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E-Newsletter March 4, 2004

Released March 4, 2004
Re:  - New release on win for IRV in Berkeley and
          support for IRV in new Illinois poll
       - John Anderson commentary on opening up elections
       -  Reforms for presidential primaries
       - Highlights of recent webpage postings


The 2004 election season became clearer yesterday, with Sen. John Kerry effectively locking up the Democratic presidential nomination and congressional incumbents rolling on to mostly easy elections.


It also was a good day for advocates of fair elections. In Berkeley, voters supported by an overwhelming 72%-28% margin a ballot measure authorizing the city to use instant runoff voting elections --overcoming some vigorous opposition in the local paper and by three councilmembers opposing the measure.


The Center has had a busy primary season, as those of you who track our website -- www.fairvote.org -- or are on the instant runoff voting national listserv -- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/instantrunoff. I wanted to share with you a few highlights, in the form of:


* Our news release today about the Berkeley victory and the results of a telephone survey of 1,100 likely primary voters in Illinois who expressed support for IRV


* Our chairman John Anderson's recently widely published commentary on instant runoff voting and Ralph Nader's independent presidential candidacy


* Excerpts from on of several recent commentaries on presidential primaries that I co-authored with our senior analyst Steven Hill


* Highlights of recent webpostings, including: powerful advocacy of full representation by Katrina Vanden Heuvel and John Burbank; cumulative voting and voting rights; ongoing legal battles over redistricting; on-line IRV surveys; more movement toward full representation in Canada; and good links for tracking the debate over how best to have fair and secure voting equipment


In addition, I want to thank the many among you who must have voted for us in Working Assets' customer voting in 2003 on which non-profit groups to support. We recently received nearly $49,000 based on those votes -- much more than we anticipated. Thanks so much, and please consider a donation this year to help us pursue fair elections. And our best wishes to the many outstanding organizations and individuals working for a strong, vibrant democracy.


- Rob Richie


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NEWS RELEASE:   March 3, 2004


'Instant Runoffs': A Convincing Win and Strong Survey Support


Voters in Berkeley Support Instant Runoff Voting by 72-28%, while Majority of Illinois Voters Agree with John B. Anderson on "IRV for President"


Instant runoff voting, the ranked-choice method of voting favored by Robert's Rules of Order and used to assure majority winners in a single election, received a strong boost yesterday when voters in Berkeley, California overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to authorize the city to enact the innovative voting method. The victory comes on the heels of a telephone survey of likely voters in the upcoming Illinois primary in which a majority of respondents expressed support for instant runoff voting in presidential elections.


John B. Anderson, the former Congressman and presidential candidate who is chairman of the Center for Voting and Democracy, applauded the win. "Berkeley's victory is the latest indication that voters want to say more about their choices -- and to have better choices." Anderson recently wrote a commentary about instant runoff voting and Ralph Nader's presidential candidacy that has appeared in the leading dailies in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Charlotte (NC).


According to a Metro Chicago Information Center telephone survey commissioned last month by the Center for Voting and Democracy, a clear majority of 1,100 likely voters in the state's March 16 primary would like to use instant runoff voting in presidential elections in November, and a plurality would like to use it in primary elections. More than 50% of voters answered yes when asked "Would you like a 'second-choice option' to better ensure that the winner of Illinois'


Electoral College votes has the majority support of Illinois voters?"


The Illinois poll also asked respondents for their full preferences in the state's U.S. Senate primary contests and the presidential race. This information about voters' second and third choices provides revealing information. For example, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry not only was the big frontrunner among first choices. He also was the second choice of four out of five of supporters of Sen. John Edwards and the second choice of 70% of supporters of the remaining presidential candidates. Poll results are available at www.PrimaryPoll.com.


With instant runoff voting, voters rank their favorite candidate first, and then can indicate which candidates are their second and third choices. A candidate wins with a majority of first choices, but if there is no initial
majority winner, the weak candidates are eliminated. Ballots for these candidates are  then counted for their top-ranked choice who has advanced to the second round -- simulating a traditional two-round runoff, but without added costs. Two dozen states have considered legislation on "IRV." Backers include Sen. John McCain and Gov. Howard Dean.


