Year-End Message to Members of the Center for Voting and Democracy

From the Desk of John B. Anderson

December 2001

The following letter was mailed to members of the Center for Voting and Democracy this month. For information on joining the Center, please see our Get Involved page.
John Anderson
Dear Fellow Members of the Center for Voting and Democracy,

It has been an unforgettable year. Some memories are unbearably tragic, and some touched by grace. But the importance of a responsive, accountable and representative government is ongoing. And while I applaud efforts to record our votes more accurately, we need more than error-free voting machines and processes: a strong democracy demands choices that matter and a fair chance for voters to earn a place at the table of power.

I take great pride in our efforts this year to establish fair elections in America. San Francisco's upcoming referendum to adopt instant runoff voting, the call by a commission of prominent Illinois leaders to restore cumulative voting to elect their legislature, ongoing attention in the major media to voting system reform and new bills in Congress to boost proportional representation and instant runoff voting only begin to suggest our impact.

And yet we have reached a pivotal moment in our reform work. Never have my hopes and fears been so evenly balanced. For every opportunity I see for democracy to advance, I see a path for potential retreat. That is certainly true on the world stage in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but it is also the case for our efforts for reform at home. We must steel ourselves to make wise decisions and be alert to any openings.

That is why we need your help. Not only do I ask you for your continued financial support for our efforts, but for your insights into the future direction of our Center. We have received a foundation grant to engage in a strategic planning process with our staff and board. We want to include as many of your voices as possible in our deliberations. You are our ongoing base of support, and your vote must count!

The enclosed reply card makes it easy for you to indicate how you would evaluate our three chief programs: our FairVote Campaign for implementing instant runoff voting in elections with a single winner; our Full Representation Project for allowing like-minded voters to elect their fair share of candidates in elections with more than one winner; and our Democracy Deficit Analysis, which spotlights how many of our gravest democratic ills are rooted in winner-take-all, plurality electoral laws.

We ask you to indicate your views on the relative importance for these projects by "budgeting" your contribution -- proportionally, of course. You might divide your gift of $100 with $40 for our FairVote Campaign, $40 for our Full Representation project and $20 for our Democracy Deficit Analysis. Or you might direct your full contribution to one project. We of course will read with interest any comments you choose to send.

Let me briefly describe our accomplishments and plans in each program area:

• Leading the FairVote Campaign: The Center for Voting and Democracy's FairVote Campaign seeks to implement instant runoff voting in states and cities around the nation As you know, instant runoff voting (IRV) allows underdog candidates to run without acting as "spoilers" -- it is the best means to have a multi-party system within a winner-take-all electoral system. IRV also is cheaper, faster and less polarizing than traditional two-round runoffs that are used in many primary and city elections. Voters simply need to indicate their favorite candidates and their runoff choices in one trip to the polls.

We have committed two full-time staff people and additional resources to the campaign for a March ballot measure in San Francisco that would implement instant runoff voting for all major offices. Other states with growing momentum include Alaska (where an August ballot measure would implement IRV for US president and Congress), Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. To boost these efforts, we have developed a range of educational tools, sought to ensure new voting machines can handle IRV and promoted use of IRV in non-governmental elections (adoptions of IRV this year range from the Utah Republican Party to the University of Illinois student body president).

• Providing Full Representation: The Center remains deeply committed to proportional representation (PR). Used in most modern democracies and with a tested history in the U.S.A., PR provides fuller representation of the electorate by reducing the percentage of votes necessary to win a fair share of seats. Benefits include greater participation, a deeper debate on issues, more inclusive legislatures and a weakening of money's grip on politics.

Our particular short-term focus is on how proportional systems can be used to win and resolve Voting Rights Act cases. For example, we have created a useful manual for community leaders and hired Joleen Garcia to ensure cumulative voting works well in the 50 Texas jurisdictions that have adopted it and in the many others that are considering it. With effective outreach and education, this rapid expansion of PR could happen nationally.

Of course we continue general outreach about PR with numerous articles and speeches. Just in recent weeks, our executive director Rob Richie spoke to the annual conference of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and a task force of the National Conference of State Legislators, while field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger spoke at a national redistricting conference about cumulative voting's history and prospects in Illinois -- prospects that his outstanding efforts have considerably brightened.

• Exposing our Democracy Deficit: It is no exaggeration to say that the Center has changed the terms of the national debate about the roots of "no-choice" elections. Already, the conventional wisdom is that after redistricting, fewer than 10% of U.S. House races will be competitive in 2002 and that state legislative elections will be even more lopsided. As explained by Rob Richie and Steven Hill in a recent op-ed: "2001's real story is that both parties have colluded to take on their real enemy: the voters. This year will go down in political history for the crass way it has raised incumbent protection to a whole new level."

With regular reports such as Dubious Democracy and Monopoly Politics and an excellent on-line guide to redistricting as it happens, the Center continues to creatively spotlight the inherent problems of winner-take-all elections. We also generate regular new reports and provide information about non-majority winners, voter turnout and other measures of democratic health that voting system reform would improve.

Many of you know first-hand just how much our dedicated staff accomplishes. But we need your help to build on our successes. Again, I hope to hear more from you about what you value in our work, and I urge you to consider a generous gift for the new year.

Sincerely yours,
John Anderson Signature

John B. Anderson

Copyright © 2001 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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