Richie's May 3rd Democracy Minute

by , Rob Richie, Tom Sanchez, Right to Vote Blog // Published May 3, 2011

There is a lot of valuable news and analysis that flows into my inbox in the course of a day.  I'm starting a new feature where regularly I will share a few thoughts and links that caught my eye - with the expectation that this on average will take about a minute of your time.

International elections provide today's lead. In Canada, where parliamentary elections are held with U.S.-style winner-take-all rules, the Conservative Party earned a majority of seats - the first majority government in seven years. It national vote share was only 39.6%, and no party in Canada has won more than 41.3% of the national vote since the 1980's. That reality of modern Canadian politics helps explain why the New Democratic Party -- which in this election leaped ahead of the Liberal Party to become the official opposition for the first time -- supports proportional voting. 

Our Canadian counterpart, FairVote Canada, analyzes yesterday's elections, and recently released two can't-miss short videos (one on how many votes matter and another on the effect on smaller parties that cleverly make the case for proportional voting. Overseas, proportional voting continues to advance as part of the Arab Spring movement, with the National Dialogue in Jordan agreeing on the value of adopting proportional voting, as also being advanced in Tunisia and, we hope, Egypt.

The referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) in the United Kingdom is down to its final days. As a fitting coda to its abysmal coverage of the referendum campaign (as I spotlighted last week), the BBC today ran the quintessential "he said, she said" account of what the two campaigns are saying -- with at least four of the five lead points of the no campaign being absolutely false or highly deceptive, yet passively passed on by the BBC. The BBC and much of the British press sees "fair reporting" as parroting what each side says without independent evaluation, which has allowed Prime Minister David Cameron to lead an opposition campaign grounded in distortion and falsehood.

The case for voting for AV in Britain is simple. The country no long has a two-party system, yet has a voting system that only works with two choices. In the 2010 elections, more than half of its constituencies elected winners who did not win a majority of the vote and may well have lost if paired only against their top opponent. A third of voters did not vote for the Labor Party or Conservative Party, continuing a clear trend summarized well in this chart original published in the Economist.


Like Canada, the UK deserves proportional voting. Short of that, it at least should replace plurality voting with a majority system where voters won't have to vote tactically and winners are more likely to be representative of their constituency. The alternative vote is a sensible means to accommodate increased voter choice and I hope UK voters surprise pollsters and vote for change on Thursday -- you can follow the latest from advocates at Yes to Fairer Votes.

California Watch reported reported on our recent study on statewide recounts. As explained in our report's policy recommendations, we agree with Verified Voting on the value of risk-limiting post-election audits -even as we point out how few votes are likely to change in a typical statewide recount. The ongoing recount in Wisconsin's recent state supreme court race underscores our findings. The recount is exposing ways we should improve how we handle and record ballots, but the margin between the leading candidates has barely changed. With more than half of votes recounted, the frontrunner's margin has been reduced by only 148 votes from his pre-recount lead of 7,316 votes Absent uncovering of major fraud or error, a similar small percentage margin change is likely in the final count -- quite in keeping with our report's findings, which found that victory margins changed by fewer than 500 votes in 15 of 18 statewide recounts in the 2000-2009 decade.

Keep an eye on our latest tweets on FairVote news and on redistricting around the country and look this week for  the release of new FairVote reports on congressional elections and women's representation in legislatures in addition to new FairVote's "super district" maps showing how proportional voting in multi-seat legislative districts would provide every voter in every election with a meaningful vote  - as recently highlighted in introducing super district maps for VirginiaLouisiana and New Jersey.

And that's today's minute.