Election Reform Now!

Election Reform Now!

On this day, as we face a federal government shutdown over the fight to protect Dreamers and restore CHIP funding, we are once again reminded of how badly we need election reform now. Our government no longer represents the will of the people. Instead it represents special interests and gerrymandered districts that crush moderation and compromise while supporting only the most extreme points of view.

Election reform won’t come from Congress. We have to fight for this on a state by state level. The good news is that change is possible. There is momentum building, but it needs real grassroots support in every state. In the coming year, I’ll be fighting for some very simple, but powerful reforms in my home state of Massachusetts. My 2018 election reform agenda is:

As I write up more detail on each of these proposals, I’ll link to the individual posts from the list above.  

In the state of Massachusetts, there are already bills moving through the House and Senate that could bring many of the above reforms to the state.  They need support from our Senators and Representatives, and that’s going to require a push from the electorate to show that we care about these changes.  

And this is increasingly true across the country.  Voters are finally starting to wake up to the importance of easier access to the ballot. We want to see reforms that address issues such as winner take all results and vote splitting between similar candidates that allow ideologues to win seats that further divide us.  
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What is Ranked Choice Voting

What is Ranked Choice Voting

Our winner take all election process is broken.

It forces voters to choose between voting for the candidate who best represents their views versus the candidate that seems most likely to win. This blocks out third party candidates and lowers participation from an uninspired electorate. It splits votes among common constituent groups, suppressing minority and female candidates, and often results in winners with less than 50% of the vote from the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

Ranked Choice Voting addresses these problems. Instead of casting a single vote in an election, voters rank as many candidates as they like in order of choice. If no candidate has a majority of first-place rankings, the last-place candidate is eliminated. The voters whose candidate was eliminated have their ballots instantly go to their next choice. The process repeats until there is a majority winner.

Remember Bush versus Gore, and the impact Ralph Nader had on the results of that Presidential election? The spoiler effect in action. Donald Trump won the Republican primary with only 45% of the vote. In California, studies have shown that the use of Ranked Choice Voting significantly increased the number of women and people of color who have won elections.

Today, Ranked Choice Voting is used in 11 cities across the U.S. Grassroots efforts are building throughout the country, to expand this essential voting reform. We have an opportunity to change our state and federal election process from the ground up, state by state. Now is the time to throw our support behind these efforts, and bring Ranked Choice Voting to an electorate that wants to fix our broken system.

I’ve joined the Advisory Board of VoterChoice Massachusetts to help bring this important election reform to the 2020 ballot.  I’ll be writing more about RCV, so if you’re interested in learning more, you’ll find those posts here.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/5aRVjn

The Case for Automatic Voter Registration

Increasing voter turnout in the U.S. will mean addressing the obstacles that keep people from participating at each step of the process.  Currently in most U.S. states the first hurdle is getting registered to vote. Increasing voter registration is often difficult because it has to happen months before an election when there is less excitement and less motivation to take action. This may seem like an inevitable challenge of the democratic process but the truth is that voter registration is only an impediment to participation because most places require people to take action and opt in to registering. Making the process of voter registration automatic removes the first obstacle to voting, facilitates increased participation, and can help make sure that the voter rolls are more accurate and current.

The process of automatic voter registration (AVR) is fairly simple and basically what it sounds like; a person is automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, or depending on the state, complete other state paperwork. In AVR states, when someone fills in the paperwork to get a license their information goes directly from the DMV to the election office and then they are registered as a voter unless they take steps to opt out. As of this summer, 10 states and DC have some form of AVR.

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Ranked Choice Voting, Voting Splitting and the Impact on Third Party Candidates

Florida 2000 Presidential Election Results


A voting system is supposed to allow voters to choose their elected officials, not choose for them. But which election system is used can actually have a significant impact on who gets elected and who doesn’t. The plurality voting system currently used in most U.S. elections is subject to what’s known as “vote splitting” and the “spoiler effect”. This phenomenon has had unfortunate consequences for candidates and voters in a number of specific elections, and it also means that in U.S. elections in general third-party candidates are at a disadvantage. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) on the other hand empowers multiple candidates to run even if they overlap on some issues, because they can get high rankings from the same voters without worrying about splitting the vote.

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Ranked Choice Voting and Voter Participation

Note: This post is a part of an ongoing series of posts about Ranked Choice Voting.  You can find other posts in the series here, with more posts to come.

Voter participation in the U.S. is hard to pin down. It can be measured as percentage of registered voters, eligible voters, those of voting age, or of the population as a whole. Participation is higher in presidential elections with new candidates then when one is up for re-election, with even lower turnout for midterm elections, primaries, and municipal races. And voting rates vary widely from state to state, district to district, and demographic to demographic. Increasing the benefits of voting, and or decreasing the obstacles in order to improve voter turnout is not a straightforward proposition with a one size fits all solution.

Still, it’s easy to see why in recent years Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is appealing to many who are looking for ways increase voter turnout. In certain types of elections RCV can eliminate the need for primaries so people only need to make the effort to vote once. Ranking also offers people more choices and doesn’t alienate those who don’t want a major party candidate and it gives each vote more meaning since all votes will affect a candidate’s outcome. RCV also encourages civility during the campaign as each candidate can still benefit from being the number two choice of their opponent’s supporters.

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Amicus Briefs on SC Gerrymandering case – Is The Tide Finally Turning?

Credit: Flickr https://flic.kr/p/92AJmt

On October 3, the Supreme Court will hear the Oral Arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case where voters challenged Wisconsin’s state assembly map.

From the Brennan Center article:

The briefs forcefully refute the familiar argument that partisan gerrymandering is mainly about whether Democrats or Republicans come out on top electorally. For example, a brief filed by prominent Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Bob Dole, and Dick Lugar, among others, asserts that “[i]f th[e Supreme] Court does not stop partisan gerrymanders, partisan politicians will be emboldened to enact ever more egregious gerrymanders . . . That result would be devastating for our democracy.”

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain—in a brief filed with Senator Whitehouse—warned that “[p]artisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process.” A bipartisan group of 65 current and former state lawmakers, and a bipartisan coalition of current and former members of Congress have also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

You can read more about the case and the briefs filed here.  It’s worth a read.  This is an important case to watch.