[EM] Rob Richie has spoken: Modernize Elections! - use IRV!

Donald E. Davison donald at mich.com
Thu Nov 23 04:42:58 PST 2000

  ------------ Forwarded Letter -----------
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 19:25:24 -0500
From: Rob Richie <FairVote at compuserve.com>
Subject: A Thanksgiving Chorus: Modernize Elections!

November 22, 2000

To:    Friends of Fair Elections
Fr:    Rob Richie, Executive Director, Center for Voting
                     and Democracy, www.fairvote.org
Re:    A Thanksgiving Chorus: Modernize Our Elections
         - The Presidential Election is Over! (.... in 2004?)
         - Surprising Election 2000 Facts
         - Your Citizens' Guide to Voting Equipment
         - IRV is the Law in Oakland, California
         - Growing Call for IRV for President
         - Columnists Learn Lessons from Florida
         - Attention to No-Choice House Races
         - New CVD Staff Ready to Serve You
         - Full op-eds from Kairys, Hill/Anderson, Guinier

As many of you head off for holidays with family, I wanted to
alert you to the remarkable moment we have for proposing
significant reforms to our electoral system. The drama in
Florida has immediate consequences for control of the White
House, but it also is triggering a spirited conversation about
modernizing our frequently antiquated electoral rules and
practices -- from outdated voting equipment to the Electoral
College, plurality voting and winner-take-all elections
themselves. In the past two weeks, our Center's staff has been
on a rollercoaster ride of television (CNN, Fox, Cox
Broadcasting, C-SPAN, Maryland Public TV), radio (NPR,
Voice of America, BBC, Canadian Public Broadcasting, many
talk programs) and newspaper interviews and outreach to a
growing chorus of reformers and concerned citizens who
support reform. Just tonight, Harvard law professor Lani
Guinier will appear on PBS' Evening News Hour with Jim
Lehrer to discuss proportional representation and fairer
electoral rules.

I will send additional information next week, including
fascinating election 2000 factoids and more information about
reform energy and opportunities. As examples of surprising
election 2000 statistics, note that

       - Al Gore ultimately will have received more popular
votes than any presidential candidate in history except Ronald
Reagan in 1984, but George Bush will have won more popular
votes than Gore in four times as many counties across the

       - The National Journal, in a special issue on the
Electoral College that includes a photo of CVD's web site,
reports that states without a single campaign visit from the
presidential candidates between April 1 and the election
included Idaho, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota,
Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Hawaii, Delaware and Vermont. In addition, four of the
nation's top eight media markets --  Boston, Dallas, New York
City, and Washington, DC -- had a grand total of six
presidential ads aired, while eight media markets in
battleground states each aired more than 6,500 presidential ads.

       - In the mostly overlooked U.S. House races, there was
remarkable stasis once again, with a near 99% incumbency re-
election rate and a great chance for us to pat ourselves on the
back: of 237 House races that we predicted would be won by
"landslides" of more than 20% in a publication distributed at
our November 1998 conference in Minneapolis, fully 236 were
indeed won by landslide -- with the remaining seat "only"
being won by 18%.)

I hope that you also can take time to peruse the following
information, both here and on the links provided....

* The Presidential Election is Over! That is, the Center has
made projections in most states in the 2004 elections in the
event of a nationally competitive election and continued use of
the Electoral College. To see whether your state is among the
lucky few that could swing the presidential election that year
and to see just how much partisan advantages are hardening in
most states around the nation, please visit

* Your Citizens' Guide to Voting Equipment: The drama in
Florida: As evidenced by the controversy in Florida, the United
States -- unlike nearly every other established democracy --
does not administer national elections on a national level.
County election administrators often struggle for resources,
meaning that much of the country uses aging equipment that
causes serious problems in how we count votes. One welcome
outcome of the Florida recount likely will be attempts
to modernize equipment at all levels of government. The
Center for Voting and Democracy strongly support such
efforts, not only for better assurance that every vote will
count, but because modern equipment allows implementation
of ranked order ballot systems such as instant runoff voting
(IRV) and choice voting. To find out more about what you
should support in your state and city, please see:

* IRV is the Law in Oakland, California: Voters passed charter
amendments on instant runoff voting on November 8th in
Oakland and San Leandro, California. The San Leandro
measure creates an IRV option, while the Oakland measure
enacts IRV for any special election to fill a city council
vacancy. See also why the St. Petersburg Times, one of our
most respected newspapers, believes IRV is better than runoffs.

