Voice for Democracy


Newsletter of Californians for Proportional Representation

July-August 2001


Carter-Ford Commission Report

evokes mixed reaction


      The National Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, has made its recommendations. The commission addressed the electoral malfunctions exposed in Florida, but present across the nation - sloppy, inconsistent and antiquated election administration that analysts believe kept millions from casting a valid vote in 2000.

The commission’s report did not touch voting system reform and compromised on the question of federal mandates for the reforms that it did recommend. Do we support it and ask for more? Do we criticize its ‘weakness’ and condemn it as mere window dressing for a broken system? Can we do both?

The report itself can be downloaded at http://www.reformelections.org/data/news/full_report.pdf

Here are some comments from some PR advocates.

     The commission suggested a few relatively bold ideas - making election day a holiday, restoring voting rights to ex-felons who have served their sentence and preventing early disclosure of east coast presidential results from affecting turnout elsewhere - but focused on presenting the developing consensus on improving election administration. If those improvements are implemented, as many expect, we should see significant improvement in the casting and counting of votes.

      But we won't have the world's best electoral process. Florida's problems were the tip of an iceberg that remains largely unexamined. With nearly two-thirds of adults likely to abstain from voting in next year's mid-term congressional elections, we must explore how to encourage new candidates who can speak for these no-shows and strengthen our democracy.
      Don't rely on the federal government and standard- bearers of the major parties for innovation, however. States are more likely to lead the way. Indeed, we are already seeing movement in states toward two ground-breaking electoral reforms: instant runoff voting and cumulative voting. – John B Anderson, Chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy, John B.Anderson served in Congress for two decades and ran for president in 1980.

      some of you may have seen William Raspberry's commentary last week that quoted me… (he) felt that I was too easy on the Carter-Ford commission that came out with its report last week.  The big issue of contention for Raspberry and many others is whether there should be federal standards/mandates.
    As someone who wants to see as many states and counties modernize their systems as quickly as possible, I think we're setting ourselves up for a fall if it's "federal standards or nothing". 

    Congressional Republicans have a genuine base in state legislatures - both Republicans and Democrats there -- who don't want the federal government to set conditions for election administration grants, let alone mandates. So Carter-Ford actually did take a compromise position in calling for conditions rather than just wimp out. Funny thing is, most states will make exactly the changes that Congressional Democrats want with federal aid. I think the real threat to election administration reforms happening for most voters is failure to get a bill through that appropriates sufficient funds.
…. Pushing for mandates is fine, but saying anything less is a failure I think is self-defeating.- Rob Richie, Director, Center for Voting and Democracy

    The report of the National Commission on Federal Election  Reform, issued last week, has the unmistakable earmarks of political compromise…The commission remained squarely within a long tradition of minimal federal involvement in the conduct of American elections.
, … the prescriptions offered will do little to address the more subterranean faults in our political life that became visible during and after Election 2000: the alienation and anger of much of the black community; the pitfalls of the Electoral College and the ways in which it skews political campaigns; the high rates of nonvoting, particularly among the poor and less educated; the dangers of partisan control of election administration; the cavalier and disrespectful treatment of voters in many locales; and the absence, as the Supreme Court observed in Bush v. Gore, of a constitutional right to vote for president. -  from the New York Times, August 5, 2001, Reform and an Evolving Electorate, by Alex Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard's Kennedy School, is author of "The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States."

    As an optimist, I mined these pages for something that would reflect a need for full representation for all voters and found a few phrases that might be of interest to those whose love of democracy outweighs any religious obedience to the Founding Fathers. From Page 14. “The methods for funding and administering elections…  should seek to ensure that every qualified citizen has an equal opportunity to vote and that every individual's vote is equally effective. No individual, group or community should be left with a justified belief that the electoral process works less well for some than for others.” and again from Page 25,”When they choose the president, the vice-president and members of Congress, the American people should expect that all levels of government should provide a democratic process that: .. Operates with equal effectiveness for every citizen and every community; .”

    Of course there are no proposals that I saw that even remotely recommends reviewing - let alone changing - the voting system. …- Nat Lerner, Editor, after downloading the report.

    As a practical matter, the commission’s report provides all of us with an opportunity to bring PR and IRV to the attention of those who otherwise would not listen to us, if we include a comment about these fundamental reforms in our letters and conversations about the report.


The President’s Column

            My column this issue is dedicated to Charlotte Woodward (1829-192?), one of the signers of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments.

My wife and I took a tour of New York State during our recent vacation.  One of the places we stopped was Seneca Falls, home to the First Women's Rights Convention in 1848.  The convention site is now a National Historic Park run by the National Park Service.  In addition to what's left of the Wesleyan Chapel where the convention took place, the site includes a wall upon which is engraved the Declaration of Sentiments and the names of the 100 women and men who signed it (out of the reported three hundred people who attended the Convention).

While the Declaration of Sentiments is modeled after the Declaration of Independence, it is an important document in its own right.  I was especially struck by these words near the end:

“In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.  We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.”

