Fair Elections Update
September 30, 2004
Friends of Fair Elections
From: Rob Richie, Executive Director
FairVote, The Center for Voting
Re: Newsflash (please share as you will)
- NY Times features instant runoff voting today
- Help Malia Lazu be the "American Candidate" on Sunday
- Nirvana's Krist Novoselic on tour for book and FairVote
- Highlights of recent webpostings
less than five weeks until an election that many call the
most important in their lifetime. Tonight's debate between the
major party presidential party candidates only seemed to
underscore the likely closeness of the presidential race.
...Close in the national Electoral College tally, that is. Most
states are walkovers where neither major party candidate
devotes any time or resources, just as four out of every five
US House races will again be quietly won by landslide margins.
In American winner-take-all elections, most of us indeed are
spectators in this year's elections -- a condition that we hope
to change with a agenda of reforms to allow Americans to
claim democracy: reforms like full representation systems
for Congress and state legislatures, instant runoff voting for
elections with a single winner, a guaranteed individual right
to vote in the U.S. Constitution and a direct election for
president where every vote counts the same. For more
on our agenda, see our website: fairvote.org
We hope you are getting good information about this year's
elections and the work of those seeking to improve elections
now and in the future. One excellent resource is the regular e-newsletter
of Demos -- see www.demos-usa.org/page60.cfm
timely news articles on a daily basis.
And don't forget to register to vote -- the deadline to register to
vote in some states is upon us (others are better organized and
allow voters to register on Election Day).
Today I wanted to highlight three time-sensitive developments
and provide links to recent postings on our website.
HELP FAIRVOTE'S MALIA LAZU & RASHAD ROBINSON
Malia Lazu and Rashad Robinson, two young, talented board
members of our Center have been stars in the Showtime
reality series "The American Candidate." Malia is one of the final
three candidates eligible to win in this mock presidential election;
Rashad is her campaign manager and former field director of
FairVote.This Sunday we need your help to make sure they win
the show. IF MALIA WINS she gets 15 minutes of unedited
airtime to give her national address. This will be a wonderful
chance to talk about electoral reform: instant runoff voting, full
representation and the Right to Vote constitutional amendment,
all of which are all among her core issues.
Please forward this message to your various listservs and follow
the instructions below for Sunday night's episode:
The "Nuts + Bolts" of Voting for Malia and her vice-presidential
candidate KeithBoykin this Sunday
1. Watch American Candidate at 9:00 pm this
3rd, on Showtime to get Malia's and
Keith's 1-800 number.
2. If you don't have Showtime, at 9:50 pm you can visit
or call 646-234-4604 to get the
1-800 number and pass it along.
3. Call the 1-800 number to vote for the Malia and
4. Text message and email friends and ask them to call.
5. Polls are open from 9:45pm-11:45pm EST (east cost
Polls open again at 9:45pm-11:45pm PST (west coast time), which
is 3 hours behind EST, so this means everyone who lives on the
east coast can get more people to call then.
6. Read more about the show and get information about
platforms at www.americancandidate.com
The American Candidate is a political series that has been airing on
Showtime since August 1, 2004. The purpose of the show was to give
people who would not normally have the opportunity to run for office
a chance to do so and to raise political awareness for the upcoming
election. The ten contestants competed in a simulated presidential
campaign across the country. Each week, a different candidate was
voted off of the ballot. The show is down to the final three teams.
Malia and Keith are one of those teams.
INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING: DRAWS NATIONAL INTEREST
The use of instant runoff voting in San Francisco is creating
a growing buzz of attention. In August there was a strong
article in the Los Angeles Times and a profile on National
Public Radio's "Morning Edition." (see
Today's half-page New York Times article leaves some critiques
unanswered, but all in all provides powerful testimony to the impact
of IRV. Here is the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/30/national/30runoff.html?
Runoff System in San Francisco Has the Rival
By Dean E. Murphy
Published: September 30, 2004, New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 29 - Eugene C. Wong is running for an office that
typically does not draw the national spotlight. Yet Mr. Wong and the 64
others seeking seats on the County Board of Supervisors here are being
closely watched by advocates for election reform around the country.
In Mr. Wong's case, the reason was evident on Wednesday, at one of his
first big fund-raisers in the third district, an ethnically mixed area that
straddles North Beach and Chinatown. The evening was unconventional, to say
the least, with Mr. Wong sharing top billing with two principal rivals in
the race, Sal Busalacchi and Brian Murphy O'Flynn.
