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FairVote (formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy) is a 501(c)(3) organization that advocates electoral reform in the United States.
Founded in 1992 as Citizens for Proportional Representation to support the implementation of proportional representation in American elections, the organization in 1993 became the Center for Voting and Democracy and in 2004 changed its name to FairVote to reflect its support of such platforms as ranked choice voting (RCV), for single-winner elections, a national popular vote for president, a right to vote amendment to the Constitution, and universal voter registration.
FairVote releases regular publications on the state of the U.S. electoral system, including Dubious Democracy and Monopoly Politics.
Other projects, such as Representation 2020 and "Promote Our Vote", aim for increased voter participation and equitable representation of women. The organization supports other groups that advocate alternative electoral practices, including FairVote Minnesota.
Notable members of FairVote's board of directors include Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Hendrik Hertzberg, a White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and longtime senior editor at The New Yorker. For many years the board's chair was former congressman and 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson.Contents
FairVote was founded as Citizens for Proportional Representation in 1992 in Cincinnati, Ohio, by a diverse group of scholars, grassroots activists, civic leaders, and politicians.
The result of a merger of several smaller groups promoting proportional representation reform into a single, nationalized advocacy group, it originally had Robert Richie as executive director and Matthew Cossolotto as president. John Anderson was head of its national advisory board and in 1992 published a New York Times commentary advocating RCV in presidential elections. The CPR ended its founding year operating in Alexandria, Virginia, with around 200 members.Board of Directors, 2016 Krist Novoselic, FairVote Chair Krist Novoselic, Chair
Since its founding, FairVote has expanded its reach and expressed its platforms to both the public and all levels of government through blogs, newsletters, lobbying, interviews, amicus curiae briefs, and other media outlets. Notable events include:
FairVote is headquartered in Takoma Park, Maryland.Mission
The stated mission of FairVote is "to make representative democracy fair, functional, and representative by developing the analysis and educational tools necessary for our reform partners to secure and sustain improvements to American elections."
FairVote concentrates its efforts on electoral reform in the United States through research, education, outreach, and support of policies that foster equal representation and greater transparency within the electoral administration.
The organization's projects fall into three broad categories: fair access to participation, fair elections, and fair representation. To that end, it sponsors programs like the Democracy Secretary of State (SoS) Project, which scrutinizes practices obstructing the voting process while proposing solutions to hold electoral officials accountable for their actions. The Promote Our Vote project focuses on local ideas to spur participation.
Members of FairVote regularly write blogs, provide commentary in interviews, and offer internships for interested youth.Public perception
FairVote has been covered by many major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR, which tend to call it a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group. Other commonly used terms include: "voting rights organization," "election reform advocacy group," "national reform organization," and "election participation and reform group." The Denver Post referred to the group as "election-protection campaigners."
Alleged liberal bias
FairVote has been accused of having a liberal bias. Scott James of The New York Times referred to FairVote as a "left-wing group" whose members "have relentlessly berated people who have raised concerns." Other writers claim that many FairVote policies, such as RCV, are popular in "liberal enclaves" and supported by "populist groups" such as Common Cause, a liberal advocacy organization, and thus give the group a liberal tilt. Louis Jacobson, a writer for Roll Call, argues that any group supporting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will be perceived as liberal-leaning because of Democratic frustration with the Electoral College after the 2000 Presidential Election. But Rob Richie, FairVote's executive director, has said, " is definitely not a Democratic stalking horse." In addition, FairVote points to John Anderson, one of their founders and a current member of the Board of Directors, who ran for President as an Independent in 1980. In fact, before Anderson ran for President, he was a Republican Congressman from Illinois.Proposed reforms Electoral procedure
FairVote advocates the use of Ranked choice voting (RCV), in elections. Under this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference, in contrast to the more widely used plurality voting system.
In 2002, FairVote backed a San Francisco ballot initiative amending Section 13.102 of the city charter to allow RCV in local elections. The city began using RCV to elect local officials on November 2, 2004. Subsequent ballot initiatives supported by FairVote have allowed the use of RCV in the following cities (listed with first year of use) :
FairVote supports modification of state laws governing the Electoral College so that the president is elected by national popular vote. FairVote advocates the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states and the District of Columbia to award their electoral votes to the candidate with the highest popular vote total in all 50 states and DC. FairVote has played an active role in lobbying state officials to join the compact. New York Assemblyman Fred Thiele said he first proposed New York's entrance into the compact after being approached by FairVote.
