Friday, October 31, 2014

Huffington Post blogs this week by Rob Richie & Promote Our Vote team

I helped develop and edit two excellent pieces relating to the constitutional right to vote and equitable turnout this week that ran in Huffington Post. They highlight the good work and thinking of our  Promote Our Vote project team and related projects like our Policy Guide 2015.

The first piece, written primarily by Zack Avre and Amaris Montes, has revealing statistics about voter turnout in Ferguson, Missouri, and cities around the country -- with steep turnout declines and far  greater inequities by age and race than in high turnout elections.

The second piece, written primarily by Austin Plier, reviews key court rulings affecting the right to vote and concludes that we should all come together to back a clear, affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution.

Legendary civil rights leader Bob Moses backs drive for constitutional right to vote

An October 29th Harvard Gazette article reported on an award ceremony for Bob Moses. Moses, now president of the Algebra Project, in the early 1960s was field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), director of SNCC’s Mississippi Project, and a driving force behind the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964. The article reports that:

Despite the violence and trials that African-Americans continue to face, Moses said, he found comfort and inspiration in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution— and recommended that leaders of tomorrow do the same, urging them to work toward “a constitutional right to a quality public school education, and an affirmative, constitutional right to vote."

James Fallows of the Atlantic backs Maine campaign for ranked choice voting

James Fallows, one of the leading journalists of our era and former chief speechwriter in the Carter administration, devoted his Atlantic column yesterday to the governor's race in Maine, where eight of the last 10 races  for governor were won with less than 50 percent. Fallows has this to say about ranked choice voting.

This also heightens the importance of what [independent candidate] Eliot Cutler said yesterday, after saying that his supporters should feel free to pay attention to the polls when considering their vote: "For those voters who have been seized with anxiety and who don’t want fear to become an indelible hallmark of politics in Maine I have a single request: Regardless of whether you vote for me or someone else, please join me in supporting the proposed citizens’ initiative on ranked choice voting and sign a petition at the polls on November 4 to bring ranked choice voting to a vote of the people in a referendum."

The machinery of democracy is already flawed in enough ways, inadvertent and intentional, and the match between party alignment and popular wishes is already sufficiently askew, that we need to seize any opportunity to fix easily correctible errors. So if I were in Maine, in addition to considering "strategic" voting, I would sign that petition. People of Maine, over to you.

Bloomberg's Peter Coy compares the World Series to the Electoral College

Photo from Bloomberg, Oct. 30, 2014. Credit: Scott Ells, Bloomberg.

Peter Coy pointed out in Bloomberg this week that in many ways, the World Series is a lot like the Electoral College. In the World Series, the winning team is not the one that wins the most runs overall; instead, it's the team that wins the most games. Each game is essentially a "winner-take-all" system.

The problem is, as Coy points out, that the Electoral College weights each "game" differently. He writes:

"There is one big difference, though: Most state races aren’t as evenly balanced as baseball games. A Democratic presidential candidate won’t win in Oklahoma and a Republican won’t win in New York. Candidates ignore states where the conclusion is foregone, so voters there don’t really matter. Voters in swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida, matter a lot, so their issues get a lot more attention from the candidates. This is in practice, if not in law, a violation of the principle of one person, one vote."

If the Electoral College rules were applied to the World Series, what would those games look like? We would probably look at the number of people who attended or tuned in to watch each game in the last World Series, and then give more weight to the games with more attendees. Game 1 might get 11 "World Series Votes," and Game 7 might get 35 "World Series Votes." Then it wouldn't be about who won each game --- it would be about who won the right games.

In 2012, Devin McCarthy blogged for FairVote on this analogy. See his piece "The Current Electoral College is Like the World Series (Which is Why We Need to Change It)". researches the effect of the Electoral College and various reforms. We find that the National Popular Vote plan is most likely to improve the current system. Learn more at

FairVote's Avre and Richie publish South Dakota commentary on ranked choice voting

Zack Avre, a FairVote democracy fellow from South Dakota, joined me in writing a commentary that ran today in the Argus Leader in  Sioux Falls entitled "South Dakota deserves ranked choice voting. Our  commentary begins;

"With Nov. 4 rapidly approaching, all eyes are on the surprisingly competitive South Dakota Senate race, and for good reason. National party leaders and media have recognized the importance of the open seat in deciding the Senate majority. More importantly, the race will determine who represents the Rushmore State in Washington into the next decade. However, the way South Dakota elects its senators puts voters in a bind, such that they inadvertently might elect an unrepresentative candidate strongly opposed by most voters. That’s why South Dakota should look to ranked-choice voting."

