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E-Newsletter December 31, 2000

Released December 31, 2000
Looking Back, Looking Forward:
Next Steps After the Post-Election Whirlwind

The Center for Voting and Democracy’s executive director Rob Richie recently prepared for supporters of the Center a report on its work in 2000 and plans for 2001. John B. Anderson, the President of the Center, provided a short introduction to the year end report.  If you would like to support the work of our Center, please send a tax-deductible contribution to 6930 Carrol Ave. Suite 901, Takoma Park MD 20912 or give online.  Thanks for your interest and support.

Message from John B. Anderson, President of the Center for Voting and Democracy

What a remarkable moment for reform!

The attention we received from media, civic groups and elected officials during the controversial ballot-count in Florida was simply an exclamation point -- albeit a powerful one -- to a year that has demonstrated just how far "alternative" election methods have moved into the mainstream of American debate and policy-making. Rob Richie's following report provides details about this year's important advances.

It couldn't have happened without the support of our members -- not only through financial contributions, but through the truly remarkable volunteer energy and innovation that sustains our outreach in so many ways. From Anchorage to Boston, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, our members' devotion to modernizing American democracy to make it fair and accountable for everyone is an ongoing spur to our activities. We thank them and ask for their continued support. Thank you!

Year End Report from Rob Richie, Executive Director

When stepping back from our current whirlwind of daily activity to write this report, I asked myself how to best convey the array of opportunities before us. A simple catalogue alone cannot communicate the sense of energy and possibility that underlies our work with supportive elected officials, public interest group representatives and journalists, but here are a few snapshots since the November elections.

Election Day 2000

  • In California voters in Oakland and San Leandro adopted instant runoff voting charter amendments -- making it an option in San Leandro and enacting it to fill vacancies in Oakland.
  • I was a guest on both CNN and National Public Radio's Fresh Air, while for the fourth time C-SPAN aired our recent news conference on the elections and the state of our democracy (an August news conference was aired by C-SPAN six times).
  • Our web site (www.fairvote.org -- please visit it today if you haven't had a chance!) received a record number of hits. Interest was sparked by: several articles on non-competitive congressional elections in Slate and on wire services like Reuters and Gannett that feature our analyses; by widespread coverage of our youth essay contest; and by many newspaper commentaries by our Center -- board members John Anderson, Matthew Cossolotto, Hendrik Hertzberg and George Pillsbury, staff members Steven Hill, Eric Olson, Caleb Kleppner and myself and several of our members wrote op-eds that received prominent placement in such publications as USA Today, New Yorker, Nation, New York Times, Washington Post, Progressive, In These Times, Roll Call and the leading dailies in Amarillo, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Juneau, Miami, Minneapolis, Providence, Raleigh, San Francisco, Seattle and many more.
  • In one of our regular email newsletters that instantly reach thousands, we highlighted key election facts and draw attention to recent web site additions, including new reports on redistricting, youth turnout, proportional voting systems and congressional elections.
The Media Deluge
  • Debate about the close election, the Electoral College and ballot-counting triggered intense media interest in the Center. Deputy director Eric Olson, field staff Steven Hill and Caleb Kleppner and I handled a steady stream of inquiries -- doing television (interviews on Fox, CNN, Maryland Public Television, more), radio (NPR's Talk of the Nation, Canadian Broadcasting, BBC, ABC, Voice of America, Democracy Now, many more) and countless print interviews (Wall Street Journal, National Journal, US News and World Report, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are among the many publications quoting the Center).
  • In response to our outreach, commentators promoted reforms. The St. Petersburg Times (FL) and Trenton Times (NJ) wrote long editorials in support of instant runoff voting. Clarence Page, Lani Guinier and William Raspberry highlighted proportional systems in nationally syndicated columns. Radio commentators Paul Jacob and Jim Hightower touted instant runoff voting, and four writers in the Nation's post-election issue advocated voting system reforms.
Jumping on the Bandwagon
Media coverage is a great start, but for reform movements to succeed, they must convince established political players to advance their ideas. Our outreach efforts over the years are bearing fruit. For example:
  • U.S. PIRG launched a web site touting instant runoff voting, and invited me to speak this month at their national conference with hundreds of state directors and organizers. Common Cause drew attention to instant runoff voting in a post-election news release.
  • Spurred on by the energetic outreach of several of our members, the League of Women Voters voted to launch a national study on election systems -- its first national study in a decade and one building on current studies in California, Illinois and Washington.
  • The Alaska Republican Party made instant runoff voting its top legislative priority, and supporters collected enough signatures to place on the November 2002 ballot a measure to adopt IRV for most state and federal elections -- including the presidential race.
  • In Congress, Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republican Jim Leach introduced legislation (HR 5631) to study the full range of electoral reforms, including proportional representation and instant runoff voting. State representatives and city councilmembers from across the nation expressed interest.

