FairVote Newsletters
This is the archive for FairVote's periodic newsletters highlighting some of the latest developments in the world of electoral reform and news about FairVote's own research and analysis. For FairVote's Innovative Analysis series, which offers a fresh, accessible perspective on our core issues, click here.


 

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA: DUE FOR AN UPGRADE

If nothing else, the process leading to war in Iraq has revealed weakness in our democracy. Whether one supports the war or not, it's hard to defend the level of dialogue in Congress about President Bush's dramatic shift in foreign policy to the concept of pre emptive warfare. It's also hard to be proud of our elections when: 1) a study by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance  indicates that the United States ranks 139th in the world in average voter turnout in national elections since 1945; 2) when our U.S. Senate lacks even one African American or Latino; 3) when the number of women in Congress is stalled at less than 15%; 4) when barely one in ten voters elected a majority of U.S. House members in 2002; and 5) when more than 40% of state legislators have won without major party opposition in elections since 1996.

 indicates that the United States ranks 139th in the world in average voter turnout in national elections since 1945; 2) when our U.S. Senate lacks even one African American or Latino; 3) when the number of women in Congress is stalled at less than 15%; 4) when barely one in ten voters elected a majority of U.S. House members in 2002; and 5) when more than 40% of state legislators have won without major party opposition in elections since 1996.

Talk of bringing democracy to Iraq is one question, but, as argued in a recent commentary by colleague Steven Hill and me  , having the kind of vital democracy we deserve at home is critically important to our national well being and future.

An energized democracy demands meaningful choices across the political spectrum, full participation before and after elections, robust public debate, efficient election administration and accurate voting machines, effective voter education, and recognition of the importance of American pluralism. Voters must have a reasonable chance of electing their preferred representatives instead of "lessers of two evils," and of electing a government that makes a positive difference in their lives.

For our Center, the most profoundly necessary reforms are the replacement of our 18th century winner take all election methods with "full representation" electoral systems for legislative elections, and instant runoff voting for electing executive offices. These fair election methods lay the bedrock for a multi choice, voter centric democracy, and allow the marketplace of ideas to flourish in campaigns and government.

There are a range of democracy groups working on reforms which we will highlight on our website as the year progresses. Two websites of particular short term interest are Electionline (with articles posted daily about democracy developments in states and a weekly report on implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act) and Demos  (Demos' site with information about various democracy issues, the Help America Vote Act and information on how to subscribe to its newsletter "Dispatches").

The times urgently demand not only a clarion call for better democracy, but a stronger infrastructure for a pro democracy movement: one with a principled national voice for reform and with a vibrant presence across the nation. We need democracy advocates in all fifty state capitols to lobby for a vigorous agenda of exclusively pro democracy issues, setting priorities based on local opportunities for change. And it's high time for serious national candidates to proclaim a real democracy agenda, and for serious reformers to develop a concrete strategy for building a broad and enduring movement. We hope that you will join us in this mission.

 

FULL REPRESENTATION: SUPREME COURT JUSTICES SAY YES, IT PLAYS IN PEORIA, SOUTH DAKOTA WIN

Full representation is a principle describing election systems in which like minded groups of voters can win a fair share of seats. Winning a 51% majority of votes wins a majority of seats, but not all the seats. Winning 20% of votes wins one out of five seats rather than none. A new book, "Electoral Reform and Minority Representation" (see below), provides empirical evidence that full representations systems in the United States have increased competition and voter turnout along with representation of women and people of color.

PEORIA, Illinois -- the proverbial heartland city -- this week held its fourth city council election with full representation. In a hard fought race for five seats elected by cumulative voting -- voters re elected five incumbents who apparently well reflect the city's diversity and spectrum of opinion. An African American candidate has been elected in each cumulative voting election since it was adopted to settle a voting rights lawsuit before the 1991 elections. See a short article about the election.

-- voters re elected five incumbents who apparently well reflect the city's diversity and spectrum of opinion. An African American candidate has been elected in each cumulative voting election since it was adopted to settle a voting rights lawsuit before the 1991 elections. See a about the election.