"We are going to have more joint fund-raisers," Mr. Wong said. "I
opposed to saying that if I don't win, then I hope one of these other guys
The cooperation is in response to a new election system, instant-runoff
voting. The system, which voters approved in 2002 and is having its first
run, is viewed by critics of winner-take-all elections as the start of a
long-overdue overhaul of the way Americans choose elected officials.
Under this system, voters can choose three candidates for each office,
ranking them in order of preference. If no candidate wins more than 50
percent of the first-choice votes, the lowest-placing finishers are
eliminated, and the second and, if necessary, third choices on those
ballots are counted until someone garners a majority.
The system removes the need for a separate runoff election, saving money
and, if the recent past is a guide, increasing the number of voters who
have a say in choosing the winner. Under the old system, turnout usually
dropped significantly in runoffs.
"People are hungry for change," said Lani Guinier, a professor of law
Harvard who has written about alternative election systems and is among
those closely watching the San Francisco example.
"There is a simmering dissatisfaction with not only what happened in
Florida in 2000,'' Professor Guinier said, "but with some of the responses
that the election officials, Congress and others have implemented, and a
sense that if the voters and citizens want to participate in our democracy,
the voters and citizens have to take the initiative."
Critics of instant runoffs fear it is too difficult to pull off, for voters
and election officials, and that it could reduce turnout among some
minorities, especially those who speak English poorly and are new to
voting. Some critics have also questioned whether it might violate the
principle of "one man, one vote" that the Supreme Court established in
Even some supporters of the system acknowledge that its logistics can be
daunting. It took San Francisco more than two years to use the system, a
process that included making changes to its optical-scan voting machines
that required the approval of the secretary of state. The changes were too
late for the elections last year for mayor and district attorney.
Because of the complicated counting, experts expect that just first-choice
results will be available on election night, leading some critics to
complain that the "instant" is being taken out of instant-runoff
"It will be a negative," said Lillian Sing, a former judge who is
candidates challenging Supervisor Jake McGoldrick in District 1, in the
Richmond area. "We are just beginning to get language minorities to vote
more, and now all of a sudden we have this complicated process. It is a
distraction to talk about how people should vote."
San Francisco is the first major city in the country to try instant-runoff
voting since the 1970's, when Ann Arbor, Mich., abandoned it after one
election. Variations of the system exist in a few places, including
Cambridge, Mass., where the City Council and school board are elected by
proportional representation, which includes ranked-choice voting.
Until they were abolished by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the community
school boards in New York allowed voters to rank candidates. Student
governments at dozens of colleges and universities also use versions of the
But San Francisco is the sole major jurisdiction to incorporate what
advocates of instant-runoff voting consider three essential components for
its success, ranked-choice ballots, a single election and the requirement
that each winner receive a majority of the votes cast.
"San Francisco is being seen as a very good test," said Robert Richie,
executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, an organization
in Takoma Park, Md., that advocates changes in election laws.
The center, founded by a former independent presidential candidate, John B.
Anderson, was a leading force behind the 2002 ballot measure here.
Mr. Richie and other supporters of a broader push for instant runoffs see
past San Francisco to places like Florida. If Florida had the system for
the 2000 election, proponents say, there is little doubt that Al Gore would
have won the state instead of George W. Bush. Most of the people who voted
for Ralph Nader, the logic goes, would have listed a Democrat as their
"I am not going to hide the fact that if you look at it, there is analysis
to show it could help the Democrats," said Thomas D. Bull, a Democratic
state representative in Maine who sponsored a measure there in the spring
to instruct the secretary of state to study instant runoffs.
A tally kept by the Center for Voting and Democracy shows that Maine is
among 22 states that have explored the idea in recent years.
"There are also examples of where it might have helped the Republicans,''
Mr. Bull added. "If you look at the Libertarians and along that line, there
are conservative third-party candidates siphoning off Republican votes."
Professor Guinier said the voting system favored outsiders, no matter their
politics or party registration. That is also the belief of Jim Stearns, a
Democratic consultant here who opposed the ballot measure because, he said,
he feared that instant runoffs would hurt so-called progressive politicians
who have become the insiders on the officially nonpartisan Board of
"The irony of a lot of progressive reforms is that the system becomes
legally more complicated and electorally more complicated, meaning those
candidates who can afford high-quality help are going to be benefited,"
said Mr. Stearns, who is now running the re-election campaigns of three
An early effect has been to introduce a new civility among the candidates,
something many San Franciscans have wholeheartedly embraced. Because the
winner in each district might be determined by voters' second and third
choices, candidates have quickly learned that it is best to be on friendly
terms so as not to alienate their opponents' supporters.
