E-Newsletter December 17, 2009

Released December 17, 2009

The FairVote Reformer

As we approach 2010 and all the hopes and fears of a new decade, FairVote takes great pride in our leadership in proposing bold innovations to improve our democracy. FairVote holds a unique, critically important position in America's civic firmament: a reform catalyst that develops and builds support for viable policies to ensure we respect every vote and every voice.

We've had a momentous year and look forward to the new decade of the 2010's with great anticipation, as detailed in our video. But we need your help to turn partisan rancor, broken policymaking, voter discontent and suppressed voter choice into a new wave of enduring reforms. As George Washington wrote, "The power under the Constitution will always be with the people." Each generation of Americans must accept his challenge, but perhaps few with as much complexity and urgency as we face today.

I hope you will visit our new website that showcases FairVote's vision, ideas and reform news - and take this chance to add your name to an enduring place of honor on our site. Next month we'll publish a FairVote 2010 Foundation Wall that lists the names of individual Americans around the country who have supported our vision with a contribution of at least $35 - gifts of $100, $250, and $1,000 will be especially highlighted. Even if you haven't given to us before, please indicate your support for real electoral reform with a donation.

In this season of gift-giving, a special nod to members of the FairVote family with new and worthy books. FairVote co-founder Steven Hill of the New America Foundation has Europe's Promise (University of California Press), long-time FairVote board member and blogger Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker is out with Obamanos, Theresa Amato's Grand Illusion earned kudos as one of the year's best books as it makes a passionate case for much of FairVote's reform agenda  and Alex Keyssar's award-winning The Right to Vote is out in a paperback edition with dozens of pages of new content. And our board chair Krist Novoselic, author of the 2004 reform manifesto Of Grunge and Government, remains high on the music charts with a new CD/DVD from Nirvana.

Again, please consider a year-end donation and earn a lasting place on our new FairVote website.

Thank you!

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Fair Elections: Instant Runoff Voting is a Hit in Twin Cities, in Media, on Campus and in the UK/See National Popular Vote Forum on Video

Elections on November 3rd marked a big advance for instant runoff voting (IRV) in Minnesota, where IRV was adopted by voters in St. Paul and implemented successfully in Minneapolis in elections for mayor, city council and other offices.  Given the impressive support built for IRV by FairVote Minnesota, Minnesota  may well be the first state to adopt this ranked choice voting form of majority voting for statewide elections. A post-election poll found strong majority support IRV in Minneapolis and even strong support for adopting it for statewide partisan elections that regularly have strong challengers from more than the two major parties - support jumped more than 10% after voters experience IRV directly. As
Minnesota state senator Mee Moua, one of the first members of the Hmong community to win office in the United States, said this year, "The effects of IRV are huge, and I believe it is one of the best changes in our voting system since the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

 Hendersonville (NC) held its second instant runoff voting election last month, with the strong backing of the local League of Women Voters.  An exit poll conducted by the State Board of Elections and NC State University's Michael Cobb found a majority support for keeping IRV over traditional runoffs in Hendersonville and supported it 51% to 20% for statewide elections. For a full review of IRV ballot measures and implementations last month, see Rob Richie's post-election blog post.

IRV keeps gaining support in interest in more cities across the country. In California, the New America Foundation, Californians for Electoral Reform and Alameda County League of Women Voters (see its recent strong oped) are working hard to keep implementation of IRV on track in Oakland and Berkeley in 2010, getting a big boost from an effective county elections supervisor and certification of the IRV tabulation system by Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Sacramento's charter commission is debating IRV seriously, and interest keeps growing in Los Angeles. Across the country in New York City, FairVote's Rob Richie testified before a New York state senate committee on the merits of Sen. Liz Krueger's legislation to establish a pilot program for IRV and, in particular, the case for replacing New York City's citywide primary runoffs with IRV. Sen. Krueger made her case for reform on the steps of City Hall.

