E-News Update

April 6, 2001

To: Friends of Fair Elections

Fr: Rob Richie, Executive Director, Center for Voting and Democracy, www.FairVote.org


  • Instant runoff voting legislation in 12 states & Congress
  • City efforts likely to lead to ballot measures in 2001
  • Pro-democracy conference June 29-July 1 in Philadelphia
  • May 4 event on proportional voting in New York City
  • Electoral reform movement gathers strength
  • Media coverage: Important new articles, books, more and CVD on CSPAN, Fox, NBC & CNN
  • New CVD web reports on diversity, competitiveness 
  • Pro rep movements in Canada and United Kingdom
  • Getting active: Equipment, demo elections, legislation; and calling on interns... Join the CVD team!
  • USA Today editorial in favor of instant runoff voting. It has been an exciting first quarter of 2001! Legislation has been introduced on instant runoff voting* in a dozen states and in Congress. Bills on proportional voting systems have been put forward in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois and Congress -- including a new version of the Voters' Choice Act to once restore to states the right to use proportional voting systems*. (* See descriptions of these systems at end of update.)

We have also joined with a range of other civic groups to study and advocate improvements to our electoral process -- a process so clearly exposed as lacking in last year's elections. Recommendations will begin with new voting equipment and methods of voter education, but are certain to explore more fully the significance of the franchise and how to increase voter participation. We believe that as long as citizens keep pressing for reform, we can make important advances, both at a federal and state level. See our new Christian Science Monitor commentary today at www.csmonitor.com for our analysis of reform opportunities and to see how much is under consideration in states, peruse the National Conference of State Legislators' database on electoral reform legislation.

Activists and grassroots reformers are also mobilizing around ambitious reform agendas that prominently highlight proportional representation and instant runoff voting. There will be a major pro-democracy conference in Philadelphia on June 29 - July 1st -- with several workshops on voting system reform and a town hall meeting with our president John Anderson. We have organized four regional conferences this year that have cumulatively drawn more than 350 people (see a description of the most recent workshop below) and are co-sponsors of a May 4th New York City event on proportional representation.

We also have generated steady media coverage. New articles by our staff and board have appeared this year in numerous publications, including the American Prospect, Tompaine.com, the Southern Regional Council's "Voting Rights Review" and the Progressive magazine, while longer pieces will be in Harvard's Asian American Policy Review and a new book "Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America" (ME Sharpe, April 2001). CVD advisory board members have new books that are remarkable contributions to informed debate about election systems: Douglas Amy's "Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen's Guide to Voting Systems" (Praeger, 2000) and Kathleen Barber's "A Right to Representation: Proportional Election Systems for the 21st Century" (Ohio State University Press) -- both are available in paperback and essential additions to the bookshelves of election system reformers and scholars.

Perhaps just as importantly, more people with no association with our Center are advocating voting system reform. New articles linked from our website include powerful pieces by Jim Cullen, Lani Guinier, Jim Hightower and Miles Rapoport and newspaper editorials strongly in favor of instant runoff voting from USA Today, St. Petersburg Times and Trenton Times.

There are important new reports on our site as well, including ones on diversity (and lack thereof) in state and federal legislatures and on competitiveness and turnout (and yes, lack thereof!) in congressional elections. Find out if your state is among the five (only one with more than three seats) where more than half of House seats were not won by landslide victory margins - and how it ranks in voter turnout, accuracy of how votes translated into seats, representation of women, representation of people of color and more. See if your House Member was among the 235 that we predicted would win by a landslide -- only one of whom fell short (winning instead by a mere 18% margin). And don't forget our state-by-state guide to redistricting as we head full-tilt into this often brutal battle for power -- one that in winner-take-all elections determines the representation most voters are going to have at any given level of election for the next decade.

Please feel encouraged to share this e-newsletter with others. To receive frequent postings about news around the country and world, please subscribe to cvdclips by sending a message to mailto:cvdclips-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Contact national field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger at djw@instantrunoff.com to see if there is a listserv in your area.

