Common Cause

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Voters Lifting Democracy Reform Issues

As Americans cast their votes today, one message of the 2016 election already is clear: left, right and center, people are determined to make our democracy again work for them and their families.

While journalists have focused on the public’s frustration with politics as usual, largely missed in the run-up to today’s election has been a burgeoning and increasingly successful nationwide movement for democracy reform. From the presidential primaries to a plethora of state and local ballot initiatives, voters are pushing for bold steps to create a 21st Century democracy.

Common Cause is in the vanguard of this new democracy movement, just as we’ve been working for a stronger, more representative democracy since our founding in 1970. Except for the Watergate era mid-term elections of 1974, we haven’t witnessed an election as focused on democracy itself as this one.

Today’s ballots in Howard County, MD, and Berkeley, CA, include citizen-driven initiatives to empower small-dollar campaign donors and break the dominance of big money on local elections; in Alaska, voters are considering a proposal for automatic voter registration, a reform already adopted in at least five other states. Rhode Island voters are considering an important ethics reform measure and in Sacramento, CA and the state of South Dakota, voters will decide whether to create independent commissions to handle redistricting, an increasingly popular step states and localities are taking to end partisan gerrymandering.


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Over the past five years, voters or their representatives in states and localities that are home to more than 130 million Americans have formally called on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that would permit us to restore sensible limits on political spending so that every citizen can be heard in our political debates. Some states have moved to strengthen the right to vote through automatic voter registration and Election Day or same day registration, many have expanded early voting opportunities and made it possible for people to vote by mail and/or at locations convenient to their workplaces as well as their homes.

From the White House to Congress and the statehouses, the people being elected today should be on notice that the public expects action on these issues. Far from a one-off election cycle for democracy issues, 2016 signals the arrival of democracy reform as a national issue; its success in breaking through is a result of a movement of citizens in cities and states that has been simmering since Citizens United and reached its boiling point this year.

The same voters who distrust government and are disgusted by partisan politics today also believe in a democracy where everyone participates, their voice is heard by their government and their vote counted fairly. The long lines at precincts today -- even after 40 million Americans voted early -- testify to Americans’ continuing determination to make the system work for everyone. Voters want to choose representatives based on the strength of their ideas and character, and move away from the polarization that comes from these partisan power games.

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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

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