E-Newsletter August 31, 2009

Released August 31, 2009

FairVote e-News

The FairVote Reformer


Here at FairVote, we're continuing to enliven discourse about how best to achieve a democracy that respects every vote and every voice. As a catalyst for structural electoral reforms that increase voter participation, meaningful ballot choices and fair representation, we produce research reports, analysis and educational resources. We also collaborate with national, state and local reformers in introducing our ideas to the broader public, demonstrating how they address current problems in our democracy.

Now is a critical time for FairVote. Major electoral reforms in the United States traditionally have come roughly every five decades, with waves of new constitutional amendments and legislation in the 1860's, 1910's and the 1960's. By this calendar, it is again time for major change, and conditions once again demand it. We believe our work will help trigger a new wave of reform and expansion of suffrage rights, with each victory building momentum for further advances.

In that spirit, I was excited by working this month with representatives of a vibrant coalition of pro-democracy organizations led by Demos and America Speaks in establishing a forward-looking democracy agenda on electoral reform, ongoing engagement of citizens and transparency. It includes our core proposals for reform: proportional voting and instant runoff voting as options for federal elections, a national popular vote for president, universal voter registration, voter pre-registration for youth and a right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. Stay tuned for more on this important development as this pro-democracy agenda moves into the public realm.

Even in the quieter weeks of summer, momentum for change continues.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Democracy in Senatorial Succession

Problems with how most states fill U.S. Senate vacancies reemerged onto the political scene this month. The national story was the death of famed U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and suggestions that Massachusetts should change its law requiring all senators to be elected. Also, senators in two of our largest states, Texas and Florida, announced their resignations, and once their seats are filled, nearly 27% of Americans will be represented by an unelected senator. Massachusetts passed a law in 2004 requiring election of its senators, making it one of only four states that mandates special elections, but some Democrats would like state lawmakers to modify the law to allow for an immediate appointment now that a Democrat is governor.

FairVote opposes the proposal on principle (see our press release), and continues to support the bipartisan Feingold-McCain constitutional amendment requiring that anyone who serves in the U.S. Senate does so by popular election. FairVote research was cited this month in a supportive New York Times editorial, as well as in commentary in the Detroit Free Press and Scripps Howard News Service, as well as articles from the Associated Press, US News, and the Miami Herald. Be sure to check out John Nichols' Nation blog on how Massachusetts could better hold its elections and Rob Richie's blog post at Huffington Post making the connection to what he thinks Democrats should focus on: amending the filibuster so that Senate minorities can force more deliberation, but not block legislation permanently.

Also on the voting rights front, see:
  • Adam Fogel's letter to the New York Times calling for a constitutional right to vote, in which Adam writes, "All Americans, regardless of who they are or where they are from, should have the right to vote and have their voice heard in the political process."
  • The Washington Post's editorial today supporting voter registration modernization, a big step toward universal voter registration, an effort behind which FairVote has been a catalytic force.
  • Democracy North Carolina's news release on its success in working with FairVote North Carolina and others in winning overwhelming bipartisan legislative support for our policy idea of voter pre-registration of young people, a bill which the governor just signed into law.

Better Voting on the Ballot

Thanks in part to the volunteer efforts of FairVote staff and interns last month, we're pleased that reformers in Lowell (MA) have succeeded in gathering enough signatures to bring choice voting--our favorite method of proportional voting--to the ballot for their local elections. Many congratulations to the local volunteers who put in so much time and effort, and who still have a big job ahead of them to educate the voters and make the case for a better voting system.

In the mean time, the town of Euclid (OH) will use a similar proportional system for their school board elections this fall after a federal judge accepted its request that a proportional voting system be used rather than single-member districts. In Illinois, a Republican lawmaker and candidate for governor has launched a petition drive to bring back a proportional voting method for state legislative elections. Elections in other parts of the world remind us that most developed democracies do not exclusively rely on winner-take-all, single member district systems to choose their representatives. Japan, which just held its elections, and Germany, which does so at the end of September, both use mixed member proportional systems to better reflect the political diversity if their electorates.

Closer to home, in Massachusetts, a movement has begun to win instant runoff voting (IRV) statewide, with a ballot measure drive this fall by Citizens for Voter Choice--stay tuned to check out their soon-to-be-launched website at MassVoterChoice.com. This November, the local League of Women Voters and other reformers in Pierce County (WA) are seeking once again to block a ballot measure designed to repeal instant runoff voting (called ranked choice voting in the county), which has already been approved by the voters twice in previous elections-see ProtectVoterChoice.com. Our friends at FairVote Minnesota, meanwhile, are busy preparing Minneapolis voters to use IRV for the first time this November, and are supporting reformers in neighboring St. Paul in a ballot measure to win IRV.

FairVote Reports and Testimony: Fixing the Primaries, Audited Elections

It's never too early to fix the presidential nomination process, and we're heartened that both major political parties are gearing up to take a hard look at changes. FairVote's Rob Richie and Paul Fidalgo wrote an op-ed published by the McClatchy newswire, suggesting a fairly-ordered set of state contests culminating in a final, decisive national primary in June. In addition, FairVote's latest analysis and research on 2008 primary turnout will be entered as official testimony for the Democratic Party's Change Committee on the presidential nomination process.

FairVote analyst Terry Bouricius composed a report this month on the accuracy of voting machines in Aspen's recent mayoral and city council elections in May. A separate central scan of the ballots found that the machines used to initially count the ballots, made by one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the country, entirely missed 0.4% of the 2544 ballots cast. Terry makes the case for independently verifiable voting systems so that such errors can be found and corrected, and no one is disenfranchised. Notably, the election included Aspen's first use of instant runoff voting--and had the highest turnout in the city's history, but IRV did not in any way contribute to any of the errors discovered.