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Change is coming to Howard County. In this era where big money dominates politics at all levels, Howard County residents have a chance to move Maryland and our country in a different direction — toward a government truly of, by and for the people.

A "yes" vote on Question A will send a powerful message that citizen-owned elections are the new standard of good government in Howard County. This transformative ballot initiative gives small donors a way of competing against the big-money interests that too often exercise undue influence over public policy.

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Proposed by council members Jon Weinstein and Jen Terassa — alongside a diverse coalition of organizations, including Maryland PIRG, Common Cause Maryland, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, NAACP and the Howard County League of Women Voters — Question A will authorize the Howard County Council to establish a small-donor driven system of financing campaigns.

The plan is simple. If a candidate running for local office opts for small donations instead of large ones, he or she can receive matching funds in order to compete in the election. This new citizen-owned system would amplify the voice and influence of regular people in the political process. Candidates raising money for their campaigns could keep the deep-pocketed special interests at a distance and turn instead to the broad public. There's a policy benefit to that as well. Spending time at a small-donor house party is a much better way of gauging the needs and priorities of the community than hanging out with the big-money crowd.

Another benefit of a small donor matching system is that it would bring a new, diverse group of candidates into the political arena — people who right now cannot afford to run for office because they don't know a lot of people with a lot of money. Empowered by small donations and matching funds, these aspiring public servants could run, compete and win, bringing a new and exciting energy to our politics and government.

The historic opportunity of Question A does not stop at the border of Howard County. A "Yes" vote on Question A will strengthen the national movement to build new systems of funding campaigns that put everyday citizens back in charge. As a champion of this effort in Congress, I have traveled to places all over the country where people are choosing to fight the influence of big money — not by getting mad, but by getting even. Citizen-owned election systems are already up and running in Arizona, Connecticut and New York City, just to name a few. A year ago, voters in Maine and Seattle showed the promise of the Howard County approach by passing ballot initiatives that empower small donors.

If we can keep winning these fights at the state and local level, then one day soon the same change is going to come to Congress. That's why I introduced the bipartisan Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), which has more than 160 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and the support of over 50 national membership organizations advocating for the environment, education, working families, civil rights, clean government and more. Much work remains before we achieve passage of the Government By the People Act. But a "yes" vote on Question A in Howard County, a stone's throw from the nation's capital, would send a powerful signal to my colleagues on the Hill that reforming the way we fund campaigns is a winning issue — an antidote to the deep cynicism and frustration felt by so many Americans.

Citizen-owned elections flip the script on big money in politics. We can restore everyday citizens to their rightful place at the center of American democracy. We can make elections about the strongest ideas, not about the deepest bank account.

Howard County has always been in the vanguard of civic engagement and good government. A "yes" vote on Question A will further cement that proud legacy.

Congressman John Sarbanes, a Democrat, represents Maryland's Third Congressional District. He can be reached at sarbanes.house.gov/contact.

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