Of, By, and For the People: Pro-Democracy Victories

Voters in Maine, Ohio, and Seattle approved statewide pro-democracy ballot initiatives last week. The successes of these ballot initiatives echo an increasing public interest in the negative role big money and influence can play in politics across the country.

Each state’s initiative took a different approach to protecting our democracy.

Maine increased public funding for candidates with grassroots support, while increasing transparency.

Question 1 strengthened Maine’s already existing Maine Clean Elections Act, which provides public financing to qualified candidates—freeing candidates from a dependence on big donors and big business for campaign funding. The ballot measure increased the public funding available to candidates by eliminating unproductive corporate tax breaks.

Additionally, the initiative increased fines for non-compliance with campaign finance disclosure laws. It will also require advertisements and other communications to disclose the top three funders that contributed to them—giving voters more information about where they’re getting information from.

Seattle created an innovative “democracy voucher” system.

Initiative 122 in Seattle will create a first-of-its-kind voucher system for voters to support candidates in elections. Voters will receive four $25 democracy vouchers each campaign cycle to “donate” to campaigns they support. The democracy vouchers will be applicable for qualified candidates in city election cycles— biennial cycles that elect Seattle’s mayor, city council, and city attorney.  The passage of Initiative 122 will limit big money interests in city policy-making, increase accountability and transparency in local government, give ordinary people a stronger voice in local government, and ensure candidates focus less on needs of big money donors, and can spend more time listening to voters.   

The initiative— which won by a 20 percent margin—also addresses conflict of interest concerns by prohibiting candidates from receiving contributions from people and businesses that have more than $250,000 in city contracts, as well as people and businesses that spend more than $5,000 per year lobbying the city government for business will be prohibited from contributing to local  political campaigns. The initiative also prevents elected officials and some members of their staffs from lobbying their former colleagues after leaving public service.

Ohio pushed back against gerrymandering.

Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly supported Issue One, the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment, which increases minority party representation in Ohio’s redistricting commission and makes it more difficult to severely gerrymander districts to favor any one party.

Gerrymandering involves changing district lines to give one party an advantage in winning elected office and creates uncompetitive districts where incumbent elected officials are significantly less likely to be ousted by challengers.

The day was not all positive for progressives, but big money in politics clearly lost.

On Tuesday, voters overturned protections for the LGBT community in Houston, struck down a minimum wage proposal in Portland, Maine, paved the way for fewer gun control laws in Coos Country, Oregon, and failed to increase education spending in Mississippi.

The cumulative results were by no means a sweeping victory for progressives fighting for a safe, inclusive democracy. But pro-democracy initiatives— like the three examined above— are progress. These measures will make it easier for the people’s voice to be heard in future elections.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Theresa Thompson

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