Insight from Executive Director Tom Collins
Ask ten people to explain a clean election and there is sure to be ten different responses. Themes such as honesty and fairness are likely to surface, so it begs the question: what is needed for an honest and fair election? For the Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC), the answer is really simple: it is one where everyone who is eligible to participate, does.
More than an ideal, however, “clean elections” captures the spirit of what makes our governing system work. Contrary, if only a small participating group—whether it be voters, donors or candidates—is shaping the future of the whole, there is missed opportunity for improvement. In focus groups this scenario was met with disdain, even anger. Yet this is what is happening. A small percent of Arizonans are choosing political leaders. Candidates are relying on a small network of donors or a donor for their campaign funding. The ramifications of this are what have triggered the “stop dark money” efforts demanding transparency in campaign funding sources.
And while those types of initiatives have merit, transparency is already integrated into every aspect of the CCEC. Oftentimes, the Commission is mostly perceived as the organization that provides public dollars to fund candidates running for a state office. Our program is polarizing for some, but the intention is that economics and personal connections shouldn’t dictate who is in public office. It might be described as an antidote to dark money.
To draw another parallel, the spirit of clean funding is akin to the ideal of student loans: access and opportunity. Students, similar to clean candidates, have to do the hard work. In the case of candidates, they meet specific financial thresholds for their campaign—$5 dollars at a time from multiple donors—to earn the public contribution. Instead of being adherent to an established circle of donors or one large donor, a clean candidate can count on combining their modest fundraising activity with public dollars for a cleanly financed campaign. Moreover, clean candidates get back money but they also get back something much more valuable: time. We know that a regular candidate spends a lot of time fundraising. Clean candidates are freed to focus more time getting to know the issues and the voters.
Which brings me to the other equally important role of the CCEC: voter education. Most know that voter participation as a whole is up during Presidential election years and down during off years, and that local elections receive the lowest turnout with state elections bumping up participation a few points. This year Arizona will experience a bump in participation as a result. Still, even with that bump, 45 percent of potential voters—meaning people who are registered to vote but don’t vote, and people who are eligible to register but don’t—will not participate in this year’s elections. And because the CCEC is highly focused on access and opportunity, for both candidates and voters, this year voters will see new tools and services designed to carry them through the election process from beginning to end. Voters will know who is running for office and as a part of the CCEC statewide debate program will be given the opportunity to ask these candidates questions in-person or online. They will be able to learn about where they stand on the issues and their background in advance.
As the only organization dedicated to improving access for voters and for state candidates, this is an important year for the CCEC. The public can rely on us to guide them every step of the way, from getting to know candidates, to voter registration, to accessing and casting their ballot. We are ready to make this year’s clean election one that will make every Arizonan proud.
Start participating today by using our Voter Dashboard to check your voter registration and get your election information.
- Tom Collins, Executive Director