John Anderson's pre-election commentary on the case for IRV for statewide partisan elections ran in major dailies in cities like Albany, Baltimore and Miami. John focused on the multi-candidate race for governor in New Jersey, where post-election polls showed nearly half of the independent candidate Chris Daggett's supporters abandoned him out of fear of wasting their vote - and still ended up with a non-majority winner. With growing frustration with politics as usual, expect a big uptick in strong third party and independent challenges, as indeed was reflected in November's special U.S. House race in upstate New York (where the Republican nominee in fact became the "spoiler") and in upcoming gubernatorial races in Nevada and Massachusetts, where independent candidates are polling above 30%. Keep an eye on new reform energy like Voter Choice Massachusetts and get involved in your state.

Overseas, the British government continues to move toward a national referendum to adopt IRV for elections to the House of Commons - the first national referendum of any sort in the United Kingdom in decades. IRV was used for the recent Labour Party leadership elections in Wales, where candidates worked hard for both first choices and second choices. On January 23rd, Sri Lanka will use IRV (with two rankings, and winning candidates required to finish in the top two in first choices) in presidential elections.

Meanwhile, college students are embracing IRV in growing numbers with the number of colleges and universities with IRV surpassing 55 - recent additions include Bates, Cornell, Pfizer, Northeastern and Williams, with students at MIT and Cornell among those using IRV to elect student members to their college's governing boards of trustees. Ranked voting (in forms based on allocating points) was used in recent razor-thin contests for the Heisman Trophy and National League Cy Young.  But of course the big non-governmental election news for IRV in the coming news will be the Oscars where classic IRV will be used for the first time since the era of Casablanca for best picture as part of the Academy's shift to having ten nominees.

Recent Notable IRV Media

John Nichols in The Nation Magazine, quoting Rob Richie: "A Real Vote Fix"

FairVote's John Anderson in Baltimore Sun: "Plurality voting is the Real Spoiler"

The Citizen Union's DeNora Getachew and Andrea Senteno in the Gotham Gazette: "Is new York Ready for Instant Runoffs?"

Rochester (MN) city councilor Michael Wojcik in the Rochester Post-Bulletin: Instant Runoff Voting Will Save Money, Insure Fairness Rochester, MN

New America Foundation's Blair Bobier in Oregonlive.com: "Better and Cheaper Elections for Vancouver"

Blair Bobier in Sacramento Bee:  "Instant Runoff: Better choice, lower cost"

California Assemblyman Ted Lieu explains his support for IRV on video

New books touting IRV include: Wayne Allyn Root's The Conscience of a Libertarian and Theresa Amato's Grand Illusion

FairVote's Fair Elections work also centers around our work on presidential elections reform. Stay tuned for an update on new research and outreach about reform in our January enewsletter, and don't miss an excellent November 3rd forum on the National Popular Vote plan for presidential elections that was hosted by Demos and co-sponsored by FairVote and National Popular Vote. Speakers include FairVote's Rob Richie, National Popular Vote's Chris Pearson, the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg and Demos' Brenda Wight. National Popular Vote is a featured priority of Progressives States in 2010 even as it increasingly gains transpartisan support from those who believe fair presidential elections must be grounded on every vote being equal and majority rule.

Fair Representation: FairVote Oversees Voter Education Plan in New York Cumulative Voting Election / Choice Voting in Action in Minneapolis/Illinois Putback Amendment Gains Support

Fair representation ultimately depends on giving as many voters as possible the power to elect representatives - anything less is dependent on the whims of political elites who can take back what they give. While most of the democratic world has moved away from winner-take-all elections, the United States remains largely dependent on them, but with important - and increasing - exceptions.

Last month, FairVote's Rob Richie was featured in an Associated Press article appearing across the nation on a federal judge's acceptance of cumulative voting as the remedy of choice in Port Chester (NY) in a voting rights case brought by the Department of Justice. FairVote partnered with the Brennan Center in presenting an amicus in the case. Now, as Brennan's Myrna Perez aptly summarized in a  blog post reviewing the case and different voting methods, "Latinos now have a real opportunity to elect their candidate of choice, but they must get out and vote."

