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E-Newsletter May 22, 2007

Released May 22, 2007

FairVote e-News
Dear friend of fair elections:

As we head into the summer, I am pleased to report more advances for our innovative reform proposals. National popular vote is passing numerous state legislative chambers across the nation after a big victory in Maryland. Several voting rights cases might lead to adoption of proportional voting. Implementation of instant runoff voting in U.S. House and Senate races in Vermont drew closer, with passage in the state senate and progress in the house, and instant runoff ballots won a big victory in Springfield (IL). Meanwhile, universal voter registration projects made headway through the launching of our pilot program in Maryland and the Minnesota legislature's recent passage of an automatic registration bill. Internationally, the French presidential elections -- held with a national popular vote, a majority voting rule and universal voter registration -- had voter turnout of 85%. As always, you can see more at www.fairvote.org.

Best,

Rob Richie
Executive Director

P.S. Save the date for our exciting Claim Democracy 2007 conference at the University of District of Columbia Law School on Nov. 9th - 11th.

Legislative Victories for National Popular Vote

In little over a year since its kick-off, the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill has gained remarkable momentum, passing legislative chambers in seven states, and being signed into law in Maryland. The number of legislative supporters has grown to more than 340 in 47 states. This month saw new legislative victories for NPV:

  • Illinois: In the first state where the National Popular Vote bill was introduced in 2006, the Illinois House passed the National Popular Vote plan by a vote of 65-50 on May 2nd. Former Illinois Congressman and FairVote chairman John Anderson is a member of the National Popular Vote Advisory Board.
  • Hawaii: The same week, the Hawaii State Senate also chose to override the Governor's veto of National Popular Vote. The Hawaii House may take up an override vote this summer.
  • North Carolina: The North Carolina State Senate approved NPV by a vote of 30-18 on May 14th, triggering a supportive editorial in the Fayetteville Observer.
  • California: Also on May 14th, the California State Senate voted 22-14 to pass NPV.
New writings on NPV include Stanley Chang's article in the Harvard Journal on Legislation and Rob Richie's article in the National Civic Review. Also, see more about the NPV plan at FairVote and the National Popular Vote coalition site.

Presidential Primaries News

As states continue to move their primaries and caucuses earlier and earlier, the need for a national plan for an inclusive, sensibly-paced schedule is becoming clearer. In Florida moved its state's primary to January 29th, while 22 other states may hold caucuses and primaries on Feb. 5th -- six months before the first nominating convention. FairVote calls for a more rational process that manages the interests of the various states and their voters fairly. Read more about the American Plan, which would create a graduated, rotating primary schedule, and a Century Foundation forum featuring Rob Richie's comments. Also, you can listen to former FairVote board member Jamie Raskin's commentary on the primary scheduling issues on the NPR program Justice Talking.

Instant Runoff Voting advances in Vermont and for military voters

Instant runoff voting (IRV) remains on the cutting edge election reform across the country, with major advances on a number of fronts. Devotees of pop culture will notice that American Idol has used a voting process based on the logic of IRV -- the last-place performer is voted off every week.

On the Ballot

Voters in Springfield, IL, approved the use of instant runoff ballots for military and overseas absentee voters with an overwhelming 91% of the vote. This measure helps ensure men and women in uniform, and other citizens living overseas, will have their ballots counted in all rounds of local elections. States using this ranked ballot method in their major runoff elections include Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas.

Legislative Gains
  • Vermont: The Senate approved legislation that would implement IRV for U.S. Senate and House races by a vote of 16-12. The House Government Operations Committee approved the bill, which will be taken up by the full body early next year. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, U.S. Representative Peter Welch, VPIRG, Common Cause and the Vermont League of Women Voters have provided key support.
  • Illinois: The Senate approved legislation that would adopt ranked ballots for military and overseas absentee voters.
  • California: The Assembly Elections Committee also approved legislation that would adopt ranked ballots for overseas voters. Additionally, it approved legislation that would give local governments the option of using IRV and proportional voting. The latter legislation was also approved by the Appropriations Committee.
New Endorsements and Media

As part of the Brookings Institution's Opportunity '08 project, former Illinois Congressman John Porter has written a thoughtful position paper promoting IRV as a means of promoting better elections and representation.

