Opinion-Editorials and Letters-to-the-Editor
Using your campus media is an important step in the campaign for STV and Choice Voting. For more information and tips on writing LTEs and Op-Ed please check out our Action Kit. The following is an example of an Op-Ed written by a FairVote Fellow a couple of years ago:

Voter Apathy or Political Reality?
In this season of student government elections, young people across the country are being asked to vote for their student representatives. But many times this plea is answered with a more difficult question. "Why should I vote? It doesn't count anyway"

While sometimes seen as a tired refrain of apathetic young people or a lament about the limited ambitions and powers of some student governments, examining this statement can reveal a deeper political problem. One of the basic ideas of democracy, that the people vote and then receive representation in government, is not being realized by current political system. Rather than expressing apathy, students are being realistic about how much impact their vote can really have.

Under the current winner-take-all plurality voting system used in most U.S. elections, a candidate who wins a bare 51% majority of votes can receive 100% of the representation. This means that as many as 49% of votes do not lead to a voice in government. For these people, their votes truly do not count.

But a new political reform that is gaining momentum on college campuses can ensure that all votes count and all voters are represented. Choice voting, a form of full representation, was passed overwhelmingly last month by the Associated Students of University of California-Davis. Instead of just marking one candidate on the ballot, the system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. These preferences are then used to award seats in multi-member districts so that a majority of voters will elect a majority of seats, but not all the seats. If there are 10 seats to be filled, a candidate needs the support of about a tenth of students to win a seat. If there are five seats, a candidate will win with the support of 20% of students.

Choice voting dramatically increases the chance that a ballot will lead to representation. If a smaller group of like-minded voters prefer a candidate, they can win at least one seat. Also, if a particular voter's first choice is not strong enough to win a seat, their second choice is taken into consideration. The ranking of candidates ensures that more than 90% of ballots lead directly to representation when electing 10 seats.

This is especially significant in the context of student governments where many times elections are dominated by a particular group on campus. The winner-take-all system currently used at most schools allows this dominant group to win a vast majority of seats. Under choice voting, smaller student groups can consolidate their support and win representation. The typical result is a more diverse student government that represents all views within the student body.

The benefits of choice voting for student legislatures has been recognized at several schools. In addition its adoption by a 67%-33% student body vote at UC-Davis, Harvard, Princeton, University of Illinois, Carleton College and Vassar all use choice voting or another form of full representation. Even more schools use winner-take-all variant of choice voting called instant runoff voting. On the international scene, the United States  and Canada are the only major democracies that still use winner-take-all exclusively for national elections, and nearly all British universities elect their student governments with choice voting.

While the low voter turnout of 18-24 year-olds in national elections is seen as a crisis, these numbers are just as compelling at the student election level. Each spring there is usually an article or editorial about whether student government elections really matter. This debate includes many factors, including the legitimacy and power of student-elected bodies. If nobody votes, the argument goes, then student governments don't represent students and therefore don't matter.

But when we examine the winner-take-all electoral system, the opposite is true. Student governments don't represent enough of the students, and therefore they don't vote. Implementing choice voting and providing representation to all students, would be a big step toward reversing this trend. Winning a seat at the table is a powerful incentive to care about the decisions made there.

A recent graduate of the University of Iowa, John Russell is a Program Associate at FairVote. FairVote has more information about reforming student elections at http://www.fairvote.org/?page=2307

Recent Articles
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A better election system
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Election expert Doug Amy explains how choice voting can "inject new blood" into the elections of Lowell (MA), and give voters a greater incentive to participate.

October 16th 2009
Haven't Detroit voters spoken enough?
Livingston Daily

In Detroit, there have been three mayors in the past two years and the current one has come under scrutiny. Perhaps a system like instant runoff voting will help bring political stability to motor city.

August 21st 2009
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Limited voting, a form of proportional voting, will be used in Euclid (OH), in the hopes of allowing better representation of minorities.

July 2nd 2009
Reforming Albany
New York Times

FairVote's Rob Richie responds in a letter to the editor making the case for proportional voting systems to bring substantive reform to New York's legislature.