Column: Next step after Clean Elections

CentralMaine.com

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Five years ago, after the disastrous Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that unleashed a flood of secret money in our elections, I picked up the phone and called Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. I had to do something about the growing influence of big-money drowning out the voices of everyday people in our politics. And I did. I joined MCCE.

Thanks to over a thousand volunteers like me, Mainers fought back. We passed dozens of bipartisan resolutions in Maine towns and the state legislature urging our federal officials to pass legislation to limit and regulate money in our elections.

When Congress and the courts didn’t act, we didn’t stop. In 2014, a thousand volunteers, led by MCCE in partnership with other groups like the League of Women Voters, qualified a ballot initiative that would diminish the influence of big-money special interests in our elections and government. And a year ago, in 2015, Maine people went to the polls to strengthen Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Election Act with a decisive 10-point victory.

As a result, Clean Elections participation is on the rise now. Not only are more candidates using Clean Elections — 62 percent in this November’s general election — they are winning, even when outspent by their opponents. Maine people can take pride in their role, showing the nation, once again, that our citizens will take action to ensure a government of, by, and for the people.

Today, I’m proud to be the president of the board of directors of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. And I’m pleased to announce that we are working to increase the voice of Maine people in elections by endorsing Question 5, the ranked-choice voting initiative.

The ranked-choice voting initiative gives voters to ability to rank as many as six candidates in order of their preference (i.e. first, second, and third). All first choices are counted, and if a candidate has a majority of first-choice votes, then that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and those voters have their ballot counted for their second choice. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes and is declared the winner.

For more than two decades, MCCE has been a leader in the movement to raise the voices of everyday people in our politics. While that work has largely focused on campaign finance reform, our supporters recognize that our work must also include other reforms that level the playing field between wealthy donors and ordinary citizens and ensure that the voices of voters are heard and heeded in Augusta and Washington, D.C. As we embark on the next 20 years of work at MCCE, we will be supporting a range of policies that increase fairness, inclusion, and opportunity in our politics and promote robust participation by Maine people in their government.

We believe ranked-choice voting will allow for a more representative democracy by giving more voice and more choice to Maine people. Passing this measure will allow those casting ballots to make decisions based on their hopes for the future, not their fears. It will change the way our candidates seek to earn our votes. Instead of tearing down their opponents through negative campaign ads, campaigns will need to communicate why their candidate’s policies, background, and demeanor make them the better choice to be a voter’s first, second, or third choice. This better system puts more power in the hands of voters, so special interests with big money have less influence.

Maine people have consistently supported the democratic ideals this country was founded on. We regularly have some of the highest voter turnout in the nation, and we’ve stood by laws that allow our residents access to the ballot box. When wealthy special interests sought to tip the scales in their favor, we fought back by passing, not once, but twice efforts to establish and strengthen our voter-centered Clean Election laws.

Indeed, when it comes to democracy, Maine leads. This November, Maine people have a chance to lead our country once again by voting yes on Question 5 to enact ranked-choice voting.

Gary Friedmann is the president of the board of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. He lives in Bar Harbor.

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