E-Newsletter June 2, 2005

Released June 2, 2005
June 2005 Newsletter
Greetings! June brings more advances for fair elections, including strong support for instant runoff voting legislation in North Carolina and new bills in Congress to permit states to use proportional voting, require instant runoff voting for winner-take-all federal elections and establish national redistricting standards. This month we spotlight the impact of our reform proposals on young people.

The Top News

  • Two new bills to bring democracy to congressional elections by requiring IRV, allowing for proportional voting, and establishing national redistricting standards
  • Leaders of both major parties and influential newspapers and civic groups back instant runoff voting pilot program in North Carolina
  • City council in Davis (CA) moves toward putting choice voting on the June ballot
  • Electoral College discourages youth turnout plunges in "spectator states"

This Month’s Quiz

From the wonkish vaults of our new Presidential Elections Reform Program, we have two exciting quiz questions for you this month!

1.) How many "faithless" electors have there been?  A faithless elector is one that is pledged to a certain party but doesn't vote for the party's designated candidate.

a) 19         b) 44        c) 93    d) 157

2.) How many times in the 38 elections since 1852 has the Electoral College system brought us within 75,000 votes of electing the second place winner?

a) 12      b) 3      c) 8      d) 21

This Month’s Newsletter

IRV America

  • Spotlight: IRV’s growing popularity on campus
  • Voter choice act would require IRV for federal elections
  • IRV bill passes NC House and draws editorial support
  • AccuPoll leads companies in preparing for IRV elections
  • Good reading: IRV in Vermont, Oakland special election, more

Proportional Voting Program

  • Spotlight: Davis students export choice voting to City Council
  • FairVote boosts new congressional bills to establish redistricting standards and permit proportional voting
  • Penn. Task force suggests study of IRV & proportional voting
  • FairVote Minnesota makes steady progress for reform
  • British Columbia and choice voting: interest continues in province and June 7th event in DC on citizen assembly model

Right to Vote Initiative

  • Spotlight: How the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age
  • Right to Vote Amendment now has 58 cosponsors
  • Minnesota considers bill to help college students vote
  • San Francisco explores pre-registration for high schoolers

Presidential Election Reform Program

  • Spotlight: The impact of the Electoral College on young voters
  • Status of Electoral College reform efforts in Congress
  • Good Reading: Documentary highlights Electoral College, Bob Dole on the case for direct election and the “American Plan” for primaries


  • Upcoming events
  • FairVote Reading Room

IRV America

Three is a crowd in the plurality voting system most commonly used in the United States. Plurality elections, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, are dysfunctional when more than two candidates seek one office, while the traditional delayed runoff creates problems associated with having to run two elections to get one winner. Instant runoff voting (IRV) elects candidates who have majority support, accommodates voters having better choices and encourages winning candidates to reach out to more people. IRV America supports implementation of IRV in elections across America.

Spotlight: Instant Runoff Voting’s Popularity Among Students

Driven by the hard work of dozens of students and youth activists across the United States, IRV has made impressive inroads into colleges and universities. Currently, dozens of universities use IRV as a fairer way to elect their student government. Clark University, Dartmouth College, Lewis and Clark College, University of Oklahoma, and Portland State University are among the schools that adopted instant runoff voting this academic year. When IRV is put to a vote, students nearly always pass it by landslide margins, and reaction to use of the system has been overwhelmingly positive.

FairVote believes in the long-term need for reforms to increase inclusiveness in the democratic process. Students and young people follow naturally as a group that would benefit from reforms aimed at bringing in those who have been traditionally excluded from this process. Fair elections systems such as instant runoff voting and choice voting are especially suited to student government elections because of the diverse voting population and the high possibility for three or more candidates. As the nation’s leading advocate of these reforms, FairVote strives to improve student government elections for all students.

Voter Choice Act Would Require IRV for Federal Elections

On May 26, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Georgia’s only Congresswomen, introduced the Voter Choice Act (HB 2690). The bill features a requirement that starting in 2008, all federal elections to elect a single winner would use instant runoff voting. It also would assist states with the costs of implementing IRV. See more on the bill in the Proportional Voting program below and at: http://thomas.loc.gov/

IRV Bill Passes N.C. House and Draws Editorial Support

North Carolina cities and counties could use instant runoff voting (IRV) as soon as this fall. On May 18 a bill introduced by Rep. Paul Luebke received bipartisan approval in the North Carolina house by a vote of 79-32. Under Rep. Luebke’s proposal, the State Board of Elections would work with up to ten counties interested in participating in the project for city elections this fall and county elections in 2006.

