E-Newsletter January 31, 2005

Released January 31, 2005

This month, FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy is casting a spotlight on the right to vote and fair election methods around the world. Here at home there are significant developments as well, including a binding vote for instant runoff voting upcoming in Burlington (VT), a series of upcoming reform workshops in North Carolina and increasing calls for a right to vote in our Constitution.


   1. Full Representation Sweeps through Canada
   2. Vermont Puts IRV on Ballot
   3. North Carolina Reform Roundtables Start up in February
   4. Washington State Shows Electoral Reform is Non-Partisan Issue
   5. Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Bloc Joining the World of Full Representation
   6. Terminating Partisan Gerrymandering
   7. Right to Vote Around the World
   8. IRV Around the World
   9. In-Person IRV to Elect Democratic Party Chairman
  10. Legislative Update: IRV on the Move
  11. San Francisco’s IRV Success Story
  12. Monopoly Politics and Dubious Democracy
  13. Upcoming Events


Full Representation Sweeps through Canada

Five of Canada’s ten provinces are re-examining their voting systems, with serious interest growing in replacing their U.S.-style winner-take-all systems with full representation. Equally significant is the mechanism by which these provinces decided to move forward with full representation. British Columbia assembled a "citizens assembly" of 160 randomly chosen citizens from all walks of life who then spent several months studying various voting systems. In the end, they overwhelmingly selected the choice voting method of full representation, and the voters of British Columbia will have the opportunity to vote on whether to adopt choice voting in a May referendum.

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island's Premier, Pat Binns, has announced that the province's citizens will vote in November 2005 on whether to adopt the mixed member proportional (MMP) method of full representation. If MMP is adopted, Prince Edward Island could become the first Canadian province to use full representation, with the changes potentially going into effect with the provincial elections in 2006 or 2007.

Ontario has also begun planning for the creation of a citizens' assembly on electoral reform. Additionally, New Brunswick assembled a Committee on Legislative Democracy, which issued approximately 80 recommendations to lower voter cynicism and stop turnout decline, and a switch to the MMP method of full representation.

Now imagine if half of the states in our country made similar moves to discuss full representation, and if the process by which they did it was to let the citizens decide.

Links to More on Canada’s Electoral Reform
  • More information from FairVote http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global/canadaer.htm
  • Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global/citizensassembly.htm
  • FairVote Canada www.fairvotecanada.org


Vermont Puts IRV on Ballot

Burlington, Vermont will have a binding vote on adopting IRV for mayoral elections on March 1st. The vote follows on the heels of an overwhelming victory for a similar advisory question in November. FairVote's analyst Terry Bouricius reports that the League of Women Voters is a key backer of the measure, which was placed on the ballot by a vote of the city council.

North Carolina Reform Roundtables Start up in February

Was North Carolina the Florida of 2004?

Join us in February, when FairVote hosts a timely discussion on our electoral system, what went wrong in 2004, and where we can go from here.

Part of FairVote’s Reform Roundtables series, these four North Carolina workshops will deal with the electoral problems that plagued elections in 2004, including missing votes, staggeringly expensive runoffs, and minority under-representation. Presentations include “Is a 3% turnout worth $3.5 million?,” “Unfair Results and Uncompetitive Races: Alternatives to Gerrymandering,” “Does North Carolina need a right to vote?,” and “Missing Votes: Was North Carolina the new Florida?”

Workshops will feature panels of experts including Representative Paul Luebke, UNC College of Law’s Anita Earls and Bob Phillips of Common Cause. This is your chance to participate in the pressing issue of electoral reform that will only grow more important in the years to come.

So come on down, and learn how you can make a difference for the future of elections in North Carolina and America at large. All events are free and open to the public, and a free lunch will be served. For additional information and registration, check out www.fairvote.org/nc. Please log on and RSVP!

