Reform Roundup: September 2nd, 2016

Posted by Ben Fogarty on September 02, 2016

Catch up on the week’s electoral reform news with our round up of folks across the country writing and talking about FairVote’s reform vision:

  • Stateline, a publication of the Pew Charitable Trust, asks civic leaders in Maine for their opinions on the ranked choice voting initiative and chronicles the growing support for ranked choice voting all across the country: “Maine’s gubernatorial races often feature more than two candidates, and for 50 years, none of them has won a first term with majority support. Fed up with unpopular chief executives who lack mandates for their proposals, voters will decide in November whether to adopt an instant runoff, or ranked-choice voting, system whenever there are more than two candidates…‘This could be transformative in our state and, hopefully, around the country,’ said former independent state Sen. Sen. Dick Woodbury, a leading proponent of the referendum...Interest among state legislators in instant runoffs appears to be growing, said Wendy Underhill, program director for elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures…The number of bills involving instant runoffs in state legislatures has been on the rise: from 17 bills in 2012, to 20 bills in 2014, to this year’s 27.”

  • Nik DeCosta-Klipa, a writer at, discusses the ranked choice voting ballot referendum in Maine and its potential positive impact in an article: “In nine of Maine’s last 11 gubernatorial elections, the winner received less than 50-percent support. In five of those elections, the governor was elected with less than 40 percent of all the votes. However, some Mainers think they have the solution—a fundamental change in how individuals literally cast their ballot—both to the deteriorating state of politics, and to the strategic predicament in which voters are often put. That change is also quite simple: Let people rank their candidates, rather than choosing only one.”

  • Cynthia Terrell, the director of FairVote’s Representation2020 project, writes that adopting fair representation voting is a key step for America to achieve gender parity in elected office in The American Prospect: “One reason that women’s representation in Congress ranks behind that of so many other nations is that few established democracies use our antiquated winner-take-all system, where only one person represents a district. In contrast, most countries and many state and local American jurisdictions use systems that elect multiple people to a district… An alternative approach is what’s known as fair representation voting, a system that combines multi-winner districts with so-called ranked choice. Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of choice from first to last. This ensures that as many voters as possible are able to help elect the candidates that they prefer, and that votes accurately translate into seats. When fair representation systems like ranked choice voting are used in multi-winner districts, women and people of color are more likely to run and win. In fact, a new analysis by FairVote, where I work as director of Representation2020, shows that ranked choice voting can help candidates who are women and people of color…”

  • Gwynn Guilford pens an article on Quartz that examines the Maine ballot referendum and how ranked choice voting discourages political polarization: “Something truly radical could happen on November 8, and it has nothing to do with electing the first female, or perhaps the first reality television star, as president. It’s the introduction of a better, fairer voting system altogether—at least on the state level. When Mainers go to the polls on election day this year, they will choose whether to make their state the first in the US to adopt what’s called “ranked-choice” voting. The new method, which would apply to Maine’s federal and state elections, empowers voters to rank candidates in terms of preference, instead of betting on just one. If state voters choose in favor of Question 5, as the ballot measure is known, they could upend their traditional voting system in a good way: Unlike the current system, ranked-choice voting rewards moderates, helps third-party candidates compete, and discourages negative campaigning.”

  • Michael C. Dorf, the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University, writes that adopting ranked choice voting would be beneficial for major and minor parties alike in Verdict: “IRV benefits third parties. Voters who would vote for a third party were it not for the risk of supporting a spoiler have the comfort of knowing that they can vote their top choice without thereby inadvertently aiding their last choice...But if IRV is good for third parties, doesn’t it follow that it is bad for the major parties? The short answer is no...Under IRV some voters who otherwise would have simply voted for a minor-party candidate will cast a second-choice vote for a major-party candidate. IRV thus greatly reduces the risk of a spoiler candidacy, even as it confers valuable information to the major parties.”

  • Blair Bobier, one of the chief petitioners in Benton County’s ranked choice voting initiative, and Paul Gronke, a Professor of Political Science at Reed College, explain the Benton County initiative and how ranked choice voting works on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud program: "What we're finding is that people are very discouraged with the political process. They're borderline disgusted. This is a way to shift power back into the hands of voters [and] give them something to do about it. Specifically in Benton County, there is no requirement that local commissioners on the county commission be elected with more than fifty percent of the vote, so in other words there is no majority vote requirement in Benton County. So what this [initiative] will require that people who are elected to the Benton County Commission and whoever is elected to the sheriff position will have the support of a majority of Benton County voters."

  • Kristin Eberhard, a senior researcher at the Sightline Institute, advocates for fair representation voting, and describes how it encourages more positive campaigning on Speak Up! Speak Out! Radio: “Right now, we have a pretty outdated, eighteenth century voting system in the United States. We use single member districts, meaning there is just one legislator per district who gets elected, and winner-take-all voting, which means whoever get the most votes in a district wins the only seat for that district. So, even if they didn’t get a majority of the votes, even if they only got 40%, as long as they got more than anyone else, they represent 100% of the voters in that district…In a winner-take-all election, your goal as a candidate is to win more votes than the other candidates. Not to win the most overall votes, not to win over a majority of the voters, just to win more than the other guy. So that means you can do that by trying to win over voters. You can also do that by turning other voters off so that the other person’s voters don’t show up at the polls. Especially in the United States where we have so low voter turnout, suppressing voter turnout is actually legitimately winning strategy in a winner-take-all election...That changes completely, the rules of the game change if you have ranked choice voting. We have experience in cities around the country that do use ranked choice voting and that see less negative campaigns because in a ranked choice contest…[because] what you need to win is the most overall support to win, the most people who like you.”

Image Source: Denise Cross

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