The Center for Voting and Democracy is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that studies American elections and advocates reforms designed to increase voter participation, competitive elections, accountable elected officials and fair representation. For more information visit www.fairvote.org.


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JOHN ANDERSON COMMENTARY


Creating an Open Electoral Process
By John B. Anderson
February 29, 2004, Philadelphia Inquirer  (commentary also in publications such as the Charlotte News and Observer, Sacramento Bee and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
            
Ralph Nader's announcement of his independent candidacy brings back memories. In 1980, I ran for president as an independent after abandoning the Republican primaries. Even though polling near 25 percent when declaring my candidacy, I was labeled a spoiler. My candidacy was said to deprive voters of the clear choice between incumbent Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. Never mind that my platform clearly attracted many people uncomfortable with this choice.


Ever since then I have grappled with how we can structure our electoral system to accommodate an increase in choices and the better dialogue and greater voter participation coming with those choices. Having an election between two candidates is obviously better than a one-party dictatorship, but having an election among more than two candidates is better than a two-party duopoly.


The American people know this. When Ross Perot ran for president in 1992, viewership of the presidential debates soared, and voter turnout rose sharply in nearly every state. When he was shut out of the 1996 debates, polls showed that  Americans wanted him in the debates by a margin of three to one. In 2000, a majority of Americans wanted to include the Green Party's Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan in the debates.


But there is a fundamental, if easily correctable, problem with our electoral process. We use a plurality voting system where voting for your favorite candidate can contribute directly to the election of your least favorite.


Unlike most democracies, our states have set up presidential elections so that the candidate with the most votes wins all electoral votes, even if opposed by a majority of voters. That makes third-party or independent candidates "spoilers" if they split a major party candidate's vote. It's this concern that drives the major parties to exclude other voices from the debates, and for the current condemnation of Ralph Nader for entering the presidential race.


Fortunately, there's a solution, one already practiced for top offices in London, Ireland and Australia and in Utah and California for key elections: instant runoff voting. Any state could adopt this simple reform immediately for all federal elections, including the presidential race. There has been legislation backing instant runoff voting in nearly two dozen states, and former presidential candidates Howard Dean and John McCain advocate the system.


In instant runoff voting, people vote for their favorite candidate, but also can indicate subsequent choices by ranking their preferences as 1, 2, 3. If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and a second round of counting occurs. In this round, your ballot counts for your top-ranked candidate still in the race. Rounds of counting continue until there is a majority winner.


With instant runoff voting, we would determine a true majority winner in one election and banish the spoiler concept. Voters would not have to calculate possible perverse consequences of voting for their favorite candidate. They could vote their hopes, not their fears.


Under this system, progressives who like Nader but worry about George Bush could rank Nader first and the Democrat second. Similarly, libertarian-minded conservatives upset with the Republican party's positions on government spending could rank the Libertarian nominee first and Bush second. Rather than contributing to a major party candidates' defeat, these candidates instead could stimulate debate and mobilize new voters.


Our primitive voting system is this year's biggest spoiler. Instant runoff voting would give us a more participatory, vital democracy, where candidates could be judged on their merits and the will of the majority would more certainly prevail.


[John B. Anderson served in Congress from 1961 to 1981 and was an independent presidential candidate in 1980. He is chairman of the Center for Voting and Democracy (www.fairvote.org).]


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EXCERPTFROM COMMENTARY BY RICHIE AND HILL


(The Center for Voting and Democracy's Rob Richie and Steven Hill generally write and circulate two commentaries a month. These are posted on our website. Below is an excerpt from a commentary that appeared in numerous publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, Baltimore Sun and Cleveland Plain Dealer.)


Reforming Presidential Primaries


.....Reform should enhance what already works. In contrast to most general elections, contested presidential primaries offer a meaningful range of views with real diversity of opinion. The intense focus on Iowa and New Hampshire encourages candidates to have sustained contact with ordinary voters rather than wage campaigns solely from TV studios. Potential nominees must withstand challenges that test their mettle.


