In the recent November elections, various citizens’ ballot initiatives advanced the electoral voice of the people. Ohio passed the Bipartisan Redistricting Amendment (Issue 1 on the ballot) with 71% of the vote. And Seattle and Maine passed measures that limit the influence of big money on our elections.
The former redistricting system for the state’s legislative districts allowed them to be drawn by a partisan 5-member board consisting of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, and two members selected by the legislative leaders of the two major parties. The Bipartisan Redistricting Amendment creates a seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission and ensures that each major party will have at least two seats on the commission. It also states that if the new maps don’t receive bipartisan support, they will be thrown out after four years rather than 10, and adds a line to the state constitution saying that no legislative district “shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a party.”
The ballot initiative, Question 1 (which passed with 55% of the vote), does the following:
- Strengthens Maine’s existing Clean Election Act — which has been weakened by rulings like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
- Increases transparency and accountability by making political ads list their major donors.
- Increases fines and penalties for anyone who tries to skirt the law.
The city passed a measure called Honest Elections Seattle (Initiative 122) with 60% of the vote. The initiative creates a small-donor contribution model which will affect its City Council elections. Every Seattle resident would receive four “democracy vouchers” each representing $25 of public funds.The vouchers can be given to any local candidate of their choice, as long as the candidate has opted in to the program. Besides empowering small donors, it also includes:
- Strong contribution limits and spending caps for campaigns.
- A ban on contributions from major corporate lobbyists.
- Disclosure requirements.
- Penalties on those breaking election rules.
The funds are expected to come from an increase in property taxes — at less than one cent per $1,000 of property value.
Unfortunately, Texans have limited access to ballot initiatives. But as we celebrate these victories, we will bring our own Texas solutions to win similar victories through the measures we do have available.
On a national level, we are finally hearing candidates talk about campaign finance reform! There are national organizations of various stripes working together in support of money-in-politics reforms — the list is long and varied. This type of national organizing trickles down to support state and city grassroots efforts. And this model is what will help us all as we move forward TOGETHER in Texas!