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Clean Elections Works
By Eric Ehst


March 12, 2008
Wednesday AM


The letter published Thursday attacking the working of the Clean Elections system of public campaign financing in Arizona does not present a true picture of the results. The referenced report from which the examples are taken uses cherry picked and distorted data to support a preordained and biased conclusion.

Some simple examples: The writer claims that voter turnout rates have not increased. The opposite is true. That claim is made using data that mixes up presidential and non-presidential elections, includes primary and general elections, and even one Republican-only presidential preference primary. They also count voter-turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population, which includes everyone over the age of 18, including rapidly rising populations of non-citizen immigrants and ex-felons who are barred from voting. I m sure the writer is not suggesting that we encourage these people to vote. In reality, voter turnout (measured either as a percentage of registered voters or of voting-eligible population) was in a 10-year steady decline before Clean Elections and has risen steadily (comparing like elections) ever since. According to the Arizona Secretary of State, voter turnout in 2006 was the highest for a non-presidential election since 1982.

Ms. Kearl also claims the number of Clean Election candidates decreased by 27 percent from 2002 to 2004. The raw number did go down for two reasons. In 2002 many more races were up for election than in 2004 and 2002 was a record year for candidates because term limits and redistricting created a huge number of open seats. Actually, the percentage of candidates using Clean Elections rose from 52 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2004 and is still rising with 57 percent in 2006 and a projected 70 percent in 2008.

She also says that incumbent reelection rates have remained stable at close to 100 percent. That's true by her definition, which only uses general election results. Most of Arizona's legislative districts have a heavy majority of voters of either the Democratic or Republican party and any incumbent who survives a primary challenge is virtually guaranteed reelection. Clean Elections has helped challengers knock off incumbents in the primary elections and by that measure the rate of incumbent survival is down from the 100 percent recorded in 1998, the last election before Clean Elections.

I am most interested in Ms. Kearl's attack on First Amendment free speech rights by condemning candidates' attacks in the voter guide (wrongly attributed to my organization). Candidates are given the opportunity to express whatever message they want to the voters and a few criticize their opponents. This may be unseemly, but is clearly protected speech, which the Goldwater Institute usually vociferously supports.

The bottom line is that Arizona Clean Elections works. Voter participation, as measured both by turnout and the number of voters donating $5 qualifying contributions to candidates, is up significantly. The number of contested races has increased dramatically and elections are closer than ever. And the system is popular with both candidates and voters. More than 60 percent of eligible candidates now use Clean Elections and a nonpartisan voter survey completed in January found that 81 percent of registered voters feel that, Clean Elections is important to the voters of Arizona .

Eric Ehst
Executive Director
Clean Elections Institute
Phoenix, AZ

About: Executive Director, Clean Elections Institute - Phoenix, AZ

Received March 07, 2008 - Published March 12, 2008


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letter Clean Election Law By Megan Kearl

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