Even while third parties lag, election reform initiatives have a good Election Day

From CommonDreams.org:

Electoral Reform on the Ballot: Wins for Instant

Runoff Voting and More

by Rob Richie

2008 was historic in terms of the election of the first African American to be president and the largest number of voters at the polls in our history. But in the modern era, there is no excuse for privately-owned voting machines that breed mistrust, confusing ballot designs, polling places with long lines, voter registration laws that leave nearly a third of Americans off the rolls, an Electoral College system that undercuts equality and voting methods that suppress voter choice and stifle fair representation.

A round of electoral reform victories in key ballot measures suggest that Americans have had enough of antiquated electoral laws. Landslide majorities voted for instant runoff voting in Memphis, Tennessee (70%) and Telluride, Colorado (67%), for early voting in Maryland (71%) and for 17-year-old primary voting in Connecticut (64%), while proportional representation for city council elections in Cincinnati (OH) won 46.5% despite well-financed opposition that poured in close to $100,000 in the last 10 days with a smear campaign of distortions.

Here are a few more details on this year’s key ballot measures on electoral reform:

* Accommodating voter choice in a single trip to the polls in Memphis and Telluride — Instant runoff voting (also called ranked choice voting) has had a terrific run at the ballot box, securing wins in recent years across the nation. The second largest city in the southeastern United States, Memphis voted adopt instant runoff voting for city election by an overwhelming 70% to 30% margin. Telluride (CO) adopted it for mayor, while Pierce County (WA) had a terrific first election with instant runoff voting in hotly contested races for county executive and other offices.

* 17-year-old primary voting in Connecticut wins big — Voters gave a landslide win of 64% for a state constitutional amendment to enable 17-year-olds who are pre-registered to vote in primaries connected to a general election in which they will be 18 and eligible to vote. Parties in most states don’t need to wait for state action — they are empowered to enact it through a change in party rules, ideally twinned with voter registration policies making it possible for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

* Landslide win for early voting in Maryland – Maryland voters having to wait in line yesterday must have been all the more ready to support state constitutional amendment one to establish early voting and relaxed absentee voting. It is winning 71% to 29%.

* Redistricting reform in California narrowly ahead – This race has not been called, but Proposition 11 to establish an independent commission to conduct state legislative redistricting is ahead 50.5% to 49.5% and like,ly to win. Although not designed to give voters the chance to define their representation as would be true with proportional representation, it is high time to keep legislators from picking their voters before their voters pick them.

* “Top two” primary in Oregon trounced – Ballot Measure 65 in Oregon would have replaced the current traditional primary election system with a system in which the parties could select nominees privately and voters in the primary then would narrow the field to the top two, regardless of party, to go onto the general election. Under consideration in other states like California, the measure has been swamped by a two-to-one margin. Backers may turn to Pierce County’s experience with instant runoff voting as a more popular way to give voters real choices in high turnout elections.

* Initiative rights protected in Arizona – State voters by a two-to-one margin handily rejected Proposition 105, which would have made it almost impossible to pass initiatives by establishing that measures would need a majority of all registered voters regardless of voter turnout.

Of course we don’t have to win change through ballot measures. In this era of heightened understanding of the power of electoral rules, state legislators and Members of Congress should adopt the National Popular Vote plan for president, universal voter registration, public ownership of any voting equipment, instant runoff voting, proportional representation and more. They can act knowing that voters are ready for change.

Rob Richie is the executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit election reform and voting rights organization in Takoma Park, MD.

12 thoughts on “Even while third parties lag, election reform initiatives have a good Election Day

  1. nathanlarson3141

    I see that the old feud between range voting and IRV is still raging (or at least, one side of it is.) May I suggest that the focus of that debate is misguided, since liquid democracy is better than both of these systems, and anarcho-capitalism is superior to that? Let not the good be the enemy of the better.

