E-News Update, August 4, 2000


Headed by former Congressman and presidential candidate John Anderson, the Center for Voting and Democracy focuses on voting systems -- the way votes are translated into representation. We pay particular attention to proportional representation systems for legislative elections and instant runoff voting for offices electing one person. We send out occasional "e-news" updates. (If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send me a message.)

It's been an eventful few weeks in the world of voting system reform. Here is a short review. Most of these items are discussed in more detail on our web site -- see the listings under "what's new"...

CVD op-ed touts instant runoffs in Washington Post

CVD Vice President Matthew Cossolotto touts instant runoff voting in Washington Post op ed: On July 30, the Washington Post published a commentary called "The Spoiler Factor" by Matthew Cossolotto, the founding president of our Center. The op ed makes a strong case for states adopting runoff voting for presidential elections.


Sierra Club endorses proportional voting systems

Sierra Club endorses alternatives to winner take all elections: The Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots 
environmental organization (with over 600,000 members) on July 22 voted "to support alternative electoral methods that better reflect the diversity of public opinion." The resolution was designed to support both proportional systems and instant runoff voting.


ICANN to use IRV for worldwide board elections

ICANN to use IRV for worldwide election of five board members by Internet users: At a July board meeting, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- the non profit global corporation that was formed to govern the Internet -- voted to use instant runoff voting to elect five members of its board of directors. Any user of the Internet can join ICANN.


Results of mock election at NAACP conference

Mock election results from NAACP conference: The Center for Voting and Democracy conducted a mock election at its booth at the national conference of the NAACP in July. There were instructive differences in the results when using different voting methods. Find out who won -- and the difference between a proportional voting method and "winner-take-all."


New factsheets on the A, B, C's of voting systems

The A, B, C's of voting systems: The Center for Voting and Democracy has launched a major new educational project in which it will have short fact sheets on different voting methods and address specific questions and historical information relating to voting methods. See the initial facts sheets on the web. During the coming month, we expect to add several major reports to our web site, including a state-by-state guide to redistricting, "Monopoly Politics 2000", sample proportional plans for U.S. House elections in new states and highlights from our essay contest.


CVD report on alternatives to blanket primaries

CVD analyzes alternative to blanket primaries: CVD has a new report that analyzes proposed alternatives to "blanket primaries", which the Supreme Court this spring ruled could not be required by states. The report examines the impact of Louisiana's nonpartisan primary, discusses its applicability to other states and presents alternative solutions. As Steven Hill writes in a commentary that appeared in Roll Call, "Louisiana's version of a blanket primary is hardly a paragon of democracy. Often the top two candidates get to the general election with a low percentage of votes. This tends to favor non moderate candidates with the strongest core support.... The best solution is some sort of proportional representation voting system, or cumulative voting in three seat districts which Illinois used to elect its state legislature for many years."


Former Bush advisor James Pinkerton writes about PR

Former top Bush advisor Pinkerton writes about proportional
: James Pinkerton, a Newsday columnist who was a domestic policy advisor to President George Bush, visited the Green Party convention in June. His column discusses the key role that proportional representation plays in allowing a multi party democracy.


National Civic Review publishes major article on IRV

Major new IRV article: The National Civic Review has published a major article on instant runoff voting by Terrill Bouricius, Caleb Kleppner and Rob Richie entitled "Instant Runoffs: A Cheaper, Fairer, Better Way to Conduct Elections."


News Shorts

E News update, July 13, 2000: For those of you missed our most recent update, please find news on: the vote by the League of Women Voters to conduct a national study on voting systems; the successful use of cumulative voting in Amarillo, Texas in May; the use of proportional representation and instant runoff voting London Mayor's race; our new educational tool "redistricting roulette"; and more

Slide show on thirty years of gerrymandering in Ohio: David Horn, director of the Center for Research into Government Process, has prepared a remarkable slide show that provides compelling stories of how redistricting works and doesn't work in Ohio. See highlights of the series and download the whole slide show.

Turnout is slipping: Until the contest for the major party's presidential nominations were decided on March 7, a majority of Republican primaries hit all-time highs in voter turnout -- an indication of the powerful impact of John McCain's surprisingly strong challenge to eventual winner George Bush. Even so, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate found that only 24% of eligible voters participated in either the Democratic or Republican primaries through March 7. With the presidential nominations set, turnout has dropped significantly. This week, Tennessee's voter turnout was less than 7% in its congressional primaries. Experts are forecasting potential record-low turnout this November.

