The FairVote Reformer: February 2010
Shakespeare's Richard III briefly emerged from his winter of our discontent, and surely we will see thawing in the snows that have beset Washington, D.C. and the bitter gridlock blocking legislative action on Capitol Hill. But the roots of our political dysfunction go deeper than fleeting blizzards. We welcome the flurry of cover stories in publications like Time ("fixing our broken government" and the Economist ("what's gone wrong in Washington?"), but they remain far too cautious, more likely to blame individuals or relative band-aid approaches than recognize that a 21st century democracy may need a "reset" button, in the words this week of British foreign secretary David Miliband.
Other nations are less timid. This month, the British House of Commons voted to hold a national referendum to change to instant runoff voting amidst a lively debate about major constitutional reforms, while New Zealand's government has set a national referendum on its voting system next year where both IRV and different forms of proportional representation will go before the voters. The greatness of our nation's founders was not just in their decisions and actions; it was their openness to new ideas to do what was best for a new nation.
We're doing our best to capture that spirit, knowing that Americans need more accountable governance, electoral changes to accommodate more choices and fair elections for all. This month's instant runoff voting highlights shows how we make a difference, but our impact goes beyond particulars to an underlying philosophy: if you don't think big, you'll always act small.
Our success depends on allies: national and local civic groups, visionary elected officials, generous donors and enterprising journalists, of course, but also a remarkable array of individuals who volunteer their time and energy to advance reform in their community. Among those shining lights have been Karla Irvine and Bill Slayman, both of whom died in recent weeks. We send our condolences to their families and our thanks for all they did to advance reform.
instant runoff voting (IRV), the ranked choice voting system designed to uphold majority rule when voters have more than two choices in elections.
1) The British House of Commons on February 9th voted overwhelmingly to hold a national referendum on IRV (in the UK called "the alternative vote") in 2011 by a whopping margin of 365 to 187. See this written story and link to television coverage and a blog about it by the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg.
New Zealanders also will have a national referendum in 2011 on its voting system in a two-part referendum: one option before voters will be instant runoff voting, although many reform advocates will be voting to keep a proportional representation system.
2) The city council in Berkeley (CA) this month voted 8 to 1 to implement instant runoff voting for this year's elections for mayor and city council, the culmination of a long campaign that included a 72% win at the ballot in March 2004. Berkeley's vote means that three California cities (Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro) will use IRV for the first time this November, joining San Francisco as it holds its 7th IRV election.
3) The use of IRV for the Best Picture Oscar is garnering major attention (often with the name "preferential voting," as termed by Robert's Rules when recommending IRV). Two former White House officials have written strong commentaries about the Oscars and their support for IRV: Democrat Hendrik Hertzberg n the New Yorker magazine's Talk of the Town and Republican Donald Marron in IStockAnalyst. Other major profiles ran in the New York Times, USA Today (with a useful interactive animation) and Roll Call, featuring quotes from FairVote's Rob Richie.
Our board chair Krist Novoselic is a regular on our new Oscar Votes 1-2-3 blog, while FairVote Minnesota gives you a fun chance to be an Oscar voter yourself.
4) Backers of a losing candidate in last year's mayoral race in Burlington (VT) collected enough signatures to force a referendum on IRV on March 2nd. The local League of Women Voters, Common Cause, VPIRG, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former governor Howard Dean and a majority of the city's elected officials are campaigning to keep IRV. See coverage on Vermont Public Radio and effective op-eds defending IRV in the Burlington Free Press by city councilor Russell Ellis and Rep. Mark Larson and a link to the campaign's website, where you can watch video coverage of Howard Dean's news conference on Monday and his public statement after first voting with IRV in 2006.
TAKE ACTION! If you know anyone in Burlington, remind them to vote in what may be a low-turnout election where every vote really counts.
5) The first federal and state primaries for this year's elections took place shockingly early in Illinois: on February 2nd. A number of high-profile races were won with less than 50%, most remarkably the Republican gubernatorial primary won with just 20.3% (and now in a recount, even though 60% of the votes effectively are discounted as having been cast for candidates out of the top two). In 2002 President Barack Obama -- then a state senator -- was prime sponsor of a bill to use IRV for primaries. See pro-IRV commentaries reacting to the results in Illinois from the Wednesday Journal, the Chicago Daily Herald, the Chicagoist and the Des Moines Register.
Texas holds its primary on March 2nd, with the majority principle upheld through traditional runoffs -- but with a negative impact on voter turnout, campaign finance and election administration burdens, as shown in our 2006 report on federal primary runoffs from 1994 to 2006.
6) In January, a charter commission in Portland, the biggest city in Maine (not its counterpart in Oregon), voted 9 to 1 to put instant runoff voting on the ballot in November, after hearing testimony from me and a number of local reform advocates such as the League of Young Voters. The Portland Press Herald twice endorsed the commission's move, as did the Brunswick Times Record.
7) Utah's state senate in January seated its second member elected by Republican voters using IRV to fill a vacancy. Former Layton mayor Jerry Stevenson won a majority in the final instant runoff against four challengers, with ballots cast by 169 of the 216 District 21 Republican delegates. Last August, Stuart Adams earned a seat in another hotly contested special election among Republican delegates in Senate District 22 with IRV.
8) Saint Cloud State University has released a voter survey taken after the November 2009 debut of IRV in Minneapolis (MN) and the results are overwhelmingly positive. A survey by North Carolina State University showed similarly positive numbers for IRV in Hendersonville (NC). Minnesota's former Rep. Tim Penny made a strong case for statewide IRV elections in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
9) State legislatures, city councils and reformers are considering IRV legislation and debating it in many other states around the country, including new bills in Missouri, California and Binghamton (NY) and commentary in Massachusetts, where a likely four-way gubernatorial election in November promises to showcase the value of IRV
- FairVote this month signed onto a coalition letter to the Department of Justice opposing a merger between the two largest voting equipment vendors and continues its call for transparent elections and a "public option" for voting equipment.
- FairVote Executive Director Rob Richie wrote a commentary on February 21st for the Washington Post on reforming the U.S. Senate.
- Future Majority blogs about FairVote's testimony in support of youth voter pre-registration in Kansas. Maryland is making moves toward being the latest state to adopt pre-registration, with FairVote's Adam Fogel slated to testify in Annapolis on February 25th.
- Wisconsin Rep. Kelda Helen Roys makes the case for the National Popular Vote plan in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Maine Rep. and former House Speaker John Martin had a Feb. 1st commentary advocating National Popular Vote in the Portland Press Herald.
- Democracy in America...True story: New Mexico Secretary of State says not enough money for 2010 elections.
- FairVote intern Pauline Lejeune writes about the UK's possible move to an alternative voting system and introduces a blog series on upcoming elections in Iraq held using proportional representation.
- Right to Vote director Adam Fogel sets the record straight on universal voter registration.
- Former Communications director Paul Fidalgo on the Academy Awards new (and improved) voting system.
- Adam Fogel on what was missing from President Obama's State of the Union last month.
- Rob Richie is regularly featured in The Hill's "The Big Question", including in entries on Feb. 23rd and Feb. 24th.
- FairVote has an active Twitter account. Get news as it happens.