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E-Newsletter December 12, 2003

Released December 12, 2003
Re:     - Gerrymandering, the Supreme Court and the media
          - Securing the vote in the Constitution / No more "democracy on 
             the cheap"
          - "Claim Democracy" conference a big success   
          - Howard Dean and instant runoff voting
          - Good reading: Recent media coverage
          - Elections in Northern Ireland and Russia

(For more information about issues discussed here or to support our Center,  visit archive.fairvote.org or email us at [email protected]. To subscribe/unsubscribe from these occasional newsletters, please see the end of this edition. Please feel encouraged to share this message with friends.)

GERRYMANDERING, THE SUPREME COURT AND THE MEDIA

Three years ago, on December 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the 2000 presidential election in its Bush v. Gore ruling --stopping Florida's recount and in effect electing George Bush.

Democracy returned to the Court this week. On December 10, a 5-4 majority of Justices upheld all major provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation that prohibits national political parties from collecting
large "soft money" campaign contributions, among other provisions designed to root out corruption in the electoral process. Many reformers applauded the ruling, others suggested the ruling stopped short by allowing a sharp increase in "hard money" contributions that individuals can make and others argued the Court went too far in limiting free speech. For more on the ruling, seewww.commoncause.org, www.aclu.org, www.bettercampaigns.org,www.nvri.org, www.cato.org and www.publicampaign.org.

On December 10 the Court also heard arguments in Vieth v. Jubelirer, the first case it has taken on political gerrymandering since the Davis v. Bandemer case in 1986. In the Bandemer case, the Court opened the door to federal courts finding partisan gerrymanders unconstitutional  if designed to systematically undercut the votes of backers of one political party, but lower courts have since slammed the door closed by making the standards impossible to prove -- in turn making redistricting a vicious free-for-all  that reached new heights this year with "re-gerrymandering" in Texas and Colorado.

In the Vieth case Democrats are challenging a Republican gerrymander in congressional districting. Everyone accepts the fact of the gerrymander, with several tortuous districts and Republicans holding a 12-7 edge in U.S. House districts in a state Democrats have carried in the presidential race since 1988. But the plaintiffs must show that such gerrymandering violates the Constitution and that courts can easily remedy the violation. Listening to the oral arguments this week, it seems unlikely that a five-justice majority will step in on behalf of Pennsylvania Democrats.

What hovers over this case is that the best argument on behalf of like-minded groupings of voters is that they should have an equally fair chance to elect candidates of choice to represent their interests and political views no matter where they live -- and that without doubt the best and
fairest way to provide such opportunity is through changes to winner-take-all elections. Unfair election results are grounded in the fact that in winner-take-all elections, up to 49% of voters can have their votes relegated to the trashbin. It is this effective disfranchisement that can allow one party to take advantage of another by designing districts to
"waste" their votes by packing some of them in a few districts and spreading the rest around the remaining districts so they are always in the minority.

The sensible alternative is the family of full representation voting methods that are used in the great majority of well-established democracies and are increasingly used in local elections in the United States. With these systems, 51% of the vote still wins a majority of seats -- but not more. 40% of the vote wins 40% of seats. 10% of the vote wins 10% of seats and so on (with a minimum threshold of support  easily established).
Candidate-based systems like choice voting and cumulative voting are already used in some city elections in the United States and would be the obvious way out -- but most players in these legal challenges back away from this remedy, leaving them stuck in the mud of trying to figure out fair redistricting.

Redistricting can be made fairer, of course -- just ask the people of Iowa, who have a criteria-driven process like that used in nearly all nations that draw single-member districts. And given the courts' cautiousness, the people who should be doing it are our elected leaders. Any elected official who accepts the status quo with political gerrymandering should be looked upon with great suspicion if professing to be a reformer. That status quo not only has produced partisan gerrymanders in some states, but a nearly unbroken parade of incumbent protection gerrymanders that make most legislative and congressional elections little more competitive than elections in the former Soviet Union.
Yet there is just one minor bill in Congress that even mentions the word "redistricting." (That happens to be one piece of legislation more than any mentioning the phrase "Electoral College.")

