The DC Metro Project


Takoma Park for IRV LawnsignIn 2004, FairVote - The Center for Voting and Democracy launched an initiative to explore electoral improvements to DC Metro area elections, focusing on proportional voting and instant runoff electoral systems, as well as automatic voter registration policies. With generous support from the Herb Block and Ford Foundations, we are excited to mobilize this region to empower women, local communities, communities of color, and political minorities by opening the political process.

Key Successes in 2005:

  • Takoma Park Approves Instant Runoff Voting by 84% - The system is expected to take effect in 2007 and has generated editorial board praise and interest around Maryland, including for use in Annapolis elections. In 2006, we plan to push for an IRV ballot measure in the District of Columbia.
  • Instant Runoff Voting Legislation for Maryland - Following on the heels of the successful Takoma Park measure, FairVote is working Maryland Senator Paul Pinsky to introduce statewide IRV legislation in 2006.
  • Proportional Voting Proposal for Montgomery County - FairVote's staff provided favorable testimony and policy suggestions to the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission on how to use proportional voting to solve many of the divisive dynamics caused by the current winner-take-all method of electing the County Council.
  • DC Metro Civic Groups Embrace Electoral Systems Reform - As part of the DC Metro Project outreach, FairVote staff met with groups around the region to discuss how to reform electoral systems to better meet the needs of the community. Our educational workshops and meetings generated a discussion about proportional voting in Montgomery County and Prince George's County with various citizens groups ranging from the Montgomery County Civic Federation to the Prince George's County's Citizens for an Elected School Board. Most recently, the Montgomery County League of Women Voters has decided to explore starting the process of having their organization begin studying the pros and cons of proportional voting for the County.
  • Election Reform Testimony for Gov. Ehrlich's Commission on the Administration of Elections - After vetoing a series of election reform bills in the Maryland legislature, Gov. Ehrlich established a commission to study various election administration topics ranging from voting equipment standards to voter registration procedures. FairVote provided testimony to provide the commission about critical ways to ensure that the voting machine debate in Maryland includes compatibility requirements for proportional and instant runoff voting systems. Additionally, we asked the commission to explore ways of achieving 100% universal voter registration in the state and to give counties flexibility to choose proportional voting systems for their local elections.

What’s Wrong With Our Current Voting Systems?

“Winner-take-all” is a term used to describe single member district and at large election systems that award seats to the highest vote getters without ensuring fair representation for minority groups. In the United States, these are typically single-member district schemes or at-large, block-voting systems. Under winner-take-all rules, a slim majority of voters can control 100% of seats, leaving everyone else effectively without representation. This results in several problems, including:

  • Under-representation of women, communities of color, third parties, young people, and major party backers stuck in areas where another party dominates. Winner-take-all election systems provide no representation to any group making up less than half of the population in a given voting district, and the high percentage of votes needed to win an election is a severe barrier to minority candidates.
  • No-Choice Elections: Since many areas are dominated by a single political viewpoint, winner-take-all voting systems will often result in no-choice elections where one party has a permanent monopoly on power, effectively predetermining the victor of the election. Nationwide, two in five state legislative races go uncontested as a result, and nearly 99% of congressional incumbents win reelection by large margins.
  • High percentages of “wasted votes” (that is, votes cast for candidates who do not win). Winner-take-all elections frequently result in more than 50% of votes being wasted.
    Undervoting. Winner-take-all discourages voters from expressing their full range of political preferences by only allowing one choice in a rigid geographical district.
  • Decreased voter turnout. With limited choice, and little chance of influencing the outcome of an election under winner-take-all rules, many people will choose not to participate.
  • Divisive campaigns that fail to address challenging issues and ignore entire constituencies. Under winner-take-all, there is no incentive to reach out to opponents or build cross-party support. Negative campaigning becomes a sensible and effective strategy to win the election.

Isn’t the DC Area Already Diverse?

Yes, there is a lot of gender, racial, ethnic, and political diversity amongst the citizens in the DC area. Unfortunately, this diversity is all too often lost at the voting booth. With the pressure of a winner-take-all system, voters feel compelled not to “waste” their vote, causing him/her to cast his/her vote for the most viable candidate. Typically, the “safe” candidate is a middle-aged white male instead of one who may be younger, female, hold a less common political outlook, or belong to a community of color. Consider this sampling of the gender and racial disparities in local DC area communities:

All White Representation?

In 2005:

-In Charles County, MD, the County Board was all white, but the county’s population was comprised of over 30% people from communities of color.

-Likewise, in Montgomery County, MD, the County Council was all white, but the county’s population was comprised of 40% people from communities of color.

-Again, in Greenbelt, MD, the City Council had all white representation but the city’s population was only 40% white.

