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.
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.
The recent run of success for advocates of ranked-choice voting took a wrong turn this week in Albuquerque. The city council in New Mexico's biggest city voted 5-4 Monday night against implementing the voting system starting with this fall's municipal elections.
Advocates of the system attributed the setback to timing. They said their cause would have prevailed had the vote been held earlier in the year, before many of the council candidates had started plotting strategies for winning under the current system. As evidence they pointed to two of the state's other population centers, Las Cruces and Sante Fe, where ranked-choice voting has been embraced in the past year.
Albuquerque requires winning candidates to have a majority of the vote. If no one cracks 50 percent in the first round there's a runoff between the top two. The ranked-choice system, where voters may list a handful of candidates in order of preference, creates a sort of instant runoff: Politicians with the fewest No. 1 votes are dropped, and their ballots redistributed based on No. 2 rankings, until one candidate has a majority.
New Mexico will become the 18th state to permit its people to register and vote on Election Day, but not until 2022.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a measure Wednesday ending the longtime registration deadline of four weeks before a primary or general election. Next year, the deadlines will be the Saturday beforehand.
The new law, which was opposed by almost all Republicans in the state legislature, also expands automatic voter registration beyond dealings with the Motor Vehicle Division to include applicants for Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits through the state Human Services Department.
Turnout in the state last year was 55 percent, above the national average for the midterm.