* Growing Call for IRV for President from the Wall Street
Journal to the Village Voice: There is increasing talk of
eliminating the "spoiler" charge and minority rule once and for
all by adopting instant runoff voting for electing the president.
Most advocate IRV in a direct election, but as argued by some
proponents of maintaining the Electoral College, it also could
be used on a state-by-state basis with mere statutory changes in
states. U.S. PIRG has endorsed direct election with IRV,
Common Cause expressed strong interest in the idea in a post-
election release and many columns have run addressing the
ideas. Among several recent excellent commentaries and news
stories on IRV are ones by David Kairys in the Washington
Post, by Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker magazine and
by CVD's John Anderson, Rob Richie and Steve Hill in several
publications. The Trenton Times reiterated its support in an
editorial, the Wall Street Journal and Village Voice wrote
indepth news article and much more. See:
   http://www.votersdecide.com [US PIRG statement]

* New Legislation to Study Pro-Democracy Reforms, Including
Proportional Representation and Instant Runoff Voting:
Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jim Leach (R-IA)
have introduced HR 5631 to study proportional representation,
instant runoff voting and other pro-democracy reforms in the
wake of the Florida controversy. Urge your representative to
support this legislation and find out more at

* Columnists Learn Lessons from Florida: William Raspberry
wrote powerfully about the need to question the winner-take-all
principle, citing the work of CVD. A Seattle
Times political writer also touts proportional representation,
CVD board member George Pillsbury calls for reform in a
Boston Globe commentary and four columnists in the Nation
tout instant runoff voting and reform of winner-take-all
elections. See Lani Guinier's piece below and
   http://www.thenation.com [pieces in 12/4/00 issue by
     Christopher Hitchens, William Greider and Theodore Lowi]

* Attention to No-Choice House Races: Strong articles and
commentaries discuss the roots of the problem of little electoral
competition in U.S. House races in USA Today, Reuters and
Slate, with CVD featured.

* New CVD Staff Ready to Serve You: We have three very
welcome additions to the CVD team. Terry Bouricius, who is
stepping down as a state legislator in Vermont, has come on
board as our New England Regional Director, with a particular
focus on Vermont. Dan Johnson-Weinberger is our National
Field Director. Dan is responsible for working with newly-
inspired reformers in particular and for building on all the good
work he and others have done in Illinois have done in the
"drive to revive" cumulative voting -- to hear about what you
can do in your area, write Dan at   djw at instantrunoff.com.
       Earlier this month, Ana Aguilar started with us as
Special Projects Manager here in the Takoma Park office.... To
get a sense of CVD's busy state after the election, see a
humourous profile in the Baltimore Sun at
       Majority Rule Project director Caleb Kleppner, west
coast director Steven Hill and deputy director Eric Olson have
done a great job in these busy times as well -- hats off to all,
and we're looking forward to a remarkable year in 2001.

Finally, below you will find recent commentaries  from David
Kairys (Washington Post), John Anderson and Steven Hill
(versions of which have appeared in the Chicago Sun Times,
Denver Post, Hartford Courant, New York Daily News and
more) and Lani Guinier (excerpt from Nation).
"What's the Fix? Take Your Pick" By David Kairys
Washington Post Outlook, Sunday, November 19, 2000

The truth is that our electoral system has been surpassed by
better systems  now in place in almost every other democracy
around the world.

Citizens of those democracies either vote directly for a
president or, in parliamentary systems, elect legislators who
select a prime minister based proportionately on electoral
support. Either way, each person's vote carries the same weight
and effect, and a head of state emerges with the support of a

To see how badly our winner-take-all plurality system works in
contrast, consider the 1992 election. In Colorado, where the
vote was 40 percent for Bill Clinton, 36 percent for George
Bush, and 23 percent for Ross Perot, Clinton got all of the
electoral votes. Thus the votes of nearly 60 percent of
Coloradans were negated.

