The next big Joe Biden spending package is coming: This week, the Senate narrowly passed, on party lines, a budget resolution designed to enable as much as $3.5 trillion in new spending over 10 years.
Congressional Democrats say the spending package will be paid for, and they have been clear about one of the main sources of funding: the IRS. The Biden administration has proposed an $80 billion funding boost to the agency over 10 years as part of its “American Families Plan,” an increase of more than 50 percent to the agency’s normal budget. The Biden team estimates that could raise nearly $700 billion over that same period, paying for itself nine times over. That could fund a huge number of other Biden initiatives, from an enhanced child tax credit to paid family and medical leave to child care assistance.
But it could also pay for an improvement to the tax system itself. While no one in the administration or Congress seems to be making much noise about this, the IRS funding plan could be a golden opportunity to force the agency to join the rest of the world in offering a free, easy-to-use service that all Americans can use to file their taxes.
The timing is auspicious for such an endeavor. As you may know, if you make $72,000 or less, you’re eligible for a free return through the IRS Free File program, including software provided by Intuit, the company that operates TurboTax. If you make more, you’re eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, an Intuit product.
That system is now falling apart. Intuit is pulling out of its arrangement with the US government, which could mean the end of the only online tax filing systems available free of charge to all Americans.
But this collapse may present an opportunity.
For decades, the tax prep industry has succeeded in preventing the IRS from doing what the tax authority in just about every other country does: providing a free, effective, easy-to-use online service where all taxpayers can file their taxes. But it’s doing so just as the Biden administration is attempting to pour billions in new funding into the IRS.
The end of Free File and the conversations in Congress around IRS funding could make this the perfect moment to dismantle our broken tax filing system and build something better.
How to file your taxes for free, explained
Right now, if you’re an American who wants to file your taxes without paying any additional fees to a private company or preparer, you have three options (besides limited “simple return” promotions by the big companies).
You can role-play as someone living in the 1970s and print out the 1040 tax form, along with any associated schedules or forms for tax credits and deductions for which you may be eligible, and compute it all by hand, meticulously collating physical copies of your W-2 and 1099 income statements and any other documentation you need.
Your second option is only slightly less tedious: You can use Free File Fillable Forms, a free service implemented by Intuit that simply copies the physical IRS tax forms and makes them “fillable” so you can type in the numbers. It’ll even do some basic math for you. But you still have to manually enter everything, you can’t import PDFs of your W-2 or other statements, and it’s easy to get confused about exactly which forms you’re expected or required to fill out. I’m an IRS-certified tax preparer, and I gave up using the website this year out of frustration.
Your final option is only available if you make $72,000 a year or less. In that case, you’re eligible for a free return on private tax software through the IRS Free File program. But careful: You might get a ton of spam from whatever company you choose trying to upsell you and get you to pay for fancier options. One investigation found that 14 million Americans were charged by companies for Free File returns that should have cost nothing.
The IRS also funds community tax organizations that can file returns for low-income people, but I can say from experience as a volunteer tax preparer that these groups are underfunded and overworked.
This is an unacceptable state of affairs. Americans should not have to choose between these obviously inadequate and half-baked free options for tax filing and paying a private company. Paying taxes is a legal requirement, and it should be possible to easily do it for free. And it just isn’t possible right now; it’s no wonder that over 91 percent of individual returns filed in 2019 were filed through a paid preparer or a private online service. The current system almost forces you to pay for the privilege of paying your taxes.
Intuit, H&R Block, and America’s broken tax filing system
The Free File and Free File Fillable Forms systems can perhaps best be understood as a kind of peace treaty between the IRS and the private tax preparation industry, specifically Intuit and H&R Block.
For years, the government leaned on those two companies to provide free tax services to Americans in need. But the basic problem with relying on private sector companies that provide paid tax services to provide free ones is that they will always have an incentive to make the free service worse and to make the paid one more attractive. That’s been the story the past couple of decades.
In 2002, as part of a broader effort to improve government technology to take advantage of the internet, the Bush administration proposed that the IRS develop “an easy, no-cost option for taxpayers to file their tax return online.”
This, as ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel reported, led to a massive lobbying push from Intuit, including a coordinated letter from Republican members of Congress demanding that the IRS not “compete” with private companies, with an implicit threat of reduced IRS funding if it did try to offer free filing.
So the IRS, hamstrung by limited funding to start its own free filing program anyway, negotiated a deal with the tax preparers: The companies would offer low-income Americans free tax prep software, and in exchange, the IRS would promise not to set up a free filing program of its own.
This is the system that has held from 2002 to the present. The IRS brags that 70 percent of Americans are eligible for Free File, but for the 2019 tax season, only 4.2 million returns out of 157.2 million total were filed through Free File, or 2.6 percent.
H&R Block and Intuit succeeded in making the program a non-entity. In 2019, Elliott and Kiel began documenting how the two companies were undermining Free File, from hiding their Free File options from Google results to tricking their clients into paying when they could file for free.
