E-Newsletter February 14, 2004

Released February 14, 2004



This week budget negotiators in Congress reached agreement on a package that would provide $1.5 billion in funds in 2003 to help states implement last year's Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The HAVA law authorized appropriations of more than $2 billion in 2003 and nearly $4 billion over three years, but lawmakers compromised with the Bush administration, which sought only a half billion for each of the next two years. Now that the budget has been approved by Congress, attention is turning to the states, which must come up with plans to comply with HAVA's provisions, improve their elections and upgrade antiquated voting equipment. Several reform groups have joined to seek fair and well-funded implementation. Demos has a website devoted to implementation of HAVA and sends us updates in its "Democracy Dispatches." Electionline.org posts posts and daily news updates. Action certainly is warranted. Better fundamentals for our election system could have led to as many as six million more effective votes in the 2000 elections -- six percent of the actual total. But we simply can't stop with better election mechanics, as those lost votes only could be tolerated for so long in a nation where elections don't matter as much as they should, where declines in voter turnout receive little serious attention from elected officials and where so few races are competitive. We need a range of reforms to bring more people into politics, which is why we support fair election systems like instant runoff voting and full representation. One specific goal for HAVA implementation is to ensure that new voting equipment can support these and other potential reforms. To help, see fairvote.org/administration/modernize.htm 


The Center for Voting and Democracy is pleased to announce a matching gift of $15,000 to celebrate next month's anniversary of last year's big wins for instant runoff voting in San Francisco and Vermont town meetings and to honor my father David Richie, who died in December after a life devoted to improving our democracy and protecting our environment. A generous supporter has pledged to match, dollar for dollar, all donations made by March 31, up to $15,000. For more on why it's such a great time to give to CVD, please see my report to members at http://archive.fairvote.org/e_news/yrend2002.htm To donate, see http://archive.fairvote.org/donate.htm. And remember, many employers will match your contributions to non-profit charitable organizations like our Center. Thanks so much.

In other important funding news, the Working Assets telephone company has selected our Center as one of the 50 groups it will support in the coming year. Working Assets customers will soon have the chance to vote for the Center and ensure we win a fair share of some four million dollars to be divided in early 2004 among the groups based on customers' votes.


There's been a great new run of legislation in Congress and states. Congress 2006 Commission Act (HR 415), sponsored by Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, would create a commission to study the size of the U.S. House of Representatives and the potential use of full representation voting methods. The bill's 2001 version picked up the support of Martin Frost, one of the frontrunners last year to be the Democratic leader in the House.

More and more states are looking to instant runoff voting (IRV), the ranked-choice voting method that ensures a majority winner in one election no matter how many candidates participate. Spurred by third party threats to major party incumbents and by cash-hungry governments wanting to replace expensive runoff contests, IRV has moved to the top of major parties' reform agenda in states such as:

  • Vermont, where IRV has benefitted from the support of ex-governor Howard Dean, endorsements from civic groups like the League of Women Voters, Grange, Common Cause, PIRG and AFL-CIO and a grassroots surge that last year swept more than 50 town meeting votes.
  • Utah, where the Republican Party's use of IRV to nominate Members of Congress at its 2002 convention has sparked interest in expanding its use, as evidenced by a strong letter of support for IRV from the Utah attorney general.
  • Florida, where senior lawmakers are looking to IRV as an alternative to traditional "delayed" runoffs following editorial endorsements from influential Florida papers like the Fort Lauderdale Sun S Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and St. Petersburg Times;
  • Minnesota, where the growth of former governor Jesse Ventura's Independence Party and the Greens have contributed to endorsements for IRV from the state's governor and the largest newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • Maine, where a leading lawmaker publicly announced a goal of implementing IRV for state elections by 2004.

    Other states that have or will soon have IRV legislation include: California, where the November 2003 mayoral elections with IRV should dramatically increase potential use elsewhere -- for more on San Francisco, see www.fairvote.org/sf/;

    Hawaii, which held a hearing on an IRV bill on Feb. 10; New Mexico; New York; Virginia; and Washington.

