Friday, June 26, 2015

Let's Support Both the Right to Vote Amendment and the VRAA of 2015

On Wednesday, June 24th, 2015, congressional Democrats filed new legislation designed to fix the Voting Rights Act in light of the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down a core piece of the law. This new legislation comes after a bipartisan "Voting Rights Amendment Act," introduced on January 16th, 2014 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-R) and Rep. John Conyers (MI-D), failed to gain enough support in Congress.

This new update to the Voting Rights Act--named the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015-- is a more ambitious fix that would actually expand the number of states covered under the original Voting Rights Act and includes new protections. These protections include federal approval for voter ID laws, redistricting, consolidation or relocation of polling locations, and reductions in bilingual material.

As Congress pursues needed legislation to protect voting rights, we hope more legislators will also join growing efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to establish a right to vote. Contrary to popular belief, Americans do not actually have an explicit constitutional right to vote, which is precisely why legislation like the Voting Rights Act has been so crucial to this point. In today’s climate where the right to vote faces challenges in many states, establishing collective acceptance of it as a fundamental right is more important than ever.

Let’s support the Voting Rights Advancement Act in order to protect voting rights in states with a proven history of actions weakening voting rights, and let’s support House Joint Resolution 25 (which establishes a constitutional right to vote) to best honor voting as the cornerstone of our democracy and give voters the highest level of protection against disenfranchisement.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Need Collaborative Policymaking

A recent article by David Hawkings in Roll Call offers a brief window into one of the last lingering bipartisan conventions in D.C.: The Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game. Once a year, all of D.C. is treated to a show as our congressional representatives channel their considerable energy away from the Hill and into seven innings of enthusiastic baseball. Hawkings aptly describes this spectacle as “one of the great set pieces of a Washington summer,” while also adding a note of advice to future attendees. “Commit to spending at least a few of the seven innings on ‘the wrong side’ of the field,” Hawkings says, referencing the expected seating divide of Republicans on the right of Nationals Stadium and Democrats on the left. The annual baseball game, Hawking argues, is a rare reprieve from the otherwise constant partisan tension that dominates D.C.

Off the Field Hostility

Nowhere is this tension more acutely felt than within the walls of Congress itself. As Hawkings points out, off the baseball field “members spend precious little time socializing in bipartisan company.” The reasons for these deepening personal divisions between members are varied. In our Best Practices for Collaborative Policymaking guide, we trace the roots of partisan animosity back to increasingly lengthy party-driven campaign seasons and reduced social contact between legislators. The several months of fundraising that bookend every election, as well as the uncivil tone of many campaign ads, certainly don’t facilitate cordial relationships on the Hill--and the little free time that members do spend in D.C. during the legislative session is often dominated by fundraising rather than socialization. The annual gathering at Nationals Stadium for a little bipartisan mingling is a rare exception to the rule.

This hostility off the field is a real problem in D.C. As our guide illustrates, legislative collaboration largely depends on the strength of personal relationships across party lines. Without cordial and respectful connections between members, ideological and political differences dominated the conversation, and the gulf between parties can seem insurmountable. Legislative relationships defined by trust, civility, and respect, are engines for bipartisan policymaking. Americans agree that this culture of antagonism has got to change. In a 2010-2011 survey done by the public relation firms Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate and KRC research, 65% of participants agreed that incivility was a “major problem” in congress.

We think the solution can come in a few different ways.

Strengthening Bipartisanship Collaboration

First of all, legislators from across the aisle need to spend more time interacting with each other at bipartisan social events. At the state level, such events have had an enormous effect on promoting bipartisanship and collaboration. Under Cas Taylor, a former speaker of the Maryland House, new legislators in Maryland took a bipartisan bus trip around the state with senior members to build new relationships. At the federal level, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the Daily Beast reports, praised the monthly bipartisan dinner parties among Senate women as a chance to “resolve conflicts the way friends do.” When legislatures get to know each other as people, civility on the floor will follow.

Secondly, we’re lacking in legislative rules and procedures that are conducive to bipartisanship. When the power to set the legislative agenda is concentrated among ruling party elite, collaboration is stifled. We need rules that decentralize control over the agenda. Procedural changes like the automatic advancement of bills, or limits on majority party control of committees, could empower both parties in the policymaking process.

Finally, our winner-take-all voting system with single-winner districts makes it easy for this combative culture to continue. We need Ranked Choice Voting to combat negative ads and mudslinging in campaigning. When legislators spend all campaign season ripping each other apart, it’s almost impossible for them to build working relationships in D.C. Ranked Choice Voting combats negative campaigning by giving candidates an incentive to appeal to a broader range of voters. Candidates are competing to be the second choice on voters’ ballots, and therefore have an incentive to keep campaign dialog civil. Our Civility Report provides evidence of Ranked Choice Voting increasing civility in the localities that have adopted it. American voters are tired of congressional gridlock and partisan divide. One baseball game a year, while certainly a blast to watch, isn’t enough to move our government forward. With the reforms suggested by FairVote, we can start on the path to more civility now.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hillary Clinton Comes Out in Support of Universal Registration

Speaking at Texas Southern University in Houston on Thursday, Hillary Clinton announced her support for universal voter registration while laying out her vision for voting rights in the United States.

While the announcement comes as Clinton seeks to mobilize traditional Democratic voters as she gathers momentum toward a presidential primary campaign, it is important to understand universal registration as a reform that is bi-partisan at its very core. Automatically registering voters would go a long way in achieving free, fair, and accessible elections for all. Our democracy is at its best when more eligible voters participate, and universal voter registration has the potential to level the playing field for low-income voters, young voters, and voters of color, who are disproportionately disenfranchised at the polls. In addition, such legislation would help ensure that states are keeping clean and accurate voter roles so as to protect the integrity of elections, which is often a high priority for conservatives.

FairVote is proud to be a long-time supporter of universal voter registration, and was the first national voting organization to originally support the reform. The United States is one of only a few democracies in the world where the government does not take responsibility for registering voters. It is time that America joined the international community in establishing universal voter registration. Today's announcement is a big step in that direction.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Wisconsin Democratic Delegate Calls for RCV to Elect Party Officers

Mark Davis, a delegate to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW), wrote today in support of changing state party convention rules to establish fairer elections of party officers. Currently, party officers can be elected with a plurality of the vote (less than a majority) after just a single round of voting. Davis rightly offers ranked choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) as a solution.

While DPW officials have expressed concerns about whether a voting change of this nature is permissible under the party's bylaws, Davis is right in quelling those concerns. DPW bylaws state that “the candidate receiving the most votes shall be declared the winner.” That language allows for the current method of counting in which candidates may win with a plurality of the votes. Ranked choice voting, however, would not contradict that requirement. As Davis states, his colleagues must "have the solidarity, the will, and the knowledge" to move forward and implement a fairer system for electing the party's officers.