What Is The Center for Voting and Democracy?
The Center for Voting and Democracy (CV&D) is dedicated to educating the public about the fundamental role of voting systems in the practice of democracy. In order to encourage debate about fairer systems than the winner-take-all voting systems used for most United States elections, CV&D collects and distributes information on more representative systems used around the U.S. and the world, focusing in particular on proportional representation.
The Center for Voting and Democracy was formed in 1992 in Cincinnati, Ohio by electoral reformers and educators from nineteen states. CV&D's founders were motivated by concerns about the impact of continued denial of representation to the full range of people and viewpoints in our society. By undercutting the right to vote that is at the heart of representative democracy, winner-take-all systems were seen to diminish the ability of government to act in voters' interests.
Meeting participants concluded that a significant educational effort at both the national and grassroots level was needed to inform people about fair voting systems. That is why one of CV&D's priorities is calling for national, state and local commissions to investigate the full range of voting system alternatives.
Program and Achievements
CV&D can point to notable accomplishments in its brief history. Our national office in Washington, D.C. has become a recognized and authoritative source on voting systems and functions as the nerve center of a national network of resources and community action.
Projects have ranged from a speaking tour of New Zealand in the fall of 1993 to speeches at conferences of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Americans for Democratic Action.
Here are examples of CV&D's activities:
Collecting and distributing materials on voting systems: CV&D has an up-to-date collection of written and visual material on proportional representation (PR). It monitors local, national and international developments on PR and shares this information with media, public interest groups, educators and international reformers.
Providing information to cities: The Cincinnati city council this year voted to put a semi-proportional voting system on the ballot after investigating voting systems with significant help from CV&D. Through local supporters CV&D also has generated informed debate on proportional representation in Nassau County (NY) and such cities as Worcester (MA), Seattle (WA) and Durham (NC). CV&D edits a column for the National Civic Review.
Stimulating public debate and understanding: CV&D members have written articles on voting systems for the Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, New Yorker, Extra!, Utne Reader, Seattle P-I, Christian Science Monitor, Roll Call, Durham Herald-Sun, Boston Globe and many other publications.
Three hours of CV&D's 1993 national conference was televised on the C-SPAN network. CV&D has taught groups of high school students visiting Washington, D.C about PR systems and worked with state chapters on their workshops to assist members' educational efforts in their own communities.
Explaining Lani Guinier's ideas: Former Justice Department nominee Guinier was the victim of distortions that focused in part on her support for proportional voting systems. CV&D issued a press release that resulted in radio appearances and more accurate coverage, and many CV&D members wrote commentaries for newspapers explaining her ideas.
Working with electoral reformers overseas: CV&D staff members this fall were invited to New Zealand for a two week speaking tour, during the successful campaign to replace its 141-year-old plurality system with PR in a national referendum. CV&D President Matthew Cossolotto in 1993 met with several leading British reformers and presented our 1992 Champion of Democracy award to Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown.
CV&D has only begun the long process of sharing a wealth of information with the American people. From Ohio to North Carolina, from Massachusetts to California, people are starting to talk about and better understand a subject that is vitally important to the future of our democracy and to our policies toward emerging democracies around the world.
Staff and Board
As the national director, I work closely with CV&D President Matthew Cossolotto and Vice-President Cynthia Terrell, both of whom have articles in this report. Other Board members are: Arizona Green Party co-chair Carolyn Campbell; AFSCME staff member Howard Fain; United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta; National Civic Review editor David Lampe; attorney Peter Nickitas; Cincinnati's new mayor Roxanne Qualls; political science professor Wilma Rule; Center for Public Justice director James Skillen; former Cincinnati vice-mayor Marian Spencer; and voting rights attorney Edward Still.
1980 presidential candidate John Anderson is National Chair of our Advisory Board of scholars, politicians, journalists and public interest leaders.
Voting and Democracy Report 1993
We had to move quickly to pull together material on 1993's major voting system reform developments. Thanks to prompt responses from many of the world's leading specialists (whose contributions do not necessarily suggest endorsement of CV&D), we have produced a document useful to many audiences.
As discussed in Matthew Cossolotto's Foreword, several nations in 1993 adopted mixed member voting systems. Articles touching on this theme include Johns Hopkins professor Richard Katz's analysis of Italy's electoral reforms and reports on New Zealand's historic referendum by University of Pennsylvania professor Jack Nagel and CV&D's Cynthia Terrell.
Two leading British reformers, Simon Osborn and Mary Georghiou, detail the ongoing trend in Great Britain toward reconsideration of its winner-take-all voting system. Robert Dahl reports on Russia's eventful parliamentary elections, while Tim Wise and Andrew Reynolds provide insight into the hopes and roadblocks to stability in emerging democracies; Reynolds makes a strong case against winner-take-all voting in new democracies with divided populations.
Focusing on potential changes in the United States, Professor Douglas Amy (author of the 1993 book Real Choices/New Voices: The Case for Proportional Elections in the United States) argues cogently for adoption of PR systems. Cynthia Terrell and CV&D National Advisory Board Chair John Anderson provide more details on these arguments in articles on under-representation of women and on using PR systems to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
University of Professor Lani Guinier's withdrawn nomination to the Justice Department and the Supreme Court Shaw v. Reno ruling on the Voting Rights Act were two of 1993's biggest stories. Guinier explains her tests of political fairness as applied to cumulative voting; she demonstrates why she was an obvious choice for our Champion of Democracy award. New Yorker executive editor Hendrik Hertzberg tells why Guinier's writings would have been quite defensible if President Clinton had allowed her a fair hearing.
Voting rights expert Richard Engstrom and I both explore preference voting as a means to correct minority vote dilution. CV&D Board member Edward Still explains a legal attempt to institute preference voting in Cincinnati, while Tito Sinha and CV&D's Howard Fain detail how this form of PR operated in 1993 elections in New York and Cambridge. Bill Collins describes Cincinnati's ground-breaking search for a fair voting system, and professor Joseph Zimmerman points out pitfalls in limited voting, a semi-PR system used in many local U.S. elections.
Finally, professor Stephen Winn explains the impact of disproportionality in U.S. congressional elections; attorneys John Bonifaz and Jamin Raskin question the role of money in the electoral process; Richard Winger details U.S. laws which severely limit access to the ballot; CV&D Board member David Lampe looks at the impact of majoritarian democracy on our cities; and I suggest U.S. journalists too easily fall victim to "electoral illiteracy."
Looking Forward: Growing Momentum for PR
The more one studies how different voting systems operate, the more one wishes that the American revolutionaries had cast the British winner-take-all voting system overboard along with its tea in their famous act of rebellion in Boston 220 years ago. In fact, in reviewing our founders' writings, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they indeed would have adopted PR had such systems been developed.
There seems to be a growing awareness in the United States that it is never too late to make changes for the better. From new legislation introduced in state legislatures in North Carolina and Washington to the ongoing interest in Lani Guinier's ideas to the continuing spread of PR systems around the globe, 1993 has been a remarkable year for the cause of electoral justice. I hope this report helps explain why.
A Note on Terminology: Reflecting the range of contributors, this report has some inconsistencies in terminology to describe different voting systems. In addition, what many call the "single transferable vote" here is termed "preference voting" in order to focus on the voting process rather than the ballot count.
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