F a i r Vo t e
The Center for Voting and
A Message from Executive Director
Rob Richie, December 21, 2004
request for your financial support
FairVote’s Year in Democracy
New Richie-Hill commentary about FairVote’s electoral reform agenda
Robert Kuttner article featuring FairVote’s reforms in The
Thanks so much to the many readers of our e-newsletter who
worked hard this year for a better, fairer democracy. We applaud the progress
that’s been made, but much of course remains to be done.
We rarely ask for financial contributions in a heavy-handed
way. But just like all non-profit organizations, we rely greatly on donations
from individuals to sustain our reform work. As you consider your year-end
contributions, please place electoral reform – and FairVote – at the top of
counting on you to help us break new ground with a record number of $100
donors. With enough new and continuing donors, we will be able to sustain and
enhance our efforts for:
Instant runoff voting to provide majority rule
and inclusionary politics
Full representation voting systems to elect
legislatures that reflect all of us
Uncompromising constitutional and statutory protection
of the right to vote
A stronger, more strategic and more cooperative pro-democracy network
Fair presidential elections where every vote is
counted and counts equally
Public understanding of the impact of electoral
rules on our elections.
can donate online through
PayPal by clicking the link below:
You can a mail a check to:
FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Avenue Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD 20912
We also hope federal employees will consider us as a charity of
choice in the Combined Federal Campaign; our CFC listing is #2691.
On behalf of our chairman John Anderson and the rest of the
Board, staff and volunteers of FairVote, thanks so much for your support, and
all my best to you for the holidays and the New Year.
Rob Richie, Executive Director
FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy
P.S. You might want to see a review of FairVote’s Year in Democracy
and two new articles below that lay out our reform agenda.
America: In Search Of
By Steven Hill and Rob Richie
TomPaine.com, December 21, 2004
The day following Election 2004, retiring NBC News anchor Tom
Brokaw indicated the need for strong national standards in how we count the
votes. In an unusually serious interview with David Letterman, Brokaw said
point blank, "We've gotta fix the election system in this country."
In a message to supporters, former presidential candidate John Kerry echoed
this sentiment, calling for new "national standards" for elections
and saying "It's unacceptable that people still don't have full confidence
in the integrity of the voting process." In Ohio, Reverend Jesse Jackson
also called for reform, emphasizing the need for a Constitutional amendment
guaranteeing the right to vote, a right guaranteed by most established
democracies. Every returning member of the Congressional Black Caucus has
signed onto Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s HJR 28 to provide a constitutional
right to vote.
The 2004 elections underscore the urgent demand to modernize our elections and
bring them in line with international norms. Without such modernization, we
will fail to establish a vital democracy and remain vulnerable to electoral
Consider these reforms:
1) Non-partisan election officials. At the top of the list must be
nonpartisan election officials. It hardly matters whether the method of voting
is with paper and pen or open-source computerized equipment if election
administrators are not trustworthy. The secretaries of state overseeing
elections in three battleground states -- Ohio, Missouri, and Michigan -- were
co-chairs of their state's George Bush reelection campaigns. In Missouri, that
Secretary of State was running for governor -- he oversaw elections for his own
race! A highly partisan Republican Secretary of State ran elections in Florida,
as did a partisan Democrat in New Mexico. A Mexican observer of the 2004
election commented, "That looks an awful lot like the old Mexican PRI to
me." Election administrators should be civil servants who have a
demonstrated proficiency with technology, running elections and making the
electoral process transparent and secure.
2) National elections commission. The U.S. leaves election
administration to administrators in over 3,000 counties scattered across the
nation with too few standards or uniformity. This is a formula for unfair
elections. Most established democracies use national elections commissions to
establish minimum national standards and uniformity, and to partner with state
and local election officials to ensure pre-election and post-election
accountability for their election plans. The Elections Assistance Commission
established recently by the Help America Vote Act is a pale version of this and
should be strengthened greatly.
3) Universal voter registration. We lack a system of universal voter
registration in which citizens who turn 18 years of age automatically are
registered to vote by election authorities. This is the practice used by most
established democracies, giving them voter rolls far more complete and clean
than ours -- in fact, a higher percentage of Iraqi adults are registered to
vote than American adults. Universal voter registration in the U.S. is now
possible as result of the Help America Vote Act, which mandated that all states
must establish statewide voter databases by 2006. It would add 50 million
voters to the rolls, a disproportionate share being young people and people of
4) "Public Interest" voting equipment. Currently voting
equipment is suspect, undermining confidence in our elections. The proprietary
software and hardware are created by shadowy companies with partisan ties who
sell equipment by wining and dining election administrators with little
knowledge of voting technology. The government should oversee the development
of publicly-owned software and hardware, contracting with the sharpest minds in
the private sector. And then that open-source voting equipment should be
deployed throughout the nation to ensure that every county -- and every voter
-- is using the best equipment. Other nations already do this with positive
5) Holiday/weekend elections. We vote on a busy workday instead of on a
national holiday or weekend (like most other nations do), creating a barrier
for 9 to 5 workers and also leading to a shortage of poll workers and polling
places. Puerto Rico typically has the highest voter turnout in the United
States, and makes Election Day a holiday.
