Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dissolving the Demographic Dilemma


Two articles were published this morning (July 29) on Daily Kos and Fivethirtyeight about the dilemma of redistricting to make sure as many demographics as possible are represented.


In the Daily Kos article, Stephen Wolf discusses the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision last year (Shelby County v. Holder) to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act that eliminated pre-clearance of redrawn districts in certain states.  By going through state by state scenarios, Wolf estimates that Democratic legislators representing minority communities could lose more than a dozen seats in the House of Representatives and would all but disappear in Southern, majority Republican states.  The Fivethirtyeight article by David Wasserman points out that the urban revitalization in American cities further clusters Democratic votes in densely populated areas, creating astoundingly partisan districts and dramatically reducing the already tiny number of swing House districts.  These demographic trends have already led to less representative elections, like in 2012, when 52% of voters voted for Democratic House candidates, but Republicans won 54% of House seats.  


The issues of representation discussed in these articles appear intractable when possible solutions are only considered within the traditional concept of districts and representation in the United States.  In fact, there are some relatively simple solutions to this dilemma that would reap enormous benefits for representation and government functionality once we let go of the necessity of single-member winner-take-all districts.

First, Superdistricts, in which multiple winners (3-5 representatives) in a larger district are proportionally allocated by vote share, would ensure that the minority party or group of like-minded voters in a district could still win representation. FairVote’s demonstrates how superdistricts would work in Louisiana by putting “voters in charge of their representation.”

Secondly, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a proven and successful system - even in local single-winner offices - for electing more women and minority candidates and giving voters more options to choose from without the risk of “wasting” their votes or voting for “spoilers.”  When used in multi-member districts, as long as a political minority population is beyond a certain threshold (for example, 20% of the population in a district represented by 4 candidates), that minority’s choice candidate is guaranteed a seat.

These reforms would allow Republicans in heavily blue states and Democrats in heavily red states to have a voice in Congress.  Furthermore, they eliminate some of the concerns about fairness that surfaced because of the Shelby County case.  Regardless of party, race, or gender, it is hard to argue against the benefits of multi-winner superdistricts with ranked choice voting, especially in regards to the concerns that Mr. Wolf and Mr. Wasserman brought up this morning.

Friday, July 24, 2015

New Zealand High Court Declares Blanket Ban on Prisoners Voting Contravenes Bill of Rights

The highest court in the land of the long white cloud, the New Zealand High Court, declared that a ban on all prisoners voting was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Introduced in 2010 amid controversy, the ban disenfranchises all prisoners for the duration of their prison terms. However, once a prisoner is released, no matter what the crime, voting rights are reinstated. Before 2010, only prisoners serving terms over three years were disenfranchised, and only for the duration of their prison terms.

New Zealand does not have a written constitution and the Bill of Rights Act is an ordinary statute, so the High Court's declaration has no immediate or binding legal effect. Nonetheless, the declaration may pressure the governing National Party to reconsider the law. Here in the United States, perhaps this decision should make us once again pause for thought about the propriety of denying felons the right to vote after they have served their time.

Meet Haley Smith

Ever since I was little, I’ve been interested in politics. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the fast-talking, altruistic characters portrayed on TV, characters who would save the day and protect the integrity of our government over the course of a single West Wing episode. Whatever the exact draw, I ended up going to school to study political science. It was during my undergrad coursework that I realized the reality of politics and the dichotomy between the political process and our political (democratic) ideals. Like most students of political science, I came to realize just how far our government functions from its ideal. Frustrated with the reality of politics, I became drawn into political theory where the literature discussed how we can talk, act, and rearrange structures of power and institutions of governance to become part of a better society.

Whether one takes the perspective that it's because of gridlock or partisanship or special interests, all the literature is generally pessimistic about government being better. There is very much a prevalent rhetoric that our current system needs to improve. I came to FairVote because it is one of a few organizations that focuses on systemic changes instead of superficial procedural changes that help our democracy function.

FairVote’s focus is to create better democracy, to make our system better so that our voices can be better heard. That’s why I came to FairVote: to help expand the conversation about how structural reforms can offer better collective governance. I’m particularly interested in how we can implement structural reforms that bring about more representation for women and minorities.

