FairVote’s Campaign for Free and Fair Elections in America

A Review of Projects and Plans by Executive Director Rob Richie, December 2005

Since our founding in 1992, FairVote has never been afraid to challenge our nation’s fundamental electoral rules and practices when they poorly serve today’s America. We creatively pursue transformational strategies through a combination of principled vision and community outreach: on the one hand promoting what truly free and fair elections should be like and on the other working closely with reformers to win achievable reforms to establish momentum for our principled vision.

We believe that a fully realized democracy demands reforms that lie at the heart of FairVote’s work:

  • A constitutionally protected right to backed by universal voter registration, voting rights for all adult citizens and transparent voting equipment.
  • The power to vote our true beliefs and elect majority winners through instant runoff voting.
  • Competitive choice for all voters, substantive campaigns and fair representation of majority and minority interests through electing legislators with proportional voting methods.
  • Presidential elections where every vote counts the same and all efforts to mobilize voters are important via popular election of the president.

We have made instant runoff voting (IRV) and proportional voting an enduring part of the reform landscape.

The need for reform is greater than ever. Our nation is making major decisions about fundamental issues that are becoming hard to reverse. We need a politics that allows full and enduring debate, opens the table of government power to new voices and removes barriers to full participation. We are pleased that a growing number of individuals and organizations join us in seeking our reforms. They recognize us as the premiere organization to turn to for advice and support. Through careful research, countless writings and persistent support for grassroots activism, our dedicated staff and volunteers have succeeded far beyond what many said was possible.

An impressive track record

Our track record is impressive. We have made instant runoff voting (IRV) and proportional voting an enduring part of the reform landscape, with far greater numbers of Americans appreciating their value and seeking their implementation – and indeed, with our help, adopting them in cities like San Francisco (CA) and Amarillo (TX) and at more than two dozen universities. The San Francisco IRV campaign alone demanded years of support both before and after its adoption, including winning the campaign over determined and well-financed opposition and advising on the many decisions key to successful implementation. The ultimate success provides a model that is draw increasing support and replication.

In the past year we have launched innovative strategies promoting a constitutional right to vote and received funding for our newly launched program on presidential elections. We have gained new reform allies in local and national legislatures, organizations and media outlets. Through efforts like our Claim Democracy conference and a well-attended strategic meeting this year we have brought together pro-democracy advocates to work cooperatively and strategically in pursuit of reform. Although our budget is dwarfed by that of many comparable organizations, our impact is truly significant.

Instant runoff voting on the move

In our work on IRV, for example, we had our best state legislative season ever, building on advocacy from national figures like Howard Dean and senators Barack Obama and John McCain and on San Francisco’s successful implementation of IRV in 2004 and 2005. There were stand-alone IRV laws passed in Arkansas (requiring IRV absentee ballots for all overseas military voters in runoff elections), Vermont (giving Burlington the green light to implement IRV in its March 2006 mayoral elections) and Washington (authorizing IRV in three major cities – Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver). We saw serious attention paid to IRV in many other states, including a bill to establish an IRV pilot program that passed North Carolina’s house. Takoma Park (MD) voted overwhelmingly for IRV with 84%, and there is serious talk of IRV for Vermont’s 2006 statewide elections.

IRV may be on the ballot in several cities next year, including Cincinnati (OH), Gainesville (FL), Aspen (CO) and Minneapolis (MN). With our support we anticipate new successes, given that every IRV campaign since the San Francisco victory (including efforts in Berkeley, CA, Burlington, VT, Ferndale, MI and now Takoma Park) has won by a landslide. IRV also keeps advancing on campuses, with successful new uses in student president elections in 2005 at schools like Dartmouth and the Universities of Oklahoma and Virginia and with runaway victories at schools like the University of Minnesota, U.C. - Chico and Portland State. The use IRV and choice voting at UC-Davis already has had a direct impact on governmental elections: Davis students persuaded a charter commission to recommend these voting methods for city elections and are poised to convince the city council to place them on the June 2006 ballot.

The coming year promises to be the most momentous time in the history of FairVote’s pro-democracy campaign. We’re pursuing several efforts, including:

Our agenda is ambitious, but our reforms combine to tell a compelling story of the need to bring our democracy into the modern era.

