[EM] Corrections to inaccurate FairVote historical perspective

Ralph Suter RLSuter at aol.com
Thu Mar 14 09:51:17 PDT 2013

The historical perspective by Abd ul-Rahman Lomax posted by Richard 
Fobes has a number of inaccuracies. It is apparently a "top of the head" 
summary based on memories of what others, including myself, had written 
several years ago.

The organization now named FairVote began with a two-day organizing 
meeting (not a conference) of about 75 people held in Cincinnati in the 
spring of 1992. Its initial name was Citizens [not Center] for 
Proportional Representation, with an exclamation point intentionally 
included with its acronym (CPR!). The name was changed a year or so 
later to Center for Voting and Democracy (CVD), then 10 or so years 
after that to FairVote.

Virtually the entire focus of the 1992 meeting was on advocacy of 
proportional representation. Single winner voting was discussed very 
little. I attended the meeting after having learned about it from two 
articles about the need for PR in the US and an announcement/open 
invitation published in In These Times magazine. As I recall, they were 
written or co-written by Matthew Cossolotto, the meeting's leading 

The decision to strongly promote Instant Runoff Voting (a name that was 
chosen after a number of other names were used or considered), was made 
only several years after the organization was formed. The main reasons 
for promoting IRV rather than other single winner methods were initially 
political. The thinking was that it would be much easier to sell, as a 
logical improvement to familiar, widely-used runoff elections, than 
other methods. And in any case, CVD's leaders regarded single winner 
reforms as much less important than proportional representation. IRV was 
seen as a kind of "foot-in-the-door" reform that could pave the way to 
much more significant PR reforms. I don't think there has ever been much 
serious discussion among the organization's leaders about the pros and 
cons of IRV and other single winner methods, though I think it's unfair 
to suggest, as Abd seems to, that they have been intentionally deceptive 
in their arguments favoring IRV.

In addition, a leading FairVote advocate of IRV (though he first called 
it "majority preferential voting") was John Anderson, the 1980 
independent presidential candidate. Anderson published a New York Times 
op-ed about it in July 1992, shortly after the CPR! organizing meeting 
(the url is 
Soon after that he joined the CVD board of directors and has been an 
active, influential board member, serving for many years as its chair 
(he's now listed as chair emeritus). Although I have no information 
about the board's internal deliberations, I suspect the organization has 
been more influenced by Anderson and other board members and less 
dominated by long-time executive director Rob Richie than some people 
have believed.

My own biggest disagreement with FairVote is that it has never, itself, 
been a truly democratic organization. At the 1992 founding meeting, I 
was under the impression that it would be incorporated as a 
member-controlled organization. In fact an initial board of directors 
was elected at the meeting using a PR procedure (STV as I recall). Only 
several years later did I learn that the organization was incorporated 
as a conventional nonprofit organization controlled by a 
self-perpetuating board (i.e., the board chooses all new board members). 
The initial board was selected by Matthew Cossolotto and the other 
incorporators and was not the board elected at the founding meeting. As 
a result of how it was incorporated, the organization has never been 
open to pressure from members (since it doesn't have any) regarding its 
positions on IRV and other issues. I initially supported it with a 
couple of donations, but I'm no longer a supporter and have been 
dismayed by its positions on IRV and some other issues and by its 
failure to become a democratic membership organization.

-Ralph Suter

On 13 Mar 2013 1:16 PDT, Richard Fobes wrote:
> For the benefit of those who don't understand why FairVote promotes IRV
> (instant-runoff voting) in opposition to many forum participants here,
> I'm posting this extract from an excellent, well-written, long message
> by Abd.
> On 3/13/2013 11:46 AM, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
>> >...
>> >Example from the United States: There was a conference in the early
>> >1990s to discuss and support proportional representation. A small group
>> >of people then formed the Center for Proportional Representation, and
>> >leaders appeared. Eventually this because the Center for Voting and
>> >Democracy. Early on, this thinking developed among the activists involved:
>> >
>> >1. The best method for proportinal representation is Single Transferable
>> >Vote. (it isn't but that's what they believed, these were not voting
>> >systems experts, but political activists.)
>> >2. STV requires a complex voting system. Read, expensive to canvass,
>> >difficult to audit, etc.
>> >3. The single-winner version of STV could substitute, it was thought,
>> >for the fairly common runoff voting, which requires, sometimes, a second
>> >ballot, which is expensive.
>> >4. They invented the name Instant Runoff Voting, then, for single-winner
>> >STV, and represented it as equivalent to Runoff Voting. (It isn't, and
>> >studies have clearly shown this, but, again, they are coming up with an
>> >*action plan*, something they think they can sell.)
>> >5. And so the primary activity of CVD became promoting instant runoff
>> >voting.
>> >
>> >Early on, voting systems experts tapped them on the shoulder and pointed
>> >out that, while multiwinner STV is a decent voting system, the
>> >single-winner form wasn't, it suffered from some serious problems. They
>> >rejected these experts as impractical dreamers. Only their plan, they
>> >believed, had any chance of success. And, of course, they, and their
>> >Executive Director, became heavily committed to a whole series of
>> >deceptive arguments.
>> >
>> >Because many people saw the defects in existing systems, they did
>> >succeed in getting IRV implemented in a few places. And then those
>> >places started to discover the problems with IRV, and quite a few have
>> >rescinded the implementations, and it's possible the backlash has made
>> >it unlikely for voting system reform to succeed in those places for many
>> >years. The experts whom they rejected have started to independently
>> >organize, and to present evidence at hearings and in campaigns, it's
>> >getting more difficult for FairVote, as they ended up calling
>> >themselves, to win implementations.
> I'll add that in Canada the FairVote group directly advocates STV and
> European-based PR methods, not the stepping-stone IRV path.
> (BTW, please don't confuse the similarly named FairVote and VoteFair names.)

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