Democracy on Front Burner

Democracy is at the forefront of today’s political debate.  Alameda is no exception.

Alameda’s plurality voting system allows top vote-getters to win, even when a majority of voters did not vote for them.  And lopsided expenditures contribute to the impression that the election of certain candidates is inevitable.  There are ways, however, to ensure that a minority of voters or big-monied interests do not control the outcome of our elections.

This month the Alameda League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering voters, is hosting a two-part online forum to educate voters about ways in which democracy can be strengthened in Alameda.

On Tuesday, April 28, Preston Jordan, a co-founder of Voter Choice Albany (and now an Albany council member), will use data from Alameda’s recent elections to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of our current plurality method, district elections, and ranked-choice voting.

Jordan says we first have to test different election methods against our “goals for democracy.”  If research, data collection, and analysis show that a method other than the current one would be better to achieve those goals, the next step would be to develop that method in sufficient detail that it could be implemented, and then get it implemented.  Jordan will also discuss how the Alameda County Registrar of Voters is already set up to accommodate various election methods.

On Wednesday, April 29, the forum will cover how campaign contributions affect Alameda elections.  Austin Graham and Patrick Ford, activists with Common Cause, an organization fighting for accountable government, will highlight which campaign finance reforms have worked best in other cities.  Graham works closely with state and local stakeholders to formulate legislation that advances money-in-politics reforms.  Ford is staff counsel to the SF Ethics Commission. 

“The dependence of political candidates on wealthy special interests makes elected officials responsive to their large donors rather than to the public,” notes Graham on his website.  “Reform solutions include placing reasonable limits on funding of campaigns, complete transparency of campaign spending and public financing of elections.”

In Alameda, we are watching polarization increase along with disappointment and concern over the imbalances in politics.  The forum presentations are designed to start a discussion about possible electoral reforms and ways to create a stronger democracy in Alameda, where all voices are given an equal chance to be heard. 

The 90-minute sessions begin at 7 p.m.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  For more information and to register for the forum, visit the “events” page on the Alameda League of Women Voters website:  LWVAlameda.org/CE.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun

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