E-Newsletter May 28, 2009

Released May 28, 2009

FairVote e-News

The FairVote Reformer


Under our current electoral rules, too many potential voters do not participate, too many voters are ignored and too many elected officials inadequately reflect the communities they represent. Loss of suffrage rights, poor voter registration rules and problematic election administration decisions keep tens of millions of American adults from access to the ballot. Our current Electoral College system leads presidential candidates to concentrate their resources on voters in a handful of the same swing states. Similar winner-take-all voting rules in legislative elections suffocate competition, and severely limit opportunities for diverse voices to be heard and represented. Underdog candidates are castigated for thwarting majority rule rather than embraced for increasing voter choice, bringing new voters to the polls and serving as the engine of new policy ideas.

As a catalyst for electoral reform and voting rights, FairVote educates and enlivens discourse on how best to achieve a democracy that respects every voice and every vote. We pursue innovative research, strategic outreach and civic education in order to promote fair access to political participation, fair elections with transparent election administration and meaningful choices, and fair representation grounded in majority rule and proportional representation for all. We have played a pivotal role in moving such 'unrealistic' reform proposals as instant runoff voting, the National Popular Vote plan for president, proportional voting, universal voter registration and a constitutional right to vote into the mainstream.

FairVote this summer will unveil exciting new plans and a revamped website - and an exciting opportunity for supporters to double their support. Stay tuned, and enjoy this month's FairVote Reformer.

All the best,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Instant Runoff Voting Debuts in Two New Cities

The city of Aspen, Colorado held its first instant runoff voting (IRV) election for mayor on May 6th. It had record-breaking turnout, avoided a costly separate runoff election, and resulted in every single voter in the mayor's race casting a valid first choice. Three days later, the Democratic Party of Charlottesville, Virginia for the first time used IRV in a 'firehouse primary,' with turnout quadrupled from the previous nominating convention in a change election that swept out a long-term city council incumbent and nominated a young African-American police officer in an upset in the sheriff's race.

Speaking of primaries, FairVote's Rob Richie teamed up with South Carolina State Rep. Bill Herbkersman for an op-ed published in The State on how IRV can solve the problem of turnout drop-offs in primary runoffs, using information from our new study of 116 federal primary runoffs from 1994 to 2008. In California, the Assembly unanimously voted in favor of sending ranked choice ballots with regular absentee ballots for overseas voters, in the case of runoff elections back home - following a best practice modeled by Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina. The League of Women Voters of Oregon and the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County (one of the nation's largest local leagues) have this spring adopted favorable positions on instant runoff voting. See a full list of League positions here.

Internationally, instant runoff voting is featured in a proposal by British Health Secretary Alan Johnson to revive a recommendation of a British commission led by Lord Roy Jenkins. That commission had recommended that most seats to the House of Commons be elected by IRV (called 'the alternative vote' in the UK), with additional seats added to provide more accurate representation. The Times of London reports that Johnson's plan is receiving growing support in the Cabinet, that it could be included in the next Labour Party manifesto and could be subject of a national referendum as soon as next year.

Youth Voting Measures Take Off in the States

2009 is proving to be a watershed year for expanding youth access to voting and registration. This month, FairVote�s proposal of advance registration for 16 and 17-year-olds overwhelmingly passed both the North Carolina and Michigan houses, and on May 26th passed the California Assembly, following on the heels of passage in the Rhode Island House. At least 15 states are considering various forms of legislation to expand democratic opportunity for young voters this year alone. Read more about youth voting legislation in our latest Innovative Analysis. One highlighted statistic: between 2006 and 2009, there were 979 floor votes cast in state legislatures in favor of establishing 16 as a uniform voter registration age, with only 158 cast in opposition.

Upcoming Events Highlighted by June 30th Forum on the Future of Voting Rights

On June 30th FairVote and the New America Foundation's Political Reform Program will hold a conference on the future of voting rights at New America's national office in Washington, D.C. Likely to take place on the heels of a potentially controversial Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, the symposium will bring together several of the nation's top experts on election law and civil rights. Confirmed speakers include law professors Jamin Raskin, Nathaniel Persily and Steve Mulroy, political scientists Michael McDonald and Ronald Walters, New America's Steven Hill, FairVote's Rob Richie and Amy Ngai and top voting rights experts with the Advancement Project, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, NAACP LDF and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. For information, click www.fairvote.org/votingrights.

