The Center for Voting and Democracy
May 21, 2004 Newsletter
In this issue:
- Instant runoffs at Utah Republican convention
- Cumulative voting in Amarillo and corporations
- Welcoming David Moon to CVD
- Highlights of recent webpage postings:
o Register to vote on-line
o Efforts to secure funding for elections
o India's election – and a call for full representation
o UC-Davis and fair student elections
- CVD commentary in the Washington Post and Legal Times
- News and reviews
o Voting rights amendment gathers support
o An integrated U.S. Senate?
o Books by George Farah and Hendrik Hertzberg
Entrenched in 18th-century democratic structures and practices, the United States has missed out on many advances in how to run fair elections and give people the tools to hold their government accountable. The Florida election debacle in 2000 was just the tip of an iceberg of problems that remains largely unexamined.
But there are cracks of light that expose new approaches. Take our work on upgrading voting methods. On May 8, some 3,500 Utah Republicans gathered for their state convention and used instant runoff voting (IRV) to nominate candidates for governor (reducing a wide-open field of eight candidates to two who will advance to a primary) and for Congress and to elect party officers. IRV is a significant improvement over traditional voting methods in accommodating voter choice and ensuring majority rule.
The next week, on May 15, voters in Amarillo, Texas, elected their school board for the third time with cumulative voting. Cumulative voting is a full representation system that provides all substantial groups of voters with equal access to elect candidates of their choosing rather than only representing the largest group of voters. Gaining general acceptance in Amarillo since its adoption in 1999 to settle a voting rights case, cumulative voting has had an immediate impact on fair representation. A candidate of color has been elected in each of the three cumulative voting elections; before its adoption, no candidate of color had been elected since the 1970s.
In today's update, we have more information about these elections, feature high-profile editorial commentary suggesting that the best way to tackle political gerrymandering is full representation and summarize recent additions to our website.
I'm also pleased to welcome David Moon to the Center. A former legal intern who graduates this month from the Washington College of Law, David heads up our outreach about full representation voting methods – see http://fairvote.org/about_us/moon.htm David already has appeared on CNN this month to discuss voting -- read the transcript at http://fairvote.org/articles/cnn.htmWe're also looking forward to another energetic crew of seven interns from around the nations coming to work with us this summer to advance democracy. They will join our dedicated program associates Stephanie Collier, Danielle Goodreau, Andrew Kirshenbaum and Chris Martin. Out in the field, Steven Hill, Caleb Kleppner, Dan Johnson-Weinberger and Terry Bouricius continue to represent CVD effectively in California, Illinois and Vermont.
IRV PLAYS MAJOR ROLE IN UTAH / GAINS SUPPORT
On May 8, 2004, the Utah Republican Party held a convention with 3,500 delegates charged with selecting their party's nominees for the often hotly contested offices of Governor, Attorney General and numerous US Congressional seats as well as electing party officers. To ensure majority support for their nominees and save on election time and expense, the Utah Republicans have been using instant runoff voting (IRV) at state conventions since 2001. Utah Republicans also use IRV at several county conventions.
Under the party's rules, a candidate can be nominated for an office at the convention with 60% support; if no candidate reaches that threshold, the top two face off to a primary. IRV is used to determine if there is a super-majority winner and, if not, which two candidates advance to the primary. Before adoption of IRV, there were repeated rounds of in-person voting, which often took many hours and led to final votes occurring with far fewer delegates than earlier in the day. Because IRV has meant more people participate in the decisive vote, it's become very popular with delegates. (Note: If you're a member of an organization that might experience this problem, don't hesitate to contact us for information about IRV.)
This year's wide-open gubernatorial race provided a powerful demonstration of how IRV works. No candidate won even 30% of first choices, and as the field of eight was reduced to two, it was clear that supporters of different candidates with different bases of support had coherently ranked their choices. For instance, when House Speaker Marty Stephens was defeated, only 13 of his 465 ballots went to the incumbent governor Olene Walker, who is not his political ally. When Walker later was defeated (Walker had become governor after being elected as lieutenant governor), most of her votes went to Nolan Karras, propelling him into the final two with Jon Hunstman.