Washington State Shows Electoral Reform is Non-Partisan Issue

While some see electoral reform as a partisan issue, in the aftermath of the last two presidential election cycles all political parties have been hurt by our broken electoral system. The Washington State Republican party, citing massive electoral problems, is still calling for a re-vote even after Democrat Christine Gregoire has been sworn into office. Despite the passage of the Help America Vote Act, lost votes, poorly designed ballots, voter suppression, voter fraud and general lack of accountability have severely diminished the integrity of our voting system. At this point few large states can reliably decide close elections. The simple fact is that unless changes are made to the way we vote to better ensure that all eligible voters can cast a ballot that will be correctly counted, all political parties will suffer.


Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Bloc – Joining the World of Full Representation

The Canadians are not the only ones who understand the value of full representation. Nearly every emerging democracy in the Eastern Bloc has adopted a full representation system, as have Iraq (party list system) and Afghanistan (limited voting). Iraq’s departure from the U.S./British winner-take-all election methods is particularly revealing, with the United States seeing that at least in other nations it can be critically important to ensure all key political forces earn a seat at the table. In Iraq’s elections last weekend, political parties only needed to capture a relatively low percentage of votes to earn seats. The biggest parties also tended to run slates with a mix of ethnic groups and religious beliefs, reflecting the desire of most Iraqis to move beyond balkanization.  Following this spirit of attempting to reflect diversity in the party lists, women must be at least every third candidate on each party’s slate.

In fact, full representation is the norm in full-fledged, functioning democracies. Freedom House, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that assesses political and economic freedom around the world, scores nations yearly on the level of political rights and civil liberties their citizens possess. The great majority of the countries with populations of over two million that they considered free in 2005 use full representation systems. Only eight out of the forty-five elected their most important legislative bodies using winner-take-all rules. Of those eight, three – Australia, France and the United Kingdom – use full representation for other national elections, and Canada is moving towards full representation for increasing numbers of regional legislatures. The United States joins United Kingdom, Canada, Ghana, and Mongolia among free nations with exclusively winner-take-all voting methods at a national level.

Links to More on Emerging Democracies
  • Iraq and Afghanistan’s election systems http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global/iraqafghan.htm
  • For more information about what types of full representation systems are used around the world visit http://archive.fairvote.org/library/geog/europe/systems.htm

Terminating Partisan Gerrymandering?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to replace the state's current partisan gerrymandering regime with an independent redistricting commission composed of retired judges is generating discussion and controversy. Current redistricting practices essentially allow legislators to choose their voters. It is the winner-take-all nature of our elections that gives mapmakers such power – and complicates efforts to reform redistricting.

Line-drawing bodies are limited by the Voting Rights Act prohibition on the dilution of minority voting strength, as well as the general issue of partisanship highly correlated to geography. Typically, you simply can’t draw a competitive district out of a region densely populated with members of one party. Take the nonpartisan state legislative redistricting plan created in Georgia in 2004 after a redistricting lawsuit. The line-drawing body did not look at partisan data at all, and yet in the 180-person House, only 8 districts had a margin of victory between 0 and 5%. In the 55-person Senate, only 3 districts had a margin between 0 and 5%. The turnover in both chambers largely was due to open seats resulting from resignations and primary losses. Only six incumbents lost in the House, and most of these only occurred where a Democrat was placed in a Republican district. In the next election cycle we can expect that these seats won't be competitive at all.

By acknowledging the value of independent redistricting in minimizing partisan influence over voting behavior, but recognizing the limitations of such schemes in creating competitive districts, FairVote seeks to inject the deeper problem into this discussion: winner-take-all elections. Steven Hill and David Lesher of the New America Foundation recently seized upon exactly this point in a Sacramento Bee op-ed: "If the governor is going to open this debate, then let's really open it. Let's put everything on the table, not just redistricting, but proportional voting systems, new voter registration technologies, instant runoff voting and more.... Sure, an impartial 'public interest' redistricting would improve the protectionist gerrymander that incumbent lawmakers manufactured. But battles would still erupt over the new district lines, and experts say that even a map drawn by impartial judges would change only a fraction of the Legislature's 120 seats."