Nationwide, Clinton won the presidency with just 43 percent of
the popular vote; Bush got 37 percent and Perot 19. In most
democracies, Perot would have joined either Bush or Clinton in
a coalition, which would have majority support.

Similarly, this year, most democracies would interpret the
election as a "center-left" win. Al Gore and Ralph Nader,
together, got 52 percent of the popular vote and could form a
majority coalition. This reflects a small but real shift to the left
in popular political attitudes. We are so used to plurality
winners and two-party dominance that we hardly pay attention
to where the majority wound up.

We have a historic opportunity for democratic reform. The
simplest way would be direct election with instant runoff
voting, which gives weight to voters' second choices. More
ambitiously, electors could be selected proportionately from
each state; then they and their parties could form a majority
coalition to elect a president.

Countries that use such systems make every vote count and
have leaders who govern with majority support. Their people
also tend to vote.

(David Kairys is a law professor at Temple University in
Philadelphia, and a member of the Center for Voting and
Democracy's advisory committee)


"Give Voters A Bigger Voice"
New York Daily News, Sunday, November 12, 2000
By John B. Anderson and Steven Hill

The presidential election roller coaster has taken one of its
oddest turns. Imagine if, after the World Series, it was
announced that the winner didn't really win, that instead the
championship would be given to, well... the loser.

We have a long tradition: The person or team with the most
points, runs or votes wins -- except when it comes to electing
our President.

How do we explain that to young people, already so
disengaged from politics?

It's like two elections taking place, side by side, one open, the
other hidden. Suddenly the nation is realizing that the one that
counts is the hidden one. Nothing less than the legitimacy of
the presidency hangs in the balance.

The blame rests with that 18th century anachronism, the
Electoral College. Created in less democratic times by our
Founders, the Electoral College is a clumsy device that has
been the subject of more proposed amendments than any
other part of our Constitution.

Currently, each of the 50 states' presidential races are run as
individual contests, with votes weighted to each state's
population. The presidential winner does not need a majority of
the national popular vote -- just more than other candidates, in
any combination of states, to win a majority of electoral votes.
A popular majority can be fractured easily by a third-party
candidate, as Ralph Nader and Ross Perot have demonstrated.

The perverse incentives created by the Electoral College are
painfully obvious this year. States like New York that are
locked up early are effectively ignored by candidates. Voter
turnout rose sharply by 10% to 15% in battleground states, but
was down elsewhere. Nearly all campaign energy -- even
candidate messages on how they plan to govern -- are pitched
to swing voters in a few key states.

It's time to scrap the Electoral College and institute direct
national elections. But there are important issues to resolve.

What if the top vote-getter received only 35% in a
multi-candidate race? Such scenarios prompt some reformers to
favor a second, runoff election between the top two finishers if
no candidate gets at least 40% of the vote. But 40% is too low
for winning our highest office. To avoid minority rule, the
President should command majority support.

Two-round runoffs also pose problems. Candidates would need
cash to run a second campaign, and additional costs to local
election officials would top $100 million. Voters would have to
trudge to the polls again.

Instant runoff voting is an efficient, inexpensive alternative. In
one election, voters would rank on one ballot their top choice
as well as second and third runoff choices. If no candidate won
a majority of first choices, weak candidates would be
eliminated and the ballots counted for the runoff choices.
Counting would continue until there is a majority winner.

The challenge now is to bring the nation together. What better
message than providing for direct popular election of the
President -- preferably using instant runoff voting -- to ensure
that our leader commands support from a majority of voters?
Let's join together and abolish this 18th-century dinosaur.

(John Anderson, a former congressman and independent
presidential candidate, is president of the Center for Voting and
Democracy, of which Hill is western regional director.)

"Making Every Vote Count" [Excerpt], by Lani Guinier
The Nation | December 4, 2000

For years many of us have called for a national conversation
about what it means to be a multiracial democracy. We have
enumerated the glaring flaws inherent in our winner-take-all
form of voting, which has produced a steady decline in voter
participation, underrepresentation of racial minorities in
office, lack of meaningful competition and choice in most
elections, and the general failure of politics to mobilize, inform
and inspire half the eligible electorate. But nothing changed.
Democracy was an asterisk in political debate, typically
encompassed in a vague reference to "campaign finance
reform." Enter Florida.

