E-Newsletter December 21, 2004

Released December 21, 2004
FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy

A Message from Executive Director Rob Richie, December 21, 2004

    * A request for your financial support
    * 2004: FairVote’s Year in Democracy
    * New Richie-Hill commentary about FairVote’s electoral reform agenda
    * Robert Kuttner article featuring FairVote’s reforms in The American Prospect


Thanks so much to the many readers of our e-newsletter who worked hard this year for a better, fairer democracy. We applaud the progress that’s been made, but much of course remains to be done.

We rarely ask for financial contributions in a heavy-handed way. But just like all non-profit organizations, we rely greatly on donations from individuals to sustain our reform work. As you consider your year-end contributions, please place electoral reform – and FairVote – at the top of your list.

We’re counting on you to help us break new ground with a record number of $100 donors. With enough new and continuing donors, we will be able to sustain and enhance our efforts for:

· Instant runoff voting to provide majority rule and inclusionary politics

· Full representation voting systems to elect legislatures that reflect all of us

· Uncompromising constitutional and statutory protection of the right to vote

· A stronger, more strategic and more cooperative pro-democracy network

· Fair presidential elections where every vote is counted and counts equally

· Public understanding of the impact of electoral rules on our elections.

You can donate online through PayPal by clicking the link below:
Give to Fairvote.

You can a mail a check to:

FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Avenue Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD  20912

We also hope federal employees will consider us as a charity of choice in the Combined Federal Campaign; our CFC listing is #2691.

On behalf of our chairman John Anderson and the rest of the Board, staff and volunteers of FairVote, thanks so much for your support, and all my best to you for the holidays and the New Year.

Rob Richie, Executive Director

FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy

P.S. You might want to see a review of  FairVote’s Year in Democracy and two new articles below that lay out our reform agenda.


America: In Search Of Electoral Standards
By Steven Hill and Rob Richie
TomPaine.com, December 21, 2004

The day following Election 2004, retiring NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw indicated the need for strong national standards in how we count the votes. In an unusually serious interview with David Letterman, Brokaw said point blank, "We've gotta fix the election system in this country."

In a message to supporters, former presidential candidate John Kerry echoed this sentiment, calling for new "national standards" for elections and saying "It's unacceptable that people still don't have full confidence in the integrity of the voting process." In Ohio, Reverend Jesse Jackson also called for reform, emphasizing the need for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote, a right guaranteed by most established democracies. Every returning member of the Congressional Black Caucus has signed onto Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s HJR 28 to provide a constitutional right to vote.

The 2004 elections underscore the urgent demand to modernize our elections and bring them in line with international norms. Without such modernization, we will fail to establish a vital democracy and remain vulnerable to electoral breakdowns.

Consider these reforms:

1) Non-partisan election officials. At the top of the list must be nonpartisan election officials. It hardly matters whether the method of voting is with paper and pen or open-source computerized equipment if election administrators are not trustworthy. The secretaries of state overseeing elections in three battleground states -- Ohio, Missouri, and Michigan -- were co-chairs of their state's George Bush reelection campaigns. In Missouri, that Secretary of State was running for governor -- he oversaw elections for his own race! A highly partisan Republican Secretary of State ran elections in Florida, as did a partisan Democrat in New Mexico. A Mexican observer of the 2004 election commented, "That looks an awful lot like the old Mexican PRI to me." Election administrators should be civil servants who have a demonstrated proficiency with technology, running elections and making the electoral process transparent and secure.

2) National elections commission. The U.S. leaves election administration to administrators in over 3,000 counties scattered across the nation with too few standards or uniformity. This is a formula for unfair elections. Most established democracies use national elections commissions to establish minimum national standards and uniformity, and to partner with state and local election officials to ensure pre-election and post-election accountability for their election plans. The Elections Assistance Commission established recently by the Help America Vote Act is a pale version of this and should be strengthened greatly.

3) Universal voter registration. We lack a system of universal voter registration in which citizens who turn 18 years of age automatically are registered to vote by election authorities. This is the practice used by most established democracies, giving them voter rolls far more complete and clean than ours -- in fact, a higher percentage of Iraqi adults are registered to vote than American adults. Universal voter registration in the U.S. is now possible as result of the Help America Vote Act, which mandated that all states must establish statewide voter databases by 2006. It would add 50 million voters to the rolls, a disproportionate share being young people and people of color.

4) "Public Interest" voting equipment. Currently voting equipment is suspect, undermining confidence in our elections. The proprietary software and hardware are created by shadowy companies with partisan ties who sell equipment by wining and dining election administrators with little knowledge of voting technology. The government should oversee the development of publicly-owned software and hardware, contracting with the sharpest minds in the private sector. And then that open-source voting equipment should be deployed throughout the nation to ensure that every county -- and every voter -- is using the best equipment. Other nations already do this with positive results.

