E-Newsletter January 28, 2010

Released January 28, 2010

The FairVote Reformer

January 2010
Newsletter Features

Award-worthy Reform: IRV in California, Utah and Overseas

Wave of Victories in the Ocean State

Dubious Democracy is the Diagnosis / Port Chester Gets Proportional

Lessons from Nebraska: That Pesky Electoral Vote

How do we make this a pro-democracy year? It's not looking good so far, with so much attention focused on the drama of the horse race--who's retiring, who's running. Deep change, structural change, is not as sexy as people change--but it's exactly what is required…One group that deserves far more attention for the work it has done day in, day out, for nearly twenty years, is FairVote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that makes real the mantra "respect, include, and empower every voice and every vote.

- The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel, January 8, 2010 on her "Editor’s Cut" column

* * *


It's a momentous time in our politics. Many Americans are seething about how business is done inside the Beltway, with distrust aimed at politicians across the spectrum. We face urgent challenges, but maintain government and electoral processes that promote backroom deals with special interests and encourage partisan calculations to overwhelm the public interest. Into this mix comes a new Supreme Court ruling that may flood politics with special interest money just when Americans on Main Street are saying "enough" to being shut out from the voice they seek in moving our nation forward.

For FairVote, democracy demands respect for every vote and every voice. We focus on making that power as real as possible with structural rule changes that give every eligible voter fair access to the polls, every voter meaningful choices in elections and every voter a fair chance at earning strong representation of their interests. We support a series of electoral reforms that are advancing in communities and states across the nation - and ultimately will come to our nation's capital, we hope sooner rather than later.

Our sincere thanks to the many individuals who answered our year-end call to support FairVote's 2010 agenda. There's still time.

Here's our latest news. Be sure to visit our new website (www.FairVote.org) and our new blog devoted to a lighter, if feisty topic: what film should win the Best Picture Oscar in the instant runoff voting system to be used next month (www.OscarVotes123.com).

Thank you!

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Award-worthy Reform: IRV in California, Utah and Overseas

California cities Oakland, San Leandro and Berkeley have adopted or are poised to adopt instant runoff voting (IRV) for their November 2010 election, joining Bay Area neighbor San Francisco. The city councils of San Leandro and Oakland recently voted to use IRV and confirm past voter-approved charter amendments, and the New America Foundation's Blair Bobier explains in a blog post that Berkeley will likely follow suit given Alameda County’s new ability to administer IRV.

Of course, another California community gearing up to use IRV may get a bit more attention: Hollywood! Last year, the Motion Picture Academy announced that in expanding the number of Best Picture nominations to 10, they would bring back IRV (or “preferential voting”) to choose the winner, thus preventing a scenario in which a film wins with a tiny plurality of votes, with the majority of members opposed. We've set up a new blog, Oscar Votes 1-2-3 -- your central location for analysis of how this great political reform is changing the chase for Oscar gold.

Utah’s state senate has seated its second member elected by Republican voters using IRV to fill a vacancy. Former Layton mayor Jerry Stevenson won a majority in the final instant runoff against four challengers, with ballots cast by 169 of the 216 District 21 Republican delegates. Last August, Stuart Adams earned a seat in another hotly contested special election among Republican delegates in Senate District 22 with IRV.

Saint Cloud State University has released a voter survey taken after the November 2009 debut of IRV in Minneapolis, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. A survey by North Carolina State University showed similarly positive numbers for IRV in Hendersonville.

On the international IRV front, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, during the House of Commons question time, reaffirmed his support for IRV (there known as "alternative vote") – see his remarks here. This week, Sri Lanka used IRV for its presidential elections in a race won on the first ballot without the need for an instant runoff, but with low voter error and several minor candidates who weren’t dismissed as “spoilers.”

Wave of Victories in the Ocean State

The year got off to a great start with “sweet victories,” as The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it, in Rhode Island. On January 4, the state legislature overwhelmingly overrode vetoes of two FairVote-initiated reform measures: voter pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds and elections for all U.S. Senators. FairVote has been a prime mover behind a growing national movement for expanded access to participation, working every step of the way to bring us closer to universal voter registration. Now four states and Washington, D.C. have embraced youth voter pre-registration, with several others advancing it. Rhode Island's David Segal, a FairVote analyst, has played a crucial role in the debate over the election of U.S. senators in the case of vacancies, both in the Ocean State and across the country. See our press release on the overrides and the write-up in the invaluable electionline.org newsletter, and big congratulations to FairVote Rhode Island, over the years led by Ari Savitsky, Matt Sledge, and other state reform leaders.