Long-time CPR members know that I am fond of comparing our movement with the women's suffrage movement, in that I expect our progress will be measured in decades, not years.  Little did I realize that the parallels go deeper.  We, like the early suffragists, have been (and continue to be) subject to misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; and we, like the early suffragists, have and will employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.

There is one parallel that I hope will not hold.  Charlotte Woodward was 19 years old when she signed the Declaration of Sentiments. She wasn't the youngest signer -- that honor belongs to Susan Quinn, age 15 -- but she was the only one who lived long enough to vote in the first presidential election after the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

I am hoping that many more of us get to vote in the first election for Congress that uses proportional representation.

    For more information on the First Women Right's Convention, the National Historic Site, and the Declaration of Sentiments, you can start with these web sites: http://www.lclark.edu/~ria/senecafalls.rights.html




--Steve Chessin. President, Californians for Proportional Representation.


San Francisco Initiative for March 2002


    On July 9th, 2001, the IRV Charter Amendment passed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by a 10 - 1 vote.  This means it will be on the San Francisco ballot in March of 2002.

    The amendment is for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for all city offices -- Mayor, City Attorney and the Board of Supervisors. If passed, it will save the city millions of dollars, because the city uses separate runoff elections now. It will also introduce a large number of voters to the choice ballot, where voters mark their choices 1, 2, 3 etc. Votes of candidates with the lowest votes are transferred to the voters’ next choices until a single candidate receives over 50% of the votes.


Local Chapters and Contacts

San Diego County Contact is Edward Teyssier, 858-546-1774/email at  edward@k-online.com 


Southern California Contact is Casey Peters (213)-385-2786/email at proprep@hotmail.com


Monterey County Contact is Nat Lerner (831)-442-1238/email at natscottl@yahoo.com


South Bay Chapter Contact is Jim Stauffer (408)-432-9148 /email at jstauffer@igc.org


San Francisco Chapter Contact is Betty Traynor (415)-558-8133/email at btraynor@energy-net.org


East Bay Chapter Contact is David Greene (510)-658-3085/email at dmgreene@igc.org (new email)


Sacramento County Contact is Pete Martineau (916)-967-0300/email at petemrtno@aol.com


El Dorado County contact is Paula Lee (530)-644-8760/email at paulalee@jps.net


North Bay Contact is Wayne Shepard (707)-5520-5317/email at paldebits@juno.com


Co-Vice-Presidents of Local Chapters are Jim Stauffer (408)-432-9148 /email at jstauffer@igc.org

and Betty Traynor (415)-558-8133 /email at btraynor@energy-net.org



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Voice for Democracy is published by Californians for Proportional Representation (prior to May 2000 Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation). Our web site at http://fairvoteca.org may have more current information. Please submit articles or letters for publication to: c/o Nat Lerner, Voice for Democracy, 68 Penzance Street, Salinas, CA. 93906-1339 or e-mail to natscottl@yahoo.com


Officer List Updated

The last edition had some errors with the list of officers plus a few new appointments have been made. Here is the updated list:- President Steve Chessin, Executive VP  Rob Latham, Chief Financial Officer (Finance VP) Marda Stothers, Secretary Matt Grossmann, Treasurer Dave Kadlecek, Membership VP Rob Latham, Information Co-VPs Dave Robinson and Matt Grossmann, Legislation Co-VPs Paula Lee and Pete Martineau , Outreach Co-VPs Jim Lindsay and Casey Peters, Local Chapters Co-VPs Jim Stauffer and Betty Traynor, Newsletter Editor Nat Lerner, Database/Web Administrator Steve Willett.


How the Irish do it! (STV/Choice Voting PR)

This is the second of three brief articles on the three main types of Proportional Representation showcasing the historical/cultural environment where they occurred as well as the technical background of the specific type of PR.        

In 1922, the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) was formed after a very bitter war of independence that left the province of Ulster inside the United Kingdom. Although the non-Ulster population of Ireland was 90% Catholic, the Republican movement was non-sectarian. They needed a voting system that would not automatically exclude the Protestant minority as well as allowing for strong local representation. The Irish adopted a system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV) devised in the 1860’s by John Hare that provided these features. Voters cast ballots for individuals in 3, 4 and 5 member districts.  Voters specify their preferences by marking 1, 2, 3 etc. Candidates are elected by getting the Droop Quota number of votes (one more than the total number of votes divided by one more than the number of seats). Surplus votes are transferred according to voters’ next preferences. If insufficient members are elected after surpluses are redistributed, the lower ranked candidates are eliminated and their votes transferred according to voter preferences, until sufficient members are elected. STV is used in Malta for their lower House and in Australia for their Senate and some State elections. Cambridge, Massachusetts uses STV for their city elections. The term ‘Choice Voting’ was adopted in the USA in the 1990’s to clearly describe the system.  (For more information, go directly to the CVD information page at http://www.fairvote.org/pr/intro.htm )





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