Big wins for democracy in Seattle, Maine and Ohio ballot initiatives

While HERO’s defeat in Houston stings like hell, progressives picked up a number of wins on ballot initiatives around the rest of the country that should prove to be equally instructive for issue-based campaigns going forward.

Last night, voters approved ballot initiatives in Seattle and Maine that will mark major changes to the way candidates in their respective communities raise, disclose and spend money. They also approved a ballot initiative in Ohio that, while falling short of being a major reform, signal a frustration with the way in which legislative districts are currently drawn in the state.

First up, Seattle, where Initiative 122 won by a wide margin. As I wrote yesterday, Initiative 122 calls for an overhaul of the city’s campaign finance system by allocating four $25 democracy vouchers to all registered voters each year, which they can distribute to qualified candidates as they see fit.

Seattle has been serving as a proving ground for progressive priorities of late (which was actually one of the main cases against the measure), as the city is in the process of implementing a $15 minimum wage. If these policies prove to be as good as progressives hope and think they will be, we could be citing Seattle as a model for years to come.

Next, Maine, which passed a referendum that strengthened the state’s Clean Elections Act by increasing the pool of money available for public financing and tightening disclosure rules. The original version of the law, first passed in 1996, allows candidates who forego private donations to qualify for public campaign funds. Now, not only is more money available for these candidates, but they are also allowed to solicit private donations…$5 at a time.

President Obama votes for himself in 2012, via Wikimedia Commons

President Obama casts a ballot for himself in 2012, via Wikimedia Commons

But wait, there’s more! Not only does the bill improve public financing in the state, it also requires political communications to disclose the campaign’s top three donors. So for campaigns that forego public financing and instead solicit private donations, voters will get to know who paid for the ads. Especially in local or issue-based races, where normal signals and cues are weak or nonexistent, that can be immensely helpful for voters hoping to make an informed decision.

Finally, Ohio, which rejected its poorly-crafted marijuana legalization referendum and passed its slightly-better-but-also-not-perfect redistricting reform proposal. While redistricting reform is, in general, a good thing, Ohio’s version does not provide for a truly non-partisan process. This means that as long as the state is dominated by one party (which it has been, and likely will be, for quite some time), there still won’t be a mechanism in place to prevent district maps from being drawn in a hyper-partisan manner. While the provision does ensure that contested maps at least need to be reconsidered by the legislature, without a sea-change election in the middle of a given decade, all it means is that the same bad map will have to make it through the redistricting process twice.

But while Ohio’s redistricting reform plan may not be great, what its victory does show is that voters, when asked, like the idea of redistricting reform. At the end of the day, people recognize that the way in which we draw district lines doesn’t make any sense, and is open to partisan and incumbent-friendly exploitation. That’s a lesson worth taking out of Ohio and into the rest of the country.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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7 Responses to “Big wins for democracy in Seattle, Maine and Ohio ballot initiatives”

  1. dcinsider says:

    Poorly.

  2. slidesix says:

    How did we do in Kentucky?

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  4. Houndentenor says:

    Also, in PA the Democrats made clean sweep of the state supreme court seats. This will help in the fight for fairer district lines than Republicans had created. And Salt Lake City elected a lesbian mayor!

  5. The_Fixer says:

    What happened with Ohio’s “monopoly” law? I am curious about that, I thought that it passed, but haven’t had time to check it out. Anybody know?

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    The US is not a democracy. Proof on file.

  7. Indigo says:

    These are all substantial improvements that hopefully set a pattern for the rest of the nation.

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