E-Newsletter September 30, 2009

Released September 30, 2009

The FairVote Reformer

September 2009
Newsletter Features

A Big Month for IRV

A World of Fair Representation

Advances for Voting Rights in DC and NC

National Recognition for Transparent Elections

Support Fair Elections


It's been a good month for reform, with the British prime minister committing to a national referendum on instant runoff voting (IRV) and continuing to hear from many leaders in his party who support proportional voting; the Academy of Motion Pictures announcing IRV will be used to choose the Oscar for Best Picture; New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announcing support for universal voter registration; a Republican state senator and candidate for governor of Illinois seeking cumulative voting for state elections;  and the New York Times editorial page citing our leadership in seeking a "public option" for voting equipment.

Amid other signs of our reforms garnering broader and deeper support, I wanted to highlight the new Strengthening our Nations Democracy (SOND) coalition of deliberative democracy practitioners, grassroots activists, transparency advocates, e-democracy practitioners, national service advocates, educators, and electoral reformers like FairVote. The August 2009 SOND conference resulted in a draft statement of principles and goals that includes many of FairVote's priorities: a right to vote in the U.S. Constitution; the National Popular Vote plan for president; universal voter registration; youth voter pre-registration; and the removal of barriers for states to use proportional voting and instant runoff voting in federal elections. In the new journal of the Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society, scholars Sanford Levinson, Carol Nackenoff and Leslie Friedman Goldstein all tout achieving a national popular vote for president, with Professors Levinson and Goldstein also supporting instant runoff voting for presidential elections and Professor Nackenoff backing a constitutional right to vote.

We're heading into some key elections this November 3rd - races for governor and state legislature in New Jersey and Virginia, various major city elections and several ballot measures on ranked choice voting systems. Make sure you're registered to vote and we'll see you at the polls.

On to this month's news,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

A Big Month for IRV, from "Oscar" to the UK and city advances

The movement for fairer elections with more meaningful choices is gaining steam, as reformers carry the torch for instant runoff voting in several cities and venues. In Massachusetts, Citizens for Voter Choice is live with its new website (quite attractive, we think), and is actively working to gather 100,000 signatures for a petition to put IRV on the ballot for statewide implementation.  Minneapolis continues to see a wave of interest and education leading up to their first city-wide IRV (aka ranked choice voting) election this fall--check out http://www.voteminneapolis.org. Residents of St. Paul are getting ready to consider IRV for themselves on their own November ballot-see the Minnesota Daily's endorsement of IRV for St. Paul. Meanwhile, the state Republican Party of Utah used IRV to pick a candidate to fill a vacated state senate seat, choosing a winner from a crowded field of eight; news reports showed high participation and satisfaction with the system.

New York City's $15 million runoff this month triggered new calls for IRV, including discussion in the New York Times, a New York Daily News op-ed from former FairVote analyst Lynne Serpe and blogs and press releases from good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union. Long Beach (CA) is seriously considering IRV to save money as well.

IRV is also popping up outside the realm of political elections. The American Academy of Motion Pictures, expanding the number of Best Picture nominees to 10, has wisely chosen to decide the winner with IRV, helping to ensure that the winning film is the consensus choice of Academy members. The Producers' Guild of America also announced last week that it will follow suit for its own awards. The number of colleges and universities with IRV is now at least 52, with Pitzer College the latest addition. Last week, FairVote's Amy Ngai led a workshop on IRV and choice voting for the American Student Government Association's conference in Washington, D.C. And in the world of social networking, check out WeVote, a Facebook application created by Craig Simon that generates interactive IRV ballots for 'elections' of all kinds, as well as lots of other useful features.

Other notable IRV items:
  • British prime minister Gordon Brown's announcement that the Labour Party is committed to putting IRV on the ballot for a national referendum - see analysis in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee and Sunder Katwala on this ongoing development.
  • Pro-IRV op-ed in the Seattle Times.
  • Caleb Kleppner's commentary in the Aspen Times on IRV and election transparency.
  • Rob Richie interviews San Francisco Election Commission member Gerard Gleason on his city's experience with IRV and compares IRV to some other alternative systems for Minnesota Public Radio.

