Election Connection

August 2008 Archives


On Hold?

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With Hurricane Gustav making a beeline for the Gulf Coast, much of Monday's start to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul has been suspended. Here are some resources for to learn more about the hurricane and how to help, as well as some for those wondering what will happen to the GOP convention.

Gustav Information Center - compiled this weekend by public media and other participants, this social network includes links to government alerts about the storm, first-hand accounts, and a way to connect those looking for information.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting is live updating their Twitter feed with the latest from Jackson, Miss.

And from St. Paul, NewsHour's Ray Suarez sat down with historians Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph to analyze what Monday's postponement may mean for the GOP.


Testing the Ticket

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Sen. John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate Friday immediately provided a huge amount of fuel for bloggers and reporters, if only because so little is known about her.

As the networks were reporting and the public began to learn more about Palin, blogs from states across the U.S. had much to say about the surprising pick, including posts from local blogs on C-Span's comprehensive Republican National Convention hub page, which gives a larger sense of the coverage from around the nation:

On the Green Miles blog in Virginia, Miles Grant says, "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been a champion of a different fight -- the one to try to keep the polar bear from being protected by the Endangered Species Act."

But further south, the Flashpoint blog in Alabama had a different point of view:

Jay Hightower said, "I just watched Sarah Palin's speech - she is an absolutely wonderful choice for Vice President. She is right on issues, she is a great speecher [sic], and she exudes confidence. She also has more executive experience in her own right than does Obama"

Within the campaign, the one person who might give a different type of insight to the pick is McCain's daughter, Meghan. Due in part to her feisty blog, McCain Blogette, she has been called the campaign's 'secret weapon'.

While the older McCain may not be an Internet whiz, his daughter gets the idea.

"As I was standing on stage, I found myself getting emotional about today's historic event and the evolution in the role of women as leaders in politics," Meghan McCain wrote about Palin just after the announcement.

For more on Palin, take a look back to the interviews she's done in the recent past, with Charlie Rose and NOW on PBS, about her role as Alaska's governor and her efforts on corruption. 

Will the women come out for McCain and Palin? How do you think the Republican National Convention will react to the pick in St. Paul?


Feeling Like You're There

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Whether it's a text message response from a friend or a photo of Sen. Barack Obama giving his acceptance speech the moment it begins, one of the most incredible things about the web is the power of instant gratification.

Using the mobile blogging platform Twitter, hundreds of journalists, bloggers, delegates, and politically engaged citizens were giving blow-by-blow takes about the Democratic nomination event at Denver's Invesco Field Thursday night. From the wait in line under the hot sun, to the crazy hats many supporters had made themselves, to the celebrities spotted on the floor, to what kind of junk food they were selling in the stands, no detail was left unsaid.

All this may seem like minutia compared to a live broadcast of the speeches, but put all together, like in Poynter's DNCjournalists feed, and it gives an intriguing glimpse of what was really going on, and how similar or different reporters' immediate impressions of the event were.

Here's a taste of what some were saying:

Garrett Graff: Press section not participating in Stevie Wonder sing-a-long or flag-waving during "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

NewsHour: Concession stands are taking off the caps of bottled water so people don't throw them.

But the non-stop "twittering" and live blogging on sites like Huffington Post and can also fuel rumors, since there's no time to fact check. And in some ways the constant pressure to create commentary takes away from a reporters' experience at the event. From a personal standpoint, my twitters @laura_pbs got fewer and further between as the night went on - there can be as much meaning in not reporting instantly as there is in giving the play-by-play.


Rock Star Status

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Leaving the convention podium to Bruce Springsteen's 'The Rising', Joe Biden and Barack Obama solidified not only their status as running mates, but also their choice of an ardent supporter to create their campaign soundtrack.


Like a batter choosing what song to play when coming up to the plate, a campaign theme song has to be something that gets the crowd going. When Bill Clinton arrived at the podium Wednesday night, Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)' immediately sent minds racing back to the 1992 campaign.


This piece from the Washington Post last January gives a complete analysis of the campaign songs that played throughout the primary season and how they were chosen. And NPR's analysis of the most annoying campaign songs discusses good and bad choices that candidates have made. The blog Wilshire and Washington provides more complete coverage of the complex relationship between Hollywood and politics. In the music world, Obama's campaign has had significantly more success than McCain's.


While the Republican candidate is facing a lawsuit from rocker Jackson Browne for using "Running on Empty", Obama's music world friends are creating songs just for him. Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am's 'Yes We Can' video took Hollywood and the Obama campaign by storm earlier this summer, with numerous stars and starlets appearing in the short music video.


