let you in on a little secret, it drives me CRAZY when people email or message me asking questions that I have already answered on my blog. Likewise, when they ask me questions that could be answered by Google. Don't get me wrong, it is my absolute privilege to be a resource to this community, but as such I get a lot of requests for help or advice and I expect my time to be respected. The same way you you value your volunteers, because they are providing you a service for free, value the time and energy of your prospective sponsor or mentor. Don't ask questions you could have figured out your own. Don't go on an informational interview without having done a little research on your interviewee or their company and...

5) Follow up. Just like it takes time to give advice, it takes time to do a favor. If I offer to look over or forward your resume, don't take a week to send it to me. (I say, realizing I am guilty of this even as I type.) If I respond to your email by offering advice, follow up thanking me. If you don't, not only will I feel disrespected, I will doubt your professionalism and therefore be disinclined to link my name with yours. The way you treat someone after they do you a favor impacts the likelihood that they'll do you one again.

I hope this helps and thank you for the excuse to vent about my own pet peeves! Remember, you are worth it! Be respectful and I'm sure others will be more than happy to help!

Happy Hunting,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's Election O'Clock Somewhere: Colbert's Sister Running For Congress

I hate when we define female politicians in relationship to their male relatives (see my rants on Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly) but in this case I think it's at least temporarily justified. Steven Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch is running for Congress in South Carolina. The seat was vacated by Tim Scott who has been appointed to fill Jim Demint's Senate seat. With Martin Skelly's recent withdrawal from the race Colbert-Busch is now the Democratic front runner. Republican contenders include Teddy Turner, son of media mogul Ted Turner, and former Governor Mark Sanford who is most famous for having an affair with an Argentine woman while his office claimed he was hiking in Appalachia.

Fancy fundraiser with Steven Colbert in New York City.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

FEC to Host Campaign Finance Seminar March 20th

I think it's kind of messed up that the FEC is charging people to learn how to comply with the law, even if it's just over the web, but whatever. Capitalism! You can find the agenda here. If it was not 2 days before my Spring Break I would totally go and use it as an excuse to get my election nerd on.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Today In Voter Suppression: Virginia Redistricting Plan Dead (for now)

The Virginia House of Delegates killed a plan [Wednesday] by the state Senate GOP to redraw legislative lines Wednesday. The Senate GOP plan emerged out of a surprise vote on Inaguration Day that took advantage of the absence of a Democratic state senator, a civil rights leader who had traveled to Washington, DC for the inauguration.

I'm really into these stories lately since they have fallen off the national radar post election. Also I love a tale of political trickery! It reminds me of when Congressman Santos secretly got his surrogates to secretly stay in Washington to vote on the President's stem bill. That's right I finally finished the West Wing.

Anyway, thank God for small victories?

Hillary Clinton's New Website

Hillary Clinton's new website is basically just the (awesome) picture above and a contact capture button, but it is already fueling speculation that she may be gearing up for a Presidential run. (Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please!) She looks so good that Fox News idiot, Steve Doocy felt the need to speculate on whether she'd had a facelift. (Ahhh! Women's bodies are not up for public discourse you sexist piece of....okay check out this project of the Women's Media Center for resources and a more eloquent commentary on this problem that I am calm enough to make right now.)

Anyway, Hillary is great and really want her to run for President, but if she doesn't it kind of serves us right.

Elections Performance Index!!!

If there are two things I am passionate about they are election reform and interactive infographics. So I just about squealed over the Pew Charitable Trust's Election Initiative's Elections Performance Index when it was released earlier this week.

The EPI measures states's overall election administration performance based on 17 criteria: Absentee Ballots Rejected, Provisional Ballots Rejected, Absentee Ballots Unreturned, Registration or Absentee Ballot Problems, Data Completeness, Registrations Rejected, Disability- or Illness-Related Voting Problems, Turnout, Military and Overseas Ballots Rejected, Voter Registration Rate, Military and Overseas Ballots Unreturned, Voting Information Look-Up Tools Available, Online Registration Available, Voting Technology Accuracy, Post-election Audit Required, Voting Wait Time and Provisional Ballots Cast.

The data is illuminating. For instance, did you know that 3% of (non-provisional or absentee) ballots in West Virginia don't get counted? Ruh Roh. But it's poor old Mississippi at the very bottom of the list. They really need to be first in something good and soon. Wisconsin is at the top of the pack. There are a lot of really sexy infographics to choose from, but I am linking to this interactive graph that lets you sort states by any combination of criteria, shows which criteria were most important in each state and ahh's just divine. I will let you check it out for yourself. Click around the rest of the report too.

Charles Stewart III, an MIT Political Science Professor whose research created the basis for the EPI analyzed some of his findings in this interview.

