Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Antiquation of American Voting Machines

In discussions of voting rights, conversation often revolves around the tension between voter access and electoral integrity, yet attention is rarely paid to the technology that governs both of these values. Recently, the Brennan Center of Justice released a comprehensive report on the (alarming) state of American voting technology. Their key takeaway? Our voting machines desperately need to be upgraded.

From NPR: "A voter fills out her ballot in Las Vegas in 2004.
A new report finds several states, including Nevada, have voting
machines more than 10 years old, which are more likely to fail."
David McNew/Getty Images
In the upcoming 2016 election, 43 states will use voting machines that are at least ten years old, many of which are susceptible to security and reliability flaws. Even worse, most of the technology used in these machines was engineered in the 1990s. And even when elected officials want to update their machines, most cannot obtain the money to pay for them. As NPR noted, “everything's coming to a head at once because almost every state bought new computerized voting equipment right after the disputed 2000 election, using $2 billion in federal aid.” If this problem is not addressed soon, the chaos from the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election might repeat itself as voting machines continue to fail and electoral integrity is lost.

Electoral reform might not be as sexy as other issues, but it is foundational to public confidence in our political system. Moreover, as this discussion enters the public domain (major outlets including NPR, CNN, and Politico among others all noted this report), future electoral reforms will depend on the adaptability and versatility of voting equipment. Currently, our first-past-the-post voting system contributes to a range of problems affecting our democracy, from unrepresentative governments to unaccountable elected officials. If truly meaningful progress is to be made in balancing access and integrity, we need to consider different ways of voting like ranked choice voting, and ensure our voting equipment is equipped to handle a range of voting systems.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ranked Choice Polling Gives Fuller Picture of Voter Choice

On August 4th of this year, FairVote and Civinomics unveiled an app that allows users to rank candidates and see ranked choice voting election results. Since then, three polls have been deployed: one for the Republican presidential field, one for the Democratic presidential field, and one allowing voters to rank the seven most significant political parties in the U.S. (or choose Independent).

Soon, our App will be updated to allow anyone to create their own poll. For now, though, it has given voters the opportunity to experience ranked choice voting and have their voices heard. It's also allowed us to collect some fascinating data on how people interact with ranked choice voting - many of them certainly for the first time.

Interestingly, the website IVN recently conducted its own poll, but instead of ranked choice voting, they used "approval voting." The two have some other differences as well. For example, the IVN poll just lists all candidates irrespective of political party.

Approval voting is a voting method where voters can cast votes for as many candidates as they choose, each equally weighted and counted simultaneously. It can work well in casual situations where people want to decide where to eat or what movie to see, because it can be very quick and can avoid vote splitting if the group is likely to vote honestly and not strategically try to boost their favorite candidate.

However, approval voting has a problem that shows through when comparing FairVote's ranked choice voting poll to IVN's approval voting poll: with approval voting, voters are much more hesitant to indicate support for a second-choice, because doing so may hurt their favorite.

This could be important in this context. IVN wanted a poll in which "no votes were 'taken away' from any candidate because participants could select as many candidates as they wanted." However, that's not the case if it turns out lots of voters would approve of either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton but chose to vote only for Bernie Sanders because they wanted it to be more likely that Sanders would win and not Clinton.

And the results suggest that that's exactly what happened, if you compare voting patterns to those in our ranked choice voting poll. In our ranked choice voting poll in the Republican  contest, we had thousands of voters. The average (mean) number of candidates ranked was seven, and the median was four; because voters could rank additional candidates without it hurting their first choice, they did so. In fact, more participants chose to rank all Republican candidates from first to last than rank only one.

However, in the approval voting poll, the average (mean) number of approvals was just under two, and the median was one. About 64% of voters only voted for one candidate, and the number who approved seven or more is so small it rounds down to 0%. The fact that voters rank more candidates in an RCV poll suggests that they probably "approve" of more candidates, yet most voters seem uncomfortable approving of too many when every additional approval hurts the chances of their favorite winning.

