Whoever Wins the Georgia Race, Democracy Loses

By Wendy Fields, Executive Director of the Democracy Initiative

The contest in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handle is entering the record books as the most costly Congressional campaign in U.S. history. The candidates and outside groups have spent roughly $55 million on the race. Party committees and super PACs spent more than $25 million on the race, primarily on advertising against the other side.

This is NOT what a healthy democracy looks like!

This race makes the case for large scale democracy reforms on blunting the influence of money in politics and expanding voting access while protecting the right to vote across the country.

The obscene domination of our electoral process by money makes it inconceivable that an ordinary citizen — a worker, a person of color, an immigrant — could enter the process and be a viable candidate. In a moment in our history when our nation faces urgent concerns — an attack on our democracy by Russians, environmental crises, high economic inequality, entrenched poverty, systemic racism in our criminal justice system, attacks on immigrants — only 54% of our citizens voted in the Presidential race. Given the outsized role of money in electoral politics, it is not surprising that a substantial part of our population is cynical about being able to make real change through our democratic system.

The fact is, people’s trust in government is at an all-time low. A national survey by Pew Research Center conducted in April among 1,500 adults, finds that the overall level of trust in government remains near historic lows; just 20% say they trust the government to do what’s right always or most of the time. Far more say they trust the government only some of the time (68%); 11% volunteer that they never trust the government to do what’s right.

Imagine if we invested in increasing voter participation; modernizing our voting systems; passing corporate contribution limits; creating a fair and equitable playing field for all to run for local offices from commissions to District Attorney’s on up. Until we address the scourge of money in politics, we will never have a democracy that is responsive to the voices of the people and their participation will continue to drop. Once again, this is a great example of the fact that democracy is too important to be left to elected leaders and traditional parties.

Clearly some are still not “woke!”

While Congress remains a deadlocked circus, on the state level many reforms are passing and making a difference because of grassroots coalitions and activism. We challenge all elected leaders to join us and change the status quo.

Today, 13 states provide some form of public financing option for campaigns.

Each of these plans requires the candidate to accept public money for his or her campaign in exchange for a promise to limit both how much the candidate spends on the election and how much they receive in donations from any one group or individual. (NCSL)

The results of Oregon’s adoption of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)suggest that these reforms impact participation greatly. In the first year, 270,000 people registered through AVR, and 98,000 people voted in 2016. Forty percent of the people who registered through AVR were 18–29 years old, compared to an 18% prior registration rate. An estimated 116,000 people registered through AVR who would not have registered, and of those 40,000 people voted. The newly registered were on average young, low income (less than $60,000 per household), less urban and more diverse than the average electorate. Turnout rose by 4.1 points in 2016, which is larger than any other state.*

A true democracy requires unfettered and equal access by all Americans.

At the grassroots level, people are rising up and demanding meaningful reforms. We cannot continue to sell our rights to the highest bidders.

*Center for American Progress Get the full report HERE

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