E-Newsletter October 2, 2003

Released October 2, 2003

Dear Friend of Fair Elections,

Today's Highlights: See www.democracyusa.org for details on our major "Claim Democracy" conference in Washington, DC on November 21-23, 2003. Catch NPR's "Marketplace"program  on October 7.
This is Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy:  www.fairvote.org, info@fairvote.org.  We shortly will send out our periodic e-newsletter, as it's been quite a season for democracy issues -- what with the madcap California recall election, the Texas standoff over a brazen redistricting plan and the ever-growing controversy over how we still haven't found (nor made a clear national commitment to fund) a fair and secure way to count votes.

We indeed hope you will visit www.fairvote.org and read about our take on the California recall (in particular why the multi-candidate race for governor once again shows the value of instant runoff voting -- as one of our new reports shows, more than half of our current governors have won a gubernatorial race with less than half the votes), our amicus brief in a potentially historic Supreme Court  case this term about political gerrymandering, a new cumulative voting law in Illinois, ongoing international movement away from winner-take-all elections and much more.

But today I wanted to highlight two developments:

1) On Tuesday, October 7, National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program will likely feature discussion of instant runoff voting, the hot new reform (www.fairvote.org/irv) that has drawn the support of political leaders like Sen. John McCain, Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Dennis Kucinich and consideration in nearly two dozen state legislatures this year.  We hope you can catch the program. Stay tuned for more NPR coverage of fair election systems in November.

2) On November 22-23, 2003, the Center for Voting and Democracy and most of the nation's leading civil rights, voter turnout and electoral reform organizations will come to Washington, D.C.  for a major conference on "Claim Democracy:  Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the Power of the Right to Vote."

If there is an electoral democracy issue you care about, it's almost certain to be the subject of discussion in high-profile panels and in workshops and training sessions -- be it campaign finance, instant runoff voting, full representation, initiative and referendum, election day registration, get-out-the-vote efforts, full franchise for ex-felons and the people of the District of Columbia, fair representation for women and people of color,amending the Constitution to secure the right to vote, term limits, ballot access, open debates, term limits, nonpartisan redistricting, open airwaves, voting requipment or Electoral College reform.
Earlybird registration for the conference ends on October 31, 2003, and the room block at the nearby hotel could fill up even sooner than that. We also have limited space for a "Celebrate Democracy" dinner, hosted by Common Cause and our Center for Voting and Democracy, on the evening of November 22. We urge you to visit the conference website -- www.democracyusa.org -- and to join us in November!

For more on the conference, please read below, which includes the conference call-to-action and the impressive list of groups that have signed onto that call-to-action. And note: even if you can't join us in person, we urge you to indicate your support for the individual call-to-action that mirrors the statement below -- see www.democracyusa.org today for details.



Tired of attempts to change electoral rules in the middle of the game? Wasted votes? Money-drenched politics? Bad voting equipment? Political failures to represent and inspire America's magnificently complex and diverse population?

If so, please  join a broad coalition of pro-democracy organizations that have organized a major conference on: "Claim Democracy: Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the Power of the Right to Vote."  Promising to be the largest gathering of its kind in years, the conference will take place at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center on the weekend of November 22-23, 2003.

The conference features an exciting mix of high-profile plenaries, hands-on workshops, book signings and break-out sessions specifically geared to youth, grassroots activists and democracy advocaes. Presidential candidates and Members of Congress are among those expected to address the conference.  

The conference will include:

* A Friday evening pre-conference welcome at the Washington College of Law at American University, with music and showing of pro-democracy documentaries, and a Saturday evening program with spoken word poetry.

* On Saturday, two plenaries and break-outs organized in particular for youth, state reformers and democracy advocates. democracy. There will be three sessions for each break-out group, all addressing: 1) securing the vote (including steps being taken to protect and secure voting rights, such as the Help America Vote Act, voting rights residents of the District of Columbia, election day registration and felony disfranchisement laws; 2) enhancing the vote (including reforms that address voter motivation such as campaign finance reform, full representation, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act andinstant runoff voting); 3) exercising the vote (focused on efforts to encourage voter participation in 2004).

* On Sunday, there will be a series of four sets of 10-12 breakout sessions that will include a mix of workshops and trainings on different aspects of pro-democracy work, with some sessions organized around specific issues and some on tactics.

Participants can register on-line (www.democracyusa.org) or through the mail. There are significant savings for early-bird registrations (before Novemer 1) and for those registering with 10 people. There is a block of rooms at a reduced rate at nearby hotel. For information, contact the Center for Voting and Democracy at (301) 270-4616 or visit www.fairvote.org

Reflecting the pressing demand to claim our democracy, the following conference call-to-action has been endorsed by a large number of leading civil rights and electoral reform organizations that are listed below.



