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Letter from Rob Richie

July 22, 2003

Dear Supporter of Fair Elections and the Center for Voting and Democracy,

Greetings! It may be the dog days of summer, but the pace is brisk and full of hope and opportunity at the Center for Voting and Democracy. We have a full office of eight interns (all chosen in a highly competitive process, and most volunteering with us to learn and contribute to a better
democracy) providing a full range of support and new energy, while our core staff tirelessly beats the drums of electoral justice.

Not to give the ending away, but you can guess one key reason I'm writing: we need your financial support. Let me explain why your gift is so important right now.

First, on the financial side: As with many non-profits, we've hit a rough
patch with support from foundations - the source of much of our funding
since 1996. Even as individuals like you have doubled their giving each of
the past two years for an all-time record in 2002, foundation grants have
sharply declined. In every case it's not because of any problems with our
work. Rather, foundations have ended or sharply modified programs through which they funded us. We're making encouraging headway in finding new sources of support - including two first-time grants -- but it's very tough in a climate where foundations are giving less and many worthy non-profits need help. We've had to tighten our belts across the board, but your gift can help ensure we keep advancing.

Second, on our program work: I don't believe the importance of our mission and projects has ever been more compelling. Not only are we engaged in exciting battles for fair elections, but also we've launched a new initiative that promises to enhance the work of all pro-democracy groups. Here are key highlights from our full agenda this fall:

* Keeping IRV on track in this fall's mayoral election in San Francisco:

Instant runoff voting (IRV) has burst on the reform landscape, drawing new support from politicians such as Howard Dean, John McCain, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Dennis Kucinich. IRV would banish the term "spoiler" from our politics, protect majority rule and reduce campaign spending. At least 20 states debated IRV bills this year.

In 2002, our staffers Caleb Kleppner and Steven Hill led a historic
campaign for IRV to victory in San Francisco. Opponents poured more than $100,000 into mailings full of lies and distortions, but years of building reform coalitions and months of handing out literature in neighborhoods led to a comfortable victory. One might think we all could now sit back and watch as the City used IRV for this November's mayoral race.

Think again. Fortunately, Caleb, Steve and other advocates know that
reformers never have the luxury to relax until their electoral change is
fully secured and accepted by those in power. In San Francisco, the
critical importance of the open-seat mayoral race has raised the stakes,
and well-financed forces have decided IRV would make it harder for their preferred candidate. They've pulled out all the stops to block
implementation of IRV, spending probably at least as much as they spent in last year's ballot measure.

But the Center and our local allies have not given an inch. When IRV
opponents' expensive lawyers filed more than 100 pages of arguments with the Secretary of State, we came back with nearly as many - and with a stronger case. When the city's bureaucracy tries to slow things down, we're right there to spur them on. We've even hired a top lawyer to be ready to go to court - an expensive proposition, but one we'll pursue if that's what it takes to win an IRV election. For insight into the grassroots effort in San Francisco, here's an email last week from Charles Kalish, a local volunteer:

Election Commission Meeting Another Huge Success: "Don't ask me why.  Don't ask me how. But you mention IRV and people from all walks of life come out of the woodwork....There were housewives, heads of organizations, Labor leaders, people of color, Greens, Democrats, Libertarians - all speaking thoughtfully and intelligently at the meeting about their own personal experience of democracy. "Who are these people?" I kept asking myself, as more than 30 got up to speak, each one eloquent, passionate and informative.. It was a thing of beauty. An overflow crowd had to be moved to a second room with a TV Steve Hill had been lobbying the commissioners continuously. He has been magnificent."

* Building the case for full representation in the Washington Post and
elsewhere

        Full ("proportional") representation is a simple, but powerful
idea: that our votes should count for something. We deserve a democracy where nearly all of us have a count that counts among a range of choices, but our current winner-take-all system rarely meets that goal. Full representation is the best way to ensure protection of our rights, fair
representation of our diverse interests and better campaigns. We continue to raise the banner for full representation in a range of forums, from grassroots trainings led by field director Rashad Robinson this year in Georgia, Florida and Massachusetts to high-profile media appearances to a key win for full representation in the Illinois state legislature.

        This month the Washington Post published a commentary by Steven Hill and me about the deeper lessons from the anti-democratic fiasco of "re-gerrymandering" in Texas - a case we will be presenting in more detail a Supreme Court amicus curiae this fall. The Post then ran a column by Pulitzer Prize-winner William Raspberry that featured our ideas. Both pieces are in this mailing -- many more articles and our new reports on lack of choice and representation in congressional elections are available at www.fairvote.org .

* Paving the way for "Democracy USA" and this fall's Claim Democracy
Conference

        We've launched an exciting new initiative to strengthen the
pro-democracy movement in the United States. Democracy USA is designed to highlight the ongoing demand for a better democracy, to promote strategic coordination among the leading pro-democracy groups and to better support state reformers when they have an opportunity to advance democracy. We've already established a website (democracyusa.org), begun issuing twice-weekly news releases and set things in motion for a major conference to "Claim Democracy" on November 21-23 in Washington, DC. Common Cause, Demos, D.C. Vote and U.S. PIRG are among organizations already supporting the conference.

        In short, we have much to do! Thanks so much for your support, and I hope you will dig deep again as we approach what may be our most exciting fall in our history.

Sincerely yours,
 
 
Rob Richie, Executive Director
 
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