Reforming “Wired” US Elections

 

How can the US Congress have a 5% positive rating, not represent the consent of the governed, and continue to be reelected? The problem, Ted believes is structural – the system is wired to PREVENT the consent of the governed.

The consent of the governed – the very voice of the people – is expressed through open and free elections. Democracy has matured through extending the franchise. In the United States, the great civil rights struggles have extended the right to vote from a white to landed males through landless, black males, women, Native American..  However, much remains to be done.  Through highly partisan election laws, gerrymandering,  lack oversight of elections system, and weak financial accountability, American elections have become “wired” – where the outcome is non-competitive.  Through a  process that most voters do not understand, most politicians are selected, not elected, by a corrupt system puts people into office who do not represent the governed. From his initial involvement in politics until today, Ted’s highest priorities are on reforms that strengthen the consent of the governed.

Ted works on what he calls  “the four pillars” of election reform. The most fundamental is the election system – Constitutions, statutes and procedures that define who is eligible to vote, ballot access, and the organization of the election process itself.  The regulation of financing, the second pillar, plays a critical role in whose voice is heard. The third, is the voting and counting process, auditing and protecting the integrity of the voting itself. Finally, who is and is not represented is, in the US system, strongly dependent on the geographic organization of peoples, redistricting.

Ted has made incremental reforms in three of these four areas – but so much remains to be done.

Casting your ballot is but the tip of the iceberg in an election system.

 

Pillar 1: The Election System

Bringing an Open Non-Partisan Primary to Arizona

Tried of partisan gridlock?  Hollow claims that a candidate will “work across the aisle”?  Have you noticed that the winner of a party primary election is usually unopposed in the general election? Wonder why politicians only pander to their most extreme party base and do not even try to represent all the voters in their district?

Rather than hollow promises, Ted stepped away from running for elections. In 2012, he joined fellow election system reformers in Arizona, focusing on HOW, not WHO governs.

The media recognize Ted as the architect of 2o12 Arizona’s “Top 2″ Open Primary measure – designed to end the corrupt election system where candidates are elected in closed or semi-closed primary elections which disenfranchise independent voters.  His work on this design began in 2010,  strengthen in 2011 through work with some of the best legal minds in Arizona and elsewhere.  The measure, if passed in the November 2012 election, will ensure that every person qualified to vote, including those not affiliated with any political party, has the right to vote at any election for any candidate, regardless of the voter’s or the candidate’s party affiliation or lack of party affiliation.

The Measure
  •  Abolishes the existing system of taxpayer-funded primary elections to select nominees for political parties.
  •  Creates in its place an Open “Top Two” Primary Election, in which all candidates running for an office appear together on the same ballot and all qualified voters (regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof) are able to vote for the candidate of their choice. The two candidates receiving the highest vote totals for each office would then go on to face each other in the general election.
  • Allows all Arizonans, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in a single open primary for the candidates of their choice. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will compete in the general election.
  • Establishes a level playing field for all voters and candidates – ending the era of voting statutes and procedures designed to protect the monopoly of recognized political parties.

Read this 2012 Amendment to the Arizona Constitution that is being circulated by Open Elections/Open Government Coalition of which Ted was a member.  The Open Primary – Top 2 Advance initiative is supported by the national organizations, including www.independentvoting.org.

 

The origin of the Open Elections/Open Government (or Arizona Top 2) Initiative

 

Early in 2010, Ted changed his registration from Democrat to “independent and non-partisan.”   Unlike his previous 7 campaigns (counting primaries), Ted and his supporters now ran as an independent candidate for the Arizona State Senate. Only here did they  discover the Arizona election system – like most US election systems -  is extensively “wired” to protect and elect only Republican and Democratic candidates and discourage the participation of independents or unaffiliated voters.

With almost a third of Arizona and the nation registered independent, Ted and his associates aggressively worked on changing the system and give all voters a voice.

He completed a national review of alternative election systems that were less inflected by the hyper-partisan virus. He found inspiration in the the Great Depression reforms in Nebraska that gave them a unicameral, nonpartisan State legislature. He found hope in his interviews with leaders in the Independent Voting NetworkIndependentVoting.orgIndependentVoice.org,  the Washington State Grange, in former Secretary of State Phil Keisling and his associates in Oregon, and from other voting systems researchers.

Ted drafted a modification of Washington State and California Open Primary laws – an election system in which all voters have an equal right to participation.  Candidates run in an open, nonpartisan primary in which all voters can vote.  While candidates may list their party registrations, political parties do not OWN slots on the primary ballots.  From the open primary, the top two vote-getters move forward to a competitive, general election. Parties may endorse candidates, if they wish, but they do not own slots on the general election ballot.  The system is true one-person-one-vote, as opposed to the current system of “one party one candidate.”

In April of 2011, Ted and former legislator Bill Konopnicki and, philanthropist and green energy entrepreneur, Larry Sakin brought this draft to a Coalition being formed by former Phoenix Major Paul Johnson.  With the skillful legal assistance of Grady Gammage Jr., Lucia Howard, Karen Schroeder, Kimberly Dimarchi, Prof. Paul Bender, and others, Ted’s draft became the Open Elections/Open Government Initiative. Special assistance was provided by Steve and Chad Peace of the Independent Voter Network and Jackie Salit and Harry Kresky of www.independentvoting.org

Pillar 2: Financing

In 2000, Arizona became one of the three states to institute public financing of state and legislative candidates, as a result of the 1998 Citizens Initiative called the Citizens Clean Elections Act, A.R.S., Title 16, Chapter 6, Article 2.

