FairVote NewslettersThis 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.
The Big News
- Washington Governor signs instant runoff bill for charter cities (see IRV America)
- FairVote launches Presidential Election Reform program (see PER update)
- Dartmouth runs successful IRV election; new schools adopt IRV & choice voting (see IRV America and Proportional Voting Program)
- FairVote advises new Carter-Baker electoral reform commission (see Staff Updates)
- Congress may provide voting rights to Washington, D.C. citizens (see Right to Vote)
- State and federal legislation seek study and implementation of proportional voting methods (see Proportional Voting Program)
The United Kingdom just held winner-take-all elections for its parliament. What percentage of the vote and of eligible voters was won by Tony Blair's victorious Labour Party? How many British governments have been elected with support of more half of voters since World War 2? See end of the newsletter for the answer.
This Month’s Newsletter
* IRV America
- Spotlight: William Ware, American Inventor of Instant Runoff Voting
- Washington State Law to Allow Major Cities Opportunity to Use IRV
- Dartmouth IRV Implementation Widely Praised
- Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean Strongly Supports IRV in New Book
- The University of Minnesota Adopts IRV in Referendum
- California State University at Chico Passes IRV
- American Student Medical Association Uses IRV
- Prominent Commentaries and Editorials Tout IRV
* Proportional Voting Program
- Spotlight: Thomas Gilpin, Proportional Voting Pioneer in Early America
- Rep. Hastings Introduces Legislation to Study Proportional Voting for U.S. House
- Republican Members of North Carolina Senate Call for Cumulative Voting for UNC Board
- Illinois Legislation Calls for the Return of Cumulative Voting for State Legislature
- British Columbia to Vote on Choice Voting, Help Needed
- UK Elections Highlight Need for Proportional Voting
- Proportional Voting Advocated for Lebanese Elections
- Reed College Adopts Choice Voting for Student Elections
- FairVote Calls for Reauthorization of Voting Rights Act Provisions
* Right to Vote Initiative
- Spotlight: The Injustice of the Poll Tax…and Why It Took a Constitutional Amendment
- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Highlights Right to Vote Amendment at Lehigh and Lesley Universities
- Congress Puts Voting Rights for Washington, DC on the Table
- Resignation of Commissioner Underscores how Trouble Looms for National Election Reform
- Texas House Committee on Elections Hears Student Voter Registration Bill
- Maryland State Senate to Take Up Early Voting Bill
- Right to Vote Initiative’s Andrew Kirshenbaum Heads to Law School
* Presidential Election Reform Program
- Spotlight: Senator Birch Bayh, Leading Senate Advocate for Direct Election
- Three Direct Election Bills in Congress
- Both Major Parties Reviewing Presidential Nomination Schedule
* Upcoming Events
* FairVote Staff Update
* FairVote Reading Room: April – May Highlights
Three is a crowd in the plurality voting system most commonly used in the United States. Plurality elections, where the candidate with the most votes wins, becomes dysfunctional when more than two candidates seek one office. Instant runoff voting (IRV) elects candidates who have majority support, accommodates voters having better choices and encourages winning candidates to reach out to more people. IRV America supports implementation of IRV in elections across the United States The past few months, the program has been led by Program Associate Steven Hoeschele. Steven will be leaving this month to travel and volunteer on political campaigns.
Spotlight: William Ware, American Inventor of Instant Runoff Voting
Instant runoff voting (IRV) was first proposed in 1870 by William Robert Ware, the first professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ware developed the idea of IRV for elections for single winner offices after reading the works of Great Britain’s John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hare about choice voting (also known as “the single transferable vote” or STV).
Ware was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to a well-known Unitarian clergy family, and attended such prestigious schools as Milton Academy, Philips Exeter, and Harvard College. He founded the architecture program at MIT and in 1881, departed for New York to found Columbia University's architectural school. The models he established, first at MIT and later at Columbia University, provided the foundation for numerous architectural programs throughout the country. Though he would become known foremost for his contributions to the study of architecture, Ware's concern for electoral reform led him to develop the IRV system.
