TIME 2014 Election

Voter Turnout in Midterm Elections Hits 72-Year Low

Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Alhambra, Calif. on November 4, 2014.
Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Alhambra, Calif. on November 4, 2014. Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images

The last time voter turnout was this low, the U.S. was fighting WWII

The last time voter turnout for a national election was as low as it was on Nov.4, Hitler was still in power, and Mitch McConnell was only nine months old.

Only 36.4% of eligible voters voted in this year’s midterm elections, down from 40.9% who voted in 2010, according to preliminary analysis by Michael McDonald at the University of Florida. The last time voter turnout was that low was 1942, when only 33.9% of voters cast ballots, according to the United States Elections Project.

That was also a year that the U.S. established the European Theater of Operations in WWII, so a large share of the voting population was a little busy doing other things.

Voter turnout in presidential elections is historically much higher than in midterms– 58.2% of eligible voters voted in 2012, and 61.6% voted in 2008, the highest turnout since 1968. In other words, turnout for Obama’s first presidential election was almost double the 2014 midterm turnout.

 

TIME Laws

Arkansas Keeps ‘Patchwork Prohibition’ on Alcohol

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Half of the state's counties are dry, and they're staying that way for now

Arkansas voted Tuesday against allowing alcohol sales statewide, preserving the status quo of “patchwork prohibition” that exists in half of the state’s counties.

With 96% of precincts reporting, 57% of voters said no to the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment, which would’ve changed the constitution to allow for the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor, beer and wine across the state. Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of dry counties left in the U.S. Thirty-seven are currently dry while 38 are wet.

The issue largely pitted churches, existing liquor stores in wet counties and rural, conservative residents against more liberal, populous counties and out-of-state retailers looking to get a foothold in previously dry regions. The ballot initiative appeared to have significant support as recently as last month. But support for the amendment eroded as its main opponents, led by Citizens for Local Rights, vastly outspent the initiative’s backers.

“We started late and didn’t have the resources to get our message out,” says David Couch, a lawyer and chair of Let Arkansas Decide, which led the campaign to legalize alcohol statewide.

Couch’s organization raised about $200,000 and was supported mainly by out-of-state convenience stores. Citizens for Local Rights raised $1.8 million from roughly 900 contributors, many of which were existing Arkansas liquor megastores, often near the border of a dry county.

Polling had shown growing opposition to the amendment in the weeks leading up to the vote. Citizens for Local Rights’ primary message was simple: Don’t let the liberal-leaning urban counties dictate to the smaller, conservative ones. Add in some help from local pastors and churches warning of legalizing a vice in heavily Christian areas, and it appears that message resonated with voters.

But Couch of Let Arkansas Decide says he’s not giving up. His next move is to try to get state legislators to reduce the threshold required to get the issue, known as the “local option,” on the ballot county by county. Signatures of 38% of registered voters within a county must be collected to trigger a vote.

“If that doesn’t work, we will refile the measure and start earlier,” Couch says. “And hopefully be better funded.”

TIME Election 2014

Arkansas Could Finally End Prohibition After More Than 80 Years

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to turn the state's dry counties wet

Drop a pin on a map of Arkansas and your chances of finding a stiff drink there are about 50-50. But that could soon change if enough residents vote for a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would open the entire state to beer, wine and liquor sales for the first time since the 1930s.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that allow local municipalities to make their own decisions about selling booze, but only about 10 states actually have dry counties, most of which are in the South. The result is what’s known as “patchwork prohibition,” where the state is divided into wet, dry and even moist (beer and wine only) counties.

The divisions can be confusing, with wet cities occasionally in dry counties and highly-profitable liquor stores almost always parked just across the border from booze-less regions. In Texas, for example, 49 of the state’s 254 counties are wet, 11 are dry and the rest are a combination of wet and dry. Alabama has 25 dry counties, but many cities within them are wet. And in Kentucky’s 120 counties, 39 are dry, 32 are wet and 49 are some combination of the two. No state comes closer to an equal division than Arkansas, where 37 counties are dry and 38 counties are wet.

Opening these dry counties to alcohol sales has become an increasingly popular economic development tool. Several counties in Kentucky have used their “local option” to expand liquor sales in the last couple years, while voters in Alabama’s largest remaining dry city are considering a similar ballot initiative Tuesday as well (the 2012 push failed by close to 400 votes).