New America Foundation's Steven Hill and Lynne Serpe wrote a Los Angeles Times commentary on using IRV to replace Los Angeles runoff elections. Philadelphia's plurality voting method in its mayoral and city council primary this week drew civic interest in IRV; the Philadelphia Inquirer published a commentary in favor of IRV by Temple professor Daniel Szyld.

Student Elections

Spring student election season is taking place on campuses around the country with UCLA, Stanford, Duke, Dartmouth and many other colleges and universities holding successful IRV and proportional voting elections.

Proportional Voting Opportunities Emerge

New Proportional Voting Opportunities on Horizon

The power of proportional voting systems in Voting Rights Act settlements remains strong. Just this month, parties in Port Chester, New York are discussing settlement of a voting rights case using cumulative voting. The city's Mayor wants to replace at-large elections with cumulative voting in order to ensure fair representation of Latinos on the city council. A federal judge ordered cumulative voting for a South Dakota school board earlier this year, and the California Voting Rights Act is showing all the more promise to lead to adoptions of proportional voting. Read more about the use of proportional voting in
Voting Rights Act cases.

Meanwhile, in California Ranked choice legislation has passed the state's Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting and Committee on Appropriations. Assembly Bill 1294 would empower municipalities to use instant runoff and choice voting for local elections.

Proportional voting works well in Scotland contrary to early press reports

Scotland on May 3rd held local and national elections under two methods of proportional voting. Voters used choice voting (called “single transferable vote”� in Scotland) to elect local councils and a mixed-member proportional system to elect the Scottish Parliament.

Hosted by Britain's Electoral Reform Society, FairVote organized a team of two dozen election monitors including members of the democracy community, state and local election administrators and elected officials and FairVote board and staff. FairVote director Rob Richie's comments on the elections were reported widely.

The election drew controversy due to a ballot design flaw in the parliamentary elections that led to a large increase in invalid ballots, but these problems had nothing to do with ranked voting in the local elections, and early media reports exaggerated the problem. Proportional voting worked exceptionally well. Had the Parliament been elected under winner-take-all, the Labour Party would have won an absolute majority of seats despite winning fewer votes than the Scottish National Party and only 29% of the list vote. Choice voting was a big success in bringing fair representation to local government and had a far lower rate of invalid ballots than the parliamentary vote.

Scotland Elections Coverage:

Universal Voter Registration & Civic Education Progress

Victory for Universal Voter Registration

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill this session that would automatically register Minnesotans applying for a driver's license and update voter registration when people change addresses. This law significantly enhances the 1993 federal "Motor Voter" law that requires government agencies to give citizens who use their services an opportunity to register to vote. Minnesota's proposal is the first in the nation to introduce an "opt-out" system where the default status for citizens is being a registered voter.

Learning Democracy

The Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals (MDASSP) will highlight FairVote's voting curriculum Learning Democracy in its upcoming monthly newsletter. The newsletter will introduce principals from all over the state to our exciting new program that teaches the mechanics of voting, the history of suffrage in the United States, media literacy and the importance of political participation. The pilot program will be implemented in several Maryland counties beginning next school year and is designed ultimately to reach all high school students.

Read more about FairVote's work on Universal Voter Registration and Civic Education.

FairVote Summer Interns Arrive

FairVote welcomes its first wave of summer interns: Laura Kirshner, Rachel Chodera, Marc Tomik and Andrew Smith. Working with the Presidential Elections Reform Program, Laura is a political science student at McGill University. Rachel, a legal intern, is a law student at Ohio State. Marc joins the Right to Vote Initiative from American University, and Andrew comes to the Voting and Democracy Research Center from Bard College. 15 interns have been accepted for the summer; applications are being accepted for internships this fall and winter.

November 2007 Conference and Anniversary Dinner

FairVote is joining with other leading pro-democracy organizations to organize a major pro-democracy conference in Washington, D.C. on November 9th to 11th at the University of the District of Columbia Law School. On the evening of November 10th, we will hold a banquet to celebrate our 15th anniversary and honor our long-time board chair John Anderson. Stay tuned for more details.