Ware lived to see instant runoff voting used in practice for the first time, 10,000 miles away in Queensland, Australia in 1893. This use was a modified version of IRV in which all candidates except the top two were eliminated in a batch rather than sequentially. Fifteen years later, the "sequential runoff" concept as IRV is commonly practiced today was first used in Western Australia. Ware died in 1915 shortly before Australia established IRV for electing its most powerful offices, the members of its lower house of parliament.
There was significant interest and use of ranked voting methods in the United States during Ware’s lifetime. Several southern states established a variation of IRV for their statewide primaries, one in which voters had more than one vote. If no candidate won a majority in this system – termed the “Bucklin system,” after its founder – then all second-choice votes would be added to first-choice votes. While having some appeal, the Bucklin system creates an incentive for voters to limit their choices to one person - because voting for a second choice counts against the first choice, most voters did not use their second choice option, thus defeating the purpose of the system. Bucklin was generally replaced with traditional runoffs.
Two dozen American cities adopted the proportional voting version of IRV in at-large/multi-seat elections. In 1936, New York City adopted it, with each of the City’s five boroughs having city council seats in proportion to their size. Staten Island had only one seat, and thus used IRV for the five elections the system was in place. Unfortunately, choice voting was attacked relentlessly by players within the “political machines” it so effectively weakened, and the lack of modern equipment led to long ballot-counts that made it vulnerable to political attack. It was repealed in New York in 1947 despite a vigorous defense led by civic groups like the League of Women Voters.
More than 130 years after Ware proposed IRV, San Francisco adopted it in 2002 and held a successful election with it in 2004. Ware’s old hometown of Cambridge still uses choice voting for city elections, and student governments at Harvard and MIT in Cambridge are elected by both IRV and choice voting.
Washington State Law to Allow Major Cities Opportunity to Use IRV
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire in April signed HB 1447, a bill allowing instant runoff voting to be used for a five year pilot project in the cities of Vancouver, Spokane, and Tacoma--the second IRV law to pass a state this year. Vancouver voters already passed an IRV-authorizing charter amendment in 1999. The city council must now act to implement IRV during the trial period to run from 2008-2013. IRV backers in Tacoma and Spokane are gearing up for efforts in their cities.
The bill's chief sponsor, Representative Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), lobbied the Vancouver council in 1999 to support IRV before becoming a legislator. After the charter amendment passed a city-wide vote, Moeller took his battle to the statehouse, educating his colleagues and winning them over after several legislative drives. His persistence is a testimony to the power of the individual in reforming our republic. [More on HB 1447]
Dartmouth IRV Implementation Widely Praised
Students continue to lead the charge for IRV. Dartmouth College held its first IRV race in April, for example, electing its new Student Body President in the sixth round of counting. Though trailing in the first round, Noah Riner was the majority choice of Dartmouth students in a race that drew high praise from all involved, including the narrowly defeated second-place finisher and the current president who had won in a controversial plurality election last year. At least part of the success can be attributed to IRV voter education featured prior to the election in the Dartmouth newspaper. The Student Assembly elections team, in consultation with FairVote, put together an online IRV election program within weeks. They have since offered to use their system as a model to implement IRV campuses at other college campuses.[More on Darthmouth IRV implementation]
Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean Strongly Supports IRV in New Book
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is one of a growing number of political leaders who endorse instant runoff voting. As governor of Vermont, Dean championed IRV as a solution to vote-splitting with a viable minor party, and continued to push for reform on the presidential campaign trail. IRV has long been embraced by activists from minor parties such as the Greens and Progressives, but support from prominent major party figures like Dean and Arizona Senator John McCain demonstrates IRV's increased mainstream appeal. Dean writes about IRV extensively in his new book, What We Do Now. [Excerpt from Dean's book]
The University of Minnesota Adopts IRV in Referendum
The Minnesota Student Association passed a binding referendum to elect the MSA President by IRV. Last year's Minnesota Student Association President won with just 22 percent in an election that also saw an instant runoff measure pass with 76 percent in favor. However, the measure was considered non-binding due to technicalities, and had to be voted on again. As a result, IRV was approved by the students a second time, this time in a binding measure.