Links to More on California’s Redistricting
  • Full article from Sacramento Bee http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/sacbee.htm
  • FairVote’s redistricting web page: http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/

The Oscars

Oscar nominees, announced last week, are a big topic of conversation this time of year. But did you know that the Oscar nominees are chosen every year by the choice voting method of full representation recently recommended for British Columbia? Recently highlighted the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Movie City News Online, the Oscar nomination process begins in when the Academy’s nearly 6,000 members receive their ballots. All Members vote in the choice of best picture, and then vote within their area of expertise. They rank their choices one to five, and winning a nomination takes about a fifth of the vote. Nearly all voters help nominate one of their top choices by ranking their choices one to five in each category. When the ballots are received, the number needed to receive a nomination is determined by dividing the total number of ballots by six. The first choices are then counted and the nominees receiving enough votes are designated as official contenders. If there are not five films nominated by enough first choice votes, the counting process begins again for the second choice votes, and so on, until there are five nominees.

This system of choosing nominees encourages diversity and greater interest in the final Oscar voting. Choice voting has been used since the 1930s, when PriceWaterhouse, the company that tabulates the Oscar votes, was called upon to come up with the most fair and accurate voting system, one that would reflect the diverse opinions of factions within the Academy.


Links to More on Oscars Choice Voting
  • The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/09/movies/oscars/09onei.html?oref=login&oscars
  • Entertainment Weekly: http://www.ew.com/ew/report/0,6115,1014962_7||1013725|0_0_,00.html
  • Movie City News Online: http://www.moviecitynews.com/columnists/poland/2005/050112_topten.html

Thank You, Shirley Chisholm

With the passing of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate, FairVote would like to take this moment to recognize her contribution to encouraging diversity in politics and pushing the envelope. In recognition of her efforts, FairVote seeks to carry forward the fight for fair and full representation. There is still much work to be done, as women and communities of color remain severely underrepresented in legislatures.

Links to More on Women’s Representation
  • State-by-state charts of the stagnant levels of women’s representation in state legislatures:
  • http://www.ncsl.org/programs/wln/2004ElectionInfo.htm
  • The benefits of full representation in boosting women's representation:
  • http://archive.fairvote.org/women/index.html



Right to Vote Around the World

The right for every citizen to cast a vote is guaranteed explicitly in 109 of 119 democracies in the world, including Afghanistan and now Iraq.  However, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Constitution does offer the same guarantee. Instead, voting is regulated by each state, which is why over 8 million U.S. citizens are currently denied the right to vote and millions more lost their vote last year due to inefficient and under funded election administration.

Federal and state legislation are being drafted to help set universal standards for electoral policies such as provisional ballot counting, ID requirements, voting machine specifications among others, the topic of voter registration has received little national attention. At present, nearly 1/3 of all U.S. citizens are not registered to vote and unless one lives in one of the six states that have same-day voter registration, an unregistered citizen will be unable to vote. Most countries require a voter to be registered to vote, actively registers its voters.

Contrast this to Iraq, which even with all its problems boasts already has a far higher percentage of registered voters than the U.S. As typical of most nations,  voter registration in Iraq is automatic. The election commission automatically registered all citizens who had an oil-for-food card. Because of this, most Iraqis only needed to show up and vote without worrying about voter registration.

Here are a few concrete ways nations pursue automatic registration. In the United Kingdom, the election commission mails a form to each household listing the names of citizens registered to vote at that address, citizens are then asked to modify the form, adding or subtracting names as needed and then returning the form. In Ghana, every year government officials travel from region to region and set up voter registration locations for a few days to a few weeks in order to get all voters in that region registered.      

In many European Countries, national ID cards serve as an election card as well. The citizen is automatically registered upon reaching voting age and must simply present the card to vote on election day in the correct precinct. Of course such a process could be set up for voting separate from a national ID card in the United States.

The United States should take an active approach to registering voters. Such a policy will reduce last minute influxes in voter registration in the weeks leading up to election day, overwhelming election offices. It will lead to more complete and clean voter rolls, a basic condition of fair elections.