We've posted the results at http://fairvote.org/irv/utahresults.htm along with several articles about the convention, including one with a helpful graphic showing how IRV works, at http://fairvote.org/irv/utahindex.html
In addition to the governor's race, IRV was used this year to nominate candidates for U.S. Congress, attorney general, national committeeman and national committee woman. Nancy Lord, the new national committeewoman for Utah, has been an effective voice for using IRV at these conventions and has expressed interest in discussing its value with Republicans around the country.
The Republicans' experience with IRV at the convention drew the attention of the Provo Daily Herald. On May 16, the Herald came out in favor of adopting IRV for general elections in Utah, concluding, "If Utah wants to boost public participation and make the electoral process work better, it should embrace instant runoffs." See http://fairvote.org/editorials/herald.htm
Other recent postings about IRV include:
- In a news articles from MediaChannel.org on "Has Rocking the Vote Missed the Boat?," youth activists tout IRV and non-winner- take-all elections as a means to boost voter interest. See http://fairvote.org/articles/rockingthevote.htm
- Newsweek's on-line edition has a lengthy article on "Under the Hood of the Green Machine" in which IRV's ability to resolve the "spoiler" controversy is explained. See http://fairvote.org/articles/greens.htm
track such news and discuss strategic questions, join the national IRV
listserv, which is moderated and limited to no more than two messages a
day. You can review the archives and/or sign up at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/instantrunoff
CUMULATIVE VOTING AT WORK: AMARILLO, TEXAS AND CORPORATE BOARDS
On May 15, the Amarillo Independent School District -- a jurisdiction with some 160,000 people -- elected its school board for the third time with cumulative voting, a non-winner-take-all method of full representation. In each of these three cumulative voting elections, at least one candidate of color has been elected. The current board has African American and Latino representation, after having had only elected white representatives for some two decades under the winner-take-all system used before 2000. Voter turnout has increased, although remains quite low; in an encouraging sign, rates of voter error were extremely low this year.
With cumulative voting, candidates run for more than one seat – as done in several state legislatures and in many localities. Voters have the same number of votes as seats, and can choose to allocate them however they want – including having the right to give more than one vote to one candidate. When adopting cumulative voting, a jurisdiction is expanding electoral options for its citizens. It is one of a family of voting methods that we call "full representation" because they allow more voters to elect someone to speak for them and represent their interests.
Amarillo's adoption of cumulative voting was the result of litigation brought by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), working with the local branches of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The parties in the case agreed to settle the case with the adoption of cumulative voting in 1999.
Cumulative voting is now used by at least 40 school districts and 14 city councils across the state of Texas. All these districts adopted cumulative voting during the 1990s, and burgeoning support for cumulative voting led then-governor George W. Bush to sign into law a 1995 bill explicitly allowing cumulative voting to be used in school board elections.
Cumulative voting allows political minorities to gain representation by focusing their voting strength. For example, the first African Americans were elected to the Atlanta, TX independent school district (ISD) school board largely as a result of African American voters' giving all their votes to these candidates. Prior to the adoption of cumulative voting, many districts like Atlanta ISD had never had a non-Anglo elected to the school board, even though African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities were a substantial part of the population--Atlanta, for example, is 20% African American.
