1. Update
  2. Voting & Elections

Improving Election Integrity Through Our Voices

By José Santos Woss, August 10, 2017

Elections are often dominated by who can raise the most money to blanket the airwaves. This is at the heart of the worst problem affecting the integrity of our elections: money in politics and access.

Record Spending

We’re seeing election spending break records. The special election in the Georgia Sixth Congressional district was the most expensive House race in history at more than $55 million. The problem isn’t limited to one race or one party. The average amount spent on a House race is approximately $1.4 million. As a reminder: those elections happen every two years!

A U.S. Senate race averages more than $10 million in expenditures. If we look at the profile of the average voter less than 2% will ever donate more than $200. Yet those that can fund these elections get the most attention and access to elected officials.

Dark Money Influence

Elected officials spend an inordinate amount of time dialing for dollars when they should be meeting with their colleagues or the voters who sent them to Washington. The problem has gotten worse with undisclosed money pouring in through Super PACs. The “money primary” often determines a candidate’s chances. How much money can you haul into your campaign coffers ahead of your primary election?

This rush for money stifles ideas; shutters the halls of government to most but the wealthy; and distorts the views of lawmakers. How else would we have seen consideration of a devastating near-$1 trillion cut to Medicaid during ACA repeal, which would’ve devastated vulnerable communities, sold as simply providing “flexibility to states” through block grants?

Progress in Restoring Election Integrity

We saw some good news after a scare during the appropriations process (to fund the federal government). The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Subcommittee made the surprising charge that the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) is wasteful and ineffective. Worst still they called for elimination of the only federal agency charged with ensuring the integrity of voting systems. They also provide the valuable service of creating standards to assist states with the certification of voting machines. Instead of eliminating the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) the FSGG bill was amended to increase their budget to $7 million.

Most importantly, we’ve been seeing unprecedented levels of participation by FCNL’s constituents and everyone around the country! Continuing to engage your members of Congress is the best counterweight to tip the scales in favor of the people not big donors. This runs concurrent to defensive and offensive measures to improve the system. We’ve been seeing exactly that across cities and states that have been passing or considering election integrity laws.

When we see more people engage in the process of public policy they gain more ownership over the system and increased voter input helps legislators better reflect their constituents’ views in lawmaking. Congress does better and becomes more productive when constituents are heard.

We were excited to see Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA) and Rep. Jim Renacci (OH) introduce a bill to fix the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to better address violations of existing campaign finance laws. The Restoring Integrity to America's Elections Act H.R.2034 would restructure the top watchdog of the nations’ campaign finance laws and serve to make the FEC a stronger advocate for the average voter. The bill would reduce the number of commissioners to five from six; strengthen the chairmanship by making it a 10-year term; and other structural reforms to make the FEC more effective. More transparency and less influence of money in our elections would go a long way to improving Congress’ functioning and the integrity of our elections.

Reach out to your Representative to ask them to consider co-sponsoring this important bill: The Restoring Integrity to America's Elections Act H.R.2034.

José Santos Woss

  • Legislative Manager, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

José is the Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. He co-Chairs the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.