We are pleased to have been given the assignment of overseeing Port Chester's voter education and implementation plan for cumulative voting, which is keeping Amy Ngai particularly busy. Just today the federal judge is expected to sign off on a consent decree governing the voter education plan developed by parties to the case. FairVote seeks to strengthen the precedent that non-winner-take-all voting systems as means to protect minority voting rights even as they increase the power of all voters to define their own representation.

FairVote's preferred proportional voting system for local elections in the United States is choice voting the ranked choice cousin of instant runoff voting. Last month, Minneapolis (MN) became the first new American jurisdiction in decades to use choice voting elections, using it for five seats on two citywide boards. Cambridge (MA) is approaching its 70th anniversary of choice voting elections, with hotly contested races this year for city council and school committee providing ongoing fair representation across the city. We were disappointed that an impressive grassroots efforts on behalf of choice voting fell short last month in Lowell (MA), but its backers were heartened by more than four in ten voters voting for a change that few had known about just weeks before the election.

In international news, Iraq's shaky move to democracy would almost certainly be far more problematic without its use of proportional representation that has brought diverse voices to the table and is encouraging its biggest parties to seek votes in all areas of the nation, even where a minority. Recent changes to the electoral law governing next year's elections give voters more control over which candidates win, but maintain the goal of fair representation. In the United Kingdom, establishing proportional representation for elections to the House of Lords gains new support from top government leaders and remains very much in play for elections to the House of Commons, as argued by Vernon Bogdanor. Closer to home, the Canadian drive for proportional representation, led by Fair Vote Canada, is garnering energy and attention with it Declaration of Voters Rights.

Take Action: Putback Amendment in Illinois and Congress Commissions Act
  • In Illinois, the Putback Amendment-an effort to secure a spot on the 2010 statewide ballot that, among other changes, reverses the 1980 "cutback amendment" that shrank the size of the legislature and eliminated cumulative voting--is gathering steam in its signature drive. See http://www.putbackamendment.com for the latest news and how you can help.
  • In Congress, Congressman Alcee Hastings' Congress Commissions Act (HR 3972) would examine proportional voting and other voting methods in congressional elections, the benefits of expanding the size of the U.S. House and representation for citizens living in American territories. Ask your House Members to support this sensible means for an open-minded query into achieving fairer representation.
Quotes to Ponder: Going Beneath the Headlines
  • Rob Richie's  in Huffington Post: The Political Significance of Elections for Governor:"Many of our savviest politicos are espousing the conventional wisdom that the results will serve as clues to national trends in 2010 and 2012. But the hard numbers show that recent votes for governor do not predict outcomes in presidential contests and vice versa. Most of our heavily blue and red states in presidential races are in fact represented by governors from the minority party."
  • Perverz Musharaff, former military dictator and president of Pakistan, on why fair representation matters in the December 1, 2009 Wall Street Journal: "The establishment of a truly representative national government which gave proportional representation to all ethnic groups - including the majority Pashtuns - would have brought peace to Afghanistan and ousted al Qaeda once and for all. Unfortunately this did not happen."
  • Pauline LeJeune and Rob Richie in International Snapshot: Japan 2009: "Journalists have touted the election as a landslide victory…This stunning result is not merely the result of a shift in popular opinion, however, since the DPJ won only 42.4% of the popular vote. The magnitude of its landslide win was mainly due to the rules of the Japanese electoral system."
  • Roy Hattersley in the New Statesman: "But the present system will not endure. Proportional representation is irresistible…PR makes coalition certain and liberates Labour from the hope of winning 326 or more parliamentary seats. Under a new system, a return to principle will follow."