California State University at Chico Passes IRV
"Associated Students runoff elections were changed Thursday, when the elections council approved a new instant runoff system. Using the new system, students will rank candidates instead of voting for runoff candidates on a separate day. Traditional Activities Coordinator Amy Henneman said the new runoff system will ensure 100 percent of students voting in the primary election will also vote in the runoff election." - CSU-Chico newspaper, The Orion
American Student Medical Association Uses IRV
The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) is one of a growing number of associations electing officers by IRV. The AMSA is the oldest and largest independent association of physicians-in-training in the United States. It is a student-governed, national organization committed to representing the concerns of physicians-in-training, with a membership of nearly 50,000 medical students, premedical students, interns, residents and practicing physicians from across the country. [See AMSA site]
Prominent Commentaries and Editorials Tout IRV
Since our last newsletter, there have been several new editorials and commentaries touting IRV, many of which are posted in “in the news” on our website. The Minneapolis Star Tribune called on the new Carter-Baker commission on federal election reform to support in IRV, and the Lakeland Ledger was the latest in a long string of Florida newspapers calling for IRV for the state’s primaries. Mark Green, who was nearly elected mayor of New York in 2001 as the Democratic Party nominee, made a strong case for IRV for citywide elections in the New York Daily News, while FairVote’s former senior analyst Steven Hill had an excellent Los Angeles Times commentary calling for IRV in Los Angeles mayoral elections. [Editorials] [Op. Ed's]
Proportional Voting Program
Our nation's strength flows from its willingness to innovate and improve upon the American experiment. For decades, a critical component of this progress has been more inclusive government through the ingenuity of proportional voting systems. The Proportional Voting Program (formerly known as the Political Empowerment Program) seeks competitive legislative elections that better represent America’s political diversity, communities of color, and women through full representation electoral systems.
Spotlight on Thomas Gilpin: Proportional Voting Pioneer in Early America
Thomas GilpinWhile many nations around the world have enthusiastically embraced proportional voting systems, the United States has traditionally been slow to follow. Yet one of the first proposals for proportional voting was introduced right here. Britons Thomas Hare and John Stuart Mill are far better known for their support for proportional voting, but years before them, American Thomas Gilpin outlined a groundbreaking call for electoral reform. His 1844 piece was titled “On the Representation of Minorities of Electors to Act with the Majority in Elected Assemblies.” This essay is the earliest known attempt to formulate and promote a proportional system in the United States.
Thomas Gilpin was born in Philadelphia in 1776 and became a successful paper manufacturer. He was also a Quaker and his concern about fair play for those in the minority may have arisen out Quakers’ belief in the vote of every person being important. Gilpin was a United States attorney for Pennsylvania in 1882, solicitor of the United States treasury in 1837, and attorney general of the United States in 1840-41 under Martin van Buren.
Many of the themes in Gilpin’s essay foreshadow our modern concerns about fair representation. In particular, he was distressed by Philadelphia's use of an at-large, winner-take-all election system in which minority groups were always left out. He was prompted to write this work, however, as a reaction to the Act of Congress in 1842, which required single-member districts. Although it abolished at large elections that consistently privileged the majority, Gilpin thought proportional voting was a better means for allowing greater minority representation. His plan for minority representation resembles what today would be called a party list system with seats allocated by the largest remainder method.
Despite his advocacy and its discussion in academia, voting systems reform did not receive much broad popular attention until after the Civil War. Black suffrage and labor unrest helped raise tough questions about mass democracy and how to best represent the interests of competing segments of society. Minority representation was later discussed in the West Virginia Convention where it was presented as a means of capturing the true theory of Republican government. The full representation method of cumulative voting was then adopted for state legislative elections in West Virginia in 1872.
Gilpin’s essay was highlighted in 1866 when J. Francis Fisher of Philadelphia advocated the system that it set forth for the election of municipal councils in a pamphlet entitled Reform in our Municipal Elections. Gilpin’s advocacy of the list system for cities was also the impetus for the second treatise on proportional voting printed in America, J. Francis Fisher's The Degradation of our Representative System and its Reform, written in 1863 in Philadelphia. Another Pennsylvanian, Sen. Charles Buckalew, led strong initiatives in Congress to adopt proportional voting for congressional elections in the former Confederacy and helped persuade Illinois to adopt it for state legislative elections in 1870. Read Thomas Gilpin’s [Essay]. See [Excerpts] from Charles Buckalew’s writings.