5) Holiday/weekend elections. We vote on a busy workday instead of on a national holiday or weekend (like most other nations do), creating a barrier for 9 to 5 workers and also leading to a shortage of poll workers and polling places. Puerto Rico typically has the highest voter turnout in the United States, and makes Election Day a holiday.

6) Ending redistricting shenanigans by adopting full representation. Most legislators choose their voters during the redistricting process, long before those voters get to choose them. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. House incumbents again won re-election, and 95% of all races were won by noncompetitive margins. The driving factor is not campaign finance inequities but winner-take-all elections compounded by rigged legislative district lines. As a start, redistricting must be non-partisan, driven by nonpolitical criteria. But by far the best solution is full representation electoral systems that make voters far more important than district lines.

7) Abolish the Electoral College. The Electoral College enables presidential campaigns to almost completely ignore most states. It allows a shift of a handful of votes in one or two states to decide the presidency, inviting corruption and partisan election administration. It can deny the presidency to the candidate with the most votes. We need to support Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s HR 109, to institute direct election of the president with a majority victory threshold.

8) Pry open our democracy. Our "highest vote-getter wins" method of electing executive offices creates incentives to keep third-party candidates off the ballot as potential spoilers. Battles over Ralph Nader's ballot access demonstrated that our system is not designed to accommodate three or more choices, yet important policy areas can be completely ignored by major party candidates. Most modern democracies accommodate voter choice through two-round runoff or instant runoff elections for executive offices, and full representation electoral systems for legislatures. Instant runoff voting had a great first election in San Francisco this November and passed in other places like Burlington, Vermont and Ferndale, Michigan.

A number of organizations are highlighting reform packages, among them Progressive Democrats of America and Common Cause. We can't win all these reforms at once, but we can make advances if we keep our eye on the prize and pursue opportunities that emerge. We urge people to visit FairVote's website at www.fairvote.org to find out how to get involved. Whether you're a Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian or independent, you can be part of one big party: the "Better Democracy" party.

Steven Hill is Irvine Senior Fellow for the New America Foundation and author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics" (www.FixingElections.com). Rob Richie is executive director of FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy (www.fairvote.org).

Read this article on-line at:


Thinking Even Bigger

By Robert Kuttner
The American Prospect, January 4, 2005

Just over the next horizon are even bolder reforms. They include:

Instant-Runoff Voting. With instant-runoff voting, you designate more than one choice. If your candidate isn’t in the top two, your vote automatically goes to your second choice. With this system, now used for local elections in San Francisco, supporters of insurgent candidates can vote for their first choice without risking the unfortunate consequence of helping elect their last choice. If instant-runoff voting had been in effect in 2000, Al Gore -- the second choice of most Nader voters -- would have become president. As Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy explains, instant-runoff voting simulates runoffs, but in a single election -- thus guaranteeing that the winner is actually the choice of a majority.

The system has two big benefits: Partisans must think in terms of practical coalition politics, because candidates need to attract second-choices and first-choice ones, and democracy is energized, as people alienated by Tweedledum and Tweedledee are drawn into politics. Under Ireland’s instant-runoff voting system, the Labour Party’s Mary Robinson became the nation’s first woman president and most popular politician. When first elected in 1990, she was the top choice of only 39 percent of voters -- well behind the Fianna Fail Party candidate’s 44 percent. But when the third-finishing candidate’s votes were reallocated, Robinson won a majority.

Winner-take-all systems like ours and Britain’s are the exception. Most European democracies elect legislatures by proportional representation, and few allow a mere plurality to elect a chief executive. Richie and his colleagues are organizing grass-roots efforts to press for instant-runoff voting and other forms of proportional representation.

A Right-to-Vote Amendment. Remarkably, our Constitution contains numerous provisions about how leaders are chosen, but nowhere does it guarantee citizens the right to vote and to have their votes accurately recorded.

Scrap the Electoral College. Sound like a pipe dream? We almost did it in 1969, when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment to abolish the Electoral College in favor of direct election. The measure got a majority, but it was the victim of a filibuster and never commanded the necessary two-thirds in the Senate. If it hadn’t rained in Ohio on November 2, John Kerry could well have been the electoral winner but not the popular winner, leaving both parties "cheated" by the Electoral College in back-to-back elections. It could happen again.

Meantime, just having a popular movement to abolish the Electoral College and guarantee every citizen’s right to vote would be good for American democracy.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect.

Read this article on-line at: http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=8967


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F a i r V o t e
The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610
Takoma Park, MD 20912
www.fairvote.org     info@fairvote.org
(301) 270-4616