Public financing of campaigns now a presidential campaign issue
The most expansive proposal to reform the political system (so far) by a presidential aspirant comes from Kirsten Gillibrand, who says every voter should get $600 in taxpayer money to donate to candidates for federal office.
The New York senator, who's among more than a dozen candidates mired in single digits in early polling in the 2020 Democratic race, unveiled her "Democracy Dollars" plan Wednesday in an interview with NBC News.
Her rationale for such a bold approach to reducing the role of big money in politics: "If you want to accomplish anything that the American people want us to accomplish — whether it's health care as a right, better public schools, better economy — you have to take on the greed and corruption that determine everything in Washington."
Gillibrand would allow every voter to obtain 60 vouchers worth $10 each for every campaign cycle. Half would be good for donations in the primaries, half for the general election. They would be earmarked equally for House candidates, Senate contests and the presidential race. The congressional vouchers would have to be spent in the voter's home state.
For the candidates, the big hitch is that only those who agree to steer clear of big-dollar donations could get the public financing. The maximum donation they could accept under the Gillibrand plan would be $200 per campaign – a tiny fraction of the $5,600 maximum "hard dollar" limit today. (Fewer than 1 percent of voters write political checks for more than $200, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and those who do tend to be richer, whiter and more male than the overall population. So the Gillibrand plan would effectively spread the power of individual voters' political money across all demographic groups.)
The campaign didn't provide a cost estimate but did provide a funding mechanism: limiting the business deduction for executive compensation, which it estimates would raise $60 billion over a decade. Subsidizing political giving and raising corporate taxes are sure to meet fierce resistance from Republicans in Congress if such a bill is ever pushed from the White House.
The only similar plan now is in Seattle, where local voters decided by referendum that each of them should get a $25 voucher to spend on municipal races. The House-passed political overhaul bill, HR 1, would create a pilot program with vouchers also worth $25. But it's a dead letter in the GOP Senate despite co-sponsorships from every Democratic senator – even those who aren't running for president. That puts most of the field in favor of some public financing. (Joe Biden has backed versions of the idea since he was a junior senator in the 1970s.)
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The paper trail has become the industry standard for giving voters and elections officials confidence that ballots haven't been hacked. Now comes another back-to-the-future move for boosting security and bolstering public confidence in elections: the return of the 10-sided dice.
The quirky toys found in many high school classrooms and role-playing games are part of a pilot program announced this week in Pennsylvania, which is joining a handful of other states in trying out a math-based system for checking the accuracy of election returns.
The "risk-limiting audit" searches for irregularities in vote tallies and relies on some seriously advanced statistical analysis combined with a bit of analog randomness, which is where auditors using those pentagonal trapezohedrons (the dice) at public audit hearings will get involved.
Indiana is not moving nearly assertively enough to upgrade its voting machines so they're less vulnerable to hackers, a nonprofit alleges in a federal lawsuit pressing the state to spend millions more before the presidential election.
At issue is the timetable for eliminating the direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines that are in use in 58 of the state's 92 counties. The complaint filed Thursday by Indiana Vote by Mail, which advocates for any array of proposals to give Hoosiers easier access to the ballot box, wants to force the state to replace the paperless devices in the next year with machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail.
Indiana for now looks to be among just eight states using paperless balloting in 2020, when President Trump will be counting on its 11 electoral votes. The state last went for the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.