Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Meet Tenneh Dukuly

I first heard about internship opportunities with FairVote from Liberty’s Promise, a club at my school that encourages young immigrants to become active members of American society through local internships and other civic programs. I was determined to get an internship. Scanning through the many job opportunities, I decided to check out FairVote. Initially, politics was not an interest of mine, but after reading about FairVote’s work on women's representation. I was intrigued.
Finally, someone was stepping up to solve a problem that has been going on for decades: gender disparity -- the underrepresentation of women in government office. Women make up only 19% of Congress and 24% of state legislatures, this is despite the U.S. population being more female than male since 1951 (according to a recent Pew Research study). I was baffled. It really did not make much sense to me, and more than that, it just seemed so unfair.

As an intern with FairVote, I’m excited to help advance reforms that really make a difference in getting more women into office. I’m also very interested in young people aged 16-17 gaining the right to vote. These reforms would make a huge impact. Structural reforms to increase women’s representation would make sure that the candidates selected actually represent the people. Teenage voting would give more young adults that care about politics a voice in the political system.

These reforms give individuals the chance to really choose their representation. This internship excites me because FairVote is not only trying to get the voices of women and minorities heard, but also teenagers. It takes courage to break away from the norm, I think what FairVote is doing is very courageous. For me, the importance of electoral reforms is that it gives a voice to people, creates a more diverse election, and ensures that everyone who voted has a meaningful vote. Tenneh Dukuly is a 2015 Research Intern 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/

Friday, August 14, 2015

Obama: There are real problems with how we are electing our representatives

Image: "Crimes Against Geography" from the Washington Post
This summer, electoral reform is taking center stage as leaders from both major parties and voter advocacy groups raise concerns over the dysfunctional nature of our elections and government. To achieve real reform, elected officials must move beyond simply addressing redistricting issues and grapple with how our politicians are elected and how they represent us in Congress. We must advocate meaningful changes like ranked choice voting and districts with more than one representative.

In an encouraging move towards progress, politicians both nationally and locally are all stepping up to support independent redistricting reform. When asked in a recent NPR interview to comment on the need for changes to our political rules, President Obama was blunt. “I think that there are real problems with how we are electing our representatives.” The President goes on to link polarization in Congress back to persistent gerrymandering and uncompetitive elections, highlighting California’s recent shift to drawing congressional districts with nonpartisan citizens commissions.

President Obama is not alone in denouncing the toxic and polarizing effects of gerrymandered districts. In fact, concerns surrounding the wildly illogical and uncompetitive districts across the country are solidly bipartisan. Calls for redistricting reform and independent redistricting commissions are growing on both sides of the aisle.

Maryland Governor Announces Plans for Redistricting Commission

Just last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who we have encouraged to stand up for voting rights in the past, announced his strong support for independent redistricting commissions and charged an 11-member bipartisan panel with developing a new process for determining district lines. This commission is tasked with drafting a proposed amendment to the Maryland state constitution which would remove the power to draw congressional districts from elected officials. As Doug Clopp, director of outreach and advocacy for FairVote notes, “What we really need is to have a big discussion in Maryland and also across the country about how does our current system of winner take all [elections], dominated by two major parties, really reflect how we want to be governed?”

Both parties, Hogan is quick to note, are at times guilty of using gerrymandered districts to their advantage. Opposition to independent redistricting and other fair representation plans almost always originates in the party that stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo. Democrats in Maryland, for example, are insisting that redistricting reform must occur at the federal level first to level the playing field across the country. Currently in Maryland, Democrats are overwhelmingly favored in 7 out of the 8 congressional districts.

Among voter advocacy groups, Governor Hogan’s plan has won widespread praise. Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the executive director of Common Cause Maryland, supports the Governors proposal as a “first step toward a more open, transparent, and impartial process." She also criticized the current district lines in Maryland, saying they “sprawl across the state, slicing and dicing communities and neighborhoods, discouraging civic engagement in our democracy.”

Like President Obama, Governor Hogan traces the negative effects of gerrymandering back to consistently safe seats and a lack of healthy political competition. “Gerrymandering is a form of political subterfuge,” Hogan says, “that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices.” Maryland’s growing number of unaffiliated voters may also make the state more amenable to reforms that lead to more competitive elections.

Structural reform is the key to making our political system functional again. 

Independent redistricting are a key first step on the path to truly fair elections, but they won’t be the solution to deeper issues of unrepresentative districts. Even with independently, fairly designed districts, the winner will still often be pre-ordained.

For real reflective democracy, we need to elect multiple representatives in each district using ranked choice voting. When only one person is elected from a district, a whole group of views and voters don’t get representation, even if that district is fairly drawn. This solution would get rid of the zero-sum elections we have now, and make it so that every voter participates in a meaningful election no matter how politicians draw district lines. No politician would be able to use redistricting to create safe seats for themselves, and the representation in the legislature would more accurately reflect the views of the people.

This way, instead of just one group winning and everyone else losing, all significant groups of voters could elect a representative that would reflect their voice. Redistricting is a critical and encouraging first step, but to break up gridlock and get politicians that really represent the people, we must advocate for more impactful reforms.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Election Day Set for October 19th


Canadian reformers are hoping that this year will be Canada’s “last unfair election.”

In the U.S., we hold regular elections for Congress once every two years. In Canada, as in many other countries, elections can happen anytime their parliament is dissolved. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially requested the dissolution of the 41st Parliament, which was subsequently accepted by Canada’s head of state. Now, what will be one of the longest federal election campaigns in the country’s history, begins.  

Candidates will be running for 338 seats in the House of Commons -- with 30 new seats created in response to the 2011 census. Only the House of Commons is up for election in October. The Canadian Senate is not actually elected but appointed by the Governor-General based on the advice of the Prime Minister. As specified in the Canadian Constitution, the House of Commons is the dominant legislative chamber, with the appointed Senate rarely defying its will.

Canada, like the U.S., uses a winner-take-all election system with single-winner districts. In this system, the candidate who receives the most votes in each of the 338 districts (or ridings as they’re called) wins office. In Canada’s multi-party system, the percentage of votes needed to win is often low, 30% - 40%, because the vote is split between three or four parties.

While the long campaign is likely to favor the better-funded, right of center Conservative Party, a recent poll (based on how people would vote if the election were held today) suggests a neck-and-neck race with the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Conservatives tied with 127 seats each. In this 338 seat race, 170 are needed to form a majority government. If no party achieves 170 seats, either the largest party in parliament will have to form a minority government, or multiple parties will have to come together to form a ruling coalition.

Shifting Away from Winner-Take-All

One of the most remarkable aspects of this year’s election is the fact that, for the first time in Canadian history, three of the four opposition parties have vowed to make 2015 the last election in which winner-take-all will be used in Canadian federal elections, should they win or form a coalition government. This includes the two major opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberal Party, who both plan to make election reform a large part of their campaign. These calls are made in the context of an electoral system that often delivers control of the government to a party that did not win a majority of votes. Most recently, the 2011 Federal Election caused outrage because the incumbent Conservative Party won a majority government, winning 54% of the seats, with only 40% of the popular vote.  

This should be an absolutely riveting, though drawn-out election, and if you don’t have interest in the GOP’s first debate this Thursday the 6th of August, you can catch the first 2015 Canadian federal election debate, featuring the country’s top four national parties the same night. Keep an eye-out for more news on Canada’s new push for representative government!