E-News Update, July, 2000



The Center for Voting and Democracy focuses its activity on our voting system -- the way we translate votes into representation -- with particular attention to proportional representation systems for legislative elections and instant runoff voting for "one-winner" elections (such as those for mayor, president or district representative). A visit to the "what's new" section of our web site (http://www.fairvote.org) underlines how intriguing these times are for voting system reformers. Rather than fill your in-box with full versions of the items touched on below, I instead urge you to read postings in "what's new", download some of our new brochures and browse other updated sections. For those of you unable to surf the web easily, please let us know if you would like more information on developments referenced here or copies of any article referenced below. 

Note that in the coming weeks, with the help of our excellent team of eight summer interns, we plan to release major new reports in congressional elections and redistricting and highlights from our essay contest on voter turnout. (Speaking of interns, now is the time to apply for intern positions here in the fall and winter.) We also will be circulating more regular analysis of the election season, events abroad and grassroots news. Keep an eye out for more frequent -- but short! --  updates. Here is a rundown of the latest news: 

LWV votes for national study on election systems

At its biennial convention in Washington DC in June, the 
League of Women Voters of the United States voted to 
undertake a two-year study of election systems. More than 900 local Leagues will take part, reviewing materials that will detail different voting methods and ways of evaluating them. Given that the League had not voted to conduct a national study of any kind in nearly a decade, special kudos for this development to those active in the state LWV election system studies already underway in California, Georgia, Illinois and Washington -- particularly California's Paula Lee and Steve Chessin, who led a series of workshops at the convention. 

Cumulative voting a hit in Amarillo, Texas 

Cumulative voting was used to elect Amarillo's school board for the first time on May 6, 2000. Blacks and Latinos in Amarillo together make up a quarter of the city's population, but no black or Latino candidate had won a seat on the school board in decades. Instituted to settle a voting rights lawsuit involving MALDEF, LULAC and the NAACP, cumulative voting had an immediate impact. Both a black candidate and Latino candidate won seats with strong support in their respective communities, voter turnout increased four times over the most recent school board election (albeit boosted in part by a separate ballot measure) and all parties in the voting rights settlement expressed satisfaction with the new system. The Center's part-time consultant Hortencia Quinonez Wrampelmeier was very helpful in the last year in sparking understanding of how to use cumulative voting. See extensive information on Amarillo's election on our web site. 

Anderson NY Times op-ed addresses spoiler dilemma  

CVD President John Anderson ran for president as an 
independent candidate in 1980. In a July 5 commentary in the New York Times (and widely syndicated around the country) John defends independent and minor party candidates and proposes instant runoff voting as a means to remove plurality voting's incentives to suppress such candidacies. With Green Party nominee Ralph Nader's campaign drawing particular attention to the "spoiler" issue, there have been a flurry of articles, commentaries and letters. Each time you read about "spoilers," remember that a simple change to instant runoff voting would banish the concept from our politics.

London calling: Elections a showcase for PR and IRV

London's elections in May for mayor and city council were the latest evidence of the disintegration of plurality election rules in the United Kingdom -- the parent of our own plurality voting system. Under instant runoff voting, an independent candidate was elected as London mayor, and with proportional representation, the London city council much more fairly reflects political opinion than would have occurred with plurality elections. On our web site, the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg -- a long-time CVD board member -- touts London's new electoral systems with great wit and wisdom, while CVD staff report on the impact of instant runoff voting in the mayoral race and how proportional representation prevented one party with only 28% of the vote from gaining a majority on the city council.

Redistricting roulette -- take a spin! 

Try your hand at the CVD's new "Redistricting Roulette" wheel, based on an excellent educational tool developed by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. Explore the impact of multiple district plans and their surprising results -- with small line shifts changing one party's share of seats from 80% of seats to no seats. And remember that redistricting is no game, as state and local jurisdictions gear up to redraw legislative district lines all over the nation next year.

Essay contest -- the excitement builds

Last fall, the Center launched an essay contest to address the question "Why Don't We Vote." Some 9,000 essays later, we have a range of answers -- and will release winners and essays from all fifty states in coming weeks, thanks to the help of a great team of judges. While awaiting the essays, you can visit our new chart on shifts in youth turnout in elections since 1972

CVD commentary in CS Monitor, Baltimore Sun, more

Recent weeks were typically productive ones for CVD staff members in their writings about voting system reform. (Once aware of proportional systems and instant runoff voting, the angles for writing about their potential impact are nearly endless.) Examples in "what's new" on our web site include commentaries and letters to the editor by CVD western regional director Steven Hill and myself in publications such as the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times and Washington Post -- with our topics including campaign finance, negative campaigning, gun control, Elian Gonzalez, Italy, John McCain and debates.

CVD's majority rule project director Caleb Kleppner published commentaries in favor of instant runoff voting in three state capitals: Raleigh (NC), Austin (NC) Texas and Sacramento (CA), while CVD deputy director Eric Olson wrote about political gerrymandering in the Baltimore Sun. Among board members, CVD vice-president Matthew Cossolotto wrote three commentaries on voter turnout (published in Roll Call) proportional representation and redistricting, and CVD's other vice-president Cynthia Terrell delivered a speech at the Feminist Majority Expo on how proportional representation elects more women. All of the above are on our web site.

Notable articles in LA Times, Roll Call and NY Times

Additional noteworthy articles from recent months include a June 25th article in the Los Angeles Times that highlights cumulative voting and CVD. New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a scathing column on June 16 about uncontested elections and their roots in gerrymandered district while Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney wrote in Roll Call on "Proportional Representation: The Next Step for Democracy."

Busy times, new educational materials 

CVD staff and interns have been very busy writing, producing materials, speaking to community groups and at conferences and assisting charter commissions and elected officials. Among new materials of note are brochures on instant runoff voting and lessons from having "pizza for dinner." These and a variety of other CVD materials are now available to download from our site. Other items of note on our web site include a final review of Democratic and Republican presidential primary/ caucus results (with the final allocation of delegates, state-by-state, showing the stark difference between results in states using proportional representation and those using winner-take-all for allocating delegates), updated sections on voting rights and instant runoff voting and "Dubious Democracy 2000" -- a unique and extensive state-by-state survey of competition (and lack thereof) and voter turnout in U.S. House races from 1982 to 1998.