2008 Year End Report
2008 Year-end Report
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Dear Friend of FairVote and Fair Elections,
I write today with a heartfelt request. In order to send us into a momentous year with the wind behind our backs, will you please support us with a generous donation? You should be receiving a letter from me in the mail soon, but let me reiterate here why I’m asking for your help. I hope you'll also consider forwarding this message to others you think may be interested in transforming our elections.
The trajectory of progress is rarely linear. It has its advances, its disappointments and its sudden shifts in direction. But three constants define winning changemakers: vision, persistence and recognizing your moment. FairVote has a clear vision of the way democracy will be, founded on a belief that democracy demands respect for every vote and every voice. We work with unyielding perseverance. We define and seize opportunities to move our proposals into the center of debate – and to achieve them with action.
And so we come to today. Our year-end-review, "The FairVote Transformation," shows how deeply we have changed the course of reform. By articulating a vision of what democracy demands, we have helped develop, promote and carry out strategies to bring us a national popular vote for president, universal voter registration, transparent elections and the new choices that come with instant runoff voting and proportional representation.
But the closer we get to our goals, the more we encounter resistance. This year in Cincinnati we aided local reformers seeking to restore proportional representation in the city of our founding 16 years ago. We created materials, mobilized donations and sent staff to help. And voters responded. We won among people who voted early, but big spenders in City Hall and their special interest allies poured in close to $100,000 in the final 10 days, fooled a gullible local media about the cost of implementing reform and eked out a 5% win. However, our wonderful allies, including a former governor, former mayor, Common Cause, the NAACP and many neighborhood groups will not give up on election reform. And neither will we.
Meanwhile, in Port Chester, New York, FairVote, represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, filed amicus briefs to try and remedy the Village's unrepresentative voting method with a proportional representation system. While the outcome of this case is not yet settled, we have high hopes for a non-winner-take-all solution. This comes on the heels of a victory for proportional representation in South Dakota, where the state's ACLU recently succeeded in defending the use of cumulative voting in Voting Rights Act cases at the Court of Appeals.
This year Vermont’s legislature passed a bill to use instant runoff voting (IRV) for all U.S. House and Senate races. But the governor – perhaps sensitive to his own non-majority wins – ignored calls from nearly a thousand Vermonters and vetoed the bill. Yet we will be back in 2009, with a new IRV election for mayor in Burlington, a ballot measure in Rutland and determination to increase legislative support.
We’ll also build on openings created by two new state laws to boost IRV in North Carolina and Colorado, look for new chances to boost IRV as we did in this year’s overwhelming landslide wins for IRV ballot measures in Santa Fe (NM), Telluride (CO) and Memphis (TN). In addition, we’ll work to ensure the growing number of IRV elections go well. This year, for example, more than a million IRV ballots were cast in San Francisco and Pierce County (WA). Pierce County voters elected Washington’s first woman county executive after IRV vaulted her past the first-round leader. In the four most contested IRV elections in San Francisco, the biggest spenders lost out every time – with IRV and voters having the power to rank their choices making it much harder to win by smearing opponents.
We’ll also keep advancing policies that anticipate voter participation rather than be surprised by it. Florida’s governor this year signed into law our proposal to allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote – and in turn create new opportunities to register young people and introduce them to suffrage through programs like our new Learning Democracy curriculum. Next year, FairVote Rhode Island expects its state will enact the proposal and advance civic learning. By presenting pre-registration at a national meeting of Secretaries of State and advising congressional backers drafting a new bill, we expect more states will follow suit.
In 2008 our country of course had a historic presidential election – one that captured the imagination of millions. Voter turnout rose only slightly, however, and our post-election research showed how the current Electoral College system led to a disturbing turnout gap between the states where candidates campaigned and safe states. There was a greater than 6% turnout differential between the competitive 15 states and the rest of America where two-thirds of voters reside. Our reports, commentaries, media and many presentations to groups – ranging from hundreds of students at the National Archives to the League of Women Voters of Bucks County (PA) – showcased how our current system distorts the principles of fairness and equality.
We do more than talk about problems with the current Electoral College system. We act as a catalyst for change. Our work in the National Popular Vote coalition had contributed to four states enacting the National Popular Vote plan for president and 21 state legislative chambers passing it. The latest polls confirm that landslide majorities of voters from all parties support a national popular vote and a 2012 election where every vote is equal. With steady outreach and media savvy, we can secure victory. Just this week, I was featured on NPR's All Things Considered, discussing the case for a National Popular Vote: [LISTEN HERE]
We can already see that the conversation is changing. A raft of recent polls, from a range of states, show support for a national popular vote at a supermajority of over 70%: [SEE POLLS]. Its no wonder then, that the Michigan House recently passed NPV with a 65-36 bi-partisan coalition.
We work to achieve reform at every level of government. Whether at the federal, state or local level, we seek opportunities to work with reformers to improve and democratize elections. This month, we kicked off our inaugural class of "Democracy Innovator" awards, thanking U.S. Senator Bill Nelson for his work on trying to achieve a national popular vote and seeking grant money for states to pilot advance voter registration initiatives. We also awarded Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Shiela Hixson for their work in making their state the first in the nation to pass the National Popular Vote plan. Our final recipient was Shelby County (TN) Commissioner, Steven Mulroy, who was instrumental in getting instant runoff voting passed in Memphis this November.
This year also witnessed the formal creation of two new FairVote state franchises -- one in Rhode Island and one in North Carolina. Just this week, FairVote RI (www.fairvote.org/ri) held a kickoff fundraiser that drew an impressive crowd, including a dozen Rhode Island legislators, along with former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chaffee. FairVote NC (www.fairvotenc.org) launched an exciting year of activities, including promoting IRV in the state, producing a compelling video on the case for fair presidential elections, and securing the endorsement of the national NAACP for the National Popular Vote plan.
Our successes bring us ever closer to an integrated vision of a thriving representative democracy – one where every American can vote without obstacles, where we have real choices across the spectrum and where we elect candidates to speak for us.
That thriving democracy won’t just make us feel better – it will give us the tools to build a government that acts with the consent of the governed and anticipates problems. In today’s political system, our leaders often lack the political courage to give us hard news before we’re ready to hear it. As we spiral into a worldwide financial crisis and gingerly confront a broken health care system, troubled schools and threats to our environment, a better democracy is an essential part of the solution.
I believe our moment for change is here. As I told a strategy meeting of more than 100 democracy leaders we convened this week to consider innovative reform proposals, improvements to our democracy come in clusters. Success breeds success. Change spurs more change. And that change is coming.
To seize our opportunities and help sustain and grow FairVote’s engine of innovation, please help us with as generous a donation as you can. Please also let us know how best we can bring you directly into our reform efforts, be it with responding to national action alerts or connecting with local reformers.
With my best wishes for the holidays,