Democracy & Political Reform: Big Winners in the 2018 Midterm Elections

For political reform advocates, November 6th produced very encouraging developments across the nation. First of all, voter turnout — 49.2% or nearly 116 million — was the highest midterm recorded rate since 1914 when turnout was 50.4% and women still didn’t have the right to vote. Five states (MN, CO, MT, OR, and WI) generated turnout of over 60%. And nearly two dozen political reform-related ballot initiatives in 15 states demonstrated substantial voter support for a stronger democracy.

From the passage of North Dakota’s Measure 1 (improving campaign spending disclosure, limiting lobbying gifts, and establishing an ethics commission), to the first Congressional election via ranked-choice voting in Maine, to Nevada and Michigan approving initiatives to automatically register voters when they renew or apply for a driver’s license, political reform made great strides on Election Day. Of further note, in Florida, more than 64% of voters restored the right to vote to 1.4 million people with prior felony convictions. Cities also stepped up, with Denver passing a campaign finance measure and Phoenix improving dark money disclosure by requiring individuals and organizations to disclose campaign donations over $1,000.

We herald these and the many other successful campaigns as clear evidence that voters understand that a well-functioning election system is critical to having a healthy economy. Supporting broader voter participation, disclosing campaign contributions, and increasing election security all lead to greater political moderation and accountability. That in turn contributes to greater economic stability and business certainty, and less political volatility. The end result is a political system that is better able to address the real challenges facing our nation.

Watch our webinar on YouTube!

Our November 13th webinar with guest speakers David Mermin (Lake Research Partners) and Ellen Moorhouse (Represent.Us) made clear that 2018 has seen a groundswell of citizen support, much of it bipartisan, for structural reform in the way we organize and administer our elections.

Here’s a sample of what happened earlier this year:

  • March: Automatic voter registration passed in Washington. Tempe, AZ voters passed a dark money disclosure ballot measure.
  • April: Maryland and New Jersey passed automatic voter registration.
  • May: Ohio voters passed anti-gerrymandering reform.
  • June: Maine voters protected ranked-choice voting against attacks.
  • July: Alaska passed an anti-corruption law.
  • August: Massachusetts passed automatic voter registration.

Yet as David Mermin noted, many Americans have little confidence in the way our elections are being run. The recent debacles in Georgia and Florida with long lines and lost ballots, closed polling stations, inaccurate voter rolls, and faulty election equipment in over a dozen states validate those concerns.

According to an October Pew Research Center survey, 55% of Americans lack confidence in the nation’s election system. Nearly 65% support the idea of automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote, while 87% said voter registrations should be updated automatically when people move.

Additional good news comes from the incoming Democratic House majority who announced its intention to introduce an early bill to establish automatic voter registration, give redistricting powers to independent commissions over state legislatures, and mandate stricter campaign finance disclosures. At least 42 members of Congress have announced their commitment to reject corporate PAC money, which includes at least 30 new House members. And the bipartisan Secure Elections Act, along with other election security proposals, will be reintroduced in the new Congress as well.

Business for America will continue mobilizing business leaders across the nation to advocate for bipartisan political reform. We see the recent elections as a hopeful sign that the voters are ready — and lawmakers are ready to listen. In 2019, we’ll be working on a number of critical initiatives to upgrade the nation’s election security, address money in politics, modernize government, and strengthen our representative democracy. We encourage all businesspeople to contact us and let us know of your interest in partnering.

Richard Eidlin, Policy Director at Business for America