Getting ready for a long election night after a full Election Day

by Rob Richie // Published November 4, 2008
I just sent this message to our members.... We'll be following up as the evening progresses with reports on what catches our eye....


I greatly appreciate the support you've shown to FairVote and our efforts to ensure respect for every vote and every voice through electoral reform. As we near the final hours of this historic election -- one sure to bring more Americans to the polls than ever before despite ongoing problems with our voting process -- I wanted to share with you what we're watching tonight.  Look for updates from me and my colleagues on the FairVote blog during the course of the next 24 hours as the results come in.

It's been a busy fall, with our dedicated staff and wonderful volunteer interns pursuing excellent work to promote reform and increase public understanding of its need. FairVote has been intensely involved in two major city ballot measures for instant runoff voting and proportional representation, along with innovative research and outreach on the conduct of this year's presidential election campaign and the degree of counties' preparation for Election Day. We're also laying the groundwork for outreach about urgently needed structural reforms to improve our democracy nationally and in states and cities. We've again been busy with radio, television and print media -- here's a taste.

Following is a review of our Election 2008 and what we're watching this evening:

The vote for president:

The presidential election has captured the imagination of millions of Americans. Through the lens of an electoral reformer, 2008 presents remarkable opportunities. Both Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain have a substantial history of advancing reform -- including leadership roles in promoting instant runoff voting, and the minor party nominees are strong advocates of reform as well. Whoever takes the White House will both be well-informed about electoral reform and advised by tested reformers.

As I wrote in the New York Times today, I believe this election may well be the last to be held using the current Electoral College system. Building on our groundbreaking Presidential Election Inequality report, we tracked the activity of the major party campaigns with our Presidential Candidate Tracker. Through no fault of their own -- but rather the rules states choose to use to elect them -- they have zeroed in on fewer than 20 states. To secure elections where every vote is equal, we must pass the National Popular Vote plan for president  -- and I believe that, with your help, we will achieve that goal by 2012.

Instant runoff voting on the ballot:

When a ballot has more than two choices, our current electoral system goes haywire. Typically any energy for third party and independent candidates is simply suppressed, but when they break through to high visibility, they often are castigated more than embraced for whatever new ideas they may be bringing to our debate. That critique is grounded in our statutes that fail to accommodate voter choice. It's time for a change.

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is a ranked choice voting system that ensures no candidate wins simply because of a "spoiler." We've taken the lead in introducing instant runoff voting in America, and today major instant runoff voting elections are underway in San Francisco, California (its fifth year of instant runoff elections) and Pierce County, Washington. Pierce County's IRV elections ( visit Kelly Haughton's blog for more) are a particularly important test. Larger than Alaska, the county is holding a hotly contested election for county executive, with two Democrats, a Republican and an elected official running as an independent. County election administrators have done an excellent job in introducing IRV in their county, and today's elections may lead to a rapid expansion of IRV throughout Washington -- and indeed the entire Northwest, given the region's hunger for new models. Our board chair Krist Novoselic has worked with a terrific group of Pierce County and Washington State allies.

IRV is also on the ballot this November. The biggest vote is Amendment Five in Memphis, Tennessee, which is the second largest city in the entire Southeastern United States. A terrific local coalition of Memphis groups and elected officials ( visit ) has come together to support a charter commission-proposed change to enact IRV for most city elections. FairVote hired local field organizer Derek Haire to work with the coalition.

Proportional representation in Cincinnati:

Seventeen years ago, my wife and I went to Cincinnati, Ohio to volunteer on a campaign to restore the choice voting form of proportional representation. That campaign led directly to FairVote's founding in June 1992 in Cincinnati, and we've maintained good relations with leading reformers in the city, including former governor John Gilligan, former mayor Bobbie Sterne and former vice-mayor Marian Spencer. They have joined with the Cincinnati NAACP, Common Cause Ohio and many more in a vibrant effort to win proportional representation ( visit this year. We have provided significant staff time and resources to local campaigners, including working with full-time field organizer Anthony Lorenzo and sending Program for Representative Government program director Amy Ngai to the city for the past two weeks. It's been a heroic effort, but the campaign has faced vigorous and well-funded opposition from current city councilors wary of changes to their election method. We expect the results will come down to the final hours of voting today.

Protecting our right to vote with universal voter registration, national standards and constitutional change:

It's wonderful to see so many Americans participating in our elections, but we must do better to secure their vote. Tens of millions of Americans will sit this election out due to our massively inefficient and incomplete system of voter registration, for example. As my colleague Adam Fogel and I argue in a new widely published commentary on universal voter registration, it's time to join the world of well-established democracies and have nonpartisan government officials take on the responsibility of establishing full and accurate voter rolls -- starting with registration and civic education about voting for every young American reaching voting age.

In this modern age, there is no excuse for voting machines that work poorly and breed mistrust, ballot designs that are confusing, polling places with long lines and absentee balloting that weakens the suffrage rights of students, our military personnel and many more. If today's presidential election is not razor thin close, such voting problems won't be as noticed as they were in 2000 and 2004 ? but they are real, and we must work to establish voting as universal American right and ensure minimum standards and funding give us the election mechanics we deserve. Read FairVote's series of reports on Election Day preparations for evidence of the need for improvement and join with us and a growing coalition of civic groups supporting a constitutional right to vote

Friends of FairVote on the ballot -- and more:

A veritable slew of former FairVote staffers, consultants and Board members are on the ballot, including state representatives Chris Pearson and David Segal, former instant runoff voting program director Diane Russell, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. On our blog we'll update you on these results, other ballot measures we're tracking (from giving 17-year-olds in Connecticut the right to vote in primary elections linked to general elections where they'll be eligible to vote to reforms to allowing early voting in our home state of Maryland). We'll also be sharing our insights into congressional elections and the roots of their general lack of competition ? and ongoing under-representation of our nation's diversity. I hope you've managed to make it to the polls by day's end, and again, thank you for your support!