Voter Owned Elections
Many people have asked for my thoughts on why, this past June, the California's Fair Elections Act, Proposition 15, failed to pass. There are many reasons; there is plenty of blame to go around.
What is important is to look at what didn't work, what the obstacles are ahead and how to move forward in a constructive manner. If the people want their democracy back, they are going to have to work for it, and pay for it.
In my opinion, the Campaign's initial decision to avoid the term Clean Money, opting for "Fair Elections" as a means of describing Full Public Funding of elections turned out to be a poor choice. Yes, we all want fair elections, but our American culture has been shifted away from fairness and towards the conservative perspective of ownership, thus the gambit of potentially raising taxes for cleaning up political big money special influence is not confronted with an alternative the voters could relate to. Right now, people think that the cost of good government isn't possible when elected officials can raise taxes to get themselves public funding for elections, and thus wean themselves off the Special Interest tit that they spend so much time sucking up to.
The public needs to know that their Democracy is broken, that special interests dictate political life, and the only way to change that mindset is to provide them with the choice of true ownership of the politicians that run for office. I believe the correct term to frame Full Public Funding of Elections and to stop the fear of raised taxes is: "Voter Owned Elections." This is just one critical step through what will now be a long process of recovery to support the public in regaining their faith in their government. Right now, Democrats and Republicans are for sale to the highest funding providers.
The second critical change that must come has everything to do with making the public aware of the issues and candidates, and stop the deception often showing up on TV ads, radio and most critically, as deceitful paid endorsement mailers.
Prop 15 had two strikes against it during the final weeks of the campaign. Democrats didn't come out to vote in large enough numbers, and those who did received dozens of endorsement mailers from paid political consultants masquerading as legitimate endorsement mailers for the Party itself. The placement of leading Democratic political candidates on these mailers while telling voters to vote the opposite of what the party endorsed on the Propositions was a fraud. This fooled many Democratic voters into voting against their own best self-interest in establishing Voter Owned Elections in California.
I'm not going to deliberate on why Republicans voted against Prop 15, we all know they feel paying for anything as a group is anathema to their core beliefs in self reliance and hatred of all thing government...though you wouldn't know it from the Tea Baggers who didn't want so called Obamacare yet cried not to touch their Medicare. The disconnect is astounding. Can't wait till their hypocrisy gets them from driving on our public roads, flying in our FAA controlled airspace and stops funding our Military that spends nearly all it's time fighting corporate wars for oil under other peoples land just to name a few.
That said, Democrats, and those 70 plus percentage of voters who didn't vote are really to blame. Deceptive fliers either fooled them because they didn't do their homework, or they just don't feel Democracy is worth their vote. Considering how politicians seem to follow the dictates of the powerful over the people these days, it is hard to blame them, but I do. Oh well, so it goes.
To fix this problem, we must strengthen current laws to severely penalize those political consultants and front organizations who put out these bogus mailers, and add power to current laws forcing them to expose who backed the fliers by name, and not just the name of some front group created to sound good. This is called transparency, truth in advertising, and critical to making voters aware of who is trying to manipulate them. We can't stop these mailers because we support the First Amendment, the right to free speech, but we surely can provide visibility to the voter when such mailers show up at their door by exposing them for what they are, DECEPTION.
Now I would be remiss not to mention a few other aspects of our election system that also need serious attention and immediate action.
One is the fact that most of our voting process is not transparent, controlled by corporate created machines without auditable and verifiable election procedures. You heard it correctly, corporate, hack able easily manipulated privately owned software and hardware are counting our votes and no one can easily audit the process confidently. Even in California, with a great Secretary of State, our final vote tabulators are operated behind closed doors and absentee and provisional ballots are shipped off to other locations without public oversight or transparency. Who knows if the counts are correct or require recounts in many close races?
