12/19/2009 09:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fair Representation News: Proportional voting in American cities and around the world

Here's an excerpt from the FairVote Reformer for December 2009 focused on proportional voting and other alternatives to winner-take-all elections.

Fair representation ultimately depends on giving as many voters as possible the power to elect representatives - anything less is dependent on the whims of political elites who can take back what they changes in district lines. While most of the democratic world has moved away from winner-take-all elections, the United States remains largely dependent on them, but with important - and increasing - exceptions.

Last month, I was featured in an Associated Press article appearing across the nation on a federal judge's acceptance of cumulative voting as the remedy of choice in Port Chester (NY) in a voting rights case brought by the Department of Justice. FairVote partnered with the Brennan Center in presenting an amicus in the case. Now, as Brennan's Myrna Perez aptly summarized in a blog post reviewing the case and different voting methods, "Latinos now have a real opportunity to elect their candidate of choice, but they must get out and vote."

We are pleased to have been given the assignment of overseeing Port Chester's voter education and implementation plan for cumulative voting, which is keeping Amy Ngai particularly busy. On December 17th federal judge Stephen Robinson indicated he would sign off on a consent decree governing the voter education plan developed by he parties to the case. FairVote seeks to strengthen the precedent that non-winner-take-all voting systems are powerful means to protect minority voting rights even as they increase the power of all voters to define their own representation.

FairVote's preferred proportional voting system for local elections in the United States is choice voting the ranked choice cousin of instant runoff voting. Last month, Minneapolis (MN) became the first new American jurisdiction in decades to use choice voting elections, using it for five seats on two citywide boards. Cambridge (MA) is approaching its 70th anniversary of choice voting elections, with hotly contested races this year for city council and school committee providing ongoing fair representation across the city. We were disappointed that an impressive grassroots efforts on behalf of choice voting fell short last month in Lowell (MA), but its backers were heartened by more than four in ten voters voting for a change that few had known about just weeks before the election.

In international news, Iraq's shaky move to democracy would almost certainly be far more problematic without its use of proportional representation that has brought diverse voices to the table and is encouraging its biggest parties to seek votes in all areas of the nation, even where a minority. Recent changes to the electoral law governing next year's elections give voters more control over which candidates win, but maintain the goal of fair representation. In the United Kingdom, establishing proportional representation for elections to the House of Lords gains new support from top government leaders and remains very much in play for elections to the House of Commons, as argued by Vernon Bogdanor. Closer to home, the Canadian drive for proportional representation, led by Fair Vote Canada, is garnering energy and attention with it Declaration of Voters Rights.

Take Action: Putback Amendment in Illinois and Congress Commissions Act

* In Illinois, the Putback Amendment - an effort to secure a spot on the 2010 statewide ballot that, among other changes, reverses the 1980 "cutback amendment" that shrank the size of the legislature and eliminated cumulative voting - is gathering steam in its signature drive. See for the latest news and how you can help.

* In Congress, Congressman Alcee Hastings' Congress Commissions Act (HR 3972) would examine proportional voting and other voting methods in congressional elections, the benefits of expanding the size of the U.S. House and representation for citizens living in American territories. Ask your House Members to support this sensible means for an open-minded query into achieving fairer representation.

Quotes to Ponder: Going Beneath the Headlines

* Rob Richie's in Huffington Post: The Political Significance of Elections for Governor:"Many of our savviest politicos are espousing the conventional wisdom that the results will serve as clues to national trends in 2010 and 2012. But the hard numbers show that recent votes for governor do not predict outcomes in presidential contests and vice versa. Most of our heavily blue and red states in presidential races are in fact represented by governors from the minority party."

* Perverz Musharaff, former military dictator and president of Pakistan, on why fair representation matters in the December 1, 2009 Wall Street Journal: "The establishment of a truly representative national government which gave proportional representation to all ethnic groups - including the majority Pashtuns - would have brought peace to Afghanistan and ousted al Qaeda once and for all. Unfortunately this did not happen."

* Pauline LeJeune and Rob Richie in International Snapshot: Japan 2009: "Journalists have touted the election as a landslide victory...This stunning result is not merely the result of a shift in popular opinion, however, since the DPJ won only 42.4% of the popular vote. The magnitude of its landslide win was mainly due to the rules of the Japanese electoral system."

* Roy Hattersley in the New Statesman: "But the present system will not endure. Proportional representation is irresistible...PR makes coalition certain and liberates Labour from the hope of winning 326 or more parliamentary seats. Under a new system, a return to principle will follow."