With political polarization at its highest point in more than a century, observers often assume opposition to reform is inevitable. Election reform is no exception; when one major party supports a proposal, the other often opposes it. But as Ciara Torres-Spelliscy explains on the Brennan Center blog, some reform efforts earn cooperation, as evidenced by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration Reform and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. This ability to find across-the-aisle cooperation is reflective of recent developments for FairVote’s Reform 2020 agenda that we spotlight below.
- National Popular Vote’s big win in New York State
- Voter turnout task force in large county recommends ranked choice voting
- Both Virginia Democrats and Utah Republicans use ranked choice voting in key state legislative nomination contests
- Louisiana governor signs groundbreaking voter pre-registration bill
- Major parties finally put forward nominees for Election Assistance Commission
- Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) lead push to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions, and a Bipartisan Policy Center commission earns unanimous support for significant reforms
- Both major parties back ranked choice voting ballots for overseas voters in congressional elections in five states
- Rest of the News:
- Remembering Kathleen Barber
- Primary turnout plummets
- FairVote in major media
- Norm Ornstein: Top 4 improves Top 2
- Hendrik Hertzberg’s Birthday
Win for National Popular Vote in New York State
In April, New York became the 11th jurisdiction to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, giving backers a total of 61% of the electoral votes needed to activate the compact and ensure that the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC is always elected president. With overwhelming support from both major parties in the legislature (including 27-2 among Republican state senators and 30-2 among Democratic state senators), this victory demonstrates emerging bipartisan support for a national popular vote. Read Rob Richie’s Reuters’ article here and his piece with Andrea Levien in Presidential Studies Quarterly here.
All-partisan task force in Maryland County backs ranked choice voting
Montgomery County (MD), with more residents than six states, has a history of national leadership. Last year it passed one of FairVote's Promote Our Vote resolutions, affirming support for a constitutional right to vote and a commitment to improve voter turnout. The resolution resulted in a 12-member voter turnout task force, composed of an all-partisan mix of Republicans, Democrats, minor party backers, and independents. Its impressive collection of recommendations includes FairVote ideas like moving toward 100% voter registration, a lower voting age, and independent redistricting. The task force supported adoption of ranked choice voting for all county elections 11-1 to ensure more representative outcomes and less mudslinging in campaigns. The task force proposed the instant runoff form of ranked choice voting for single member districts and fair representation version for at-large seats. The report was presented to the county council and will be the subject of hearings this fall.
Virginia Democrats and Utah Republicans use ranked choice voting in key party elections
Rip Sullivan became the Democratic nominee for Virginia's 48th state House of Delegates District - and the strong favorite to win the seat - after the Democrats used the instant runoff (IRV) form in their firehouse primary. The district includes part of Arlington County where Democrats used IRV twice this year for county nomination contests that each drew more than 3,000 voters. In Utah, Republicans have used IRV for many key nomination contests since 2002, including the nomination of Jon Huntsman for Governor and the selection of replacements for state legislators in at least five districts. Given Republicans’ fractured 2016 presidential field and the chance to implement IRV in early caucus states like Iowa, FairVote’s Drew Spencer suggests that Republicans use IRV in more of their presidential nomination contests.
Louisiana governor signs groundbreaking voter pre-registration bill
In Louisiana, voter pre-registration earned bipartisan support this year. Governor Bobby Jindal, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, signed a youth pre-registration bill into law this May. The new legislation requires 16- and 17-year-old citizens to be automatically pre-registered to vote unless they choose not to register. It received strong bipartisan support, with a unanimous vote in the state senate, and features an innovative “opt-out” approach to registration, which will facilitate more complete and accurate voter rolls once young Louisianans reach voting age.
