Category Archives: alternative voting systems

“Some on the Right Flirt With a Voting Method the Left Loves”

Michael Wines for the NYT:

Long viewed as an intriguing, if somewhat wonky, approach to conducting elections, ranked-choice voting — allowing voters to list candidates in order of preference instead of selecting just one — appears to be having a moment.

Across the country, voters have adopted the system for municipal and county elections in each of the last 27 times the issue has been put to them. Nevada and Oregon — and perhaps Colorado and Idaho as well — will hold referendums on adopting the system this fall. Maine and Alaska already have adopted it.

Proponents say ranked choice reduces polarization by forcing candidates to seek broad support, and that it allows voters to support minor or protest candidates without them becoming spoilers. Critics call the system confusing and even undemocratic, since candidates who initially get the most first-place votes don’t always win in the end.

But just how popular ranked-choice voting is may depend on the group that has most often waged tooth-and-claw battles against it: conservatives, and in particular Republican political figures, who have ideological and practical reasons to oppose the system.

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Kokolis and Tremitiere on fusion voting

Another whitepaper at Protect Democracy by Cyrena Kokolis and Beau Tremitiere, Fusion Voting and a Revitalized Role for Minor Parties in Presidential Elections. Here’s the introduction:

The run-up to the 2024 presidential election is highlighting the deep dissatisfaction throughout the electorate with our two-party system, as well as the difficulty in sustaining a broad electoral coalition to defeat anti-democratic extremism. Voters are expressing an overwhelming dislike of both major parties and growing interest in more electoral choices. Yet under our existing electoral rules, the odds of an independent or minor party candidate winning the presidency are extremely low. A common concern raised is that candidacies by the progressives Cornel West and Jill Stein and centrist political organization No Labels would splinter the pro-democracy vote in 2024, giving an electoral advantage to an authoritarian candidate like Donald Trump. Another worry is the risk of a constitutional crisis if an upstart campaign pulls off an upset in one or two states and prevents any candidate from securing a majority in the Electoral College, thereby leaving the selection of the president and vice president to Congress.

Our success in defending U.S. democracy will turn, in part, on our ability to make our political system more responsive to and representative of our diverse electorate and to facilitate cross-ideological majority electoral coalitions in defense of democracy and the rule of law. An electoral practice that once allowed minor parties throughout the country to exert real influence in politics — fusion voting — could help advance these goals. By empowering factions with differing views on policy but a shared commitment to liberal democracy to unify in support of a single candidate, fusion can serve as a key tool for defeating authoritarian threats at the ballot box. The following sections define fusion voting, describe its practical effects, and briefly summarize its long history in U.S. elections. We conclude by discussing the particular value of fusion voting in modern presidential elections, especially for voters in the political center concerned about extremism and hyper-partisanship.

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Richmond, Virginia’s Odd System for Choosing a Mayor Has Roots in Settling a Voting Rights Act Objection

File this in the Department of Things I Did No Know:

All the contenders will face off one nonpartisan ballot this fall, and a candidate needs to win a plurality of the vote in at least five of the nine City Council districts in order to win the contest outright. This means that, just like in a presidential election, it’s very possible for a candidate to win the mayor’s office while coming in second (or potentially even further back) in the popular vote.

If no one wins outright, then the two candidates with the most votes citywide would compete in a runoff six weeks later. However, the winner still isn’t the candidate with the most votes, it’s the candidate who wins a majority of the Council seats. If no one manages to pull this off (ie, if there’s a tie that prevents anyone from winning at least five districts), only then would the popular vote determine the winner.

This system was first put in place for the 2004 mayoral race, a contest that former Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder won overwhelmingly, and so far, the candidate with the most votes has always won outright. In 2008, Del. Dwight Clinton Jones won 39-34 and carried five of the nine Council seats, and he was re-elected in a landslide four years later. In 2016, Stoney himself won the popular vote by a narrow 36-34, but he also avoided a second round of voting by carrying a majority of the Council districts.

So, how did this system come to be? While Richmond only started voting this way in 2004, Venugopal Katta explained in a 2017 piece for William & Mary Law School’s Election Law Society that the reasoning behind it goes back decades further. Back in 1969, the predominantly white City Council, whose members were elected citywide at the time, approved a plan to annex part of neighboring Chesterfield County. This move lowered Richmond’s black population from 52% to just 42%, and critics argued it was done to strengthen white voters at the expense of African Americans.

However, as Katta wrote, the plan ran into trouble two years later when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act required any changes in city lines to be approved either by the U.S. attorney general or the D.C. District Court. Richmond had completed the annexation by this time, but the attorney general’s office refused to approve it. The city finally came up with a compromise where it would elect city councilors by district, and it agreed that five of the nine seats would have black majorities.

The Supreme Court approved this new plan in 1975’s City of Richmond v. United States decision, and for decades, the City Council remained the major force in Richmond politics. The body continued to pick the mayor from among its members (now-Sen. Tim Kaine became mayor this way in 1998), but a series of corruption scandals involving councilmembers led to calls for a strong and independent chief executive.

