Voice for Democracy


Newsletter of the Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation

January - February 2000

Visions for a new century


Open letter to NCCPR members


            In this letter I want to use some news on the international front, specifically news from Australia, as a jumping-off point for some observations.

            On December 10, 1999, Australia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the use of PR (Choice Voting) for electing its national Senate.  (Australia uses IRV in single-member districts for its lower House of Representatives.)  Many of the Australian states also use PR for one or both of their houses, but not the state of Victoria.

            On the eve of this anniversary the Australian Labor Party (the governing party in Victoria) announced plans to change the election method of Victoria's upper house (what they call the Legislative Council) from single-member-districts to PR.  If they can't enact the change legislatively, the ALP will try it by referendum.

            The observation I want to make is that this attempt comes after 50 years of experience with PR on the national level.  In other words, even in a country friendly towards and experienced with PR, change is slow, and patience and tenacity are required to succeed.

            I (and others) am fond of saying that the struggle for election system reform is a marathon, not a sprint.  I compare our struggle to that of the suffragists for the right of women to vote.  That struggle took 72 years to achieve victory, as measured from that first meeting in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, to the final ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

            By comparison, the current incarnation of the movement for election system reform is about eight years old.  Locally, we have already achieved one victory (a charter amendment in Santa Clara County to

allow the use of IRV), but we have a long way to go.  We are plowing the ground and planting the seeds, but reaping the harvest is still some years away.

            As part of plowing the ground and planting the seeds, we are willing to send out speakers to any organization that you may belong to that wants to learn about election system reform.  If you belong to an organization that needs a speaker, please let us know.  Call us at one of the contact numbers listed elsewhere in this newsletter.

            I hope you will not be discouraged by the length of time it takes to effect change.  I am in this for the long haul, and I hope you are too.

--Steve Chessin co-President, NCCPR


The last two centuries were spent expanding the franchise to include most adults, this century will see the promise of the franchise fulfilled through full representation for all voters - The Editor, January 2000


"... Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind ... As that becomes more enlightened, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times." -- Thomas Jefferson



AB 172  - PR for School Districts


Lobbying Needed


by Paula Lee and Pete Martineau, NCCPR legislative committee



Assembly Bill (AB) 172 by Assemblymember Marco Firebaugh D-Los Angeles, is the fourth attempt, starting in the 1980s, to change voting for school board  trustees in California away from the less democratic at-large system to trustee districts. Two  previous bills  were vetoed by Republican governors, and one was killed in a Senate  committee.


All these bills are attempts to give Latino families (and in the end, all  families) more control over their neighborhood schools, by making it possible to elect school board trustees of their choice to represent their neighborhoods.


At-large voting  systems have not allowed this representation. The bill would apply only to the 270 districts that have more than 5,000 pupils, out of the 299 total districts.


This bill adds a PR alternative. If trustee districts are not desired in a school district, the alternatives would be either cumulative or alternative (choice)  voting.


If this bill passes, California would be one of the few states with a state-wide PR voting system alternative. (If it passes, we will attempt to get some school districts to try PR voting.)


AB 172 is presently stuck in the Senate Education Committee. It made it  through the Assembly last year, but passage in Senate Education Committee was was in doubt, so Assemblymember Firebaugh requested it be held over to this year’s session.


His staff lead on this bill, Luis Ayala,  says the hearing will be in March or April.



We need NCCPR members and friends who live in the State Senate districts of the Senators on the Education committee to visit and encourage  them to "vote 172 out of commiteee"  It is best to visit district offices on Fridays.  District office phone numbers and addresses can be found in your local  Pacific Bell yellow pages at the front of the book under "Govt. Officials"   Write or call and tell them you think 172 will benefit  schools and families with children in those school districts by providing better representation. 


Then ask for an appointment with the member or district staff. Call a NCCPR board member (see contacts on page three) if you have questions or  need any help lobbying the Education committee member or staff.


If you know someone that lives in any of the following member's districts, enlist their help in this important effort to get this bill voted out of committee.  Let's let these committee members know someone is out  there watching this bill and supporting it!


Please contact the district offices and make your interest in this bill known to the staff.


Paula and Pete will continue to work with Firebaugh’s and the 14 Senators staffs in  Sacramento.


Senate Education Committee- Members......

Alpert, Dede, (D) Chair

Alarcon (D)            Chesbro (D)             Dunn (D)

Hayden (D)            Haynes (R)                Hughes (D)         

Knight (R)            McPherson (R)            Monteith (R)

Ortiz (D)          O’Connell (D)              Sher (D)

Vasconcellos (D)


The ACLU supports the bill, but the Democratic chair of the committee is against. Several schools administration associations are against.

This is a biggie for the PR movement; lets give it all we've got!


Local Chapter Contacts


South Bay Chapter

            Contact Jim Stauffer, (408) 432-9148, or e-mail  jstauffer@igc.org. for details


North Bay Chapter

            Contact Ray Yahr (707-833-6996) or e-mail at rayyahr@neteze.com


San Francisco Chapter

            Contact Wayne Shepherd (415-681-2580) or e-mail at pauldebits@juno.com


East Bay Chapter

            Contact David Greene (510-841-6761) or e-mail at david@diana.lbl.gov


Vice President of Local Chapters

            Contact Nat Lerner (831-442-1238) or e-mail at nl0916@sprynet.com


East Bay Chapter’s next meeting

The next meeting of the East Bay Chapter will be on Thursday Feb. 3, from 7pm-9pm, at 2335 California (at Channing). Phone: 510-841-6761 for directions or other information.

