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|Marin, Sonoma County, CA||June 6, 2006 Election|
Roots of Change: Election Reform
By John AldenCandidate for Member of the State Assembly; District 6; Democratic Party
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Fair and accurate elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. Yet here, in United States of America, we have serious problems with election fairness and accuracy. We must act to restore trust in our democratic process. Reforming our elections so they are free, fair, and truly democratic must be the highest priority of our California legislature.Fair and accurate elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. But our experiences in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 have shown us that our elections aren't reliably fair and accurate.
It's hard to believe that the United State would still have problems with accurate elections, but across the country and here in California, we still have problems with transparency and consistency in electronic voting, and with campaign finance violations.
No wonder the U.S. is 20th out of 21 in voter turnout among established democracies -- only Switzerland has lower voter turnout than the United States in Presidential elections. Turnout among potentially eligible voters in the U.S. in presidential elections is only 50-55%. By comparison, turnout is well over 80% in most other democracies. We cannot increase our dismal voter participation rates if people believe that their votes don't count.
Reforming our elections so they are free, fair, and truly democratic must be the highest priority of our California legislature. There are a series of steps we should take right away to clean house and restore trust in our democratic process:
Electronic Voting: Ensuring Transparency and a Paper Trail
The electoral debacles in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 focused the country on the need for electoral reform that ensured voting machines are safe from tampering, reliable, and above reproach. But today's electronic voting systems simply do not meet that test.
Right now, there's no way for citizens or candidates to double-check the results, the methods of vote recording and tabulation are kept secret, and many serious doubts have been raised about the design and reliability of the machines we use.
As your Assemblymember, I will demand a paper trail for each electronic ballot, so we can compare the results on paper to the results in the computer. And I'll make sure the computer programming (or source code) for our electronic voting machines is available to the public, so we can all understand how our votes are counted. Only by making the process of vote recording and counting totally transparent can we restore faith in our voting system.
Did you know that if you're a candidate in California, and your election is lost by only one vote, you have to pay to have the vote recounted? So in the closest of elections, we make the losing candidate fund the cost of a recount. Recently, right here in Marin County, a candidate who lost by only 0.3% of the vote was told he'd have to pay $50,000 to get a recount. When elections are this close, the public deserves a recount, regardless of whether the candidates want one, so we can all be confident of the result.
In many states, recounts are automatically done whenever a race is won or lost by only 1% of the vote. This makes sense and we should adopt this in California. Recounts are a powerful tool for double-checking the machinery of voting and for making sure votes are accurately recorded and counted. They also help us better understand how we can improve our voting process is the future. California should do the same as other states by having mandatory state funded recounts when races finish within 1% of the vote.
Campaign Finance Reform: Clean Money Elections
Finally, the massive influx of corporate and special interest money has corrupted our politics. Today, the maximum donation for an Assembly campaign is $3,300, far more than the maximum contribution from an individual in a Presidential campaign ($2,100). In this 6th Assembly race alone, over $1 million will be raised by the candidates. Candidates raising huge amounts of money from corporate special interests will be seen as beholden to those who bankrolled their campaigns - no matter how they vote. This is why we need fundamental reform of our campaign finance laws here in California. Assemblywoman Loni Hancock's bill, AB 583, is the best way to do it. Called "Clean Money," this proposal has already been implemented in Maine and Arizona, and has dramatically changed the outcome of political races in those states.
Here's how it works: a candidate running for state office collects donations of exactly five dollars - no more, no less - from voters. Once they reach a certain threshold number of $5 donations (500 in an Assembly race, and 25,000 in a Governor's race, for example) then the state provides candidates with a set amount of campaign money. No other funds can be raised by that candidate, but they have enough to reach the voters.
This legislation is a way to ensure that our candidates are not beholden to big donors or special interests, but to the people who elected them. And the cost to the state is very small - a tiny fraction of one percent of the state budget - a small price to pay for clean democratic elections.
Corporate money, in particular, has sullied the political process. I have nothing against folks in business being involved in politics. My mother was a small businesswoman, and I believe she had the same right to be involved in politics as anyone else. But the gigantic corporations that dominate our economy have vast wealth that overshadows the resources of any individual, or even an organized group of individuals. Plus, corporations ultimately are responsible to profits, not the public good. By law, their only responsibility is to maximize profit. When you combine massive resources with the blind profit motive, there's no question you've created a dangerous political dynamic - despite the good intentions of many involved.
In other states, and in the federal system, corporations are banned from making political contributions for exactly this reason. In fact, they've already done it in Texas. And if California is lagging behind Texas in campaign finance reform, we know we're in trouble.
I am proud that our campaign is leading the way by not accepting corporate contributions. California should ban corporate contributions too, just as we already have at the federal level.
To read all of my Roots of Change essays please visit http://www.aldenforassembly.com/roots_archive.html
Position Paper 2
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