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 to 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.
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