E-Newsletter November 2, 2004

Released November 2, 2004

FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy

November 2, 2004 Newsletter

In This Issue:

- CSPAN covers FairVote news conference / Other media
- FairVote releases guide to election night on website
- Reminder: Couch Pundit contest / Election night party
- New York Times on how to make sure you cast a valid vote
- Harvard Crimson endorses direct election with instant runoff


November 2nd is here. The votes in the American presidential election will all be cast within 13 hours. The counting -- and disputes over that counting -- may continue far longer, but all signs point to the highest voter turnout in this nation in a generation.

Here's a short update to highlight the following resources and information as Americans head toward the polls:


We released a new analysis yesterday on "Election Night As It Happens: East to West." Posted on our website, the analysis reviews the 50 states and the District of Columbia in order of poll-closing on election night, with key barometers for partisan results and reform areas to track. See:

Among those covering the news conference were C-SPAN and Black Entertainment Television. We expect C-SPAN to air the program in the next 24 hours. FairVote staffers have been busy in the media -- since last Thursday's update appearing twice on Canada's national public broadcasting network CBC this week (ncluding an interview with Rob Richie airing today), on New Zealand national radio, BBC radio and numerous American talk radio programs. Today Richie will appear on Australian national radio, Thom Hartmann's syndicated radio program, KKLA in Los Angeles, WWL Radio, CNN Radio and more.

On November 3rd, we plan to post a range of information about the elections on our website, including reports from San Francisco's first instant runoff voting elections, the instant runoff voting ballot measure
results in Ferndale (MI) and Burlington (VT), a review of the accuracy of our "Monopoly Politics" projections in U.S. House races and more.
Be sure to visit: www.fairvote.org



Here's a reminder about a great way to provide a boost to our work for fair elections and to show off your political know-how. Be the best "Couch Pundit" in the country and earn a visit to Capitol Hill with
FairVote's John Anderson and Rob Richie -- all votes must be cast by 7 pm ET. You just need to donate at least $5 to play. Go to:  

For those in the Washington, DC area, FairVote is throwing an election night party to which you're all invited. Big screen TV, private room and happy hour drink prices all night. Come watch the returns and make predictions on swing state outcomes -- you may win one of the nght's prizes. Commentary from a roster of guest speakers. Cover donation is $10 (any proceeds  go to support the work of FairVote).

Here are the details:

What: FairVote's Election Night "Couch Pundit Extravaganza"
Where: The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Avenue NW
(Dupont Circle metro station)
When: Tuesday, Nov 2nd, starting at 6:30pm



As part of a remarkable series of editorials on our electoral process, the New York Times on Monday ran a strong editorial on "what to do on Election Day." We repeat it in full below. We hope that Americans vote tomorrow... and follow the suggestions in the editorial below. (And then, on November 3, join with us in urging fundamental reforms to modernize our elections -- see our most recent commentary on this subject at:  http://archive.fairvote.org/op_eds/krt102704.htm

What to Do on Election Day
New York Times
November 1, 2004

Civics books make voting look like a breeze, but it can be hard work. Voter rolls are inaccurate, ID requirements vary and are erratically enforced, partisans try to disqualify likely supporters of their opponents, and lines at the polls can be excruciatingly long. In 2000, as many as six million presidential votes were lost for technical reasons, and this year the number could be even larger. Voters, particularly in battleground states, should head to the voting booth prepared to fight for their vote to be counted:

1. Know where to go. In many states, you will not be allowed to vote if you show up at the wrong polling place. Worse still, you may be given a provisional ballot to vote on that will later be thrown out. Your board of elections can tell you where to vote. If you can't reach the board, a nonpartisan hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE, has a polling place locator. So does the Web site www.mypollingplace.com.

2. Bring proper ID. The rules vary by state. If you have a photo ID, it's wise to bring it, just in case. Too often, poll workers demand ID when it is not required, or demand the wrong ID. If you do not know the law in your jurisdiction, you should check your local board of elections Web site.

3. Review the sample ballot before voting. Ballots are often confusing, and their designs can change considerably from election to election. And as the infamous "butterfly ballot" showed in 2000, a poorly designed ballot can trick voters into choosing a candidate they did not intend. If you have questions about how to vote on your ballot, ask a poll worker or poll monitor for help.