The hip hop star is rumored to be appearing at Invesco Field tomorrow, but regardless of who plays the stadium, the crowd will surely be fired up.


Denver and Beyond

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Pennsylvania is getting a lot of attention this election year, and not because of The Office.


While it's the birthplace of newly-minted Obama running mate Sen. Joe Biden, and also an integral part of Sen. Hillary Clinton's childhood story, Pennsylvania is also a key battleground symbol. But it's Philadelphia, not Scranton, that's making waves in Patchwork Nation's analysis of cities and how they are voting.


As Hillary Clinton urged unity in her address to the convention, it's places like Pennsylvania that will prove whether her words rang true.


In our weekly update from Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni, we get a look into the Democrats' strategy in the state.


In Pennsylvania's 170th State House district, a place that the Democrats' John Kerry won by nine points in 2004, Senator Obama and McCain are tied at 42 percent each, according to a poll done for Brendan Boyle, a Patchwork Nation correspondent who is running for the seat there.


The district, mostly in Philadelphia but cutting into Montgomery County, is full of older ethnic whites. Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary vote there by an enormous margin - 75 percent to 25 percent.


The question going forward here in Denver is in large part about places like northern Philly. If the final tally in the state this November is as close as it has been in recent presidential races, a big turnout for Obama in the city will be critical.


The same is true in other big cities around the country (places we categorize as "Industrial Metropolis") where the state vote could be close - Cleveland, Milwaukee, and, yes, Denver. There is little question Obama will win those Industrial Metros and win them big, but how big?


Timing is Everything

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It's no accident that some important dates coincide with the DNC. Today marks 88 years since the 19th amendment to the constitution took effect, giving women the right to vote, making August 26th Women's Equality Day.


And fittingly, women, and one woman in particular, are the focus of tonight's convention events, with Sen. Hillary Clinton set to speak. Her historic run for the nomination is getting well-deserved credit at the many Women's Caucus events today.


But that's not what many delegates here at the Pepsi Center want to hear her discuss. While most reports have noted that Clinton has urged her supporters to turn their votes to Obama full force, in an interview with Colorado Public Radio this morning, one delegate and one superdelegate who were originally for Clinton both said they needed the senator to actually say the words "I release my delegates to Barack Obama." But what does that mean? Why isn't just giving support enough?


A report from Slate in 2000, sums up the legalese:


"The two national parties set the rules for the selection and responsibilities of their delegates... Democrats dictate their policy from the top down: All delegates are pledged, but not bound, to reflect the conscience of the candidate they were chosen to represent."


Will Clinton help unify the party? Stay tuned to the NewsHour to watch Senator Clinton's speech.


Bird's Eye View

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The media has its favorite states that are deemed important -- the battleground states that may make a huge impact in November. But when you walk around Denver, a different hierarchy emerges.


States in heavy contention, like Michigan, have gotten prime space on the Pepsi Center floor, and local coverage of where delegations are seated is a hot item on blogs across the country.


"Oddly, the delegation from New Jersey - a reliably Democratic state - is right next to Texas. And the choicest spots ... go to the Midwestern swing states that may decide this thing..." the Dallas Morning News' Trailblazer blog wrote last week.


But regardless of where they are on the floor, state symbolism - from the lais of Obama's home state, Hawaii, to the pink flamingo sunglasses at the Florida delegation breakfast - plays a huge role in giving a sense of each state's heritage, and also where they fall in importance to the party.


To get a bigger sense of where the delegates are seated, NYTimes.com's floor map gives a good overall picture of where the delegates are sitting and why - nothing is random.


Musical Interlude

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While it seems that there are only four types of people in Denver this week: Delegates, Media, Protesters, and Politicians, in reality the convention is drawing together people from across the U.S. and creating a much larger discourse about politics and the Democratic Party.


Connecting the community and including the citizens of Denver in the excitement through online and offline events, Rocky Mountain PBS and the Denver Public Library had hundreds turn out for I am the Library, a project inviting the public to share their thoughts on civic engagement.



"Dr. King would think of America now as turning a new chapter in its history," honoree Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said of Obama's nomination. "The question becomes, 'are we up for it?'"


Composer David Amram set the words of King, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy to music for the event.


To see how much things really have changed, this slideshow of the library's images from the 1908 convention are set to music from that time, including "Democratic Fun," "Denver Auditorium March," and "Pickles and Peppers". It's quite a different world compared to the soundtrack of top rockers lining up to play in Denver this week.


Show of Shows

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With the Democratic National Convention set to open Monday night, the lead-up has been time for the media to show off before the real deal begins.

