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August 4, 2000 Report from the Center for Voting and Democracy

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  • freecali@hotmail.com
    August 4, 2000 To: Key List, Center for Voting and Democracy Fr: Rob Richie, CVD Executive Director, http://www.fairvote.org - CVD op-ed touts instant
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4 7:38 PM
      August 4, 2000

      To: Key List, Center for Voting and Democracy
      Fr: Rob Richie, CVD Executive Director,
      - CVD op-ed touts instant runoffs in Washington Post
      - An IRV surprise -- Of Muppets and CEO's
      - Sierra Club endorses proportional voting systems
      - ICANN to use IRV for worldwide board elections
      - Results of mock election at NAACP conference
      - New factsheets on the A, B, C's of voting systems
      - CVD report on alternatives to blanket primaries
      - Former Bush advisor James Pinkerton writes about PR
      - National Civic Review publishes major article on IRV
      - A news review: turnout keeps slipping; important new
      book on voting systems and policy; non-competitive
      elections; presidential primary process; the debates
      - CVD Interns: A big thanks and a call for more!

      Headed by former Congressman and presidential candidate
      John Anderson, the Center for Voting and Democracy focuses
      on voting systems -- the way votes are translated into
      representation. We pay particular attention to proportional
      representation systems for legislative elections and instant
      runoff voting for offices electing one person. We send out
      occasional "e-news" updates. (If you would prefer not to
      receive these updates, please send me a message.)

      It's been an eventful few weeks in the world of voting system
      reform. Here is a short review -- note that most of these items
      are discussed in more detail on our web site, as detailed in the
      links provided below:

      * CVD Vice-President Matthew Cossolotto touts instant runoff
      voting in Washington Post op-ed: On July 30, the Washington
      Post published a commentary called "The Spoiler Factor" by
      Matthew Cossolotto, the founding president of CVD. The op-ed
      makes a strong case for states adopting runoff voting for
      presidential elections. The full op-ed concludes this update.

      * An IRV surprise -- Of Muppets and CEO's: For those with
      high-powered browsers, I highly recommend a visit to the
      following... http://www.fairvote.org/IRV/muppets

      * Sierra Club endorses alternatives to winner-take-all elections:
      The Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots
      environmental organization (with over 600,000 members) on
      July 22 voted "to support alternative electoral methods that
      better reflect the diversity of public opinion." The resolution
      was designed to support both proportional systems and instant
      runoff voting. http://www.fairvote.org/pr/sierra.htm

      * ICANN to use IRV for worldwide election of five board
      members by Internet users: At a July board meeting, the
      Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
      (ICANN) -- the non-profit global corporation that was formed
      to govern the Internet -- voted to use instant runoff voting to
      elect five members of its board of directors. Any user of the
      Internet can join ICANN and vote in these elections.

      * Mock election results from NAACP conference: The Center
      for Voting and Democracy conducted a mock election at its
      booth at the national conference of the NAACP in July. There
      were instructive differences in the results when using different
      voting methods. Find out who won -- and the difference
      between a proportional voting method and "winner-take-all."

      * The A, B, C's of voting systems: The Center for Voting and
      Democracy has launched a major new educational project in
      which it will have short fact sheets on different voting methods
      and address specific questions and historical information
      relating to voting methods. See the initial facts sheets on the
      web. During the coming month, we expect to add several major
      reports to our web site, including a state-by-state guide to
      redistricting, "Monopoly Politics 2000", sample proportional
      plans for U.S. House elections in new states and highlights
      from our essay contest. http:// www.fairvote.org/factshts

      * CVD analyzes alternative to blanket primaries: CVD has a
      new report that analyzes proposed alternatives to "blanket
      primaries", which the Supreme Court this spring ruled could
      not be required by states. The report examines the impact of
      Louisiana's nonpartisan primary, discusses its applicability to
      other states and presents alternative solutions. As Steven Hill
      writes in a commentary that appeared in Roll Call, "Louisiana's
      version of a blanket primary is hardly a paragon of democracy.
      Often the top two candidates get to the general election with a
      low percentage of votes. This tends to favor non-moderate
      candidates with the strongest core support.... The best solution
      is some sort of proportional representation voting system, or
      cumulative voting in three-seat districts which Illinois used to
      elect its state legislature for many years."

      * Former top Bush advisor Pinkerton writes about proportional
      representation: James Pinkerton, a Newsday columnist who was
      a domestic policy advisor to President George Bush, visited the
      Green Party convention in June. His resulting column discusses
      the key role that proportional representation plays in allowing a
      multi-party democracy.

      * Slide show on thirty years of gerrymandering in Ohio: David
      Horn, director of the Center for Research into Government
      Process, has prepared a remarkable slide show that provides
      compelling stories of how redistricting works -- and doesn't
      work -- in Ohio. See highlights of the series and download the
      whole slide show. http://www.fairvote.org/redistricting/ohio/

      * Major new IRV article: The National Civic Review has
      published a major article on instant runoff voting by Terrill
      Bouricius, Caleb Kleppner and Rob Richie entitled "Instant
      Runoffs: A Cheaper, Fairer, Better Way to Conduct Elections."