Related Action Points

  • Participate in Rep. Conyers’ survey on electoral reform. http://www.johnconyers.com/index.asp?Type=SUPERFORMS&SEC={D806E54D-86E7-42DF-BA64-771A221369F1}
  • Get involved in a local effort to improve voter registration in your city – contact our office for concrete ideas to move toward automatic registration at vote@fairvote.org or go to http://archive.fairvote.org/righttovote/getinvolved.htm
  • Contact your Congressperson to ask them to co-sponsor Congressman Jesse Jackson’s Right to Vote Amendment, which will be introduced as HJ Resolution 28 later this spring.

Links to More on Right to Vote

  • The Right to Vote in national constitution
  • The Ace Project’s on-line guide to voting around the world
  • Support for Right to Vote Amendment grows as hundreds of activist pledge to support electoral reform: http://www.commondreams.org/news2005/0124-09.htm
  • Rob Richie testimony for the House Judiciary Committee during the Ohio investigations


IRV Around the World

Australia, home of the first known governmental IRV election in 1893, held its October parliamentary elections without a hitch. The parliament is chosen every three years and has been using IRV for its lower chamber, the House of Representatives, since 1922.
In 2002, Papua New Guinea's government moved to adopt instant runoff voting for its legislative elections. The system was seen as a way to encourage representatives to reach beyond their base, as plurality election resulted in candidates winning with low plurality votes, often under 25%. Used in a special election in December 2003, IRV saw only 2% occurance of “spoiled” ballots, lower than many American elections. This fact is remarkable considering Papua New Guinea is a nation of 5 million with a low literacy rate of about 65%.

While Ireland's October presidential election saw incumbent Mary McAleese win uncontested, the 1997 race demonstrated the need for IRV. The field contained five candidates. McAleese gained only 45% of first-choices. But she was the second choice of enough supporters of losing candidates to win easily with 58% after the bottom three candidates were eliminated. Her predecessor Mary Robinson also was elected by IRV in 1990, winning in the second count after trailing among first choices. More than 99% of voters cast valid ballots in Irish presidential races.

In-Person IRV to Elect Democratic Party Chairman

On February 12th, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will elect a new chair in a series of runoffs, designed to produce a winner with majority support. The count in fact will simulate IRV, with the last-place candidate eliminated before each new vote.

The National Journal’s Hotline recently released a poll of 187 DNC members’ preferences for chair. The poll featured first, second and last choices, as advocated by FairVote for polling in any multi-candidate race.  Now if any candidate withdrew, the pollsters need only redistribute that contestant’s second choices among the remaining candidates and provide a press release proclaiming the new numbers the very same day.

Perhaps Democrats will consider that generating a majority winner through IRV or a series of runoffs is a fairer process that should be more universally applied. Similarly. Utah Republicans’ success in using IRV to nominate candidates and elect party officers at their state convention could have broader lessons for fair elections in Utah.

Legislative Update: IRV on the Move

Several state legislatures are advancing IRV legislation. For example, a Vermont bill to implement IRV for statewide offices has the backing of the League of Women Voters, Grange, AFL-CIO, Common Cause and the Secretary of State. Maine will consider implementing IRV for state legislative and gubernatorial races, and its Secretary of State will soon release a study on how IRV could be implemented.

A Washington state bill to enable charter cities to adopt IRV has deep and bipartisan support--including the Senate Republican leader and the chair of the House Local Government Committee. We ultimately expect even more states to debate IRV than the 22 states with IRV legislation in 2003-2004.

Links to More
  • FairVote's submission about the implementation of IRV in Maine http://archive.fairvote.org/irv/MaineIRV_December2004.pdf.
  • Legislation in 2003-2004 at FairVote

San Francisco’s IRV Success Story

San Francisco’s first instant runoff voting election in November 2004 went remarkably smoothly. An exit poll by San Francisco State University found that: “The majority of voters appear to have made the transition to Ranked-Choice Voting with little problem…The overall finding on RCV is positive. Wide majorities of voters knew about Ranked-Choice Voting, understood it, and used it to rank their preferences. Further, most prefer it, with only about one in eight saying they prefer the former run-off system.” A rigorous analysis of election results by SFSU professor Richard DeLeon definitively showed that voters of all racial and ethnic groups successfully used IRV.