Also this week, on March 31, the SUPREME COURT of the United States issued an important ruling in "Branch v. Roberts" that clarified that at large elections for the U.S. House of Representatives are constitutional, and indeed required under certain circumstances. Two dissenting Justices argued that the state of Mississippi should have elected its four U.S. House seats statewide in 2002 and could have complied with the Voting Rights Act by using a full representation system. Many political observers are unaware that at large congressional elections are quite common in American history.

The majority of states did not use single member districts for House elections in the nation's early years, and at least one state with more than one seat elected at least one Member statewide in every election until 1970.

The Justices spent much time on their differing interpretation of a 1967 federal law that requires single member districts for U.S. House elections and a 1941 law that requires at large House elections under certain circumstances. A four Justice plurality held that although the 1967 law takes precedent over the 1941 law and that the federal courts were correct to draw their own single member district plan for Mississippi in 2002, at large elections would have been required if no district plan had been available in time.

Two Justices (Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas) contended that the law indicated Mississippi should have used at large elections in 2002. Referring directly to alternatives to winner take all elections, Justice O'Connor wrote: "Finally, the fact that a court must enter an order under [the 1941 law] mandating at large elections does not necessarily mean that the plan would violate [the Voting Rights Act], or that traditional winner take all elections are required on a statewide basis. Rather... a court could design an at large election plan that awards seats on a cumulative basis, or by some other method that would result in a plan that satisfies the Voting Rights Act."

Last month, in fact, WAGNER, SOUTH DAKOTA settled a voting rights case brought by the ACLU on behalf of Native American voters by adopting cumulative voting for school board elections . Kenneth Cotton, an attorney for the school district, said, "It'll be good for the community, and I think the board obviously felt comfortable with it." Our Center' field director Rashad Robinson will assist with community education this spring.

Cumulative voting has its longest history in ILLINOIS, having been used to elect its state house of representatives from 1870 to 1980. There is broad, cross partisan support to revive cumulative voting, with advocates including the state's top Republican, state treasurer Judy Barr Topinka and the Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White. The state house in February adopted legislation to make cumulative voting an option for county commission elections. CVD General Counsel Dan Johnson Weinberger has composed a report on this legislation. A bill to allow any municipality to grant cumulative voting rights also is moving in the legislature. We also have drafted a report on Illinois voting system reform legislation, along with bills in 21 other states.

 

INSTANT RUNOFF: LEGISLATION, ON LINE USE, MORE

Recommended by Roberts Rules of Order, instant runoff voting -- http//www.fairvote.org/irv   -- simulates a majority runoff election, but in a single election. The system ensures a majority of voters support the winning candidate, without the cost, negative campaigning and drop in turnout often associated with delayed runoff elections.

IRV is making sense to more Americans. Letters about IRV by CVD staff ran this week in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, while recent articles about it include: a supportive editorial in Washington state's Vancouver Columbian; a powerful commentary by Vermont's Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz; and a profile of FairVote Minnesota .

 and , while recent articles about it include: a supportive editorial in Washington state's ; a powerful by Vermont's Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz; and a profile of .

At least 20 states have considered LEGISLATION on instant runoff voting this year. Several bills have advanced, including one in Washington to allow cities to use IRV and one in New Hampshire to study the issue that have already passed one house. I was invited to address the Florida state senate about IRV amd runoffs see my Powerpoint presentation and a St. Petersburg Times commentary.

New state groups formed recently to back IRV include one in New York   and two in Massachusetts, Fairvote Massachusetts and Massacusetts for Instant Runoff Voting . For a full rundown of legislation around the nation, see http://www.fairvote.org/action  

Note that some states are debating legislation to require new voting equipment to support ranked choice voting methods and cumulative voting. This is a classic case of a small stitch in time saving many times nine. It would cost little to nothing to require equipment to support fair election methods as part of new equipment, but potentially a great deal after the equipment is purchased. Read my recent testimony to a Ohio task force  and testimony prepared by CVD senior analyst Terry Bouricius about Connecticut legislation that has widespread backing from state civic groups.