I don’t wear a blazer and pencil skirt to work. I don’t power walk down a hallway debriefing a Senator -- who's already late to a meeting about important new developments on Senate bill 1125 -- like I dreamed of when I was younger. While being a Fellow at FairVote might not be glamorous, I believe helping to start a conversation about democratic change is inherently more important.

Haley Smith, a 2015 Research Fellow at FairVote, graduated in 2012 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and is currently finishing her M.A. in Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Do you want to apply for a FairVote Fellowship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/fellowships/

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Looking Back on 18 Years of Monopoly Politics

This week marks the 18th anniversary of the initial release of Monopoly Politics, FairVote’s innovative biennial report on the deep flaws in our current system for electing representatives to the U.S. House, and the potential of fair representation voting systems to overcome these problems and ensure that every American can cast a meaningful vote in every election. Released in July of 1997, the first edition of the report introduced our district partisanship metric for estimating the underlying partisan leaning of congressional districts, and our unique election projection methodology, which, using only district partisanship and recent election results, has allowed us to make projections in the majority of districts in elections since, with almost perfect accuracy. The predictive power of partisanship illustrates the issue that lies at the heart of many of the problems with our electoral system: in the vast majority of districts, one party has a monopoly on representation such that the outcome of general elections is essentially predetermined.

District partisanship is designed to measure the baseline partisan preferences of voters in a district, in the absence of the contest- and candidate-specific factors that vary from one election to the next. It is calculated by comparing the major party presidential candidates’ shares of the vote in a district with their share of the vote nationwide. The closer the presidential election’s outcome in a district is to the outcome of the national popular vote, the closer the district’s partisanship will be to an even split between the parties.

In 1997, Monopoly Politics proved district partisanship to be a very powerful predictor of electoral outcomes. At a time in which the lack of competition in House elections was blamed largely on the effects of incumbency, and conventional wisdom held (as it often still does) that campaign finance was a critical determinant of electoral success, partisanship was shown to be a better predictor of election results than any candidate-specific factor, including incumbents’ previous electoral performance and campaign spending.
The predictive power of partisanship has allowed FairVote to develop a highly accurate model for projecting House elections. In Monopoly Politics 2012 we made projections in 333 U.S. House districts, all of which were correct. In 2014, we made projections in 368 districts, missing only one. Two days after the 2014 elections, we released our projections for 2016, predicting outcomes in a record 373 districts.

In these 373 districts, which elect more than 85% of U.S. representatives, one party has monopolized electoral politics so completely that outcomes can be known with near certainty two years ahead of the election. As our projections in 1997 first illustrated, this utter lack of competition is the natural result of an electoral environment in which Americans have become more partisan, and have geographically sorted themselves into pockets of mostly like-minded liberal and conservative voters, combined with our system of winner-take-all elections in which just one legislator is elected to represent every voter in each district.

As Monopoly Politics 2014 explains, this dynamic is at the root of several major problems with American elections. Our elections are not only predictable, but also unrepresentative. In a system like ours, a district’s minority party can consistently win 10% of the vote, or 40% of the vote, without any impact on the election’s outcome. Voters who vote for a losing candidate are left unrepresented. As a result, we are often left with disproportionate outcomes, as was the case in 2012, when Democratic candidates earned the majority of votes in U.S. elections, but Republicans won the majority of seats. Our system also exaggerates the polarization of American voters, leading to a less effective Congress; when candidates can be certain of their victory, they have little incentive to reach out to moderates or voters from the other side, and are instead beholden to the small and particularly partisan group of voters that nominated them in their party’s primary.

From the beginning, however, Monopoly Politics has presented a solution to these problems: fair representation voting. By combining districts so that each elects three to five representatives, and those representatives are elected using a proportional system like multi-seat ranked choice voting, fair representation voting would ensure that voters across the country participate in meaningful elections, that outcomes represent voters true preferences, and the broad spectrum of American’s political views is accurately reflected in Congress. FairVote’s plan for electing the U.S. House under a fair representation voting system, along with the most recent Monopoly Politics report, can be found at fairvoting.us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

When Polls Fail: Rethinking the GOP Presidential Race with Ranked Choice Polling

In a flashback to 2012, Donald Trump is riding a burst of media coverage to the top of the Republican primary polls. But as Princeton's Sam Wang, writing for The New Republic, points out, all Trump's front-runner standing shows is that traditional polling can't tell us very much about what voters really think--especially in such a crowded field.