      * E-News update, July 13, 2000: For those of you missed our
      most recent update, please find news on: the vote by the
      League of Women Voters to conduct a national study on voting
      systems; the successful use of cumulative voting in Amarillo,
      Texas in May; the use of proportional representation and
      instant runoff voting London Mayor's race; our new
      educational tool "redistricting roulette"; and more

      * News shorts:

      - Turnout is slipping: Until the contest for the major
      party's presidential nominations were decided on March 7, a
      majority of Republican primaries hit all-time highs in voter
      turnout -- an indication of the powerful impact of John
      McCain's surprisingly strong challenge to eventual winner
      George Bush. Even so, the Committee for the Study of the
      American Electorate found that only 24% of eligible voters
      participated in either the Democratic or Republican primaries
      through March 7. With the presidential nominations set, turnout
      has dropped significantly. This week, Tennessee's voter turnout
      was less than 7% in its congressional primaries. Experts are
      forecasting potential record-low turnout this November.

      - Important new book on voting systems and policy:
      One of the nation's most respected political scientists, G.
      Bingham Powell of the University of Rochester, has written
      "Elections as a Tool of Democracy: Majoritarian and
      Proportional Visions," to be published this summer by Yale
      University Press. In the book he makes a comparative survey
      of 150 elections and concludes that, while both majoritarian
      and proportional systems have their virtues, proportional
      systems are better because they tend to produce greater policy
      congruence between the public and government.
      Managing Editor of the American Political Science
      Review from 1991 to 1995, Powell is co-author and co-editor
      with Gabriel Almond of perhaps the leading undergraduate
      comparative politics text: "Comparative Politics Today," now in
      its 7th edition. His 1982 book "Contemporary Democracies:
      Participation, Stability and Violence" won the Woodrow
      Wilson prize for best book in political science that year.

      - New York Times article highlights non-competitive
      congressional elections: In a July 30, 2000 news article in the
      New York Times Adam Clymer writes that: "The vanishing
      swing district is one of the most telling examples of how the
      nature of Congressional election politics has changed. For all
      the talk of a momentous battle for control of the House of
      Representatives, where Republicans now hold an 11-seat
      majority, there is real competition in only a handful of districts
      -- fewer than three dozen."
      Students of congressional elections were able to identify
      the small universe of potential close races long ago -- imme-
      diately after the November 1998 races, in fact. This is the basis
      of our "Monopoly Politics" report to be released this month.

      - Runoffs could play key role in congressional elections
      this November: Nearly all general elections for federal and
      statewide offices in the United States are held under plurality
      rules -- the candidate with the most votes wins, even if a
      majority of voters have split their vote among opponents.
      However, there may well be congressional runoffs in two states
      that could make two important points: some states still put a
      priority on winners having majority support (as is true in most
      presidential elections around the world) and having a second-
      round runoff can result in extreme drops in voter participation.
      Louisiana's unique system will result in a first round
      election in November in congressional races. If there is no
      winner, then the runoff will be in December. Meanwhile, in the
      wake of the recent death of U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell,
      Georgia will have a special election for U.S. Senate. If a
      candidate wins a majority of the vote in November, the election
      is over. If not, however, there will be a runoff. A runoff in
      Georgia's U.S. Senate race in 1992 resulted in a precipitous
      drop in turnout. Incumbent Wyche Fowler won 1,108,416 votes
      in the November election, but fell just short of a majority. In
      the December runoff, without the draw of the presidential race,
      Coverdell won with 635,114 votes -- a majority of the runoff
      vote, but nearly half a million votes fewer than Fowler's vote
      total a month before. (Georgia has since lowered its winning
      threshold in federal races to 45%, but for this special election,
      it will once again be 50%.)
      The Center suggests instant runoff voting as a better
      means to ensure majority rule.

      - Vote at Republican convention kills potential change
      to presidential primary process: This year, the presidential
      nominations were decided earlier than ever before -- earlier, in
      fact, than the first primaries used to be just a few decades ago.
      The Republican party this year looked like it was going to
      address this problem when the Republican National Committee
      approved the so-called Delaware Plan - which allow a dozen of
      the small population states, the District of Columbia and the
      territories to hold their primaries in the first of four waves from
      February through May. Big states would vote last, with just
      about half of the delegates in that last group.
      Supporters suggested that the plan would allow more
      states to participate -- two-thirds of the states had no voice in
      the nomination of George Bush by the time the race was settled
      March 7. (Even fewer states had voted in Democratic primaries
      by the time Bill Bradley ceded the nomination battle to Al
      Gore.) Opponents said that if only the Republicans made this
      change, they would be at a competitive disadvantage to the
      Democrats. No change can be made by the Republicans until
      their next convention in 2004; Democrats also appear unlikely
      to pursue change.