To be fair, IVN also worded their ballot instructions poorly. Voters were asked, "If the Presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?" Given that voters will only be able to vote for one candidate in the Presidential election, many may have failed to realize that they were allowed to vote for more than one in this poll.

That fact doesn't negate the issue of hurting your favorite candidate, though - approval voting elections conducted at Dartmouth and the University of Colorado both frequently show most voters only voting for one, and candidates regularly winning with less than 40% approval. Dartmouth was particularly instructive, as it went straight from using ranked choice voting in six student body president elections in 2005-2010 to using approval voting in those  elections from 2011-2015. In the six RCV elections, the average number of votes cast for the winner in the final round was 1,073, and only once did the RCV winner's vote total fall below 1,000.

In contrast, in the five approval voting elections at Dartmouth, the most votes a winner ever has received is 966 (last spring when only two people ran), and the average has dropped by more than 20% to 808. The great majority of voters keep voting for only one person, explaining why victors in multi-candidate races regularly win with less than 40%. One student body president won with just over 30%. We've seeing the same kind of results at the University of Colorado: every race with more than two candidates ends up with winners having less than half the votes, just as if a plurality vote system were in place.

These results help to highlight a point at the center of FairVote's mission: the voting method matters. It's reassuring that more polling organizations are asking for second and later choices when conducting polling, especially in fields as crowded as the Republican presidential field.

FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2016 Projections Updated

In November 2014, FairVote issued our Monopoly Politics projections for House elections to be held more than two years later, in November 2016. The projections utilize a methodology that produced accurate predictions in 700 of 701 projected races in 2012 and 2014.

Today, we released an update to these projections. The update accounts for the 25 representatives elected in 2014 who will not be seeking reelection in 2016, and adjusts projections for these districts accordingly. In a number of cases, this resulted in a change to our projections, but the net effect of these changes is only one seat. Before today’s update, we projected Republicans to win 212 seats in 2016, Democrats to win 160, and made no projection for 63 seats. Accounting for recent announcements about who will be running in 2016, we now project Democrats as winners in 159 seats, and make no projection in 64 seats. The number of projected Republican seats remains unchanged.

Recent changes to the expected number of incumbents have not changed the stark truth that Democrats cannot retake the House without a strong wave of support; our model suggests that Republicans will retain the majority unless Democrats have the underlying support of 56.4% of voters in 2016.

The skew is due in part to the greater number of Republican incumbents who will enjoy the electoral benefits of holding office in 2016, but it largely results from the fact that the median district in the US House has a partisanship of 52.8% in favor of Republicans. In other words, the high concentrations of Democratic voters in urban areas means that there are simply more Republican-leaning districts than Democratic-leaning districts, even though there are roughly equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-leaning voters nationally.

One important qualification to our 2016 projections is that they represent projections for the districts that were in place on Election Day in 2014. However, legal action against alleged cases of gerrymandering in Florida and Virginia mean that district lines in those states will change before Election Day in 2016. Those changes will affect the partisan balance in some districts and may end up affecting some of our projections, at least in a  small handful of  districts.

For more on our Monopoly Politics projections for 2016, see the Monopoly Politics home page, and our 2016 projections page, here.

FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2016 Projections Updated

In November 2014, FairVote issued our Monopoly Politics projections for House elections to be held more than two years later, in November 2016. The projections utilize a methodology that produced accurate predictions in 700 of 701 projected races in 2012 and 2014.

Today, we released an update to these projections. The update accounts for the 25 representatives elected in 2014 who will not be seeking reelection in 2016, and adjusts projections for these districts accordingly. In a number of cases, this resulted in a change to our projections, but the net effect of these changes is only one seat. Before today’s update, we projected Republicans to win 212 seats in 2016, Democrats to win 160, and made no projection for 63 seats. Accounting for recent announcements about who will be running in 2016, we now project Democrats as winners in 159 seats, and make no projection in 64 seats. The number of projected Republican seats remains unchanged.

