Voices & Choices

The History of FairVote: The Founding Years

The History of FairVote: The Founding Years

FairVote is celebrating 25 years of doing what it does best -- thinking big on what electoral reforms we need and practically on how to advance them. The story will be told relying on interviews and past accounts.

In 1991, four separate groups formed with a common theme: that it was time to bring forms of proportional representation to our elections. With many seeing politics as moribund, all were called “CPR” with a message of “resuscitating democracy” -- including three spelled out as “Citizens for Proportional Representation” and the fourth a campaign to bring proportional representation back to Cincinnati city council elections. 

Rob Richie and Cynthia Terrell formed a CPR group in Washington state, networking with a Seattle-based CPR group formed by Steven Hill. Congressional aide Matthew Cossolotto’s CPR was in DC, earning an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Bill Collins, Harriet Applegate and Marian Spencer were among leaders in the Cincinnati campaign.

Seeking a breakthrough win for a proportional voting, Richie and Terrell volunteered for the Cincinnati campaign to establish ranked choice voting in citywide elections, as Cincinnati had used from 1927 to 1957. The campaign lost narrowly, but the value of a national organization grew clearer. Richie connected with Cossolotto, Collins and other activists like Massachusetts’ Howie Fain, to organize a Cincinnati conference in June 1992 and launch the new organization. More than 60 people from 17 states gathered, where they were greeted in a memorable speech by Ted Berry, the first African American mayor of Cincinnati.


The new, national CPR elected a board, with Cossolotto as president and board chair. Richie became the first director, working initially out of Cossolotto’s home in Virginia before moving CPR's operations into DC in 1993. Former independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson leant his name as chair of an impressive advisory board and wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on ranked choice voting to elect the president. Mount Holyoke’s Douglas Amy’s seminal “Real Choices, New Voices” (Columbia University Press) laid out the case for proportional representation.

Next week: Expansion, and a vintage video of Rob from the mid-1990s speaking at Boston’s Faneuil Hall.



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