"Even if you come in second among the first-choice votes, you still have a
shot at winning, so long as you can reach out to be the No. 2 choice to the
rest of the people," said Mr. Wong, an immigration lawyer.
In District 5, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, a big backer of instant runoffs in
2002, is not seeking re-election, creating the biggest free-for-all of the
season. Many of the 22 candidates vying for his post participate in a
so-called Candidates Collaborative, meeting publicly every few weeks to
discuss district problems. The setting is decidedly congenial.
One candidate, Michael O'Connor, a nightclub owner, said the consensus
among most candidates was that opting out of the collaborative would be
political suicide in the new get-along environment. Last month, Mr.
O'Connor also held a joint fund-raiser with a rival, Robert Haaland.
"The way I see how it works," Mr. O'Connor said, "win or lose,
you may as
well get along with people."
KRIST NOVOSELIC TOURS THE NATION
Krist Novoselic, bass player for the band Nirvana and an
effective political activist in Washington state, has written a new book
called "Of Grunge & Government: Let's Fix This Broken
In the book Novoselic discusses how Nirvana emerged as the world's
biggest band of the early 1990s and his relationship to Kurt Cobain to
how he got involved in politics and why we need electoral reform- in
particular full representation and instant runoff voting.
Krist has been touring the nation on behalf of the book. For more
information on his excellent book and the tour, see
the coming week he will speak
in New York City, Washington DC, Boston and Chicago.
If you live in one of those cities, I urge you to consult the
schedule to see if you can hear him speak.
For those in the Washington, DC area and New York City,
there are two additional events to highlight- - one is a fundraiser
for our organization.
* Sunday, October 3 - Washington, DC.
PLEASE JOIN Krist Novoselic, Rob Richie, and Jamin Raskin
at a house party this Sunday for drinks, music, treats from
Cakelove, and spirited discussions about our voting system, the
need and possibilities for reform, as well as efforts to promote a
constitutional right to vote.
WHERE: 1119 Euclid Street, NW Washington DC 20009
WHEN: THIS Sunday, October 3rd, 2004 at 6:30 p.m.
COST: $15 door fee and (suggested) contribution to the
Center for Voting and Democracy $25 or more.
* Wednesday, October 6 - New York City
Join Krist and Rob at an event sponsored with Demos at
220 Fifth Avenue, Fifth Floor -- at corner of Fifth Avenue
and 26th Street -- in New York City at 5 pm.
(from http://fairvote.org/whatsnew.htm )
Recent media coverage: Full
representation, instant runoff
voting, competitive elections and comments by representatives of
FairVote, the Center for Voting and Democracy continue to be
featured in major media around the nation. Highlights include
new editorial support for IRV from several newspapers and
several new commentaries by FairVote staffers.
Major news attention to IRV in San Francisco in New
L.A. Times and San
Francisco Chronicle and is featured on
National Public Radio's Morning
Edition . (September
With the passing of all relevant primaries, a completed analysis of
the chances for
women in the U.S. House of Representatives is
now available. (September
The citizen assembly in British
Columbia has released reform
recommendations that suggest it will recommend full representation.
See our page on electoral reform in
Canada for more information.
New York Times editorializes
against Electoral College (August
Minnesota city to study IRV and fair election methods: The
city council of Hopkins,
which was once elected by choice voting,
has established a task force to study fair election voting methods
like instant runoff voting. (August
New report shows voters understand cumulative voting at work:
Well over 98% of voters used all four of their votes without error in
Amarillo's May 2004 cumulative voting election, according to a
new report by Professor
David Rausch. (August
FairVote one of the 11 pro-democracy groups to issue report on
presidential debates: Led by Open Debates, eleven civic groups
released a report entitled "Deterring
Democracy: How the
Commission on Presidential Debates Undermines Democracy."
CVD's Election Data Project:
The record of state legislative
elections in the United States is lacking. Help document out
electoral history. (August
Australian political scientist publishes new article on
"The Global Spread of Preferential
Voting" (pdf) (August
Rob Richie in print:
FairVote's executive director has written
four articles, including one with Steven Hill, for a book and two
journals. Available as downloads, they are: on the American full
representation campaign from "Steps Toward Making Every
Vote Count: Electoral System Reform in Canada and its Provinces"
(Henry Milner, editor; Broadview Press, 2004); on instant runoff
voting for an "Election Law Journal" symposium on Democracy
and Elections in North America" (Volume 3, Number 3 2004);
on full representation and redistricting reform (from the National
Civic Review); and on building a pro-democracy movement in the
United States (from the National Civic Review). (August
Howard Dean's July 26 syndicated column calls for IRV in
presidential primaries: The former Democratic Party presidential
frontunner expands on his IRV advocacy.
