Official Statement on 2015 Elections and Ballot Initiatives

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The People Have Spoken: Overwhelming Victory for Pro-Democracy Advocates in 2015 Election

Hamilton, NY—After a long decade of Supreme Court decisions, deregulatory policies, and failed reform efforts that have decimated our electoral system, the pro-democracy community had a night to celebrate this past Tuesday.

While most political pundits focused on candidates in the run-up to the elections, yesterday featured three bold and novel ballot initiatives aimed at limiting the role of big money in elections and allowing ordinary people to regain a voice in the democratic process.

These provisions included: Question 1 in Maine, which proposed to increase funding for the existing state public financing system, raise penalties for violating disclosure laws, and enact new disclosure requirements targeting advertisements and communications[1]; Initiative 122 in Seattle, which proposed to enact a public financing system in which every registered voter in Seattle would be given a voucher to donate as s/he chooses, a pay-to-play law, and new regulations surrounding lobbying and disclosure[2]; and Issue 1 in Ohio which proposed to enact a bipartisan redistricting commission.[3]

Although some votes are still being tallied, these measures were adopted by overwhelming margins. Question 1 in Maine received 55% of the vote, I-122 won by over 60%, and Issue 1 had a victory margin of over 70%! The fact that these initiatives won so handedly accurately illustrates the widespread anger over an election system that privileges big money over ordinary people.

“To have just won one of these measures would have been a huge victory. Winning all three is, quite frankly, historic,” Democracy Matters executive director, Joan Mandle, explained. “The people spoke loudly and clearly: the current state of democracy in the United States is unacceptable. Politicians should take note that opposing meaningful election reform to strengthen democracy is an increasingly unpopular and untenable position”.

As a NYT/CBS poll showed over the summer, 84% of Americans believe money has too much influence in elections.[4] The results in Ohio, Maine, and Seattle certainly illustrate this sentiment. Yet, these victories show something more. They show that even in the face of a malfunctioning and unequal democratic system, Americans have not given up. Rather, people of all political beliefs are standing up in bipartisan unison to say “No” to the big money flooding into our elections. The American people are fighting to reclaim the democratic process for the people.

Democracy Matters commends all those on the ground who helped turn these initiatives into successful reform efforts. We were honored to have been a part of the coalition that is helping to create a government of, by and for the people. We look forward to carrying the momentum gained on Tuesday into the future.

[1] http://ballotpedia.org/Maine_%22Clean_Elections%22_Initiative,_Question_1_(2015)

[2] http://honestelectionsseattle.org/what-is-initiative-122/

[3] http://ballotpedia.org/Ohio_Bipartisan_Redistricting_Commission_Amendment,_Issue_1_(2015)

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/02/us/politics/money-in-politics-poll.html?_r=0

Campus Update: Vassar Chapter Illustrates Importance of Local Elections

Vassar

On Wednesday October 28th, the Vassar College chapter of Democracy Matters hosted a “Candidates Forum” in which local candidates met with students to explain why they were running for office and to answer questions. In attendance were Ann Shershin (Poughkeepsie Town Council), Rita Langva (Dutchess County Legislator District 6), Craig Brendli (Dutchess County Legislator District 8), Katherine Moloney (County Court Judge), Patricia Mcloughlin (County Court Judge), Tracy MacKenzie (Family Court Judge), and Lisa Ghartey (Family Court Judge). The event proved to be a success, drawing a large number of students and local town residents who were eager to learn more about the upcoming elections.

One of the major topics addressed at the forum was how money affects campaigns at the local level. The candidate running for County Executive, Diane Jablonski, for example, announced she was campaigning to enact a Pay to Play law, which would reduce the amount contractors could donate and still be eligible for government contracts. She claimed to have gotten the idea for this law after DM members attended a local Democratic Committee meeting last spring to explain the importance of campaign finance and specifically the viability of Pay to Play legislation.

Similarly, students learned about how local judge races are financed. The judicial candidates explained to the audience that they may not ask for donations, but are allowed to have a committee, which controls their finances and takes donations on their behalf. The goal of this funding mechanism is to prevent judicial candidates from knowing who has donated and how much has been donated. It struck some students in attendance as troublesome, however, that attorneys and firms are allowed to donate up to $5,000 to these judicial races.

Overall, for the politicians in attendance, this event successfully dispelled the myth that youth are politically apathetic; and for the students, it convinced them that local elections are indeed important. The event also made clear to many in the audience that in local elections (for which the cost to run is relatively low) one large donation has the power to swing a race.

Well done to our Vassar chapter for putting on this great event!