Cumulative voting also has a long
history in shareholder elections for corporate boards. Many major
corporations use cumulative voting for board elections, and many
corporate governance reformers back it. Just this spring it was just
required of all Russian corporations, while this month, national union
leaders backed cumulative voting for Entergy Corporation, arguing it
"would bring an independent perspective to the corporation." For more
on the Entergy resolution, see
HIGHLIGHTS OF RECENT WEB POSTINGS
* Register to vote! Joining a growing number of non-profits seeking to boost voter participation, we've set up a portal with information on how to vote and how to register to vote on-line, in person or by mail. See http://fairvote.org/turnout/infocenter.htm
* States and the new Election Assistance Commission need more funds to help states implement the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) fairly and fully. CVD has joined many groups in a letter calling for funds – see pdf file at http://fairvote.org/administration/lccr.pdf
* The world's largest democracy, India, elected its parliament this month, instituting a new electronic voting system nationwide. Voters surprised the pundits, with the Congress party upsetting the ruling coalition. As part of CVD's regularly updated collection of articles about full representation around the world (see http://www.fairvote.org/pr/global/country.htm), we've posted a new commentary from the Calcutta Times calling for full representation to replace India's current winner-take-all elections: http://fairvote.org/pr/global/indiasuggestions.htm
The University of California-Davis is one of more than 20 colleges and
universities that now use fair election methods for student elections.
It elects its student council by the choice voting method of full
representation. Student advocates recently provide an analysis of the
most recent choice voting elections at: http://www.ucdgreens.org/cva/addendum.pdf
FEATURED COMMENTARY: CVD ON GERRYMANDERING
In the wake of last month's Supreme Court ruling in Vieth v. Jubilirer upholding political gerrymandering as constitutional, CVD representatives have published several commentaries about the disturbing nature of the problem and how it is best addressed by adopting full representation voting methods. Others suggesting that full representation should be on the table in the wake of the Vieth ruling include Richard Hasen, co-editor of Election Law Journal and blogger (electionlawblog.org), who wrote in Roll Call on May 3, 2004 that "States might move to more creative methods of choosing members of state legislatures such as through the use of cumulative voting."
Below is a letter by CVD's Rob Richie that was published on May 5 in the Washington Post, followed by an excerpt from a lengthy commentary by Richie and CVD chairman John Anderson that appeared in the May 17 Legal Times.
"Elections and Real Representation"
By Rob Richie, Washington Post Letters, May 5, 2004
Fred Hiatt is quite right to finger redistricting as a major problem with our democracy -- it's simply wrong to allow elected officials to help their friends and hurt their enemies ["Time to Draw the Line," op-ed, May 3]. But with nonpartisan redistricting, the number of competitive districts around the nation would probably increase from one in 10 seats to perhaps one in six -- doing little to address the polarized nature of policymaking on Capitol Hill and under- representation of women and minorities.
It's time to modify winner-take-all elections, as nearly all other enduring democracies have. One American example comes from Illinois, where from 1870 to 1980 candidates for the state House of Representatives ran in three-seat districts, as is done in most of Maryland. A full-representation voting method was used that lowered the victory threshold for candidates from 50 to 25 percent.
The Illinois system didn't threaten the two-party system, but it broadened representation within the parties and promoted more bipartisan policy. It also gave most voters better choices and fairer representation, and it boosted representation of women and African Americans.
It would take only a statute to enact the Illinois system of multi-seat districts for electing the U.S. House members and most state legislators. Without it most voters are doomed to electoral irrelevance no matter how we draw district lines.
"A Better Way to Vote" (excerpt)
Legal Times, May 17, 2004, By John B. Anderson and Rob Richie
The Supreme Court's decision last month in Vieth v. Jubilirer to uphold Pennsylvania's congressional redistricting plan demands that we confront an uncomfortable fact: We must either change our winner-take-all electoral system or accept the degradation of democracy…
Breyer in his dissent most directly addresses winner-take-all elections and "why the Constitution does not insist that the membership of legislatures better reflect different groups of voters." He states that the Constitution demands "a method for transforming the will of the majority into effective government." But his subsequent discussion reflects a primitive understanding of comparative electoral systems, suggesting that the only alternative to single-party-majority governments, elected by single-member districts, is coalition-ridden, multiparty governments like those of Italy and Israel. In fact, there are other viable alternatives.
Scalia's use of the word "radical" and Breyer's specter of coalition- ridden Italy point to an underlying problem: Rather than interpreting the Constitution, the justices are acting as political scientists, and rather poor ones at that, in leaving undisturbed the status quo of single-member districts.