CVD holds successful pro-democracy
events in Boston on
July 26and July 28: Speakers included Rev. Jesse Jackson,
Members of Congress Jesse Jackson Jr. and Dennis Kucinich, s
cholars Lani Guinier, Jamin Raskin, Pippa Norris, Alex Keyssar
and Benjamin Barber and journalists Robert Kuttner, John
Nichols and Hendrik Hertzberg. (July
FairVote Board member and long-time New Yorker writer
Hendrik Hertzberg's new
book "Politics: Observations and
Arguments" features commentary about the value of electoral
reform, in particular full representation and instant runoff voting
Read a recent interview
with the author. (July
The Washington Post
publishes an op-ed defending full
representation in Iraq: Andrew Reynolds explains why Iraq
will use a party list form of full representation in its January
2005 elections. (July
FairVote urges elected officials
to push for more democratic
forms of election systems, especially on the local level. We can
provide election systems consulting, as well as resources and
assistance with the following methods of advocating for reform.
2004 presidential candidates call for IRV and full representation: The
leading non-major party candidates for president all back instant runoff
voting and full representation. See statements from Green Party
presidential nominee David Cobb,
Libertarian Party nominee Michael
independent candidate Ralph Nader. (June
Big month for full representation in Canada: Canadians went to the
polls on June 28 with prime minister candidates from major parties
expressing interest or support in a national referendum on full
representation. Read our page on electoral
reform in Canada,
articles on the debate
in Canada and on how a citizen assembly
in British Columbia
will select a full representation method for
the ballot. Also, look at a pre-election
from Fair Vote Canada. (June
FairVote commentaries tout IRV: Rob Richie joins with Steven Hill
to propose direct election
of the President and to ask in the
Nation Magazine why
more Democrats aren't seeking to implement
IRV. Richie and Jennifer Ambler argue in the Myrtle
Beach Sun News
that IRV is a big improvement over traditional delayed runoffs. (June
Papua New Guinea has successful IRV election: Papua New Guinea
adopted IRV for parliamentary elections in 2003. Election officials
hailed its use in a recent special
election as a success,
voters using the system effectively and the system promoting more
positive campaigns. (June
Big win for choice voting in United Kingdom: Scotlandadopts
voting (aka "single transferable vote") for city elections. A new
coalition backs choice voting for local elections in Wales.
IRV ballot drives in Florida, Washington state and Ferndale, Michigan:
Reformers have launched ballot drives to put IRV on the ballot in
Florida and in Washington
state. The city council in Ferndale
voted unanimously to draft potential IRV ballot language for November
Ballot measures seeks proportional allocation of electoral votes in
Colorado: A well-financed
ballot measure would change Colorado's
winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes to one allocated by
proportional representation. (June
Washington state Democrats support
fair election voting methods:
The Democratic Party State Platform Committee of Washington has
endorsed attention to instant runoff voting and full representation. (June
London mayoral race decided by IRV, council chosen by full
representation: London mayor Ken Livingstone (first elected in 2
000 by IRV as an independent) was re-elected on June 10 by
a limited form of instant runoff voting. IRV was needed as he
won less than 40% of first choices. The mixed member form
of full representation was used to elect the council. Voter turnout
was up from 2000. Read an article in the Guardian
and see the
London election webpage. (June
CVD conducts demonstration
elections with IRV and choice
voting at several events. Read how League of Women Voters
members voted on the most influential women in American history
and how various groups voted on who John Kerry should select
as his running mate. Read results of a Nation magazine election
with more than 10,000 participants.
North Dakotans strongly
rejected a proposed state constitutional
amendment to lift the requirement that corporations use the full
representation method of cumulative voting.
South Korea soon
will require all corporate boards to be elected by cumulative voting.
Maine adopts legislation to fund study
on IRV: This spring
Maine's governor signed LD 212, a resolution requiring the Secretary
of State to study the feasibility of using IRV in Maine elections. (June
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FairVote, the Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit organization based
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John B. Anderson. We are devoted to increasing public understanding of American
politics and how to reform its rules to provide better choices and fairer
representation. Our website (www.fairvote.org)
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Finally, a big thanks to our great summer intern crew of eight college
students, our current intern group, program associates Andy Kirshenbaum, Jill
Dannay, Steve Hoeschele and Maggie Vintner, long-time regional staffers Steven
Hill, Dan Johnson-Weinberger and program director David Moon.
Thank you for reading!