4. Check your ballot before finalizing your vote. As we saw in 2000, if punch card chads are not punched out precisely, votes may not be counted. On electronic machines, a brush of the hand can erase or change a vote. On paper ballots, stray or incomplete marks can disqualify a vote.

5. Know your rights concerning provisional ballots. No voter can be turned away in any state this year without being allowed to vote. If there is a question about your eligibility, you must be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot, the validity of which will be determined later. But if you are entitled to vote on a regular ballot, you should insist on doing so, since a provisional ballot may be disqualified later on a technicality.

6. Know where to turn for help. If you experience problems voting, or if you see anything improper at the polls, you may want to get help. There will be nonpartisan poll monitors at many polling places. (There may also be partisan poll watchers, and it's possible one of them may be the person objecting to your voting.) It is a good idea to bring a cellphone, and phone numbers of nonpartisan hotlines like the Election Protection program's 1-866-OURVOTE and Common Cause's 1-866-MYVOTE1.

7. Be prepared for long lines. In some precincts, the wait may stretch into hours. Try to get to your polling place very early in the morning, or between the before-work and after-work rushes. As long as you are in line before the polls close, you are legally entitled to vote. Do not let poll workers close the polls until you have voted.

(Making Votes Count: Editorials in this series remain online at nytimes.com/makingvotescount.)



The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard, ran a strong editorial today calling for direct election of the president by instant runoff voting. Here's the editorial:

Abolish the Electoral College:
America's Leaders Should be Chosen in Instant Runoff Elections

By Crimson Staff
Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Of the tens of millions of voters who will swarm the polls today, only a fraction—that is, those living in the hotly contested swing states—will have a real say in choosing the next president. For this reason and others, this page has advocated the abolition of the Electoral College and the determination of the presidency based on a national popular vote.

But the current system of electors maintains one important attribute: it builds a theoretical majority coalition out of a plurality of votes. This, in turn, strengthens the institution of the presidency by bestowing upon the winner a legitimacy he would otherwise lack. (After all, no presidential candidate has received a majority of the popular vote since former president George H. W. Bush garnered a slim 53 percent in 1988.) Still, there is a superior solution that combines popular voting with a majority winner: instant runoff voting (IRV), in which voters rank candidates instead of just voting for one.

In an instant runoff election—so-called because the majority winner is determined from a single round of voting—the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated from contention, and the voters who voted for this candidate have their second-choice votes awarded to remaining candidates. Successive eliminations and vote redistributions occur until there are only two candidates left, at which point one will have a majority of votes.

The advantages to an IRV election are plentiful. Besides guaranteeing a majority winner, it gives voters the ability to express a clearer statement of their political views. Citizens on the fringes of the political spectrum would not have to settle for a candidate too moderate for their tastes; instead, they could cast their first vote for the candidate of their choice—and still have their second-choice vote count should their first choice be eliminated. Furthermore, when the winner of an election examines the vote total, the breakdown of his or her rankings will reveal the extent of the politician’s popular support.

Even before voters head to the polls, IRV would generate a ripple effect on the campaign process. Efforts to bar third-party candidates from the ballot would be moot, since they would have little chance of playing a spoiler role in any election. More significantly, candidates without a clear majority would need to depend on more than just first-place votes to gain victory, so IRV would curb negative campaigning.
Of course, selling the idea of IRV to the American people is a difficult task, as evidenced by its sparse usage nationwide. One significant barrier to its implementation is a perceived threat to the two-party system. But IRV, at least initially, will likely strengthen the two-party system, because it will decrease the chances of a third-party spoiler. So politicians have little excuse not to push for it. More serious concerns involve educating voters about the ranking system and refitting (or replacing) older punch-card and pull-lever voting technologies. But asking voters to rank candidates in their order of preference is hardly an overwhelmingly unreasonable (or confusing) request, and the proliferation of electronic voting machines increases the prospects for widespread IRV elections. Indeed, IRV voting has been successfully implemented for elections in several spheres, including Republican congressional nominations in Utah, city council elections in Cambridge and Harvard Undergraduate Council legislative elections.

While we welcome the attention that these small-scale elections have brought to IRV, determining the presidency through a ranked voting system would require considerable changes in how citizens and politicians view the act of voting, not to mention the passage of a constitutional amendment. But the cost of overcoming these barriers will pale next to the result: a system of voting that gives all citizens an equal and precise voice, and an election in which the president is elected by a true majority.

Thanks for reading!