The FairVote Reformer: November 2, 2010
Today tens of millions of Americans are going to the polls to vote in elections for the U.S. House of Representatives. Most voters also will have choices to make for U.S. Senator, governor, state representatives and ballot measures.
But the sad reality is that most eligible voters will not vote, with as many as 60% sitting this election out. About a quarter of eligible voters aren't registered to vote -- or not registered to vote where now living, as was true of a frustrated young woman ahead of me in line today at the polls. Other potential voters simply don't like their choices, don't think voting makes a difference or don't want to take the time.
Then there are the millions of citizens who want to vote, but aren't eligible -- voters whose state denies voting rights to citizens ever convicted of a felony or who live in Washington, D.C. or a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico and Guam.
I hope you've been able to vote I also hope you'll not stop there: our democracy depends on your involvement between elections, and, ultimately, will depend on Americans coming together in their communities and states to forge fairer electoral rules. Our rules need to change to reflect the modern ways we connect with like-minded people and, as our board chair Krist Novoselic argues so well, to open up elections and representation to the full freedoms of thought and association that we prize in others parts of our lives.
Here are FairVote's highlights from a busy autumn. Be sure to stay updated by following FairVote on Twitter - we'll be busy this evening, tomorrow and beyond.
FairVote reform ideas were profiled in Newsweek and by the likes of Gov. Howard Dean, and we've been frequently cited and published in the media and of course at FairVote.org
Gov. Howard Dean made the case for instant runoff voting (ranked choice voting) in a powerful oped running over the weekend in newspapers from Maine to Alaska. The former presidential candidate and Democratic Party chair argues that "Without a majority standard, you can't hold power accountable. It's a blight on democracy when an incumbent can be returned to office even though 60 percent of voters reject that candidate as their last choice...With ranked choice voting, we can uphold majority rule, make campaigns less negative and foster less partisan elections. Let's make democracy work for all of us."
Newsweek magazine spotlighted instant runoff voting last week, while controversies swirling around “fake” third-party candidates promoted sneakily by both Democrats and Republicans in order to create "spoilers" prompted MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to argue for instant runoff voting, with a passionate "please!" Popular bloggers Jonathan Chait and Matt Yglesias also favor instant runoff voting, with Chait's New Republic running an excellent overview on IRV by Nicholas Stephanopoulos. IRV also was featured in In These Times, Reason and The Nation.
FairVote staff and interns were widely published on instant runoff voting, including Toby Rowe's co-authored oped in theFayetteville Observer (NC) on the IRV elections in North Carolina, and Alec Slatky's commentaries in Politico andCampaign Freedom (both with Rob Richie) and the Birmingham News (AL).
The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg frequently blogs on electoral reform including dissecting media coverage of the National Popular Vote plan on CNN and Wall Street Journal and making the case for instant runoff voting and proportional representation. Parade Magazine's Marilyn Vos Savant featured both IRV and National Popular Vote in a Sunday column going out to millions. NYU constitutional law professor Richard Pildes backs IRV eloquently in a Big Think video. An Oakland mayoral candidate did a nifty video on IRV as well.
FairVote's Rob Richie is one of the analysts in the excellent documentary Gerrymandering, now playing in theaters across the country. The film reviews the history of the problem, shows the political potential of seeking independent redistricting commissions and, through Richie and others, introduces the goal of multi-seat districts with proportional representation-- a reform also advocated well by Kingsley Guy in his column in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. See the coalition site EndGerrymandering.com for more ideas and educational resources.
Richie was on several radio and television programs this fall and is a regular contributor to The Hill's The Big Question. His latest Huffington Post blog on recounts previews our upcoming report and boldly suggests that the media hype in all the talk of prospective recount elections this year. Governing magazine featured FairVote in reviewing voter pre-registration for young people. FairVote's Rebecca Guterman wrote an oped about making the most of voter pre-registration and civic education laws for the Baltimore Sun.
We've seen wins in recent months for a number of FairVote's top reform priorities. Voter pre-registration was passed into law in yet another state, National Popular Vote garnered new wins and momentum and the instant runoff form of ranked choice voting is being used for the first time ever in a statewide general election (in North Carolina) and for hotly-contested city council and mayoral elections in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Leandro in California.
The National Popular Vote plan for president made key advances. It was signed into law by the governor of Massachusetts, approved in Washington, D.C. and won overwhelming bipartisan vote of support in the New York State Senate. States enacting it now have a quarter of the electoral votes necessary to have the agreement govern the next election, with more wins expected in the coming year. FairVote's Rob Richie wrote for Huffington Post on the victory inWashington, D.C. and for Yes Magazine on the win in Massachusetts. The media took note, with extensive coverage from major outlets like CNN, Fox, NPR, MSNBC, Politico and the New York Times. The League of Women Voters backed NPV at its biennial convention in Atlanta, with state Leagues now starting to get active around the country.
Instant Runoff Voting (ranked choice voting) is having a remarkable year. Today it's on the ballot for adoption in Maine's largest city (Portland) and Tennessee's largest county (Shelby) as part of broader charter amendment proposals. Election officials in North Carolina and Alameda County (CA) have done terrific work implementing IRV in major elections-- see their voter education materials for North Carolina and Alameda County. FairVote has updated NC Votes 123.com to provideresources on instant runoff voting in North Carolina as it prepares for the first-ever statewide general election with IRV, and three county-level races.
The New York City Charter Revision Commission’s final report (pp. 69-71) recommends IRV for future consideration, as called for by the city’s former Public Advocate Mark Green, and a broad coalition of Los Angeles political leaders and civic groups seek to put IRV on the March 2011 ballot along with a broader "Voters Bill of Rights." In California, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against IRV in San Francisco with a well-argued opinion. Overseas, IRV elected candidates initially in second place in first choice rankings in last month's mayoral election in New Zealand's capital city of Wellingtonand in the British Labor Party's leadership election. Australia has used IRV for its House of Representatives elections, including this year, and the United Kingdom likely will have a national referendum on adopting it in May 2011 -- the Yes campaign is already mobilized, and The Guardian and Financial Times have editorialized on its behalf.
In Septembver Delaware govedrnor Jack Markell signed into law a bill establishing another of our signature reform proposals: allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote. Delaware joins Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. in adopting it in the past 16 months, with California establishing 17-year-old pre-registration. This law has boosted youth registration in other states -- and is a baseline change for the goal of ensuring every young citizen is registered and introduced to voting as they reach voting age.
Redistricting reform is on the ballot today in Florida and California. Stayed tuned for much more on this topic during the coming year at EndGerrymandering.com.