E-Newsletter June 30, 2009

Released June 30, 2009

FairVote e-News

The FairVote Reformer


The approach of Independence Day is a good time to remember the core principle of democracy articulated so powerfully by our nation's founders: that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. From the streets of Tehran to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, this principle took on very concrete meaning this month.

July 4th also marks the last day to have your 2009 donation (or pledge through an email, phone call or letter) be matched, dollar for dollar. For more details about this opportunity and how we seek to be a strong, independent catalyst for reform, visit www.fairvote.org/donate.

Summer remains our national office’s favorite season despite humid days and last week’s tragedy on our local Metro system. The reason is the energy and skills of a new generation of reformers volunteering with us as interns. We have a terrific crew, whose excellent contributions are most publicly visible at www.fairvote.org/blog. Please take a look, and add your comments.

It’s been another eventful month at FairVote, including publication of new FairVote commentaries, key wins in state and federal courts, and progress for core reform proposals such as the National Popular Vote plan, instant runoff voting, proportional voting and advance voter registration. And congratulations to Minnesota for finally completing the 2008 election, gaining a second U.S. Senator and reminding us of the value of respecting every vote.

Enjoy this month's FairVote Reformer.

All the best,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Fair Access to Participation: Key wins for the right to vote

Easily the biggest news of the month on protections of Americans' right to vote was the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the "preclearance" provisions of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act on statutory grounds. At the same time, some argue the Court has directed Congress to hone Section Five's provisions that result in close federal scrutiny of voting policies and processes in certain states and counties and little to the rest of the country. On June 30, FairVote and the New American Foundation convened an important conference on the future of voting rights and how best to secure and expand suffrage for all Americans. With numerous officials with the Department of Justice and leading scholars and civic group leaders in attendance, the conference featured is available in full for archived viewing at the New America Foundation website.

In the states, we expect to see wins for advance registration of 16 and 17-year-olds. The FairVote Rhode Island-backed advance registration bill has just passed the legislature and soon will be on its way to the governor and bills have passed one house in California (with backing from the California Association of Student Councils due to the outreach of FairVote’s Pete Martineau), Michigan and North Carolina. On July 17, FairVote's Adam Fogel will speak in Minneapolis about advance voter registration at the National Civic Summit. FairVote sees advance voter registration, twinned with systematic civic education and registration in schools, as a key component to achieving universal voter registration. The Brennan Center issued two excellent new reports on voter registration modernization this month

On another FairVote priority, our congratulations to Connecticut for becoming the first state in the wake of last winter's debacle involving former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to require U.S. Senate vacancies to be filled by special election � we take at least some credit with our analyst David Segal publishing a commentary calling for action in the state’s leading newspaper the Hartford Courant. FairVote Rhode Island it is also on the brink of boosting this protection of voting rights through the Rhode Island legislature.

From the FairVote blog:

The effect of NAMUDNO on the right to vote amendment

John Parker and Tyler Ray on the aftermath of the NAMUDNO decision

If we ask them to serve we must allow them to vote

Fair Elections: Instant runoff voting wins in court, National Popular Vote keeps gaining

Instant runoff voting (IRV, also called "ranked choice voting") is making big news splashes. On June 11, 20 days before its long-awaited ruling in the U.S. Senate recount case, thee Minnesota Supreme Court gave advocates of fair elections a powerful victory by unanimously rejecting legal arguments against IRV's constitutionality, thanks in good part to the terrific work of FairVote Minnesota. Minneapolis is now cleared to use IRV and choice voting this November, and on June 24, the city council of neighboring St. Paul unanimously voted to place IRV on the November ballot.. Elsewhere, California's Alameda County is taking the steps necessary for Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro to implement IRV in 2010 in the wake of landslide ballot measure wins for IRV, and IRV continues to make progress for potential future use in localities like Los Angeles County (CA), Duluth (MN), San Jose (CA) and Hoboken (NJ).

In the latest Yes Magazine Rob Richie reviews how IRV improves the tone of politics and decreases the impact of money in politics. At the Huffington Post Richie blogged about how local political interests can oppose IRV for exactly those reasons. In Pierce County (WA) some self-interested politicians indeed are trying to take this important reform away from the voters, for the second time putting a measure on the ballot to repeal the IRV victory first secured in 2006. FairVote alumnus Erik Connell is back on the ground in Pierce County, working on the “No on 3” campaign to protect voter choice. Go to www.protectvoterchoice.com to lend your support!

Internationally, IRV is getting major play in the United Kingdom, where the House of Commons first voted to enact IRV way back in the 1930s. Now it once again is front and center in a major debate underway about UK’s electoral system. Called “the alternative vote” in the UK, IRV has been endorsed for the election of Members of the House of Commons by such members of the current government’s cabinet as Home Secretary Alan Johnson, foreign secretary David Miliband, constitutional affairs minister Michael Wills and first secretary of state Lord Peter Mandelson.

