E-Newsletter January 16, 2004

Released January 16, 2004
Re:  Full Representation and Ranked Choices in Presidential Primaries
       Putting a Right to Vote in the U.S. Constitution
       Full Representation Continues As International Norm
       Re-Redistricting: Opening the Floodgates?
       Activism: Interns, Berkeley, Letters, Lobbying, More
       CVD Voices on Radio and C-SPAN and in Lectures
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(For more information about issues discussed here or to support our Center, visit www.fairvote.org or email us at info@fairvote.org. To subscribe/unsubscribe from these occasional newsletters, please see the end of this edition. This edition can be read on-line starting January 16 at http://archive.fairvote.org/e_news/040115.htm)

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Welcome to 2004! May you enjoy Martin Luther King Day and have an opportunity to reflect on how we can have a strong, vital, truly representative democracy.

It’s already been an eventful year for electoral reformers and students of elections. Here is a snapshot review, including links to many recent additions to our website (www.fairvote.org).


This week Democrats in Washington, D.C. voted in a non-binding presidential primary, giving Howard Dean a win. Several candidates and the media ignored the primary, however ­ missing an opportunity both to recognize cities as critical to the health of our society and to help show that it is unacceptable to deny voting representation in Congress to the half million residents of our nation’s capital.

On Monday, January 19, the first delegates in the race for the Democratic nomination will be awarded when Democrats vote in the Iowa caucuses. Despite the hoopla, participants likely will total no more than 10% of Iowa’s adults.

Our Center’s two signature reforms ­ full representation for legislative elections and instant runoff voting for executive offices­ will be a part of the picture. All Democratic primaries and caucuses require that convention delegates be allocated by full representation (a.k.a. “proportional representation”). That means that if a candidate wins 20% of the vote, that candidate will win about 20% of the state’s delegates. The candidate who wins the most votes will win the most delegates ­but a fair share of delegates rather than all of them, unlike what happens in “winner-take-all” elections.

The Democrats have established a relatively high threshold of support of 15% necessary to elect delegates, however. Supporters of a candidate who wins less than 15% of the vote in primaries therefore won’t elect any delegates. Given the large Democratic field, it’s quite likely that the 15% threshold could seriously distort results in a number of primaries. Lower thresholds have been used ­ for example, Republicans had a 10% threshold in New Hampshire in 1980—and would be one way to address the problem. States with primaries also could allow voters to rank candidates and have voters’ ballots count toward their second choice if their first choice falls below 15%.

In the Iowa caucuses, in fact, participants vote in person, publicly declaring their preference. If their preferred candidate has less than 15% in their local caucus, they have the option to support another candidate. This chance to support one’s next choice is analogous to instant runoff voting ­ the ranked-choice system where votes count for your second choice if your first choice cannot win.

The sensible idea of asking people to rank candidates also has influenced recent polling. In the Democratic presidential race, second-choices have been sought in December 2003 and January 2004 polls by Gallup, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC/Zogby and Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Asking for a fuller set of voter preferences gives a fuller, more nuanced view of the election ­ just as using instant runoff voting in our elections would provide fuller, more nuanced and more accurate elections.

Here are some notable links about the 2004 presidential elections:

* http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/pr_presidential.htm -- Information about the Democratic Party rules requiring full representation in presidential primaries and caucuses

* http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/ranked-choicesurvey.htm --Information about use of ranked-choice polls

* http://www.publicintegrity.org -- Information on Charles Lewis and the Center for Public Integrity’s new “The Buying of the President 2004"

* http://www.e-democracy.org/us -- E-Democracy.Org's Election 2004 Link Directory


When I talk to students as a visiting speaker, I often ask participants to consider which right is most essential for having a free and democratic society. The discussion typically comes down to a choice between the right to free speech and the right to vote. That’s why it can come as a shock when I ask, “There are strong arguments for both of these rights, but which one do we not have in our Constitution?”

The fact is that unlike nearly all democracies, the U.S. Constitution lacks an affirmative right to vote. The lack of this right has had an obvious impact over the years, from early disenfranchisement of most adults (including white males who did not own property) to the post-Reconstruction assault on African Americans’ voting rights in the South to denial of voting rights to ex-felons in a dozen states today to the Supreme Court majority in the Bush v. Gore ruling declaring that Americans have no fundamental right to vote for president.

The most universal impact of the lack of a federal commitment to protect individuals’ right to vote, however, is in the decentralization of how we run elections in the United States. The hodge-podge system of rules and practices governing voting machines, voter registration procedures, ballot designs, voting hours and the like is an ongoing accident waiting to happen and it happens again and again, even if only rarely capturing national attention like the debacle in Florida in 2000.