Unlike most other votes on the wet/dry issue, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Initiative—which would allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” throughout the state beginning on July 1, 2015—is subject to a statewide vote. That’s because attorney David Couch, the chair of pro-wet group Let Arkansas Decide, found that the number of signatures required for getting the measure on the state ballot was not much more than what it would’ve taken in just the three counties he had initially targeted.

Couch’s main rationale is economic. He cites a University of Arkansas study showing that if Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties were wet—three of the state’s biggest counties, and ones where Walmart has expressed interest in selling booze —they would each generate an additional $12 million to $15 million in annual economic activity. And he estimates the total statewide benefit of going wet at an additional $100 million a year. But Couch has other motives, too.

“These dry counties make my state look kind of backward, and I don’t like that,” he says. “This is a much more modern approach to alcohol regulation.”

The amendment seemed to have signs of support in September. But the opposition appears to have grown in recent weeks. Part of that may be a huge cash infusion from Citizens for Local Rights, a group opposed to the amendment. The organization has raised $1.8 million compared to $200,000 for Couch’s Let Arkansas Decide.

Citizens for Local Rights is backed largely by liquor retailers in wet counties that want to keep out new competition. The Conway County Liquor Association, for example, has given the group $540,000. All six counties surrounding Conway are dry. The amendment has also been criticized by religious leaders wary of making alcohol more available.

Brian Richardson, chairman of Citizens for Local Rights, casts the issue as a matter of regional autonomy—no small claim in a vote that will come down partly to rural turnout. “It’s a badly written, overreaching amendment that guts local communities from being able to make decisions on a local level,” he says. “It’s letting people in the more populous counties determine this.”

Couch says his only poll found majority support for passage, but it was conducted last month. Richardson says his group’s final survey points to partial prohibition remaining in place, with 58% of respondents opposed to the amendment.

“I hate to jinx ourselves,” Richardson says. “But I think we’ll have a decisive victory.”

TIME movies

5 Election Comedies to Get You Ready for the Polls

Because it's our civic duty to laugh

If Election Day were a comedy, this is how it would play out: One candidate would be unequivocally good, the other ruthlessly evil. Political operatives would control the play-by-play from a corner office far from the action. An unexpected candidate would emerge from nowhere in the eleventh hour, throwing the race into a tizzy. The deserving candidate would lose by a tight margin, but when the evil candidate’s fraud is revealed, the rightful victor would take the throne. Bad guys out, good guys in.

But Election Day is not a comedy, and good and evil aren’t two poles separated by an impossible distance. Good isn’t always as good as it purports to be. Good, alas, often loses. It’s refreshing, though, to visit a world as simple as the one these movies imagine. Perhaps you’re a jaded would-be voter in need of convincing that some good might come from pulling that ancient lever, or maybe you long to escape the disappointment of your candidate’s certain defeat, and find yourself instead enveloped in the warmth of Chris Farley’s glow.

Either way, here are five election comedies to motivate you, console you, and get you ready for the polls on Election Day.

Black Sheep (1996)

Black Sheep belongs to a class of movies that strikes you as pure comedic genius when you’re 12 and senseless drivel once your tastes have matured. But if you can tap into whatever lingering appreciation you have for scatological humor, it’s worth watching if only to spend 87 minutes with Chris Farley. Largely a vehicle for Farley’s brutishly brilliant physical comedy, Black Sheep has many of the elements of a typical election flick. Revolving around Farley’s Mike Donnelly, hapless kid brother to Washington gubernatorial candidate Al Donnelly, the movie pits familial love against political ambitions. Mike’s efforts to help the campaign unfailingly result in public embarrassment, threatening Al’s chances of success.

Like many in the genre, the movie focuses more on the campaign than the election itself. Donnelly is pure goodness, his dedication to his brother matched only by his concern for his would-be constituents. Incumbent Governor Evelyn Tracy is pure evil, sporting a win-at-all-costs mentality that counts fraud and slander among its tactics. It’s an absurd comedy of errors in which the younger Donnelly can’t seem to catch a break, but nestled between the pratfalls and the gags is one ingredient that often runs in short supply at the polls: just a little bit of heart.

