Roadmap to Representative Government
Building Proportional Voting Infrastructure

One major obstacle currently in the way of proportional voting systems in many localities is the difficulty of adapting existing voting machines to new types of ballot.  Many voting machines are unable to cope with more sophisticated ballot designs, and in particular with the ranked ballots which systems such as choice voting and instant runoff voting require. Notably, proportional voting systems do not require machines, as evidenced by the widespread use of hand-counted paper ballots with these systems. Nevertheless, some form of voting equipment is mandated in most states, making obtaining compatible and certified hardware, firmware and software to conduct these elections a key obstacle to implementation.

Even when machines are theoretically compatible with ranked ballots, machine manufacturers will often charge huge amounts of money for upgrades to localities looking to put ranked systems into place.  As states upgrade their voting equipment in line with the Help America Vote Act, FairVote works to ensure that they certify and purchase equipment that can be used to implement proportional voting systems. We also seek enabling state legislation explicitly allowing communities to select proportional voting.

Local Initiatives and Community Education

Spreading knowledge of proportional voting gives local reformers the tools they need to advocate for fair elections. FairVote conducts trainings for local reformers and reaches out to policymaking bodies. These efforts seek to effect reform through ballot initiatives, legislation, and the charter review process.

The Voting Rights Act and Litigation

In 1965, the federal government adopted the Voting Rights Act to prohibit the use of voting systems that discriminate on the basis of race. Increased political access for disenfranchised racial and ethnic minority groups has often been achieved through the drawing of "majority minority districts" within a single-member winner-take-all system, where voters of color can be sure of electing a candidate of their choice. But such an approach has limitations, especially when minority groups are dispersed geographically or interspersed with other groups of minority voters. In the 1990s, race-conscious districts also ran into serious problems at the Supreme Court, which outlawed explicit "racial gerrymanders."  

Proportional voting systems are defined by their capacity to allow voters in a minority to elect candidates of their choice.  As a result they are often natural alternatives to winner-take-all solutions to voting rights cases, since they can greatly increase ethnic and racial minority communities' access to the political process. Dozens of American communities have settled VRA suits by adopting proportional voting systems. FairVote works closely with voting rights attorneys and monitors litigation in search of opportunities to suggest proportional voting remedies.

On July 9, 2002, Governor Gray Davis approved the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.  This bill expands on voting rights granted under the federal Voting Rights Act by, among other things, granting standing to groups who are too geographically dispersed to elect their candidate of choice from a single member district. FairVote welcomes a move which could increase opportunity for proportional voting remedies to voting rights problems, and supports other state voting rights acts.

Citizens' Assemblies

Citizens' Assemblies are an effective way to achieve real reform. Ordinary citizens come together for an extended period to learn about winner-take-all, proportional voting and everything in between. Then they weigh their values, their goals for politics, and recommend changes to the broader electorate. These generally go to referendum. Citizens' Assemblies in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada successfully put proportional voting on the ballot twice: for choice voting in BC in 2005 and for a mixed member system in Ontario in 2007.

State Legislation and Congress

While highlighting the success of proportional voting at the local level, FairVote makes the case for reforming state and national elections and builds reform coalitions. Converting one state’s elections to a proportional voting system will create a demonstration model for others to follow. West Virginia's Constitution, for example, specifically allows for the state's Senate to be elected by proportional representation, should the voters agree by referendum. Such provisions could be considered in other states, and ultimately used to bring the discussion of proportional voting directly to voters.  FairVote analyzes where state reform is most possible, and works with local groups to bring about change.

Ultimately FairVote aims to implement voting systems reform at a federal level by using proportional voting systems in U.S. Congressional elections.  This could be achieved by merging the current single-member districts into multi-seat "superdistricts" so that finally federal government will begin to reflect all of us.

Recent Articles
October 19th 2009
A better election system
Lowell Sun

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
Black candidate for Euclid school board to test new voting system
Cleveland Plain Dealer

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.