We, the undersigned organizations, endorse the following call to action. A vibrant and healthy representative democracy demands, at the very least, diverse representation, meaningful choices across the political spectrum, full participation before and after elections, robust public debate, efficient and effective election administration, and policy that corresponds with the will of the majority while respecting the rights and interests of those in the minority. Voters must hear from a range of candidates, have a reasonable chance of electing their preferred
representatives and believe that they are electing a responsive and accountable government that makes a positive difference in their lives. Many Americans are proud of our democracy and political reformers can be justifiably proud of victories advancing democracy, yet we can -- and must -- do better. Consider that:  

* The majority of Supreme Court Justices in Bush v. Gore declared
that voters have no fundamental right to vote in presidential elections.

* The United States ranks 139th in the world in voter turnout in national
elections since 1945, and turnout has been dropping, particularly among young people and particularly in local and state elections. Nearly a third of adult Americans are not even registered to vote.

* The United States is 59th in world rankings of representation by women. Only 14% of Members of Congress are women, and the number of female state legislators has declined since 1998.

* The U.S. Senate lacks a single African American or Latino member, and the number of African Americans and Asian Pacific Americans in the U.S. House has declined since 1994. People of color are under-represented in nearly every state legislature.

* More than 4.5 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony disfranchisement laws that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, including one out of every eight adult African American men.

* More than half a million Americans in our nation's capital are denied voting representation in the U.S Congress despite the fact that they fulfill all of the same responsibilities of citizenship shared by Americans living in states and despite Congress having the final say over all local matters.

* Only four U.S. House incumbents lost to non-incumbent challengers in 2002 -- the fewest ever. State legislative elections are often even less competitive, with fully 40 percent of state legislative races since 1996 not even being contested by both major parties.

* Although the 2000 election debacle led to federal and state action to improve the infrastructure of our elections, many states are making it harder to vote, not easier.
* Despite the passage of federal campaign finance reform legislation in 2002, money spent in campaigns and on lobbying at federal, state and local levels continues to have an excessively powerful impact on electoral politics and policy-making.  

Given this "democracy deficit," it should not surprise us that our political leadership often fails to address the hopes and needs of average Americans.
To attain a democracy that addresses the needs and aspirations of the American people, we must embrace and strive to adopt a range of critical reforms. Just as reformers fought for and won the expansion of suffrage over the decades, we must be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge at the federal level and in the states. Claiming democracy will require a sustained focused and coordinated effort, both within states and nationally.

We strongly believe that the pro-democracy movement would increase its effectiveness through greater coordination among national, state and local reformers, and that the articulation of a shared vision and concrete goals would facilitate stronger working relationships and more effective coalitions.

In the current climate of struggle for democracy in other nations, and given the aforementioned shortcomings of our own democracy, the time is ripe to launch an effort at home to celebrate, secure, expand and exercise the power of the right to vote. We believe that this vision has the potential to be the string that binds together the many diverse efforts to make our democracy more vibrant, more representative and more genuine.

We therefore join together in a call for a "Claim Democracy" conference on November 21-23 in Washington, D.C. We plan to participate in this conference and to encourage staff members and supporters to participate. We support the goal of bringing together a diverse range of scholars, elected officials and national, state and local reformers and activists to focus attention on the need to strengthen the power of our right to vote and to build a broad pro-democracy movement.

Advancement Project
Alliance for Better Campaigns
Alliance for Democracy
American Association of People with Disabilities
Appleseed Electoral Reform Project
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)  
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center
Brennan Center for Justice
Californians for Electoral Reform
Campaign for America's Future
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Voting and Democracy
Citizen Works
Common Cause
Commonwealth Coalition (Mass.)
DC Vote
Democracy Action Project
Democracy Matters
Democracy South
Democracy Works
Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action
Fannie Lou Hamer Project
Fund for Constitutional Government
Georgia Rural Urban Summit
Greenlining Institute
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Independent Progressive Politics Network
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Action
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR)
League of Women Voters of the United States
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
Midwest Democracy Center
NAACP National Voter Fund
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC)
National Campaign to Restore Voting Rights
National Civic League
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
National Council of La Raza
National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
National Urban League
National Voting Rights Institute
National Women's Alliance
New Democracy Project
Northeast Action
Ohio Citizen Action
Open Debates
People for the American Way
Progressive Challenge, Institute for Policy Studies
Progressive Populist
Progressive Review
Project Vote
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF)
Rock the Vote
Southwest Voter Research and Education Project
White House Project
Willie C. Velazquez Institute
Working Assets
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)
United States Student Association (USSA)
Yes I Will 


We are honored to be one of the fifty organizations selected by Working Assets for support in 2003. If you are a customer of any Working Assets service, you can vote to allocate funds to the Center. If you are not a customer, you can sign up for long distance, cell phone or credit card services or by making even a single purchase on the ShopForChange website. You can then choose to allocate your vote equally among all 50 groups, or you can assign your vote to specific groups. These votes result in a wide ranging of giving, from a low of about $35,000 in 2002 to a high of some $150,000. For information, please see: http://archive.fairvote.org/op_eds/workingassets.htm