State & Local Citizen Initiatives Put Democracy on the Ballot

The ballot initiative is among two dozen in states and localities across the nation aimed at reforming or protecting the nation's democracy, according to a detailed assessment by the good government group Common Cause. Some tighten ethics rules or attempt to control money in politics, others would put redistricting in the hands of a non-partisan commission. Others still would expand the ability of people to register or vote. But all stem from a common goal, analysts say – to give citizens more power in elections and over the behavior of the people they elect to office.

Public financing of campaigns, advocates note, has the dual effect of allowing less-financially connected people to pay for a run for office, while also drawing more citizens into the process, increasing the likelihood they will also vote. In Seattle, for example, the Democracy Voucher Program, approved in 2015, gives local voters four $25 vouchers to donate to the candidates of their choice.

"It's a bright light right now," Catie Kelley, director of the Campaign Legal Center's Policy & State Programs, says of the Seattle program, which is the first of its kind. "Your whole city is potentially a campaign contributor. In 2017 – the first election year the law was in place. "Rather than just folks from wealthy neighborhoods, campaign contributions were coming from all over the city, from more women, more people of color and more young people," Kelley says.

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