Progress has been made toward national standards since 2000, with passage of the Help America Vote Act, but we argue that it doesn’t go nearly far enough ­ and because of our decentralized framework of elections, it actually is having regressive impact in some states and has no guarantee of lasting positive impact in all states.

The federal government’s failure to take strong leadership also has created a mess out of the important transition to “touchscreen” voting equipment a move that should enhance voting rights of millions of Americans, particularly people with disabilities and language minorities, but which has created great concern about security based on the failure of most touchscreen systems to have a voter-verifiable audit trail. A ruling this week by a federal judge that ordered Florida counties to provide blind and physically impaired voters with voting machines that will let them vote without assistance is a big win for people with disabilities, but still leaves states with the need to choose among a limited, questionable range of voting equipment options produced by private,
for-profit companies

In November 2003 our Center held an intriguing meeting to consider the merits of adding an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. made a passionate speech about his efforts on behalf of that amendment at the public “Claim Democracy” conference the next day.

Below are links relating to the right to vote in the United States:

* http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/baltimoresun.htm -- A recent Baltimore Sun commentary by me and my colleague Steven Hill about the need for a federal commitment to protect the individual’s right to vote

* http://archive.fairvote.org/amendment.htm -- Papers delivered at our November 2003 right-to-vote roundtable

* http://archive.fairvote.org/action/index.html#hjr -- Information about congressional legislation for a constitutional right to vote and an mp3 file of Congressman Jesse Jackson’s powerful speech at the November 2003 “Claim Democracy” conference

* http://archive.fairvote.org/whatsnew.htm -- This month we posted pdf files on recent reports from the Century Foundation and electionline.org on lection reform and the 2004 elections, from Demos and several other groups on implementation of the Help America Vote Act and from the Congressional Research Service on touchscreen voting equipment.

* http://www.democracyusa.org -- The homepage for our Claim Democracy conference, with links to a range of endorsing organizations that work on voting issues, including D.C. Vote and Right to Vote.

* http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/intro/intro_c.htm -- A Department of Justice chart on the impact of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that provides a stark visual demonstration of the loss of voting rights by African American in the late 1800s and their revival after 1965

* http://landview.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features/001643.html --
A January 2004 U.S. Census release with data on voter turnout based on surveys

* http://www.fec.gov/elections.html --Voter turnout statistics from the Federal Elections Commission

We have posted Michigan State University professor Mark Jones' annual chart about voting methods in full-fledged democracies, showing that once again only a handful of major democracies do not use a full representation for national elections. Of 45 democracies with a high human rights rating from Freedom House and at least two million people, only eight use U.S.-style winner-take-all, single-ember districts ­ and just four (Canada, Ghana, Mongolia and the United Kingdom) join the United States in using plurality voting in those district elections.

This month Afghanistan adopted a new constitution at a national assembly. In the nation’s House of the People, 250 delegates will be elected directly through a system of full representation. (In addition, two delegates from each province must be women, which means that at least 64 delegates ­ just over one-quarter of the total -- will be female. The U.S. Congress is more than 85% male.)

Canada continues an intriguing march toward full representation. British Columbia has created a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to evaluate the province’s current voting system in comparison with others around the world. The citizens on the commission ­ selected by lot ­ will decide this year about whether to keep the current model or to put a new one to the votes.

In South Korea, President Roh of South Korea in December presented a plan encouraged implementing full representation on a wider scale in national elections. In New Zealand, all voters in 2004 will use the choice voting form of full representation for health board elections.
Also on the international front, Papua New Guinea, a nation of five million people near Australia, has re-instituted instant runoff voting (IRV) because of the polarizing impact of plurality. In the first use of IRV in a special election in December 2003, voter error rate was lower than in American presidential elections.
Full representation also gains steadily growing interest in the United States. The generally positive experience of Peoria (IL) with the cumulative voting method of full representation was affirmed by many participants at a December 2003 forum Peoria is one of more than sixty jurisdictions using cumulative voting around the United States. Numerous colleges have moved toward the choice voting form of full representation ­ a system also used in city elections in Cambridge (Mass.) and in such private elections as the current “listener board” elections in the five radio stations that make up the Pacifica radio network. On the advocacy side, the Sacramento Bee ­ the daily newspaper of California’s state capital ­ came out for full representation in a January 1, 2004 editorial on “More ideas for California: State's situation demands new approaches

For more see:

* http://archive.fairvote.org/library/geog/europe/systems.htm -- Professor Mark Jones’ release of voting methods in full-fledged major democracies in 2003

* http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global -- Articles relating to full representation from around the world

* http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global/citizensassembly.htm -- A set of links about British Columbia’s citizens assembly that is studying full representation

This month a three-judge panel of federal judges rejected challenges to a new congressional redistricting plan in Texas. One of the more transparent power-grabs in American political history, the 2003 Texas redistricting ­ just two years after the last redistricting ­ could shift seven U.S. House seats from Democrats to Republicans. If upheld, the ruling opens the door to any state ­ or at least those where current state law doesn’t block mid-decennial redistricting -- from having the state legislature fine-tune districts to protect incumbents and/or engage in partisan powergrabs every two years. The already-broken process of redistricting is getting far worse than ever, and it’s looking less likely that the federal courts will step into protect voters. Elected officials must be held accountable for the mess we’re in. 