We know that at this instant, more voters seem to favor Trump than any other candidate. But with over a dozen contenders jockeying for position, that actually doesn't get us very far in assessing the race as a whole. We don't know the breadth of Trump's support: how many Bush, Walker, or Rubio supporters would happily vote for Trump if their favorite candidate couldn't win, and how many wouldn't vote for him no matter what? Wang notes that favorability ratings imply a very low ceiling for Trump, with a base of core support that doesn't have much room to grow--but horserace polls can't tell us that. And, just as importantly, they can't tell us much about what Trump's base of support really looks like. Who would Trump's supporters back if Trump weren't in the race? Could another candidate tap into Trump's base with the right positioning? Does, say, Scott Walker have a big cache of potential supporters whose affinity for Walker is "hidden" beneath a slight preference for Trump?

Without this information, Trump's plurality support is little more than an interesting talking point, at least when it comes to learning who's likely to actually win the race. As Wang reminds us, a string of marginal candidates (remember Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann?) took a turn at the top of the Republican primary polls in 2012, each generating a flash of media attention before slipping into irrelevance. Ultimately, those polls failed to communicate those candidates' key failing--that despite their ability to snatch a slim plurality lead, the majority of primary voters found them unacceptable.

But pollsters could very easily generate a wealth of new information about the primary field--by allowing respondents to rank their choices rather than just report a single favorite. Results of a ranked choice poll would clearly communicate which candidates have broad-based support, which candidates are marginal, and which candidates could hold onto a shot at victory as the field narrows. In particular, candidates who held onto steady second- and third-choice support, regardless of media-driven churn at the very top of the field, would shine through as the real contenders. And analyzing voters' backup choices would provide a trove of information about different ideological factions within the primary electorate and how the candidates appeal to those factions. 

Ranking choices would be easy to implement into polling--it's used to elect actual candidates in many U.S. jurisdictions and around the world, with heralded results.

In a demonstration of how ranked choice polling could reshape how we think about crowded races, Democracy For America conducted an internal poll on the Democratic primary field in November 2014 in which respondents ranked up to three candidates. The results page allows viewers to pick apart these rankings by eliminating candidates and seeing the results change to reflect the new state of the field. Take a look for yourself how much more information this method conveys about the candidates, the voters, and the horserace than a traditional poll.

Beyond polling, there's a strong case for using ranked choice voting (RCV, or instant runoff voting) to actually elect winners in presidential primary contests. Under RCV, voters rank candidates in order of choice, and a winner is determined by repeatedly eliminating the last-place candidate and reassigning votes for the loser to those voters' next-ranked choice until one candidate has a majority of votes. Because voters' "backup" choices count, RCV picks winners with both a strong core of support and proven broad appeal. That's exactly the kind of winner a presidential primary should produce.

Whether Donald Trump is a flash in the pan or a serious contender, his rise is a reminder that we need smarter polls--and, ultimately, smarter voting systems--to tell us where he and his opponents really stand in the minds of voters.

Meet Molly Rockett

Growing up in local politics, my parents taught me how important civic engagement is to giving back, finding your voice, and making your community a better place. Some of my earliest memories in politics are of baking muffins for Democratic Town Committee Meetings with my Mom or driving around town to put up political signs with my Dad. Through grassroots politics, I got to know neighbors and volunteers from all over town, and their civic service and sense of community was so inspiring to me. I learned that people who serve on local boards, volunteer for local political campaigns, and give their voices to important political discussions are really the ones who shape the future of the community.

I think it was really these values of public service and political empowerment that ultimately led me to work on electoral reform at FairVote. I want to work on issues that protect and expand the opportunities for political engagement in young people, women, people of color, and so many other groups that don’t traditionally find an easy path into the political arena. FairVote shares my values of electoral access and opportunity. They work for fairer elections that will mean better representation and better political opportunities for local communities, and hopefully more paths for women and people of color into politics. I really believe in political empowerment as a mechanism of personal empowerment and an engine of social change, so I’m definitely excited to work on reforms that could bring that to more people.