Fair Access to Participation: FairVote Makes Case for Public Voting Equipment in New York Times / New Progress for Voter Pre-Registration/Contact Virginia Governor to Secure Voting Rights

For years FairVote has suggested that it's time to stop outsourcing democracy and running democracy on the cheap. As Hawaii teeters on "elections bankruptcy" and may have to delay for more than half a year a constitutionally required U.S. House election, and as one private company (Election Systems and Software) may soon have its equipment and proprietary software used in nearly three-quarters of American elections, it's time to ask just how much we value the right to vote. FairVote calls for the United States to join the great majority of the world's democracies in establishing a constitutional right to vote and a full range of statutory changes in its spirit.

Last month FairVote's Rob Richie had a letter prominently paired with one from  ES&S CEO's in the New York Times, making the argument that all American jurisdictions should have the option to buy publicly owned equipment with open source software.

This year Richie and colleague Adam Fogel worked with Washington, D.C. leaders as they approved groundbreaking electoral reform legislation that establishes election day registration and voter pre-registration of 16-year-olds, creates a process to study full universal voter registration and enacts other FairVote-backed changes such as requiring all new voting equipment to generate election data that can be counted in independent software.

In Utah, the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy has unanimously recommended automatic voter registration -- the latest sign of growing transpartisan recognition of the value of modernizing voter registration systems to provide better voter rolls and remove barriers to voter participation. Adam Fogel's blog post reviews other important progress in FairVote-backed registration reform proposals, highlighted by a Pew Charitable Trusts report finding that voter pre-registration measurably stimulates voter turnout when properly implemented.

FairVote's board this month backed a very specific way to take action to secure voting rights: call on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to issue an executive order restoring voting rights for individuals with felony convictions who have completed their sentences. Virginia and Kentucky are the only states in the nation that require people who have lost their rights through felony convictions to apply for reinstatement, and the governor has the power to act. Letting him know where you stand is a few clicks away.

Don't miss Paul Fidalgo's R.I. Gov. Thinks 0.0001% Turnout for U.S. Senate Elections is Just Fine. Rhode Island's governor has single-handedly blocked a series of democracy bills successfully lobbied by FairVote Rhode Island, most recently a requirement for elections for all U.S. Senators rather than gubernatorial appointment - stay tuned for a potential override vote in January. The issue's inherently partisan nature once left to appointment was dramatically evidenced this month, where Chris Christie's victory in the New Jersey governor's race has Democrats scrambling to change the law to abandon elections and require appointees to be of the same party as the outgoing senator; an opportunistic bill rightly dismissed by Christie as "garbage."

FairVote News: Visit our New Website and Put Your Name on our Map!


FairVote's Adam Fogel, Amy Ngai and Paul Fidalgo have done terrific work steering our 17-month website odyssey to a successful conclusion. Please take a look and let us know your thoughts at info@fairvote.org. Next month our new site will establish a dedicated page listing the names of individual Americans around the country who support our vision with a contribution of at least $35; gifts of $100, $250, and $1,000 will be especially highlighted, and our USA map offers an opportunity for a friendly competition among the states to see just who leads the way in forging a better democracy.

Our thanks to this fall's hard-working interns David Bradshaw (whose Dubious Democracy update is set to go public next month), Justin Bloodgood (who focused on moving  presidential elections reform content into our new website) and Morgan Waters (who was a big help to communications director Paul Fidalgo). We're fortunate to have Pauline "you ask me, I can do it" LeJeune continue with us through the spring -- if you know people ready for a great volunteer experience, send them our way.

Don't miss keeping up with the latest FairVote news on social networks. You can follow our tweets on Twitter and connect with like-minded reformers on our Facebook page. Last, but not least, we welcome the arrival of our communication director Paul Fidalgo's first child Toby, born November 25th. Paul will be back in the news saddle in January.

And from all of us at FairVote, may you enjoy this season's celebrations and join us in making 2010 a remarkable year.



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