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E-News Update

July 27, 2001

To: Friends of Fair Elections

Fr: Rob Richie, Executive Director Center for Voting and Democracy


It's summer time, and I'm sure most of you couldn't think of anything more enjoyable than curling up with a massive email newsletter about important advances in the campaign for electoral reform in the United States. But in case a few of you like your e-newsletters (relatively) short and sweet, I'll instead summarize the last quarter's big developments and direct you to on-line resources, mostly on our website (which our energetic crew of summer associates urges you to visit to see the excellent fruits of their labor) for reading more about just what a potentially historic time is upon us.

As a reminder, our update touches on a range of electoral reforms, but we focus particularly on two reforms to open up political campaigns and legislative bodies to new voices: "instant runoff voting" for elections to a single offices (such as president, governor and mayor) and "full representation" systems (also called "proportional representation") for elections to legislatures. We also analyze the roots of lack of competitiveness and fair representation in elections, which led us to develop our unique one-stop public interest guide to legislative redistricting. Onto the news!

Instant runoff voting on San Francisco ballot in March

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to place on the March 2002 ballot a charter amendment to implement instant runoff voting for all citywide elections, including mayor, and for the Board of Supervisors. San Francisco currently uses November elections followed by December runoff elections for these races. Campaign costs to candidates and the city are very high. Voter turnout often drops precipitously. More information in the IRV update.

More big IRV news from states across the nation

At least 13 state legislatures have considered instant runoff voting legislation this year, including bills backed by California's speaker of the house and state chapters of Common Cause, PIRG and the League of Women Voters .... Next month the Utah Republican Party likely will become the first statewide major party in the United States to implement instant runoff voting in its convention and other internal elections.... The leading "third choice" candidates in this year's two gubernatorial races -- Republican state senator Bill Schluter, running as an independent in New Jersey, and Libertarian Party nominee William Redpath in Virginia -- are both touting IRV in their campaigns.... The Eugene city council has voted to place a charter amendment on the September ballot that would allow use of IRV for city elections -- voters have adopted similar measures recently in San Leandro (CA), Santa Clara County (CA) and Vancouver (WA), while Oakland (CA) voters passed a charter amendment that will result in use of IRV in special elections to fill vacancies as soon as new voting equipment is in place.... Alaska IRV backers are gearing up for their campaign to adopt IRV for all federal and most state offices, already qualified for the November 2002 ballot.... Both Public Campaign and Common Cause have joined U.S. PIRG in urging consideration of IRV for major elections. More on this in our IRV update

Cumulative voting gains big-name support in Illinois

In 1999 the Institute for Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois received a major grant to conduct a study of the impact of the state's conversion from cumulative voting to single-member districts in 1980. The IGPA formed a task force to analyze different electoral systems and make recommendations. Co-chaired by former Republican governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic Congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, the task force members included leading state legislators and civic leaders. The task force this month called for reviving cumulative voting, leading to a wave of positive media attention -- much featuring CVD's Dan Johnson-Weinberger -- and editorial support from papers like the Chicago Sun Times. The IGPA has issued an excellent report about their deliberations and the history of cumulative voting in the state -- one demonstrating the positive impact of even modest full representation plans. See links to media and the report in our online summary.

"Redistricting Central": Updates from all 50 states

Last year the Center issues its a on-line, state-by-state "Public Interest Guide to Redistricting" that provides easily digestible information about law, politics and practices of redistricting in each state, with examples of more creative redistricting in the last redistricting cycle. The report is being updated steadily, with good links and news coverage from every state as legislators meticulously choose their constituents before their constituents get to choose them.

  • For an overview of recent redistricting activity, see our summary of recent redistricting activity.
  • For our redistricting home page, with links to the report, "redistricting roulette, telling quotes from legislators and much more, see the redistricting section
  • For insight into the impact of creating safe districts for incumbents, see our state-by-state study of congressional elections-"Dubious Democracy." 

Modernizing election administration: The time is now

The studies and task forces are wrapping up their work, and soon it will up to Congress and the White House to respond to the stark reality that as many as six million Americans did not cast a vote for president last year only because of antiquated voting machinery, voter education and voter registration procedures. Fortunately, there is a general consensus on basic improvements and federal assistance to make it happen. As part of that debate, we believe there are important points that voting system reformers must make to ensure that democracy is expanded as fully as it should be with these improvements.

Among CVD's actions on election administration are:

Important links on election administration reform include:

CVD chair John Anderson's Carter-Ford testimony

In May, CVD chair John Anderson was invited to address the National Commission on Federal Elections Reform, co-chaired by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. To read his prepared testimony -- which eloquently makes the case for fundamental reforms of our elections -- see his testimony online.

To read a transcript of CVD Board member (and New Yorker Magazine senior editor) Hendrik Hertzberg's presentation to the commission -- one that focused in particular on instant runoff voting.

Are your county and state democracy-ready? Find out!

The Center has joined with the Alliance for Democracy to create a survey on "Are Your County and State Democracy- Ready." Find out if your local governments make elections as fair and democratic as possible and what should be improved to make it more so. Let us know what you find out with a note to Maritza Valenzuela.

Voting rights: ACLU policy on full rep, manual, more

Our website section on voting rights has been updated to include several important new articles and a new manual from CVD on full representation systems for local elections published with the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy and available for download. Read also the new policy adopted by the American Civil Liberties Union in favor of lifting statutory barriers to proportional representation, which culminated a two-year study process. Among new articles on our site are ones I co-authored in the Southern Regional Council's (SRC ) Southern Changes , Poverty & Race Research Action Council's (PRRAC) newsletter and the Asian American Policy Review .

