I. In Focus This Week
Voters in the U.K. just say no to AV voting system
Nearly two-thirds of voters oppose alternative vote system
While much of the world’s recent focus on England has surrounded two crazy kids who decided to get married and invite the world, elections observers have been focused on the very public fight to change how the United Kingdom elects members of Parliament.
Since 1951, the British have elected their members of Parliament much the same way most of the residents of the United States elect their members of Congress — whoever gets the most votes, regardless of percentage, wins, (in the United Kingdom this is referred to as first past the post, FPTP).
In 1997, an Independent Commission on the Voting System — referred to as the Jenkins Commission after its chairman Roy Jenkins — was created to look into electoral reform in the United Kingdom. After nearly a year of review, the Commission offered a plan for alternative vote top-up or AV+ which would elect some members of Parliament using Alternative Vote and some through the existing proportional representation.
No action was taken by Parliament to change the electoral system until following the 2010 election when there was a hung Parliament — no party has majority. A coalition government comprised of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives proposed a voter referendum on AV (not AV+ which the Jenkins Commission had recommended) which was approved by the whole Parliament in February of this year.
Alternative voting as proposed on the British referendum is essentially instant runoff voting (IRV) with voters choosing more than one candidate through a ranking system. In this country, IRV is used in a handful of communities. The only other countries using AV are Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Upon announcement of the referendum the Yes and No campaigns quickly set up camp.
The Yes to Fairer Votes campaign (whose website not longer works) and the Electoral Reform Society supported the “yes” campaign saying that AV supports fair elections that make members of Parliament accountable to the voters. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and a host of celebrities supported making the switch to a new system.
Those opposing the referendum — including Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party — said that AV voting was “complicated, expensive and unfair system that gives some people more votes than others.”
While leaders within the Labour party supported the AV vote, as a whole the party was fairly divided on the issue.
On May 5, nearly 42 percent of the electorate — a higher number than was predicted — turned out to cast their ballots in the referendum vote. Nearly two-thirds of the voters rejected the proposal. This was only the second referendum vote in U.K. history.
Louise Leslie, a shopkeeper in Northern England (and this writer’s pen pal since 1983) made sure to take time out of her day to vote against the proposal.
“Whilst I am none-too-pleased with many of those currently elected to Parliament, I didn’t feel changing the entire way we vote was necessary,” Leslie said in an email. “In my opinion the proposed system was too complicated and too cumbersome.”
The referendum was overseen by the Electoral Commission and according to the commission cost the British taxpayers about $28 million (U.S.).
In the U.S. instant runoff voting (IRV) has met with varying levels of success in small pockets of the country. Proponents of IRV in the country don’t see AV’s failure in the United Kingdom as a detriment to the movement in the States.
“I see the U.K. vote having little impact on U.S. reformers,” said Rob Ritchie, executive director of FairVote. “A win -- and especially implementation in 2015 -- would have been a big deal ultimately, but a loss gets lost in the murk of international elections that Americans pay little attention to. It also was fought on different ground than happens in the U.S.”
II. National Popular Vote gains momentum
National Popular Vote gains momentum
Reaches almost one-third of the Electoral Votes needed
When Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the National Popular Vote Bill into law earlier this spring making Vermont the eighth state to pass such legislation, it signaled a growing momentum for the movement that would guarantee the presidency to the winner of the National Popular Vote in all 50 states.
Heralding that momentum at a press event this week, Tom Golisano, national spokesman for National Popular Vote (NPV) also introduced three new NPV co-champions: Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson (R), Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) and Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar (R).
“…most of the states, most of the people are ignored,” said Edgar at the event. “We need a president that represents the entire nation, not just the battleground states.”
Vermont’s approval of NPV legislation marks the 77th electoral vote, or 29 percent of the 270 Electoral votes needed for the bill to go into effect nationwide.
The three new bi-partisan co-champions expressed the belief that the bill was non-partisan enough in nature with broad bi-partisan support that gave neither major party a partisan advantage.
On the constitutionality of the bill, both Thompson and Edgar were quick to assert that the winner-take-all system of the Electoral College was not in the Constitution and thus was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. In fact, it was a product of state laws over time that could be just as easily changed on a state-by-state basis without amending the Constitution.
“We can make changes before the next electoral crisis occurs,” Culver argued citing his experience as the secretary of state. He added that unlike the federal Help America Vote Act, states can be proactive instead of reactive..
“Times change,” Thompson asserted. Yet, when asked about the biggest challenge facing the legislation, the panel noted that it was precisely the resistance to change that presented itself as the initiative’s biggest obstacle. In spite of recent momentum, the arduous task of educating both legislators and governors in the remaining 43 states still remains.
III. Election News This Week
- Unless Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoes sweeping election reform legislation that the Florida Legislature approved late last week, the Florida League of Women Voters will discontinue their voter registration workand may even sue the state. Among other things, the law would require third-party registration groups to register with the state and fine them $50 for any voter application they fail to turn in within 48 hours. Current law makes it voluntary for such groups to register and allows 10 days for forwarding the forms before the fine kicks in. “Every few years, the Legislature likes to put into place draconian laws that make it harder to vote," League president Deirdre Macnab told the Tampa Tribune. She argued that fraudulent third-party voter registrations have not been a problem in Florida and accused the bill's sponsors of failing to offer evidence to the contrary. "They're using 'fraud' as a red herring to pass a number of laws that not only will reduce voter registration, it will frustrate voters on Election Day."