Their reporting led by the end of the year to significant changes to the Free File program. The IRS added an addendum to its deal with tax preparers. The new provisions prohibited companies from blocking Free File search results and tried to reduce deceptive marketing, and, more crucially, dropped the ban on the IRS developing its own free file option.
This, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to backlash from the tax prep industry.
Last year, H&R Block became the first preparer to leave the Free File Alliance, meaning it would no longer provide free returns to all low-income Americans through the program. Intuit followed suit this July by announcing it would pull TurboTax from the program as well.
This doesn’t entirely gut the program — other services like TaxSlayer and TaxAct are still available — but it removes the program’s two most popular service providers. Most importantly, Intuit’s withdrawal throws the future of Free File Fillable Forms, which it develops for the Free File Alliance, into question.
This chaos is particularly important for low-income people. Some of America’s most important safety net programs exist as parts of the tax code, in particular the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC); so did the economic impact payments, better known as “stimulus checks,” last year. Having access to a free program to file taxes and access these credits is consequential for a lot of families.
But this chaos could also provide an opening for something better.
How Biden and the IRS can fix tax filing
The IRS desperately needs to put together an easier-to-use, simpler way for people to file their taxes and access benefits free of charge. Accomplishing that, of course, is easier said than done. The IRS has been underfunded for decades and does not have sufficient in-house technical expertise to build a free file system on its own.
But there are signs suggesting that the limitations keeping the IRS from enabling free filing are falling away.
First, the agency removed the ban limiting it from offering such a product in 2019. Then the Biden administration made increased funding to the agency one of its top domestic spending priorities, as well it should — funding the IRS increases tax revenue and pays for itself several times over. While the provision fell out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal over Republican opposition, it’s set to be used as a pay-for in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package.
That could provide the funding necessary for the IRS to make free filing a reality — and Intuit’s withdrawal from the Free File program could provide some sense of urgency. “The problems with Free File lead me to conclude that it is time for IRS to develop the technology that will allow individuals to access our tax system with minimal burden,” Leslie Book, a professor of tax law at Villanova, told me, in a judgment that echoes many tax law experts I’ve spoken with.
In the near term, the IRS will need a stopgap measure for free tax returns next spring, especially if no provider in the Free File Alliance steps up to replace Intuit in running Free File Fillable Forms. The IRS will likely not have funding and staffing in time to set up an in-house program by then, which means that on a temporary basis it will likely have to repeat the Free File formula of relying on private preparers.
Daniel Hemel, a professor of tax and constitutional law at UChicago, has proposed a simple temporary fix: have the US government pay TaxSlayer, TaxAct, or any of the other remaining Free File companies on a per-return basis to prepare returns for taxpayers, at least low-income ones.
Hemel notes that while this isn’t the same as having the IRS do things in-house, it’s also an improvement on the Free File model, in which tax preparers aren’t compensated at all for Free File returns and thus have tremendous incentive to upsell. “Under Free File, companies have literally nothing to lose if they try to upsell & then you quit,” Hemel writes. “Now, they’d be losing out on real revenue.”
In the long run, though, there’s no reason to compensate private firms on a per-return basis. What the government could do instead is build its own free-to-use software for tax filers.
Nina Olson, who served from 2001 to 2019 as the national taxpayer advocate, a position in the IRS advocating for taxpayers and for improved customer service, has been proposing this for years, and today argues for it as executive director of the non-government Center for Taxpayer Rights.
Here’s how it would work: The IRS would start by putting out a request for proposals (RFP) for a new system to be built by private software/IT firms. That RFP could lay out a replica of today’s system, with full-featured software for low-income people and Free File Fillable Forms for others. But it could also just make the full-featured software available to everyone — and should, in my opinion.
It could also create a simplified system for people who don’t owe taxes but are owed the earned income tax credit or child tax credit, to keep the IRS updated on how many children they have and what they’re earning so they can receive their full benefits.
As part of this process, the government would likely lean heavily on some in-house technical expertise. Groups like the US Digital Service, housed in the White House, and Technology Transformation Services, a division of the General Services Administration (GSA) that provides technical assistance to federal agencies are home to software engineers and project managers who can help with designing the RFP and the procurement process.
“What Intuit’s leaving has done is created the momentum. There’s a vacuum now. The IRS is going to have to take some action. It’s an opportunity for US Digital Services etc. to see if they can be of assistance,” Olson says.
A world without tax returns
The IRS could also go a step further from just free filing and experiment with pre-filled returns, an idea that has been floating around tax policy circles for decades.
The actual work of doing your taxes mostly involves rifling through various IRS forms you get in the mail. There are W-2s listing your wages, 1099s showing miscellaneous income like from one-off gigs, etc. The main advantage of TurboTax is that it can import these forms automatically and spare you this step.