One thing I really want to learn from FairVote is the skills and strategies it takes to actually enact social reforms, and to make these ideas a reality. FairVote has a whole slew of really incredible electoral reforms that could do great things for states and localities across the country, but as with most great social reforms, the path to implementation is rarely smooth. I’m really interested in learning how a nonprofit with all these great, practical ideas translates them into actual change. What steps are the best practices of moving a good idea into a good proposal, then a good policy? I’m particularly interested in this process because what I really want to do after Fair Vote is get a law degree, and then hopefully work as a legal advocate for other social issues, like women’s issues or LGBT issues. These are other areas where a lot of great ideas exist, but groups are struggling to translate them into actual law. I think there’s a lot I can learn as a future advocate/attorney from supporting FairVote as they navigate this process.

Working at FairVote means a chance to really impact electoral reform. Electoral reform is important to me because the health and strength of our democracy is important to me. Our modern democracy and our political arena badly needs more voices, more actors, and more perspectives. Unfortunately, our current way of voting does not do a very good job at allowing longshot candidates or nontraditional candidates a chance at winning. If we can make the actual electoral process of voting more fair, voters will have more choices on election day, more freedom to vote their conscience, and more incentives for diverse candidates to run. I’m excited to be part of real change during my time at FairVote.

Molly Rockett is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut and a 2015 Democracy Fellow at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote Fellowship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/fellowships/

Monday, July 20, 2015

Meet Katie Gansler

In my Elections and Engagement course during my junior year at the University of Pennsylvania, I was shocked to learn that only about 20% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 showed up to vote – on a good year. I spent the rest of my time at Penn learning about why people vote, why they don’t, and why our electoral system discourages competition, bipartisan cooperation and moderation, and participation in general. During my junior year, my first internship was with the U.S. House of Representatives. There, it became clear to me that votes were not being translated into seats in the House. Upon graduation two years later, I joined a national Senate campaign to take what I learned into the world. On a real campaign, however, I realized that the problems our country faces with our voting system and representation were so much worse than a professor in a classroom could ever hope to describe.

From the second I first heard about FairVote, I knew that’s where I belonged. Quite frankly, I had not known that there were even other people out there that actually did what I wanted to do and were interested in election reform. The reforms that FairVote promotes would work wonders to solve the problems that I witnessed firsthand. Superdistricts would make our House of Representatives more reflective of the desires of the population. Ranked choice voting eliminates the sentiment among voters that no candidate represents their views - a complaint I received ad nauseum as I talked to thousands of people on the campaign. People would be given actually electable options that aren’t only two candidates chosen by the most active members of their respective parties (which would also help ease the partisan divide stalling the legislative process). I am so excited to be part of the effort to fight for these reforms as a member of the FairVote team, and I look forward to watching more voters participate in politics as a more representative government becomes more responsive to the needs of the American people.

Katie Gansler is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a 2015 Research Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Friday, July 17, 2015

Meet Jack Rangeley Denvir



I’ve never really been interested politics. Political campaigns always left me feeling very frustrated, so I focused my efforts on social advocacy issues I cared about instead. When I was younger, my love of nature led me into environmental activism, where I worked to protect the wilderness and natural resources from exploitation. In high school and coming into college at Pomona, I started to realize that the problems in our country were way more fundamental in scope. Not only does nature go unprotected, many people are exploited too, at home and abroad. Why would I care about politics when there are real issues to figure out?

I’m at FairVote because I now understand that reaching equality on social issues that I care about will require fair representation of all people in Congress. The most fundamental reason why people are treated unfairly in our country is that no one speaks for them in government. If every vote is equal someday, and every vote matters, then we will see a U.S. where our policy makes sense, and benefits everybody. When voting is fair, politicians are accountable and have more incentive to compromise and work together on issues like income inequality, what our country does in the Middle East, and climate change.

I doubt I will go into politics (I’m enjoying my college experience as an English Major), but I think that working at FairVote will allow me to gain a better understanding of the big picture, and how
electoral reform can really lay the foundation for so many other social changes. When I go back to Pomona College in the fall for my sophomore year, I’m sure what I’ve learned about electoral reform will guide me as I try understand all of the puzzle pieces of social inequality.

