Big Wins on Democracy in Oregon

As the Oregon Legislature wraps up it’s 2019 session, let's take stock of what we won this session. We moved forward on campaign finance reform, election security and voting rights.

When the people lead, the leaders will follow.

That’s clearly the case in Oregon now, as the Oregon Legislature wraps up it’s 2019 session. Oregonians made our voices heard on major issues at the very root of the political process. Take stock of what we won this session:

Campaign Finance Reform

On the very last day of a dramatic legislative session – one in which Republicans gained national attention for twice shutting down business, going into hiding to deny Democrats a quorum – the Legislature finally passed a major package of campaign finance reform bills, years in the making. The heart of the package is SJR18, Constitutional Authority to Regulate Money in Politics, a bill that sends voters a 2020 ballot measure to approve state constitutional authority to enact laws on money in the political process. Without this, Oregon has been unable to limit money in politics for decades. In addition, the Legislature passed two transparency bills that will go into effect once voters approve constitutional authority. HB2983, Disclosing Organizational Political Spending, requires organizations to disclose the donors behind their political spending, so that donors can’t use organizations as shells to funnel hidden money. HB2716, Disclosing Political Advertisement Funding, requires taglines on political advertisements, listing the top 5 donors funding the ads.

Tweet: Thanks to @OregonGovBrown @DanRayfield & @SenatorGolden for championing campaign finance legislation this session, and to @RobDavis for his excellent investigative reporting in the @Oregonian that helped lift up the need for reform.

Oregon Voting Rights Act

The Oregon Legislature also passed landmark legislation that advances the spirit of the National Voting Rights Act at the local level. HB3310, The Oregon Voting Rights Act, creates a community driven process that local Oregon communities can use to align elections for school boards, community college boards, and educational service districts with the National Voting Rights Act – for more equitable representation of all voices. The legislation provides a proactive and positive tool to bring school district elections into compliance with the NVRA, without costly litigation, making it easier for communities to identify and solve structural barriers that repeatedly keep some of our communities from representation.

Tweet: Thanks to @diego4oregon @manningstl @SenatorKnopp & @DanRayfield for championing #HB3310, the Oregon Voting Rights Act, and @PCUNoregon, Oregon’s Farmworker Union, for leading a coalition effort to get this passed.

National Popular Vote

After 10 years of organizing, eventually pushing past every obstacle, we finally got the Oregon Legislature to pass SB870, National Popular Vote – an agreement between states to ensure that the national popular vote decides who wins in U.S. presidential elections. As we’ve seen in multiple presidential elections, – including the most recent one – it’s possible to win the Electoral College vote without an actual majority of votes. Moreover, this causes candidates to focus narrowly on voters in a handful of swing states – largely disregarding the concerns of the rest of the country. The National Popular Vote interstate compact provides a simple solution. States agree to allocate their electoral votes differently – casting them for the winner of the national popular vote rather than state by state, winner-take-all. The compact only takes effect when enough states sign on, who together control a majority of Electoral College votes. Oregon now joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia signed on so far, together representing nearly 3/4ths of the Electoral College votes needed to put this reform in effect.

Tweet: After 10 years, Oregon finally passed #NationalPopularVote! Thanks to @michaeldembrow @BrianBoquistGOP @ShemiaFagan @BrianClem @diego4oregon @alissakg @RepMitchell32 & @DanRayfield for leadership this year, and others who have led the effort in years past.

Election Security

In a time of heightened election insecurity, it’s critical that we proactively maintain state-of-the-art election systems – and use the most effective tools available to secure our elections against tampering and cyber-attacks. SB944, Election Security, introduces the use of post-election risk-limiting audits to Oregon. These audits, which involve a hand examination of a statistically significant sampling of ballots prior to certification of each election, enable election officials to quickly detect and respond to interference. Election integrity experts agree that risk limiting audits are the most efficient method for detecting and responding to threats and correcting incorrect election outcomes, and recommend that these be made mandatory in all states, along with paper ballots.

Tweet: Thanks to @LewFrederick @SenatorKnopp and @diego4oregon for championing #SB944, which will protect OR elections from cyber attacks, and to @SenRonWyden for championing #electionsecurity at the federal level.

Postage Paid Ballots

In the final hours of the session, the Legislature passed one other democracy reform, several years in the making. SB861, Postage Paid Ballots, enables Oregonians to return their ballots postage-paid. Every Oregon voter who chooses to vote must find a way to return their ballot. To drop off a ballot at an election office or drop box may require some voters to drive 30 minutes or more from their home or workplace. To mail a ballot, a voter has had to purchase a stamp and get the ballot mailed 5-6 days before the election. Providing postage-paid return removes one more barrier, streamlining the voting process further to make it more efficient and straightforward.

Tweet: Thanks to @OregonGovBrown @michaeldembrow @manningstl @RobNosse @alissakg and @DanRayfield for championing #SB861, which enables Oregonians to return their ballots postage-paid, and to @TheBusProject for leading the effort to get this passed.

Small Donor Elections

And a note about HB 3004, Small Donor Elections, a bill we were unable to pass this session that would enact the most game-changing campaign finance reform of all – a public matching fund that amplifies constituent small contributions, making constituent voice more powerful than special interest money. As the Legislature wrestled with whether to finally act on campaign finance reform at all, it ultimately decided to focus on the first fundamental step – the constitutional authority, but leave Small Donor Elections for another day. Nevertheless, we were able to use the legislative session to build strong, organized voice for this key reform. Check out some of the press on the issue, including op-eds by PCUN’s Reyna Lopez, Unite Oregon’s Kayse Jama, APANO’s Chi Nguyen and Robin Ye, Main Street Alliance’s small business owners Constance & Kevin Marr, winning candidate Kathy Hoffman, and a news story on MapLight’s analysis of money in Oregon’s 2018 election.

Inevitably, there’s still work ahead.

To fully secure the constitutional authority for campaign finance reform, we’ll need to organize voters at the 2020 ballot, ensuring that voters understand the issue and are not misled by deep-pocketed opposition. And we’ll need to come back in future sessions to pass Small Donor Elections, and pass and improve other necessary campaign finance reform.

On all these democracy issues, we’ll need to be just as organized next legislative session, and the one after, and the one after that…

But let’s pause now – this is an extraordinary set of achievements.

When it comes to issues affecting the political process itself – and who wields power – resistance to change is fierce. These are some of the hardest issues to tackle.

Common Cause and our allies achieved bold victories in Oregon this legislative session, showing that when we’re organized, we can make democracy work for all of us.