But here’s the thing about the forms: The IRS gets them, too. When Vox Media sent me a W-2 telling me how much it paid me in 2020, it sent an identical one to the IRS. When my bank sent me a 1099 telling my wife and me how much interest we earned on our savings account in 2020, it also sent one to the IRS. If I’m not itemizing deductions (like 70 percent of taxpayers), the IRS has all the information it needs to calculate my taxes, send me a filled-out return, and let me either send it right back to the IRS if I’m comfortable with their version or else do my taxes by hand if I prefer.
This isn’t a purely hypothetical proposal. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Chile, and Spain already offer ”pre-populated returns” to their citizens. California experimented with a version called ReadyReturn before it was shut down under pressure from H&R Block and Intuit.
Olson notes that an RFP from the IRS could demand that a free-file option enable pre-filled returns or, at the absolute least, automatically import forms that have been sent to the IRS associated with your or a family member’s Social Security number.
The steps needed from here are simple.
Congress needs to authorize more funding for the IRS. It also ideally would pass the Tax Filing Simplification Act, a proposal dating from 2017 and championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would order the IRS to put together a free-filing system and to offer pre-filled returns. The act could perhaps be included in Democrats’ forthcoming budget reconciliation bill.
The hardest steps toward simplification would involve fixing the tax code itself. In 2019, Olson in her capacity as national taxpayer advocate enlisted Book and other experts to propose changes to make tax code benefits easier to access. They proposed simplifying the earned income tax credit so it was paid out without reference to how many kids a worker has, which could make it easier to pay out over the course of a year rather than at tax time. In exchange, the child tax credit would be enhanced and made bigger, which President Biden has already made steps toward.
A reform like this could make tax filing totally unnecessary for most low-income people. Eliminating breaks like the mortgage interest and charitable deductions would make returns unnecessary for most middle- and upper-middle-class people too.
But those are heavy lifts. A huge first step would be to simply fund the IRS adequately, have it pay private tax preparers to process returns for now, and have it hire a software firm to build a real free-file system with pre-filled returns. That would eliminate the tax prep industry’s stranglehold on our tax system and make the entire process vastly easier for Americans, especially low-income Americans. VOX
Trump Says his Personality Would Have Prevented Ukraine Conflict
During a rally, the ex-president claimed America was no longer ‘feared nor respected’ under Biden
Former US President Donald Trump lashed out at the Biden administration during a rally on Saturday amid Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. Trump boasted that Russia would never have engaged in the conflict under his watch.
“The fake news said my personality would get us into a war… But actually, my personality is what kept us out of war,” Trump claimed during a rally in Florence, South Carolina, adding, “I was the only president in nearly four decades who did not get America into any new conflicts.”
Trump argued that, under Biden, the US is “neither feared nor respected” and that “there has never been a time where our country has been treated the way it is right now.”
“Other countries are lecturing us and telling us what to do. That’s why we are seeing chaos and mayhem and bloodshed all over the world,” the 45th US president suggested.
Trump railed against “neocons” and “warmongers” who “in the name of democracy… destroyed Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” He also said that while the US needs to “help stop this brutal invasion,” it also has to “clean out the rot” of the “failed foreign policy establishment” to prevent World War III from taking place.
“Despite all of Biden’s weakness, cowardice, and incompetence there is still a path for him to end this tragedy in Ukraine without getting Americans snared in a gruesome and very bloody war,” he said. “This could lead to World War III… because if you think Putin’s going to stop, it’s going to get worse and worse.”
Trump suggested that part of the problem was that the US government didn’t “have anybody to talk to” Putin under Biden.
“You had somebody to talk to him with me. Nobody was ever tougher on Russia than me,” he claimed, boasting that Moscow “didn’t attack during our administration” despite the US imposing sanctions.
Trump concluded by advising the Biden administration to give Moscow an ultimatum: “Negotiate peace right now or else face blistering consequences, including a push to permanently eliminate dependence on Russian energy.”
Trump noted, however, that Biden would have to embrace the US energy industry to make such a threat credible.
The Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia’s energy industry in the wake of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, which resulted in US oil prices rising significantly. American officials subsequently attempted to find an alternative country to supply oil to the US – holding discussions with Venezuela and unsuccessfully attempting to organize phone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE.
Venezuelan Minister for Foreign Affairs Felix Plasencia said on Saturday that Caracas was ready to sell oil to the US again while simultaneously remaining “loyal” to Moscow.
As West Tries to Force Russia From Ukraine, Endgame Elusive
As Western leaders congratulate themselves for their speedy and severe responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re also scratching their heads with uncertainty about what their actions will accomplish.
The U.S., NATO and the European Union have focused on strangling Russia’s economy and arming Ukrainian fighters. But it’s unclear how this will stop the war. No one knows what President Vladimir Putin is thinking, but there’s no reason to believe that even the toughest measures will shatter his determination to force the Western-leaning former Soviet republic back into Moscow’s orbit.