 Jack Rangeley Denvir is a student at Pomona College and a 2015 Research Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meet Dominiq Telfort

As a second generation West Indian American, I have always been the “other” but never realized it until I was exposed to the media and attended private schooling. I never really had any sufficient representation and it is this take on my experience which has made me interested in researching and advocating for social justice reform domestically and abroad. After learning about FairVote’s work analysis of African American males’ disenfranchisement in the United States, Trinidad and Tobago’s switch to a runoff voting system, gender parity initiatives with the Representation 2020 program as well as the Promote the Vote campaign to add a constitutional amendment for the right to vote I knew I wanted to work at FairVote. The thread that binds all of these initiatives and my interest in them is the focus on marginalized peoples.

In retrospect, my political leanings, studies in political science and theology, and creativity have often flowed into one another. For example, I base my political ideology on reasoned analysis offered by political science and a mixture of faith and reason from theology. Studying these disciplines has enhanced my ability to think critically about structural inequality and more importantly, how to change it. As a nonpartisan organization using creative research and advocacy to highlight innovative electoral reform, Fair Vote is a great post-graduate opportunity and springboard for more knowledge, creativity, and reform.

Why do I care about electoral reform? The issues addressed through FairVote’s electoral reform
initiatives are important to me on both a personal and broader theoretical level. In theory, states, while not eternal, can last longer if they adjust their practices to suit the changing socio-political environment. As a double minority, I am part of groups that are most affected by stagnation in policymaking by the majority and therefore, have to care. As a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame, I look forward to interning at FairVote to meet new people and advocate knowledgeably about their platforms. I hope to gain more in-depth knowledge of how women’s representation, enfranchisement, and ranked choice voting can reform the electoral system and then how to communicate these ideas for true reform.

Dominiq Telfort is a recent graduate of Notre Dame and a 2015 Communications Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meet Robert Buderi

This year I have had the opportunity to explore my potential career paths. Its been quite a trip! I have traveled to Turkey, and Jerusalem, and lived in Amman, Jordan for four months. This summer, I really wanted to get experience in how to develop and fund a non-profit, as I believe that is most likely the area I will work in once I graduate from college. It’s a chance for me to ‘try-out' DC--a city I am considering moving to in the next few years. Most importantly, I wanted to work on an issue I feel very strongly about: electoral reform.

I believe electoral reform is the most important step towards a better democracy. With government shutdowns and partisan gridlock, it’s no wonder why public approval of congress is so low. Yet, I believe that there are fundamental steps we can take right now to improve representation and accountability of government and, in the process, provide not just an incentive but an imperative for politicians to cooperate and do their jobs.

Working at Fairvote, I’m especially excited about the broad experience I hope to obtain this summer. What appealed to me from my internship interview was the opportunity to work in all areas of a small organization. I may be working in the development department, but also have to coordinate with communications, legal, and research. Additionally, I will be doing my own research project on international electoral systems, which I will utilize in a paper I will write with a professor for course credit upon my return to McGill University.

There is an important election year coming up in 2016. I’m hoping that with hard work, not just from Fairvote, but from advocacy groups across the country, we will be able to push the topic of electoral reform to center stage at the primary and presidential debates. We need to use this as momentum for the coming four years.


Robert Buderi is a student at McGill University and a 2015 Development Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Monday, July 13, 2015

Meet Nina Jaffe-Geffner


I chose FairVote for my internship because the U.S. electoral system is a topic I have been passionate about since high school. While researching presidential elections for a school debate topic, I was introduced to a range of issues such as gerrymandering and voter ID laws, which I previously had known little about. I was shocked to learn how the technical rules that shape elections can be used to so severely impact who is able to vote and therefore who can ultimately be elected. I also chose FairVote because I am excited about the organization’s efforts to introduce structural reform. Growing up I constantly heard jokes about the supremacy of money in American politics or that Congress gets nothing done. Although these criticisms were made in a jesting manner, for a while it seemed to me that the problems within the U.S. electoral system were inherent. They were simply part of the way things were. FairVote opened me up to the idea that it is possible to change the system overall, which would impact the work done across the board, not just one political issue.

Electoral reform is a topic I care a lot about because it greatly influences whether or not people have an outlet for expressing their ideas on personally meaningful issues. I have always felt really passionate about making sure people who don’t normally have a voice are heard and represented in our system; I even joined various committees on my university campus that were set up with this goal in mind. This topic attained even more importance in my mind last summer while I was working for the Legal Aid Society. The entrenched cycle of poverty I witnessed throughout my time working in family court strengthened my belief in the need for systemic and political change. I believe this type of change is only possible if a new demographic is given the opportunity to be elected to office.