The effort was boosted by a FairVote project funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation that highlighted how IRV would have avoided a statewide runoff in 2004 that generated only 3% voter turnout, yet cost more than $3 million of taxpayer funds. A growing number of North Carolinians recognize that IRV could increase voter turnout, reduce the costs of elections and ensure more broadly supported winners. The bill is now headed to the state senate and has received a surge of editorial attention, including backing by the Wilmington Star-News and theAsheville Citizens-Times. Democracy North Carolina’s Adam Sotak wrote strong commentaries in support of the bill in the Raleigh News and Observer and Winston-Salem Journal.  Please see the following:

AccuPoll Leads Companies in Preparing for IRV Elections

AccuPoll, a California-based election equipment vendor gained federal certification in May for its voting equipment, which is ready to run ranked voting elections and has a voter verified paper audit trail. FairVote applauds AccuPoll for taking this initiative and calls on other companies to follow its lead. We were encouraged to see citizen activism lead Diebold (the nation’s second largest election equipment vendor) to cut in half its estimate for the costs of implementing IRV in Alameda County (CA), where at least three cities are poised to adopt it. We also hope that ES&S (the nation’s largest voting vendor) will incorporate IRV capacity into new machines in the wake of its successful management of San Francisco’s IRV elections.

Good Reading: IRV in Vermont and Oakland Special Election

Among new additions to the website, we’d like to highlight the following:
To get news as it happens and hear the ideas of IRV activists, join the national IRV listserv and state listservs. http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=679

Proportional Voting Program

Our nation's strength flows from its willingness to innovate and improve upon the American experiment. For decades, a critical component of this progress has been more inclusive government through the ingenuity of proportional voting systems. The Proportional Voting program seeks competitive legislative elections that better represent America’s political diversity, communities of color and women through proportional voting systems. FairVote’s program director David Moon (dmoon@fairvote.org) heads this program, working closely with program associates Mary Ryan and Rachel Williams and a team of summer interns.

Spotlight: Davis Students Export Choice Voting to City Council

In February 2003, UC-Davis students adopted choice voting for student Senate elections and instant runoff voting for President. Students overwhelmingly supported these voting system improvements with a 67% mandate, in order to correct significant problems of skewed representation in the previous winner-take-all system. LeVale Simpson, a member of the Senate, stated, “I think choice voting will really help diversify the Senate, and it should give Independents a better chance.” Since its adoption choice voting indeed has been a huge success, leading another Senator to proclaim, “The system encourages the student or citizen to take the time to actually study the candidates so they can properly rank them according to their preference. It also ensures no votes are wasted, which I think is a huge improvement.”

Building on this overwhelming support for choice voting at UC-Davis, a group of dedicated college students and recent graduates like Chris Jerdonek have lobbied the Davis city council to consider choice voting for local elections. In March a Governance Task Force set up by the city government voted nearly unanimously to endorse choice voting. City clerk and task force liaison Bette Racki told the California Aggie that the inspiration for choice voting came from UC Davis students who took a vested interest in seeing the alternative voting method applied.  "Students have come forward and have been really excited about choice voting," Racki said. "They are frustrated with the current election process within the city."

After further energetic efforts by backers, on May 24 the City Council voted 5-0 to set in motion the process of putting a city charter and choice voting referendum on the ballot for next June. If all goes as planned, the citizens of Davis will have an opportunity to have their say on choice voting in a ballot measure. For more information on choice voting for Davis visit http://www.davischoicevoting.org/ and see FairVote’s new California Reform Initiative site athttp://archive.fairvote.org/ca/

FairVote Boosts New Congressional Bills To Establish Redistricting Standards and Permit Proportional Voting

FairVote had a role in shaping two critically important bills in Congress. The first is the Voter Choice Act (HB 2690), introduced on May 26 by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia). McKinney has introduced versions of the bill in almost every Congress since 1995. The 2005 bill would allow states to use proportional voting systems for Congress (restoring a power states held as recently as 1967, when New Mexico and Hawaii elected House members from multi-seat districts) and require all federal elections to use instant runoff voting. FairVote strongly endorses HB 2690 and applauds Congresswoman McKinney for her leadership.