A World of Fair Representation

Proportional voting systems continue to be a major issue overseas and a major factor in many national elections. For example, elections this month in Japan and Germany were contested under variations of the mixed member proportional voting system in which many candidates are elected from U.S.-style single-member districts and others are elected by proportional voting - in Germany they are added in order to make the overall body more reflective of voter opinion. (See FairVote intern Pauline Lejeune's blog post on the German elections.)

New Zealand adopted this voting system in 1993 (FairVote's Rob Richie and Cindy Terrell spent two weeks in the country as guests of the campaign seeking to pass it, overcoming a spending disadvantage of approximately 12 to one), but it may face a new referendum next year. Back in our own hemisphere, the Canada West Foundation issued a report this month on Canada's five provincial referenda to adopt proportional representation, which noted, "Electoral reform remains a critically important issue in Canada. The five reform efforts outlined in this report . . . highlight the importance of questioning the status quo and discussing alternatives." Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown's Labor Government continues to hint at a national referendum on some form of proportional voting or instant runoff voting next year.

And here at home in the U.S., the Lowell (MA) ballot measure for choice voting is gaining positive coverage and allies. Minneapolis in its park board elections this November will be the first new city to use choice voting in the United States since the 1960s, although numerous other international elections and American universities use choice voting, such as Oberlin, which just used it for the first time last week. In Illinois, Republican state senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady is making electoral reform a central part of his agenda, citing in particular the form of proportional voting known as cumulative voting, a multi-member district system that allows political minorities to win seats that was used in Illinois until 1980. This comes on the heels of a petition drive begun by another state lawmaker also aiming to bring cumulative voting back Illinois. FairVote's Rob Richie this week was in Port Chester (NY) discussing cumulative voting, choice voting and best practices for voter education as the village awaits a federal judge's ruling that may well result in its next elections being held with a proportional system.

Advances for voting rights in DC and NC

On September 25th, the DC Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009 passed 3 to 1 out of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. The bill includes FairVote-endorsed reforms, such as youth preregistration, 17-year-old primary voting, Election Day registration, expanded NVRA agencies, and greater transparency in vote counting; many of which were policies put forth by FairVote's Adam Fogel in a Washington Post op-ed in April. Adam testified before this committee in favor of the bill back in July, and the Post subsequently endorsed the bill. 

This month, North Carolina became the third state, joining Florida and Hawaii, to enact FairVote-backed youth pre-registration, thanks in large part to Democracy North Carolina, working with FairVote to pass this important legislation. See a recent op-ed by North Carolina high school student Ashley Holloway Foxx in the Fayetteville Observer, in which she writes, "Greater youth involvement will strengthen our democracy for decades to come."

And coming soon on the voting rights front:

  • Leading up to the 2008 general election, FairVote conducted a randomized field experiment in Maryland to test its voting curriculum, Learning Democracy. More than 1,500 students participated in the experiment and results are expected before the end of the year.
  • Activists head to the Capitol to support voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia on October 5. Click here for more information about how to take part.

National Recognition for Transparent Elections

As manufacturing monolith Diebold's voting machine arm is swallowed up by the nation's largest vendor, Election Systems & Software, the need for transparency and accountability in election equipment becomes clearer and more urgent. In its call for major reforms to our democracy's relationship to the voting machine industry, the New York Times editorial page cited FairVote's advocacy for publicly controlled and owned voting machines and open, non-proprietary software. Rob Richie blogged in more detail on this issue in the Huffington Post, warning, "We run democracy on the cheap at the national level, and pay for it with lost votes, untrustworthy software and exorbitant costs for public interest improvements due to companies recouping expenses by abusing their local monopolies." Stay tuned for more attention to our broken voting equipment regime and the dangers of one private company running elections for more than two-thirds of Americans.

FairVote Alumni News

As FairVote's family grows, its alumni are having important impacts in all areas of public service and reform. Just a few quick highlights:

Steven Hill, one of FairVote's co-founders and director of the New America Foundation's Political Reform Program, has been published widely in recent weeks, including two columns in Britain's the Guardian.

Lynne Serpe, project director in 2008 of a research and outreach project on instant runoff voting and choice voting in New York City, is running for city council in New York City. She published this commentary on instant runoff voting in the New York Daily News on Septmeber 29.

David Moon, former FairVote program director, is a senior legislative aide to Montgomery County (MD) councilor Nancy Navarro.