"States with election-day registration have more people registered to vote … [and] people in those states are less likely to say that they had registration problems that kept them from voting. Jurisdictions that have electronic voting machines tend to have longer lines than those with optical scanners."

Enjoy! I'm going to go back to nerding out.

Today In Voter Suppression: Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is the process of "packing" (cutting electoral districts so that there will always contain your preferred party's majority) or "cracking" (intentionally separating pockets of the opposing party's supporters so that they can never achieve an electoral majority) during a redistricting. The word Gerrymander was coined in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbrige Gerry approved an electoral map favoring his Democratic-Republican party, in which districts were so contorted that they resembled the shape a salamander. (The more you know.)

Neuroscientist Sam Wang makes a compelling case that not only is gerrymandering a partisan activity (duh) it is a severely Republican one. There has been murmuring in the Democratic community ever since the Democrats lost (or I guess continued to not have) the house in 2012 despite Democrats winning the majority of votes cast for Representatives in November. Democrats won more than half the votes but fewer than half the Congressional seats in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Wang estimates that the way the districts are drawn now, Democrats would have to win the popular vote by 7 percentage votes in order to take control of the house. It should be noted that although the Supreme Court has ruled it is illegal to change electoral maps to dilute racial minority voting blocks, it is perfectly legal (though ethically questionable) to draw districts to break up partisan voting blocks (see Vieth v. Jubelirer).

Wang's solution is to appoint a non-partisan redistricting committee as they have in California. (As well as hope for the Supreme Court to step through the crack in the door it left open in Vieth v. Jubelirer.) If you would like to try your own hand at redistricting (and it's not easy) you can download this app. For a list of fairness laws already in place for each state, click here. Have fun!

Electronic Voting In Brazil

Great article in the Boston Review about how electronic voting has helped combat vote fraud and disenfranchisement in Brazil:

"Between 1994 and 2002, the blank and invalid vote rate in national legislative elections dropped by 34 percentage points. Traditionally, observers attributed the high rate of invalid and blank votes to either dissatisfaction or disinterest in the political system, but the switch to electronic voting revealed that the paper ballot had been effectively disenfranchising Brazil’s poorest and least educated.

Electronic voting also sharply reduced incumbents’ ability to use electoral fraud to hang on to power. Incumbent parties, especially those in states long governed by political machines that emerged during the era of military rule, suffered major electoral losses. In several states in the poorer Northeast, voters witnessed real electoral competition for the first time in decades. Electronic voting isn’t solely responsible for these shifts, but it undoubtedly contributed to the fall of local oligarchs."

Very interesting short read! Check out the whole thing here.

Today In Voter Suppression: Voter ID Debate Still Goin' Strong

When I presented my Op-Ed on Section 5 to my Policy Writing class one of my classmates responded, "I kind of thought all of this was resolved when Obama won re-election." Lest I catch any of you making similarly ill-informed statements, here are just a few of the things going on with Voter ID laws across our great country:

Virginia: Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1337, which passed the Senate and House of Delegates on largely party line votes, will severely restrict the number of acceptable forms of voter identification. The laws will take effect in 2014.

Maine: An independent panel formed by a Republican official and charged with examining Maine's electoral system has concluded that the state should not a implement voter ID system. "The issue of voter ID became a hot topic in Maine in November, when outgoing Republican Party Chair Charlie Webster claimed that part of the reason Republicans lost their races was because black voters cast ballots in rural Maine towns...Webster later apologized."

Indiana: Under proposed House Bill 1311, students who pay out-of-state tuition would not be able to vote in Indiana.

Missouri: "The Missouri House is set to again consider legislation that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls...The state Supreme Court struck down a 2006 photo ID law before it went into effect, and the GOP-controlled Legislature's efforts to push through a similar requirement in 2011 fizzled with a gubernatorial veto and a court challenge. Lawmakers also proposed, but failed to pass, a photo ID bill last year. This session, Republicans have returned to Jefferson City with veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate and are pushing the effort again."

New Hampshire: A bill to repeal the new voter photo identification law drew support Tuesday at a public hearing. Lawmakers last year approved a photo ID bill just months before the primary election that required voters to show a variety of photo IDs in order to vote in last November’s election. However, beginning in September, the list of acceptable photo IDs narrows to state or federally issued IDs.

Can Hillary Usher in a New Era of Leadership?

