Fair Voting 2012 Dedication

William Raspberry and Lindsey Needham


"What [fair voting] means in practical terms is that significantly more voters would have someone in office that they voted for. Racial and political minorities would be far more likely than now to be represented in the legislatures.... But winning isn't the only thing Richie's super districts might accomplish. The bitterest, most negative, political warfare tends to involve candidates who are competing for the same constituency. But suppose candidates found it advantageous to offer themselves as attractive second choices for voters whose first choice was someone else. The result, says Richie, would almost certainly be more political cooperation, and less calculated divisiveness."

- William Raspberry, 2003

FairVote's 'The Fair Voting Solution 2012' is dedicated to two people who never met each other, but both contributed greatly to this report in very different ways.

FairVote's 'The Fair Voting Solution 2012' is dedicated to two people who never met each other, but both contributed greatly to this report in very different ways.

William "Bill" Raspberry was a long-time, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post. One of the first widely syndicated African American columnists, Bill brought an independent perspective to upholding American values of fairness, freedom and responsibility.

I first talked with Bill in 1993, early on in my tenure as director of FairVote. I had toured New Zealand as a guest of electoral reformers backing a national referendum to replace winner-take-all elections for parliament with proportional representation. Reformers won despite being outspent by margins greater than ten to one, as more than 90% of young people voted for change.

Excited by this victory, I called many columnists to try to communicate its significance. Bill gently, but pointedly suggested that Americans were going to be more interested in what happens in the United States when it comes to changing their elections. He was right.

That call started what became a close relationship. Struggling with the question of how it is best for African-American voters and other racial minorities to exercise political power, Bill embraced the fact that the real culprit for polarization and distorted representation in our politics was winner-take-all elections. Bill wrote a series of columns (see a few examples below) about the merits of adopting fair voting methods - modest systems of proportional representation grounded, yes, in America's own electoral traditions.

For ten years, I traveled every year to speak to Bill's seminar on race and politics at Duke's Terry Sanford School of Public Policy. I would be given two hours of class-time to lead an indepth conversation about what representative democracy means -- and how it would be different if we changed winner-take-all elections.

After he retired from the Washington Post, Bill accepted an invitation to serve on FairVote's Board of Directors. As he became more focused on his remarkable work in his native state of Mississippi, he asked to be moved to our advisory board, but remained a faithful supporter.

Bill was one of the people with whom I most wanted to share Fair Voting 2012 because these solutions effectively aid in explaining what it would mean for the United States to, by statute, replace winner-take-all elections with fair voting. Unfortunately, that day never came. On July 19, 2012, just days before we released the first version of this report, Bill died of prostate cancer at the age of 76. 

Lindsey Needham had a very different relationship with our report. A stalwart member of our outstanding class of 2011-2012 Democracy Fellows, Lindsey assumed great leadership in pulling together Fair Voting 2012: taking the general concept and making it real by working closely with interns like Warren Hays, with other fellows like Sheahan Virgin, Katie Kelly, Devin McCarthy and Joe Witte and with volunteer Eric Florenz, who spent long hours creating the flash animation map at the core of how we present our reports on how U.S. House Elections are - and as we believe they will be.

Lindsey's fellowship came to an end earlier this year soon before the public life of Fair Voting 2012 began, as she took a staff position with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She has been missed - but fortunately, we can look forward to a long career of her making a difference and putting that extra effort into making your work count.

- Rob Richie, October 2012


William Raspberry: Highlighted Columns on Fair Voting and Winner-Take-All