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Victory for Democracy: D.C. Council Approves Fair Elections Act

Feb. 6, 2018

Victory for Democracy: D.C. Council Approves Fair Elections Act

After Landmark Vote, Groups Delivered Petitions to Mayor Urging Her to Support Public Funding of Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By approving the Fair Elections Act of 2017, the D.C. Council today voted to strengthen local democracy, empower small donors and break down barriers to running for office.

After the vote, the Fair Elections Coalition – comprising dozens of local watchdog groups, racial and economic justice groups, unions and other public interest organizations – delivered 5,000 petitions from D.C. residents to the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser with signatures from voters across the District representing the breadth and depth of support for the legislation. The coalition also delivered a letter signed by more than 80 community leaders from all eight Wards, and a sign-on letter signed by more than 70 community groups, ANCs, civic associations and other organizations.

The Fair Elections Act establishes a voluntary matching-funds program for candidates running for mayor, attorney general, D.C. Council or the D.C. State Board of Education. Successful programs have been enacted in Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland and are underway in New York and Connecticut.

The program helps balance the scales of democracy by ensuring that everyone who lives and votes in D.C., especially working families and people of color, have an equal voice in the District’s elections. It also encourages more participation in D.C. elections, encourages candidates to build support with constituents and empowers D.C. residents to run for office by breaking down financial barriers.

“With today’s vote, Wards 7 and 8 will finally have a seat at the table after years of being under the radar,” said Dexter Williams, Ward 7 Fair Elections Chair. “Fair Elections impacts our communities the most, and this is a first step in making sure issues like high unemployment, public health, education and career preparation are at the forefront of the city’s agenda.”

Kesh Ladduwahetty, chair of DC for Democracy said, “We have been working towards this day for four long years. Today, we celebrate the passage of the Fair Elections Act as a major step towards a more genuine, small-donor democracy based on the power of people, rather than the power of money.”

“This is a victory for everyone who wants to see D.C.’s democracy become more equitable and inclusive,” said Valerie Ervin, regional director of the Working Families Organization. “Now, it’s up to the Council and the Mayor to fund this program and empower their constituents.”

“Parents, workers, neighbors – every day District of Columbia residents – will be able to gain more access to candidates and elected officials because DC Fair Elections drives candidates to reach out to them,” said Aquene Freechild, campaign co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is for People Campaign. “It’s a great day in DC.”

“Today’s successful final vote is a huge step toward a democracy that is more inclusive and representative of D.C. residents,” said Emmanuel Caicedo of Demos. “The Fair Elections program is a unique, hybrid system that was designed to advance racial equity in D.C. and allow candidates across the District to compete, regardless of the size of their wallets. Now we look forward to the Mayor and Council carrying out the will of the people by fully funding and properly implementing this important program later this spring.”

“This is an exciting victory for the District which just joined the growing ranks of cities, counties and states across the county stepping up to reduce the dominance of big donors, empower everyday residents and open up our elections to a wider field of qualified candidates,” said Susan Mottet, state legislative director at Every Voice. “Now, we look to the Council and the Mayor to fund this worthwhile investment in a more inclusive and equitable democracy.”

“Congratulations to Washington D.C.! The people of the district deserve politicians who work for them and not mega donors and corporations. Once funded and implemented, the Fair Elections Act will do just that,” said Joe Ready, democracy program director at U.S. PIRG.

“We celebrate today’s vote as D.C. moves one step closer toward a 21st century democracy,” said Wendy Fields, executive director for the Democracy Initiative. “Public financing is about all of us having an equal voice in our democracy. The passage of the Fair Elections Act by the D.C. Council makes it clear that a truly effective government begins when people and communities are heard and valued, not just the interests of corporations and big money. A fair playing field is what empowers each of us to advocate and win on the issues that matter most in our communities – from clean water to criminal justice reform to a living wage. The Council and the Mayor can make this a reality for all D.C. residents by fully funding the fair elections program.”