Job opening: Full Representation Project Director

We have an important and timely opportunity for an energetic hard-worker interested in a combination of organizing and education to achieve fair elections. If you're the right person for the job -- or you know someone who is -- please don't hesitate to apply! More information  is available in our job listings

Endorsements mount - add your name to growing list

We have launched an endorsement campaign on full representation (proportional representation), instant runoff voting and election administration. See who has signed on, and let us know if you would like to endorse one or all of the following statements:

  • "We support forms of proportional representation as better methods of electing legislative bodies than winner-take-all elections."
  • "We support instant runoff voting as a better method of electing a single candidate than either plurality voting or traditional two-round runoff elections." 
  • "We support requiring that all new voting equipment be compatible with all ballot types currently used in U.S. elections." 

Resources: Great new articles and books

Articles and commentary about reforming our electoral system keep coming at a higher pace than ever before. Read pieces from a wide range of publications, including.... excellent cases for proportional representation from John Burbank (Tacoma Tribune), Lee Mortimer (Raleigh News and Observer), Lani Guinier (Boston Review) and Stephen Medvic (Virginian Pilot)..... editorials and op-eds in favor of instant runoff voting from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Eugene Register-Guard, Boston Globe and Kansas City Star... a Mobile Register story on cumulative voting in Alabama... and a Christian Science Monitor editorial in favor of redistricting reform.

Meanwhile, the CVD library has been updated with a section listing new books -- with short reviews and images of covers. Among new, "must read" books: Mark Monmonier's "Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections" (a well- reviewed book with a chapter touting full representation voting methods); "Challenges to Equality," edited by Chester Hartman (a compilation of essays, including one by me on full representation); "Fair and Effective Representation" (a debate in essay format between Richard Engstrom and Mark Rush); Douglas Amy's "Behind the Ballot Box"; and Kathleen Barber's "A Right to Representation: Proportional Election Systems for the Twenty-first Century." And don't forget "Whose Vote Counts", by myself and Steven Hill (an update of "Reflecting All of Us", with a new foreword by Lani Guinier).

Shorts: Legislation needs your support; breakthrough for choice voting in New Zealand; British elections analysis; Demos "Dispatches" and mapping effort; successful pro-democracy events; Bouricius on NPR

  • Legislation needs your support: Legislation in Congress to encourage use and consideration of full representation continues to need your support. Also, many states are looking at reform legislation in 2001-2.
  • New Zealand to use choice voting for local elections: New Zealand in May approved legislation that adopts choice voting (also called single transferable vote) for the 2004 district Health Board elections and makes it an explicit option for city council elections, capping a seven year campaign by reformers. Green Party member of parliament Rod Donald commented that choice voting "will bring to local government what MMP [mixed member proportional representation] has done for parliament. There will be more Maori, more women, more young people and more ethnic minorities." Already six city councils appeared poised to adopt choice voting for 2004, with many others showing interest.
  • British elections analysis: Great Britain has been showing Americans the way toward fairer elections in regional and local government, but prospects may be dimming in the short term for the House of Commons after the Labour Party's huge win with barely 40% of the vote. See analyses by Tom Lundberg and by the Electoral Reform Society on "Election 2001: Unfair and Unrepresentative"
  • Demos, an organization devoted to enhancing democracy in the U.S., is seeking help from organizations to help map the landscape of political reform and also has begun an informative -- and free -- bi-weekly reform e-newsletter called "Dispatches."

  • Pro-democracy events: There were two excellent pro-democracy events in June that featured voting system reform. First, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the Institute for Policy Studies and other groups organized a well-attended "Democracy Summer" in Tallahassee, at which some 150 young people spent a week learning about different aspects of the Voters' Bill of Rights, including hearing from CVD's David Cobb about instant runoff voting and full representation. At the end of June, the Center for Constitutional Rights played the lead role in convening a pro-democracy convention that drew more than 500 attenders. Nearly all of CVD's staff gathered to participate in plenaries and to conduct three successive two-hour workshops on instant runoff voting and, separately, full representation. Staff and associates also slipped off to help staff a booth at the NOW conference nearby, where CVD's Steven Hill spoke in on workshop.
  • CVD's Bouricius on NPR program: A nationally syndicated radio program on NPR called "Justice Talking" is airing a program about third parties, with a major focus on election reform issues including full representation and instant runoff voting. The program was taped before a live audience in Philadelphia and features former Vermont state representative Terry Bouricius, now our New England regional director. If you miss it on NPR, you can listen to the debate on the web

Getting involved: reformer kit, on-line IRV demo, interns

We have a kit of educational materials for reformers ready to work for instant runoff voting in their community.
Download your set at in the activism section
More suggestions are available in the activism section

We also urge you to try out our IRV demonstration by voting for your favorite ice cream -- and don't stop there, but then urge organizations, media outlets and other non-governmental entities to use IRV for their elections and set up a similar feature on their websites.

We have internships available in our Washington, D.C. and field offices throughout the year -- our great current crew includes associates in San Francisco, Chicago and DC.

Finally, to sign up to receive regular articles about electoral reform, elections and redistricting or to monitor them, check Yahoo! groups

Double your on-line gift for real electoral reform!

Last -- but, for a non-profit, who depends on the kindness of friends and strangers to pursue our outreach and education, far from least -- I hope that some of you will consider taking advantage of a remarkable matching offer from "Give for Change." Through October -- or until its matching fund runs out -- it will match gifts of exactly $300 or $600. With tax refunds soon to be reaching you, what better way to put help us achieve fair elections! Information about giving -- including ways to now give on the CVD site and to purchase materials is available online.

Thanks, and, if you're lucky, back to those summer vacations!

E-mail updates from prior months are archived

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Copyright 2001 The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 901    Takoma Park, MD  20912
(301) 270-4616 ____ [email protected]