In September 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states (including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin in the Midwest) that Russian hackers had targeted their voting systems before the 2016 elections.
While most of the attempts were not successful, voter registration systems were breached in at least two states: Arizona and Illinois. (According to DHS, there was no evidence that any information had been altered in these two states.)
Fast-forward to today, with just months before the 2018 general elections that will determine partisan control of the U.S. Congress and several state legislatures, and elections security experts are recommending that immediate steps be taken to secure the country’s election infrastructure — for example, identifying the potential avenues for attacking election systems, replacing outdated voting machines, ensuring the security of registration systems, and conducting post-election audits.
Whether and when this occurs will depend in part on a mix of help from the federal government and new state-level policies and investments.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 35 states currently offer tax credits for historic preservation (HTCs). Fifteen states, including Michigan and South Dakota in the Midwest, offer no tax credits, while Illinois allows their use in a limited number of cities.
Since its inception in the 1970s, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has enjoyed wide bipartisan support. Designed to encourage and reward work, a low-wage worker’s EITC grows with each additional dollar of earnings until his or her wages reach a maximum value — an incentive for people to leave welfare for work and for low-wage employees to increase their work hours.
And the EITC is refundable: If the amount of the credit exceeds what the worker owes, he or she gets a refund.
“For conservatives, the EITC is pro-work, it is pro-personal responsibility. Liberals like that too, but also it is directed toward low-income people, so you get that mix,” says Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Plus, it works. There is very rigorous research to show that it encourages more work.”
According to the IRS, the 42-year-old Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs. In tax year 2015, for example:
More than 27 million filers received about $67 billion in earned income tax credits.
Four of five people eligible for the EITC claimed it.
The EITC and the separate Child Tax Credit lifted an estimated 9.4 million people out of poverty, including 5 million children.
In the 11-state Midwest, more than 4.6 million federal EITC claims for tax year 2015 provided almost $11.2 billion in credits. The average refund was $2,343. (The maximum federal credit in 2016 ranged from $506 for a childless individual to $6,269 for a family with three or more children.)
Unlike criminal forfeiture, in which a legal action is brought as part of the crime that a person is charged with, civil forfeiture laws by and large allow assets to be seized by police upon only upon a suspicion of wrongdoing.
In recent years, stories of innocent citizens having cash and other property seized — and facing arduous, uphill battles to reclaim their property — have prompted efforts from entities as disparate as the Charles Koch Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union to modify or repeal civil forfeiture laws.
Three states in the Midwest (Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin) currently have laws requiring these audits, which are done by comparing a hand count of voter-verified paper records with totals collected by the electronic voting system, according to the Verified Voting Foundation. Legislators have established these mandatory checks to deter fraud, find errors, reveal when recounts are necessary, and promote public confidence in the elections process.
More than a half-century ago, some unpopular political maneuvering in Kansas caused voters there to create one of the nation’s more unique structures for appointing judges to a state supreme court. That change purposefully reined in the nomination powers of state elected officials, namely the governor.
Over the past few years, the legislative and executive branches have been exploring ideas to get some of that authority back.
“Kansas is the only state in the country where the selection of supreme court justices is controlled by a handful of lawyers,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in his annual State of the State address this year.
He has been among the state’s political leaders pushing for a constitutional change, one that would either alter Kansas’ merit-based selection process or get rid of it altogether. Like many states with merit-based appointment systems, Kansas uses a nominating commission to create a pool of candidates to fill open positions to the Supreme Court.
In 2015, more than 1 million people in the 11-state Midwest were living with Alzheimer’s disease — the sixth-leading cause of death among adults in the United States. And minus a cure, this common form of dementia will touch and take even more lives in the decades ahead.
In most of the region’s states, for example, the number of Alzheimer’s cases is expected to increase by close to 20 percent or more between now and 2025 due to rises in the number of people 65 or older (see table). By the middle of this century, the number of Americans with the disease could triple.
An estimated 25 percent of all of the nation’s rail traffic goes through Chicago, where 56 Amtrak trains originate or terminate every day and where six of the nation’s seven largest railroads converge. But the Midwest’s largest city isn’t just a hub of rail transportation; it’s also known as a major “chokepoint”: a source of gridlock, poor on-time performance and dispatching problems. In October, Amtrak’s Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel released its recommendations for loosening the Chicago “chokepoint,” which poses a larger economic vulnerability to the U.S. economy than any other major rail hub. (A panel-commissioned study estimated that up to $799 billion in annual gross domestic product depends on freight rail service through Chicago.)
In less than a decade’s time, national public opinion on marijuana legalization has changed dramatically, with the rate of people in support of such a change jumping from 32 percent in 2006 to 53 percent today. Will this shift lead to changes in state laws in the Midwest?
Thus far, the answer has been a clear-cut “no.” Legalization bills have not come close to passing in any of the region’s 11 state legislatures, and this November,Ohio voters rejected by a wide margin a plan to legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment.
But state legislatures in this region continue to re-examine their laws on marijuana, as evidenced by laws and legislative proposals in this region to decriminalize possession or allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
Best known today for its use in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster is a legislative tactic that dates back centuries — even to the days of ancient Rome. But for most legislators serving in the 11-state Midwest, this maneuver to stall debate or block a bill’s passage is much more a curiosity than a legislative reality or obstacle.
The one exception is Nebraska, home to perhaps the most unique legislative branch among the 50 U.S. state governments. In that state, where 49 senators serve in a one-house, nonpartisan chamber, the filibuster — or the threat of it — is a common occurrence.
“We operate more like a senate here rather than like a house in that we give the members great latitude to discuss, debate, cajole their colleagues,” says Patrick O’Donnell, clerk of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.