Meanwhile, on May 25, Congressman John Tanner (D - Tennessee) joined FairVote's John Anderson and Ryan O'Donnell at a news conference to announce the introduction of his Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act (HB 2642). Co-sponsored by ten House Members and already strongly endorsed by the New York Times and Roll Call, the bill would require state legislatures to establish independent commissions to use politically neutral criteria in drawing district boundaries and ensure redistricting is conducted only once every ten years. FairVote sees the bill not only as a means to strip partisan politics from the redistricting process, but also as a step toward fair universal standards for elections administration in general. Please see the following:

Penn. Task Force Suggests Study of IRV & Proportional Voting

Last year Governor Ed Rendell, created the Pennsylvania Election Reform Task Force. The bipartisan, 13-member panel focused on a range of issues and reforms designed to increase voter turnout and inspire confidence on the state's electoral system. The Task Force issued its final report to Gov. Rendell on May 12th. Among its conclusions were the belief that instant runoff voting and proportional voting are relevant and ought to be studied further, as they affect both voter confidence in elections and voter turnout.

FairVote Minnesota Makes Steady Progress for Reform

FairVote Minnesota is one of the most effective state reform organizations in the nation. Its April newsletter is full of impressive developments, including a report that the Duluth City Council has passed a resolution calling on the State of Minnesota to add to its voting equipment certification standards the ability to process ranked and cumulative ballots, that the Ramsey County Board approved a resolution introduced by Commissioner Jan Wiessner to support allowing local governments to use Instant Runoff Voting in local elections and that in a period of just a few weeks, FairVote Minnesota has six public bodies. For more, visit,http://www.fairvotemn.org/

British Columbia and Choice Voting: Interest Continues in Province and June 7th event in DC on Citizen Assembly Model

As reported in our flash update, on May 17 the Canadian province of British Columbia held parliamentary elections and a referendum on whether to replace its antiquated, U.S.-style plurality voting system with the choice voting method of proportional voting. Choice voting carried a remarkable 77 out of 79 districts, but its overall 57.4% level of support fell shy of the 60% necessary for direct implementation. Provincial political leaders heard the voters’ call for reform, however, and are exploring steps that could lead to adoption of choice voting or another proportional system. Track news at FairVote Canada: http://www.fairvotecanada.org/

Meanwhile, the province’s model of relying on a citizens’ assembly to place choice voting on the ballot is drawing welcome attention in the United States. On June 7, FairVote’s Rob Richie will participate in a Washington, D.C. forum at the New America Foundation on “Who Will Guard the Guardians: Can the U.S. Take Lessons from a Canadian Experiment in Democracy?” Other speakers will include New America fellows Mark Schmitt and J. H. Snider (author of Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick, a new book that touts the citizens’ assembly model), Cecilia Martinez of the Reform Institute, Carolyn Lukensmeyer of America Speaks and Ken Carty, who was the chief research officer for the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. For more, seehttp://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=event&EveID=494

FairVote Comments on New Census Turnout Data

The U.S. Census released survey data on voter turnout in the United States in the 2004 presidential elections. Rob Richie  provided comment on the release, noting that "voter turnout in general was up more far more sharply in presidential battlegrounds than in the 'spectator states' that are ignored by the presidential campaigns." Richie also pointed out that "the class skew in American voter turnout is of deep concern. For example, of the 12 million American adults with less than a 9th grade education, only 23% voted in 2004. Of the 18 million Americans with an advanced degree, 77.5% voted - a rate more than three times greater. Similar stark disparities were revealed by age and level of income."

Right to Vote Initiative

The right to vote and to cast a free and secret ballot is the foundation of American democracy. Yet, in light of the last two presidential elections, it has become all too clear that our voting system remains flawed. The Right to Vote Initiative seeks to ensure that the right of every U.S. citizen to vote is firmly established in our Constitution and that our voting system is fair and equally accessible to all Americans. It urges the government to establish laws and procedures to protect the right to vote for all Americans and, supports adoption of universal voter registration to ensure clean and complete voter rolls.

