What 2011 says about the 2012 elections
As we come to the end of 2011, it's a time to reflect on what we've learned about democracy this year -- and what it means for the 2012 elections and beyond.
What we've learned is that Americans are upset with their government.
- Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low. -- nine in ten Americans disapprove.
- When candidates are on the ballot, eligible voters abstain in record numbers -- voter turnout in Louisiana dropped in half from 2008 in its race for governor, and dropped even more in West Virginia's gubernatorial race.
- Rather than create new electoral opportunities, redistricting shuts down competition in even more districts -- fully 72% of seats were uncontested in Virginia's "elections" for the House of Delegates.
Americans hunger for more choices, but have fewer meaningful ones on Election Day than ever. They worry about special interest money pouring into politics, but it only keeps rising. They care about the right to vote, but face new restrictions in many states that are likely to dampen participation.
That's the downside. The positive news is that change is coming. Consider these highlights:
- Six cities had ranked choice voting ("IRV") elections this November, with voters being able to rank candidates in order of choice without fear of "spoiling" elections. Every election went well. As one example, the mayoral election in Portland (ME) drew 50% more voters than expected. In a 15-candidate race where no candidate earned more than 30% of first choices, we saw a consensus winner, civil campaigning and applause for the new ideas and participation generated by the election.
- Two more states approved the National Popular Vote plan for president: our biggest (California) and one of our smallest (Vermont). States in the NPV compact now have half the electoral votes necessary to activate the agreement and guarantee that the winner of the most votes in all 50 states and D.C. becomes our next president, with every vote equal.
- Proportional voting had a big year internationally, including being adopted by most Arab nations moving toward democracy. In the USA, FairVote introduced the idea with a series of high-profile commentaries and sample plans as an alternative to the latest round of gerrymandered districts. American forms of proportional voting are being used in American cities -- and directly address the polarizing realities of winner-take-all politics.
- Legislation to establish a constitutional right to vote has 48 sponsors. FairVote leads the nonprofit community in backing this legislation and in promoting big ideas on voting in its spirit like a voter registration system that establishes full and accurate voter rolls, a "public option" for voting equipment and performance standards that guarantee all Americans can trust their electoral process.
Please read on for a summary of the latest news and FairVote research. My best to you for the holidays -- and a new year to remember.
To FairVote Supporters: FairVote depends on charitable donations to fulfill our mission to reform elections in order to respect every vote and every voice. Earlier this week, we mailed our current donors a letter asking for renewed support. You can read the letter, 2011 quotes, and bookmark online. If you like what we do, please consider an online donation. Thank you!
Three cities hold first-ever Ranked Choice Voting ("IRV") elections
This November marked the first-ever use of ranked choice voting (RCV, or "instant runoff voting") in Portland (ME), St. Paul (MN) and Telluride (CO). RCV was also used for the elections for mayor in San Francisco (CA) and Takoma Park (MD), with Cambridge (MA) using the proportional voting version of RCV for city council and school board elections.
Voters and election officials handled the system well, and more than two candidates were able to run in all these cities without any talk of "spoilers."
Here are links on these elections.
- Portland: TV news (Ranked Choice Voting a Success) & Press-Herald:(Ranked Choice Voting a Winner)
- Portland Spotlight & Dorothy Does Democracy
- San Francisco: SFBetterElections.com & Round-by-Round Breakdown
- St. Paul: Ranked Choice Voting a Winner and Voter education site
- Telluride: News article RCV works
- Choice Voting Elections in Cambridge
- Coverage in Freakonomics, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, Economist and Bloomberg News
- Rob Richie blogs on Irish presidential election with RCV
National Popular Vote plan earns two more wins--and FairVote research explains why it matters
California and Vermont adopted the National Popular Vote plan for president this year. Five years after FairVote joined with other reformers to launch the effort, it is halfway to enactment and law in states representing 49% of the electoral votes necessary to govern the next presidential election. FairVote remains a key player in the NPV reform coalition and regularly produces new research and analysis about the failure of the status quo.
FairVote also took a strong stand against an effort in Pennsylvania to try to game the Electoral College. We were invited to submit testimony to the Pennsylvania legislature, and Rob Richie had an article in the Nation magazine.
- Rob Richie's Politico commentary on NPV win in California
- FairVote's testimony against Pennsylvania proposal & related Fuzzy Math report
- Rob Richie in The Nation on National Popular Vote plan
- FairVote blogs on turnout in presidential elections & bipartisan focus on swing states
- New FairVote resources on problems with status quo
- Write your state legislators to support NPV
Fair Voting plans to replace gerrymanders
FairVote board members John Anderson (co-founder and former chair) and Krist Novoselic (current chair) both published high-profile articles about proportional voting this year. Expect to see much more in 2012 as the election season gets underway, with FairVote making good use of its new plans and its Dubious Democracy report on problems with the status quo, such as gerrymandering.
- Widely-published commentary on proportional voting from Richie and Novoselic
- Dubious Democracy: How does your state rank in fair House elections?
- FairVote redistricting resources: Glossary, analysis of Litigation and Reform Legislation, news and more
- John Anderson's op-eds on voter choice and proportional voting from Roll Call & Christian Science Monitor
Highlighted writings from FairVote
FairVote staffers and Board members had commentaries in Politico, Roll Call, Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sacramento Bee and Charlotte Observer. We were featured as quoted experts in publications like the Economist, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and National Public Radio. We also regularly add compelling and timely commentary on the blog and tweet the latest news.You can read featured excerpts, with links to the full articles, at this page. Here are a few examples of our blogposts from the past month:
- Learning a Lesson from Egypt’s Universal Voter Registration by Elise Helgesen // December 7, 2011
- America's Young Voters: Who They Are and Why They Matter by Christina Grier // December 2, 2011 /
Response to “A rogue convention? How GOP party rules may surprise in 2012” by Rob Richie, Elise Helgesen // December 1, 2011
“Mr. Normal” Francois Hollande to Face French President Sarkozy by Hüseyin Koyuncu // November 23, 2011
- Portland’s Biggest Winner: Democracy with Ranked Choice Voting by Dorothy Scheeline, Rob Richie // November 16, 2011
- The Ongoing Problem of Low Voter Turnout: Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia by Christina Grier // November 10, 2011
Internal News: Krist Novoselic on the road, our 2011-2012 Democracy Fellows, Applying for an internship
FairVote has been blessed this year with a remarkable group of more than twenty young people working in our office as democracy fellows and volunteer interns. Here are photos and bios of our fall intern team and this year's four democracy fellows. We are accepting intern applications for the spring and summer. Summer internships are particularly competitive, but rewarding. This past summer, we had six terrific law students joined by several undergrads, helping us produce a range of new research and publications and having meetings with the likes of Howard Dean, Tom Perez, Jamie Raskin and Sean Parnell. Our internship page has more about our internships and sees a photo of our summer 2011 crew on a visit to meet with officials of the Department of Justice.
FairVote also is fortunate in its board members, led by chair Krist Novoselic. Krist had a busy fall, as it was the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana's album Nevermind. This coming year, he'll be on the road for the 20th anniversary of FairVote, speaking to groups and college campuses and appearing on media. To find out more about the potential availability of Krist, executive director Rob Richie and other FairVote leaders, be in touch with Cynthia Terrell at ct[at]fairvote.org. Cynthia also is eager to talk about making donations to FairVote.