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California State Government June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Key Democratic Reforms

By Forrest Hill

Candidate for Secretary of State; Green Party

This information is provided by the candidate
As Secretary of State I would work to enact three major voting reforms - public financing of elections, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for statewide races, and Proportional Voting for the legislature.
Restoring Democracy

While the United States continues to extol the virtues of democracy in developing countries, it has one of the most restrictive electoral processes in the free world. Our current winner-take-all system of political representation has lead to a two party monopoly, in which choices for candidates are limited and ideas for solving national and international problems are framed in the narrowest of terms.

Few elections in America are competitive and the outcome is often determined by whichever candidate has the most money. The overwhelming majority of funding comes from large corporations, who exert great influence over government decisions. Campaigns are waged on corporate controlled media through manipulative ads, in which real issues are rarely addressed honestly. Limited Choices

Today over 90% of Americans live in congressional districts that are essentially one-party monopolies. In California, 51 of the 53 House races held in 2004 were won by landslide margins that exceeded 20% and not a single incumbent loss reelection in 2002 or 2004.

In many races throughout the county, collusion by the two major parties has limited the choice of candidates to a single individual. For instance, in Louisiana the top Democratic and Republican officeholders have made a pact not to run against one another in statewide elections. In the 2000 elections in Florida, the two major parties did not field candidates against each other in nearly half of all legislative races, while in Massachusetts almost three-quarters of the state races were uncontested.

To make matters worse, when elections are contested incumbents are more likely to die in office than be beaten by a challenger. Consider that in 1998, 2000 and 2002, nearly 99 percent of U.S. House incumbents won re-election. The primary reason (not surprisingly) is that corporate donations to House incumbents towered over their challengers.

In the last two elections, two-thirds of incumbents spent at least 10 times more money on their campaigns than their rivals. The effects of unbalanced campaign financing and third party disenfranchisement are so significant that the Center for Voting and Democracy was able to accurately predict the outcome of 99.7 percent of the U.S. House races in 1998 - 2004.

These statistics mean that most voters are faced with unappealing choices: ratify the incumbent party, waste their vote on a candidate who is sure to lose, or sit out the race. Not surprisingly, increasing numbers of American are opting for the latter option.

Real Democratic Reforms

As a candidate for secretary of State I would work to enact three major voting reforms - public financing of elections, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for statewide races, and Proportional Representation voting for the legislature.

1. Public Financing of Elections

Under a publicly financed election system, qualified candidates would receive the necessary funds to run for office directly from the state, so that the total amount spent by candidates will be more equal. This will keep political spending under control, remove the influence of corporate money from campaigns and cut cost to the general fund through the elimination of no-bid contracts and political cronyism.

More information on Public Financing

2. Instant Runoff Voting

The best way to promote "spoiler-free" elections and increase the diversity of candidates running for statewide office is Instant Runoff Voting. IRV allows voters to rank candidates 1,2, 3, in order of preference.

Under IRV third party and minority candidates could run without being label spoilers, since people would be free to vote for the candidate they really preferred as their first-choice while voting for the "lesser-of-two evils" as their second.

More information on IRV

3. Proportional Voting

For legislative bodies, such as the Assembly and the State Senate, the most democratic form of electro-politics is Proportional Voting. Used in most of the world's democracies, it creates an electoral system in which everyone is represented in proportion to their voting strength. If your party or group gets 49% of the legislative vote you receive 49% of the legislative seats. Under our current winner-take-all system, if 49% of the citizens in a legislative district vote for the party of their choice, they get 0% representation. This form of political representation is not only outdated but also highly undemocratic.

More information on Proportional Voting

California should lead

California should be leading the fight to end the corrupting power of money in our elections. Already Maine, Arizona, Vermont and North Carolina, give the option of public financing to state wide candidates that accept spending limits. New Jersey will launch a similar program next year, and New Mexico in 2006.

California should also be leading the battle for creating a just voting system. Our current electoral system discourages voters from voting for the candidate of their choice (spoiler effect), suppresses new ideas, and encourages negative campaigns rather than inclusive efforts to build coalitions.

Voters in cites like Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro and San Francisco have already expressed their desire to improve our democracy by passing initiative in supporting IRV in local elections. It is time that the California legislature followed their lead and instituted just and free elections for all.

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