SAN FRANCISCO is moving ahead with its instant runoff voting elections this year for the open seat for mayor. Read an article about a political rally on behalf of IRV and our appeal to supporters to help secure that victory   

I hope that many of you had an opportunity to vote in a recent ON LINE IRV election. As announced in our last update, the news website Alternet held an IRV election to choose winners in several categories about 2002 movies. The results are now posted . Some movies won initial majorities, but several winners were determined by instant runoffs. Please contact us if you ever would like would assistance in holding an on line IRV election. Models for how it might look can be viewed from at http://www.demochoice.org  and http://www.purpletech.com/irv/  .

 

ELECTION REFORM WAVE HITS CAMPUSES / INTERNS

In a vote that reflects a growing national trend toward better voting methods, UC San Diego last week adopted instant runoff voting for student government elections after a voting systems task force unanimously selected IRV over nine other systems. Many colleges such as Caltech, MIT, Rice, Harvard and Princeton have used IRV for years, and now the number is growing rapidly. Schools recently adopting IRV include Duke, Stanford, Vassar, UC Davis, Univ. of Maryland, Univ. of Illinois, Whitman and William and Mary.

Many of these colleges use full representation -- usually choice voting -- to elect their student governments. After a vigorous campaign, UC Davis students voted overwhelmingly to adopt choice voting in February. As UC Davis reformer Sonny Mohammadzadeh said "What system truly represents the people better: A system that allows minorities to elect all or a majority of senators, or that truly, proportionally represents students accurately?"

 -- to elect their student governments. After a vigorous campaign, students voted overwhelmingly to adopt choice voting in February. As UC Davis reformer Sonny Mohammadzadeh said "What system truly represents the people better: A system that allows minorities to elect all or a majority of senators, or that truly, proportionally represents students accurately?"

We have a special page devoted to fair elections on campus. Please contact John Russell for information about advancing fair elections at your school.

We also urge students and graduates to consider an internship at the Center -- particularly during the school year. 

 

NEW RESOURCES FOR DEMOCRACY ADVOCATES

There are a range of good new resources for democracy advocates, including:

CVD's senior analyst Steven Hill's book
Fixing Elections continues to receive praise. In February he discussed the book at the Cambridge Forum. His presentation is now available for download by all public radio stations ask your station to air the program. You can listen and watch a webcast and audiocast of the presentation online.

New CVD website resources: Thanks to our great crew of associates (Dan O'Connor, John Russell and Becky Sternburg), our website has a range of good new resources, included updating pages on voter turnout, representation of women, fair election systems on campus, redistricting and much more. Please peruse links from our homepage and from our what's new page. If you have a suggestion for us, please send a note to info@fairvote.org  

and from our page. If you have a suggestion for us, please send a note to   resources: Thanks to our great crew of associates (Dan O'Connor, John Russell and Becky Sternburg), our website has a range of good new resources, included updating pages on voter turnout, representation of women, fair election systems on campus, redistricting and much more. Please peruse links from our and from our page. If you have a suggestion for us, please send a note to  

Notable new books include: - Real Choices, New Voices: How Proportional Representation Elections Could Revitalize American Democracy (Columbia Univ., 2002) is a must read update of Douglas Amy's 1992 classic. New Yorker senior writer Hendrik Hertzberg wrote of it: "Douglas J. Amy puts the issue of proportional representation where it belongs: on the agenda of American political reform. His book manages to be at once a lucid argument, a valuable reference work, and, some of us hope, a prophecy." See Professor Amy's website for more information. Electoral Reform and Minority Representation: Local Experiments with Alternative Elections, by Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan and David Brockington, Ohio State University Press. Charles Barrilleaux of Florida State University said "The authors argue that cumulative voting elections not only result in greater minority representation, but also provide normative benefits in the guise of more competitive campaigns and higher voter turnout than seen in majoritarian elections. [It] will prove essential reading for students of voting systems." -The Initiative and Referendum Almanac: A Comprehensive Guide to the Initiative and Referendum Process in the U.S", By Dane Waters (Carolina Academic Press, 2003). Almost a 1,000 pages in length, the Almanac is the most complete and comprehensive history of the I&R process in the United States. Richard Parker of Harvard Law School said "As penetrating and stimulating as it is thorough and even handed, the Almanac will spark and inform debate about our most democratic process of lawmaking. It is a gift to activists and scholars alike." We have a description of a range of other important books on electoral system reform from recent years.