Recent changes to the expected number of incumbents have not changed the stark truth that Democrats cannot retake the House without a strong wave of support; our model suggests that Republicans will retain the majority unless Democrats have the underlying support of 56.4% of voters in 2016.

The skew is due in part to the greater number of Republican incumbents who will enjoy the electoral benefits of holding office in 2016, but it largely results from the fact that the median district in the US House has a partisanship of 52.8% in favor of Republicans. In other words, the high concentrations of Democratic voters in urban areas means that there are simply more Republican-leaning districts than Democratic-leaning districts, even though there are roughly equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-leaning voters nationally.

One important qualification to our 2016 projections is that they represent projections for the districts that were in place on Election Day in 2014. However, legal action against alleged cases of gerrymandering in Florida and Virginia mean that district lines in those states will change before Election Day in 2016. Those changes will affect the partisan balance in some districts and may end up affecting some of our projections, at least in a  small handful of  districts.

For more on our Monopoly Politics projections for 2016, see the Monopoly Politics home page, and our 2016 projections page, here.

FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2016 Projections Updated

In November 2014, FairVote issued our Monopoly Politics projections for House elections to be held more than two years later, in November 2016. The projections utilize a methodology that produced accurate predictions in 700 of 701 projected races in 2012 and 2014.

Today, we released an update to these projections. The update accounts for the 25 representatives elected in 2014 who will not be seeking reelection in 2016, and adjusts projections for these districts accordingly. In a number of cases, this resulted in a change to our projections, but the net effect of these changes is only one seat. Before today’s update, we projected Republicans to win 212 seats in 2016, Democrats to win 160, and made no projection for 63 seats. Accounting for recent announcements about who will be running in 2016, we now project Democrats as winners in 159 seats, and make no projection in 64 seats. The number of projected Republican seats remains unchanged.

Recent changes to the expected number of incumbents have not changed the stark truth that Democrats cannot retake the House without a strong wave of support; our model suggests that Republicans will retain the majority unless Democrats have the underlying support of 56.4% of voters in 2016.

The skew is due in part to the greater number of Republican incumbents who will enjoy the electoral benefits of holding office in 2016, but it largely results from the fact that the median district in the US House has a partisanship of 52.8% in favor of Republicans. In other words, the high concentrations of Democratic voters in urban areas means that there are simply more Republican-leaning districts than Democratic-leaning districts, even though there are roughly equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-leaning voters nationally.

One important qualification to our 2016 projections is that they represent projections for the districts that were in place on Election Day in 2014. However, legal action against alleged cases of gerrymandering in Florida and Virginia mean that district lines in those states will change before Election Day in 2016. Those changes will affect the partisan balance in some districts and may end up affecting some of our projections, at least in a  small handful of  districts.

For more on our Monopoly Politics projections for 2016, see the Monopoly Politics home page, and our 2016 projections page, here.

FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2016 Projections Updated

In November 2014, FairVote issued our Monopoly Politics projections for House elections to be held more than two years later, in November 2016. The projections utilize a methodology that produced accurate predictions in 700 of 701 projected races in 2012 and 2014.

Today, we released an update to these projections. The update accounts for the 25 representatives elected in 2014 who will not be seeking reelection in 2016, and adjusts projections for these districts accordingly. In a number of cases, this resulted in a change to our projections, but the net effect of these changes is only one seat. Before today’s update, we projected Republicans to win 212 seats in 2016, Democrats to win 160, and made no projection for 63 seats. Accounting for recent announcements about who will be running in 2016, we now project Democrats as winners in 159 seats, and make no projection in 64 seats. The number of projected Republican seats remains unchanged.

Recent changes to the expected number of incumbents have not changed the stark truth that Democrats cannot retake the House without a strong wave of support; our model suggests that Republicans will retain the majority unless Democrats have the underlying support of 56.4% of voters in 2016.

The skew is due in part to the greater number of Republican incumbents who will enjoy the electoral benefits of holding office in 2016, but it largely results from the fact that the median district in the US House has a partisanship of 52.8% in favor of Republicans. In other words, the high concentrations of Democratic voters in urban areas means that there are simply more Republican-leaning districts than Democratic-leaning districts, even though there are roughly equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-leaning voters nationally.