 Instant runoff voting legislation in 12 states and Congress

A 1997 bill in Texas was the first state legislation in decades -- as far as we know -- to propose instant runoff voting. It would have made it an option for local elections. By 1999, legislation to enact instant runoff voting for most state and federal offices passed one house of the New Mexico legislature and similar legislation was subject of hearings in Vermont and Alaska.

This year, a dozen states have bills on instant runoff voting (IRV), and hearings on these bills have been held in several states. Washington's IRV bill -- one that would enact IRV for most major offices in the state -- has passed one senate committee and come tantalizingly close in another, where it remains alive due to great grassroots work by Brent White, Nat Holder and Krist Novoselic. California's powerful speaker of the house has introduced legislation to adopt IRV to fill state legislative and federal vacancy elections. New Mexico legislation lost in a narrow floor vote in the house, while Vermont's bill is co-sponsored by a third of the senate and has the support of state branches of PIRG, Common Cause, the Grange and League of Women Voters. Already qualified for the November 2002 statewide ballot, IRV advocates in Alaska are now fully focused on the ballot measure.

There are federal bills on instant runoff voting: HR 57, a bill with 45 co-sponsors, that would establish a commission to consider a full range of electoral reforms, including instant runoff voting and proportional representation, and HR 1189, the Voters' Choice Act, which would express a sense of Congress that states should adopt instant runoff voting to allocate electoral votes in the presidential race. Expect more federal; legislation on instant runoff voting this spring, and track pending legislation .

 Proportional voting legislation in states and Congress

The Voters' Choice Act (HR 1189), versions of which have been introduced in each congressional session by Rep. Cynthia McKinney since 1995, would allow states to use proportional voting methods by amending the 1967 law that required the US House to be elected from single member districts. See new commentaries about proportional representation by Rep. McKinney and by Rep. James Clyburn.

Like HR 57 (referenced above), the Congress 2004 Commission Act (HR 506) also would study proportional representation, but with a more narrow focus. It would create a commission to analyze the size of Congress (after changing every decade since its formation, House size was set at the current 435 level in 1910) and how it is elected -- specifically citing proportional representation and cumulative voting.

Georgia considered legislation on cumulative voting and choice voting, while in Alabama, HB 660 would allow cumulative voting in certain elections including members of the county commission, board of education, or municipal governing bodies. In Illinois, there is bipartisan support for a constitutional amendment that would restore cumulative voting in three-member districts to the Illinois House. HJR 4 would replace the current 118 single-member district system with 39 districts of three members each, elected by cumulative voting (see www.fairvote.org/op_eds/Ill.htm for recent news article on the bill). This would allow the political minority in each part of the state to be represented in Springfield, not just the political majority. 

Visit fairvote.org/reports/1999/index.html to track legislation about voting system reform.

 City efforts likely to lead to ballot measures in 2001

In the wake of a unanimous recommendation by a charter commission in January 2000, the city council in Austin, Texas is considering placing instant runoff voting for city council races on the ballot later this year. A part-time CVD consultant is building support for this potential campaign, while CVD is tracking other city activism that could lead to ballot measures to implement instant runoff voting or proportional systems -- expect at least one or two votes this year.

 * Pro-democracy conference June 29-July 1 in Philadelphia 

A broad range of groups, including our Center, have joined together to organize a major conference in Philadelphia June 29 - July: "The Pro-Democracy Convention Shaping the Future of Democracy in America. After two plenary sessions, attenders will attend three rounds of workshops on aspects of the "Voters' Bill of Rights," which includes instant runoff voting and proportional representation (to read the full set of planks, see www.ippn.org/ProDemocracy-Main.htm). Look for more information about this important event soon, but if you're looking for a chance to plug into reform work, save the date on your calendar. To track the conference and other pro-democracy events, visit http://www.ips-dc.org/electoral, an excellent new web resource from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Nation magazine. 

  May 4 event on proportional representation in New York

The Independent Politics Group at the City University of New York Graduate Center and CVD will hold an event on the evening of May 4th on "Proportional Representation in New York City: Looking Back, Looking Forward." The choice voting method of PR was used for five elections during the city's "golden age" under Mayor LaGuardia, and a growing number of political players in the city would like to see it restored. More details will be released on our website shortly.

