Democracy on the 2018 Ballot: Voters Take on Reform in Their States and Towns

October 3, 2018
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Tired of waiting on Congress or the United States Supreme Court, citizens across the country are taking charge of democracy reform through state ballot initiatives.

This November voters will have the chance to vote to end extreme partisan gerrymandering, improve the way we fund elections to give every day voters a voice in the political process (not just wealthy donors), expand voting access and improve ethics in government.

 

Fixing Partisan Gerrymandering

Voters in Ohio have already had their say on partisan gerrymandering. Earlier this year, the state passed a ballot initiative to create fair state and federal legislative districts by creating a bipartisan commission to redraw district lines.

Now, citizens in Colorado, in coordination with Fair Maps Colorado, have proposed two constitutional amendments via ballot initiatives in November 2018. Amendments Y and Z seek to stop gerrymandering in Colorado through the creation of an independent redistricting commission (IRC) for both state and congressional districts, as well as map drawing criteria and required transparency.

Led by Voters Not Politicians (VNP), Proposal 2 in Michigan has received national attention for its grassroots success. Initially a volunteer team of one, VNP grew to over 4,000 volunteers and gathered over 425,000 signatures in 110 days from the state’s 83 counties. Similar to the efforts in Colorado, Proposal 2 seeks to create an IRC to stop gerrymandering in Michigan.

Citizens are also fighting for fair maps in Utah. Proposition 4, or the Better Boundaries ballot initiative, seeks to create an IRC to create a set of standards to help end partisan gerrymandering, make the process more transparent, and allow Utah voters to challenge a map that violates legal standards.

And Missouri, through a larger democracy-reform measure, CLEAN Missouri, is also seeking to move to an IRC. 

Read CLC’s report “Designing Independent Redistricting Commissions,” a guide on how to create IRCs to take the power of redistricting out of the hands of self-interested legislators and give it back to the people.

Improving How We Fund Elections

Ballot initiatives in 2018 also offer solutions to reform our campaign finance system, so that the every day voter’s voice is not drowned out by wealthy donors.

In addition to creating an IRC to address partisan gerrymandering, the Clean Missouri ballot initiative, also known as Amendment 1, covers a wide range of reform areas, including:

  • Greater transparency for legislative records
  • Instituting a two year cooling-off period for former lawmakers before they can lobby
  • Ending lobbyist gifts
  • Lowering campaign contribution limits

In North Dakota, citizens have proposed Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 1, which seeks to create a constitutional amendment that focuses on making the sources of campaign funds transparent, limit lobbying, and fight conflicts of interest.

In Baltimore, citizens will vote on Charter Amendment 18-0229 to decide whether to create a public finance fund for candidates. This initiative was unanimously voted onto the ballot by the 15-member city council and was inspired by a public financing initiative in Montgomery County, Maryland.

In Denver, Democracy for the People, also known as ballot initiative 2E, proposes increasing transparency for campaign donations and would create a small donor matching program to amplify the influence of the citizens.

New York City already has a well-established public financing program, but this November voters will consider a measure to update the program. Question 1, placed on the ballot by a Charter Review Commission, would increase the program’s match rate from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1, lower contribution limits and increase the amount publicly financed candidates may receive from the city.

Expanding Access to the Ballot Box

Voters in Michigan will have the opportunity to vote on Proposal 3, a ballot initiative designed to increase voting access in Michigan. Proposal 3  includes a series of commonsense reforms to remove barriers from voting including automatic voter registration, Election Day voter registration, and no-reason absentee voting. Automatic voter registration is also on the ballot, Question 5, in Nevada.

In Florida, voters will have the opportunity to extend the right to vote to approximately 1.4 million  people in Florida who are currently excluded from voting because of a prior felony conviction. Amendment 4 would restore the right to vote to people after they complete their felony sentence including parole, probation and restitution (with an exception for people who have committed murder or a felony sexual offense).

Improving Ethics in Government

North Dakota’s Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 1  also takes steps to create an independent ethics commission.

Similar to North Dakota, citizens in New Mexico will vote on Constitutional Amendment 2 to create an independent ethics commission to investigate ethical violations by lawmakers, lobbyists, candidates and government contractors.

Meanwhile, South Dakota voters will also consider Constitutional Amendment W establishing an independent ethics commission and strengthening the state’s lobbying and ethics laws. This proposed amendment would also improve the state’s campaign finance laws by prohibiting corporate and union contributions to candidates and parties.

Ballot initiatives empower people to create a more honest, ethical government that puts the people’s interests first – not politicians or dark money donors. These reforms on November ballots across the country remind us that reform can occur as we wait for decisions by the Supreme Court and serve as a guide to inform legislative reform on the federal level.

While ballot initiatives will not entirely fix our democracy overnight, they are tangible reforms that can move states closer to the true representative democracy that we strive for.