There are many reasons I am excited about this internship! One is that everyday I am learning more about alternatives to the current electoral structure. I love using both data and logic to evaluate the merits and faults of each proposal. I am also really excited to be in an environment where everyone is so passionate about the work they are doing; seeing how much the staff genuinely cares about the issues they are working on is incredibly inspiring. Additionally, I am looking forward to seeing the policies for which FairVote advocates be implemented in the real world in upcoming years. Lastly, I am excited that the ideas I learn about at FairVote are ideas I can talk about in my Political Science classes when I return to my university, McGill, in the fall.

Through my experience with FairVote, I would like to continue expanding my scope of knowledge about electoral reforms. I also hope to contribute to research and publish an article while I am here, as well as learn about a topic I can continue to research when I return to McGill.

Nina Jaffe-Geffner is a student at McGill University and a 2015 Communications Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Friday, July 10, 2015

Meet John Werner

I knew when I decided to come to Washington, D.C. to study law at George Washington University that my focus was going to be on public interest. Unfortunately, that’s a broad category that can mean anything from FDIC financial compliance to fighting a Ugandan bill imposing the death penalty for homosexuality and almost everything in between. We live in an imperfect society and while I’m not the kind of person who would say that the world is bad necessarily, there are so many things that could be better--that should be better.

Public interest in my view can take one of two paths – helping people navigate a broken system or trying to make the system better. Policy work does the latter and that, I think, is the challenge.

FairVote was on the list of employers that were scheduled to come to a couple GW Law career events blog posts. Coming from Oklahoma, anything outside of a winner-take-all system carried some weight with me. I’m trying to avoid any trite “saving the world” phrases but I really think that as much as good public policy is about making the world better, that has to start with electoral reform.
and when I saw them on the list I was immediately interested, so I did some research online and fell in love instantly. My knowledge of alternative voting methods had been limited mostly to quick discussions here and there in political science classes or

Better representation leads to better policy. A governing body that is chosen by an engaged electorate has more legitimacy and is more able to be responsive. The best way to encourage engagement in the political process is by minimizing the number of wasted votes and maximizing competition.

 I’m looking forward to my summer at FairVote. I’m excited to use my research and writing skills to contribute to the team. I’m hoping that working at FairVote will give me an idea of what working on policy looks like, especially from a legal perspective. I am absolutely thrilled to be working with people who share a passion for solving the systemic problems that face our society.


John Werner is a student at George Washington School of Law and a 2015 Legal Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Arizona Independent Redistricting Case Clears Path for National Popular Vote for President

Since the Supreme Court decided Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on June 29, most coverage has, understandably, been about its implications for redistricting. In fact, I published a piece in Salon with Rob Richie about what the case does and does not mean for the future of congressional elections.

However, the case was not really about redistricting. That case was about the meaning of the word "legislature." Yes, that word appears in the part of the Constitution describing who decides the manner of electing members of Congress, but it also appears 16 other times in the Constitution. This case affects a lot more than just redistricting.

Legal scholar Vikram Amar recently wrote a clear article describing how the case impacts the future of presidential elections. It demonstrates that after the Arizona case, we now know for sure that the manner of selecting presidential electors can be decided by the people themselves through the initiative process. That's big news for supporters of a national popular vote for the election of the president.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution states that "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress...." What the Arizona case says is that this means that the manner of appointment of presidential electors may be decided by initiative, provided this part of the Constitution refers to a kind of legislation, rather than something abnormal like the ratification of a constitutional amendment.

The power given to the "legislature" in Article II is clearly a form of legislation. Just compare the language above with that at issue in the Arizona case: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof...." That language very closely mirrors the language in Article II. Both refer to passing a law that regulates a process for selecting officers. If that language from Article I means that the initiative process can be used to regulate congressional elections, then it must be the case that Article II means that the initiative process can be used to regulate the appointment of electors.