They may not say it publicly, but U.S. officials and their NATO allies don’t see a breaking point for Putin — either an economic toll so severe or battlefield losses so devastating — that would convince him to order his troops home and allow Ukraine’s leaders to govern in peace.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin,” Biden said as he announced a U.S. ban on Russian energy imports on Tuesday. But Ukraine might not be a complete defeat for Putin either.
The sanctions and military aid may have been effective in slowing the Russian advance in Ukraine and perhaps discouraging Putin from targeting other countries. They may serve as a warning for other powerful countries tempted to target weaker neighbors. But Western officials have been vague about how the actions will end the fighting.
One of the most direct answers came from the third-ranking U.S. diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. She said Tuesday that internal, rather than external, pressure on Putin will be more effective.
“The way this conflict will end is when Putin realizes that this adventure has put his own leadership standing at risk with his own military, with his own people,” she testified before Congress. “He will have to change course, or the Russian people take matters into their own hands.”
A more provocative remark came from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called for the Russian people to assassinate Putin. The White House quickly distanced itself from that comment.
In fact, there is no sign yet that his grip on power has loosened. There’s also the frightening uncertainty about how a nuclear-armed Putin, if cornered, would respond to a genuine threat to his power if one were to arise.
And no one is counting on an outright military victory by Ukraine. While Ukrainian fighters have put up a remarkable defense and are determined to fight for as long as Russian forces remain on their soil, they are badly outgunned and would be hard-pressed to push Russian troops back across the border. Meanwhile, NATO nations aren’t about to risk triggering World War III by joining the fight in defense of a non-member state.
Against this backdrop, a diplomatic solution appears unlikely. Russia has only hardened its demands since launching the invasion last month and attempts at diplomacy by French, Israeli and Turkish leaders have thus far proven fruitless. The top U.S. and Russian diplomats aren’t even talking to each other and recent lower-level communications have focused almost entirely on the expulsions of diplomats from their two countries.
“Nobody knows how this is going to end and it’s going to take some time to see how the Russians decide to react to the obvious dead-end that they’ve got themselves into,” said Jeff Rathke, a European expert and president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
“Until the Russians are ready to negotiate something serious and real, there’s not much you can do,” he said. He added that the U.S. and Europe should resist the temptation to negotiate themselves with Putin over Ukraine, especially as the economic costs of isolating Moscow mount, particularly in Europe. “The endgame has to be decided by the Ukrainians in terms of what they will accept,” he said.
“I can’t see this ending in any way good for Ukraine as long as Putin is in power,” said Ian Kelly, a retired U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to Georgia who now teaches international relations at Northwestern University. “He’s put out his maximalist goal, which is basically surrender, and that’s something the Ukrainians aren’t going to be able to accept and the Russians are not going to be able to implement.”
“Withdrawal for him is death. It’s too weak,” Kelly said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the limits of the West’s ability to end the conflict.
“What we’re looking at is whether or not President Putin will decide to try to finally cut the losses that he’s inflicted on himself and inflicted on the Russian people. We can’t decide that for him,” he said Wednesday.
Appearing beside Blinken, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss suggested the Western response may go beyond hopes of getting Russia out of Ukraine.
“Putin must fail,” she said. “We know from history that aggressors only understand one thing, and that is strength. We know that if we don’t do enough now, other aggressors around the world will be emboldened. And we know that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, there will be terrible implications for European and global security.”
With the uncertainty, U.S. officials have said they are convinced of only one thing: that an angry and frustrated Putin will pour more troops and firepower into Ukraine and the bloodshed will get worse before the situation approaches any return to normalcy.
CIA Director William Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told lawmakers this week he believes Putin has profoundly miscalculated the resistance and determination that his forces would meet from Ukrainians. He also said it may soon dawn on Putin that he will not be able to occupy Ukraine or impose a Russia-friendly regime there without facing years, if not decades, of fierce and bloody opposition.
“Where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks in which he doubles down with scant regard for civilian casualties, in which urban fighting can get even uglier,” Burns said.
Mailed Ballots Boosted 2020’s Turnout, Will It Work in 2022?
New research on the 2020 election confirms that mailed-out ballots boost turnout—especially when there are no bureaucratic hurdles for voters.
States that mailed a ballot to every registered voter in 2020’s presidential election saw voter turnout increase by an average of 5.6 percent, and turnout was even higher among infrequent voters, according to the first peer-reviewed academic study of 2020 mail voting.
The turnout increase was slightly larger than previous studies of mail-based voting conducted before 2020’s election, where 71 million-plus voters, including voters in swing states, turned to mailed-out ballots in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Less convenient versions of mail-based voting, such as local officials sending all voters an application to fill out and submit before receiving a ballot, or a state relaxing that application’s criteria but still requiring voters to apply, had smaller impacts on lifting voter turnout.