    FairVote’s leaders recognize that although IRV is an improvement on plurality in many ways, it has its own limitations. Accordingly, they view IRV as a stepping-stone to the ultimate goal of implementing an even better ranked-choice voting system, Single Transferable Vote (STV). Therefore, in critiquing what Fairvote has set out to do, we may as well focus on the merits of STV.

    The main problem with STV is this. In order to give minority political groups representation and minimize wasted votes, districts have to have large numbers of seats. But if there are too many seats in a district, in a multi-party system there can end up being so many candidates on the ballots that it becomes difficult for voters to make meaningful rankings. Thus, they end up just going with the party line, which defeats part of the point of STV, which is to allow/encourage voters to pick and choose what particular candidates they like best, rather than just supporting a party. Accordingly, jurisdictions that use STV typically have fewer than 10 seats per district.

    Range voting runs into some similar problems. If you have 9 seats in the district, and 5 parties running full slates of candidates, then each voter has to score 45 candidates on a 1-10 scale. As the number of candidates increases, it can quickly get out of hand.

    When you have legislatures consisting of dozens or hundreds of representatives, and districts of only about 9 apiece, it opens up opportunities for gerrymandering. Neither STV nor range voting really address this. The best solution would be to abolish districts entirely; but how?

    The solution is liquid democracy (aka direct democracy with delegable proxy). Under this system, legislatures as we know them today are dispensed with. Instead, each voter is allowed to vote directly on legislation; and he can also appoint a proxy to vote on his behalf. It meets Rob Richie’s three criteria for measuring a method’s political viability in the United States. And it could be combined with range voting.

    Of course, even liquid democracy does not address the problems inherent in any democratic system; the most important one being that, when the majority decides to disregard constitutional protections, it can violate the rights of the minority. For a more comprehensive solution, we need anarcho-capitalism. And under anarcho-capitalism, we would see delegable proxy being increasingly used in governance, as well as a form of range voting, since they are both commonly used by corporations. A stockholder is free to delegate his votes to another, or to only vote some of his shares and not others.

    Ironically, the more marginal reform – liquid democracy – has had little organized support relative to the more radical reform, anarcho-capitalism. So, we may end up skipping that step in the evolution of governance. Also ironic is the fact that much more work has been put into relatively complicated and outdated systems such as IRV, STV and range voting than into liquid democracy, which has been technologically feasible for decades.

  2. Fred Church Ortiz

    IRV seemed so cool until I learned about approval voting. Why settle for salisbury when you can have filet mignon? I think the transition would be easier for those of us that vote on scantrons, too.

  3. sunshinebatman

    “Early voting” isn’t a win, it just invites more fraud.

    This may the first time the Oregon proposal was described correctly here. It had sounded more like the Louisiana “jungle” open primary in previous descriptions.

  4. Ross Levin Post author

    Fraud in what way, sunshinebatman?

    It decreases voter suppression and if someone has trouble voting, they can always report it and come back to the polls.

  5. sunshinebatman

    It gives the ACORN-type fraudsters voting repeatedly under different phony/dead/etc names not just eight hours, but 3000 or whatever to commit their crimes. Duh.

  6. Ross Levin Post author

    Do you know how many cases of voter fraud there were from 2004 to 2006 (including those elections and all special elections)?

  7. Fred Church Ortiz

    Ross: http://www.approvalvoting.org/index.html

    One thing I don’t like about the site is that it tries to argue that straight-ticket voting is awkward under approval voting and might as well be done away with – a side issue that’ll only alienate those that might be interested but also enjoy using this device. I could see the two being easily compatible if additional votes for those outside the straight ticket are simply regarded as votes instead of overvotes – and/or if approval works on the straight ticket page as well.

  8. brokenladder

    Score voting is far superior to Borda and approval voting.

    score vs. approval details

    score vs. borda details

    The biggest problem with Borda is that it is extremely harmed by strategic voting. With honest voters, Borda is better than approval voting, and almost as good as score voting. With strategic voters, Borda is much worse than approval voting.

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