Important new book on voting systems and policy: One of the nation's most respected political scientists, G. Bingham Powell of the University of Rochester, has written "Elections as a Tool of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions," to be published this summer by Yale University Press. In the book he makes a comparative survey of 150 elections and concludes that, while both majoritarian and proportional systems have their virtues, proportional systems are better because they tend to produce greater policy congruence between the public and government.

Managing Editor of the American Political Science Review (1991 95), Powell is co author and co editor with Gabriel Almond of perhaps the leading undergraduate comparative politics text, "Comparative Politics Today," now in its 7th edition. His 1982 book "Contemporary Democracies: Participation, Stability and Violence" won the Woodrow Wilson prize for best book in political science that year.

New York Times article highlights non-competitive congressional elections: In a July 30, 2000 news article in the New York Times Adam Clymer writes that: "The vanishing swing district is one of the most telling examples of how the nature of Congressional election politics has changed. For all the talk of a momentous battle for control of the House of Representatives, where Republicans now hold an 11 seat majority, there is real competition in only a handful of districts fewer than three dozen." 

Students of congressional elections were able to identify the small universe of potential close races long ago -- immediately after the November 1998 races, in fact. This is the basis of our "Monopoly Politics" report to be released this month.

Runoffs could play key role in congressional elections this November: Nearly all general elections for federal and statewide offices in the United States are held under plurality rules -- the candidate with the most votes wins, even if a majority of voters have split their vote among opponents. However, there may well be congressional runoffs in two states that could make two important points: some states still put a priority on winners having majority support (as is true in most presidential elections around the world) and having a second-round runoff can result in extreme drops in voter participation.

Louisiana's unique system will result in a first round election in November in congressional races. If there is no winner, then the runoff will be in December. Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent death of U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell, Georgia will have a special election for U.S. Senate. If a candidate wins a majority of the vote in November, the election is over. If not, however, there will be a runoff. A runoff in Georgia's U.S. Senate race in 1992 resulted in a precipitous drop in turnout. Incumbent Wyche Fowler won 1,108,416 votes in the November election, but fell just short of a majority. In the December runoff, without the draw of the presidential race, Coverdell won with 635,114 votes -- a majority of the runoff vote, but nearly half a million votes fewer than Fowler's vote total a month before.
The Center suggests instant runoff voting as a better means to ensure majority rule.

Vote at Republican convention kills potential change to presidential primary process: This year, the presidential nominations were decided earlier than ever before -- earlier, in fact, than the first primaries used to be just a few decades ago. The Republican party this year looked like it was going to address this problem when the Republican National Committee approved the so-called Delaware Plan - which allow a dozen of the small population states, the District of Columbia and the territories to hold their primaries in the first of four waves from February through May. Big states would vote last, with just about half of the delegates in that last group. 

Supporters suggested that the plan would allow more states to participate -- two thirds of the states had no voice in the nomination of George Bush by the time the race was settled March 7. (Even fewer states had voted in Democratic primaries by the time Bill Bradley ceded the nomination battle to Al Gore.) Opponents said that if only the Republicans made this change, they would be at a competitive disadvantage to the Democrats. No change can be made by the Republicans until their next convention in 2004; Democrats also appear unlikely to pursue change.

Movement grows to open up presidential debates: Governed by representatives of the two major parties, the Commission on Presidential Debates has set a very difficult standard for minor party candidates to participate in any of this fall's presidential debates: an average of at least 15% support in several national polls. A growing effort is calling to lower that threshold to 5% (the same percentage as what it takes to earn public funding) or to allow a candidate to participate if a majority of Americans support their participation -- recent polls suggest that a large majority would support at least including Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and potential Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. For more information, see web sites of Commission on Presidential Debates, (http://www.debates.org); United for a Fair Economy (http://www.ufenet.org); & Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (http://www.fair.org/debates.html).


CVD Interns: A big thanks and a call for more!

A big thanks to CVD interns and a call for more: This summer, we have been fortunate to have a strong group of interns working with us. They are: Scott Carr (University of Oklahoma); Michelle Davis (University of Maryland Law School); Jessica Farley (George Washington); Anthoney Levar Johnson (Duke); Beverly Jones (Yale Law School); Julia Oestrich (Smith); Matthew Pierce (Oberlin); Stacey Wagaman (Swarthmore). As some begin to head back to school, we want to send them a big note of thanks.... so, thanks!

Note that CVD has interns throughout the year. Stipends are available based on need. We still have openings for this fall. Send an email to Eric Olson at: cvderic@aol.com. Come join our team working for a fair, competitive and meaningful electoral process!