“We tested these different approaches,” said Eric McGhee, a co-author of the new study and a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) senior fellow. “And of those three approaches, we found that the only consistent effect, either on turnout or on the composition of the electorate, was that mailing everybody a ballot elevates turnout.”
McGhee’s paper, “Vote-by-Mail Policy and the 2020 Presidential Election,” which will be published later this year by the scholarly journal Research and Politics, was co-authored by PPIC’s Jennifer Paluch and the University of Southern California’s Mindy Romero.
The research, which surveyed county-level turnout from 1992 through 2020, buoys claims by voter advocates that getting mailed-out ballots directly into voters’ hands—especially in states with automatic voter registration—could be pivotal in 2022’s midterm elections, when historic patterns suggest November’s turnout may fall to two-thirds of the presidential election.
“Voters of color clearly want, need, and use VBM [vote-by-mail] options,” said a February paper by the Deliver My Vote Education Fund (DMVEF), which focuses on increasing voter turnout in communities of color. The use of mailed-out ballots in 2020 was “staggering” compared to 2016, it said, especially in battleground states.
Michigan went from 26 percent of its electorate voting with mailed-out ballots in 2016 to 59 percent in 2020, the advocacy group reported. Pennsylvania went from 4 percent to 40 percent. Among Michigan’s Black voters, using mailed-out ballots increased by 47 percent. Among Pennsylvania’s Black voters, mailed-out ballot usage increased 42 percent; among Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, by 56 percent.
“But historically, turnout in [federal] midterm elections is significantly lower than turnout in [presidential] general elections,” DMVEF said. “We do not have to accept that. There is opportunity to do more to increase midterm election turnout overall and grow VBM use in 2022. The DMVEF is dedicated not just to supporting the VBM movement, but to propelling it.”
The Deliver My Vote Education Fund is not the only voice making this argument that getting mailed-out ballots in voters’ hands could change the dynamics of 2022’s midterms.
“There’s no better way to materially increase the odds that potential 2022 midterm ‘dropout/no-show’ voters will actually consummate the voting act than getting tens of millions of mailed-out ballots in their hands at least three to four weeks before the polls close on November 8, 2022,” said a memo sent to congressional Democrats shared by a well-known advocate. “Campaigns often hinge on small, even razor-thin, margins.”
Encouraging or Overpromising?
Vote-by-mail proponents note that voters in every 2022 battleground state, except Georgia, can now apply to receive a mailed-out ballot for all of 2022’s elections. (In Georgia, the period to apply opens 78 days before the election.) Rather than feeling demoralized by pundits and partisans who say there is little that can be done to fend off major electoral losses next fall, advocates say that applying now for a mailed-out ballot can be empowering.
They point to New Jersey, where, in 2020’s presidential election, every registered voter was mailed a ballot. (The state adopted automatic voter registration in 2018.) Among young voters, ages 18 to 29, the turnout in New Jersey was the highest of any state in 2020, at 67 percent. But in 2021’s statewide elections, where local officials did not mail every voter a ballot and reverted to its prior mix of absentee, early in-person, and Election Day voting, the turnout among voters ages 18 to 29 fell to 20 percent. The “absent Democratic voter problem” for voters of all ages was also seen in New York and Pennsylvania in 2021, the memo lobbying congressional Democrats said.
“The 2020 election was a perfect storm,” Deliver My Vote Education Fund’s paper concluded. “Voters and election administrators who never would have considered voting from home instead of an election booth, made different decisions. The 2022 midterm elections provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to continue this extraordinary expansion of VBM for all voters.”
Academics who study voting by mail and youth voting are more cautious in their projections. They say that specific factors affect turnout in general, and youth turnout in particular.
PPIC’s McGhee said that mailing every voter a ballot has a bigger effect than what was reported by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn in April 2021, where Cohn said that the balloting option had “limited import” and cited a study, whose data was from 1996 through 2018, that concluded it “increases turnout by only about 2 percent with no discernible partisan advantage.”
One reason for the difference between McGhee’s research and Cohn’s figures is that McGhee was looking at turnout as a percentage of registered voters, while the study cited by Cohn looked at the larger population of all eligible citizens—which includes unregistered voters. Thus, McGhee found that mailing all voters a ballot saw turnout grow by an average of 5.6 percent in 2020.
“What’s remarkable about our paper is not that we find universal vote by mail raises turnout, but that we find it really didn’t change in 2020,” McGhee said. “In the midst of a crazy election year and the pandemic and everything, it had the same effect as in previous years.”
McGhee and his colleagues found factors that both boosted and lowered turnout.
The biggest increases occurred in counties where all registered voters were mailed a ballot, and, crucially, the jurisdiction had little history of absentee ballot usage beyond overseas and military voters. In those settings, sending infrequent voters a ballot without that voter having to do more work lifted the presidential election turnout by “6 to 8 percent,” McGhee said. “The turnout boost is reaching people who were otherwise not on the radar.”
