Year-end report from CVD
From Rob Richie, CVD Executive Director,
I hope that you are all looking forward to a pleasant holiday
season and eventful new year. Following are a few final items from
1999 that I thought might be of interest.....
- Brief review of
developments: Mention of New Zealand, Venezuela, Italy,
Bosnia, San Francisco, Cambridge, new CVD report on web
- Year-end from
CVD: Letters from John Anderson and myself that survey today's
political scene, our projects in 1999 and our plans for the
Also, please note that you can now donate to CVD on-line, using a
credit card. We are listed among the charitable organizations at GiveForChange.com -- many
donations this month will be doubled by the site's sponsor, Working
Assets Long Distance.
All the best,
In 1993, New Zealand became the first English-speaking
democracy to adopt a party list method of proportional
representation (PR) in a national referendum -- one in which the PR
campaign was victorious despite being outspent by more than 10-1 by
opponents. Last month, New Zealand held its second PR election.
Voter turnout was 83%, and 94% of voters helped to elect a
representative. The government was ousted, with a new coalition
government swiftly formed by two opposition parties. Instructively,
63 of 67 seats in the single- seat districts went to the two major
parties, despite those parties winning only 68% of votes cast.
Fortunately, another 53 seats were allocated parties in order to
provide fair representation. For more information, see:
Also, this week Venezuela voters overwhelmingly approved a
new constitution. In the midst of many changes, including adoption
of a unicameral legislature, PR was maintained... In
Italy, there is talk once again of eliminating PR in the wake
of more government instability. Given the nation's geographic
divisions, it is quite unlikely that going to all single-seat
districts would remove that instability, just as U.S.-style
elections have not created stability in India in the 1990s.
Bosnia will use instant runoff voting (also called "the
alternative vote") in its next presidential election -- the need for
winners to reach out to supporters of other candidates was seen as a
major reason for the change... San Francisco has
delayed plans to put the instant runoff on the ballot, but expect
news soon on serious movement toward adoption of the instant runoff
in cities and states... Cambridge (Mass.) elected its
city council and school board by proportional representation (the
choice voting model) in November. There is much fascinating
information on these elections at the web site of the Cambridge
Civic Journal (www.math.harvard.edu/~rwinters/ccj.html).
Finally, note that next week our Center will release a sneak
preview of two of three planned major reports relating to elections
to the U.S. House of Representatives. "Dubious Democracy" will
have a wide array of election statistics from 1982 to 1998.
"Monopoly Politics 2000" will make predictions in most U.S. House
races based on the partisan leanings of districts and provide a
wealth of analyses of the roots of non-competitiveness in
Report From CVD
December 17, 1999
Many of you have been loyal supporters of The Center for Voting
and Democracy since our founding conference in 1992. Others of you
have recognized the need for fairer elections in the years since due
to one exciting development or another -- developments that make me
very optimistic about achieving fundamental reform in the coming
decade. To all of you, let me express my gratitude and my hope that
you will help us build on our successes in 2000.
As a donor to many non-profit organizations myself, I know that
this is a time of year when mailboxes sag with the weight of
year-end appeals, mail-order catalogues and, more happily, personal
holiday cards. Let me be brief and to the point: the state of our
politics and our representative government must be improved.
- A mere 36% of
Americans voted in 1998's national elections. Less than one in
five Virginians voted in that state's critical legislative
- Our campaigns
too often degenerate into zero-sum attacks rather than
substantive debate about issues. Manipulating winner-take-all
politics is too easy for modern
- Fully 95
congressional incumbents faced no major party opposition in
1998. More than two in five state legislative races that year
- 49 of 50 states
have no third party state or federal legislators. Third
parties are typically dismissed as spoilers, which indeed our
voting system generally consigns them to
legislatures rarely reflect the exciting and important
diversity of our people. The Senate is merely the most extreme
example, with no blacks or Latinos and only nine women.