One important qualification to our 2016 projections is that they represent projections for the districts that were in place on Election Day in 2014. However, legal action against alleged cases of gerrymandering in Florida and Virginia mean that district lines in those states will change before Election Day in 2016. Those changes will affect the partisan balance in some districts and may end up affecting some of our projections, at least in a  small handful of  districts.

For more on our Monopoly Politics projections for 2016, see the Monopoly Politics home page, and our 2016 projections page, here.

Your Vote Matters











Have you ever struggled to respond to friends or family who justify not voting by insisting their vote doesn't matter? The civic value of voting can be tough to capture, which is why we at FairVote are excited to see Demos' latest research on the subject.

In a new report entitled Why Voting Matters, disparities in turnout are connected to unequal representation, particularly in regards to economic issues. Basically, it’s not just about whether or not your candidate wins, because whether or not they are elected, those who turn out to vote at all are more likely to be represented by the winning candidate.

Young people, lower income brackets, and racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to this inequity. Their turnout rates are dwarfed by their older, wealthier, and whiter counterparts. For example, in the 2014 elections over half of those earning $150,000 or more voted, whereas only one fourth of those earning less than $10,000 did. This type of disparity results in elected officials crafting policies that are often not representative of the entirety of their constituency and instead favoring the preferences of those who voted.

This raises the important question of how to fix the voting imbalance. As noted by the report’s author in a Policy Mic brief, “To boost voter turnout, registration remains a key barrier.” Lowering the barriers for registration by implementing early registration for teens or even automatic registration would shift the paradigm from our current “opt-in” system to a more inclusive “opt-out” one. Beyond registration, we must change our electoral systems to also engage non-voters by empowering their ballot in new ways.

Rather than continuing with a first-past-the-post system, shifting to ranked choice voting (RCV) would give voters the freedom to pick the candidates they really like and vote their conscience without increasing the chances of their least favorite candidate being elected. Research also indicates that RCV lessens the incentive for negative campaigning, another point of contention that keeps non-voters disengaged.

Above all, the future of a representative democracy depends on widespread political participation. This is not about party politics or electing certain candidates. It’s about achieving a mandate that is representative of the people, and every single vote matters in that effort.

Canada Could Finally Get the New Electoral System It Deserves


By Robert Buderi

The pressure is on in Canadian politics for a new, better, form of electoral representation. Both of the two major opposition parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Liberal Party, have recently announced their plans to completely change the federal electoral system should they be elected.

While many voters in Canada and the U.S. (which uses the same system) do not focus much on the type of electoral system used in their country, the system has a massive impact on the value of their votes and who wins election. The current system used to elect legislatures in Canada uses is winner-take-all plurality, known in Canada as “first-past-the-post.” In this system the electorate casts ballots indicating a single choice for their most preferred candidate and whichever candidate wins a plurality of votes (the largest number of votes) wins the seat, irrespective of whether they are the first choice of the majority of voters.

Winner-take-all plurality is actively excluding millions of voters from representation every Canadian election. Many districts (called “ridings” in Canada) are contested by four or five candidates. In a riding with 5 candidates, a politician could win only 35% of the vote, but win the election. This would mean that 65% of voters in that seat preferred a candidate other than the winner and are not represented in Parliament. The leader of the Liberal Party Trudeau himself was elected with only 38% of the vote in his riding, Papineau. Across each riding in the country, this adds up. In the 2011 Federal Election, the Conservative Party obtained only 40% of the national vote, but won 54% of the seats in parliament. This put in place a majority Conservative Party government and Prime Minister for whom 60% of voters voted against. Indeed in every recent federal election, the winner-take-all system ensures that around half of all votes cast do not count toward any representation in parliament.