    Illinois has two intriguing bills developed by the Center's general counsel Dan Johnson-Weinberger. HB 138, which already has unanimously passed its initial committee vote, would grant county boards the authority to adopt cumulative voting in multi-member districts. A second bill, HB 395, would require officials to provide primary election ballots that permit instant runoff voting for absentee voters in the U.S. military or outside of U.S. -- for more on this sensible practice adopted already by Louisiana, see http://archive.fairvote.org/irv/lairv.htm. If you live in a state with primary or local runoffs, please urge your state legislators to initiate this legislation. To keep updated on a full range of state legislation affecting political parties, see the invaluable resource Ballot Access News: $14 a year for 12 issues and on line at www.ballot-access.org.


No matter what one might think about the potential war in Iraq, what strikes many international observers is how limited debate is in Congress about such a critically important issue -- not only on the case for war, but on its overall impact on foreign policy and the United States' long-term role in the Middle East.

Two recent magazine quotes are revealing about how winner-take-all elections -- which typically limit voters to two credible parties and lead those parties to play off of each other rather than the full range of voter opinion, in contrast to full representation systems in which most voters win representation even if part of a political minority -- have such an impact on our political dialogue. In Newsweek on February 3, Howard Fineman writes "But the biggest problem [for the peace movement]: it doesn't matter how big your megaphone is if nobody in power is listening. The Democrats, the protestors' historical allies, have spent the past 30 years trying to shed their image as being weak on war.... The absence of a strong counter to Bush's saber-rattling complicates things for the protestors."

In the Feb. 24 Nation, Eric Alterman writes "My friend Rick Hertzberg attributes the sorry state of just about everything in American politics to the faulty quality of our institutions. If we had the good sense to adopt European styles of proportional representation -- coupled with desperately needed campaign finance reform -- we would be rewarded with European-quality leaders who could express their values with eloquence and courage, without fear of seeing their words deliberately distorted beyond recognition in order to exploit the ignorance of the average voter. He has a point." 

"Don't Forget Redistricting"

That was the headline in a January 5, 2003 editorial in the Washington Post, which rightly pointed out that: "Redistricting, which follows the census every decade, should be an opportunity to make districts competitive and, thereby, to hold incumbents accountable despite the changing demographics of a state. In most states, however, legislatures seek to protect incumbency and to lock in the advantage of the party in power by drawing as many safe seats for that party as possible." The Post urged action in states to adopt Iowa's nonpartisan redistricting system before the next round of redistricting in 2012.

Of course we don't need to wait that long -- and we shouldn't if it troubles you that: more than 40% of state legislative races in 2000 and 2002 didn't even have two major party candidates; the growth of representation of women and racial minorities in our legislatures has nearly stalled; and our Center already has been able to project more than 350 winners in the November 2004 U.S. House elections based on a model that has been right in all but one of 1,263 projections since 1994 -- see Monopoly Politics 2004. Rather than accept this status quo, states should adopt full representation or at least pursue a new round of fair redistricting.

Ranked-choice ballots and campuses, the web and Oscars

Young people are often particularly excited about the potential of instant runoff voting and full representation. Just in the past two years, colleges such as Vassar, Whitman, William and Mary and the Universities of Maryland and Illinois joined Stanford, Princeton, MIT, UC-Berkeley and Harvard in using instant runoff voting and/or full representation for student government elections.

The latest to join these colleges may well be Duke (where the student council just voted to use IRV this spring) and UC-Davis (where a student vote will take place this spring). For more on student elections, see recent news postings and our webpage on schools.  To pursue an opportunity in your school (K-12 or college), contact us at info@fairvote.org.

The alternative news website Alternet  later today is launching a public on-line election that will use instant runoff voting -- a model for many on-line votes. For one example among many of how it is silly to use plurality voting rules instead of instant runoff voting for such multiple-option elections, note that a recent Gallup poll found that Hillary Clinton was the most admired woman in the United States -- with all of 7% of people's preferences, which were dispersed among a large number of people.

Finally, the Academy of Motion Pictures once again used the choice voting method of full representation for Oscar nominations. That's why the best motion picture could go to a big budget blockbuster like "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" or the low-budget "The Pianist" and why the best director nominees include long-time heavyweights Martin Scorcese and Roman Polanski, newcomers Rob Marshall and Stephen Daldry and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.