Maine's ranked choice voting petition drive backed by Portland Press Herald

The Portland Press Herald, Maine's largest newspaper, today endorsed the ballot drive for ranked choice voting in all state and congressional elections in an editorial entitled "Ranked choice voting drive first step toward reform." The editorials starts:

"The second most important thing voters can do on Election Day is to pause after casting their ballots and sign a petition to bring ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting to Maine elections. It is a voting system designed for elections with more than two candidates that is employed in a number of U.S. cities, including Portland. It fixes two of the main problems of multi-candidate elections: It guarantees that the eventual winner has the approval of a majority of the electorate, and it provides a way for people to vote for a first choice – even if it looks as though that person can’t win – and still have the ability to positively influence the election’s outcome."

The  Press Herald editors had first-hand experience with ranked choice voting in 2011, when RCV was used to elect the mayor. In this editorial after the election ("Our View: Brennan, ranked-choice voting both winners"), they wrote:

"Without ranked-choice voting this would have been a very different campaign. If they were just seeking to have the most votes on Election Night, the candidates would have targeted a number of voters, identified their supporters and made sure they turned out to the polls. In this case, about 5,000 votes from nearly 20,000 cast would have been enough.

"A candidate with a hot-button neighborhood issue could have run away with the election without ever meeting a voter from another part of town. Under the ranked-choice system, candidates were forced to engage with each other and talk to each others’ voters.

"The result was an interesting conversation about Portland and its future that would not have happened in a “turn-out-your-base” election. That debate helped clarify the job description for Portland’s mayor, and it will make life easier for Brennan when he shows up for work."

Petition backers are lining up petition gatherers on Election Day.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Survey of 900 Small Business Owners Shows Big Support for FairVote Reforms

Small Business Majority is, in its own words "a national small business advocacy organization, founded and run by small business owners to focus on solving the biggest problems facing small businesses today." It has 14 offices in 10 states and Washington, DC, engages a network of 30,000 small business owners, and reaches an additional 400,000 entrepreneurs through  formal strategic partnerships with 110 business organizations.

That's a great group  of people to have as backers of electoral reform. Today, Small Business Majority  released the results of a September 2014 Internet survey of 900 small business owners: 400 nationally, and 100 each from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota,  Ohio and Wisconsin. The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, with a margin of error of +/-3.3%.

The survey is worth reading in full, but here are two highlights for FairVote that are taken straight from the executive summary:

More than three-fourths (78%) of small business owners believe we should change our current election system to one that allows for multiparty representation, a system that could lead to election of parties other than the Republican and Democratic parties.

A majority of entrepreneurs (56%) are ready to change the way we vote for candidates by
eliminating primary elections and switch to ranked choice voting. With ranked choice voting, voters rank their choices—first, second, third and so on—instead of only choosing one candidate on the ballot. 

• More than eight in 10 (83%) small business owners favor a constitutional amendment requiring district boundaries be drawn by a non-partisan independent citizens’ commission of informed voters, rather than by elected officials. This constitutional amendment would also require that districts be drawn using neutral criteria so that one political party or politician is not favored over others. More than four in 10 (44%) strongly favor this step.

The respondents were: 48% Republican, 32% Democratic, 11% independent, 9% other or did not answer that question.

Krist Novoselic on opening up Congressional elections

Krist Novoselic: Let's Open Up U.S. House Elections

Great piece in the Open Standard on the fair voting solution to election for the U.S. House of Representatives. FairVote is lucky to have Krist Novoselic as chair of its board. For more detail on the fair voting solution to congressional elections, check out

Also, be sure to check back soon: we plan on updating our biennial report, Monopoly Politics, next week immediately following the results of the 2014 congressional elections.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Voting age discrepancy in WI highlights eager young voters

In Grafton, Wisconsin, high school student Zachary Ziolkowski wants to cast his vote when Election Day arrives next Tuesday. He turns 18 years old on Nov. 5th (the day after Election Day), and noticed in one of this high school text books that 18-year-olds achieve adulthood in the eyes of the law on the day before their birthday. After taking his argument to Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, he has been informed that he still will not be allowed to cast his vote in this year's midterm elections.