Inside the media pavilion, where each news organization has its own space to work, democracy is certainly in action, albeit in a different form than when the delegates officially nominate Sen. Barack Obama later this week.

For a real-time glimpse of what's going on, check out NewsHour's Twitter/Flickr mashup, where reporters are publishing photos and live text updates from around the convention.

Some of the best sightseeing of the media stunts is just outside, where the big cable networks have set up their stages for the week.

CNN has a "grill" where ice cream is on offer, along with a side of Wolf Blitzer sightings and tables under the blazing Colorado sun.

MSNBC has Segway-bound donkeys and elephants roaming around Denver, along with a broadcast podium near the train station.

Across the bridge, the bloggers "Big Tent" has its fair share of goodies and sightseeing. The Google Retreat features smoothies and a massage area, along with a place to upload videos to the YouChoose politics channel on YouTube or go online to check your polling place.

And inside the Pepsi Center, the studios are set up and ready for the convention, including NewsHour's studio, where PBS will broadcast nightly this week.

With all the planning the media's done to prepare, will there be some surprises to cover this week? Stay tuned.


Heavy Vetting

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Sen. Barack Obama's choice of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., to be his running mate was barely a surprise by late Friday night, after weeks of lead up and analysis on the top contenders for the role. But while the mainstream media broke the story before the ballyhooed text message arrived from the campaign, the idea of using mobile messaging to spread campaign news sparked a unique response from bloggers and journalists alike.

Four years ago, it was news aggregation site Drudge Report that was looked to first for breaking political news, gossip, and scandals. This time, it was mobile service Twitter and bloggers following the campaign plane flight patterns that were the first to alert the news media to information about the potential VP. One service even created a graph that tracked the buzz of potential VPs by how many times they were mentioned in "tweets."

Knowing the short list ahead of time also allowed for finding archive information about the candidates and having it at the ready when the news broke.

Voter participation organization Why Tuesday? interviewed Biden about his views on weekend voting back in October last year, and was able to highlight the interview almost immediately after the announcement.

For more background on Biden, check out these interviews:

With Charlie Rose, in October 2007:

And in an audio interview with Tavis Smiley last August, Biden talks about his memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics.

Election Connection is off to the DNC, where we're sure to learn far more about Sens. Obama and Biden. Follow me on Twitter and see the latest news and photos on our conventions page.


It's the Economy, Again

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A quick glimpse at a news search for "economy" brings up a slew of gloomy forecasts. From Economy Remains Stuck in Low Gear to Well-Being of Americans Declines as Economy Worsens, it's clear that there's little else trumping the economy as the number one issue for voters this year.

Patchwork Nation director Dante Chinni spent time in several target communities in the last week before the conventions, and wasn't surprised to find that this is the case.

First, and most pressing, is the economy. It has been mentioned as an election issue in all of our 11 communities -- and as THE issue in many of them. As we noted on Monday, falling gas prices have improved the immediate economic situation in many places and that may help McCain if the trend continues. But in our interviews little has changed in terms of larger concerns and fears about what's ahead. And, in relative terms, the nation's "Evangelical Epicenters" are now faring quite poorly, a trend that could hurt McCain as those areas were already not the most enthusiastic McCain supporters.

In the "Empty Nest" community of Clearmont, Florida, Anne Dupree wrote:

Lake County is being hard hit with the current economic times. Unemployment rate is at 6.5%, higher than the Central Florida average of 6.1%. Just hope it does not go the 12% we had in the mid 80's. It was not pretty! Many having a difficult time are those formerly in the construction business, which has about come to a halt, realtors and associated businesses. Restaurants are seeing fewer patrons.

Will the candidates and their yet-to-be-named running mates have any new plans to share about reversing the economic downturn at the conventions? Browse and create ideas for overcoming income disparity with American Public Media's Idea Generator tool, or share your own below.



Critical Moments

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Will 2008 will be a "critical" or "realigning" election? Some historians say these once-in-a-blue-moon elections bring a major shift in American politics.

In this American Experience podcast, Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin notes that in the 1968 election, "the whole tenor... changed from a more liberal to a more conservative politics."

1968 was year of war in Vietnam, establishment counter-culture clashes, and political assassinations (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy). Republican candidate Richard Nixon -- running on a law and order platform and appealing to the people he called the "silent majority" -- achieved the nation's highest office.

With the Iraq War, divided parties and no incumbent president running for office, experts and journalists at home and abroad are predicting that 2008 could herald another tide-turning moment in American politics.

Do you agree?


August Surprise?

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As Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part. In past elections, the VP candidates were typically announced in early July, so what's the hold up?