 

FAIR ELECTIONS RUNDOWN

Fair Vote Canada Holds Annual Meeting April 25 26: Canada's vibrant new pro full representation organization will hold its second Annual Meeting in Ottawa to strategy about the growing opportunities to achieve reform in Canada.

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Finland's Full Representation Election: Finland held a national election on March 16, using an "open list" method of full representation that some American argue could work well in the United States. Parties nominate slates of candidates in multi-seat districts, and voters vote for one candidate. Their vote counts both for the candidate and the candidate's party. Seats are allocated in proportion to the party vote, and a party's most popular candidates fill its share of seats.

This year the Centre Party displaced the Social Democrats as the largest party. Women in Finland won 38% of seats (nearly three times the percentage of seats women hold in the United States Congress), and Anneli Jaatteenmaki, the woman head of the Centre Party, is expected to be prime minister. Voter turnout increased slightly to nearly 70%.

Women and Full Representation : New studies indicate that women in countries from around the world generally enjoy more representation in national legislatures than do women elected in winner take all elections in the United States.  In March the Center's Rob Richie and Steven Hill spoke at events on women and representation organized by the White House Project .

IRV Elections in the United Kingdom: The University of Oxford recently elected Chris Patten Lord Chancellor using instant runoff voting the first IRV election after five centuries of chancellor elections.

In March IRV also was used for the first time to fill a vacancy in the British House of Lords. 423 members of the House of Lords chose among a remarkable 81 candidates.

More Disturbing US House Election Data . In each of the last three congressional elections, fewer than one in ten U.S. House were won by less than 10% and fewer than 2% of U.S. House incumbents were defeated, including a historic low of only four losing to non incumbent challengers in 2002. All of California's 51 incumbents won by at least 19% after a particularly blatant incumbent protection plan. Given historical patterns, House elections almost certainly will get even less competitive as the decade progresses unless states redraw their lines or adopt full representation voting methods.

The lopsided nature of most of these races was extremely predictable. Our Center has developed a cautious model of projecting U.S. House races that accurately projected 1,262 of 1,263 winners in 1996 2002 and nearly all minimum victory margins. We already have published our more than 350 projected winners in the November 2004 House elections .  As we prepare for a new release on federal elections, here are a few teaser statistics: - 218 U.S. House candidates were elected by only 28% of all voters in 2002. With 40% turnout in House elections, that means barely one in ten adult Americans elected U.S. House candidates who can pass legislation. And of course the majority of these winners were for effectively elected after winning their primary elections, in whch far fewer people vote and winners in open seats often win with less than a majority. - If you doubt whether redistricting has an impact on incumbent protection, consider that of House incumbents who had won relatively close races in 2000, more than three in four ran in district in 2002 that were more favorable for their party. Among all incumbents, 20 districts were moved from being swing districts to ones generally safe for their party. In California and Texas, there were 14 "swing" districts according to underlying district partisanship in 2000; that number was reduced to two before the 2002 elections. - There were 70 statewide races -- ones that of course cannot be gerrymandered -- for governor and Senate in 2002. The winner had 55% or more of the vote in fewer than half (47%) of these races, and only 24% of these races were won with 60% or more. At the same time, there were 435 U.S. House races. The winner had 55% or more of the vote in fully 91% of these races, with 81% won with at least 60%

Free Air Time Coalition Update: As of early March, more than 40 organizations have endorsed S 3124, the "Political Campaign Broadcast Activity Improvements Act" introduced last fall by Senators McCain, Feingold and Durbin. The complete list of endorsing organizations is available at the campaign website www.freeairtime.org .

Audit trails for Touchscreen Style Voting: Growing attention has been focused on requiring touchscreen style voting equipment to have a voter verifiable paper trail. We believe that even if concerns about this issue can overstated, voter perception of fairness in elections demands it be addressed. We favor paper trails and the use of open source code.