Unsurprisingly many (especially young) Canadians have become increasingly disillusioned with the political process. Voter turnout has been “falling steadily” in a “prolonged” decline over the last three election cycles. Given the number of wasted votes (estimated to be just under half in 2011), those who feel as if their votes do not count have good odds of being completely right

What are the current plans for electoral reform?

Both the NDP and Liberal Party have a lot of planning and research to do before finalizing the details of their proposals for a new electoral system. The Liberals policy is to commission a select committee of parliamentarians from all parties to develop the exact proposal, which would be released within 18 months of a Liberal victory. Based on prior policy proposals by the Liberal Party, it is likely that the new system would include ranked choice voting; in which voters rank choices so that most votes end up counting even if a voter’s first choice loses.

The NDP likely favors the establishment of an Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system--the system used in Germany and New Zealand. MMP would give electors two votes, one for a local representative, and another for a prefered party. The goal would be to facilitate local representation, but also to allocate seats proportionally to parties based on percentage of popular support nationwide. There are still many details to be worked out and a long way to go before either party is ready to legislate reform. Yet, the fact that both major opposition parties are running on a platform of reform is a big deal in and of itself.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Walker Bows Out: Where Will His Supporters Go?

Scott Walker departs from the GOP primary contest, the second departure this month, winnowing the candidate pool down to fifteen. When the field is this crowded, the real question that follows each candidate’s withdrawal is this: who stands to benefit?

While Walker’s standing in the polls wasn’t at all strong over the past week (he earned a meager ½ of 1% in CNN’s latest poll), his decision to bow out could still change the game for remaining candidates or, in the case of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, further solidify their already substantial lead in the polls. To really answer the question of where these voters will move, we need polls that have asked Walker supporters to list their second choice candidates.

Public Policy Polling’s latest poll of Florida Republicans has done just this, and helpfully provided a full breakdown of which candidates Walker supporters listed second. Their results reveal that Trump and Carson are far and away the favorite second options. About 36% of Walker voters list Carson second, while 30% list Trump second. Other outsider candidates, like Carly Fiorina, also stand to gain.

These results are mirrored in our own ranked choice polling app. Our app lets voters rank all candidates in the Republican primary contest in order of choice. While by no means a scientific poll, this tool is useful in showing how supporters move when one candidate is removed from the race. By removing Walker in the first round of our poll (notice the minus sign next to the candidate name), we can see that the majority of his supporters list either Trump or Jeb Bush second.

The remaining contenders will see their support shift with every new withdrawal. Ranked choice polls that fully report the breakdown of voter’s second choices will provide the best window into this process. When we let voters rank candidates, they get more of a chance to describe their full preferences, and we get more information about the primary road ahead.

Meet Demarquin Johnson


















I can’t remember not enjoying an election season. However, I can’t remember a perfect election season. The need for electoral reform to maximize inclusion and preserve our nation’s founding principles is paramount to me, and FairVote advocates for a better system. As a 2015 Democracy Fellow and recent graduate of Howard University’s Department of Political Science, I’m just in time for an adventurous cycle of political engagement.

As graduation transformed from a distant idea to a fast-approaching reality, I began to seriously weigh my future career goals. The budding 2016 election season excited me. I knew that I wanted to play a role in shaping the political dialogue around participation in and access to a fair democracy. Studying in the nation’s capital afforded me the opportunity to complement my classroom experience with numerous policy-focused internships, including in the U.S. House of Representatives and Department of Justice. I was enthusiastic to find a job that would fully utilize my education background in a nurturing and professional environment.

Electoral reform became a major piece of my academic narrative during my time overseas. While at the University of Amsterdam, my studies focused on international relations and conflict governance. I recognized civic engagement and inclusion as a common source of contention around the world. Whether evaluating intra-state ethnic violence in sub-Saharan Africa or long-standing international disputes in the Middle East, I noticed that marginalized groups lacked fair representation due to structural barriers and deficiencies blocking access to the government. When I returned stateside, I focused my honors thesis on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s efforts to impact the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My interests in voting rights and advocacy led me to FairVote’s website during my job search.
Although there are myriad organizations with similar objectives, I was drawn to FairVote’s unique initiatives for improving the democratic systems throughout the United States. It was interesting to read about the utility of multi-member districts and ranked choice voting. At one point, I thought to myself, “Wow! These ideas are really good. Why aren’t others talking about them?” The uncommon, yet simple, reforms were intriguing, so I made the decision to apply to the fellowship program. Being able to work simultaneously on political messaging and policy enactment as a recent graduate appealed to me.