The National Popular Vote (NPV) effort asks states to exercise their duty to decide how electors will be chosen by collectively choosing all electors pledged to the candidate who wins the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. NPV only goes into effect when it has been passed by enough states that if those states award all their electoral votes to the same candidate, that candidate will be guaranteed to win the presidential election.

National Popular Vote is already more than 60% of the way toward going into effect, since New York become the 11th state (including D.C.) to adopt the compact. Now that we know it can be passed by initiative, that opens up the very real possibility of its being enacted sooner. Altogether, 24 states allow legislation by initiative. Given that at least two-thirds of voters support National Popular Vote in every state, such an initiative would pass easily. The Arizona independent redistricting decision may have paved the way for a presidential election in which every vote really matters.

Drew Spencer is a staff attorney at FairVote.

Meet Shayna Solomon


I’ll admit, I was bit skeptical when I began a research project this winter about ranked choice voting. I had seen the problematic effects of our current voting system: the dismal number of women and people of color in elected office and the partisan gridlock. I just thought time had to run its course before anything would change. As it turns out, there are all kinds of different ways to fix the problems I’d come to accept as flaws of government. In cities across the country, these solutions are being integrated, tested, and proven to be effective. My research project opened my eyes to a new sector of political reform I had never thought about before: voting reform. The main source for my project was, of course, FairVote, and I couldn’t think of a better place to explore my new found passion for voting equality.

As I began to learn more about FairVote, one of the projects that drew me to the organization was Representation 2020 and the effect of voting reforms on women. I live half an hour away from our nation’s Capitol, the epitome of freedom and democracy. It’s ironic how even inside the Capitol dome, these ideals are not fully realized. I want to see more smart, qualified women get elected to office because, to put it simply, they are like me. Women are uniquely able to understand and fight for the issues important to me and act as role models for girls everywhere.
 
During my time at FairVote, I have learned about voting solutions as they relate to military members,women, partisan gridlock, and so much more. When I go home after work, I am bursting with all I have learned and how much it can help our country. If I can get this excited after a few weeks of work, just imagine the implications on a national scale. Throughout the summer I hope to get a better understanding of the reforms themselves, as well as watch how FairVote’s structural electoral reforms gain attention and support from citizens across the country. I'm excited to use these new skills as I enter my freshman year at Tufts University and continue to explore the realm of political science.

Shayna Solomon is an incoming freshman at Tufts University and a 2015 Research Intern at FairVote focusing on women's political representation. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meet Christian Celeste Tate

I have always been interested in government and politics. Growing up in Washington, D.C., I watched my father fight for D.C. statehood and listened to stories of my grandfather running for the U.S. Senate. I volunteered for my first political campaign at the age of thirteen, and have remained politically involved ever since. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that the system in which our government operates is imperfect and that many of those imperfections discourage civic engagement. This realization is what brought me to FairVote. I want to take ownership of our political system and empower those around me to do the same. This internship is a step towards that goal.
From my internship at FairVote, I hope to gain several things. First and foremost, I hope to grow as an activist and an organizer. I hope to do this by developing my ability to communicate complex ideas, build coalitions, and inspire others to action. Second, I hope to better understand how to connect the dots between objective analysis, successful advocacy, and impactful reform. Complex reforms -- such as the ones taken on by FairVote -- require immense research, communications, and advocacy efforts. I hope to become versed in coordinating such efforts.

Electoral reform is important to me because of its vast implications. I am passionate about many areas of policy, ranging from education to infrastructure to civic engagement and beyond. I believe that in order to adequately and responsibly address those areas, communities (local, state and national) must do so with legislative bodies that are truly representative.

"Electoral reform is important to me because of its vast implications."
I am excited about this internship because the work I am doing is both substantive and lasting. The reforms championed by FairVote have remarkable implications for our elected bodies, and this is a unique opportunity to help bring about reforms that equalize our political representation and galvanize the electorate to engage in our political process.




Christian Celeste Tate is a rising senior at Bowdoin College and working as a 2015 Outreach Intern at FairVote, researching the implementation of ranked choice voting. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here: http://www.fairvote.org/who-we-are/internships-and-employment/internships/

Monday, July 6, 2015

U.S. Wins World Cup: Lloyd Voted MVP


In a spectacular display of offensive power, the U.S. blew by Japan to secure a 5-2 victory in the Women’s World Cup. In front of a packed arena that included Vice President Joe Biden, breakout star Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick (three goals) in the first sixteen minutes of play. Assisted by goals from Lauren Holiday and Tobin Heath, Japan’s late-in-the-game offensive rally couldn’t compete with Hope Solo’s near-airtight goaltending. Following Heath’s goal in the 55th minute, Japan was unable to narrow the U.S.’s three goal lead for the remainder of the game. With this victory, the U.S. earns a record third Women’s World Cup Title.