Spotlight: How the 26th Amendment Lowered the Voting Age

The idea of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 was suggested as early as during the Civil War and was raised again during World War II, when it was adopted in Georgia.  President Eisenhower advocated lowering the voting age in his 1954 State of the Union address, and Kentucky adopted it shortly thereafter. However, it was not until the Vietnam War era that the movement gained significant momentum. Unlike previous conflicts in which 18 to 20 year olds were required to serve, mixed public support for the war made it even more difficult to justify a policy that required young men to fight without allowing them a political voice. Many states began to address the issue of lowering the voting age with varying degrees of success, prompting Congress to take up the issue of a constitutional amendment. 

Senator Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va), who had proposed a similar amendment in the House in 1942, once again proposed an amendment. It quickly gained the necessary two-thirds support in the Senate, but did not have the support of Rep. Emmanuel Cellar, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. To avoid this obstacle, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Ma) suggested lowering the voting age by statute instead of amendment through the Voting Rights Act extension of 1970, which Cellar supported. This legislation passed and was signed into law. Nevertheless, many people remained skeptical of the constitutionality of lowering states’ voting age through federal statute. 

The Supreme Court addressed the voting age statute in Oregon v. Mitchell. On December 21, 1970, Justice Hugo Black, writing for the 5-4 majority, ruled that Congress could set federal voter qualifications but had no authority over state and local elections. A constitutional amendment was in fact needed to lower the voting age nationally and avoid dual election systems for different levels of government. Senator Randolph reintroduced his amendment in January 1971 and by the end of March both houses of Congress had approved it. It then went to the states where it was ratified by the necessary two-thirds in a record 99 days. The 26th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on July 1, 1971, extending the right to vote to citizens 18 to 20 years of age.

Right to Vote Amendment Now Has 58 Cosponsors

H.J. Res. 28, legislation to establish a right to vote in the U.S. Constitution to ensure protection of the citizenship right to vote in all elections, now has 58 cosponsors including the entire Congressional Black Caucus. FairVote and other backers are continuing to raise awareness of electoral problems that stem from our decentralized treatment of the right to vote. Contract Ryan Griffin, our new Right to Vote Initiative program associate at rgriffin@fairvote.org and see our activist pages at http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=62

Minnesota Considers Bill to Help College Students Vote

A College Student and Native American Voter Registration bill is pending in the Minnesota Senate and House (SF 852, HF 0975). This bill mandates that post-secondary institutions prepare a current list of students residing in the county of and counties contiguous to the institution. This list allows students to register to vote with only their student identification card. This bill also expands the list of documents accepted as proof of residency to include wireless phone bills, residential leases and rental agreements, bank statements, tax documents and more.

San Francisco Explores Pre-registration for High Schoolers

Ross Mirkarimi of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has introduced Resolution 271-05 which calls for the city, county and unified school district to “investigate the logistics…of establishing for the pre-registration of high school students to vote in an effort to create universal voter registration." This resolution calls for pre-registering students as they enter their junior year.  When they turn 18, their registration would automatically become active and they would receive a letter alerting them of their eligibility, announcing the date of the next election, and informing them of their responsibilities when changing addresses

Presidential Elections Reform Program

The election of the President draws more voters than any other election. And yet our system is deeply flawed. Under the Electoral College votes do not count equally across state lines, most states are completely ignored during campaigns and through the current primary schedule a handful of voters in a small number of states have control over candidate choices year in and year out. Led by Director Chris Pearson and Associate Adam Johnson, the Presidential Elections Reform program seeks to engage public debate about the limitations of our current system and offers simple, sensible solutions to enable more citizen participation, greater influence from individual voters and assurance that every vote counts equally.

Spotlight: The Impact of the Electoral College on Young Voters

One of the greatest flaws of the Electoral College, which became more obvious than ever during the 2004 election, is its tendency to force Presidential candidates to concentrate on a small minority of states that happen to be competitive, effectively ignoring wide swaths of the country. The Electoral College makes voting significantly more attractive in battleground states than in non-battleground, “spectator” states. Battleground residents go to the polls in greater numbers than citizens of less competitive states. This trend is even more exaggerated with respect to the nation’s youth, given that resources for voter registration and mobilization efforts boosting new voters are overwhelmingly targeted to the battleground states.