Electoral reform movement gathering strength 

As touched on in describing the Philadelphia and New York events, there is important new grassroots activism for reform -- energy that only promises to build with more campaigns, more gatherings like a "democracy institute" planned for students and more community eduction initiatives. 

Working on the inside, our Center is involved with four different coalitions and sets of task forces organized by the Constitution Project, Demos, League of Women Voters and the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation. With the broad range of people involved in these and other similar efforts, we are confident that reform recommendations about voting mechanics, voter education and voter participation will be developed that will be very influential with Congress, states and localities. Even if these improvements in voting mechanics do not directly address proportional representation and instant runoff voting, they are essential building blocks for reformers-not only to protect and enhance the right to vote, but to lead to new voting equipment that can handle better ranked-choice methods like instant runoff voting that cannot be conducted on outmoded machines like punchcards.

One particularly important insider initiative is the National Commission on Election Reform, organized earlier this year by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs and the Century Foundation. Chaired by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, the commission held the first of four public hearings on election reform on March 26th in Atlanta, Georgia. It focused on voting mechanics, but did hear testimony from Alex Keyssar, a Duke professor and author of the highly recommended book "The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in America," about proportional representation and instant runoff voting. The commission is soliciting public comment.

Media coverage: Important new articles, books, television

Browse through the amazing array of news coverage on election system reform from recent months. And don't forget the new books by Douglas Amy (Behind the Ballot Box) and Kathleen Barber (The Right to Representation) described above.

CVD president John Anderson was a guest on C-SPAN's Washington Journal program on, April 1st, where he talked about proportional representation and instant runoff voting (John is celebrating his 80th year with typical energy and inspiration -- speaking at our four regional conferences, appearing on at least three additional panels to debate the Electoral College, writing new articles and still balancing his other hats with the World Federalists and Public Campaign.) My comments likely will be featured in an upcoming CNN News story on the state of the electoral reform debate on "Inside Politics" and recently appeared on CNN's "Talkback Live" and on NBC Evening News to discuss electoral reform. (We believe that movement toward reform has great momentum, even if going more slowly than some anticipated. It is not a question of whether we will modernize and improve voting processes and voter education, but to what degree.)

New CVD web reports on diversity, competitiveness

For several years the Center has produced reports on competition and voter turnout in congressional races. This series, tagged "Dubious Democracy," has been updated to include results from the 2000 elections, which stand among the least competitive in decades. See state-by-state statistics and state rankings at: fairvote.org/reports/1999/index.html. See how well we did in our congressional predictions .

We also have produced a new report on representation of women, political parties and racial and ethnic minorities in state and federal legislatures at: fairvote.org/vra/index.html#data. The Center regularly produces such reports on elections and election systems. Other recent reports on our web include:

Pro Rep movements gathering steam in Canada and UK

The proportional representation movement in the United Kingdom, centered around the British Electoral Reform Society, has been active for more than a century. Recent successes include adoption of proportional representation for assembly elections in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London and for elections to the European Parliament. Current focuses include efforts to win the choice voting method of proportional representation for municipal elections in Scotland -- recommended now by two commissions -- and, of course, elections to the big British prize, the House of Commons. After winning nearly two-thirds of seats with barely two-fifths of the vote, Tony Blair's Labour government backed away from a pledge to hold a national referendum to adopt a proportional system for the House of Commons elections, but recently has indicated that a referendum remains possible for the next parliament -- much may depend on the size of the likely Labour majority in elections likely to take place later this year.

Meanwhile, Canada's remarkable distortions and regional imbalance in national and provincial elections has made it ripe for reform. Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens' campaign to change Canada's voting system, has been officially launched at a "Making Votes Count" conference in Ottawa last weekend. A citizen-based, non-partisan campaign involving people from all parts of the political spectrum and all regions of the country, Fair Vote Canada (FVC) is mounting a nation-wide educational campaign. See information at one of the most active branches <www.fairvotingbc.com>.