Rep. Hastings Introduces Legislation to Study Proportional Voting for U.S. House
U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) has re-introduced his Congress Commission Act to study whether the House of Representatives should increase in size and be elected by proportional voting systems. As national debate about redistricting increases, we applaud Rep. Hastings for seeking to spur debate and understanding of how best to provide fair representation, more electoral competition and greater accountability. [Bill text]
Republican Members of the North Carolina Senate Call for Cumulative Voting in Elections for UNC System Leaders
A recent election for the leadership of the University of North Carolina system was mired in controversy, when Democrats on the State Senate’s Higher Education Committee unilaterally withdrew the nominations of four of twelve candidates for the UNC Board of Governor’s. This prompted Republicans on the committee to accuse the Democrats of rigging the vote. In response, Sen. Edward Goodall (R-Mecklenburg) called for the use of cumulative voting in the UNC leadership elections. [Article on call for cumulative voting]
Illinois Legislation Calls for the Return of Cumulative Voting for State Legislature
Illinois Senator Richard J. Winkel Jr. and Representative Paul D. Froehlich introduced legislation calling for the state constitution to be amended to bring back cumulative voting. The plan would change the House of Representatives from a 118-member body elected from 118 districts to a 117-member body elected from 39 districts of 3 members each, using cumulative voting. Read the Illinois cumulative voting [Bill] and read [Background information] on Illinois’ drive to revive cumulative voting.
British Columbia To Vote on Choice Voting, Help Needed
On May 17, British Columbia will hold a referendum to decide whether to replace its current first past the post system with choice voting (aka the single transferable vote). STV was overwhelmingly recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, a randomly selected group of ordinary citizens and has been endorsed by some two dozen newspapers in the province. Though the campaign (organized under the name BC-STV) is short on funding, backers remain optimistic about the chances for passage. Read about the upcoming [Referendum]and learn more about electoral reform in [British Columbia].
BC-STV activists have recently become increasingly alarmed, however, about recent reports of a major problem coming. They have heard rumours that former Premier Bill Bennett and former Premier Dave Barrett will release a joint letter to the media next week condemning STV. They currently have most of the small weekly newspapers on their side side (over two dozen and more coming every day) and several of the political media, but feel they would be hard hit by a last minute condemnation in the major media by Bennett and Barrett. As a result, they are asking for emergency contributions to run media advertising for their campaign. Please donate to this historic effort -- Just $6000 can buy radio ads in rural BC. [More on the BC-STV campaign]
UK Elections Highlight Need for Proportional Voting
FairVote Board member Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society leads the charge for proportional voting systems in the UK. In the run-up to this week’s parliamentary elections, Ken predicted unfair election results, citing the lack of competition inherent in single-member-districts, and the skewed results from winner-take-all methods. The actual returns are proving his predications to have been accurate, given that Labour ended up winning 55% of seats, despite garnering only 36% of the vote. Conservatives received less seats than their 1/3 of the vote warranted, but the biggest losers were the Liberal Democrats, whose 23% share of the vote translated into less than 10% of seats. [Commentary] [More UK commentary]
Proportional Voting Advocated for Lebanese Elections
In the wake of Iraq’s proportional voting election in January, Former Lebanese Prime Minister, Salim Hoss, rejected arguments for single-member-districts and argues for nationwide proportional voting. He believes such a system would encourage national unity and diverse representation. [Article on Lebanese proportional voting] [More on Lebanese proportional voting]
Reed College Adopts Choice Voting for Student Elections
Reed College student, Christopher Nicholson, successfully pushed the student senate to adopt a modified version of choice voting for student senate elections. Nicholson’s efforts brought students a fair system that awards seats to like-minded groupings of voters in proportion to their share of the population, but also mitigates chances for voter error by allowing voters to give the same rankings to more than one candidate. Reed College also uses instant runoff voting for President and Vice President. This victory is the latest in a string of victories for fair elections on college campuses. For more information on the benefits of choice voting for campus elections, read about the experiences of the UC Davis choice voting elections. The campus Greens released a report documenting the development of choice voting at their school. [See the UC Davis report]
FairVote Calls for Reauthorization of Voting Rights Act Provisions
As a member organization of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (www.civilrights.org), the nation's premier civil rights coalition, FairVote would like to draw attention to a looming issue of importance to the civil rights community. Section 5 of Voting Rights Act is set to expire in 2007, unless Congress chooses to reauthorize its provisions. Section 5 is an important deterrent to localities considering making discriminatory changes to their electoral systems and is a vital protection for many minority communities. It requires preclearance of election changes by the Department of Justice, in jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory practices. It is much faster, more efficient and more cost effective to prevent unfair election laws and practices from being implemented in the first place than to litigate retrospectively.