Beautiful and inspiring post by Arianna Huffington about Hillary's potential (and by extension womens potential) to impact our political and leadership culture. Hillary Clinton is such a hero to women in politics in so many ways. Responding to Hillary's comment earlier this month about what she will do in retirement, "I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven't done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired." Here's a sample of the HuffPo piece:
"Having mastered the push-yourself-to-the-limit path to success, she now, in a Nixon-going-to-China way, has the power to change the mostly-male-created stressed out, dysfunctional mess that is the modern American workplace. With smart leaders making terrible decisions, with multiple health care crises, with millions who can't get through the day, or the night, without the aid of a psychotropic drug, we are in desperate need of leaders with the status and experience to bring some sanity and balance to our work culture."

Yes, yes 1000x yes! Read the whole thing here.

Infographics: Congress

Really interesting tool that let's you filter the 113th Congress by age, sex, race, and incumbency. Check out who is representing us!

Infographic: How long did people wait in line to vote in the 2012 general election?

Average wait time was 14 minutes. Which party do you think waited only 12? Original article with clearer picture here.

FEC Raises Federal Contribution Limit

In case you missed it. Washington Post:
The Federal Election Commission has raised the amount that individuals can give to political candidates from $2,500 per election to $2,600 per election and the amount they can give to party committees from $30,800 per year to $32,400 per year.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Today in Voter Suppression: Shelby County v. Holder

Hey Guys,
I've been wanting to talk to you about Section 5 for a while. Below is an OpEd I wrote about a very important case coming up before the Supreme Court (so apologies for the strange tone). This is potentially a huge deal for minority voting rights. Enjoy!

Later this month the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which calls into question the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Simply put, Section 5 requires states or localities with a history of racial discrimination to clear any changes in election procedures and districting with the Department of Justice or a three judge panel in Washington DC, before those changes may be enacted. It is among the federal government’s most important tools in combatting voter suppression. The Supreme Court must uphold Section 5 and identify this challenge for what it is: the latest in a long line of Republican attempts to rewrite the rules of a game they are losing.

During the 2012 election cycle, voting rights were thrust into the spotlight thanks to partisan attempts to restrict access to the polls for youth and minority voters. Although laws requiring voter ID or limiting early voting were introduced under the pretense of preventing voter fraud and relieving burdens on local election boards, their true motivation was clear-- disenfranchising Democratic voters. Perhaps the most flagrant example is the case of the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai who boasted that, “voter ID…is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Following President Obama’s successful reelection, it may seem as if these concerns have passed by the wayside. However, for those of us who work in electoral politics the fight is far from over. If the Supreme Court does not uphold Section 5, millions of voters will effectively lose their political voice.

Opponents of Section 5 claim that the law is outdated because it was enacted to combat Jim Crow era literacy tests and that such discrimination no longer exists. However, one need only look to the recent election cycle to realize that racially motivated voter suppression is alive and well. Having run Election Day operations for a Texas Congressional campaign I can tell you anecdotally that local officials in one county opened polling locations in African American neighborhoods –and only those neighborhoods-- two hours late. Unsurprisingly, the commissioner in charge of elections in that county is an outspoken opponent of Section 5. Minority heavy polling places in an adjacent county in which the Department of Justice chose to have a preemptive presence (under a provision separate from section 5) did not experience such delays. In a Texas redistricting case, a three judge court slammed legislators for attempting to “remove the economic guts” from African American Congressional districts. Both the redistricting scheme and a discriminatory voter ID law would have been enacted in 2012 had Texas not been covered under Section 5. South Carolina voters would have been subject to a similar voter ID law and minority communities in Florida would have seen reduced hours at their polling places. The list goes on. Voter ID laws alone would have barred access to the polls for between 700, 000 and 1 million minority voters nationwide.

True, effected voters could have challenged the laws subsequent to their passing, but those legal battles would have been long and expensive and resolved only after the damage had been done.
Before Section 5 this was common practice. Discriminatory legislation would be struck down after an election, a jurisdiction would find some other means of discrimination and the process would repeat itself. Section 5 shifts the burden of proof from the oppressed to the oppressor.

The prosecution will argue that Section 5 is unconstitutional because it treats some states and districts differently than others. However the choice of covered districts is not arbitrary, but rather based on a formula that identifies areas with a history of racially motivated vote suppression. Districts covered by Section 5 have in effect made their own bed. To the extent that the formula may be under-inclusive, this is an argument to expand Section 5, not eliminate it. Where federal intervention is truly no longer necessary districts can file for a “bail out,” which will exempt them from preclearance. Dozens of towns and counties have taken advantage of this mechanism.

The fact that states like Texas would so obviously not qualify for bailouts only speaks to Section 5’s necessity—as does Shelby County’s persistence in seeking ways to avoid complying with anti-discriminatory measures. As a voting rights advocate, it is my sincerest hope that these districts will one day meet the standards of equality to truly render Section 5 obsolete. Until that time, me thinks the Republican legislatures do protest too much.