Add to this, the current right wing tilting activist Supreme Court essentially froze the Courts previous rulings on the right of governments to set up Public Funded Elections. These happened just days before our California June election regarding the publicly supported Voter Owned Election in Arizona. The court sided with private special interests to stop State distributions of matching funds to candidates already in the midst of running for office. Without handing down a decision, the Court broke the Public Funding system and forced the end of matching funds for viable candidates participating in the next election when they are out spent by special interest or privately funded candidates. As such, the voters in Arizona lose a system they wanted, and the whole prospect of Voter Owned Elections is now thrown into doubt.
Who ever said the previous liberal Supreme Court was activist, this right wing pro-corporate court puts liberals to shame. For with their outrageous ruling in Citizens United vs. Clinton, the court has now officially branded itself the Corporate Court, not the court of the people; by defining corporate interests equal to public citizens. It is no longer "We the People," but "We the Corporations..."
So any action for Publicly Funded Elections is now on hold awaiting an official court ruling (whenever that may come) or a strong move by our US Congress to establish by law, the end of corporate citizenship. I'm not holding my breath.
The failures of this Corporate Court are going to seriously dampen the appetite of donors to support any Voter Owned Election process for fear the court will either fail to rule or rule against public funding outright.
So where do we go from here?
I believe multiple tracks need to be taken:
- First, by our US Congress to finally establish that Corporations are not citizens, and in and of themselves, do not have the right to fund candidates or propositions during elections.
- Second, transparency...all campaign materials mailed, broadcast or sponsored in any form must be clearly and boldly state who funded their creation and delivery on the documents, airwaves or other forms of transmission. No hiding behind front groups either, with tiny type fonts. Where deception exists, fraud persists.
- Third, audit trails of paper ballots must be duplicate counted and verified both at the polling place by all interested parties representatives and at the central tabulation location by publicly owned open software platforms that should just confirm the counts from the polling locations. Should any count not match, a full hand recount of all paper ballots from those locations must take place. This is the way elections are conducted in Canada and other Western Nations; it is fast, reliable and avoids fraud. Even corporations must conduct their accounting practices in this way, so why not our elections?
- Finally, voters must understand that if they want a great democratic nation, they need to invest in it. The small costs per voter (estimated to be $6 annually) to establish and run voter owned elections in the state of California is a pittance and good insurance for good government compared to the massive debt our state is now in.
On the Federal Level, a similar system for all elections would cost less than $10 per citizen per year as well. That isn't a tax increase; it is a security system that your election officials who run publicly funded are not beholden to anyone but the voters. Isn't that worth $16 a year? I think so.
The failure to establish Full Public Funded, Voter Owned Elections in this Country has been the most short sighted penny wise and pound foolish action our people, the Supreme Court and our elected officials have ever made, and we will continue to pay the price for years to come until we own up to one simple fact.
Our Democracy is broken, and our apathy, time, and failure to investment our tax dollars in our political system is what has brought us wars for oil, state and federal debt, failing infrastructure and lost jobs. Add to that, deregulations and under funded oversight has brought us massive banking failures and catastrophic environmental disasters, which we will no doubt be paying for, for decades to come. Is $16 a year worth stopping all that? You think?
With Voter Owned, Auditable, Transparent and Verifiable Elections, voters will come out in larger numbers as they have more confidence in their government. More viable candidates of all races and genders will run for office, and most likely the cost of elections will go down because the public will be more educated, involved and aware.
Prayer isn't going to make this happen, nor the bringing out of guns or signs declaring anyone a nasty name. In the end, we the people will take our country back from the special interests that are constantly using their financial wealth to have us act against our own best self-interests. We must demand the end of corporate citizenship, establish auditable, transparent and verifiable elections, and then understand that if we want a well functioning democracy for ourselves, we must take ownership of our Democracy and establish Voter Owned Full Public Funding of Elections.
Wayne Williams is a board member of VDU and Secretary/Treasurer of the California Clean Money Action Fund, the 501c(4) who worked to pass the California Fair Elections Act on the June 2010 ballot.
Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor, where the article first appeared.