Links to More on San Francisco’s Election Success

  • Common Dreams: http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/commondreams010605.htm
  • The Nation : http://archive.fairvote.org/editorials/thenation013105.htm
  • FairVote’s choice voting website: http://archive.fairvote.org/irv/index.html


Monopoly Politics and Dubious Democracy

The bad news is that elections in 2004 were the least competitive in history. The good news is that FairVote has a lot to say about it.

Stay tuned in February for the release of FairVote’s acclaimed annual report, Dubious Democracy 2004, the final word on our noncompetitive congressional races. Using this model, we then look ahead into 2006 and beyond with our predictive Monopoly Politics report. A few teasers:
  • Only 10 of 435 races won by margins of less than 6%
  • Only 23 of 435 were won by less than 10%
  • California had 51 of 53 races won by landslides of at least 20%


FairVote staff and board members frequently speak at public events, including an event featuring FairVote board members at the Washington College of Law on January 21, executive director Rob Richie’s talk at Harvard Law School on January 13 and IRV America program associate Steven Hoeschele’s talks in Amherst (MA) and Adams County (PA) in late January.

Upcoming FairVote appareances include:

David Moon Discusses Full Representation
and Immigrant-Based Communities at NYU Law
Monday, February 7
Reshaping Democracy Symposium: Power and Participation of Immigrant-Based Communities of Color
NYU Law -- Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge
40 Washington Square West
New York, NY

Rob Richie to Address First Woman President Symposium

Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5, 2005
Siena College - Loudonville, New York
Exploring the issues involved in electing the first woman president of the United States.
For two days, the “First Woman President” symposium will convene an outstanding cadre of academics, journalists and politicians studying the issue of women in political leadership, through research or in practice.

Rob Richie to Address Delaware A. Philip Randolph Institute
Saturday, March 19
Rob will be the keynote speaker at this event. Delaware APRI regularly holds community wide education events to discuss particular issues and develop strategies. This year they will focus on election analysis and their legislative agenda, which includes election reform.

David Moon Discusses Solutions to
Under-representation of Women and Communities of Color

Thursday, March 31st
Election Protection and Democracy Expansion:
A Constitutional Reform Agenda for the New Century
American University, Washington College of Law
4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC     
4:30 pm Panel: Diversifying Democracy: Enhancing Women and Minorities’ Chances for Electoral Success

To schedule a talk, please write to info@fairvote.org or call (301) 270-4616.

FairVote’s new board – and thanks for your support

FairVote’s newly expanded Board of Directors met in Washington, D.C. recently. It was a stimulating meeting, with exciting plans for the year. We want to thank our many supporters who responded to our year-end appeal for support, and to ask more of you to consider boosting our work for a secure and powerful right to vote, better choices at the ballot booth and a more representative government. Thank you!
  • Bios of FairVote’s Board of Directors http://archive.fairvote.org/about_us/directors.htm
  • Just out today -- board member Krist Novoselic on the “new wave of democracy:”
  • http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=entertainmentNews&storyID=664127
  • How to donate to FairVote http://archive.fairvote.org/donate.htm

For those hungry for more democracy news, we urge you to subscribe to excellent e-newsletters from Demos (www.demos-us.org) and electionline.org (www.electionline.org)

Please let us know if you do not want to receive our newsletters by replying to this message with the word  "remove" in the subject or your message. If you would like to subscribe, please send an email to address@fairvote.org.

Thanks for reading!                             

Rob Richie    
Executive Director

Ryan O’Donnell
Communications Director

FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy
http://archive.fairvote.org, info@fairvote.org

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Takoma Park, MD 20912