Bal­lot ques­tions crit­i­cal to democ­racy

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Off the top of your head, can you guess the me­dian weekly wage for a Bal­ti­more house­hold? Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus data, the an­swer is just over $850. Now con­sider this: In our last may­oral race, the av­er­age con­tri­bu­tion to a can­di­date was $725. We all know that cam­paign donors can hold sig­nif­i­cant sway with elected of­fi­cials, so you do the math. If the peo­ple putting our lead­ers in of­fice are those with money to burn, they do not rep­re­sent this city’s res­i­dents — es­pe­cially many fam­i­lies who are black, brown and strug­gling to get by.

Let’s face it: Our democ­racy works best when ev­ery­one has a voice, not when it’s pay-to-play. That’s why it is crit­i­cal that Bal­ti­more vot­ers weigh in on two key ques­tions on our city and state bal­lot this fall. First, a yes vote on Ques­tion H would amend the Bal­ti­more City Char­ter and lay the ground­work for a new pro­gram to get big money out of Bal­ti­more City elec­tions. Se­cond, a yes vote on Ques­tion 2 of our statewide bal­lot would change the state’s Con­sti­tu­tion to al­low voter reg­is­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day.

Our democ­racy works best when ev­ery­one has a voice, whether that means cast­ing a bal­lot or hav­ing our state put lim­its on cor­po­rate money in pol­i­tics. With these two cru­cial changes, Bal­ti­more­ans have the chance to spur change to­ward gov­ern­ment that re­sponds to reg­u­lar peo­ple — not just the priv­i­leged few.

If passed, Ques­tion H would help es­tab­lish a Bal­ti­more Fair Elec­tions pro­gram to en­able can­di­dates to run for of­fice with­out re­ly­ing on large or cor­po­rate donors. Par­tic­i­pat­ing can­di­dates could no longer take gi­ant checks from lob­by­ists, cor­po­ra­tions or PACs, which would ex­pand the op­por­tu­ni­ties to run for of­fice so peo­ple from all back­grounds can rely on the strength of their ideas, not their ac­cess to money. A Fair Elec­tions pro­gram would also am­plify the voices of Bal­ti­more’s work­ing fam­i­lies by en­cour­ag­ing small-dol­lar dona­tions and pro­vid­ing match­ing funds for can­di­dates who abide by stricter ethics and trans­parency rules.

Small donor funds like that pro­posed with Ques­tion H are al­ready the law of the land in neigh­bor­ing Howard and Mont­gomery coun­ties, and Prince Ge­orge’s County is con­sid­er­ing one this fall. If a city as large as Bal­ti­more takes this im­por­tant step, we get that much closer to a statewide small donor pro­gram.

Mean­while, Elec­tion Day Reg­is­tra­tion (EDR) statewide would elim­i­nate ar­bi­trary dead­lines that stop cit­i­zens from vot­ing and will in­crease voter par­tic­i­pa­tion, es­pe­cially among com­mu­ni­ties of color and younger vot­ers. Cur­rently, Mary­lan­ders can reg­is­ter to vote or up­date their voter reg­is­tra­tion dur­ing the early vot­ing pe­riod us­ing same­day reg­is­tra­tion, but they can­not do so on Elec­tion Day it­self. This in­con­sis­tency is un­nec­es­sary and leads to thou­sands of Mary­lan­ders' voices go­ing un­heard dur­ing our elec­tions.

Sim­i­lar to the voter reg­is­tra­tion process dur­ing the early vot­ing pe­riod, EDR would be a one-stop process that al­lows el­i­gi­ble vot­ers to reg­is­ter to vote or up­date an ex­ist­ing reg­is­tra­tion, and then cast a bal­lot im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward. EDR gains are par­tic­u­larly strong in com­mu­ni­ties with sig­nif­i­cant mo­bil­ity — vot­ers of color, young vot­ers, low in­come vot­ers and re­cently en­fran­chised Mary­lan­ders. These vot­ers are more likely to have moved be­tween elec­tion cy­cles, thus ne­ces­si­tat­ing an up­dated reg­is­tra­tion.

Our city and state can­not af­ford for only some voices to be heard and counted dur­ing our elec­tions. Dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions, the first year of im­ple­men­ta­tion for same-day reg­is­tra­tion dur­ing early vot­ing, 20,000 Mary­lan­ders availed them­selves of the pro­gram, mean­ing that 20,000 more Mary­lan­ders were able to make their voices heard dur­ing the course of the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tions. Al­low­ing vot­ers the abil­ity to also reg­is­ter on elec­tion day would build on those gains. EDR re­quires el­i­gi­ble vot­ers to pro­duce the same doc­u­ments to reg­is­ter as dur­ing the same-day reg­is­tra­tion pe­riod dur­ing early vot­ing. This sys­tem has worked well for Mary­land, pro­duc­ing zero fraud­u­lent reg­is­tra­tions.

With early vot­ing un­der­way through Nov. 1 and the Nov. 6 elec­tion less than two weeks away, Bal­ti­more vot­ers have the op­por­tu­nity to cast a bal­lot for democ­racy, to curb the spe­cial in­ter­ests’ in­flu­ence in our po­lit­i­cal process and make sure ev­ery el­i­gi­ble voter’s voice is heard. We in­vite you to join us in sup­port­ing these two crit­i­cal changes for our city and state and to vote yes on Ques­tion H and Ques­tion 2. Wendy Fields (wfields@democ­ra­cyini­tia­ is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Democ­racy Ini­tia­tive, a na­tional coali­tion of 70 or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing for a fu­ture in which all Amer­i­cans par­tic­i­pate fully and freely in the demo­cratic process. Rev. Kobi Lit­tle (naacpm­sc­pac@gmail­com) is chair of the Ques­tion H Bal­lot Com­mit­tee, pres­i­dent of the Bal­ti­more City Branch of the NAACP, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion chair­man for the NAACP Mary­land State Con­fer­ence.

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