For example, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reports that in 2000 a slim majority (51%) of young voters (age 18-29) turned out in battleground states, while only 38% of young voters in the rest of the country bothered to cast a vote for the leader of the free world. Overall, turnout of young voters was 42% as compared to the nationwide turnout of 50%.

In the 2004 election, we witnessed the difference in youth turnout between battleground and spectator states deepen. 64% of young people voted in ten battleground states and composed 19% of the electorate in those states. While they did not quite equal the average swing state turnout of 66%, the nation’s younger citizens understood where their votes mattered most – and by focusing only on battlegrounds, the big money efforts to register and mobilize voters only magnified this disparity. In the rest of the country it was a different story, which suggests young voters are especially frustrated with the Electoral College system. Only 48% of 18-29 year olds voted in the forty spectator states and the District of Columbia. This is not only 16 percentage points below the performance of youth voters in swing states, but also far below the average turnout for voters over age 29 (59%) in spectator areas.

Millions of Americans—old and young alike, but especially young—have turned their backs on a deeply flawed electoral system that ignores the voices of 70% of the electorate. While understandable, this is deeply troubling and creates a crisis of legitimacy in a democracy based on the premise that elected leaders represent the will of the people. If we want to pass along a vibrant and stable democracy to future generations reforming the way we elect our President is vital.

Status of Electoral College Reform Efforts in Congress

FairVote strongly supports HJR 36, a proposed constitutional Amendment that would establish direct Presidential elections by majority vote in the United States. Introduced by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), the bill provides not only for direct election but also requires a candidate to win a majority of all votes cast, a position supported by FairVote to ensure that winners have a genuine mandate. The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution. We encourage reformers to contact their representative in congress and encourage them to support HJR 36. See: http://www.house.gov/

On May 12th Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced a direct election amendment, HJR 50. As with a number of other proposals currently floating through Congress (HJR 8/SJR 11 and HJR 17) this bill would not require a candidate to win a majority of the popular vote. FairVote opposes these bills because they would enshrine plurality rules, not majority rules, into the Constitution. We urge their backers to either support Rep. Jackson’s HJR 36 or at least modify their bills to allow Congress to establish by statute whether a president needs to be elected by a majority or plurality vote.

Good Reading: Documentary highlights Electoral College, Bob Dole on Direct Election and the “American Plan” for Primaries

  • Filmmaker Matt Kohn is the director and producer of “Call it Democracy,” a new documentary that is getting rave reviews. The documentary features former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh’s tale of how close Congress came to passing a direct election constitutional amendment. See http://www.callitdemocracy.com

  • Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) is one of the many American leaders who have strongly backed direct election. Soon after his 1976 campaign for vice-president, Sen. Dole delivered a strong call for direct election. See http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=1056

  • FairVote supports the American Plan (also called the California Plan) for reforming the presidential primary schedule to ensure that more Americans have a role in choosing the major party nominees in presidential elections. See http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=965

Upcoming Events

FairVote will have an exhibit at the Eighth International Women’s Policy Research Conference: When Women Gain, So Does the World, June 19-21.

The conference focuses on the reality that investing in women’s status globally is important not only for women themselves, but is critical to the economic and social well-being of entire communities, institutions, and nations. For example, improving women’s economic opportunities promotes community health; women’s equality in the labor force leads to better business outcomes; and advancing women’s leadership holds the possibility to transform public policy at local, national, and global levels.

For more information on the conference, go to www.iwpr.org/Conference2005/index.htm

Vote for a Change Conference
Saturday, June 11, 2005
8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Clark University, Worcester, MA

This conference will feature discussion about advancing instant runoff voting and other electoral reforms in Massachusetts. For more information, visit

FairVote’s Rob Richie is among the speakers at a forum on “Can the US take lessons from a Canadian experiment in democracy?”
Tuesday, June 7, 2005, 3: 30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C

Answer to Quiz

1)  There have been 157 “faithless electors,” including 71 electors who voted for a different candidate because the designated candidate died between the election and the meeting of the Electoral College. Many also voted the party line for President but ignored the designated candidate for Vice President. A few were chalked up to simple error.

2)  12 of 38 presidential elections since 1852 would have had a different Electoral Winner winner with a shift of less than 75,000 votes . The average vote shift needed for a shift this to happen in these 12 elections was just 28,206.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Ryan O'Donnell
Communications Director

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