In 2002, former Gov. Douglas Wilder and former Mayor Tom Bliley called for electing the mayor citywide. However, while Richmond was again majority black by this point, local African American leaders feared that wealthier and better organized white voters would have a greater say over who led the city. In order to ensure that a mayor couldn’t win without substantial black support, the Wilder-Bliley Commission’s plan required mayoral candidates to win five of the nine districts in order to be elected. This plan overwhelmingly passed in a 2003 referendum, and it remains in place today.

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“Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Equality, Proportionality, and Our Abridged Voting Rights Regime”

New from Michael Latner. Abstract:

What constraints should the protection of political equality place on the design of electoral systems? With the exception of requiring approximate population equality across a jurisdiction’s districts, the U.S. voting rights regime accepts substantial disproportionality in voting strength. This Article addresses the current Supreme Court’s abandonment of the Second Reconstruction’s “one person, one vote” standard with regard to both racial and partisan gerrymandering, and assesses the role that Congress and political science have played in this transition. This Article argues that an unabridged voting rights regime must recognize a standard of proportional representation derived from the protection of individual political equality.

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“Fusion Could Lower the Temperature”

Bill Galston column in the WSJ:

There is mounting evidence that institutional changes below the level of constitutional amendments can increase opportunities for voters to express more-moderate sentiments. Fortunately, our federal system allows for more experimentation along these lines than is available in countries with more centralized political systems.

Ranked-choice voting has been employed at both the municipal and state level, with promising results. CEO turned political reformer Katherine Gehl helped persuade Alaska to endorse a new system that combines a nonpartisan primary with ranked-choice voting to pick the general-election winner from among the top four primary finishers. In their book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” political analyst E.J. Dionne and former Connecticut Secretary of State Miles S. Rapoport argue for adopting the Australian system, which requires all citizens to vote and enforces this requirement with a fine no larger than a parking ticket. (Full disclosure: I was a member of a working group, which included the book’s authors, that examined this option and recommended its adoption.)

A once-popular option—fusion voting—also deserves renewed attention. In this system, a candidate could be the nominee of more than one political party. The votes cast for this candidate would be tallied separately by party and then combined to determine the candidate’s total support. During much of the 19th century, most states used this system, which had its greatest effect in the three decades after the Civil War, when the two major parties enjoyed nearly equal support, allowing minor parties to influence election outcomes.

This system enabled voters, who weren’t comfortable with the stances of either major party, such as supporters of the Greenback and Populist parties, to cast a ballot without wasting their vote on a candidate with no chance of winning or inadvertently helping their less-preferred major-party candidate win. In addition, fusion voting forced the major-party candidates to compete for nominations. Also, candidates who cared about getting re-elected were more likely to see themselves as the head of a winning coalition and less likely to ignore the preferences of minor-party members of their coalition.

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Parsons, Penrose, and Carroll: “Pico & Proportional Ranked Choice Voting”

The following is a guest post from G. Michael Parsons (Senior Legal Fellow, FairVote), Drew Penrose (Policy Consultant, FairVote), and Terrance Carroll (Senior Fellow for Voting and Democracy, FairVote):

The California Supreme Court’s decision in Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica last week was a major victory for voting rights, fair representation, and the essential protections provided by a growing number of state voting rights acts (SVRAs) across the country. In this post, we raise three observations about what the decision might mean for SVRA litigation going forward. First, alternative “modified at-large” electoral systems (such as proportional ranked choice voting) may offer the clearest benchmark for establishing liability in future SVRA cases. Second, the Court’s emphasis on “lawful” alternatives contemplates a range of potential changes to a locality’s electoral system, including eliminating staggered elections or moving to multi-member districts. Finally, proportional ranked choice voting offers a uniquely compelling remedy in SVRA cases because it encourages the kind of crossover voting that the Pico decision protects as a means of providing communities of color a “real electoral opportunity” to elect their candidate of choice.

Continue reading Parsons, Penrose, and Carroll: “Pico & Proportional Ranked Choice Voting”
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“The False Promise of Party-Centric Reform”

Seamus Allen:

But what change to pursue? For the vast majority of the public, the end goal is clear: we want a democracy that provides representation for all. To accomplish that, the US needs to adopt some form of proportional representation (PR). How PR is to be achieved, however, is an open question.

In recent months, a conversation has ensued among a group of political scientists and democracy advocates centered around the dichotomy of “party-centric” reform vs. “candidate-centric” reform. There are compelling reasons to believe this dichotomy is a false one, since a number of democracies around the world as well as US states have strong political parties even as voters select individual candidates. Even so, it is worthwhile to examine the political viability of the party-centric approach.  Should this become a guiding philosophy for the reform movement, it ought to be one that allows us to seize this moment and make lasting change. 

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