The converse was also true, he said. Adding more steps to be taken by voters to get a mailed-out ballot decreased turnout. Those steps, from less to more rigorous, include officials sending applications to voters (which must be filled out and returned) to suspending the state’s prior “excuse” requirement to qualify for a ballot, but still requiring voters to apply on their own.
Turnout increases “when you mail everyone a ballot. Everything else was more complicated,” McGhee said. “The impact was either very small or dependent on how you slice and dice it.”
McGhee’s team also found, surprisingly, that expanding vote-by-mail options in 2020 seemed to help Republicans more than Democrats—”precisely the opposite of the claims made by former President Trump and others,” their paper noted. That’s most likely because before 2020, most of the states and counties that had embraced the use of mailed-out ballots in 2020 “generally trended Democratic.”
Back to New Jersey
Since 2020, a few states, mostly blue bastions such as California and Vermont, have shifted to universal voting with mailed-out ballots. Nevada, a purple state and a national battleground, also has shifted to mail-based voting. In contrast, New Jersey, which mailed all voters a ballot in 2020, has reverted to its pre-pandemic baseline where voters must apply to vote by mail.
McGhee was reluctant to overly ascribe the drop in dramatic voter turnout among youths ages 18 to 29 to New Jersey’s decision to not mail every voter a ballot in its 2021 state elections—in contrast to mailing all voters a ballot in the 2020 presidential election.
Kelly Beadle, the impact and outreach manager at Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which tracks youth voting, said that New Jersey’s 2021 turnout of voters ages 18 to 29 was consistent with pre-2020 turnout trends. The state’s adoption of automatic voter registration eliminated that step for young people, which, in turn, contributed to the high voter turnout in the last presidential election, she said.
CIRCLE’s post-2020 analysis of which versions of mail-based voting resulted in the highest turnout echoed the findings by McGhee and his colleagues. Fifty-seven percent of youths who received a mailed-out ballot in 2020 voted, she said. Fifty-two percent of youths who were sent a ballot application ended up voting. Fifty percent of youths who applied for a ballot in a state where the excuse requirement was suspended ended up voting. And 42 percent of youths in the states where the excuse requirement remained in effect voted. (Overall, youth turnout in 2020 was among the highest since the voting age was lowered to 18, CIRCLE reported.)
Beadle emphasized that the dynamics surrounding voting by mail for young people, especially students, were very different from older people. Young people move more frequently. In many states, they have to re-register or update their registration information before getting a ballot. While many apps used by outreach groups seek to help young people to register and to plan to vote, there are other factors that influence turnout, from their interest to their peers.
“I think the biggest thing that remains to be seen in 2022 is we know that young people get their information about voting from a variety of different sources, whether it’s their friends, family members, co-workers, professors or teachers,” Beadle said. “In a year  where over half the people are submitting their ballots by mail, when people are talking about voting, they are going to be hearing from lots of different sources about voting by mail. We don’t know if that’s going to be the case in 2022.”
With snow still on the ground in many northern states, it may be hard for advocates to get young people to focus on spring’s primaries or November’s midterms. Similarly, it may be hard for activists to prod people to go online now and apply for a mailed-out ballot. But research by PPIC’s McGhee and CIRCLE suggests that getting a ballot into a voter’s hands increases their chances of voting. In lower-turnout midterms, any new voting bloc could prove pivotal.
“There’s reason to believe the effects would be larger,” said McGhee. “These kinds of election reform effects tend to be larger in lower-turnout elections where there are more people who are already sitting on the sidelines.”
By Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.
Independent Media Institute
Israel’s Herzog Visits Turkey, Meets Erdogan to ‘Restart’ Ties
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog arrived in Turkey Wednesday to meet his counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2007, as the countries seek to mend fractured ties.
“President Herzog’s visit will be a turning point in Turkey-Israel relations,” Erdoğan said in a press conference following the meeting between the two leaders, adding that Turkey is ready to cooperate in energy.
The Israeli president’s visit is “an opportunity to develop our energy cooperation,” Erdoğan added.
Later on, Herzog also acknowledged the potential of Turkish-Israeli relations.
“Israel and Turkey can and should have a cooperation that can positively affect this entire region we call home,” he said.
“Relations with Turkey will be based on mutual respect from now on,” Herzog added.
“I highly appreciate the upcoming Antalya Diplomacy Forum which is set to bring a solution to the ongoing war in Ukraine,” he also said, referring to the Russian invasion.
“We will not agree on everything, and the relationship between Israel and Turkey has certainly known ups and downs and not-so-simple moments in recent years,” Herzog previously told reporters at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport ahead of his trip.
“But we shall try to restart our relations and build them in a measured and cautious manner, and with mutual respect between our states,” he said.