Bipartisan recommendations on voting from Rand Paul, Ben Cardin, and Bipartisan Policy Center
We applaud two recent national calls for reform across the aisle. Two Senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), are leading a drive to restore voting rights for citizens with felony convictions, as explained on the FairVote blog. Senator Cardin’s bill, S. 2235, and Senator Paul’s bill, S. 2550, would expand voting rights in federal elections to citizens with felony convictions and establish a system to notify them of this change. In addition, both bills grant the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, and private citizens a framework to sue for full and equitable application of the law.
Last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform took on a full range of issues, with a number of substantive calls for change that have unanimous backing from a commission that included former U.S. Senator Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott. They called for redistricting reform, early voting, changes in campaign finance, and reform of Congressional procedures. One particularly promising reform is the establishment of a single election day for congressional primaries. This would allow for more focused media coverage and greater public awareness.
Promised revival of Election Assistance Commission: Major parties supply nominees
Created by the Help America Vote Act in 2002, the Election Assistance Commission provides a means to achieve more national coherence in our election administration through research, promotion of best practices, and certification of recommendations for voting equipment standards. As FairVote has reported, partisan bickering has left the commission without a quorum for nearly the entire Obama presidency. Finally, the major parties have both put forward two nominees to fill the long-time empty positions on the EAC board. We hope to see confirmation votes in September, and with it, the return of a fully functioning EAC.
Bipartisan support leads to five states using ranked choice ballots in congressional elections
FairVote has helped win ranked choice voting (RCV) for municipal elections in more than a dozen American cities and in dozens of major associations and universities. We expect more chances to win RCV reform in states and cities, and we are encouraged that both major parties are using RCV in various elections. This year, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and, South Carolina provided ranked choice voting ballots to all their overseas voters in runoffs, which ultimately boosted primary voters’ participation. Louisiana's overseas and out-of-state military voters will use ranked choice ballots for congressional elections in November. See FairVote’s recent blog post and congressional testimony on the proposal.
Thank you, Kathleen Barber: We were saddened to hear about the death of Kathleen Barber, author of one of the most important books about changing winner-take-all elections to American forms of proportional representation. A former city councilor, professor at John Carroll University, and a FairVote founding advisory committee member who spoke at our founding meeting in 1992, Dr. Barber edited a collection about the use of ranked choice voting in five Ohio cities and then a stand-alone volume. She will be missed.
Plunging primary voter turnout draws Dan Balz’s welcome attention: The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate has given a mid-term report card for turnout in congressional and state primary elections this year – and we’re flunking! In the 25 states with statewide primaries for Senate and/or governor, turnout has declined from 18.3% of eligible voters in the 2010 midterm elections to just 14.8% this year. Turnout in 15 states was the lowest ever. The Washington Post’s senior political reporter Dan Balz highlighted the CSAE report, calling on candidates to say more about their plans to encourage participation. See our web resources on voter turnout and Promote Our Vote project to learn more.
FairVote in the media: Our executive director Rob Richie has recently been quoted in publications like the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and The Boston Globe. Richie and FairVote's research intern Duncan Hosie also published Huffington Post articles about low and unrepresentative turnout in California and reforms to boost turnout. Hosie also commemorated the 166th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention in a post on our Representation 2020 website. Our board chair Krist Novoselic talked about FairVote during an hour-long interview on Reason TV, and board member Michael Lind featured fair representation voting in Salon.
Norm Ornstein touts Top Four with ranked choice voting over Top Two: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for the nation to adopt California-style Top Two primaries in a New York Times commentary. While we congratulate Schumer for seeking to change our broken system, our recent California primary analysis shows how the Top Two system is problematic due to split votes and low turnout in primaries that reduce November choices to just two candidates. A better alternative is the Top Four system, which would advance four candidates and use ranked choice voting in November. We were pleased to see prominent scholar Norm Ornstein tout this idea in detail on the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio.
Happy birthday, Hendrik Hertzberg: We toast our long-time board member Hendrik Hertzberg, who celebrated his birthday this month. Rick has written eloquently in The New Yorker and The New Republic about proportional representation, instant runoff voting, and the National Popular Vote plan; keep up with his latest on his New Yorker blog.