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Letter from Rob Richie

December 2002

Dear Supporter of Fair Elections,

I'm writing today to thank you for your past financial support of our Center and to ask you to make a year-end gift. Building on the momentum created by our great win for instant runoff voting in San Francisco and recent congressional elections that underscored the imperative of full representation, I hope that you will help us keep building a powerful reform movement.

As you know, for the past decade we have made great strides in fueling efforts to win fair voting systems, certainly helped by the increasingly obvious dysfunctional nature of our current election system.

The 2002 U.S. House elections crystallized the case against winner-take-all elections. After a campaign in which the major parties tended to obscure their differences on many pressing choices facing our nation, fewer than two in five adults voted in a congressional race. Of the 382 incumbents not facing fellow incumbents, 378 won -- the highest re-election percentage in history. Fewer than one in ten House races were decided by margins of less than 10%, and barely one in six were won by less than landslide 20% margins. 

Results revealed stark geographic polarization that generally overwhelmed any local differences in campaign finance, candidate quality and local mobilization -- a fact that has allowed us to publicly project the winners in more than 350 of 435 U.S. House races for the November 2004 elections. Our methodology was accurate in 1,229 of 1,230 projections in 1996-2002.

In stark contrast to the last post-redistricting election in 1992 which resulted in a much more diverse U.S. House membership, there was no increase this year in the number of African-Americans and women in the House, a decrease in Asian Pacific Americans and only a slight rise in Latinos.  

Yet given historic trends, this may well have been the most competitive election of the decade and the best chance for increase in representation of diversity until 2012 unless we modernize our winner-take-all voting system.

With our prodding and our reports like Monopoly Politics (the release of which was aired six times on C-SPAN), influential media and analysts have begun to connect these problems to winner-take-all elections. At the same time, there has been concrete movement toward adopting fairer systems. In May, for example, Amarillo's school board held its second election with cumulative voting. It showed the power of full representation systems to provide fair representation, as the board has gone from being all white under winner-take-all to one with four white members, two Latinas and one African-American. Our staffer Joleen Garcia played a major role in ensuring voters and candidates understood the system there and in other Texas localities.

In March, San Francisco voters comfortably adopted instant runoff voting (IRV), rejecting opposing arguments from the daily newspapers and a opposition campaign of the downtown business community that spent more than $100,000. We led the campaign for reform, mobilizing a remarkable volunteer network of support, and are now working hard to ensure that IRV works well for all voters in the November 2003 mayoral elections. IRV is drawing serious support from elected officials and civic groups in states in every region of the country, with potential wins this year in states like Vermont and New Mexico.

For our organization, then, these times hold great promise, and it is all the more important for us to use our limited resources wisely. Resulting from a new strategic plan, the Center has divided our program work into public education and field/organizing.

The public education program staff expose problems with traditional winner-take-all elections and communicate the benefits and mechanics of full representation and instant runoff voting. The program focuses on the impact of our current winner-take-all system on representation, participation, campaign discourse, policy and national unity, as spelled out in our senior policy analyst Steven Hill's great new book Fixing Elections. Although program staffers communicate with a broad range of people, the focus is on what we term "gatekeepers" -- elite decision makers and opinion leaders who influence legislation, funding priorities and opinion. We will continue to produce strategically chosen reports, generate regular electronic and postal newsletters and write a range of articles.

The field staff lays the groundwork in targeted jurisdictions for legislative, legal and ballot efforts to adopt forms of full "proportional" representation and instant runoff voting. Although excited about efforts to win instant runoff voting in Vermont and cumulative voting in Illinois, we generally see our best opportunities for the next year in consideration of full representation systems to resolve minority voting rights challenges and replacement of traditional runoffs with instant runoff voting. Program staff will seek to work with and through local partners, typically those already working in their communities. To increase such opportunities, we have joined with well-placed groups to organize regional "train the trainer" workshops in Atlanta, Boston and Augusta (Maine) in early 2003.

The wonderful work our dedicated staff and volunteers have done and the great opportunities before us have helped trigger a gratifying increase in financial support from individuals this year. We also are pleased that Working Assets has selected us as a donor organization for next year -- being smart about voting systems, we hope that as many Working Assets customers as possible will "bullet vote" just for CVD!). But on the downside, we have experienced an unexpected drop in funding from foundations nervously eying their stock portfolios. As a result, we need your support more than ever to make this the "fair elections decade" that I suspect it will become. On behalf of John Anderson and the rest of the CVD team, all my best to you during the holidays.

Sincerely Yours,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

P.S. If you haven't visited recently, I hope you can. New postings include our impressive media coverage from recent months. Again, thanks for your support.











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Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]