5 Local Victories for Democracy That Passed on Election Day

by Maria Hernandez

November 14, 2016

People across the country are hard at work organizing for a democracy that is truly of, by, and for the people — and we need to harness that progress now more than ever.

Claim Your Democracy

Photo by Alex Dos Santos.

After a campaign devoid of any substantive debate on climate change, the only world leader to actively deny the reality of climate change is now preparing his move to the White House.

While there’s much work to be done to protect our climate and those targeted by the racism and xenophobia already spewed by Donald Trump, it’s also worth noting how people around the country took action at the ballot box for democracy reforms that change how their local and state politics operate from the ground up.

Here are a few of last week’s local victories for democracy.

1. Maine Passes Ranked-Choice Voting

Also known as “instant runoff” voting (IRV), ranked-choice voting will be used to elect U.S. Senators and Representatives, the governor, state Representatives and state Senators.

Rather than casting a vote for only one person, voters can now rank several candidates in order of choice. Over several rounds, the least popular candidates are removed from competition by process of elimination. For example, if your first choice is eliminated, then your vote is instead counted for your second choice, and so on. The outcome is that the candidates who are elected are supported (at least secondarily) by a majority of the electorate.

Maine will be the first state to standardize instant runoff for statewide elections, a step towards getting out of the “lesser of two evils” menu that voters are often given.

2. Environmental Victories in Florida and California

Voters in California continue to overwhelmingly support common-sense policies designed to keep their air and water clean.

This year, that included a measure to ban plastic bags, which will now have to be purchased from stores rather than freely given. More than 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every year. Banning plastic microbeads and the most commonly discarded types of plastic packaging has been proven to be the most effective way of preventing the problem at its source.

But that wasn’t all for California. Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, became the fifth county in the state to ban the planting of GMOs.

And in Florida, voters rejected a deceptive anti-solar amendment backed by big utilities and the Koch brothers.

The amendment would have allowed monopoly utilities to charge homeowners a higher rate for installing rooftop solar panels. Floridians for Solar Choice, the grassroots coalition that included everyone from the Florida Libertarian Party to environmental groups defeated the measure at the polls shortly after audio was released revealing a Koch-funded operative explaining how the amendment was designed to deceive voters.

3. Taking on Corporate Campaign Finance and Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and the unchecked corporate election spending the it spurred continue to undermine our democracy. But two more states — California and Washington — have now passed resolutions urging their representatives to support an amendment overturning Citizens United, bringing the total number to 21.

People on both sides of the political spectrum agree that our elections should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Even Paul Ryan’s home county of Rock County, Wisconsin passed a resolution against Citizens United with 86 percent of the vote.

Targeting Citizens United isn’t the only way voters across the country took on the corporate spending polluting our democracy.

Both Missouri and Multnomah County, Oregon voted to limit campaign contributions. Howard County, Maryland created a public campaign fund that allows candidates to get out of the campaign finance “arms race” and spend more time talking to voters. Similarly, Berkeley, California created public elections fund that will reward candidates with small donations if they refuse to take contributions over $50.

4. Closing Corporate Lobbying Loopholes, Increasing Transparency and Ethics

South Dakota has long been the only state where it was legal for lobbyists to secretly gift politicians unlimited amounts of money and other gifts with no limits on extravagance. But now — thanks to the organizing of South Dakotans for Integrity — the state passed an initiative that brings limits on lobbying expenditures and increases transparency and enforcement of the state’s existing ethics laws.

In California, transparency voters passed a proposition requiring all state legislature bills to be posted online 72 hours before the final vote, and that legislative proceedings be streamed online. This measure increases transparency and accountability and will prevent last-minute, corporate-friendly amendments from sneaking into bills without the public having time to react.

And Rhode Island voted to empower its state ethics commission to investigate and sanction elected officials for ethical breaches.

5. Automatic Voter Registration

It’s 2016, so why are so many of us forced to vote like it’s still the 20th century?

Fortunately, Alaska just showed us how automatic voter registration can be. While voter suppression and voter ID requirements based upon the myth of widespread voter fraud and the Supreme Court’s rollback of the Voting Rights Act make it much harder to vote in many states, Alaska has demonstrated how easy it is to make voter registration nearly automatic.

Good move, Alaska. Our democracy is better off when everyone’s voices are heard and every vote is counted.

While there’s still a long way to go before we have a democracy that fulfills its promise, the movement to bring change from the ground up won some important victories at the ballot box. Here’s to many more ahead.

By Maria Hernandez

Maria Hernandez is a campaign coordinator with Greenpeace Chicago. Find her on Twitter @MariaBandita and follow @GreenpeaceChi for more Midwest Greenpeace updates.

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