  • Instant runoff voting: We are launching two projects: a campaign to develop high-level support for protecting the principles of majority rule and voter choice through IRV and the IRV Victory Fund to steer funds and national expertise to local and state opportunities to win IRV and implement it where adopted. Our proposal for overseas and military voters to use IRV in runoffs is gaining rapid support, passing in two states and poised to be introduced in Congress by prominent senators.
  • Proportional voting:
  • We are advising serious, well-connected backers of a 2008 initiative campaign to win proportional voting in a major state and expect to support city campaigns in Davis (CA) and Cincinnati (OH) and on several campuses in 2006. We also are advancing proportional voting through litigation (we filed an amicus brief in Washington, will do so in California, and are planning creative voting rights challenges) and education (we have a new toolkit for professors and have updated our voting system materials for charter commissions).
  • Redistricting and congressional elections:
  • We are the chief non-profit ally of Rep. John Tanner and the 42 co-sponsors of his bill to establish fair redistricting for congressional elections around the nation. Tanner’s bill is a perfect companion to Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s Voters’ Choice Act that would allow states to use proportional systems for congressional elections and require IRV in one-winner federal elections; the two bills are among five pieces of current pro-democracy legislation we helped draft. We also have an online guide to redistricting reform proposals in states and are publicizing and updating new editions of Dubious Democracy and Monopoly Politics to explain how lack of choice, accountability and fair representation in congressional elections are rooted in winner-take-all electoral rules.
  • Presidential elections for all of us: We seek direct election of the president through a ground-breaking reform strategy to be unveiled this winter that promises to revive action on this most urgently needed reform. In support of this proposal, we produced The Shrinking Battleground and Who Picks the President, two highly praised reports about how the Electoral College fosters long-term and short-term inequality. Our staff also had high-level meetings with leaders of both major parties about an inclusive presidential primary calendar to replace one in which voters in two states essentially choose the major party nominees for everyone else.
  • Universal voter registration: We launched our 100% voter registration project with a drive to register students before they leave high school and introduce them to the mechanics of voting in their community – focusing first on local government. We see this project as the natural consequence of our leadership in calling for a clear constitutional right to vote (now backed by nearly 60 U.S. House Members) and are pleased at the proposal winning quick support from across the political spectrum.
  • Reformers’ cooperation: Building on our history of promoting strategic dialogue and resource assistance among pro-democracy reformers, we established Democracy SoS to track the work and views of state election officials and encourage civic groups to promote reforms in 2006 campaigns for Secretary of State.

Our agenda is ambitious, but our reforms combine to tell a compelling story of the need to bring our democracy into the modern era. Through our deeply committed staff members, hard-working paid interns, engaged Board of Directors and, this summer, 17 volunteer interns, we’ve kept our projects moving smoothly forward, setting the stage for what promises to be a remarkable run of achievement in 2006 and beyond.

We have been helped by important changes that strengthen the organization. We have changed our name to ground our advocacy vision. Our communications director has revamped our website, improved our monthly e-newsletters, developed new databases for media and members, increased our already high number of published op-eds and regularly contacts the media. Our office now accommodates far more volunteers, and new lines of supervision ensure everyone maximizes their work. We have strong Board members, with new additions including Washington Post columnist Bill Raspberry, Yale student reformer Niko Bowie, woman’s leader Laura Liswood and musician Krist Novoselic.

Financially, smart decisions have led to sharp increases in individual support. Making up for the shortfall we experienced when three of our four largest foundation funders coincidentally decided to stop funding democracy work three years ago, individual donors now make up more than two-thirds of our income – giving more than seven times the total amount of gifts we received in 2000. With a range of eminently fundable projects and a new development associate soon to assist me in grant and donor outreach, we are well-positioned to make new inroads with foundations to increase individual giving by a third in 2006 through a new sustainers’ program and diligent outreach to all prospective supporters.

It is our loyal supporters and volunteers who make all this possible. Their commitment inspires us on a daily basis in our work to transform democracy in America and give everyone the voting power they deserve. I give them my greatest thanks and look forward to the coming year.