CVD staff on the road, on the web, on NPR

The Center's staff has been particularly busy this year with speeches and events across the country. We played a lead role in organizing a January workshop for civic leaders and elected officials in Atlanta and similar events in February in Boston and Augusta (ME). Touting his new book Fixing Elections, the Center's senior analyst Steven Hill has made speeches at events in several states. Last week, he spoke before audiences at Northeastern, U.-Mass-Amherst, the Cambridge Forum, two bookstores and events organized for civic leaders and state legislators in Boston and Augusta (ME) and taped two television programs to air on AT&T's New England's cable network and Cambridge (MA) city cable. Steven's Cambridge Forum talk will be available to National Public Radio affiliates on March 14 -- contact your local NPR station to urge them to pick up the program, which also will be available at www.cambridgeforum.org. You can read a good review of "Fixing Elections" by Paul Taylor.

British fair elections champion Lord Jenkins dies
British fair elections champion Lord Jenkins dies
Lord Jenkins (formerly Roy Jenkins), whom British Prime Minister Tony Blair appropriately said was "one of the most remarkable people ever to grace British politics," died on January 5. Jenkins was a passionate and influential advocate of full "proportional" representation in the United Kingdom, based in part on the 1983 elections in which the centrist party he led received 26% of the popular vote, but less than 5% of seats. Under Blair's leadership, Jenkins chaired a commission that in 1998 recommended adoption of a new system for electing the House of Commons which would have combined full representation with instant runoff voting. Although the Labour government has not adopted full representation for electing the House of Commons, Jenkins' advocacy contributed to its adoption for electing regional assemblies in Scotland and Wales (which will have new elections this May), in London and Northern Ireland and for Britain's delegation to the European parliament. It is likely just a matter of the right political moment arriving before Britain joins the great majority of established democracies in adopting full representation for all major elections. Jenkins headed the fair elections group Make Votes Count and was chancellor of Oxford University. His successor at Oxford will be elected this spring by instant runoff voting. One potential candidate is former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Advances in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland

Hardly any well-established democracies around the world use the "first past the post" plurality system that awards 100% of representation to the candidate who finishes first, but the Anglo-American democracies traditionally have lagged behind. That is changing. Ireland and Australia decades ago converted to adopted the choice voting method of full representation and instant runoff voting for their elections. In 1996 New Zealand started using the "mixed member" method of full representation after a remarkable national referendum in 1993. Newly created regional assemblies in Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland use full representation systems. There are vigorous movements to keep driving for fair elections in these nations. Fair Vote Canada is gaining more and more advocates, including the leader of the New Democratic Party and a host of leading scholars and civic leaders. The British Electoral Reform Society for decades has led the charge in the United Kingdom, while in Scotland, Fairshare has launched a drive to win choice voting (also called "single transferable vote") for local government in the wake of commission recommendations and government pledges to support the change. In New Zealand, the capital city of Wellington voted last year to convert to choice voting, and there is a national campaign to support a series of city ballot measures this spring led by the Electoral Reform Coalition. 

Lessons from Israeli and Dutch elections

Israel has one of the most inclusive voting systems in the world, as its political parties can win seats with 1.5% of the national vote. But the system's combination of "closed" party lists (where voters can choose only among parties, not candidates) and a national vote are different from what is used in most governments elected by full representation, while the country's ethnic and cultural diversity and perilous position in the Middle East have led to complicated governance that would be problematic no matter how elections were run. In Israel's January 2003 elections, voter turnout dropped to an all-time low -- but still brought more than two of three eligible voters to the polls, far higher than the 40% of American adults who voted in our national elections in November. More than 95% of voters elected representatives among a wide array of choices. Reversing trends, more voters supported the major parties, which was due to converting back to a system where the prime minister is not directly elected. For more, see www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0n130

Meanwhile, the Netherlands, widely accepted as one of the world's most stable and effective democracies, has nearly the exact same full representation system as Israel. In its January 22 elections, voters turned back to the two major parties after a much-publicized surge last year for an anti- immigrant party led by Pym Fortuyn. That party saw its share of seats fall from 26 seats to just eight -- mirroring a trend seen in other European nations such as Austria. For more on full representation, see our webpages that include a new listing that shows how only three (Canada, Mongolia and the United States) of the world's 42 major, full-fledged democracies use only winner-take-all elections to elect their national legislatures -- and those of Douglas Amy, author of the recently updated classic book "Real Choices, New Voices"