As a full-time fellow, FairVote marks the start of an important chapter in my professional development. I’m ecstatic to dive into the complexities of various local, state, and national electoral reforms. The tools I plan to gain in interpersonal communication, data analysis, and grassroots organizing from the awesome staff of researchers and campaigners will undoubtedly prove beneficial in future endeavors. It is important to me that I continue to refine my qualitative and quantitative skills while learning valuable lessons in public outreach. No matter what opportunities may come next, I am confident that I will enjoy my fellowship with FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

Demarquin Johnson is a 2015 Advocacy 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/

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Second-Choice Poll Sheds Light on Florida Voters

As the Republican primary experiences its first withdrawal in Governor Rick Perry’s departure, outsider candidates continue to make gains. A poll of Florida voters released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling (PPP) affirms Ben Carson and Donald Trump’s lead over the rest of the GOP field. Florida candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are polling below 15% in their home state, and polling data foreshadows the impact of a Biden candidacy.

Like many other polls, PPP asks respondents not only for their favorite candidate, but also for their second choice. However, unlike many other polls, PPP consistently reports the full breakdown of second-choice support by candidate rather than showing it in aggregate. We’ve spotlighted PPP in the past for its leadership in thoroughly reporting second choices and yielding a wealth of interesting insights into Trump’s rise in the field. When voters get to rank a second preference and those numbers are fully displayed, we gain a fuller understanding of how deep and widespread each candidate’s support really is.

PPP’s latest poll out of Florida continues this trend of fascinating second-choice insights. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are robust even with the combined competition of Rubio and Jeb Bush in Florida. Trump leads the field in first-choice support with 28%, with Carson coming in second at 17%. In terms of second-choice support, Trump actually trails Carson, earning a cumulative 16% to Trump’s 11%. Trump and Carson also draw their second choice support from each other's’ supporters. Almost a fourth of Trump’s supporters list Carson second, and 20% of Carson’s supporters list Trump second. 18% percent of Carson’s supporters list Rubio second, while 15% list Carly Fiorina second.

Likely because it was conducted in their home state, Rubio and Bush are the other strong performers in this poll, each with significant crossover appeal. Rubio is the favorite second-choice of Bush supporters, and Bush earns 16% of second-choices among Rubio supporters, second after Ted Cruz’s 20%. In fact, Rubio supporters show the most diverse second-choice preferences. Their second-choices are well distributed between Bush, Carson, Christie, Cruz, Trump and Kasich.

On the Democratic side, PPP uncovers striking support for Joe Biden among Hillary Clinton supporters, should he enter the race. They note "the numbers continue to indicate that if Biden enters the race it will hurt Clinton a lot more than it does Sanders. Fifty-four percent of Biden voters say Clinton is their second choice, compared to 14% who say Sanders is. If you reallocate Biden's voters to their second choice, Clinton's lead over Sanders in the state goes up to 64-21.”

These second-choice numbers reveal a much more nuanced picture of Republican and Democratic preferences in Florida. We hope to see more polls adopt this reporting layout as the field contracts throughout the fall, and this additional layer of information becomes more and more important to really understanding the primary contest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New Congressional Bill Would Let More Young Americans Register to Vote

FairVote led the charge for youth pre-registration in the states. A new law would set a nationwide standard.

In an encouraging step forward for voter access and participation, U.S. Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) today unveiled legislation that would allow young Americans ages 16 and over to pre-register to vote. Pre-registration allows young people who have not reached the voting age to register and be automatically added to the voter rolls upon turning 18.