      - Movement grows to open up presidential debates:
      Governed by representatives of the two major parties, the
      Commission on Presidential Debates has set a very difficult
      standard for minor party candidates to participate in any of this
      fall's presidential debates: an average of at least 15% support
      in several national polls. A growing effort is calling to lower
      that threshold to 5% (the same percentage as what it takes to
      earn public funding) or to allow a candidate to participate if a
      majority of Americans support their participation -- recent polls
      suggest that a large majority would support at least including
      Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and potential Reform Party
      candidate Pat Buchanan. For more information, see web sites of
      Commission on Presidential Debates, (http://www.debates.org);
      United for a Fair Economy (http://www.ufenet.org); & Fairness
      and Accuracy in Reporting (http://www.fair.org/debates.html).

      * A big thanks to CVD interns and a call for more: This
      summer, we have been fortunate to have a strong group of
      interns working with us. They are: Scott Carr (University of
      Oklahoma); Michelle Davis (University of Maryland Law
      School); Jessica Farley (George Washington); Anthoney Levar
      Johnson (Duke); Beverly Jones (Yale Law School); Julia
      Oestrich (Smith); Matthew Pierce (Oberlin); and Stacey
      Wagaman (Swarthmore). As some begin to head back to
      school, we want to send them a big note of thanks.... so,
      Note that CVD has interns throughout the year. Stipends
      are available based on need. We still have openings for this
      fall. Send an email to Eric Olson at: cvderic@.... Come
      join our team working for a fair, competitive and meaningful
      electoral process!

      Finally, as promised, here is the full text of Matthew
      Cossolotto's recent commentary in the Washington Post....

      The "Spoiler" Factor
      By Matthew Cossolotto
      Sunday, July 30, 2000
      Washington Post Editorial Pages

      With Ralph Nader's nomination as the Green Party's
      presidential candidate and the likelihood that Pat Buchanan will
      win the Reform Party nomination, there is increasing talk about
      these candidates as potential "spoilers" in the presidential race.
      But as interesting as it may be to speculate about how much
      support Ralph Nader could siphon from Al Gore, especially in
      a key state such as California, or how many votes Pat
      Buchanan could deny George W. Bush, the discussion misses a
      very important point. The real "spoiler" in the presidential race
      is the outmoded voting system we use to elect presidents and
      most other officials.

      Our voting system is a winner-takes-all, plurality system. In
      essence, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if that
      candidate gets less than 50 percent of the vote. In our
      presidential elections, of course, we complicate matters by
      grafting on a rather bizarre electoral college system. This
      creates a series of individual, state-by-state contests in which
      the candidate with a plurality of votes in a given state wins all
      of its electoral college votes.

      So our presidential elections boil down to 50 separate
      state-level elections. This fact fuels the "spoiler" speculation
      because, by being particularly strong in one state, a given
      candidate can affect the outcome of the national election.

      But here's the interesting point: If we changed the voting
      system, which after all is not mandated by the Constitution,
      minor-party or independent candidates would cease to be
      potential spoilers. They could immediately be seen in a more
      positive light, as champions of particular groupings of voters or
      political philosophies that add to our political debate.

      Let me stipulate here that I am a big fan of multiparty
      democracy. I support having more than two major parties
      competing actively and aggressively for elective office. We
      suffer from a deficit of diversity at the polls, and that has the
      effect of dampening turnout and turning people off to

      The answer isn't to be found in simply putting more candidates
      or parties on the ballot. The reality is trying to run a multiparty
      democracy within the limited confines of a plurality voting
      system can create some perverse incentives. For instance, some
      Democrats cheered when Pat Buchanan broke from the
      Republican Party last year, just as some conservatives have
      been promoting the candidacy of Ralph Nader in an attempt to
      split the vote on the Left and hand victory to Bush. This kind
      of "divide-and-conquer" politics is a dreadful way to run a
      democracy. People end up spending too much time gaming the
      current system instead of reforming it.

      The good news is that viable alternatives to plurality elections
      abound. Two-round elections, in which one vote is a runoff, are
      used in most of the world's presidential races. But a better
      change could be implemented right now by the states. It's
      called "instant runoff voting," or IRV. Under IRV, which is
      currently used to elect the president of Ireland and the mayor
      of London, voters simply rank the candidates (1, 2, 3) in order
      of preference. In the coming presidential race, some voters on
      the left would be able to rank Nader first and Gore second. On
      the right, a good number of voters might very well rank
      Buchanan first and Bush second.

      If a candidate wins an outright majority of first-preference
      votes, the count is over and that candidate is declared the
      winner. But if not, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and
      ballots cast for that candidate are counted for the next-choice

      The result of this simple change in the voting system is to
      allow people to vote affirmatively for their candidate of choice
      without wasting their votes outright or handing the election to a
      candidate with whom they strongly disagree. It empowers
      voters while making major-party candidates less vulnerable to

      Proportional allocation of electoral college seats--on a
      state-by-state basis--would also address the spoiler problem.
      This plan, advocated by both Franklin Roosevelt and Richard
      Nixon during their presidencies, would also permit voters to
      express their true preferences at the polls.

      A state can change the way it votes for president virtually
      overnight through a simple statute. The long-term health of our
      democracy suffers from our present system. It's time to change
      it and make American democracy safe for diversity.

      (The writer is vice president of the Center for Voting and
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