My Turn: It’s time to give N.H. elections back to the people

For the Monitor
Published: 3/6/2019 12:10:05 AM

Election season in New Hampshire is clearly underway. Politics is our state sport. But the rules of the game are rigged to give campaign donors far more influence than voters. It’s time to change the rules so we voters own our elections.

The impact of money in politics is real. It affects who runs, who wins, which policies get enacted and which policies don’t.

A system that lets big money handpick winners and losers is a system out of balance, and New Hampshire voters see it. The vast majority of Granite Staters, a whopping 80 percent of voters, agree that big money in New Hampshire elections is a problem. It is time for our Legislature to respond.

A bipartisan solution being considered now is voter-owned elections, which would reduce the power of wealthy donors by strengthening the voices of all voters as small donors. Here is how it would work: Every registered voter would receive four $25 “Voter Dollar” certificates to give to the participating candidates of their choice. To participate, candidates for governor and executive council would have to agree not to accept money from big donors and would face strict penalties if they did. Under this new system, candidates from all walks of life, not just those with access to wealthy donors, could run and win. It would put people back in charge of our elections, not powerful special interests, resulting in more elected officials who truly represent the people and understand their concerns.

Voter-owned elections are popular. Today, 27 jurisdictions around the country have some type of public funding for campaigns. Candidates who opt into these systems win. For example, 52 percent of candidates using Maine’s Clean Elections system won their races last year. The system is popular among Republicans and Democrats alike: Republican candidates using Clean Elections has jumped by 68 percent since 2014. Seattle’s system, enacted in 2017, transformed the city’s politics the first year it was in effect. It greatly increased the number of small donors. It empowered candidates who never could have afforded to run, to run and win. And it shifted the conversation to issues and policies the people care about rather than those of lobbyists, big corporations and wealthy donors.

If you think big money is not a serious problem in New Hampshire, consider one industry. Do you know that big pharmaceutical companies have 32 registered lobbyists in our state, and spend millions to influence our campaigns?

Twenty years ago, Doris “Granny D” Haddock, born in Laconia and a longtime Dublin resident, trekked from California to Washington, D.C., to shine a bright light on our broken campaign finance system. She had come to see that it worked for the powerful rather than the people and decided to do something about it. Starting her trek at age 88, Granny D showed us we do not have to let excuses stand in the way of change.

New Hampshire’s presidential primary is a year from now, and people around the country are watching for early signs of who might win. But right now, we can show them how to make democracy better by replacing a state election system that is neither fair nor trusted with voter-owned elections. Let’s tell our elected officials to pass Senate Bill 304 now, before it is too late.

(Olivia Zink is executive director of Open Democracy, a Concord-based, nonpartisan organization. She lives in Franklin.)

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