Beyer and Ellison’s Pre-Registration of Voters Everywhere (PROVE) Act responds to low turnout among young voters. Just 16% of eligible voters under age 24 voted in the 2014 midterm elections. The bill would also provide grants to states to conduct civic engagement education and encourage the involvement of young people in the electoral process.

The PROVE Act follows a decade of significant progress in state-level advocacy for voter pre-registration. FairVote is proud to have played a key role in sparking and sustaining support for pre-registration in the national discourse. A wave of states introduced pre-registration bills beginning in 2006 following a research and advocacy push by FairVote in concert with the New America Foundation. In 2010, following efforts by FairVote and Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina joined Hawaii and Florida—which had long allowed citizens under 18 to register early—as the third state to implement pre-registration for 16-year-olds.

FairVote also contributed to successful passage of pre-registration in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Maryland, which are now joined by Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Utah, and D.C. in allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register. Additionally, a number of states now allow pre-registration for young people ages 17 and over.

Research on the effects of pre-registration legislation in the states clearly shows its ability to increase turnout. A 2015 analysis found that pre-registration laws increased turnout by up to 13%, with close to equal mobilization among Republicans and Democrats. In Florida, voters who pre-registered were found to turn out to vote at a 4.7% higher rate than those who registered after turning 18.

In a press release, bill sponsor Don Beyer said, “This is a common-sense reform to increase civic engagement in our youngest generations. Pre-registration, especially when reinforced with a strong civics curriculum, is a proven method to boost engagement in future generations. This is a small but meaningful step to strengthening representative government and our American democracy.”

What Rick Perry's 2016 Exit Can Teach the GOP About Ranked Choice Voting

Wikimedia commons
The seemingly ever-expanding Republican presidential field experienced its first drop-out last week when former Texas governor Rick Perry suspended his campaign. Though Perry’s support among voters was limited, pollsters are eager to see where his supporters will move their allegiance now that he has left the race. Our poll, created in partnership with Civinomics via an online app, shows us exactly that and will prove instructive as more popular candidates drop out.

Perry received just 1% of first choice support and 3% of second-choice support in Public Policy Polling’s July survey, meaning his departure will not have a huge impact on the race. In our poll, Donald Trump received a plurality - but not a majority - of votes in the first round, and is followed by Ben Carson, the actual front runner according to most national polls. Perry’s elimination gives the most visible gains to Trump and Carly Fiorina, but with Trump still below a majority. This falls in line with recent polling by Public Policy Polling that shows Trump with a broad swath of second choice support.

As more candidates are forced to drop out of the unprecedentedly large 2016 Republican field, frontrunners will look to secure the votes of their former opponents’ supporters. This makes it crucial to understand which candidates are gaining the most secondary and tertiary support among the electorate, even though Republican primary voters will be able to choose only one candidate when they go to the polls in 2016. While an increasing number of polls ask about respondents’ second choices, our simulation offers a comprehensive view of voters’ preferences because it allows them to rank as many candidates as they like in order of preference.

Our unscientific simulation gives us an idea of how support may shift as candidates drop out of the race. This is best illustrated by focusing on some of the more popular candidates in our RCV poll. Rand Paul picked up 9% of votes in the first round of our model. Were he to drop out, his supporters are split in our simulation, with the bulk of support going to Carson, Fiorina, and John Kasich. Should Fiorina drop out, our app shows that Ted Cruz would be the biggest beneficiary.

Using an RCV model to simulate the Republican primary demonstrates the need for candidates to appeal to as broad a portion of the electorate as possible. The GOP and any party should considering using RCV in their primaries to better understand where their members’ support lies when it comes time to plan debates and so they can better build consensus behind the eventual nominee.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Celebrate International Day of Democracy with Real Reform

By Demarquin Johnson

Today, September 15th, marks the annual celebration of the International Day of Democracy. In creating this day, the United Nations underscored the undeniable  value of democratic governance. FairVote echoes this sentiment in its advocacy for reforms to ensure fair elections and a more representative government.