Wag the Dog (1997)

The media is as crucial to the outcome of an election as its candidates’ campaigns, and Wag the Dog shows just how powerful the news can be — even when it’s fake. Like many good election movies, and a fair share of actual elections, this one revolves around a sex scandal. The sitting president is accused, less than two weeks before the election, of sexually assaulting a young girl. To distract from the scandal and inspire patriotism among voters, the White House hires spin-doctor Conrad Brean (Robert de Niro), who enlists Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to stage a fake war with Albania.

Wag the Dog is intelligent satire in contrast to Black Sheep’s inane Looney Toon-esque shenanigans. Released one month before the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the movie had Roger Ebert perceptively noting, “It is getting harder and harder for satire to stay ahead of reality.” Rather than dishing up an inspiring good-guys-win narrative, it reminds the audience — American voters — how gullible we can be in the face of an effective media campaign. “Why does a dog wag its tail?” the opening credits ask. “Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” In Wag the Dog, we are the brainless tail, ever at the whim of the scheming dog.

Election (1999)

“Winning isn’t everything,” says Tracy Flick. “Win or lose, ethical conduct is the most important thing.” Reese Witherspoon’s Flick is desperate for political glory in this portrayal of a viciously contested race for student council president. For a story about student government, it has all the trappings of a full-grown adult election: sex scandals and personal vendettas, witch hunts and sabotage. Blaming Tracy for her part in an affair that got his best friend fired, popular teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) will do anything to take her down. His meddling leads to a contest that stands in stark contrast to the ideals he espouses in his social studies class.

Rotating between narrators, director Alexander Payne explores Tracy’s statement: Is ethical conduct more important than victory? And does it guarantee victory, or all but rule it out? Witherspoon delivers one of her most memorable roles as the type-A Flick, who sees victory as her destiny, and destiny as inescapable.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite may be a geek movie before it is an election movie, but the election between Pedro Sánchez (Efren Ramirez) and Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff) plays a central role in the nerdy protagonists’ victory over their high school’s popular posse. Pedro is a transfer student whom Napoleon befriends and supports in his campaign for school president. He has the charisma of a sloth in a coma, always donning a blank stare above his bolo tie. His opponent, Summer, is equally uninspiring, banking on her social status to deliver her to victory.

Pedro’s election speech leaves much to be desired. When he promises the students, “If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true,” his tone is like that of a doctor delivering bad news. But a vote for Pedro is less a vote for change than it is a symbol of the underdog getting his due, a nerd with no ideas defeating a cheerleader with no ideas. Many a voter will sigh, waiting in line to cast her ballot, that she’s choosing the lesser of two evils, the better option between two mediocre choices. Napoleon Dynamite asks us to make this choice — and to compensate for its candidates’ lack of imagination, it gave us the dance scene of the decade.

The Campaign (2012)

The Campaign opens with a quote from Ross Perot, a presidential candidate perhaps best remembered for the size of his ears. “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.” And so the tone is set for opponents Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an incumbent and an underdog vying for one seat in Congress. The Campaign offers a parody of modern elections that rings true for all its hyperbole. Gains in the polls are driven by strong hair and the frequency with which a candidate invokes America, Jesus and Freedom. Pandering is the rule, as Brady tells every group he meets — troops, farmers, audio installation specialists, and Filipino tilt-a-whirl operators — that they are the backbone of America.

In its best moments — when it’s not resorting to fat jokes and bathroom humor — The Campaign is funny because it’s so familiar. Big money decides who runs and what they stand for. Campaign managers shape candidates’ images, from their wives’ hairstyles to the eagle-inspired artwork adorning their living rooms. And a significant focus on attack ads, amplifying a particle of dirt into a full-blown dust storm, distracts from the time candidates spend discussing what they actually stand for. It would be farfetched to call The Campaign a cinematic feat. But it does make us consider the just-discernable line between reality and farce.

TIME Ukraine

The White House Slams Separatist Elections in Southeastern Ukraine

A pro-Russian separatist stands guard during the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic leadership and local parliamentary elections at a polling station in the settlement of Telmanovo
A pro-Russian separatist stands guard during the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic leadership and local parliamentary elections at a polling station near Donetsk on Nov. 2, 2014 Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Fears are also raised that the Kremlin is again sending men and equipment into rebel areas

The Obama Administration has condemned Russia-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine for holding unauthorized elections and warned that the polls violated the fragile cease-fire deal signed by Kiev and Moscow during a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, last September.