At least editorial writers and political writers are now focused on gerrymandering. We've posted a great set of resources and links on our website (see archive.fairvote.org/whatsnew.htm), including; the friend of-the-court briefs filed in the Vieth case by our Center and several other reform groups; a wide collection of editorials and articles, including a new lengthy article from last week's New Yorker magazine; and examples of fairer maps drawn by Washington and Lee college students. Our Center's staff and board members write  regularly on this topic, including the recent featured piece in the "Washington Spectator" and a long piece by Steven Hill and me in www.TomPaine.com this week.


TIME TO PUT A RIGHT TO VOTE IN THE CONSTITUTION

The Bush v. Gore ruling was notorious in some quarters for declaring that Americans have no constitutional right to vote for president. In fact, the United States is one of the few nations that lacks a clear affirmation of the right to vote in its constitution. That lack explains why the nation can look the other way when a half million citizens in Washington, D.C. can be denied a voting representative in Congress even thought the body that directly oversees it, why it can allow states to disfranchise more than four million citizens convicted of a felony and why so many states and counties can have such inefficient, ineffective procedures for registering voters and counting votes.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) has introduced HJR 28 to ensure the right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. The amendment has 13 co-sponsors, as of Dec. 3, 2003. On Nov. 22, Rep. Jackson gave a stirring keynote speech at CVD's "Claim Democracy" conference in which he announced a lifelong commitment to putting the right to vote in the Constitution. We soon will have tapes available; a summary of his key points can be found on our website at: http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/jessejr.htm

In the spirit of a national right to vote, my colleague Steven Hill and I this week blasted Congress and the White House for trying to do "Democracy on the Cheap." Here's an excerpt:

"....There's a simple reason the United States is playing catch up to Brazil -- and most other nations -- when it comes to modernizing election administration. Under our decentralized election administration regime, we have a shockingly weak national commitment to fair and secure elections. In fact the main players in running elections are the more than 3,000 county election administrators scattered across the country.

"With the 2002 Help America Vote Act, the federal government for the first time established some national election standards and provided some funds to states. But standards are weak, and funds available for only three years. There's little training for election administrators, and too often county election chiefs are selected based more on whom they know than training and experience. There's limited guidance to assist counties when they bargain with the equipment vendors.

"The vendors themselves spark questions. Three companies dominate the field: Elections Systems and Software, Sequoia Pacific, and Diebold.
They are relatively small profit-making corporations, often cutting corners to make a buck, stretched beyond their capacities, strained by the myriad of state bodies certifying equipment, and all to quick to put aside public interest concerns if not spelled out in contracts. Their equipment isn't nearly as good as it could or should be....

"The manufacture and selling of voting equipment shouldn't be just another business. There indeed is something special about our electoral infrastructure that cries out for a federal system with national standards and regulations. After September 11 we moved to have federal workers monitoring airport security. But after election 2000, we did nothing comparable for our elections.

"Imagine an alternative reality, in which the federal government used its
immense resources to invest in developing voting technologies that were truly cutting edge and secure, with open source software, voter verified paper trails, national standards and the public interest incorporated without resistance. Imagine national voter registration lists that better assured clean lists and a big increase in the barely two-thirds of American adults now registered to vote.

"But no, instead we are stuck with the current shadowy vendors and decentralized hodge-podge that lately have made U.S. democracy a laughingstock around the world. Call it democracy on the cheap. The debate over voter-verified paper trails is a window into a far bigger problem of decentralized elections that inevitably will lead to future debacles until corrected. We can no longer passively accept an election administration regime gone deeply awry. "

Our Center has taken one concrete step toward a more open vote- counting processes.  It has supported Voting Solutions, LLC, in releasing ChoicePlus Pro (TM) under an open source license and development agreement. ChoicePlus Pro processes ballot data for instant runoff voting and choice voting. For more see http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/businesswire_nov03.htm  


CLAIM DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE A BIG SUCCESS

Our thanks to the more than five hundred people --representing more
than 30  states and more than 80 organizations -- who took part in the November 21-23 conference on "Claim Democracy: Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the Vote" in Washington, D.C. Nearly 140 presenters covered a full range of issues. A full conference report will be provided on our conference website (www.democracyusa.org) in January. To build on the connections made at the conference, we have formed a moderated "Claim Democracy" listserve, designed in particular for state and local reformers who want to share "best practices" and post
strategic questions about ways to advance democracy in the United States. Sign onto the listserv athttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/claim_democracy


HOWARD DEAN AND INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING

Instant runoff voting is one of those good ideas that has an air of inevitability about it. Opponents' arguments are so weak that once the idea's novelty in the United States wears off, we expect to see rapid spread of its use.