Following are links

* http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/congress.htm -- A summary of congressional legislation on redistricting since the 1970’s, including evidence of how little effort has been made to establish national standards in recent years.

News articles about the Texas redistricting controversy that are part of the Center’s 50-state guide to redistricting

* http://www.brennancenter.org/programs/dem_vr_lit_session.html -- Discussion about the Texas redistricting challenge and a set of links to legal filings and opinions in the case from the Brennan Center for Justice

* http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/03a581.htm -- stay application docket in the U.S. Supreme Court on Jackson v. Perry, the Texas congressional redistricting case

* http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/amicusbrief.htm -- amicus briefs in a political gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court and the text of the oral argument in that case


Our Center not only reports on how to improve elections, but also seeks to assist those working for reform. There are many ways to help that are described at: http://archive.fairvote.org/get_involved.htm

For advocates of instant runoff voting IRV) in particular, we have established the IRV national listserv, with some 800 participants now getting regular updates about ways to work for IRV in one’s community. There are also several state IRV listservs. It’s easy to sign up at: http://archive.fairvote.org/irv/subscribe.htm

Following are additional links about some of the groups working for reform and ideas about what you can do to help:
* http://www.irv4berkeley.org -- The campaign website of IRV For Berkeley, a new citizens’ group backing Measure 1 on the March 2, 2004 ballot that would give the Berkeley (CA) city council the authority to implement IRV for city elections

* http://archive.fairvote.org/about_us/interns.htm -- The Center regularly hires interns for work in its national office and sometimes in the field.

* http://archive.fairvote.org/action/index.html -- The Center’s “pending legislation” page reporting on fair elections legislation around the country and in Congress

* http://archive.fairvote.org/irv/utahindex.html - Information about the use of instant runoff voting at the state conventions of the Republican Party of Utah ­ a sensible time-saver that is one of several reasons that can make IRV and choice voting attractive for non-governmental elections.

* http://www.firv.org -- Ferndale IRV, which has been the impetus for a growing movement for IRV in Michigan, for building strong support on city council and for working with the Mirror Newspapers this month on plans to distribute to 72,000 homes a mock IRV demonstration ballot

* http://archive.fairvote.org/media/index.htm -- Links to recent media coverage, including several strong letters to the editor in December 2003 and January 2004 by activists that advocate for instant runoff voting or full representation


The Center’s core staff and board chairman John B. Anderson are frequent speakers at events and media sources. Thanks I part to the efforts of the Mainstream Media Project, this has been a busy month for talk shows. John Anderson, Steven Hill, Rashad Robinson and I have appeared on guests on more than a dozen programs in the past week, literally in every region of the country, and have several upcoming appearances, including on WOON in Woonsocket (RI) on February 6, on WRVC in Huntington (WV) on January 28 and on Voice of the World and on KGNU in Boulder (CO) on February 3.

In addition, John Anderson spoke at a January 11 news conference by Open Debates on the creation of a Citizens’ Debate Commission for structuring presidential debates ­one that would be broadly representative of the public rather than tied only to the two major parties, as is true of the current Commission for Presidential Debates. The event was covered by C-SPAN. C-SPAN also had 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader on as a guest on “Washington Journal” on January 5, during which he praised by the Center by name for our work on electoral reform. These appearances are still available to be viewed on the C-SPAN webpage ­ to find and watch them, use the search engine www.c-span.org

John also addressed an event on the Electoral College organized this week by the League of Women Voters of Washington, D.C., while in coming weeks I will speak to classes at Harvard Law School, Washington and Lee University and George Washington University. The Center’s other staffers also frequently address events and classes; please contact us if interested in finding a speaker about fair elections and a vital democracy at your college or in your community.


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The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. We are devoted to increasing public understanding of American politics and how to reform its rules to provide better choices and fairer representation. Our website (www.fairvote.org) has information on voting methods, redistricting and voter turnout. As we rely heavily on individual donations, please consider a contribution by mail (6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20910) or on-line at www.fairvote.org/donate.htm

Thank you!