6) Ending redistricting shenanigans by adopting full representation.
Most legislators choose their voters during the redistricting process, long
before those voters get to choose them. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. House
incumbents again won re-election, and 95% of all races were won by
noncompetitive margins. The driving factor is not campaign finance inequities
but winner-take-all elections compounded by rigged legislative district lines.
As a start, redistricting must be non-partisan, driven by nonpolitical
criteria. But by far the best solution is full representation electoral systems
that make voters far more important than district lines.
7) Abolish the Electoral College. The Electoral College enables
presidential campaigns to almost completely ignore most states. It allows a
shift of a handful of votes in one or two states to decide the presidency,
inviting corruption and partisan election administration. It can deny the
presidency to the candidate with the most votes. We need to support Congressman
Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s HR 109, to institute direct election of the president with
a majority victory threshold.
8) Pry open our democracy. Our "highest vote-getter wins"
method of electing executive offices creates incentives to keep third-party
candidates off the ballot as potential spoilers. Battles over Ralph Nader's
ballot access demonstrated that our system is not designed to accommodate three
or more choices, yet important policy areas can be completely ignored by major
party candidates. Most modern democracies accommodate voter choice through
two-round runoff or instant runoff elections for executive offices, and full
representation electoral systems for legislatures. Instant runoff voting had a
great first election in San Francisco this November and passed in other places
like Burlington, Vermont and Ferndale, Michigan.
A number of organizations are highlighting reform packages, among them
Progressive Democrats of America and Common Cause. We can't win all these
reforms at once, but we can make advances if we keep our eye on the prize and
pursue opportunities that emerge. We urge people to visit FairVote's website at
www.fairvote.org to find out how to get
involved. Whether you're a Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian or
independent, you can be part of one big party: the "Better Democracy"
Steven Hill is Irvine Senior Fellow for the New America
Foundation and author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's
Winner Take All Politics" (www.FixingElections.com).
Rob Richie is executive director of FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy (www.fairvote.org).
Read this article on-line at:
By Robert Kuttner
The American Prospect, January 4, 2005
Just over the next horizon
are even bolder reforms. They include:
Instant-Runoff Voting. With instant-runoff voting, you designate more than one
choice. If your candidate isn’t in the top two, your vote automatically goes to
your second choice. With this system, now used for local elections in San
Francisco, supporters of insurgent candidates can vote for their first choice
without risking the unfortunate consequence of helping elect their last choice.
If instant-runoff voting had been in effect in 2000, Al Gore -- the second
choice of most Nader voters -- would have become president. As Rob Richie of
the Center for Voting and Democracy explains, instant-runoff voting simulates
runoffs, but in a single election -- thus guaranteeing that the winner is
actually the choice of a majority.
The system has two big benefits: Partisans must think in terms of practical
coalition politics, because candidates need to attract second-choices and
first-choice ones, and democracy is energized, as people alienated by
Tweedledum and Tweedledee are drawn into politics. Under Ireland’s
instant-runoff voting system, the Labour Party’s Mary Robinson became the
nation’s first woman president and most popular politician. When first elected
in 1990, she was the top choice of only 39 percent of voters -- well behind the
Fianna Fail Party candidate’s 44 percent. But when the third-finishing
candidate’s votes were reallocated, Robinson won a majority.
Winner-take-all systems like ours and Britain’s are the exception. Most
European democracies elect legislatures by proportional representation, and few
allow a mere plurality to elect a chief executive. Richie and his colleagues
are organizing grass-roots efforts to press for instant-runoff voting and other
forms of proportional representation.
A Right-to-Vote Amendment. Remarkably, our Constitution contains numerous
provisions about how leaders are chosen, but nowhere does it guarantee citizens
the right to vote and to have their votes accurately recorded.
Scrap the Electoral College. Sound like a pipe dream? We almost did it in 1969,
when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment to abolish
the Electoral College in favor of direct election. The measure got a majority,
but it was the victim of a filibuster and never commanded the necessary
two-thirds in the Senate. If it hadn’t rained in Ohio on November 2, John Kerry
could well have been the electoral winner but not the popular winner, leaving
both parties "cheated" by the Electoral College in back-to-back elections.
It could happen again.
Meantime, just having a popular movement to abolish the Electoral College and
guarantee every citizen’s right to vote would be good for American democracy.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect.
Read this article on-line
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F a i r V o t e
The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD 20912