The concept is simple. When two candidates run, the winner will have a majority of the vote -- let's say 55% - 45%. But if a third candidate runs, the top vote-getter might have fewer votes. Let's say the result now is 40%-45%-15% -- the same set of voters get a different result due to a splitting of the vote. With instant runoff voting, voters can heal this split of they so choose. Voter are given the chance to express a choice
for more than just their top choice -- they can indicate their second choice (and third, if they want to). If no candidate has a majority of first choices, the weak candidates are eliminated, and ballots recounted without those candidates. If some voters' top choice was the candidate with 15%, their ballots would then count for their second choice -- in the case above, the 55%-45% result would be restored, as is only fair.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean has backed IRV for several years. Vermont has one of the nation's strongest movements for IRV, with backing for adopting IRV for statewide office from the Democratic-leaning AFL CIO, the Republican-leaning Grange and good government
groups like the League of Women Voters. On CNN on November 12, Dr. Dean expressed support for IRV, as he has frequently on the campaign trail. The transcript and audio are posted at: http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/deancnn.htm

Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Congressman also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has an even stronger pro-IRV position posted on his campaign website. See: http://archive.fairvote.org/articles/kucinichirv.htm

Instant runoff voting will get some high-level use in the United States in 2004. San Francisco will use IRV to elect members of its Board of Supervisors (its city council) in November, while Utah Republicans will use it at their convention to elect party officers and to nominate candidates for high office. The City of Berkeley will vote in March about whether to allow the city council to be able to adopt IRV.

You can track IRV by joined a moderated listserv; its homepage is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/instantrunoff


ELECTIONS IN NORTHERN IRELAND AND RUSSIA

Nearly all well-established, major democracies use some kind of full representation, non-winner-take-all system for at least one of their national elections Recent elections in Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom) and Russia provide examples. In Northern Ireland, voters use the choice voting method. a candidate-based system that shares some of the principles of instant runoff voting, but also reduces the share of votes necessary to win a seat, which allows full representation of the spectrum of opinion in proportion to like-minded voters' share of the vote. Russia uses a "mixed member" system, where half of its parliament is elected from U.S.-style single-member districts and half from a national "party list", where political parties win a proportional share of seats if they win at least 5% of the national vote. For articles about these elections and many other nations around the world, seehttp://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global

GOOD READING: RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE

The "media coverage" page of our website keeps up-to-date with articles about voting system reform and the Center. To see recent articles, visit: http://archive.fairvote.org/media/index.htm

Highlights include our last update include:

* Christian Science Monitor: "Rigging election boundaries: When does it go too far?" CVD's Rob Richie among those quoted in article on the Pennsylvania case on political gerrymandering.

* Tompaine.com: "The Gerrymander Moment." CVD's Rob Richie and Steven Hill explain the importance of redistricting and the Vieth v. Juelirer Supreme Court case.

* Progressive Populist: "Democracy on the Cheap." CVD leaders suggest that the key lesson from voting equipment controversies is the need to have a strong national commitment to fair and secure elections.

* Asian Week: "Washington Journal: Claiming Democracy." Phil Nash covers the recent Claim Democracy Conference.

* SF Weekly: "Making Nice: City and state elections officials finally strike a harmonious note in their erratic efforts to roll out IRV."

Fox News: "Officials Vow to Fix Voter Problems Before 2004." CVD's field director Rashad Robinson is a featured analyst. .

California Aggie: "Choice Voting increases meaning of votes." UC-Davis  student touts the university's new choice voting system.

The New Yorker: "Uncrazy California." Commentary by Hendrik Hertzberg  advocates IRV in the wake of the California recall.

"To the Best of Our Knowledge", National Public Radio. National radio program interviews CVD's Rob Richie about instant runoff voting.

Washington Post: "Virginia Ranks Low for Election Rivalry:" CVD's analysis is featured in coverage of Virginia state legislative elections.


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The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. It is headed by former Congressman and presidential candidate John B. Anderson. We are devoted to increasing public understanding of American politics and how to reform its rules to provide better choices and fairer representation. Our website (archive.fairvote.org) has information on voting methods, redistricting and voter turnout. As we rely heavily on individual donations, please consider a contribution by mail (6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20910) or on-line at archive.fairvote.org/donate.htm. If you are are a customer of Working Assets, you still have time to vote for us - see our donation page for more information.

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