While the 24-hour news world was coming into its own in 2004, this time the campaigns are taking media manipulation to a new level, prompting pieces like this one from ABC called The Art of the Vice Presidential Rollout.


Campaigns are being forced to space the news over several days, and must anticipate that another major news story could erupt at any time to disrupt their best-laid plans.


Sen. Obama is planning to announce his VP pick via text message, a stunt that has built interest from the media  as well as encouraged more users to sign up for messages on his web site, and will allow the news to trickle out in a new way.


That said, the "veepstakes" has been a source of unending stories the past few weeks, for PBS and the rest of the news media. Blogger Chris Cillizza, whose column in The Washington Post has been taking VP guesses for months, speculates on the latest crop with Tavis Smiley.


And Gwen Ifill discusses the frenzy over vice-presidential picks and what to expect at the upcoming conventions in an audio interview.



Balancing Act

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The taste of victory at the Olympics comes with it a responsibility for representing the U.S. abroad. How are athletes balancing sports and activism in this election year, and where do the campaigns fall on sports issues?

This year, speed skater Joey Cheek was banned from the opening ceremonies for his public support of Team Darfur.

But as this ESPN story points out, he's hardly the first to face such pressure.

"The boldest political move was made by track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who bowed their heads   and raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City in 1968 as a way of turning attention to the plight of black Americans. They were quickly expelled from the Olympic Village."

A Marketplace piece from July makes the case for separating sports and politics, to much debate from readers.

Comments included this one from Kim Bruno:

"The Olympics was designed to be a test of nations. The Greek city states sent their athletes not only for personal glory but for glory of the gods and their homelands."

President Bush spent the better part of a week in Beijing with his family for the games, but Sens. Obama and McCain have kept their focus on the trail. That's not to say sports isn't a key issue for the campaigns.

A comprehensive list from USA Today outlines where they stand on issues from Title IX to doping.


Booking It

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John Grisham and Stephen King know a thing or two about the New York Times bestseller list. Turns out so do Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and several political writers who have used the 2008 campaign as a springboard to notoriety.

This week, a host of anti-Obama books, including The Obama Nation and The Case Against Barack Obama, are causing a stir.  

While both Obama's autobiography, Audacity of Hope, and McCain's more recent release, Faith of Our Fathers, spent weeks on the bestseller list, media watchdog Media Matters for America notes that the recent releases about Obama echo the Swiftboat books that dogged John Kerry, with one of them even being by the same author, Jerome Corsi.

But Obama's not the only candidate who has had negative books come out about him in this campaign; he's just the latest. Earlier this year, Matt Welch penned McCain: The Myth of the Maverick, which aimed to poke holes in the Republican candidate's Straight Talk, anti-war image. Bill Moyers spoke with Welch in a March interview.


Focus On: Military Bastions

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No matter what else going on in the world, the economy is still the major issue that could swing votes this election, and nowhere is that more apparent than in military towns.

In our second report from Patchwork Nation's Dante Chinni, he reports from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a military community in Southwestern Kentucky near Fort Campbell.


Consider Hopkinsville, where I am right now, gas prices are THE issue. And not just because it costs more to go to work, but because everything that is shipped costs more. And while that may be an annoyance in some places (a lifestyle issue that means tickets to Europe are simply too much) in lower-income communities it is a real life issue.

Here in Hopkinsville -- a place that should be BIG McCain turf -- the hard times, strongly driven by gas prices, have many here thinking the election will be closer in 2008 than it was in 2004. If the price of a barrel of crude dips way down or climbs back up it's easy to imagine tens of thousands of votes swinging.


"It's about gas prices. It's about food prices. It's about the economy," says one person close to the town and the military community. "People here don't like [Democratic Sen. Barack] Obama, but they don't like the economic situation either. More and more I hear people say they just aren't going to vote."


Quick Hits

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For a month that's traditionally pretty slow in the news biz, August has been brewing with convention buzz, violence in Georgia, the Olympics and speculation on the candidates' running mates.


Here are just a few web resources that are giving a unique view of some of the most pressing issues facing the campaigns:

The Veepstakes

NPR's Ken Rudin takes a visual approach to who's up and who's down on the potential vice president list for both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama.

Finding Georgia (and anywhere else) on the Map
NewsHour's embeddable country information can be added to your blog or web site, so you'll never lose a bet.

This is His Life

Slate Magazine traces an interactive history of Obama's career through his speeches and appearances.


Politics as Sport

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While the Olympics tries to separate itself from politics, many who've participated the games find themselves drawn to the political arena.