FairVote has been joining in the excitement of the World Cup by hosting a poll on the team’s Most Valuable Player, using ranked choice voting (RCV). We’re excited to announce that the overwhelming winner of our poll is power midfielder and future American soccer icon, Carli Lloyd.

Voters must have seen Lloyd’s star performance coming, because they overwhelmingly chose Lloyd as their #1 pick for MVP. Of the thirty fans who voted, fifteen listed Lloyd at the top of their ballots, five fans each chose Julie Johnston and Hope Solo, three chose Abby Wambach, and only 2 chose Alex Morgan. If we were doing a regular poll for MVP, this is all the information we would have. Let’s be honest--nobody was going to challenge Carli Lloyd for MVP after her historic World Cup Final performance. But because we used RCV and voters ranked players in order of their preference, we have a little clearer picture of Lloyd’s support among the rest of voters

We know, for example, that when Alex Morgan was eliminated, one of her supporters had listed Lloyd second, and that vote was transferred to Lloyd (See image below).To see how votes are transferred when each of the lowest vote-getting candidate is eliminated, check out the results page here.
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In total, Lloyd gained 5 additional votes because she was the second choice of many Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, and Abby Wambach fans. Lloyd ended up winning our poll with two-thirds of the votes cast; a lead almost as commanding as her scoring record in last night’s game. RCV ensures that every vote matters -- even when your first choice doesn’t turn out to be the winner. It’s a win for democracy! Head over to our website to learn more about how RCV gives more choice and more power to voters in every election.

If you have suggestions for what you want to vote on in our next RCV poll, you can tweet them to us @FairVote or message them to us on Facebook. Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s World Cup team on their resounding victory, and to FairVote’s MVP, Carli Lloyd!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Vote for U.S. Women’s World Cup Team MVP Using Ranked Choice

Champions were born and soccer history made last night in the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s World Cup, as the United States blew past Germany to secure a 2-0 victory and advance to the Finals on Sunday. FairVote has been joining in the excitement surrounding the Women’s World Cup this week by running a poll on the most valuable player on the Women’s World Cup Team, using ranked choice voting (RCV). After last night’s game-changing goal from power midfielder and team captain Carli Lloyd, we wanted to add her to our poll and give U.S. women’s soccer fans everywhere a chance to celebrate her leadership and goal production on the team. You can vote for Carli and her teammates using RCV to rank your favorite players in order of preference. Since RCV allows for more “candidates” and more choice on behalf of voters, Lloyd’s entry into the race won’t keep fans from determining a majority winner, but will certainly make for a more interesting race. For now, you can see the results of the poll without Carli Lloyd, and get a complete picture of how voters ranked the players. In our previous poll, Abby Wambach got the most first-choice votes as the most valuable player on the team. With RCV, the MVP is determined by eliminating the players with the fewest and transferring votes to the voter’s second choice. On the results page, you can see how the votes are transferred when each lowest vote-getting player is eliminated. Players like Abby Wambach and Hope Solo picked up support in each round. For example, when Alex Morgan was eliminated in round three, her six supporters were distributed among Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Abby Wambach. The beauty of using RCV is that when Megan was eliminated for having too little support, those voters still had an opportunity to have their vote count.


Throughout the rounds of voting, Abby Wambach’s broad support among voters allowed her to maintain and strengthen her lead, and she ended up winning the poll with 22 of the 42 votes cast. The secret to Abby’s success in this poll was her strong first choice support combined with a broader coalition of supporters who listed her as their second or third choice. Her victory in this poll shows how candidates succeed with a wide coalition of supporters when using RCV.
When voters get to rank candidates, they have more choice in the election and the winning candidate has a stronger mandate to lead, or in this case, a stronger mandate to score a couple of goals in the World Cup Final. On Sunday, the US Women’s team will take on either Japan or England in the final.