Section 5 has also protected full representation systems that give all sections of the community a fair chance of electing a representative. Most notably, a proposed change to the choice voting system used by New York City to elect school board members was rejected since there was a high probability that it would reduce minority voting strength. (Choice voting was abandoned in New York only when school boards as a whole were abandoned.) The fact that proposed election practice changes in covered jurisdictions continue to be struck down shows that Section 5 remains useful and relevant. FairVote joins with civic and political leaders from across the spectrum in urging Congress to renew the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act. [FairVote's VRA resources]
Right to Vote Initiative
The right to vote and to cast a free and secret ballot is the foundation of American democracy. Yet, in light of the last two presidential elections, it has become all too clear that our voting system remains flawed. The Right to Vote Initiative seeks to ensure that the right of every U.S. citizen to vote is firmly established in our Constitution and that our voting system is fair and equally accessible to all Americans. It urges the government to establish laws and procedures to protect that right to vote for all Americans and, specifically, urges adoption of universal voter registration to ensure clean and complete voter rolls.
In the Spotlight: The Injustice of the Poll Tax… and Why It Took a Constitutional Amendment in 1964 to Stop It
The right to vote was not established in the U.S. Constitution when ratified in 1787. Indeed most states sharply restricted the franchise, typically to white men who owned property and had lived in a state for several years. As detailed superbly in Alexander Keyssar’s The Right to Vote, a growing number of Americans have gained the right to vote in the years since, although with disturbing roadblocks and backsliding along the way. While today, most U.S. citizens are able to vote on Election Day, although the legacy of it being seen as a privilege is reflected in more than five million citizens losing voting rights due to felony convictions and the fact of it being primarily a state right is reflected in the millions of citizens of the U.S. territories and District of Columbia having no, or sharply restricted voting rights.
One of the clearest examples of how the U.S. Constitution in itself provides insufficient protections of the right to vote is the fact that it took the 24th Amendment of the Constitution in 1964 to end the poll tax. To many of us, the poll tax is an old vestige of Reconstruction, long since forgotten. Yet, this voting prerequisite was not blocked until ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964. In other words, when John Kennedy was elected president fewer than 45 years ago, millions of Americans, most poor Africans Americans in the South could still be asked to pay money in order to cast ballot. In 1937, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the payment of a “privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but ….conferred by the state and, save as restrained by the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and other provisions of the Federal Constitution, the state may condition suffrage as it deems appropriate.”
