E-Newsletter March 31, 2005

Released March 31, 2005
FairVote: March E-News

Greetings! There were many encouraging developments in March, ranging from Arkansas to California. In recognition of International Women’s Month, FairVote is also casting a spotlight on how full representation; instant runoff voting and the right to vote affect women in the United States.

The Big News
  • Arkansas Governor Signs Instant Runoff Bill for Overseas Military Voters
  • California City’s Task Force Recommends Choice Voting
  • Good Reading: FairVote Commentary in Washington Post
  • U-Oklahoma Latest University to Implement Instant Runoff Voting
  • FairVote Launches New Website

This Month’s Newsletter

 IRV America
  • Spotlight on Mary Robinson: Ireland’s first female president: An illustration of instant runoff voting at work
  • Arkansas law provides instant runoff absentee ballots
  •  IRV adopted by students at U-Oklahoma, Portland State and Dartmouth, and IRV at work at U-Virginia
  • Anthony Lorenzo of Citizens for IRV pushes reform in Sarasota, FL
  • IRV bills in Washington state legislature
  • Highlighted new commentary and articles: Steve Hoeschele in Washington Post, IRV reform showcased in college newspapers, more
Political Empowerment Program
  • Spotlight on Denise Simmons: Cambridge city councilor elected by choice voting
  • IDEA launches database website on women and international elections
  • Davis (CA) task force recommends choice voting: UC- Davis use of choice voting influences decision
  • Common Cause and Demos support full representation in redistricting reform
  • FairVote establishes principles on redistricting reform
  • Lewis and Clark to adopt choice voting for student elections
  • Utah legislature creates task force, votes to study full representation and IRV
  • New resources from the Political Empowerment Program
Right to Vote Initiative
  • Spotlight: A call to consider gender differences in voting policy
  • Links for information on the suffrage movement
  • Highlighted new commentary and articles: Congressman Jackson on Tompaine.com, Richie & Hill in San Francisco Examiner, more
Upcoming Events
  • David Moon will speak on the benefits of full representation voting systems in boosting representation of women at American University, Washington College of Law
  • FairVote executive director Rob Richie will speak at Yale’s “Lessons From the Past, Prospects for the Future: Honoring the 40 th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965”
  • Steven Hill will be a featured speaker at the Arizona League of Women Voters meeting in Tucson

FairVote Update

IRV America
Three is a crowd in our current voting system. Our plurality election process, where the candidate with the most votes wins, becomes dysfunctional when more than two candidates seek one office. 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 the United States.

Spotlight on Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female president: an illustration of Instant Runoff voting at work

Thanks to instant runoff voting, Mary Robinson in 1990 became the first woman to be elected president of Ireland.

Robinson began her political career as Senator in the Seanad Éireann (Upper House of Parliament) from 1969–89, and founded the Irish Centre for European Law in 1988. She sought the presidency as a Labour Party candidate in the 1990 election. Having received 39% of first choices, she trailed her chief opponent, Fianna Fail candidate Brian Lenihan, by 5%. However, after the elimination of third-place candidate Austin and the second round of counting, Robinson won handily. She gained the votes of 205,565 (77%) of Currie’s 267,902 supporters. Her total share then stood at 53%, proving she was clearly preferred over Lenihan.

Robinson was immensely popular as president, both within Ireland and abroad. In 1997, toward the end of her term, she resigned the presidency to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where she served until 2002.She now directs the Ethical Globalization Initiative, an organization established to support human rights, and serves as honorary president of Oxfam International and chairs the Council of Women World Leaders.

In 1997, Mary McAleese became the second woman president of Ireland, also depending on the second choices of supporters of other candidates for her victory.

Arkansas law provides instant runoff absentee ballots

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee signed legislation earlier this month providing that overseas military voters will receive instant runoff ballots in all of Arkansas’ federal, state and local elections that might have a runoff. Championed by State Representative Horace Hardwick (R-Bentonville) and passed with only one dissenting vote in the legislature,  HB 1770 solves a problem for overseas military voters who too often miss out on a chance to vote in runoff elections.

Commonly used for federal and state primary elections in southern states and for mayoral elections in cities around the nation, runoffs often take place too soon after the first round to provide time for runoff ballots to be printed, mailed and returned in time to count. This September, for example, New York City likely will have a critically important runoff in the Democratic primary for mayor just two weeks after the first round.