FairVote advocates the use of proportional representation in multi-seat assembly and council elections throughout the United States. In this system, each candidate or party controls a share of seats equal to its share of the vote. The organization has proposed combining several congressional districts into one to allow for proportional representation in the United States Congress, as well as in the California and Michigan state assemblies.Voting rights
FairVote has backed the proposed Right to Vote Amendment (House Joint Resolution 44), sponsored by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), under which citizens would be guaranteed a constitutional right to vote. FairVote filed a policy brief in support of the legislation, stating, "We believe that the right to vote is a cornerstone of representative democracy that depends upon broadly defined voter eligibility, universal voter access to the polls, and election integrity." FairVote has also advocated universal voter registration, a system in which all citizens of legal voting age would be registered to vote automatically.Research and reports Election research
FairVote has conducted research on both presidential and Congressional elections. Most of its presidential election research focuses on the electoral college's effects on campaigning. In its 2012 Presidential Election analysis, FairVote documented the large disparity in both time and money spent in swing states (e.g., Florida) versus safe states (e.g., Maryland). In addition, FairVote has begun publishing data on how much time sitting presidents spend in swing states.
FairVote releases two main documents of Congressional research every election cycle. The first is "Monopoly Politics", which contains predictions and analysis for each race. FairVote first categorizes each seat according to its competitiveness; seats are labeled Safe Democratic, Likely Democratic, Lean Democratic, Toss Up, Lean Republican, Likely Republican, or Safe Republican. Relatedly, FairVote gives each district a partisanship ranking derived from previous elections. FairVote then predicts what percentage of the vote candidates will receive. Lastly, the research tries to predict incumbent winning percentages for the election cycle. For example, FairVote expects incumbents to do 4.5% better in 2014 than they did in 2012.
The second major document is "Dubious Democracy", an assessment of Congressional elections' fairness. By aggregating Congressional race data since 1982, the research attempts to highlight several elements of Congressional elections — the ratio of competitive to noncompetitive districts, the effects of gerrymandering, and voter turnout — that FairVote believes hurt the democratic process. In the report, every Congressional race is placed on a scale of competitiveness, from Tight (<5% margin of victory) to No Contest (>40% margin of victory), and the percentage of races within each category is tracked over time. In addition, the research tracks voter turnout and wasted votes over time. Lastly, the report follows the success of incumbents in winning reelection over time.
In addition to Monopoly Politics and Dubious Democracy, after the 2010 midterm elections FairVote released data on the effect of third-party and spoiler candidates. The report found that there were many districts in which the winning candidate did not receive a majority of the vote, a fact the group finds problematic. In addition, the research highlighted races in which Independents garnered a sizable percentage of the vote.
Finally, FairVote created Representation 2020, a project that hopes to achieve parity in the numbers of men and women serving in elected office. The project has three main goals: institutionalizing changes in party rules to recruit and train more women to run for office, creating family-friendly legislative schedules, and replacing single-member districts with multi-member districts with proportional representation.Voting rights
FairVote has created two projects that aim to expand and protect voting rights in the United States. The first, Promote Our Vote, tries to provide support and resources for groups focused on expanding voting rights. The group provides electoral research, legal analysis, and communications assistance. In addition, Promote Our Vote creates support for a constitutional right to vote amendment by building up support at the local level, focusing mainly on college campuses.
The second project is Democracy SoS, which aims to familiarize voters with the important role of state-level Secretary of State officials. To that end, the project has issued reports on state election preparedness, interviewed state election officials, and published voter guides that focus on election reform policies. The project also hopes to popularize its candidate surveys, which include questions about election planning and election integrity.Reform 2020
Released in 2013, Reform 2020 is a set of four goals that the group hopes to reach by 2020:
FairVote has participated in a number of recent court cases as amici curiae to advance fair representation voting, particularly under the California and federal Voting Rights Act. Notable recent cases in which they have been involved include:Sanchez v. City of Modesto (2007)
Sanchez v. City of Modesto (2007) dealt with the constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA).
After the California Superior Court of Stanislaus County declared the CVRA unconstitutional in favor of the City of Modesto, plaintiffs Enrique Sanchez, Emma Pinedo and Salvador Vera appealed to the Fifth Appellate District of the Court of Appeal of California.
Along with Kathay Feng from the organization California Common Cause, FairVote submitted an amicus curiae brief in favor of the plaintiffs.