Encouraged by the option that he could run for public office without taking corporate contributions,  Ted became Southern Arizona’s first, and Arizona’s second, publicly financed “clean election candidate.”   All eight of his election campaigns (counting primaries), Ted was able to finance his campaigns without taking a penny of corporate financing.

Ted and his wife of 42 years, Carmen Garcia – on the campaign trail.

Then, in 2010, he ran as an independent.

Ted discovered that the campaign financing system, like many parts of the election system, was “wired” to protect political parties against the incursion of independent candidates.

Arizona public financing law penalizes non-party affiliated candidates by granting them only 70% of what a party candidate receives.  Ted’s reaction was to write “The Level Playing Field” section of the Open Elections/Open Government Initiative (Arizona Top 2 Open Primary Initiative).    If it passes in November 2012, this language will be in the Arizona Constitution – representing a major election system reform.

H. LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. ALL QUALIFIED VOTERS AND CANDIDATES SHALL BE TREATED EQUALLY BY STATUTES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING ELECTIONS REGARDLESS OF THEIR PARTY AFFILIATION OR LACK THEREOF. TO THE EXTENT THAT ANY PRIVILEGES OR PROCEDURES ARE MADE AVAILABLE TO CANDIDATES OR POLITICAL PARTIES, THEY SHALL BE MADE EQUALLY AVAILABLE TO ALL CANDIDATES OR POLITICAL PARTIES, REGARDLESS OF PARTY AFFILIATION, RECOGNITION, OR LACK THEREOF.

Until this passes, the Arizona Clean Elections law is seriously flawed as a campaign financing reform.

 

The Partisan US Post Office – Unconstitutional but who dares challenge?

Independent Candidates for the Arizona Legislature Ted Downing and Gene Chewning will hold a Press Conference near the north entrance to the Tucson Office Main Cherrybell station, near the bus stop,  at 10:30 AM  on Wednesday 20 October 2010

In 2010, Ted changed his party registration to “nonpartisan and independent” based on his belief that hyper-partisanship is the source of political gridlock. He unsuccessfully ran for State Senate in a vicious campaign that revealed the structural weaknesses of hyper-partisanship. Examples include US Post Office regulations that give a discount to partisan candidates but not independent candidates and more.

US Post Office regulations 703.1.3.2 provide the major political parties a discounted mailing rate as if they were not for profit organizations. Independent candidates who do are not affiliated with a political party do not receive this discount.  As a result of this wiring, it costs twice as much to deliver an independent’s message to the voters!  Ted posted this through the USPO in New York and Washington. But who has the legal resources to challenge both major parties to regain Constitutional rights?

Downing said. “With high postage rates harming the viability of some businesses”, he says “it is arrogant and self-serving for fat cat political parties to receive a discount in the postal regulations. Level the playing field!”

His advocacy for good government continues. Early January 2011, Ted addressed the national organization of independents (www.independentvoting.org) and is a member of its Congressional Hearing Strategy Committee pushing for long overdue federal actions to end the disenfranchisement of independent voters and candidates in the American political system.

Pillar 3: Election Integrity

Elections are only effective if the voters trust the tabulation.  When voters didn’t trust having their votes counted only by machines, If you have doubts, watch a video demonstration of how scanned ballot totals can and have been flipped.   Ted combined forces with Republican Senator Karen Johnson and,  overcame opposition from the Diebold voting machine company, Ted passed a new law giving all Arizona voters – no matter what their party -  the right to a paper ballot and a right to a hand count audit of the voting machines.

While in the Legislature, Ted organized supporters of election integrity within the Democratic Party to pass a floor resolution creating the Party’s first Election Integrity Committee. The committee focused on assuring a fair election through legislative and rule changes, accountability and transparency of the election process. It opposed leadership efforts to get it to simply advocating the election of Democrats.  His intense focus on protecting election integrity include demands for reforms of the State Democratic Party’s own election procedures after he identified a lack of integrity within the Party chair’s election.  Ted chaired this committee for 5 years, before becoming an independent.

His work continued after he left office, working with his former colleagues on both sides of the aisle, he spearheaded the closing of a serious loophole that he found in Arizona election law that did not permit observers into non-partisan elections – a lack of oversight for political parties and observers when billions of dollars of bond elections take place. In 2009 he was appointed member of Sec. of State Ken Bennett’s committee to revised the Arizona Election Procedures Manual, the regulations of state election law.

Pillar 4: Redistricting – structural corruption

Few General Election political contests are competitive. Despite Arizona’s reputation for having an Independent Redistricting Commission, the IRC is far from independent.  The IRC members are selected by Republican and Democratic leaders in the legislature, a process that ignores the fact that most of Arizona’s voters have CHOSEN NOT to affiliate with either party.

The partisan Commissioners first divides the states 30 legislative and 10 Congressional districts into “safe” districts, meaning that either a Democrat or a Republican will win the office in the primary.  As a result, the “inside dealing” disenfranchises Republican voters living in predominately Democrat districts. And it disenfranchises Democratic voters living in predominately Republican districts.  Independent voters (those with no party preference) are effectively disenfranchised. They are only allowed to vote IF THE VOTE A STRAIGHT PARTY TICKET in the Primary.   Their vote in the General Election does not count, short of a scandal.  The media focuses on the remaining “competitive” districts – roughly 2 of the 10 Congressional districts and 5 to 8 of the 30 legislative districts.

This corrupt system encourages LOW voter turnout and increases partisanship.  Politicians are elected and reelected – pandering to the more extreme elements to the left or right. Arizona’s redistricting process is NOT independent and needs another reform – soon.