From gold medal basketball star-turned Senator-turned Presidential candidate Bill Bradley, to decathlete Bob Mathias, to Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, an Olympian with the 1964 judo team, the U.S. has a long history of linking sports and politics.

But Olympian politicians are hardly limited to the U.S. A comprehensive list from U.K. online magazine First Post features a cross-section of athlete-politicians from around the globe.

Beyond the Olympics, there are dozens of Congressmen, city councilmen, and mayors who've played sports at the college and professional levels.

While Democrat Bill Bradley may be the most famous American athlete-politician, he's nearly alone on the left. In this piece from May 2006, NPR sports commentator Frank DeFord ponders why so many of those athletes in politics are Republicans.

A photo gallery from Sports Illustrated puts the athlete-politicians into context.

And if you have lingering questions about politics, sports, China, or anything in between, NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner and panel of experts will take questions on this week's Insider Forum.


Broken Record

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By all accounts, it's been one long campaign season - and it's not over yet.

With a response from Paris Hilton hitting the web in reaction to the now-infamous ad for Sen. John McCain that featured her, it seems there's a lot of grasping at straws happening to make some news.

So it should come as no surprise that recent reporting by Patchwork Nation finds that if you're having election fatigue, you're hardly alone.

We're partnering with blogger Dante Chinni to bring some of the relevant issues that he's seeing in 11 target communities to light. Here are some quick excerpts from his most recent post:

Carter Hendricks, our blogger in Hopkinsville, Ky. (our "Military Bastion" type of community), says he hasn't bothered to blog lately because there is little to no talk about the campaign. His hometown paper on Wednesday ran one wire story on McCain and farm legislation. Agriculture is a big issue in the rural area.

Even in Philadelphia - a big city in a contested state (and our "Industrial Metropolis") - the 2008 campaign could not crack the front page Wednesday. Local politics and crime led the coverage.

Those stories and news choices reveal a gap between the perceived campaign inside the Beltway - a 24-hour show - and the real campaign as it is experienced in most of the United States - an intermittent curiosity before the fall season.

Check out Patchwork Nation to read the full post and see what people are thinking in communities like yours about a range of issues.


Everything's in Moderation

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While the 2008 primaries allowed flexibility in debate format, with a larger number of debates and experimentation with events like the YouTube debates, the two-candidate presidential debates remain a traditional (and quite formal) exercise in American politics. In keeping with tradition, some familiar faces have been tasked with asking the tough questions of Sens. Obama and McCain.

NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer will host the first presidential debate, in Oxford, Mississippi on Sept. 26, and Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill will host the vice presidential debate on Oct. 2 in St. Louis, Missouri. NewsHour details the focus of the three presidential debates and role of the moderators, who also include NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS' Bob Schieffer.

To learn more about how to see a debate or how they are run, check out the Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsors and coordinates the mandated presidential and vice presidential debates.

Take a quick quiz on presidential debates at the NewsHour's Debating Our Destiny project, and learn about the different types of debates.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications' exhibit on the history of televised presidential debates examines questions like "Has television reshaped politics?" and compiles spin and clips from the debates from 1960 through 2000.


Leaps of Faith

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Where are the religious and political lines being drawn on gay marriage, and how do your views fit in?

While the once-a-decade Anglican Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England brought the gay marriage issue to the forefront in the religious media this week, the candidates have been surprisingly quiet over the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

NPR compared where the candidates stand, but noted that the issue "is risky territory, where they have as much to lose as they have to gain."

Across the pond, however, gay marriage and the Church's role was big news. "I believe a split in the communion is inevitable. It will be a tragedy, but it is unavoidable," British composer Roger Jones told the BBC. Viewers shared their thoughts on the Lambeth conference and what it means for the future of the Anglican Church.

Get perspective at Religion and Ethics Newsweekly from religious leaders in the U.S. on the conference, and the latest polls on how religious voters are viewing the 2008 election issues.

Then take the You Decide challenge on gay marriage to see how your thoughts on the issue match up.


Test Your Knowledge

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Even some of the most respected politicians in government don't know as much about our complex voting system as you might think.

Why Tuesday? is a project that's asking politicians and voters how they would fix the elections system to increase voter participation. There are some innovative solutions that have come about, like the Weekend Voting Act, described here by Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY.

And there have also been some surprising answers to the question - Why DO we vote on Tuesday? - including this collection of responses from many of the primary candidates in the 2008 election.

To test your knowledge of issues voting related and beyond, take the American Experience Citizenship Test, an idea first put forward by President Alexander Hamilton. The answers might not be as easy as you think.

If you need a cheat sheet, check out the League of Women Voters History of Representative Government.

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