E-Newsletter October 29, 2009

Released October 29, 2009

October 2009
Newsletter Features

Better Elections on the Ballot on November 3rd

IRV in Major Media, New Movement in Massachusetts

California Pre-registration Victory and Progress on Fair Access in the U.S. House

Fair Representation: New congressional legislation, state reform drive and voting rights win

Support Fair Elections



On November 3rd, Americans in a handful of states and cities across the country head to the polls—not only to elect leaders and representatives, but also to determine how they will elect them in the future. We hope you'll take advantage of any opportunity to vote and keep pressing for transforming our rules to encourage respect for every vote and every voice.

We've paid particular attention to four ballot measures to adopt or sustain either instant runoff voting or the choice voting form of proportional voting. We're also closely following Minneapolis' first IRV election for mayor and city council, and its first use of choice voting for electing its park board. Although increasingly common in international elections, including for all city elections in Scotland and Ireland and many local elections in New Zealand and Australia, this is the first new choice voting election in the United States since the 1960s. Meanwhile, Cambridge (MA) will be holding its 30th election with choice voting for city council, Pierce County (WA) and Hendersonville (NC) will be holding their second year of instant runoff voting elections and Euclid (OH) will use the one-vote form of proportional voting for the first time for electing its school board.

There also has been important new press and public support for instant runoff voting, including new commentary from long-time FairVote champion John Anderson focused on lessons from New Jersey's three-candidate race for governor. We're excited to see Congressman Alcee Hastings' new legislation introduced this week in Congress to study fair representation, specifically including proportional voting, as well as drives for statewide changes to plurality, winner-take-all voting in Illinois and Massachusetts. Also, voter pre-registration secured a huge win this month in California.

I've made presentations this month in several states, including two lectures at the University of Tennessee's Baker Center on Electoral College reform, and our busy staff is nearing completion of the transition to our new website, boosting local reformers and working with interns and volunteers to bring us to "the way democracy will be."Don't miss our new video making the case for the 2010's being the most important reform decade in half a century, based on the mantra: "change breeds change.â€Â

For Combined Federal Campaign donors, keep FairVote in mind this year. Our CFC number is 10132. Everyone, of course, can support us with a donation by visiting www.fairvote.org/donate and by getting involved.

Thank you!

Rob Richie
Executive Director

Better Elections on the Ballot on November 3rd

Minneapolis voters are about to get their first taste of instant runoff voting in their citywide elections, just as their sister city, St. Paul, is about to decide for itself whether to implement the reform. The Star Tribune has come out strongly in favor, proclaiming that with both Twin Cities using IRV, all of Minnesota will decide that "this state need not continue to settle for plurality rule. IRV makes majority rule possible."Check out the St. Paul Better Ballot Campaign for more, along with powerful new commentary this week by former Republican U.S. Senator David Durenberger and former Democratic state senator John Hottinger.

Despite its enormous benefits, IRV is on the defense in Aspen (CO) and Pierce County (WA), as disgruntled insiders try to undo the will of the people by launching anti-IRV referenda. Backers of IRV in these challenges include the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune and League of Women Voters of Pierce County. You can find background on Aspen at AspenVotes123.com and on Pierce County at http://rankedchoice.blogspot.com. Visit ProtectVoterChoice.com to see how you can lend a last-minute hand.

In Massachusetts, the citizens of Lowell will decide whether to implement choice voting—our favorite form of proportional representation for the United States—for their city council. We have been partnering with Fair Vote Lowell in helping to educate Lowell's voters about choice voting, and in inspiring a big turnout. Check out Mount Holyoke professor Douglas Amy's op-ed in the Lowell Sun which spells out the case for choice voting, which he says will give Lowell voters "an opportunity to take an important step toward creating a more participatory, inclusive, and democratic form of city politics."Minneapolis (MN) and Cambridge (MA) will use choice voting on November 3rd local elections; see Minnesota Public Radio's entertaining new explanation of how choice voting works.

IRV in Major Media, New Movement in Massachusetts

IRV is cropping up in commentary all over the media as a viable improvement to several troublesome circumstances in various races. Most notably, the New York Times on its front page raised IRV as a solution to the city's low-turnout local primary runoffs, and also check out FairVote's shout-out from Mark Green at the Huffington Post. Los Angeles likewise suffers from low-turnout races, and Long Beach (CA) is plagued by small-plurality winners, and local newspaper commentary makes clear that IRV would go a long way to solving both problems. The Times-News came out strongly for IRV as its local city of Hendersonville uses IRV for a second time.