Also in the world of fair access, several major papers simultaneously published pieces speaking out against the revocation of voting rights from felons who have served their time in Virginia and Kentucky, and in a poignant blog post, our Adam Fogel calls upon them to move their felon disenfranchisement policies into the 21st century. If the right to vote had equal constitutional standing with free speech rights, as we believe it should, this question would have been long ago settled in favor of upholding suffrage rights.

Dubious Democracy is the Diagnosis / Port Chester Gets Proportional

This month, FairVote is proud to release what has become a hallmark project for us, the go-to source for journalists and academics studying the effects of our winner-take-all, gerrymandered system of elections. The latest release of Dubious Democracy is now available, just in time for the 2010 midterms. Looking at the 2008 congressional elections, Dubious Democracy categorizes districts and states by rates of overall turnout, wasted votes and proportionality of seats to votes. It gives us a diagnosis of America's civic health, analyzing state by state and district by district the competitiveness of elections, the fairness of their results, and how meaningful one's vote really is. To take a quick look at some fascinating data from Dubious Democracy, head straight to the FairVote.org homepage, and scroll down to our interactive map! Click around the map to see a "fact-in-focus" for each state. (We're pretty impressed by it, we don't mind saying. Let us know what ideas you have for new uses of our map.)

We’re also pleased to be on the ground helping the Village of Port Chester (NY) to implement cumulative voting, a form of proportional voting, implemented after a federal court’s ruling to make the election system for the Board of Trustees more fair and representative. Led by Amy Ngai and Rob Richie, FairVote will work with Port Chester to make sure the voters of Port Chester are fully informed for this exciting opportunity to shape their local leadership in elections to be held on June 15th. Port Chester will be the first community in New York to use early voting (allowing eligible voters to come up to a week early to vote in person) and cumulative voting.

Lessons from Nebraska: That Pesky Electoral Vote

As the National Popular Vote movement takes the cause of presidential election equality to more and more states, one state in particular has made news this month for its own electoral peculiarity. Nebraska is one of only two states, with Maine, that allocates its electoral votes by congressional district. Neither state had ever divided its electoral votes until Barack Obama in 2008 earned an electoral vote in Nebraska, with the rest going to John McCain as was expected. Now the Republican-leaning state legislators are proposing to bring back the winner-take-all established by statute in most states. It’s a teachable moment for the ignoble, partisan origins of the winner-take-all rule, which was not what the founders expected or carried out in most states in our nation’s early decades. See Paul Fidalgo's blog post to see why the real answer is joining the National Popular Vote plan, and helping to ensure that every vote for president is equal no matter where it is cast.

Also in the FairVote universe

There's always a lot of activity going on around FairVote and its allies in electoral reform. Here's a quick look at some other items on our minds and agenda:

•    FairVote co-founder Steve Hill--now with the New America Foundation--has just released a new book, Europe's Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age, in which he takes a look at Europe as a potential role model for major societal and political reforms. You can catch Steve on his book tour by clicking here.

•    FairVote is looking to hire on Democracy Fellows to help with the cause of reform and to enhance their own professional development. FairVote's Democracy Fellowship Program provides an opportunity for those with an interest in election reform to work on a substantive project while building valuable skills and networking with others in the field. If you or someone you know might be interested, see more details here.

•    We also have a robust and substantive internship program--our interns are always top-notch and produce significant and fascinating material, from producing reports and legal analysis to blogging and experiencing life in Washington, DC. Click here for more information.

•    With this issue, we bid “au revoir” to Paul Fidalgo, and welcome a new season of FairVote interns.

•    In the midst of the tragedy in Haiti, we also mourn the passing of two men this week: former U.S. Senator Charles "Mac" Mathias (R-MD) and historian Howard Zinn. A long-time friend of FairVote's co-founder and former chairman John B. Anderson, Sen. Mathias was a backer of reforms such as direct election of the president. In the 1950s, he represented Maryland's at-large U.S. House seat -- a reminder that U.S. House Members can be elected by proportional voting in multi-seat districts. Zinn, the author of A People's History of the United States, was a founding member of FairVote's national advisory committee.