It’s all part of how protection of our right to vote continues to be primarily a state function, with more than 13,000 jurisdictions making key decisions about elections, all separate and unequal. [A history of efforts to end the poll tax]
Rep, Jesse Jackson Jr. Highlights Amendment at Lehigh and Lesley Universities
In April, Congressman and FairVote board member Jesse Jackson Jr., brought his campaign for HJ Resolution 28, the “right to vote” amendment, to packed audiences at two major universities in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Rep. Jackson reminded listeners why we must fight for a citizenship right to vote for all Americans, highlighting the fact that the amendment now has 58 co-sponsors. Over the next year, Jackson will be bringing his message to more and more universities across the U.S. If you host a lecture series or know of an event at which he might be able to speak, please contact FairVote’s Right to Vote Initiative at (301) 270-4616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. [More on the right to vote amendment]
Congress Puts Voting Rights for Washington, DC on the Table
Influential Republican Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia has introduced a plan to grant residents of the District of Columbia a voting representative in Congress. Under his compromise plan, residents of Utah, who narrowly missed receiving an additional representative in the last reapportionment, would also gain an additional representative. This would temporarily increase the size of the U.S. House to 437 members, until after the 2010 reapportionment, when the size would shrink back to 435. We applaud the Congressman for seeking to address the glaring problem of lack of voting representation in the Congress that directly oversees the District’s affairs. Some concerns have been expressed about this specific plan. DC Vote, the leading advocate for congressional representation for the District, said in a statement "DC Vote believes that Americans in DC ought to be equal citizens. To accomplish that goal, we support the 'No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2005' (S. 195 and H.R. 398), which provides District residents with full voting representation in Congress. Nonetheless, DC Vote understands that full voting representation will likely come in stages. A vote in the U.S. House of Representative is very important, and we support Representative Davis' effort to secure such a vote. We also believe, however, that whatever measure the Congress enacts concerning DC voting rights should include representation in the Senate as well.” [DC Vote's site on the Davis Bill]
Trouble Looms For National Electoral Reform
Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, and frustration over limited staff, offices and resources, White House appointed Election Assistance Commission (EAC) chairman DeForest Soaries on April 22 announced his resignation from the EAC. The EAC was created in the wake of the 2000 presidential election as required by the Help America Vote Act, a bill passed by Congress in response to public outcry regarding electoral irregularities in Florida and around the country. However, since its inception, the body has been hampered by a slow-acting Congress to appropriate funds and limited authority to institute policy changes. Even though the EAC was created in 2001, it did not have its first meeting, office space or staff until just a few months before the presidential election in mid-2004. A strong, well-supported and financed EAC is critical for running better elections in the future. [More]
Maryland State Senate to Take Up Early Voting Bill
On April, 5, 2005, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 1046, a bill to establish early voting in the state of Maryland by a resounding (83-52) vote. FairVote's Andrew Kirshenbaum testified in front of the House Ways and Means Committee behalf of HB 1046. The State Senate has taken up HB 1046 and hearing will be scheduled later in the month of May. If this passes, Maryland will join at least 25 other states in the country that permit early voting.
Many states have been using early voting for years. In 2004, residents of the states that utilized early voting did not experience the excessively long lines or election day snafus that those in states without early voting were forced to accept. By giving voters a few days as compared to a few hours to vote, more citizens will be able to find a time that works for them to execise this fundamental act of citizenship. [More on HB 1046]
Texas House Committee on Elections Hears Student Voter Registration Bill
On April 27, the Committee on Elections in the Texas State Legislature heard HB 2056, which would require all students in their senior year of high school and all first year college students to receive a voter registration form. HB 2056 was introduced by State Representative Garnet Coleman (D). FairVote’s Andrew Kirshenbaum, originally contacted Rep. Coleman to introduce legislation boosting youth registration and has advised Rep. Coleman’s staff and helped organize individuals to testify in favor the measure. In all, eight members of the public testified in support of HB 2056. Similar legislation already has also been adopted in New York City, which beginning this year will require all seniors to receive a voter registration form along with their diploma on graduation day. [More on HB 2056]
We support this approach all such reasonable efforts to make it easier for young people to register and vote, but would like to see more counties and states explore a universal registration system for students, perhaps when they are sophomores. To find out how to get active on student voter registration in high school or to see how you can help introduce similar legislation in your own state, visit our [RTV Action Center].
Right to Vote Initiative’s Andrew Kirshenbaum Heads to Law School
FairVote established its Right to Vote Initiative in 2004 through the leadership and dedication of Andrew Kirshenbaum. Andy came to FairVote in February 2004 and has played an important role in defining the initiative’s work, helping remake FairVote’s website and much more. He is leaving FairVote this month to start work at Cardozo Law School. He will be missed. Also moving on from the program in April was Diana Marques, who was a stellar intern who worked with us while attending American University.
Presidential Election Reform Program
Electing the president draws more voters than any other election. And yet our system is deeply flawed. Under the Electoral College system votes do not count equally across state lines, most states are completely ignored during campaigns and through the current primary schedule a handful of voters in a small number of states have control over candidate choices year in and year out. Led by director Chris Pearson and associate Adam Johnson, our new Presidential Election Reform program seeks to engage public debate about the limitations of our current system and offers simple, sensible solutions to enable more citizen participation, greater influence from individual voters and assurance that that every vote counts equally.