Turning to presidential elections, FairVote’s latest Innovative Analysis showcases the depressing realities of how the Electoral College impacts presidential behavior between elections, not just on the campaign trail. To cast all those calculations aside forever, states should pass the National Popular Vote plan. On June 24, NPV continued its steady march to direct election of the president with a nearly 2-to-1 victory in the Delaware House, the 29th state chamber to approve the plan. States with a total of 201 electoral votes have had at least one legislative chamber pass the NPV plan, nearly four-fifths of the way to the necessary 270. As of now, five states have fully signed on to the plan, representing almost a quarter of the electoral votes necessary to trigger national enactment, 19 states have seen passage in at least one chamber and more than 1,750 state legislators have voted for or sponsored the bill in their state.

As to the urgent demand for a fairer presidential primary schedule, the Republican National Committee has launched serious deliberations with the goal of spreading out the presidential primary calendar in order to give more states a chance to participate meaningfully. Committee leaders are engaging in discussions with their Democratic Party counterparts also studying changes in order to coordinate plans. FairVote is particularly supportive of the American Plan, which you can read more about here, and at our presidential primary reform website FixThePrimaries.com.

From the FairVote blog:

Special interests upset with instant runoff voting in San Francisco - and broader lessons

Will the British rank the vote? Burst of interest in IRV and PR across the pond

In this same interlude it doth befall / That the spectator states do present a wall

Special guest blog from Ben Raue of Australia’s Tally Room on how IRV and choice voting continue to thrive down under, opening up the political debate and freeing Australians to vote their conscience without fear of “wasted votes.”

Fair Representation: Congressional redistricting reform and a key win for choice voting

FairVote’s groundbreaking research on congressional elections was publicly recognized at the June 24 introduction of the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act with Reps. John Tanner (D-TN), Mike Castle (R-DE) and leaders with Americans for Redistricting Reform. We’re pleased to see real action being taken to depoliticize the overly-partisan redistricting process, hope the legislation advances and encourage backers to engage in a broader discussion on the problems inherent in the winner-take-all nature of single member districts. The goals of most redistricting reformers would be most fully realized with the addition of multi-seat district voting methods like choice voting. FairVote endorses amending redistricting reform legislation like FAIR to allow commissions to consider multi-seat district plans. On that note, FairVote's Rob Richie and Cindy Terrell teamed up for a commentary in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call on June 29th on boosting representation of women through changes such as proportional representation.

The Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling upholding instant runoff voting also signaled that Minneapolis will be the first new city in the United States to use choice voting [http://www.choicevoting.com], the proportional voting system we think particularly appropriate for American elections. Choice voting will be used to elect three citywide seats on the Minneapolis park board in November. It also is under consideration by federal judges in current voting rights cases in Port Chester (NY). In a promising sign, on June 29th, a federal judge imposed the similar non-winner-take-all system of limited voting in a voting rights case brought by the Department of Justice against the school board in Euclid (OH); the new system will be used for elections this fall. Choice Voting remains the system used for Oscar nominations, which will now have fully ten nominees for Best Picture (films will earn a nomination with strong support from about a tenth of Oscar voters � but, due to the use of plurality voting rather than IRV for the final Oscar voting, could actually win with just 11%). Choice voting is also a big part of the mix of potential reforms to parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom along with IRV, and could be seen in full force in this month’s European Union elections -- a subject on which some of FairVote’s brilliant interns have been busily blogging.

From the FairVote blog:

On the EU elections:
Choice Voting, List Voting, and Piracy in Europe
When Voters Yawn in Anger
When Voters go EUww: The European Parliament Elections

Pro-democracy movements in Zimbabwe endorsing PR

Choice Voting on the Red Carpet

Return of Cumulative Voting in Illinois?

Other news: Krist Novoselic’s big news splash and a final word

Famed musician and FairVote board chair Krist Novoselic made news this month with his “protest” candidacy for clerk in his home of Wahkiakum County (WA). Krist’s brilliant strategy drew widespread attention to the flaws of Washington’s “top-two” system, which allows candidates for office to claim an association with a party or organization regardless of that party’s endorsement or lack thereof, and functionally keeps third party candidates off the November ballot by weeding out all but two “nonpartisan” candidates months before the election. Several publications picked up the story, both in Washington and without, including the Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman Review, The Olympian and the Associated Press, as well as commentary by Paul Jacob in Town Hall. Krist himself covered his candidacy comprehensively at his own Seattle Weekly blog.

We also give a big thanks to Torrey Dixon for his work with FairVote North Carolina as after two years on the job he moves onto a new opportunity in his state.

As a final word...Don’t forget to check out our “mid-term report” for our first half of 2009 and please consider a donation to help send us into the rest of the year with the wind at our backs. Remember all new donations will be matched in full if given by July 4th. Speaking of which�Happy Birthday, America!

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