Building for the Long-Term

In the midst of this post-election blizzard of interest, we continued to build for the long-term.

  • I travelled to Duke to speak to students for the 5th consecutive year, to New Jersey's Eagleton Institute to speak on redistricting and to Atlanta to lead a workshop on proportional systems and voting rights.
  • Articles on proportional systems by CVD staff were featured in Social Policy and in two influential periodicals produced by the Southern Regional Council and Poverty and Race Research Action Council.
  • John Anderson's lecture on "Beyond Spoilers and the Evil of Two Lessers: The Real Lessons of the 2000 elections" drew nearly 300 in New York City.
  • Steven Hill's Arizona trip led to meetings and presentations with local leaders in Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson and to a national meeting of elected officials.
  • Eric Olson led a workshop on redistricting at the National League of Cities annual conference and reported that the Center's literature was quickly swept up by elected officials hungry for information in the wake of Lani Guinier's keynote speech touting proportional systems and the Center.

From Interest to Action

Eric Olson and I work in the national office, while Steven Hill and Caleb Kleppner continue to direct operations in the west and on instant runoff voting. But to capitalize on the rise in interest and energy, we have brought new talent into the organization.
  • In November, special projects manager Ana Aguilar joined our office -- we also have had the fortune of working with ten excellent interns this year.
  • Retiring Vermont state legislator Terry Bouricius was hired in November as our New England Regional Director. In Vermont, key civic groups and this year's three major candidates for governor endorsed instant runoff voting for statewide elections.
  • Our final November addition was national field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger. Dan is assisting the burgeoning number of state and local activists in planning reform efforts. He focuses in particular on Illinois, where there is deep, cross-partisan support for bringing back cumulative voting for state legislative elections --  for reasons involving better policy-making, representation and cooperation among legislators that have powerful resonance for other states.

Looking to 2001

I am excited about the new year. Here are just a few examples of our abundant opportunities.

  • We are sure to see legislation in Congress. The last Congress considered two noteworthy bills: one to allow proportional systems (the subject of a hearing in 1999) and the other to establish a political reform commission. Expect additional legislation relating to instant runoff voting and proportional representation
  • We also strongly support legislation to make it easier for localities and states to modernize their voting equipment -- good for obvious reasons of fairness, but also of critical importance when that modernization allows adoption of better voting methods at no extra cost. Eric Olson joined several Senators, Secretaries of State and the president of Common Cause in speaking on behalf of such legislation. See our Citizen's Guide to Voting Equipment at www.fairvote.org for more on what you can do in your community and state.
  • Numerous states and cities will consider bills on instant runoff voting. Statewide successes in the next two years are quite possible, and ballot measures are under serious consideration in major cities. We plan to contract with reformers in several states to assist these efforts. National field director Dan Johnson-Weinberger has scheduled trainings in several states in early 2001.
  • In just months, every state in the country will plunge into redistricting -- a time when politicians choose their constituents before their constituents choose them. Proportional systems never make more sense than when compared to this ugly insider process that too often shortcuts fair representation and deadens voter choice. We will build on the remarkable success of cumulative voting in school board elections in Amarillo, Texas and the potential support to restore cumulative voting for Illinois state legislative elections by a commission headed by former governor Jim Edgar and former congressman Abner Mikva. And of course we will keep advocating proportional representation in articles and keep working with organizations -- both regional and national -- to help them educate their members and assist local and state activity.

      There is much more. You will be sure to hear about developments in the coming year, as we want to make sure that you and your fellow members have a full chance to be involved and informed. All my best to you, and thanks again for your support.  – Rob Richie