Organizers of the elections in Donetsk and Luhansk say that insurgent leaders from both cities scored landslide wins — providing a bold challenge to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s embattled administration.

“The United States condemns the illegitimate, so-called elections held on Sunday by Russia-backed separatists in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk,” said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokesperson, on Monday.

Meehan also voiced concerns that the Kremlin had begun sending Russian troops and equipment back across the border into rebel-held Ukrainian territory.

“Moscow’s continued failure to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreements calls into question its commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine,” said Meehan.

On Monday, Russian authorities applauded the vote and commended the election’s high turnout.

“We respect the will of the inhabitants of the southeast,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement. “The elected representatives have obtained a mandate to solve practical problems to restore normal life in the regions.”

In Kiev, the Ukrainian President called the polls a “gross violation” of the Minsk agreement and, during an address to the nation, said the elections would push Kiev to “re-examine” its cease-fire deal with the rebels, according to Agence France-Presse.

Poroshenko is set to sit down with his security team on Tuesday during an emergency meeting in the Ukrainian capital to discuss the implications of the separatist elections.

TIME Know Right Now

Super PACs Are the Big Spenders in the Midterm Elections

They'll spend some $700 million throughout this election season

The momentum headed into the midterm elections on Tuesday appears to be in the GOP’s favor, with a Senate majority thought to be within reach. That means Democrats could lose seats, despite boosts from Super PACS, which overall will spend some $700 million on campaigns this election season.

Here’s all you need to know about the midterm elections.

TIME Bolivia

Quick Count: Bolivia’s Morales Coasts to 3rd Term

BOLIVIA-ELECTION-MORALES
Bolivian President and candidate for re-election Evo Morales votes in Villa 14, Chapare, Bolivia, on Oct. 12, 2014 Aizar Raldes—AFP/Getty Images

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions

(LA PAZ, Bolivia) — Evo Morales easily won an unprecedented third term as Bolivia’s president Sunday on the strength of the economic and political stability brought by his government, according to an unofficial quick count of the vote.

Morales, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s poor, wind-swept Andean plateau, received 59.5 percent of the vote against 25.3 percent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers, according to a quick count of 84 percent of the voting booths by the Ipsos company for ATB television.

If confirmed by partial official results expected after midnight local time Sunday (0400 GMT), it would give Morales an outright victory without the need for a second round of voting.

As the unofficial results were announced, Morales’ supporters ran out into the streets to celebrate the win.

While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers’ union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.

A boom in commodities prices increased export revenues nine-fold and the country has accumulated $15.5 billion in international reserves. Economic growth has averaged 5 percent annually, well above the regional average.

A half a million people have put poverty behind them since Bolivia’s first indigenous president first took office in 2006, with per capital gross national income up from $1,000 that year to $2,550 in 2013, according to the World Bank.

Public works projects abound, including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz’s gleaming new cable car system. His newest promise: to light up La Paz with nuclear power.

“I voted for Evo Morales because he doesn’t forget the elderly,” said Maria Virginia Velasquez, a 70-year-old widow. Universal old-age pensions — Velasquez gets $36 a month — are among the benefits instituted by Morales that have boosted his popularity.

Morales had sought Sunday to improve on his previous best showing — 64 percent in 2009 — and to maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly. That would let him change the constitution, which restricts presidents to two 5-year terms, so he can run again.

He has not said whether he would seek a fourth term, only that he would “respect the constitution.” He did say in a TV interview last week, however, that he didn’t believe people over the age of 60 should be president.

A court ruled last year that Morales could run for a third term because his first preceded a constitutional rewrite. All seats are up for grabs in the 36-member Senate and 130-member lower house.

Morales’ critics say he spent tens of millions in government money on his campaign, giving him an unfair advantage. And press freedom advocates accuse him of gradually silencing critical media by letting government allies buy them out, a formula also employed by the ruling heirs in Venezuela of the late Hugo Chavez.

