Thursday, December 10, 2015

Meet DJ Livermore

During my internship at FairVote I have learned an absurd amount about fair representation (proportional representation in particular) and bettered my research skills. I graduated from Mount Allison University (a small liberal-arts university in Canada) this May and was fortunate to run across FairVote and apply for a research internship here. I’ve always been interested in electoral reform, and FairVote was the perfect opportunity to learn more about voting systems such as ranked choice voting and proportional representation in the United States.

The largest project I  undertook was a report on the history of proportional representation in the United States. The report outlines various cities and states that have adopted proportional representation, and their reasons for doing so. The help of the other members of FairVote was invaluable, and they were always excited to step in and answer any questions I had. For example, when I was searching for Kathleen Barber’s Proportional Representation and Election Reform in Ohio, the research department knew exactly what book I was looking for, and other resources that would help. Looking through the FairVote archives and academic sources for the history of PR in the U.S. was fascinating. It is remarkable that PR has been used so extensively in the United States. I had no idea the United States had this history of fair representation, so it was very exciting to dig into these issues. Particularly fascinating was Illinois, which used cumulative voting for over a hundred years successfully. Not only was this research intriguing, but it also sharpened my research skills. I found myself better organizing my sources and ideas, and more quickly accessing reliable sources.   

I had the opportunity to follow my interests so with the Canadian election taking place I wrote two blog posts about Canadian electoral reform, specifically regarding the two referendums for the adoption of single-transferable vote in British Columbia and the possibility of reforming the currently appointed Canadian Senate. The freedom to delve into a topic I am passionate about was invaluable experience. Especially helpful was the editing process which challenged me to become a better writer. The process pushed me to come up with new ways of forming arguments and mature my writing style.

My time at FairVote was exceptional and I’m excited to use the skills I developed here in my career ahead. DJ Livermore is a 2015 Intern at FairVote. Do you want to apply for a FairVote internship? Find more information here:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Utah Foundation Report Looks for Ways to Increase Voter Turnout

In an effort to turn the tides of decreasing voter participation in the state of Utah, the Utah Foundation conducted a study to assess current practices for generating turnout, and find opportunities to engage more voters in the future. Among their findings, the study found that vote-by-mail elections are effective in increasing turnout, however, they also concluded that no single policy was a cure-all for low turnout.

This endeavor by the Utah Foundation is encouraging, as voter turnout--especially at the local level--continues to dip across the nation. The findings published by the organization also serve as a reminder that we can be doing more to engage voters and create an environment that encourages participation and civic engagement. FairVote's Promote Our Vote project, grounded in an effort to establish an affirmative, individual right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, works to advance democracy innovations--like those studied by the Utah Foundation--at the local level. Those interested in improving democracy in their community should be sure to read their report, and visit our own Inclusive Democracy Toolkit for innovative ideas to increase voter turnout.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

O’Malley’s plea for second-choice support meaningless without RCV

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’malley met with House Democrats on Tuesday to discuss his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. O’Malley’s campaign hasn’t gone well so far - he received just 7% support for the nomination in a recent survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP), trailing both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders - and the tone of his meeting seemed to reflect that. According to the AP, O’Malley asked the lawmakers, not to make him their first choice for the nomination, but their second. Democratic Members of Congress serve as “superdelegates” to the Democratic National Convention, meaning they can vote for whichever candidate they please.

O’Malley’s request seems to reflect his political reality - half of superdelegates have already endorsed Clinton - but it also reflects how many voters think about elections in a way that our electoral system doesn’t. Like any situation in which people must choose among more than two options, voters often prefer candidates in some order: a first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. Ranked choice voting (RCV) allows voters to indicate this preference. But in most US elections, including presidential primaries, winners are chosen in a first-past-the-post system wherein voters can only indicate support for their top choice at the ballot.

The negative consequences of this dynamic are all too familiar to American voters. Politicians often win without majority support; especially when they face multiple ideologically similar opponents that “split” the vote. Without any incentive to appeal to their opponents’ supporters, candidates are accountable only to their base and run negative campaigns, attacking one another to distinguish themselves in any way possible.

Unfortunately for Governor O’Malley, being the superdelegates’ second choice will not win him the nomination. The most recent PPP national poll does show that he has stronger second choice support, but when superdelegates cast their votes at the convention this summer, they will only be able to put their support behind one candidate. Still, using RCV would be instructive for the Democrats or any party. By counting voters second and third choices, winning candidates are able to find out more about what the people who elected them want and build greater consensus behind their platform.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It's time to get out the vote... again.

Municipalities across the country held elections last month, as they do every November. But even if you are in the minority of voters who actually participate in elections that don’t coincide with presidential or congressional contests, your civic duties might not be complete just yet.

In many jurisdictions, indecisive votes in November mean runoff elections in December. While runoffs are valuable, in that they avoid “spoiled” elections and help to ensure that winners are those most likely to have the support of a majority of voters, they also often lead to significant declines in turnout. Low turnout is especially likely in runoffs for down-ballot races, as voters are far more likely to return to the polls to participate in a runoff for mayor or governor than a runoff to elect the state insurance commissioner or a city comptroller, as Houston voters will do next week. The lack of attention to races like these is unfortunate, as many such offices come with considerable power.

Runoff elections are also expensive. In major cities, the cost to taxpayers of putting on a single city-wide runoff election can reach well into the millions It’s no wonder then, that a growing number of cities have looked to eliminate runoffs altogether (Jersey City, NJ is a recent example).

Fortunately, ranked choice voting (also known as "instant runoff voting") allows municipalities to enjoy the benefits of runoffs, while avoiding the costs. As cities like, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, ME have learned, allowing voters to rank the candidates in an election means that a winner with broad, majority support can be selected from a large field of candidatesand in the general election, when the greatest number of voters is likely to participate. Adoption of ranked choice voting presents cities and states with an opportunity to increase the power of voters and make wasteful runoff elections a thing of the past.