Impactful year for FairVote Legal in Congress and the courts

Posted by Author Dave O'brien on December 26, 2017

2017 was a busy time for FairVote’s legal team. We have been part of many exciting developments across the country. Among the highlights:

  • In June, Rep. Don Beyer introduced the Fair Representation Act (H.R. 3057), similar to a model bill drafted by FairVote’s legal department, into the U.S. House of Representatives. The Fair Representation Act would revolutionize elections for the House. Under the proposed law, members of the House would be elected by ranked choice voting (RCV) from multi-winner districts, which would be drawn by nonpartisan commissions. As a result, the House would be much more representative of the United States and allow voters to participate in meaningful and competitive House elections.
  • In September, FairVote submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court for the blockbuster case Gill v. Whitford. Gill provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to draw a clear line on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymanders. FairVote, along with One Nation One Vote, filed a brief arguing that partisan gerrymanders violate the First Amendment and explaining that courts could use voting methods like RCV and multi-winner districts as remedies to resolve future challenges to gerrymanders.
  • In November, the Santa Fe District Court in New Mexico ordered the city of Santa Fe to implement RCV for its upcoming municipal election. Santa Fe’s voters overwhelmingly adopted RCV in 2008 but the city council continued to delay implementation for nearly a decade. Several Santa Fe voters, including FairVote New Mexico’s Maria Perez, represented by Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger de Fernandez, brought the successful challenge to compel the city council to follow the law and accept the will of the voters. FairVote was able to assist their efforts and is prepared to help Santa Fe finally bring RCV to the voters.

There have been some setbacks as well. After Maine’s voters decided to adopt RCV last year, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court issued a non-binding, advisory opinion indicating that the state constitution did not allow RCV in general elections for governor and the state legislature despite strong legal filings and amicus briefs from proponents, including FairVote working with our pro bono legal partners at Hogan Lovells and Akin Gump. In response to this disappointing decision — and despite its very narrow scope — Maine’s state legislature passed a law that could eliminate RCV in the state entirely. Fortunately, there is now an effort underway to gather signatures for a people’s veto, which would put RCV back on the ballot and let Maine’s voters reassert their voice.

There is nationwide momentum to bring positive change to our elections. Activists and legislators across the country are working to bring RCV to their state and local governments. FairVote’s legal team regularly helps activists with statutory drafting and legal assistance, and it looks forward to working with them and making 2018 another exciting year for progress and reform.


 

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