- Unemployed poll workers seeking unemployment compensation from Arkansas because their work as election officials has run out is probably a futile effort, unless their earnings in a year as poll worker exceed $1,000. According to the Baxter Bulletin, the Baxter County Election Commission grappled with the issue recently after about six claims for unemployment compensation were filed with the state using employment as a poll worker for Baxter County as basis in part for the claim. Commission Chairman Bob Bodenhamer objected to the claims because, he says, the nature of the work of a poll worker is temporary and none were hired with any expectation for continued employment with the county. Kimberly Friedman, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Workforce Security, told The Bulletin lawmakers addressed the issue in 1999 regarding poll worker employment status for purposes of filing claims for unemployment compensation. "IRS laws may be different, but if the county is paying the workers less than $1,000 a year, the wages are not reportable to DWS and therefore cannot be used to set up a claim for unemployment insurance," Friedman told the paper.
- The Indiana Recount Commissionannounced it will appeal a judge’s ruling ordering it to reconsider whether Republican Secretary of State Charlie White was a valid candidate for the office to which he was elected. According to The Associated Press, the commission did not lay out its case in the notice of appeal it filed in Marion Circuit Court, and officials at the commission and attorney general’s office, which represents it in court, declined to discuss the substance of the appeal until it is filed. There is currently no timetable for the filing, Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office told the AP.
- IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems is currently in the process of evaluating its programs and initiatives. IFES is seeking public input and has created an online survey. The entire process should take about 15 minutes and is confidential and anonymous. As a token of IFES’ appreciation for filling out the survey, they will make a $10 donation to one of the three charities selected when filling out the survey.
- Voter ID: Members of the Kansas Senate began expressing regret for voting in support of the state’s recently approved voter ID bill when they were asked this week to move up the implementation timeline for proof-of-citizenship. A new poll by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that 80 percent of those polled support voter ID for Minnesota. After final approval by the Missouri Senate this week, voter ID and early voting will be on the ballot for voters to decide in 2012. A Pennsylvania House committee has approved the Keystone State’s photo ID proposal; the bill now moves to the full House. At press time, the Rhode Island Senate was expected to vote on the Ocean State’s version of voter ID. The South Carolina Senate has given final approval to that state’s version of a photo ID bill; the legislation now heads to the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley (R). The Texas Senate gave final approve to photo ID legislation this week and Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign the bill. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Assembly voted to approve voter ID for the Badger State 60-35; the bill moves next to the Senate where approval is expected.
- Tennessee Personnel News: It was another topsy-turvy week in Tennessee. Clifford Rodgers is the new Knox County elections administrator. Also in Knox County, attorney Denis Francis was recently appointed to the election commission. And in Rutherford County, Tenn. Denice Rucker resigned from the election commission citing her displeasure with the recent election administrator hiring.
IV. Research and Report Summaries
Voting Technology, Vote-by-Mail, and Residual Votes in California, 1990-2010 - R. Michael Alvarez, Caltech, Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dustin Beckett, Caltech, Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, May 5, 2011: The authors examine how the growth in vote-by-mail and changes in voting technologies led to changes in the residual vote rate in California from 1990 to 2010. In the state’s presidential elections, jurisdictions that got rid of punch cards and shifted to optical scanners saw improved residual vote rates. Yet some voting systems, like the InkaVote system in Los Angeles, had mixed success – for example performing well in presidential and gubernatorial races but poorly in Senate races. The research also found that the greater use of mail to cast ballots led to a rise in residual votes, to the point where voting by mail in California has mostly wiped out the reductions in residual votes due to improved voting technologies since the early 1990s.
A Survey and Analysis of Statewide Election Recounts, 2000-2009 - Rob Richie and Emily Hellman, FairVote, April 2011: Examining data from 2000-2009, researchers at FairVote find that statewide election recounts are rare, recounts that change election results are even rarer, and shifts in vote differences are small.
Election Day Voter Registration in California - R. Michael Alvarez, California Institute of Technology and Jonathan Nagler, New York University, prepared for Demos, Spring 2011: This analysis assesses the likely impact of the implementation of election day voter registration in California and concludes overall turnout could increase by 4.8 percent, turnout for 18 to 25 year-olds could increase by 9 percent, and turnout for Latinos and newly-naturalized citizens could each increase by 5.1 percent.
Vote Fraud Allegations in Hamilton County May, 2010 Primary Election – Office of the Indiana Secretary of State, October 2010: Late last week the current Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R), released a report compiled by the office of former Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) which reviewed, at the request of the state Democratic Party, the circumstances of the election of White. Specifically the report reviews information pertaining to the allegation that Secretary White maintained a registration and voted in a precinct in which he was not a resident.
The Canvass: States and Election Reform - National Conference of State Legislature, May 2011: This month’s issue examines when and how primary elections are held, and describes research focusing on the health of New Mexico’s election administration.
Arizona: Vote fraud
Maine: Instant runoff voting
Massachusetts: League of Women Voters
Minnesota: Voter ID
Rhode Island: Straight-ticket voting
Texas: Cost of not voting
VI. Job Openings