This unique situation caught my attention, as FairVote's Promote Our Vote project continues to study the potential for municipalities to lower the voting age for local elections to 16 years old. While doing so would not resolve the ever-present issue of young citizens who come of voting age the day after an election, there is some insight to gain from this situation. Quite simply: young people do care about the issues at stake in elections and want to vote!

As voter turnout in local elections continues to dive to historic lows, communities need to have a conversation about reviving civic engagement and bringing more voices to the table. Policies like lowering the voting age have the potential to tap into a pool of eager young voices like Zachary Ziolkowski, as well as build up a sustainable and engaged electorate that has roots in a community. The idea of 16-year-olds voting in local elections is perhaps jarring at first. However, when we put faces on these young potential voters and realize there are more Zachary's in our communities, we must consider the positive impact that lowering the voting age would have on our local democracies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tunisia elections underscore value of proportional representation in emerging democracies

Tunisia on October held its second national  elections since its people  launched the Arab Spring movement nearly four years ago. This time the Nidaa Tounes party won the most seats, with the ruling Ennahda party finishing second. A system of proportional voting was used, meaning that Nidaa Tounes' vote total (expected to be about 38%, as opposed to Ennahda with about 29%) will not result in an inflated majority. Even so, he secular Nidaa Tounes party is expected to lead  the next government, potentially with the Islahmist Ennahda party in a unity government

In 2011-2012 we ran a series of articles on Arab Spring, highlighting the importance of a fair electoral system of proportional representation for promoting negotiation among rivals -- with pieces contrasting post-Arab Spring elections in Tunisia and Egypt, for example.. While clearly not the only factor in allowing representative democracy to take root, fair representation voting is among the most important ones. Tunisia certainly provides a stark contrast to Egypt, which has returned to military rule after problems tied in part to winner-take-all democracy.

The Washington Post editorial page ran a piece by David Ignatius last January on the inclusive nature of Tunisia's new constitution, with a piece last weekend echoing a hopeful view of Tunisia by Jackson Diehl. Neither one mentioned proportional representation, however-- a detail that must be understood as central for creating opportunities for true representative democracy in emerging democracies and, I might add, longstanding ones as well.

Ranked choice voting ballot measure drive in Maine

Two leading Maine state representatives, Sen. Dick Woodbury (I) and Diane Russell  (D), have announced the launch of a ballot measure for ranked choice voting, the instant runoff system that opens elections and upholds the goal of majority rule, as reported in the Bangor Daily  News and Portland Press Herald. The proposal would establish ranked choice voting for all elections for Congress and state offices, starting in 2018.

There's every indication that this effort can succeed. Maine advocates of ranked choice voting have been meeting regularly over the past year and a half, with RCV formally backed by the League of Women Voters of Maine after extensive study and state legislation backed by nearly a third of state representatives in 2013. With eight of the last ten elections for  governor  won with less than 50% of the vote-- and with three of the  last five won with less than 40%, including victories  by a Democrat, Republican and independent -- it's clear that Maine voters want the option of more than two candidates on the November ballot. This year it's quite likely that the election for governor and one of the state's  two U.S. House race will be won with less than 50%.

Ranked choice voting is used to elect the mayor of Portland, Maine's largest city. In 2011, Mike Brennan was elected by the system as the city's first elected mayor in decades Hotly contested, the election drew high praise afterwards, with the Portland Press Herald pointing out in an editorial entitled "Our View: Brennan, ranked-choice voting both winners" that

       "Without ranked-choice voting this would have been a very different campaign. If they were just seeking to have the most votes on Election Night, the candidates would have targeted a number of voters, identified their supporters and made sure they turned out to the polls. In this case, about 5,000 votes from nearly 20,000 cast would have been enough.
        "A candidate with a hot-button neighborhood issue could have run away with the election without ever meeting a voter from another part of town. Under the ranked-choice system, candidates were forced to engage with each other and talk to each others’ voters.
        "The result was an interesting conversation about Portland and its future that would not have happened in a “turn-out-your-base” election. That debate helped clarify the job description for Portland’s mayor, and it will make life easier for Brennan when he shows up for work."