Spotlight: Sen. Birch Bayh, Leading Senate Advocate for Direct Election
The Electoral College system continues to distort popular will and ignore most states during campaigns. Since World War II, fully a third of our presidential elections would have gone to the second place finisher with a shift of fewer than 70,000 votes in one or two states. Modern campaigns openly dismiss the majority of states – President George Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 did not do a single national poll or any state polls outside of the 18 battleground states during the last 30 months of the campaign.
Bills to establish a direct nationwide election for president have been introduced in nearly every session of Congress for decades – indeed it is by far the subject of the greatest number of constitutional amendment proposals. Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, who served in the Senate from 1963 – 1981 was a particularly effective advocate of direct election.
In part through Bayh’s impetus, a national debate about direct election reached a fever pitch in 1969, when polls showed only 20% of Americans wanted to maintain the current Electoral College system and advocates included President Richard Nixon, the American Bar Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. That year a direct election amendment passed the U.S. House with well over the required two-thirds majority (338 to 70). In the Senate, efforts were blocked by southerners who recognized their region’s then-low voter turnout would cost them influence in a nationwide election. Bayh maneuvered his bill to the floor by threatening to stall judiciary nominations until a date was set for hearings on the direct election bill. Hearings began in September 1970, after the crest of public opinion for change had passed, and ultimately the effort was blocked by filibuster.
In subsequent sessions Sen. Bayh continued to propose direct election legislation, but had to wait until 1979 for substantial action. After months of stalling and gamesmanship the issue came to the floor. Bayh was confident he could get the supermajority required to pass a constitutional amendment, with backers including such leading Republicans as Bob Dole, Howard Baker and John Danforth. The vote on the amendment ultimately won a majority, but not the two-thirds super-majority necessary to advance to the House.
Three Direct Election Bills in Congress
Three Resolutions have been introduced in Congress in 2005 calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. FairVote supports HJR 36, introduced by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on March 2nd. The proposal would require a Presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote, either through runoffs or instant runoff voting, and opens the Presidential election to all Americans, with each citizen having an equal vote for president. We call on reformers to urge their Members of Congress to sign onto HJR 36.
FairVote opposes the other proposals. HJR 8 and companion bill SJR 11, introduced into the House by Gene Green of Texas and the U.S. Senate by Diane Feinstein of California, and HJR 17 introduced by Elliot Engel of New York. Each would enshrine the principle of minority rule in the Constitution, prohibiting Congress from establishing a majority requirement for presidential elections. Engel’s bill requires a candidate to win at least 40% of the popular vote, while the Green-Feinstein legislation would award the presidency to whichever candidate received a simple plurality. We call on their backers to modify their legislation to establish direct election, but allow the question of whether to use plurality or majority elections to be determined by statute -- following the model of thel amendment establishing direct elections for the U.S. Senate.
You can sign our [Petition] calling for direct election by majority rule – stay tuned for many additions to the site and the release of a report about which states are sure to be “spectator states” later this month.
Both Major Parties Reviewing Presidential Nomination Schedule
Both major political parties plan to review the timeline of presidential primaries and caucuses in recognition of the fact that many states have pushed their primaries up to so early in the election year and that today a very small number of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire year after year have far more influence than any other Americans in narrowing the field.
The Democratic National Committee has created a commission to study its nomination schedule that already has held its first meeting. Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ken Mehlman has said he expects they will form a study committee. In 2000, the RNC nearly adopted the “Delaware Plan” that would set up a calendar where there would be a month-long gap between primaries, and the population of states holding primaries would grow, with each primary date including bigger states. The big states would come last, but would maintain influence by having the most delegates. The Delaware Plan is designed to allow a less well-known candidate gain a footing in the early primaries, but not shut out the rest of the states, with party members having more time to consider whether frontrunners best represent their party.
FairVote supports the goals of the Delaware plan, but prefers a variation of the proposal that would not always put the states in the same order. We have come out in favor of what has been dubbed the California Plan, but which we call “the American Plan,” as it would likely give all states an equally influential role over time. See our [Review] of the plans on the Presidential Elections Reform program website and FairVote executive director Rob’s Richie March 2004 [Commentary] outlining a range of reform proposals for presidential primaries.