Contact Numbers in Your Area

You can reach us by calling the local number in your area: 415-681-2580 831-442-1238 510-527-8025   650-962-8412   707-523-0440 916-967-0300


American women have a long way to go By Steven Hill and Rob Richie


      It has been eight years since the "Year of the Woman" nearly doubled the number of women in Congress. But it has been slim pickings ever since.

      A recent study found that the United States ranks 43rd in the world in its percentage of women elected to its national legislature. Currently, women hold only 12 percent of Congress, a lower percentage than such nations as Mexico, South Africa or Seychelles. In 1998, fewer than half of our states elected women to the House of Representatives.

      The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Inter- Parliamentary Union, shows Sweden leading the pack with 43 percent women in its legislature, followed by Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, all at least three times higher than Congress.

      Women also fare poorly in executive offices. Only 3 out of 50 states have female governors, and exactly one of our largest 25 cities has a female mayor. Given American women's success in many areas, why has politics proven such hostile terrain? Some propose that it's women's own reluctance to sacrifice their traditional home lives. Swanee Hunt, director of Harvard University's Women and Public Policy Program, suggests that many women don't think politics is a reasonable option because they don't want to give up being mothers and wives. Women also don't necessarily vote for other women. One recent survey revealed that both male and female voters still prefer a man over a woman for powerful offices such as governor, attorney general and president.

       While discriminatory attitudes certainly play a role, they certainly don't explain why women do so much better in some nations than others. The key lies in the rules for how elections are conducted.   

    A virtual laboratory is provided by nations that use both proportional representation voting systems and U.S.-style "winner take all" voting systems. Proportional representation systems use multi-seat districts where a political party or grouping of voters may need only 5% of the popular vote to win representation.

    For example, in Germany, Italy and New Zealand, women are three times more likely to be elected in seats chosen by proportional representation than in those chosen by winner-take-all. Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, the world's leaders, all use proportional representation. Last year women won 39% of seats in Scotland and Wales' first elections with proportional representation.

    In fact, comparative research has shown that the leading predictor of women's success in national elections, when tested against all other variables, is use of proportional representation.

    When a majority of votes is needed, as in the U.S.-style single seat "winner take all" legislative districts, a small number of discriminatory voters can deny women candidates the margin they need for election. Women also are less likely to run when there is only one representative.

    Electing more women to legislatures is not only a matter of fairness. Practically speaking, the presence of women in legislatures makes a measurable difference in the types of legislation that are proposed and passed into law. Although outnumbered 8-1, women in Congress have been successful in gaining legislation long overlooked by men, including gender equity in the workplace and in education, child support legislation, and laws for prevention of violence against women.

    It was Congresswomen who ensured that the offensive behavior of U.S. Senators Bob Packwood and Brock Adams were not swept under the "good old boy" carpet.

    Most established democracies have rejected our "winner take all" system in favor of proportional representation because of the underrepresentation of women and other problems resulting from giving 100% of the power to candidates that win only 51% of the vote. Implementation of proportional systems in the United States at local, state and national levels does not require revising the Constitution. Changes in applicable local, state and federal laws will do. It is high time to seriously address why 52 percent of the population only has 13 percent of the representation.

[Rob Richie is executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy and Steven Hill is the Center's western regional director. They are co-authors of "Reflecting All of Us" (Beacon Press 1999). See www.fairvote.org, or write to: PO Box 60037, Washington, DC 20039.]



Earn a "Thank You" Gift

    As part of our new Membership Drive, we have a new program.  Ask a friend to join NCCPR -- when they join, as a thank you gift, you'll earn a six months extension to your membership!  Or, if you provide us with some leads, we'll contact them, and for each person that joins NCCPR, you'll earn a two month extension as a thank you gift.

                Here is how it works:

(1) You tell a friend about PR.

(2) She thinks it is a good idea.

(3) You invite your friend to join NCCPR.

(4) Your friend says "Yes."

(5) You send your friend's name, address, phone number, and email address to us, telling us to sign your friend up as a Provisional Member.

(6) Your friend is signed up, starts getting the newsletter, and is billed.  Your membership is extended 6 months.

(7) Your friend pays the bill -- $25 for a regular membership, $6 for a low-income membership, or she can become a Sustainer by making small regular donations, like $10 every two-months.

    What does your friend get by being an NCCPR member?  First, she gets to support a terribly important cause -- the cause of political pluralism, openness, and democracy; of a full and vibrant democracy in the U.S.A.   Second, she will be "in the loop" on the latest news about the movement via our newlsetter, optionally via our email updates, and from her local chapter.  Third, if she wants to volunteer, we've got plenty of opportunities -- but no pressure.  Fourth, we regularly provide training and workshops that are free or very low cost for our members.

    Who do you notify when you have a new member or a lead for us?

    Contact Membership VP, Jim Lindsay.  Email is preferred, if you have email: jim@jerel.com.  You can also call the information in to (510) 527-8025 -- please speak slowly and clearly.

    Remember, we need names, addresses, phone numbers and (hopefully) email addresses, and we need your name, so we can credit you.


 Voice for Democracy is published by Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation.Our web site at http://fairvotencal.org has more up to date information. Please submit articles or letters for publication to: c/o Nat Lerner, Voice for Democracy, 68 Penzance Street, Salinas, CA. 93906 or e-mail to NL0916@sprynet.com.


Voice for Democracy

Northern California CPR

P.O. Box 128

Sacramento, California 95812