FairVote argued that winner-take-all at-large voting systems caused "vote dilutions in jurisdictions affected by racially polarized voting, even where minority voters cannot form a majority in a single member district."
Supporting the CVRA, FairVote viewed the law requiring courts to "fashion effective remedies to cure vote dilution affecting smaller and dispersed minority populations."
Asserting that the CVRA allows California to become more representative of the people, FairVote concluded that the CVRA was an important and constitutional piece of government reform. The Court of Appeal applied rational basis review to CVRA and declared the law constitutional, reversing the lower court's decision.United States v. Village of Port Chester (2008)
In December 2006, the United States Department of Justice alleged that Port Chester's at-large system of electing its board of trustees violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The US government claimed that the at-large electoral system denied the Hispanic population "an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."
In United States v. Village of Port Chester (2008), US District Judge Stephen Robinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a decision that the Village's election system violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered remedial plans from all parties.
The Defendants of the case, the Village of Port Chester, proposed cumulative voting as a remedy, which "allows citizens to cast multiple votes for a given candidate for a given seat."
In 2007, the Brennan Center, representing FairVote as amicus curiae, submitted a brief supporting cumulative voting as a remedy, but also proposing another system known as "choice voting", a process of ranking candidates. FairVote argued that "cumulative and choice voting avoid the necessity for deliberately drawing districts along racial lines" and that a winner-take-all system would not allow the Hispanic minority population to gain representation.
FairVote also argued that cumulative voting is appropriate under the Voting Rights Act, as it "ensures the equal principle of "one-person, one vote"", is race-neutral, and that it is supported by case law and history. On November 6, 2009, the Court did not accept choice voting but accepted Port Chester's remedy of cumulative voting. On June 16, 2010, Port Chester elected its first Latino to the Board of Trustees.Minnesota Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis (2009)
FairVote Minnesota is an independent ally of FairVote.
FairVote Minnesota, siding with the City of Minneapolis, served as intervenor-respondent in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis, a case that was attested at the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Minnesota Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis dealt with the constitutionality of RCV, which was adopted by the City of Minneapolis for its municipal elections.
Minnesota Voters Alliance, a non-profit organization who served as the appellants, argued that the "method violates their right to vote, to associate for political purposes, and to equal protection under both the United States and the Minnesota Constitutions".
Siding with the city, FairVote Minnesota stated that instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a form of RCV that allowed voters to rank multiple candidates on a single ballot. They argued that this form of voting had legitimate policy reasons such as simplifying the election process, saving money, increasing voter turn-out, ensuring more diverse representation, and promoting civil election campaigns.
In their defense of the City of Minneapolis, FairVote argued that the appellants bore a ""heavy burden of persuasion" because they brought a facial challenge to the constitutionality of IRV" and that "Minneapolis IRV is constitutional because it is supported by legitimate interests, imposes no burden on the right to vote, and applies to all voters".
The Court affirmed the lower district court's ruling that RCV did not infringe on the appellants' constitutional rights, thus rejecting the Minnesota Voters Alliance's challenge to RCV. After the result, Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, applauded the Minnesota Supreme Court decision and stated that the Court "blazed a path that every community in our state can follow toward better elections and a stronger democracy" and that the decision was "a resounding endorsement of ranked choice voting".Jauregi v. City of Palmdale (2014)
Juan Jauregui, the plaintiff, filed a complaint in April 2012 alleging that Palmdale's at-large method of electing members to its City Council resulted in vote dilution for Latino and African American residents.
The lawsuit claimed that Palmdale's at-large method denied minority residents effective political participation and thus violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The case was brought up to Judge Mooney of the Superior Court of the State of California in the County of Los Angeles.
In July 2013, Judge Mooney declared that the CVRA vested the court in implementing appropriate remedies in favor of the plaintiffs.
The City of Palmdale immediately appealed the decision, reasoning that in 2001 Palmdale residents voted for an at-large election system. The case reached the California Court of Appeal in the Second Appellate District.
On January 2014, FairVote submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs.
FairVote argued that fair representation voting, unlike at-large systems, enhanced minority groups to elect at least one candidate of their choice. FairVote advocated for a number of alternative methods, such as ranked choice voting, single voting, and cumulative voting.
However, the City of Palmdale opposed FairVote's participation, arguing that the amicus brief "threatens significant prejudice to the City" as it would continue to delay the certification of the City's November 2013 election. The California Court of Appeal has denied FairVote's application to file as amicus curiae.References