FairVote Staff Update
- Executive Director, Rob Richie, has
accepted an invitation to serve as an academic advisor to the
Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A.
Baker, III. The Commission of twenty-one members is both bipartisan and
non-partisan. During the next six months, it will examine the state of
the electoral process in the United States and offer recommendations on
improving it. The [Minneapolis Star Tribune] recently called for the
Commission to address instant runoff voting and direct election of the
president. More information on the Commission [Here].
- We welcome Adam Johnson, Mary Ryan, Rachel Williams, and Ryan Griffin - the latest additions to our team of talented Program
Associates. Adam will be working on the Presidential Election Reform
Program, having recently graduated from the University of California,
Santa Cruz. Adam has served as a Congressional intern and a canvasser
for the League of Conservation Voters. Mary Ryan joins our Proportional
Voting Program after spending time working for the Massachusetts
Advocates for the Arts and several political campaigns in her native
Wisconsin. Rachel Williams is also joining the Proportional Voting
Program, where she is transitioning from being an intern to going
full-time as an Associate. Rachel is a recent graduate of Brigham Young
University in Utah. Ryan Griffin has been a campaign operative for numerous Wisconsin
candidates and has recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin
- Eau Claire. He will be taking over Andrew Kirshenbaum's work for the
Right to Vote Initiative. Steven Hoeschele is moving on from his
program associate position at IRV America to travel the country as he
works on a book. FairVote is accepting applications for his replacement. [Details about FairVote IRV Program Associate opening]
- FairVote’s former senior analyst Steven Hill was a featured speaker at the Arizona League of Women Voters state conference in Tucson. FairVote executive director Rob Richie was also a featured speaker at the Maine League of Women Voters conference in Belfast. [More on the Maine LWV conference]
FairVote Reading Room: April - May Highlights
10 Steps to Better Elections - Sierra Club (May 1st 2005)
FairVote's senior analyst's ten-point fair elections plan includes full representation, instant runoff voting, direct presidential election, Right to Vote Amendment, and other needed voting improvements
Need to Know - Guardian Unlimited (May 1st 2005)
British citizens overwhelmingly support a change from first-past-the-post to proportional representation voting system.
The STV: What the Irish Have Learned - The Vancouver Sun (April 30th 2005)
The success of choice voting in Ireland has installed diversity in government and given greater value to each individual’s vote.
Instant Runoff Voting Saves Time, Money - New York Daily News (April 25th 2005)
Mark Green, 2001 Democratic nominee for mayor of New York and president of the New Democracy Project, advocates instant runoff voting for New York City.
Voting Officials Slam Diebold on Instant-Runoff System - SF Chronicle (April 20th 2005)
Officials and activists pressure private election equipment vendor to move forward on IRV implementation.
A Winning Season for Instant Runoff Voting - Independent Politics News (April 16th 2005)
FairVote's IRV America Program Associate Steven Hoeschele highlights momentum for ranked choice reform across the country.
Vote Yes to STV on May 17 - Saanich News (April 13th 2005)
Single Transferable Vote endorsed to create fairer, more competitive elections.
Nat’l Guidelines Needed to Ensure Fair House Districts – SJ Mercury News (April 10th 2005)
FairVote's Rob Richie and John Anderson call for national redistricting standards, to prevent the looming state-by-state redistricting battles.
City Council Discusses Possible Adoption of Choice Voting - California Aggie (April 7th 2005)
City council and task force move closer to adopting choice voting.
Instant Runoffs Would Improve Lansing Elections - Lansing State Journal (April 1st 2005)
FairVote advisory committee member publishes IRV opinion piece.
A Good Proposal that Won't Do Much - SJ Mercury News (March 31st 2005)
Newspaper endorses full representation and IRV to solve California's redistricting woes.
Answer to Quiz
In the British election on May 5, Tony Blair's Labour Party maintained control of parliament with the support of only 36% of voters and barely 21% of eligible votes. No post-World War II government in the United Kingdom' has been formed by a party winning a majority of the vote. Twice --in 1974 and 1951 -- the losing party won more votes than the winning party.
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