The fiasco there provides a rare opportunity to rethink and
improve our voting practices in a way that reflects our
professed desire to have "every vote count."...  We must not let
this once-in-a-generation moment pass without addressing the
basic questions these impassioned citizens are raising: Who
votes, how do they vote, whom do they vote for, how are their
votes counted and what happens after the voting? These
questions go to the very legitimacy of our democratic
procedures, not just in Florida but nationwide--and the answers
could lead to profound but eminently achievable reforms.

* Who votes--and doesn't? As with the rest of the nation, in
Florida only about half of all adults vote, about the same as the
national average. Even more disturbing, nonvoters are
increasingly low-income, young and less educated.....

* How do they vote? Florida now abounds with stories of long
poll lines,  confusing ballots and strict limitations on how long
voters could spend in the voting booth. The shocking number
of invalid ballots--more ballots were "spoiled" in the
presidential race than were cast for "spoiler" Ralph
Nader -- are a direct result of antiquated voting mechanics that
would shame any nation....

* Whom do they vote for? Obviously, Florida voters chose
among Al Gore, George Bush and a handful of minor-party
candidates who, given their status as unlikely to win, were
generally ignored and at best chastised as spoilers. But as many
voters are now realizing, in the presidential race they were
voting not for the candidates whose name they selected (or
attempted to select) but for "electors" to that opaque institution,
the Electoral College....

* How are their votes counted? The presidency rests on a
handful of votes in Florida because allocation of electoral votes
is winner-take-all -- if Gore wins by ten votes out of 6 million,
he will win 100 percent of the state's twenty-five electoral
votes. The ballots cast for a losing candidate are always
"invalid" for the purposes of representation; only those cast for
the winner actually "count." Thus winner-take-all elections
underrepresent the voice of the minority and exaggerate the
power of one state's razor-thin majority. Winner-take-all is the
great barrier to representation of political and racial minorities
at both the federal and the state level. No blacks or Latinos
serve in the US Senate or in any governor's mansion.
Third-party candidates did not win a single state legislature
race except for a handful in Vermont.

Given the national questioning of the Electoral College sparked
by the anomalous gap between the popular vote and the
college's vote in the presidential election, those committed to
real representative democracy now have a chance to shine a
spotlight on the glaring flaws and disfranchisement inherent in
winner-take-all practices and to propose important reforms.

What we need are election rules that encourage voter turnout
rather than suppress it. A system of proportional representation
-- which would allocate seats to parties based on their
proportion of the total vote -- would more fairly reflect intense
feeling within the electorate, mobilize more people to
participate and even encourage those who do participate to do
so beyond just the single act of voting on Election Day. Most
democracies around the world have some form of proportional
voting and manage to engage a much greater percentage of
their citizens in elections. Proportional representation in
South Africa, for example, allows the white Afrikaner parties
and the ANC to gain seats in the national legislature
commensurate with the total number of votes cast for each
party. Under this system, third parties are a plausible
alternative. Moreover, to allow third parties to run presidential
candidates without being "spoilers," some advocate
instant-runoff elections in which voters would rank their
choices for President. That way, even voters whose
top choice loses the election could influence the race among
the other candidates.

Winner-take-all elections, by contrast, encourage the two major
parties to concentrate primarily on the "undecideds" and to take
tens of millions of dollars of corporate and special-interest
contributions to broadcast ads on the public airwaves appealing
to the center of the political spectrum. Winner-take-all
incentives discourage either of the two major parties from
trying to learn, through organizing and door-knocking, how to
mobilize the vast numbers of disengaged poor and working-
class voters. Rather than develop a vision, they produce a
product and fail to build political capacity from
the ground up....

Before the lessons of Florida are forgotten, let us use this
window of opportunity to forge a strong pro-democracy
coalition to rally around "one vote, one value." The value of a
vote depends on its being fairly counted but also on its
counting toward the election of the person the voter chose as
her representative. This can happen only if we recognize the
excesses of winner-take-all voting and stop exaggerating the
power of the winner by denying the loser any voice at all.

(Lani Guinier is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. Her
latest book is The Miner's Canary: Rethinking Race and Power
(Harvard, 2001). Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and
Democracy (www.fairvote.org) provided invaluable assistance
in the preparation of this essay.)

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