Mayor Brennan echoed that sentiment in a FairVote Voices podcast interview in 2013. Stay tuned for Maine having a chance to lead the nation in becoming the first state to enact ranked choice voting for all state and congressional elections.

FairVote joins voting rights case in Washington to promote fair representation

This is a cross-post from FairVote's home blog.
Last week, FairVote filed an amicus curiae (friend of the Court) brief in Montes v. City of Yakima, a case brought against the city of Yakima, WA under the Voting Rights Act. You can read the brief here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

LA Times Editorial welcomes us to the new world of voter suppression

This morning the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board put the responsibility on a number of government officials for facilitating the rise of the new world of voter suppression. They called out the Supreme Court for permitting voter ID laws in Texas and other states, writing:

"Welcome to the new world of voter suppression, the culmination of a sustained effort by mostly Republican state legislators to make it harder for Americans to exercise the most basic right afforded to citizens in a democracy. It's an effort whose effect, if not its intent, has been to reduce the participation at the ballot box by groups that historically have been the victims of discrimination. It has been abetted by a Supreme Court that blithely gutted an important section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and by a Congress that has been to slow to undo the damage caused by the court."

The LA Times Editorial Board called on the courts, state legislatures, and Congress to promote our vote, as FairVote says.

Friday, October 24, 2014

State Representative in Maine calls for ranked choice voting

State Representative Diane Russell of Maine called for ranked choice voting in an editorial for Bangor Daily News this week. She wrote that ranked choice voting decreased mudslinging in Portland elections, where it is currently being used, saying, "Instead of debating who was more capable of winning, mayoral candidates debated their vision for the future of Portland. That's right -- we had a debate about ideas. Further, instead of throwing mud at fellow opponents who might share some of their views, candidates had to appeal to their opponents' voters."

FairVote supports ranked choice voting as a means of improving the fairness of elections. Learn more on our website.

Maddow Blog weighs in on a Constitutional right to vote

The Rachel Maddow Show Blog discussed adding the right to vote to the constitution this week, quoting from the Vox article written by Matt Yglesias on its importance. Steve Benen wrote that he was skeptical about the need for the right to vote, but "that skepticism wanes in the face of a sweeping voter-suppression campaign, unlike anything in my lifetime, that shows no signs of abating."

There are many good reasons to add the right to vote to the Constitution. The increase of voter suppression is certainly one of them.

Washington Post editorial calls for multi-member districts, 1776 opinion calls for FairVote's reforms

The Washington Post Editorial Board wrote earlier this year about the extreme polarization and partisanship within Congress, saying: "The problem is that the dominant incentives in our political system favor the purists of left and right. Prominent among these is a congressional apportionment process that divides the population into reliably red or blue districts. ... Rebuilding the political center might require more radical measures, such as the revival of at-large or multi-member congressional districts, which used to be common in many states but which were effectively outlawed by Congress in 1967 in favor of single-member districts."

This week another opinion article called for FairVote's reforms. Clark Cohen, an entrepenuer, argued in the online magazine, 1776, that structural reforms to our electoral systems are necessary to end government gridlock. He writes, "What is the opportunity cost to society and entrepreneurs for having a broken Congress?  In a connected world, Congress could be serving as a vital forum to work through multiple complex societal issues. Instead, entrepreneurs whose business plans may be subject to regulation can be blocked too easily from creating new value.  A structural reform promoting fair representation may be key."

FairVote advocates for the use of fair representation voting within multi-member district systems. A simple plan is proposed in FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2014 Report. As Cohen suggests, these plans would decrease the effect of extreme partisanship and help government to work more effectively.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vox Article on Absence of U.S. Constitutional Right to Vote

Matt Yglesias writes for Vox: "A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or to dye it blue, or to say "pretty please let me vote," all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement."

 FairVote's Promote Our Vote project helps move the effort for a Constitutional affirmative right to vote forward through local action. To get involved, check out