New Common Cause Report: Democracy Wins on the Ballot

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Common Cause today released Democracy on the Ballot 2020. The report examines the results of 18 initiatives on the November 2020 ballot that aimed to change state laws regarding money in politics, voting rights, redistricting and direct democracy. The grassroots, citizen-led measures that protect the people’s voice in government won by a 2 to 1 margin.

According to report authors, only 24 states offer a ballot initiative process, where voters can bypass the state Legislature and approve laws on the ballot. “This election season, voters turned out in record numbers to select new presidential leadership and pass ballot measures that shift power to the people and away from politicians,” said Elena Nunez, director of state operations and ballot measure strategies for Common Cause.

The wave of democracy reform came amid a coronavirus pandemic that halted signature gathering on some initiatives and despite the deliberate barriers set to silence the votes of Black and Brown voters and the voices of people struggling to make ends meet. The wins continue a five-year trend in which voters have approved more than 30 democracy reform initiatives that move us toward a more representative and equitable system of government.

“While many eyes focused on the race at the top of the November ballot, many of our highest stakes contests were at the bottom of the ballot and directly impact people’s ability to participate in our democracy,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Voters across the country, of all political persuasions, approved measures that will transform our government more inclusive, fair, and accountable to the people. That’s something that cannot be ignored and must be celebrated.”

Common Cause Oregon was part of a grassroots coalition to support Measure 107. With a stunning 78% of the vote, Oregon voters cleared the way for first-ever campaign finance laws by enabling state and local governments to enact commonsense money in politics reforms. Oregon is one of just a few states that has no limits on what an individual can give to candidates, which gives special interests and big donors an outsized voice in Oregon government.

“We finally amended our constitution so that we can shed light on who is financially influencing the outcome of our elections and that we are able to regulate political campaign contributions and spending,” Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon. “Now the real work begins. In these next months, we need to convince our state elected officials to pass contribution limits, closing loopholes, and increasing transparency on who is paying for political advertisements.”

Key takeaways from Democracy on the Ballot 2020:

  • A resounding 66% of Virginia voters decided to end partisan gerrymandering by approving a constitutional amendment to create the state’s first-ever citizen-led redistricting commission. Virginia now joins Michigan, Ohio, Utah and Colorado as states that have recently passed reforms on the ballot to put the people in charge of the redistricting process. Going forward, people will choose their politicians, not the other way around.
  • With 64% of the vote, Nevada voters enshrined the right to vote and cast a ballot free from intimidation in the state constitution. They sent a clear message that nothing should stand between a voter and the ballot box.
  • In California, 59% voters restored the right to vote to people on parole after felony convictions. California joins 16 other states where people who have completed a prison term for a felony can fully participate in our democracy by voting.
  • In Colorado, 52% voters passed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to ensure the winner of the popular vote actually wins the presidential election. Colorado now joins 14 other states and the District of Columbia in passing the compact, which will take effect when states worth 270 electoral votes join.
  • Baltimore County, Maryland, became the latest municipality to adopt a fair elections program. With 56% of the votes, local voters approved the creation of a public financing system for county candidates, similar to programs established in Baltimore City, Montgomery Country, Howard County, and Prince George’s County.

While there were big wins at the ballot box, there were also some disappointing losses, Nunez said. Cynical efforts to amend the state constitutions to create justification for onerous voting policies prevailed in Alabama, Florida, and Colorado, and gerrymandering masterminds behind the “Dirty Missouri Amendment” successfully repealed key provisions of the Clean Missouri measure to protect incumbents in super-safe districts.

“Ballot measures are a powerful tool for voters to address the issues that matter to them. We will be working with state leaders and activists to implement these important wins and advance measures that give a greater voice to all of us,” Nunez said.

Read Nunez’s guest column about 2020 ballot wins in Inside Sources