A healthy democracy encourages the input of citizens to develop political, economic, social, and cultural policies. Because of the widespread impact of government actions, countries benefit from inclusive practices. Diverse perspectives from citizens result in unique solutions to, national, regional, and local issues. There are myriad examples around the world of advances in democratic governments, but there is still room for growth.

To fully embrace democracy, nations must make strides to ensure all citizens are able to be heard and represented. This includes ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized groups throughout their electorates. Additionally, political minorities, independents, and third party candidates deserve a fair chance in elections. It is clear that although our country seeks that kind of democracy, we are far from realizing it. Women and minority groups are vastly underrepresented in legislatures and participation in the electoral process. Hence, governments lack diversity and constituents lack representation. These are not components of a healthy democracy. The integrity of government requires greater engagement with all citizens.

FairVote has a long history of advocating for research-backed reforms to improve the electoral process. In the interest of a truly democratic society, we advocate for multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting, where more than one person is elected to represent a diverse group of constituents, resulting in broader representation. Ranked choice voting (RCV) further ensures elected officials represent their district by allowing voters to indicate their candidates by preference, which ensures majority rule and democratic outcomes. Because voters can rank their choices, candidates must reach beyond their base and find common ground with their opponents, decreasing polarization and negativity in political campaigns. RCV also has a positive impact on the representation of women in politics. In California, for example, cities like San Francisco and Oakland saw the number of women elected to office increase by more than ten percentage points.

Without a doubt, a government that includes the voices of diverse groups can better serve its constituents. Today is a great day to appreciate global advances, but there is much more work to do to make democracy better and more representative. Happy International Day of Democracy!

Britain's Labour Party elects Jeremy Corbyn using ranked choice voting

The United Kingdom’s Labour Party made headlines around the world last week when members elected Jeremy Corbyn as the opposition’s new leader. Though most news items have focused on the surprise of Corbyn’s victory over more establishment candidates, it’s also of note that Labour used ranked choice voting (RCV), more commonly known in the UK as the alternative vote, for the election.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
This was Labour’s first leadership contest that used direct election by party members and affiliates. The election saw 76.3% turnout and a resounding victory for Corbyn, who received almost 60% of the vote after just one round in a four-way race. However Corbyn’s new deputy, Tom Watson, needed three rounds of the instant runoff election to receive a majority. He received just over 50% of the vote after two of his four opponents were eliminated.

This clearly illustrates the advantage of using RCV: it ensures winners are elected with a true majority, drawing from a broad base of support. The benefits of RCV should not be limited to intra-party contests. It’s time that voters in general elections are also granted the ability to rank candidates and ensure that the people who represent them have a majority of support.

Should teens 16/17 years of age be given the right to vote?

By Tenneh Dukuly

Many countries around the world -- such as Austria, Cuba and Sudan -- have given young people 16-17 years of age the right to vote. When some adults in the United States hear about young people voting, they think it is a very bad idea. Some consider young voters too immature to vote, easily swayed, misinformed about the fundamental structure of government. As a young person, I believe voting should be extended to 16 and 17 years old.

Research shows that young people are just as engaged in politics as older voters. Allowing young people to vote ties their civic engagement to the education gained from government classes in high school. Teens that have a love for politics will focus on knowing their terminology to disprove adults that might not take them seriously because of their age. Just like adults, teens that do not care about voting are less likely to vote and or to be informed about anything relating to politics.

When some adults state that teens are not yet mature enough to vote, it is a generalization that all teenagers are irresponsible and do not care about what is happening in the world around them. Young people that care about their community and politics will educate themselves on current events. When I think about maturity, I think of different individuals, of different ages. Maturity is not solely based on age but the experiences of individuals. Even now, there are some older people that are irresponsible and lacking knowledge of the structure of our government.

While some may fear that teens are easily swayed, most teens are capable of independent decision making. Being able to make their own decisions, they are not going to easily change their vote because of what their parents say or do. As voting rights are extending to 16 and 17 year olds around the world and in U.S. municipalities, I hope more adults will embrace and encourage the next generation of young voters.

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/