But parties could strengthen themselves -- and democracy -- with new approaches:


- Rotate opening states. A lottery among small and mid-size states should determine the first to hold primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire should not be the sole focus of candidates' grass-roots campaigning. Different states have different concerns, particularly those with bigger cities and more racial diversity.


- Create an inclusive, sensible schedule. To avoid a eight-month general election campaign of sniping and personal attacks -- and yes, it's already started -- primaries should return to running from March to June. After the opening primaries, small states would vote in a "mini-Super Tuesday," followed by a break that would allow voters to give front-runners a second look. Bigger states would then vote, followed by more breaks, until the biggest states would vote in a decisive final round.


- Require full representation. In Democratic primaries and caucuses, candidates win a fair share of convention delegates through full representation, in which 25 percent of the vote earns a proportional 25 percent of delegates. Republicans, however, mostly use a winner-take-all system in which the first-place finisher receives all delegates. This distorts results and can allow an unrepresentative candidate to win big when the opposition vote is split among several candidates. Both parties should consider lowering the 15 percent threshold required by Democrats to win delegates.


- Adopt Iowa's "second choice" system. Voting in a public meeting, Iowa's caucus participants can vote for stronger candidates if it's clear that their first choice can't win delegates. Primary voters would gain this enhanced power if they could indicate their second and third choice candidates rather than just vote for one. More voters would help elect delegates (in this year's early primaries, more than a quarter of voters supported candidates who didn't win delegates), and candidates would be more likely to reach out to supporters of other candidates and run positive campaigns.


- Remember young voters. They are most likely to be unregistered and are disproportionately registered as independents and would benefit from being able to register on the day of the primary and vote even if registered as an independent. New Hampshire's primary rules allow these provisions, but Maryland's do not. And, while youth turnout remained low this year, young voters participated in bigger numbers than in 2000 -- 400 percent more in Iowa and 50 percent more in New Hampshire.


- Fix the financing. When leading candidates like Mr. Kerry, Dr. Dean and Mr. Bush opt out of public financing, the system is broken. A 4-to-1 public match for small donations should be provided and participating candidates given additional funds when opponents opt out.


We deserve elections in which more of us make a difference, choices are meaningful and our votes count. Parties can adopt most of these changes without congressional legislation. Let's reform in 2008 voters have a better choice.


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HIGHLIGHTS FROM RECENT WEB POSTINGS


Following are descriptions of some of our recent postings at http://archive.fairvote.org/whatsnew.htm.


*Cumulative voting and minority voting rights: North Carolina judge orders jurisdiction to consider cumulative voting. Demographic shifts in Alabama counties spur calls for cumulative voting.


* State legislative redistricting plans tossed in Georgia and North Carolina: Federal courts this month have ordered new districts for Georgia because of an equal protection claim and new districts in the Boston area of Massachusetts because of a voting rights claim. Keep up with redistricting news in our public interest guide to redistricting.
* IRV used in Altie awards: Alternet once again used instantrunoff voting for its "Alties" awards on movies in 2003.


* California Democratic Party takes action on IRV: On Jan. 17-18, 2004, the California Democratic Party adopted a political reform plank that suggests alternative voting methods like instant runoff voting be explored more frequently.


* Canadian commission recommends full representation: Canada's  leading newspaper reports that the National Law Commission will recommend that Canada replace winner-take-all elections. The Center has compiled information on this and other moves toward change in Canada. A leading electoral reform group, FairVote Canada, summarizes Canadian progress for full representation. 


* Fair and secure voting equipment: The Center has collected links to a number of sites that address the fairness and security of modern voting equipment. We urge readers to get involved in this timely issue.


In addition, there are a number of excellent new articles and commentaries posted in our media coverage area -- see
http://archive.fairvote.org/media/index.htm. Highlights include powerful new commentary by John Burbank and by Katrina vanden Heuvel on full representation.


Our website also provides ongoing coverage of:


       - pending legislation on voting system reform at http://archive.fairvote.org/action/index.html


      - international developments on full representation at http://archive.fairvote.org/pr/global


      - news on redistricting in the United States at:


      - presidential primary results at:



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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 (www.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 Ave., Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20910) or on-line at http://archive.fairvote.org/donate.htm


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