Another conference will take place in Ottawa on May 2-3: "Votes and Seats: Opportunities and Challenges for Electoral Reform in Canada," organized by the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Registration details and the conference program are posted at: http://www.irpp.org/events/archive/050201e.htm

Getting active: Equipment, demo elections and legislation

Below is a the report on our recent Los Angeles conference by Casey Peters, one of the conference's organizers and a founding member -- it provides a small window into reform energy in many states. In addition to boosting legislation and any ballot measures in your area, we urge you to write your county and state legislators to ask them to make sure that any new voting equipment in your county and state has the capacity to handle all voting methods now used in the United States, including ranked-choice systems and cumulative voting. We also want to urge people to consider holding demonstration elections in their area -- and for those fed up with political insiders ignoring the public interest in redistricting, consider a simple demonstration... or at least a good letter to your editor about how proportional voting systems are the best way to allow voters to pick their representatives rather than the other way around. To find out how to get active in your area, please contact our national field director, Dan Johnson-Weinberger, at djw@instantrunoff.com and visit our activist website page.

We also have internships available, both in our national office outside Washington, DC and in field offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Casey Peters on "Los Angeles Regional Conference on Reform": Over 120 people gathered at Loyola Law School on Saturday, March 24 to explore possible changes in American elections. The event was videotaped for broadcast by Adelphi Communications... The first panelist to speak was Los Angeles County registrar Conny McCormack, who related her experiences (noting that while well acquainted with hanging chads, had never heard of dimpled or pregnant chads until after Election 2000). She expressed an openness to accommodating new elections systems to bring better representation to the voters of Los Angeles County. Next, John Anderson spoke about how we need to go beyond replacing unreliable voting machines and look at instant runoff voting and proportional representation. His eloquence and wit enlivened both the audience and the rest of the panel. State Assembly Member Robert Pacheco, a Republican, spoke about the difficulties of being in a minority party in the legislature, but promoted his bills for electoral reform. Next, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was sharply critical of the role of the commercial media in distorting fair elections. Finally, Mark Ridley-Thomas reiterated the argument that African-Americans had been excluded in the 2000 elections. Many people raised questions from the floor before the televised session ended....

 USA Today editorial in favor of instant runoff voting

Below is from one of the best new articles and commentaries on our website. It ran in USA Today on February 5, 2001

"Spoiler-free elections"

Life isn't very happy these days for the ''spoilers'' from November's elections.

As reported by USA TODAY last week, Democrats in Congress are shunning their old consumer-advocate comrade in arms, Ralph Nader, because he siphoned off enough voters to cost Al Gore the election. If just a fraction of Nader backers in Florida and New Hampshire had gone for Gore, he would have won both states, and a majority of the Electoral College.

While not widely reported, GOP renegade Patrick Buchanan played a similar role. Bush lost New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon by margins so small that Buchanan's votes could have given him victory. If Bush hadn't eked out a court-ordered edge in Florida, Republicans would be denouncing Buchanan just as Democrats do Nader.

Clearly, both parties have a stake in changing the system -- ideally without making it harder for third-party and independent candidates to get on the ballot.

Some states, notably in the South, already require runoffs between the top two candidates if no one gets 50% of the vote in a primary or election for state office. Many other countries elect presidents that way. Thus whoever wins can legitimately claim to have majority support. But second campaigns are expensive and would result in even more special-interest money tainting the process.

Two California cities, Oakland and San Leandro, just adopted a better way for local elections, called ''instant runoff voting.'' Under it, voters rank the candidates 1, 2, 3 in order of preference. Voters thus could support both a Nader and a Gore, both a Buchanan and a Bush, or any other combination.

If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the count is over and that candidate wins. If not, the last-place finisher is eliminated. Ballots cast for that candidate are counted for voters' next choice, until someone has a clear majority. Australia and Ireland have used the system for decades.....


Instant runoff voting: Voting system in which winners must be acceptable to at least half of voters and in which non-major candidates are not dismissed as "spoilers." Voters can rank candidates in order of their choice rather than be restricted to voting for only one.

Proportional voting systems: Voting systems in which groupings of like-minded voters win representation in proportion to their share of the vote. If 20% of voters seek a certain kind of representation, they will win one out of five seats. If 51% want another kind of representation, they should win three seats. In short, a majority earns its right to decide, but political minorities earn their right to representation.

Visit our website for more information: fairvote.org

E-mail updates from prior months are archived