Arkansas now joins Louisiana in providing IRV absentee ballots to overseas military voters. Louisiana extends this protection to absentee voters to all overseas voters and military voters who are stationed in another state. In 2004, some 10,000 Louisiana voters received IRV ballots. At a time of war, with a large number of National Guard members serving in nations like Iraq, all jurisdictions with runoffs should follow the lead of Arkansas and Louisiana.

More information on Louisiana’s law.

IRV adopted by students at U-Oklahoma, Portland State and Dartmouth, and IRV at work at U-Virginia

Students at Portland State University overwhelmingly approved of IRV for key Associated Students races 79%-21%. 1All the major candidate slates supported the measure. "Every school that looks at this loves it," said ASPCU Communications Director Tony Rasmussen. "It's a very non-partisan issue."

Dartmouth’s Student Assembly wasted no time in preparing for their upcoming IRV election, having approved its use just weeks ago. “Our web team has actually already put together an IRV site in record time,” Dartmouth’s David Hankins wrote to FairVote. “We've been testing it and it's working very well. [We have] thought of seemingly every voter error and system failure scenario, and it's fully integrated into our existing election website.”

Anthony Lorenzo of Citizens for IRV pushes reform in Sarasota, FL

Anthony Lorenzo of Sarasota, Florida is an example of a new generation of instant runoff voting activists who are having a major impact in their communities.

“We tried to stress they were allowing the voters to decide,” wrote Anthony Lorenzo in an email about his recent meeting with Sarasota, FL city commissioners, “that they could leave a window for implementation of a couple years if need be, and that ES&S has been through this process before and had experience succeeding, as well as experience in developing the software.”

Most city commissioners said that they would put IRV to a ballot referendum if software were already approved by the state, saying they don't want to pass something they cannot implement. Anthony’s group is asking for a vote of the commissioners, which will allow public comment. If they do not adopt, they may move forward with an initiative.

They have organized volunteers to be at precincts passing out flyers to each and every voter who goes in and out to bring the information directly to them. They covered the two precincts with the highest turnout last election.

Anthony has started a statewide coalition called the Coalition for Instant Runoff Voting (CIRV) and is also reaching out to the editorial board of the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Several Florida newspapers have come out for instant runoff voting.

IRV bills in Washington state legislature

Instant runoff voting legislation is advancing in the Washington State legislature.

In a 63-34 vote, the state house of representatives  passed House Bill 1447, establishing a pilot project to allow Vancouver to implement instant runoff voting. In 1999, Vancouver voters approved a charter amendment that gave the city council the option to establish IRV.

A more comprehensive bill introduced by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (SB 5326) that would provide home rule charter cities with the ability to choose to use IRV has, passed the Senate by 29-16. Both bills have now moved to the other house and could pass this legislative session.

FairVote Commentary in Washington Post

IRV America program associate Steven Hoeschele wrote a strong commentary  for the Washington Post’s Sunday “Outlook” section that advocates instant runoff voting in the Virginia gubernatorial election, where a strong independent candidacy by a Republican state senator this year has led to talk of “spoilers” and split votes.

Political Empowerment 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 full representation voting systems. The Political Empowerment Program seeks competitive legislative elections that better represent America’s political diversity, communities of color, and women through full representation electoral systems.

Spotlight on Denise Simmons:
Cambridge city councilor elected by choice voting

Cambridge (Mass.) has used the choice voting method of full representation for its city elections since 1941. In 2001 and 2003 choice voting helped Denise Simmons, an openly gay African American woman, to gain a place on the city council. She is one of two African American members of the council. African Americans have had continuous  representation on the council for decades despite being less than 20% of the city’s population.

Although she did not receive enough votes to be elected in the first round in either election, choice voting allowed Simmons to benefit from the support of eliminated candidates and win a seat. Simmons has worked to bring women’s issues to the attention of the council, supporting city sponsored efforts to increase access for women owned businesses to the city's bidding process, and winning endorsements from Boston NOW.

