Democracy watch, Nov. 2015: Two steps forward [ME, WA], one huge step back [NJ]

Protect_My_VoteThis November, people who care about enhancing democratic principles have a few things to feel good about. But, in the toxic political environment that passes for “democracy” these days, no good deed goes unpunished. So, there’s bad news, too. Here’s the rundown:

Maine’s Clean Elections Initiative
On the hopeful side, Maine voters have approved Question 1, by a margin of 55 to 45 percent. The measure, designed to strengthen Maine’s previously enacted Clean Elections Act, includes the following provisions:

-Increasing funding for the Maine Clean Elections Fund from $2 million to $3 million by eliminating $6 million in “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax exemptions, deductions, or credits “with little or no demonstrated economic development effect”;

-Upping penalties for violating campaign finance disclosure rules;

-Adjusting political ad disclosure rules to require the disclosure of a campaign’s top three funders; and

-Allowing candidates to qualify for additional funds.

Summing up the intent of the new provisions U.S. Senator Angus King [I-ME] said that it ensures that “candidates throughout Maine can run for office without being reliant on special interests and big money donors.”

Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers”
By a vote of 60 to 40 percent, Seattle voters passed a sweeping measure to enact public financing of the city’s elections. Huffington Post describes the initiative this way:

The measure will create a first-of-its-kind system of publicly funded “democracy vouchers” to be distributed to citizens to donate to candidates participating in the public funding system. Each citizen will be able to distribute four $25 vouchers to participating candidates. This goes along with a raft of other campaign finance, disclosure, ethics and lobbying reforms also included in the initiative.

The passage of these two measures is a good sign. Maybe voters are wising up to the disaster that is Citizens United, which enabled big money—via unlimited campaign spending by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie vetoes automatic voter registration
Unfortunately, the Republican war on voters [specifically Democratic-leaning voters] continues. Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled New Jersey legislature did the right thing by passing a bill to automatically register people who apply for drivers’ licenses or state ID’s. It also would have created two weeks of in-person early voting, and would have added on-line voter registration. The bill would have added an estimated 1.5 million new voters to the state’s rolls.

Unfortunately, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, after sitting on it for five months, vetoed the bill last week. It was the second time he vetoed a voting-rights-related bill in three years. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Christie has previously said that he does not support making it easier for residents of his state to vote.

“In New Jersey, we have early voting that are available to people,” he said in June. “I don’t want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud.”

[Of course, study after study and investigation after investigation have concluded that voter impersonation is a rarity. The true fraud is the one being perpetrated on the people who should be eligible to vote without restrictions.]

New Jersey currently ranks 39th in the country in both percentage of eligible voters who are registered and percentage of voters who actually case a ballot, according to New Jersey Working Families. The state does not allow in-person early voting, but requires citizens who want to cast an absentee ballot early to apply for one at an election official’s office. New Jersey also does not permit online voter registration, something that is allowed in 33 other states.

It is incredible that a Governor would actively veto a law that would make the defining activity of democracy more available to citizens of the state. But apparently, rigging elections is more important than democracy, just as saying no to virtually anything associated with President Obama or other Democrats has become the modus operandi in many state legislatures and Governor’s mansions—at the expense of the citizens who are ostensibly being represented.

Wake up, people. We are at risk of permanently losing what’s left of our democracy–one vote-rigging law–and one vote-rigging Governor–at a time. Kudos to states and cities that are trying to turn the tide back in the propoer direction.