Voters in two Western cities have delivered a pair of small victories and one substantial loss to advocates for reducing the importance of big money in elections.
Albuquerque narrowly rejected a ballot measure Tuesday to start a system of publicly funded donation vouchers for supporting municipal candidates. The idea has been hailed as a breakthrough for promoting a broader base of interest in elections while diluting the power of corporate cash over campaigns, while critics say it's a totally wrong way to spend taxpayer money.
The voters of New Mexico's biggest city did, however, decide to expand an existing public financing system for mayoral candidates willing to limit their own spending. And the people of San Francisco voted to limit contributions to local candidates and require the people who buy advertising in city elections to disclose their identities.
Elections across a large swath of California a year from now must be conducted in 14 additional languages in order to stop disenfranchising at least 800,000 Asian-American voters, a state appeals court has ruled.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by several civil rights groups, a three-judge panel in San Francisco unanimously ordered the changes Monday after deciding the state's top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla, was setting an improperly high threshold for deciding when to offer voting assistance in some languages other than English.
The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeals could have a measurable impact on 2020 turnout in the nation's largest and most linguistically diverse state. While its 55 electoral votes will be a virtual lock for the Democratic nominee, at least half a dozen congressional races and dozens of state and local contests look to be competitive.
Last year was a really good year for placing democracy reform in the hands of the electorate. This year, not so much.
In the 2018 midterms, ballot proposals adopted in more than a dozen states and cities expanded the use of automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, public financing of campaigns and other democracy reform proposals.
Next week's off-year election will see only a small roster of contests with an expansion of democracy itself on the ballot, and most have relatively narrow scope and limited reach.
But good-government advocates hope a wave of victories creates momentum for a more ambitious roster of proposals to get spots on the ballot alongside the 2020 presidential election.
And while the roster of pro-democracy choices may be limited this Nov. 5, the overall number of direct-democracy opportunities is large. Not since 2007 have so many ballot measures (three dozen) gone before voters in an odd-numbered year, according to Ballotpedia.
Below are the eight items on the ballot next week that good-government advocates are watching most intently — listed alphabetically by where the voting will take place. Four are initiatives in big cities and two are statewide referenda. The others are partisan elections for offices where the future of a reliable and relatable democracy is part of what's in the offing.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.
The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.