National coordinator the Feminist Majority Foundation and FairVote board member Katherine Spillar asserts that full representation is crucial in giving women a fair share of seats in government:

“Where full representation systems are in place, women's representation increases. In the US where single-member, winner take all systems dominate, women comprise only 14.8 percent of congress and 22 percent of state legislatures. We rank 59th in the world for women’s representation, behind European nations such as Finland, Norway and Germany, and developing countries such as Rwanda, Cuba and South Africa.  In countries where legislative bodies are elected under full representation systems, women on average do far better.”
IDEA launches database website on women and international elections

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has collected data on women’s representation in legislatures around the world, showing how countries using full representation consistently elect more women to office. Full representation makes it easier for female candidates to win races because it encourages parties to field more balanced slates of candidates and lowers the threshold needed for election. In addition, it is easier for political parties to set minimum levels of female representation under full representation systems.

Stuck with a winner-take-all election system, women in the United States lose out on fair representation. Full representation could be a crucial factor in bringing the number of women in government more in line with other industrialized democracies.

Davis (CA) task force recommends choice voting
UC- Davis use of choice voting influences decision

On March 7, the City of Davis Governance Taskforce voted 8-1 to recommend choice voting for City Council elections. The taskforce will present a report to Davis City Council on April 5. If the council accepts the findings, the citizens of Davis will get to have their say on choice voting in a ballot measure.

The choice voting campaign has attracted widespread support from the community, as well as from University of California Davis students. UC Davis already uses choice for student government elections.

Common Cause and Demos
support full representation in redistricting reform

Common Cause and Demos both urge lawmakers to look at full representation in conjunction with independent redistricting as a means of achieving fairer elections. Independent redistricting can do much to reduce the damage caused by partisan gerrymandering. But unless there is some provision for multi-member districts and full representation, the approach is limited in its ability to increase overall competitiveness or ensure racial, ethnic or political minorities fair representation.

Common Cause’s redistricting guidelines call for states pursuing redistricting reforms to “consider the creation of proportional representation systems [e.g., “full representation”] and multi-member districts.  Proportional representation systems can more accurately reflect the will of a district's voters by allowing voters in the minority to win a share of representation alongside voters in the majority.” In “Drawing Lines: A Public Interest Guide to Real Redistricting Reform,” Demos states that “Alternative voting systems, such as multi-member districts with proportional or cumulative voting could lessen the need for such dramatic trade-offs by allowing for meaningful competition in areas where one racial group or political party is dominant.”

FairVote establishes principles on redistricting reform

FairVote has done more than perhaps any other organization to trigger understanding of how  our “no-choice” legislative elections are grounded in the partisan imbalance in most districts. We believe elections should be conducted in such a way as to maximize competition and voter choice, and to result in elected bodies that truly reflect our nation’s diversity. We thus support legislation to create independent redistricting commissions that do not use the line-drawing process to safeguard incumbents or make political gains, so long as the commissions are also prepared to consider multi-member districts and full representation solutions.

As an example of the result of its new policy, FairVote has endorsed New York Assemblyman Mike Gianaris’s Redistricting Reform Bill (A 6287), which would help to end party control of the line-drawing process. Crucially, Assemblyman Gianaris recognizes that this step, while important, is not the only improvement needed to our election system.  The bill retains the option for future reform in the form of multi-member districts and full representation systems.

Lewis and Clark to adopt choice voting for student elections

This month, students at Lewis and Clark College, Portland Oregon voted to adopt full representation for their student council elections. In the future, all multi-seat offices will be elected using choice voting, and all single-seat offices using IRV.

The college’s student President, Landon Mascarenaz welcomed the move a chance to widen access to student government, saying, “There are a lot of latent activists on this campus… [This change] will give people a chance to get involved.”

Utah legislature creates task force, votes to study full representation and IRV

The Utah Legislature has passed a Master Study Resolution that includes three study items relating to electoral reform. These were:

Study item 60- Electoral Systems: to study allowing counties, cities, special districts, and school districts to use ranked-choice voting and full representation voting methods for their elections

Study item 206- Ranked Choice Voting – to study the use of ranked choice voting for the Senate and House.

Study item 219- Election Options – to study the use of ranked-choice voting for state executive offices and full representation voting for the Utah Senate and the Utah House of Representatives.
For more information: http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=829

New Resources from the Political Empowerment Program:
  • Vendor Guidelines to Ensure Voting Equipment Capacity to Run Ranked-Choice Voting Methods: Detailed information about the technical requirements necessary to run IRV and choice elections using voting machines.
  • Voting Rights Act Reauthorization: As the campaign for Voting Rights Act Reauthorization in the 109th Congress gears up, FairVote reports on what this means and why it is important.