Morales didn’t attend the campaign’s lone presidential debate and state TV didn’t broadcast it.

“There is no functional opposition, left, right or otherwise,” said Jim Shultz, executive director of the left-leaning Democracy Center based in Bolivia and San Francisco.

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions. He long ago crushed and splintered the opposition, nationalized key utilities and renegotiating natural gas contracts to give the government a bigger share of profits.

His image-makers have built a cult of personality around him. Stadiums, markets, schools, state enterprises and even a village bear Morales’ name. In the center of the capital, crews are building a second presidential palace, a 20-story center complete with a heliport.

Yet Morales has alienated environmentalists and many former indigenous allies by promoting mining and a planned jungle highway through an indigenous reserve.

And despite Bolivia’s economic advancements, it is still among South America’s poorest countries. Nearly one in five Bolivians lives on less than a dollar a day.

Many analysts think Bolivia depends too much on natural resources and is especially susceptible to the current easing in commodities demand from China.

“Evo’s balancing act will be increasingly tough to maintain,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “Although Evo has proven to be a resourceful and resilient politician, who knows his country well, it would be surprising if the next five years go as swimmingly as the last five.”

Morales’ dreams of converting its lithium reserves into battery factories have yet to be realized, as are plans to create a major iron foundry.

The underground cocaine economy gets credit for part of the economic boom. Peru’s former drug czar, Ricardo Soberon, estimates its annual revenues at $2.3 billion, equal to about 7 percent of gross domestic product.

Morales promotes coca’s traditional uses and claims zero tolerance for cocaine.

The United States deems Bolivia uncooperative in the war on drugs and has halted trade preferences and cut all counter-narcotics aid. Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, accusing them of inciting the opposition.

Last year he threw out the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ronald Velasquez, a 38-year-old computer specialist, said he voted for Morales because he didn’t trust any of the other candidates. He said he trusts Morales but the president “is surrounded by bad associates.”

“He has had a lot of problems in his government with corruption and influence-peddling,” Velasquez said.

Macario Chambi, a 54-year-old street vendor, said he would not vote for Morales, whose ruling clique he believes is getting rich off the economic bonanza without instituting the type of reforms that will actually create wealth.

“He thinks we’re all sheep, that we don’t realize that they want to buy us with cheap sweets.”

___

Associated Press writers Paola Flores contributed from La Paz and Frank Bajak from Lima, Peru.

TIME Hong Kong

Tensions Ease in Hong Kong as Student Leaders and Government Agree to Talks

Hong Kong Protests Calm
A pro-democracy protester watches the sunrise from an empty road in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong early on Oct. 7, 2014. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Meeting will be held with the Hong Kong government's No. 2 official, Carrie Lam

The leadership of Hong Kong’s democracy movement agreed to engage in formal dialogue with the government on Monday night, after the ninth day of protests began with protesters visibly flagging from their prolonged occupation of three key areas of the city.

Representatives from the two student groups leading the protests — Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students — engaged in a second round of preliminary talks with a government official late Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We hope there will be mutual respect shown during the meeting,” said Ray Lau, undersecretary of constitutional and mainland affairs. Lau is set to meet with the student leaders again on Tuesday, to set a time and place for talks with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the deputy of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

The students have refused to meet with Leung. They have been calling for his ouster as well as for the right to choose his successor through free elections.

A few hundred protesters remained Monday at the sit-ins in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and across the harbor in Mong Kok, as some schools in affected areas reopened and most people went back to work as normal. Civil servants were granted access to the Central Government Offices, which has been besieged by demonstrators since Sept. 27.

The protest sites were still occupied Tuesday, with the situation calm. In the financial district, office workers presented an uncommon sight as they mingled with protesters and enjoyed their lunch breaks amid the silence and freshness of barricaded streets that are free, for once, of cars and choking fumes.

TIME Hong Kong

WATCH: Hong Kong Protest Leaders Urge Reform, Not Revolution

"This is not a color revolution," Occupy Central leader Benny Tai declared to an emotional crowd, tens of thousands strong, in Hong Kong on Saturday night, local time. He said the movement was, instead, a demand for free and fair elections. Student leader Joshua Wong also rallied the crowd, who face an ultimatum to leave the streets by Monday.

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