IRV is gaining new attention due to controversies over plurality voting elections this fall in the New Jersey gubernatorial election (where an independent candidate is polling as high as 20% in a race with no candidate near 50%), a special election for U.S. House in New York (where two major party candidates and a minor party candidate are all polling over 20%) and Albuquerque mayoral election (where two Latino Democrats together won more than 55% of the vote, but lost to a Republican challenger). John Anderson's widely-published commentary focuses on lessons from the New Jersey race, as does a strong commentary in the Trenton Times.

Ongoing problems with plurality voting, suppression of voter choice and distortion of voter intent make Voter Choice Massachusetts' progress this fall all the more important. After a gallant volunteer effort to collect enough signatures to put IRV for all state and federal offices on the November ballot, it has moved to establishing a long-term public education campaign in preparation for a future reform drive. See its excellent website www.voterchoicema.org to get involved.

IRV in the FairVote blog this month:

California Pre-registration Victory and Progress on Fair Access in the U.S. House

On October 11, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a voter pre-registration measure spearheaded this year by the New America Foundation and backed by FairVote, Common Cause, Californians for Electoral Reform and many others. It establishes that all Californians turning 17 can pre-register to vote. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts version of the bill is moving forward and an a veto override is possible in Rhode Island, where activists on the ground have created this video to help spur action to reverse the governor's rejection of this important pro-democracy measure.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Elections, part of the House Committee on House Administration, held a hearing on Oct. 21st concerning "Modernizing the Election Registration Process." The subcommittee reviewed ways in which technology could be better utilized to improve our 19th century voter registration system. Proposals include a bill from Rep. Zoe Lofgren that would allow online voter registration in all states. FairVote is still working to promote a federal bill that modernizes voter registration so all eligible voters are automatically and permanently registered to vote.

President Obama also passed new legislation to protect the voting rights of overseas and military voters in federal races expanding those rights in local and state elections will take action at both levels--or congressional action in the wake of establishing an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We also were pleased to see advances toward publicly disclosed software this month, including Sequoia Voting System's announcing what it promises will be a "new transparent end-to-end election system . . . with publicly disclosed source code"and Why Tuesday's report on the even more promising news of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation's (OSDV) Trust the Vote project and its mission, to "re-invent how America votes in a digital democracy"by developing a  "publicly owned, open source electronic election system.â€Â

Fair Representation: New congressional legislation, state reform drive and voting rights win

Congressman Alcee Hastings has introduced the Congress Commissions Act, a bill to examine proportional voting in congressional elections, the benefits of expanding the size of the U.S. House and representation for citizens living in American territories. Rep. Hastings has introduced this legislation for years, but we expect more serious action in this Congress.

In Illinois, the Putback Amendment--a proposal that, among other changes, reverses the 1980 "cutback amendment"that shrank the size of the legislature and eliminated cumulative voting--is gathering steam in its signature drive. See http://www.putbackamendment.com/ and a 2001 trans-partisan commission in which leading Illinois political leaders backed fairer representation with cumulative voting.

In Florida, Lake Park will adopt a form of proportional voting for electing its town commissioners as part of a consent judgment and decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. In March 2010, it will elect four commissioners in an at-large election with the "one vote system," in which voters cast one vote and the top four candidates win. In a community where African Americans made up nearly 40% of the eligible voters, no African American candidate has ever won since Lake Park's incorporation in 1923. Meanwhile, the city of Euclid (OH) will use the one-vote system on November 3rd for the first time in school board elections.

On our Radar: New York City event, Learning from U.S. elections

On November 3rd, FairVote teams up with Demos for a forum on the National Popular Vote plan in New York City. The discussion will feature The New Yorker magazine's (and FairVote board member) Hendrik Hertzberg, National Popular Vote's Chris Pearson (a former FairVote staffer and Vermont state legislator), Demos' Brenda Wright, and our own Rob Richie. Check out the details here.

On the blog, FairVote intern Pauline LeJeune has a fascinating bit of analysis on the French Socialist Party taking inspiration from the American-style presidential primary system.

And as our streets soon fill with eager, curiously dressed young people, let's keep working to make our democracy a treat, not a trick. Happy Halloween, and thanks for reading!