From coast to coast, voters are fighting for a democracy that works for all

On opposite sides of the country on Tuesday Nov. 3, in Maine and Seattle, Washington, voters cast their ballots with the same goal: to reduce the influence of wealthy special interests and give everyday people a bigger voice in politics.

In both places, the campaigns saw resounding victories. As presidential candidates travel the country courting billionaires and broad majority of Americans become ever more cynical about politics and government, they should look to the efforts in our city and state as a beacon of hope.

{mosads}In Maine, by a 10-point margin, voters approved Question 1 to strengthen the state’s Clean Elections public financing law, increase transparency in political spending, and enhance accountability for election rules. 

Specifically, it will increase disclosure by requiring outside groups spending money on elections to list their top three donors on political ads. It will increase fines and penalties for those who break the law to make sure politicians and political operatives no longer skirt our election rules.

And it will restore the landmark Maine Clean Election Act, a small-donor public financing system that passed by initiative nearly 20 years ago. Clean Elections allows candidates to run campaigns for office by relying on a blend of small donations and public funds. Over time, court decisions have damaged Clean Elections and, as a result, candidates are turning to private funding. On Tuesday, voters reinvigorated the system to give candidates the support they need to run competitive campaigns, funded by ending wasteful corporate tax giveaways that come at the behest of big campaign donors and their lobbyists.

Under Clean Elections, candidates are beholden to their constituents, not big-money donors. Small-donor driven public financing has allowed waitresses, firefighters, teachers—people from all walks of life—to run for office, serve their community, and given Maine the distinction of the nations most citizen-lead government.

Three-thousand miles away, by a two-to-one margin, Seattle said “Yes” to the Honest Elections Seattle initiative creating a first-in-the-nation system that will democratize city elections by giving every voter the opportunity to invest in political campaigns.

Under Honest Elections, registered voters will receive four $25 “democracy vouchers” that they can give out to the qualified city council, city attorney, or mayoral candidates of their choice, encouraging candidates to focus their campaigns on engaging small donors instead of wealthy donors and big-money interests. Candidates who qualify to accept the vouchers must agree to strict spending and contribution limits.

With vouchers, every voter also becomes a donor. Candidates will be encouraged to go door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor to fund their campaigns, instead of relying on city lobbyists, big-city contractors, and wealthy developers that usually fund campaigns here. It’ll allow ordinary people without wealth or connections to run for office and win.

The initiative also limits the amount of money city contractors and corporate interests lobbying the city can give to candidates, closes the revolving door for politicians who want to become lobbyists, increases disclosure requirements, and strengthens penalties for candidates who break the rules.

Simply put, in Maine and Seattle, our elected officials will be less dependent on big money, more reflective of our people, and truer to the American ideal of a government of, by, and for the people.

These victories are important to our day-to-day lives back home, but they’re also important to the larger national debate over whether our elections should be unduly influenced by a handful of America’s wealthiest families or if they should represent the promise of American democracy of one person, one vote.

It’s easy to be cynical about politics these days, to think that nothing can ever change, but we have shown that people can—and will—come together to build a better future in which one’s political influence isn’t determined by the size of their wallet.

We look forward to seeing more states and cities across the country join us in the fight for a democracy that works for everyone.

Bossie is the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a more politically responsive democracy. Gonzalez was just elected to the Seattle City Council and previously served as a commissioner on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.


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