One particular area of interest for Turkey and Israel is natural gas. Erdoğan has said the visit will herald a “new era” and that the two countries could work together to carry Israeli natural gas to Europe, reviving an idea first discussed more than 20 years ago. Plans for a subsea pipeline from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, excluding Turkey, have stalled after the United States expressed misgivings in January.
Herzog’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul was in the making weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, though the conflict could arise in talks since both Israel and Turkey have been playing mediation roles in recent days.
However, bilateral issues will likely dominate following more than a decade of diplomatic rupture between Israel and Turkey, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Discussions on gas sales to Europe were also considered likely given the added urgency amid the Ukraine conflict.
Turkey and Israel will discuss steps to improve cooperation during talks between the two countries’ presidents in Ankara, the Turkish Presidency said on Saturday, as the regional rivals work to repair long-strained ties.
Erdoğan and Herzog will “review all aspects of Turkey-Israel bilateral ties” and “discuss steps that can be taken to improve cooperation,” it said.
The two presidents will also hold talks on “recent regional and international developments,” it added.
“The two presidents will discuss various bilateral issues, including Israel-Turkey relations and the potential for expanding collaboration between their respective states and peoples in various fields,” Herzog’s office also said.
In recent months, the two regional powers have sought a rapprochement after nearly a decade of broken ties.
Israel’s presidency is traditionally a ceremonial post but Herzog, a veteran of the left-wing Labor Party, has taken on a high-profile diplomatic role.
Erdoğan and Herzog have spoken several times since Herzog’s inauguration in July.
Israeli officials have said that Herzog and Erdoğan may discuss prospects of exporting Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey, a notion raised by Erdoğan in January, amid fears of impaired supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also stepped into the role as a Russia-Ukraine mediator over the weekend, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin for three hours on Saturday, and speaking to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy three times in a day.
Erdoğan is also in contact with Putin and Zelenskyy, while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is set to host his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in southern Turkey on Thursday.
Regional ties also remain sensitive, and Herzog visited both Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration ahead of his Turkey trip to reassure the two Israeli allies.
Herzog will also meet with members of the Jewish community in Istanbul before returning to Israel on Thursday.
Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey before a 2010 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla left 10 Turkish activists dead.
In 1996 Israel and Turkey signed a “strategic partnership,” under which their air forces can train in each other’s air space. Relations took a downturn when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was the prime minister at that time, walked out of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009, in protest at Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza against Palestinians. The 22-day operation cost the lives of 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
A full-blown crisis erupted in May 2010, when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on the Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to ferry aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of a naval blockade. Ankara recalled its ambassador and scaled-down economic and defense ties with Israel.
In March 2013, under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey and announced compensation for the families of those killed.
Israel and Turkey formalized the normalization process in June 2016 after six years of estrangement.
In December 2017, Erdoğan led Muslim opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to transfer the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize the disputed city as Israel’s capital.
On the day the new embassy was opened in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2018, Erdoğan accused Israel of “state terrorism” and “genocide” after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli rockets.
Both countries recalled their ambassadors. Relations continued to sour, particularly after a controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament in July that defined the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
In November 2021, Erdoğan held telephone talks with Israeli President Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first such discussions between the Turkish leader and an Israeli leader since 2013.
Erdoğan declared that Turkey is considering “gradual” reconciliation with Israel.
In January 2022, he announced that Turkey is ready to cooperate with Israel on a gas pipeline project in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the 2010 crisis, Israel created a strategic alliance with Greece and the Greek Cypriot adminstration, two actors with long-standing acrimony toward Turkey, and in recent years held regular trilateral meetings and conducted joint military drills.
The trio was part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum established in 2019 with other states, including Egypt and Jordan – without Turkey.
In 2020, Israel, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration signed the EastMed deal for a pipeline to ship gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, triggering objections from Ankara.
The United States has since also raised concern about the project, citing possible issues over its “commercial viability.”
Erdoğan had earlier said energy cooperation could be on the agenda during talks with Herzog.
Turkey has recently been working to improve relations with several countries in the region as part of a normalization process launched in 2020.
Ankara, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policy toward Palestinians, while Israel has called on Turkey to drop support for the Palestinian group Hamas which runs Gaza.
Last month, Turkey said it would not abandon its commitment to Palestine in order to broker closer ties with Israel.
Through the years of animosity, Turkey and Israel have maintained trade, which stood at $6.7 billion in 2021, up from $5 billion in 2019 and 2020, according to official data.
The War-Profiteering Gangsters Will Kill Us All Unless We Unite Against Them
Western media simplifies the conflict in Ukraine in ways that divide us. But what if instead, we chose to unite against those who profit from all wars throughout the world?
