While everyone is paying attention to the 2016 primary battles unfolding in both parties, its easy to forget that we have another election coming up this Tuesday, Nov. 3. And while we won’t be choosing our next president, in three places — Maine, Seattle and Ohio — voters will be able to weigh in directly, through ballot initiatives, on how their future elections will work. Both Maine and Seattle’s ballot initiatives are aimed at limiting the power that special-interest donors wield in the political process. For over a decade, Maine has been cited as a prime example that publicly financing elections can work. The state’s Clean Elections Act offers public financing to any candidate who collects enough small donations to demonstrate widespread support, and who swears off large contributions. Passed in 1996 and implemented in 2000, the system worked, with the majority of Maine’s legislators opting in. But the system was undermined by two Supreme Court decisions — Citizens United and Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, the latter of which went after public financing directly.
Now, given the deluge of big money pouring into politics, fewer politicians are choosing to opt in to Maine’s public system. Question 1 on the state’s ballot on Tuesday would seek to punch back by upping the amount of funding available to candidates in the public system. An additional $1 million in potential campaign funding would come from eliminating business tax breaks that don’t appear to be doing much, according to the PortlandPress Herald. Question 1 would also require advertisers to list the top three donors behind a given political advertisement; at the moment, Maine voters learn only the innocuous-sounding names of the super PACs or the front groups behind attack ads in their state.
With Initiative 122, Seattle’s voters will have the opportunity to implement a system of “democracy vouchers” — $25 coupons that voters would receive in the mail four times during the election cycle. Voters could “donate” the money to any candidate participating in the voucher system. The candidates who choose to participate will, in turn, have stricter spending caps (the highest, for mayoral races, is $800,000), will be required to partake in at least three public debates, and will face caps on how much private money they can accept. The ballot measure would also lower caps for how much an individual donor can give in an election, and would tighten lobbying regulation. Advocates think that the initiative will incentivize candidates to spend more time with voters, hoping to win their vouchers, and less time with well-heeled special-interest donors. Influential Seattle companies seem to agree: Microsoft and a number of other heavy hittershave mobilized money to oppose the initiative. (For more on the initiative, you may want to read this piece by Jake Horowitz at policy.mic.)