  • Full Representation Around the World: Read about full representation elections taking place around the world, and worldwide campaigns for election reform in FairVote’s collection of international news articles.
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 make universal voter registration a priority to ensure clean and complete voter rolls.

Spotlight: A call to consider gender differences in voting policy

Gaining the right to vote has enabled women to achieve social, economic and political gains over the last eight decades. Because women have the right to vote, women have fought both as voters and as elected officials to open the doors of opportunity for women and girls in both school and work. They have championed fair credit, tougher child support enforcement, equitable pay, and retirement income. And they have led efforts to promote women's health and protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  There is little question that without the 19th amendment granting women suffrage, title IX and equity in school-based athletics would not exist.

Women remain extremely underrepresented in elected office, however. Although women outnumber men in population, women make up only 15% of Congress. While many social, economic and political factors play into why fewer women are in elected – one of the central ones being use of winner-take-all elections rather than full representation --, one factor is often ignored: election administration policy.  More women are registered to vote then men and more women vote (7.5 million more in 2000), but millions of potential women voters are adversely affected by current laws..

The Right to Vote Initiative proposes a series of commonsense reforms to make our democracy more inclusive of women, as well as making it easier for women to vote. They include:
  1. A combination of Election Day as holiday, early voting and easier absentee voting All voters must be given more opportunities to vote.  If voters have a few days as compared to a few hours to get to the polls, for example, working women, single mothers, and homemakers alike will be able to vote regardless of their busy schedules.

  2. Universal voter registration and steps toward it such as voter registration stations in all welfare offices and part of early childhood/head start programs Recognizing that, statistically, unmarried, low income women are the least likely to be registered, making voter registration as accessible as possible is critical to ensuring that more women are able to cast their vote. We should move toward joining most modern democracies that have established universal voter registration.
Links for information on the suffrage movement

Update on the Right to Vote Amendment

HJ Res 28, the Right to Vote Amendment was again introduced last month by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The amendment now has 56 cosponsors.

FairVote Commentary on Voter Registration

Upcoming Events

Thursday, March 31
American University, Washington College of Law

Election Protection and Democracy Expansion: A Constitutional Reform Agenda for the New Century. FairVote program director David Moon will speak on the benefits of full representation voting systems in boosting representation of women and communities of color. Part of forum organized by FairVote board member Jamin Raskin that runs from 4:30 to 6:30

Friday April 22
FairVote executive director Rob Richie will speak at Yale
“Lessons From the Past, Prospects for the Future: Honoring the 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965”

Saturday May 7
State League of Women Voters
State organizations will convene around the nation in their bi-annual conference. Long-time FairVote senior analyst Steven Hill will be a featured speaker at the Arizona League of Women Voters meeting in Tucson. FairVote executive director Rob  Richie will address the League convention in Maine.

FairVote Staff Update
Steven Hill, Caleb Kleppner, and Dan Johnson-Weinberger have played immensely important roles at FairVote over the years. They continue to assist FairVote, but are no longer paid staff. Steven is now an Irvine Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation (and a frequent co-author of commentaries with FairVote’s Rob Richie), Caleb has helped found Election Solutions (www.electionsolutions.com) and Dan is practicing law in Illinois. Thanks to all three of them, and a special congratulations to Kleppner and his family, who recently brought their new daughter Lila Kleppner into the world.

We welcome Chris Pearson as director of our new Presidential Elections Reform Program. The program is based on the belief that our elections must be rooted in the principles of equality, competitive choice and one person, one vote. Working on both the federal and state level, the program will support national elections for president, changes that allow fair access to the airwaves for candidates and a more inclusive primary calendar.  In Congress we support HJ Resolution 36, which would establish majority elections for president in a nationwide vote. We oppose other proposed amendments that would enshrine the potential for non-majority winners and the “spoiler” dynamic in the Constitution.

FairVote has also begun a new and timely initiative to work towards implementing full representation voting systems in California working with Chris Jerdonek and Rob Dickinson

Finally, Communications director Ryan O’Donnell will hop the pond shortly, bound for London where he will work for two months with the Electoral Reform Society and FairVote board member Ken Ritchie as Britain gears up for its general elections in May.

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