I figured something out after tossing and turning all night. We on the left often make the mistake of still looking upon Russia as a somewhat socialist enterprise. Of course, it isn’t. The Soviet Union ended in 1991. Russia is an unadulterated neoliberal capitalist gangster’s paradise, modeled during the time of its horrific restructuring under Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) on the United States of America. It should come as no surprise that its autocratic, and possibly unhinged leader, Vladimir Putin, has no more respect for the UN Charter and international law than recent presidents of the United States or prime ministers of England have had. (For example, remember George W. Bush and Tony Blair during the Iraq invasion.) I, on the other hand, do care about international law and the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and can unequivocally state that if I had been eligible to vote in the General Assembly on March 2, I would have voted with the 141 ambassadors who supported the resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and demanding that it withdraw its armed forces.
Would that the General Assembly had a mandate to govern, sadly it doesn’t, which means it’s even more beholden on all us freedom-loving, law-abiding anti-war activists to stand shoulder to shoulder with all our brothers and sisters all over the world, irrespective of race, religion, or nationality, in pursuit of elusive peace. That of course means standing with the Russian people and the Ukrainian people, the Palestinian people, the Syrian people, the Lebanese people, the Kurds, African Americans, Mexicans, Ecuadorian rainforest dwellers, South African miners, Armenians, Greeks, the Inuit, the Mapuche and my neighbors the Shinnecock, to name but a few.
It has been monstrous to hear white Western news reporters (such as Charlie D’Agata of CBS News) bewailing the plight of Ukrainian refugees on the grounds that “they look like us” when addressing what they must assume are white Western audiences and that the conflict in Ukraine is exceptional because “this isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq.” That is outrageous. The implication is that it’s somehow more acceptable to make war on people whose skin is brown or black and drive them from their homes than people who “look like us.” It’s not. All refugees, all people who struggle are our brothers and sisters.
In these difficult days, we should resist the temptation to pour good guy/bad guy gasoline on the fire; demand a ceasefire in the name of humanity; support our brothers and sisters fighting for peace internationally, in Moscow and Santiago and Paris and Sao Paulo and New York, because we are everywhere; and stop pouring weapons of war into Eastern Europe, further destabilizing the region just to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the international armaments industry.
Maybe we should raise our voices to encourage the idea of a neutral Ukraine, as has been repeatedly suggested by wise individuals of good faith for many years. First things first, of course, Ukrainians should demand a ceasefire; but after that, maybe Ukrainians would welcome such an arrangement. Maybe someone should ask them. One thing’s for sure: It can’t be left up to the gangsters. Left to their own devices, the gangsters will kill us all.
By Roger Waters is a musician.
This article was produced by Globetrotter to publish on Telegraf.
26 Russians, Getting EU Blacklists Including Kremlin Spokesman Peskov
Apart from that, sanctions have been imposed on Gas Industry Insurance Company SOGAZ.
The European Union has blacklisted 26 more Russian nationals, including presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, and one legal entity, according to the corresponding normative acts published in the EU Official Journal on Monday.
“In view of the gravity of the situation, the Council considers that 26 persons and one entity should be added to the list of persons, entities and bodies subject to restrictive measures set out in the Annex to Decision 2014/145/CFSP,” it reads.
Along with Peskov, the blacklist includes Igor Sechin, executive director of Rosneft; Nikolay Tokarev, Transneft CEO; Alisher Usmanov, founder and major shareholder of USM holding co; Pyotr Aven, chairman, board of directors, Afta Bank; Mikhail Fridman, co-owner, Alfa Group; Sergey Roldugin, cellist and businessman; Dmitry Chernyshenko, Deputy Prime Minister; Irek Faizullin, Minister of Construction and Housing; Vitaly Savelyev, Minister of Transport; Andrey Turchak, first deputy speaker of the Federation Council (upper parliament house); Tigran Keosayan, film director; Olga Skabeyev, journalist; Alexander Ponomarenko, chairms, board of directors, Sheremetyevo airport; Modest Kolerov, editor-in-chief, Regnum news agency; Roman Babayan, editor-in-chief, Govorit Moskva radio station; Zakhar Prilepin, writer and co-leader of the Just Russia – For Truth party; Anton Krasovsky, journalists and RT host; Arkady Mamontov, journalist and host on Rossiya-1 television channel; Sergey Punchuk, first deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet; Alexey Avdeyev, deputy commander, Southern Military District; Rustam Muradov, deputy commander, Southern Military District; Andrey Sychevoy, commander, 8th army of the Southern Military District; Gennady Timchenko, majority shareholder, Volga Group investment company and holder of share in Rossiya bank; Alexey Mordashev, chairman, board of directors, Severstal; and Pyotr Fradkov, Promsvyazbank chairman.
They are banned from entering the European Union and their assets in the EU countries, if any, will be frozen.
Apart from that, sanctions have been imposed on Gas Industry Insurance Company SOGAZ.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address on Thursday morning that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation in order to protect people “who have been suffering from abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime for eight years.” The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories.
When clarifying the unfolding developments, the Russian Defense Ministry reassured that Russian troops are not targeting Ukrainian cities, but are limited to surgically striking and incapacitating Ukrainian military infrastructure. There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population. TASS
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