Clean Elections

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A new online system is helping candidates collect the $5 contributions they need to qualify as a publicly-funded candidate. Executive Director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Todd Lang explains how the system works.

Ted Simons: Arizona is preparing to launch a new service that lets candidates collect petition signatures online. It will also allow clean elections candidates to collect five-dollar contributions needed to qualify for public funding. Here with more on that and other clean elections issues is Todd Lang, executive director of the Arizona citizens clean elections commission. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

Todd Lang: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: This is called equali -- or, what's this about?

Todd Lang: It's about qualifying electronically, the opportunity for folks to get their online petition signed to get on the -- get it signed online to get the ballot and so they can qualify for Clean Elections funding.

Ted Simons: How does this work? Go to the secretary of state's website?

Todd Lang: That's right. You go there and it has election information and you can as a candidate register your -- your -- your campaign there. And what happens, you direct your supporters there and they can then sign your petitions online. An electronic signature, it's verified and completely secured, security protected and works well.

Ted Simons: Basically go to the site and looks like I sign in with my driver's license, something along those lines?

Todd Lang: That's how they verify. All of that information you provide with the driver's license and you give the number and then you sign the petition and when you verify your petition, your actual signature shows up. It's a neat system.

Ted Simons: Interesting. The candidate still has to print them and submit them in person like the old days, right?

Todd Lang: That's correct, but what the program does is collates them and makes it -- collates and prints them out. And with the Clean Elections, it prints them and makes a list and saves time for candidates.

Ted Simons: Why only half of qualifying signatures allowed to be collected this way?

Todd Lang: This is a pilot program and sunsets after the 2014 election and only wanted to do half because they want to make sure the system works properly and because it's important. In my perspective as a Clean Elections employee, it's important that the candidates get that opportunity to meet folks. This provides an opportunity for folks who know who they want to support and get the $5 contributions in there and quickly and electronically from the comfort of their home.

Ted Simons: There's some questions regarding the half are online. In the old days, the candidates got to go out, his people or her staff have to go out and you learn more about the candidate, there's staff -- their staff and how they organize that and organize a signature process and you learn from about the candidate by way of the process. You might lose a little bit this way.

Todd Lang: I don't think. So I think the secretary of state Bennett looked at that issue and all of us concerned about that, agreed that the half cutoff makes that still an important criteria. You still have to be organized and get out there and meet the people and talk to the voters and voter who is wanting that contact, can have it. Because the candidates still have do that. I think the concerns are addressed by doing it half and half.

Ted Simons: The idea of -- how to make sure that was verification process works and the signatures are the real John Hancock?

Todd Lang: With the $5 qualifying contribution for Clean Elections, those are checked by the county recorders. This system prechecks it because it's verified through your driver's license information on electronic file, you're already know that your petition signatures are good and $5 qualification slips are good. And so you don't have -- I think we're going to see fewer petition challenges because this half is already going to be pre-verified.

Ted Simons: Privacy concerns?

Todd Lang: No, the security is very tight and they haven't had security issues with the other financial information already online with the driver's license and e-voting so I think this will work well.

Ted Simons: This is good for statewide offices and for state legislature, those office, not citizen initials though, how come?

Todd Lang: I think that was debated in the legislature, there was a concern it might be too many and too easy to get on the ballot, but frankly, that's something that they may consider down the road. But I know that the legislature was very concerned about that and wanted to limit to the pilot program to see how it works.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the five dollar qualifying contributions to Clean Elections candidates as well. Same process as the signature process?

Todd Lang: That's right. The same thing, in fact, when you go online, what you'll see is the -- all of the districts you're qualified to vote for. And you can sign candidate petitions and you can also give $5 qualification -- qualifying contributions for the candidates running as participating candidates. So provides that opportunity. For instance, if you go online for candidate Jones and sign that petition, it will tell you the other candidates who you're also qualified to give to, through the online or to sign the petition and has links to the candidates' websites so you can find out more information and contact them directly.

Ted Simons: While the legislature is in session, lawmakers can accept $5 but not do fundraising on their own?

Todd Lang: Not during session.

Ted Simons: Not during session. I got to ask this, because the matching funds, obviously a whole different ballgame. With that out of the picture, why would a candidate decide to run clean knowing that someone else wants to out-spend, the lid is off?

Todd Lang: It was an anti-corruption measure. People were tired of the things that had happened and wanted to clean up the system and the system is still there. The opportunity is still there for folks to run who don't want to be beholden to special interests and don't want to go to the PAC or Super PAC. They want to go to the constituents, that option is still there. And if you're worried about getting hit by a nasty attack ad, you could get matching funds and respond. But now you have to be a little more frugal and set money aside. But we find that last election cycle, but it's a viable option and gives the voters more choices on election day.

Ted Simons: Last question. We talked about how easy it was to sign the petitions and donate $5. Is it possibly too easy? Should there be more hoops and hurdles?

Todd Lang: The goal is to encourage participation and I think it's a generally held view, people in Arizona want everybody to participate in the election system. It if it's hard to get out of the house or you're a busy person, it's easier to give to the candidate of your choice and that's a good thing.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Todd Lang: Thanks for having me.

Todd Lang:Executive Director, Citizens Clean Elections Commission;

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