Our Center took strong steps in 1999 to advance reforms to
address these distressing problems. Just a few years ago, who would
have thought that Congress would hold a serious hearing debating the
merits of proportional representation? That several states would
flirt seriously with enacting instant runoff voting for their major
elections? That Amarillo, Texas would adopt cumulative voting for
school board elections in the wake of Texas Governor George Bush
signing legislation to allow school districts to use proportional
Executive director Rob Richie's report below provides more
details on these developments and provides an informative sketch of
our plans for the new year and decade.
The demand for reform is compelling. Our projects are timely. All
we need is your continued good will and support to help us lead a
formidable charge in 2000.
With my best wishes,
John B. Anderson, President,
System Reform On the Move
A Report by CVD's Rob Richie, December 1999
Since our founding in 1992, the Center for Voting and Democracy
has enjoyed significant achievements. But nothing is likely to match
potential gains in the next two years. Long-standing educational
outreach has led to collaborative projects with major constituency
organizations and concrete opportunities for real reform.
Instant runoff voting
Instant runoff voting (IRV) has great potential to burst onto the
political landscape in 2000. IRV is a system of preferential voting
that protects majority rule and increases participation by expanding
the range of voters' choices in one-winner elections (such as those
for president, governor and mayor). IRV simulates a series of
traditional runoff elections in a single election.
In 1999, legislation to enact IRV for statewide and federal
offices was introduced in Vermont and passed the state senate
in New Mexico; both efforts will continue in 2000. A well-
backed initiative to adopt IRV for state and federal elections in
Alaska has been launched -- expect several other states to
debate IRV in 2000. Voters in Santa Clara (Calif.) and Vancouver
(Wash.) have adopted charter amendments to permit IRV, and IRV
efforts are advancing in several major cities.
The Center has played a key role in these developments. In
addition, this year we produced a series of IRV articles and
materials -- including a new video narrated by actress Kelly Lynch
-- that are gaining new allies on a near-daily basis.
The Center remains deeply committed to proportional
representation (PR). PR provides fuller representation of the
electorate by reducing the share of votes necessary to win a fair
share of seats. Consequences include greater participation, a deeper
debate on issues, more inclusive legislatures and a weakening of
money's grip on our politics.
We see major opportunities to increase serious consideration of
PR in the next two years as local and state governments across the
nation undergo the tumultuous process of redistricting.
Redistricting is the Achilles' heel of our winner-take-all system,
exposing how it limits choices at the polls and polarizes politics
The Center is well-prepared to keep a steady spotlight on
problems with current methods of redistricting and the benefits of
alternative approaches, particularly PR. This month we will publish
the first of three new reports on our comprehensive web site: "Dubious Democracy" (a
review of U.S. House elections from 1982-1998 and their appalling
lack of competition); "Monopoly Politics" (in which we
predict winners and victory margins in House races); and "A
Citizen Guide to Redistricting" (with a state-by-state review of
redistricting maps, law, history and prospects).
We are pleased to see that interest is rapidly growing in
adopting PR to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The Center has
assisted North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt, who this year
introduced a bill (HR 1173) that would allow states to use PR for
House elections. Subject of a lively hearing in September, the bill
has bi-partisan support.
The Center has established collaborative projects with several
organizations. One important collaboration focuses on outreach to
black elected officials, NAACP chapters and historically black
colleges in the South. Another project involves producing a
clear and lively handbook on PR for local community activists, to be
used in hands-on outreach in localities. We are advising several
state League of Women Voters groups that this year launched
two-year studies of PR. We will work closely with several women's
organizations in the wake of NOW's formal endorsement of PR
We have co-produced a highly informative new video on the history
of cumulative voting in electing Illinois' state
legislature -- one which makes it clear why the state's Republican
governor, Democratic state senate leader and most thoughtful
Illinois political players support its restoration.
By adopting cumulative voting for school board elections this
spring, Amarillo (TX) became the nation's largest
jurisdiction to use it. More than 50 Texas jurisdictions have
adopted this semi-proportional system to settle voting rights
challenges. The Center contracted with a community educator to
explain cumulative voting in Amarillo. With success in this
high-profile election, observers estimate that an additional 50
Texas localities may adopt cumulative voting by 2001.
Having hired several new staff members and consultants to pursue
these projects, the Center needs additional funds. We are counting
on our members' ongoing support as we head into 2000.
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