Far-from-radical, full-representation voting methods have a lengthy history in the United States. In fact, Justice Clarence Thomas discussed them quite cogently in Holder v. Hall (1994), noting that "from the earliest days of the Republic, multimember districts were a common feature of our political systems." Non-winner-take-all voting methods used here (in a growing number of cities) and in some other nations have led to largely two-party systems, yet still resolve nearly all political gerrymandering concerns -- and, importantly, all the conflicts the Court has faced in trying to ensure that racial minorities can elect candidates of their choice.
If non-winner-take-all systems would constitute no "radical" change, there is simply no constitutional reason to cling to single- member districts. Indeed, Illinois shows how alternatives to winner- take-all elections can enhance our political traditions rather than fundamentally alter them.
From 1870 to 1980, the Illinois lower house had three-seat constituencies elected by cumulative voting. Voters had three votes each, which they could give to one candidate or spread among a few. The majority party usually won two seats, often with two candidates reflecting different elements within the party. The third seat usually was won by another party with support from about a quarter of the voters.
After the system was replaced in 1980 (due to a citizen initiative that sharply reduced the number of representatives), the Illinois legislature became much more polarized. Today most longtime leaders in both parties support the return of multi-seat districts, as evidenced by the 2001 recommendation of a bipartisan commission led by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and former Democratic Rep. Abner Mikva. The commission argued that multi-seat districts would lead to greater cooperation between the parties and fairer representation across the state.
The Illinois system's one downside -- the fact that parties often nominated only two candidates to avoid splitting the vote -- could be addressed by adopting the choice voting method used in Ireland. That system lets voters indicate their first, second, and third choices, so that voters whose first choice doesn't win a seat can still help elect their second or third choice. Also, to ensure greater accuracy of representation statewide, a few "add-on" seats could be awarded to underrepresented parties, as recently proposed in the United Kingdom.
Many students of American democracy and nearly every major newspaper, from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, warn that our democracy is in crisis because there is so little competition and accountability in congressional elections. But without challenging the dogma of winner-take-all districts, any reforms will fall short of addressing the real crisis. To confront the political realities of the 21st century and rebuild a vibrant, accountable representative democracy, we must turn to American systems of full representation.
[The full commentary in pdf form is posted at: http://fairvote.org/redistricting/legaltimes.htm]
NEWS AND REVIEWS
* Voting rights amendment gathers support: HJR 28, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s right-to-vote amendment, now has 35 co-sponsors. See http://fairvote.org/righttovote/index.htm. Meanwhile, the proposed Iraqi constitution would give its citizens the right to vote, as indeed is the case in most nations. Article 20 reads "Every Iraqi who fulfills the conditions stipulated in the electoral law has the right to stand for election and cast his ballot secretly in free, open, fair, competitive, and periodic elections."
* An integrated U.S. Senate: Colorado's Ben "Nighthorse" Campbell's announcement that he would retire from the U.S. Senate this year presents the possibility that the 49 U.S. states on the continent of North America will not have any people of color representing them in the U.S. Senate. Currently the Senate has 97 whites, two Asian Americans from Hawaii and Campbell, who is a Native American. Hopes for a more integrated Senate likely rest on strong U.S. Senate candidates who are racial minorities running this year in Colorado (Latino), Florida (Latino) and Illinois (African American).
* Notable books: Hendrik Hertzberg, the New Yorker magazine's elegant writer who has served on our board of directors since 1995, will have a book collection coming out in June called "Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004" (Penguin Books). It will include some of Rick's best writing in favor of full representation and instant runoff voting. Last month, Open Debates executive director George Farah's book "No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates" (Seven Stories Press) was released – it highlights the need for a true citizens' commission to run the presidential debates.
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The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. It is headed by former Congressman and presidential candidate John B. Anderson. We are devoted to increasing public understanding of American politics and how to reform its rules to provide better choices and fairer representation. Our website (www.fairvote.org) has information on voting methods, redistricting and voter turnout.
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