On June 11, New America Foundation and Common Cause will host a discussion on how IRV can improve local elections in San Jose. On June 30th, FairVote is co-sponsoring a book-signing at Washington, D.C's Busboys and Poets with Theresa Amato, author of Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, which advocates for many of FairVote's core reform proposals such as a constitutional right to vote, instant runoff voting and proportional voting. On July 17, FairVote's Adam Fogel will speak in Minneapolis at the national conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

National Popular Vote: Two More State Chamber Wins & FairVote Media

On the heels of last month's passage of the National Popular Vote plan in Washington State, the National Popular Vote plan continues to make legislative inroads. The legislation passed the Connecticut House on May 12 and then, by an overwhelming margin, the Rhode Island State Senate, where FairVote Rhode Island's Matt Sledge leads the advocacy effort.

FairVote is stirring more debate in the media as well. The San Diego Union-Tribune ran a series of opinion pieces on the way we elect the president, featuring commentary by FairVote's Rob Richie on the National Popular Vote plan and the problems of the current system, while The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel joined the call for the NPV plan in an editorial highlighting FairVote's research.

Proportional Voting Seen to Solve Problems in the U.S. and Abroad

Proportional voting systems have found their way into national discussions surrounding ways to improve the makeup of the U.S. House and the Voting Rights Act. The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen spotlighted cumulative voting as a potentially helpful voting system for racial minorities, while prominent blogger Matthew Yglesias cited multiple-member districts elected via choice voting (also called the single transferable vote) as a means to reduce polarization in Congress. A Los Angeles Times editorial noted that a 'cutting edge' proposal for proportional representation is in the growing call for a state constitutional convention in California - you can see more about proportional voting's place in California debate at the New America Foundation website.

Internationally, proportional voting failed to reach the 60% winning threshold in British Columbia, but is gaining strong support in the British parliament in tandem with instant runoff voting, and forms of proportional voting will be used by every European nation in next month's elections to the European parliament. The Philippines has made strong moves toward proportional voting, while Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is advocating for a major restructuring of his country's government, modeling it after South Africa's parliamentary system with proportional voting for its National Assembly.

In Memoriam

As we celebrate Memorial Day and anticipate the 65th anniversary of D-Day next week, we must make certain that access to our democracy is always available to those who defend it. FairVote's IncludeEveryVoter.com site spotlights one helpful reform that can help ensure that Americans serving overseas get a fair chance to have their voices heard in elections back home.

FairVote also remembers the late Jack Kemp who championed representation for the District of Columbia. At his passing, FairVote's Adam Fogel recalled seeing him speak at a DC Vote rally in Washington, D.C., and wrote of Kemp, "He explained that during that time playing football, he learned that the rights of all people, regardless of race, must be respected."

While We've Got Your Attention

There's a lot more activity going on with FairVote and in the world of electoral reform in general. Here are other highlights from the past month.
  • Two new editions of our Innovative Analysis series: May 26th, on the push for youth voting legislation in the states, and May 14th, on the effect instant runoff voting seems to be having on the tenor of campaigns. (Hint: There's a little less bickering, and a big war chest is not all it's cracked up to be.)
  • More FairVote commentary in the news: FairVote's David Segal made the case this month for the direct election of U.S. Senators to fill vacancies on the editorial page of the Baltimore Sun, while FairVote's Erik Connell explains the many benefits of ranked choice voting in The Melon in Tacoma, Washington.
  • Other reform advances: There are several important reforms on which FairVote does not actively focus, yet deserve serious consideration. One example is Election Day registration, as done in nine states. It most recently won support in Connecticut's House on May 26, as reported by Demos. And earlier this month, Colorado's governor Bill Ritter signed into law legislation allowing for online voter registration as part of a larger package of voting reform measures.
  • FairVote blog highlights: At the FairVote blog, Adam Fogel brings to light alarming new statistics about the disenfranchisement of military voters, and Rob Richie aims a skeptical eye at approval voting, which was repealed by a vote of 82% to 18% by the Dartmouth Alumni Association. FairVote board members regularly blogging about our reform proposals in their active blogs include the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg and musician Krist Novoselic.
  • Sotomayor and Voting Rights: The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is obviously sparking lots of heated discussion, and one crucial topic will be the Court's impact on voting rights. For some initial analysis of Sotomayor's record on voting law, visit Ballot Access News, Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog and the Institute for Southern Studies.