E-Newsletter March 22, 2007
Reform is in the air and on the table in many state legislatures and Congress. Here's a brief update on our bold reform agenda. As always, you can see more at www.fairvote.org.
Momentum from Minneapolis' successful November 2006 instant runoff voting ballot measure has spilled over into St. Paul, with reformers collecting signatures for a vote in that city. 13 of 16 local DFL caucuses have endorsed the measure.
Meanwhile, legislation to extend the use of instant runoff ballots to all overseas voters in runoff elections was unanimously approved in the Arkansas legislature and signed into law. This concept will also go to voters for approval in Springfield (IL) on April 17th.
More than a third of Vermont’s legislature has sponsored legislation to implement IRV for statewide elections. Among those testifying in favor of the bill at its first hearing were Congressman Peter Welch and Senator Bernie Sanders. Common Cause Maine led a strong but ultimately unsuccesful charge for using IRV for Maine’s gubernatorial elections. Oregon and Colorado are among states advancing bills focused on local use of IRV. Our home city of Takoma Park held its first IRV election in January, and analysis of our exit poll survey and actual ballots underscore how well it worked and how much support it had. Finally, colleges and universities are well into student election season, with IRV used by a majority of our nation's prestigious institutions.
The Maryland State Senate unanimously passed a strong civics
education proposal that will likely include voter registration. The bill focuses on activities on Constitution Day, typically celebrated on September 17th. In the same
spirit, FairVote advocates for greater youth civic education, along with systematic efforts to register high
Toward that end, Adam Fogel continues to develop FairVote's model civics curriculum, and we will announce our impressive Youth Voter Registration and Education Project advisory board soon.
The National Popular Vote proposal for states to guarantee election of the national popular vote winner now has 256 state legislative backers in 47 states. The plan passed the Arkansas house this week, and Governor Mike Beebe has said he will sign it if it passes the state senate. FairVote's Ryan O'Donnell has been focused on Maryland, where hope for a win is rising in the wake of the opportunity for former Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) and former Congressman John Buchanan (R-AL) to address the Maryland House Democratic and Republican caucuses. Ryan also testified this month before the House Judiciary Committee in Rhode Island.
The major parties' nomination process in presidential elections is also deeply flawed, with more than half of states now poised to vote by Feb. 5th of next year. FairVote backs the American Plan to balance the value of grassroots campaigning and inclusion of all states. Syndicated columnist George Will, former Republican National Committee chair William Brock and the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the American Plan in recent commentaries, and FairVote's Rob Richie spoke about the plan on public radio in Philadelphia. The Century Foundation's Tova Wang wrote favorably about the American Plan in a recent analysis.
Recent elections both within the United States and abroad continue to demonstrate the successful use of various forms of proportional voting systems. Peoria (IL)held primaries last month with cumulative voting, narrowing the field to ten candidates contesting five seats on April 17th. Meanwhile, Finland held parliamentary elections on March 18th using an open list system of proportional voting. Parties win fair shares of seats, and voters select directly which candidates from each party will win those seats. Only days earlier, Northern Ireland held elections March 7th using choice voting, a proportional voting system that has helped ease tensions between Catholics and Protestants in local races in recent decades.
To further American understanding of these global models for reform, FairVote's Rob Richie, David Moon and Ryan O'Donnell will lead a delegation of election administrators, journalists and elected officials to London and Scotland this May, when choice voting will be used to elect local councils and mixed member proportional voting debuts for the Scottish Parliament.
In March of 2006, FairVote and California Common Cause filed an amicus brief to defend the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which would have allowed plaintiffs to challenge voting systems that dilute the voting strength of communities of color and to replace them with proportional or influence district voting systems. Since then, the California Supreme Court upheld the statute in the Sanchez v. City of Modesto case. This historic move paves the way for introduction of this state voting rights act model in other states.
In other legal news, Washington State's top-two primary litigation is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices agreed to take on the case, which explores whether a voter-approved top-two system violates party free association and free speech rights. Candidates seeking nomination to office under the proposed system have their names placed on a single ballot with their self-declared party preference. Voters may select a single candidate of their choice for each position and the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. FairVote entered the case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as amicus curiae, arguing that the parties were in danger of seeking an overly broad ruling given that they were unaware of the instant runoff alternative.
The historic DC House Voting Rights Act of 2007(H.R. 1433) has passed out of committee and is headed for a floor vote imminently, where it is expected to pass in the U.S. House. Beyond granting residents of the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives, the legislation would permanently increase the House membership to 437, thereby removing the chance of an Electoral College tie. This would all be done while also creating a temporary at-large Utah House seat. While highlighting the power of Congress to make broad changes to the election of House members, this bill is urgently needed to remedy a longstanding injustice. Please join our friends at DC Vote on DC Emancipation Day, April 16, for the largest demonstration ever for DC Voting Rights. Our cutting edge research on District voting rights highlights how urban residents and people of color throughout America are harmed by the disenfranchisement of our capital city's residents.
At the same time, another federal proposal, The Count Every Vote Act of 2007, sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), would address voter registration problems, cut down long lines at the polls and restore voting rights to people with felony convictions. The National Campaign for Fair Elections is mobilizing support for this legislation.
Conference planning for FairVote's Claim Democracy 2007 continues with key groups joining the steering committee. The event, aimed at bringing together groups and advocates in the democracy reform movement, will begin on Friday, November 9th in Washington, DC. Stay tuned for more details next month.
FairVote Director Rob Richie heads off to North Carolina State University to give the annual Abe Holzman lecture on April 16th.
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