Chapter 10 The Fair Elections Movement in the United States: What is has done and why it is needed

Raising the Reform Banner: The Development of the Center for Voting and Democracy

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Raising the Reform Banner: The Development of the Center for Voting and Democracy
It is against this backdrop that the accomplishments of the Center for Voting and Democracy (CVD) need to be set. Remarkably, after a promising PR movement had important gains in the first half of the 20th century – including adoptions of choice voting for city council in such cities as Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York and Sacramento -- PR advocacy was nearly completely dormant from 1950 until formation of the CVD at a national meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1992, with great ambitions, but almost no money or institutional support. It took years to have income stable enough to pay one staff member, and it was not until May 1999 that the PR movement in a nation of nearly 300 million people had more than two staffers. Moreover, most funding that has been received in recent years has not been explicitly for PR advocacy, but for efforts that are part of our indirect strategies for winning PR in the United States, such as alternatives to majority minority districts for racial representation, or instant runoff voting (see below).

There has been real progress. A decade ago, "proportional representation" sounded foreign and probably unconstitutional to nearly all Americans. Today, hundreds of publications (including our largest-circulation newspapers and magazines) have highlighted the case for voting system reform. Cities like San Francisco and Cincinnati held ballot measures for the choice voting method of PR in 1996 and 1991, winning 44 and 45 percent of the vote respectively. Recent presidential candidates such as Jesse Jackson, John Anderson, Dennis Kucinich and Jerry Brown have expressed support for PR, and higher-profile candidates like Republican U.S. Senator John McCain and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean back instant runoff voting (IRV). One of several congressional bills designed to allow states to elect House Members by PR drew supportive testimony from the U.S. Department of Justice, several Democratic and Republican U.S. House Members, and leading voting rights scholars.

Many American reformers still are learning the basic language of voting system reform, but the more they understand the range of possible voting systems and their likely impact, the more PR is being seen as a sensible complement to higher profile political reforms. Major constituency organizations now recognize that fair elections, like campaign financing and redistricting reforms, should be on their agenda. Organizations endorsing PR in the past five years include: the Sierra Club and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), two of the largest environmental organizations in the country; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Organization for Women; and several state branches of the major good government groups League of Women Voters and Common Cause. These and many other leading civic and civil rights groups now regularly reference PR in their work and will include speakers on it at events. At the same time, they rarely prioritize it as a focus of their work, in part because opportunities to win PR rarely seem tangible.

The Center for Voting and Democracy was launched to support PR– indeed its initial name was “Citizens for Proportional Representation to “resuscitate American democracy.” But it redefined its program as it strategically adapted to the realities confronting its reform agenda. We now will describe the key elements of the Center’s strategy.

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