Where Are the Women?

-As of 2005, in Bowie, MD the City Council had only 2 woman out of 7 Council members, but the city’s population was 53% female.

What Are Proportional Representation Voting Systems?

Proportional representation voting systems, such as choice voting, cumulative voting, and limited voting, go a long way toward solving many of the problems in local representation caused by our region’s at-large, winner-take-all and district-based systems. Throughout the U.S., over 100 jurisdictions have chosen proportional representation voting systems to replace the antiquated voting methods that left large segments of their communities without fair representation.

Proportional Representation Voting Systems In Action

Choice voting in Cambridge, Massachusetts has provided the city’s communities of color consistent representation for over six decades, by allowing voters to form cross-racial and cross-political coalitions without fear of vote-splitting or “spoiling.” Versions of limited voting are used in Philadelphia (PA), Hartford (CT) and many jurisdictions across North Carolina and Alabama. Cumulative voting was used to elect the Illinois state legislature from 1870 to 1980. In recent years it has been used to resolve voting rights cases for city council elections in Amarillo (TX) and Peoria (IL), for county commission elections in Chilton County (AL) and for school board elections in Sisseton (SD); in most cases a member from the protected minority was elected following the implementation of cumulative voting. Many corporations use cumulative voting to elect their Boards of Directors, in order to represent the interests of minority shareholders. About 10% of the S&P 500 use cumulative voting, including Aon, Toys 'R' Us, Walgreen's and Hewlett-Packard.

What Are the Benefits of Proportional Representation Voting Systems?

Through proportional representation electoral systems, like-minded groupings of voters win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the population. Proportional representation voting systems yield several benefits, such as:

· Higher voter turnout usually results from more candidates running

· Increased representation of women, communities of color, and political minorities

· Cleaner campaigns where candidates run on the issues and cooperate for votes instead of mudslinging each other for one seat

· Ensure all segments of a community have a voice in local government

Helpful Resources

· How Effective is Your Election System? A survey for communities which believe they might have a Voting Rights Act Case helping them to assess whether or not a proportional representation system would be a solution to their problems. (.pdf 37.7 KB)

· Factsheets. Proportional representation voting systems explained in greater detail and common questions answered. http://www.fairvote.org/index.php?page=173

· Youth and Student Political Empowerment Brochure.  Advice for young people interested in proportional representation systems (.pdf 151 KB)

· Let's Have Pizza for Dinner Brochure.  Explanation of the basic principle of proportional representation (.pdf 268 KB)

How Can I Get Involved?

· Learn more about FairVote’s work at www.fairvote.org

· Make a donation to FairVote 

-Contribute online at http://www.fairvote.org/index.php?page=24

-Mail a check payable to FairVote FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610 Takoma Park, MD 20912

· Invite a FairVote representative to speak at a meeting of your friends, organization, city council, school board, political party, or company

· Adopt proportional representation voting systems for your student government elections at a local high school, college, or university.

· Submit an opinion editorial in favor of proportional representation to your local newspaper

· Testify about the need for proportional representation at your local city council or school board meeting

· Find out more about your elected representatives

For DC residents www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/

For Maryland residents http://mlis.state.md.us/

For Virginia residents www.virginia.gov/cmsportal/government_881/index.html

· Educate yourself on voting rights www.firstgov.gov/Citizen/Topics/Voting.shtml

Contact

To learn more please contact Program Director David Moon at dmoon(AT)fairvote.org

Mailing address:
FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD 20912

Phone: (301) 270-4616

Fax: (301) 270-4133

 
In The News
May 14th 2009
No more appointed senators
Baltimore Sun

FairVote's David Segal argues for an end to the filling of Senate vacancies by appointment, and supports a national movement to have those vacancies filled through democratic elections.

May 14th 2009
Let's Make Every Vote Count
The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine, highlights FairVote's research in an important piece on the "broad support" growing in the states for the National Popular Vote plan to elect the president.

August 13th 2009
An Official Right to Vote
The New York Times

FairVote's Adam Fogel responds to a New York Times Editorial about felon disenfranchisement.

July 27th 2009
Election Day Registration
Washington Post

Washington Post editorial page comes out in favor of DC's Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009, which includes several FairVote-backed measures for improvements to registration and increased participation.

July 5th 2009
Itís Time to Bring Majority Rule to the American Election Process
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The results of Virginia's recent Democratic gubernatorial primary illustrate how winner-take-all elections can produce winners who don't receive the majority of the vote. IRV ensures election winners have majority support.

May 13th 2009
The Supreme Courtís Hostility to the Voting Rights Act
The New York Times

The New York Times' Adam Cohen argues for the Supreme Court to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.