Friday, November 7, 2008


Fair Vote has come up with ten surprising stories about Election '08.

This November's ballot measures showed that Americans are ready to transform our politics. Landslide majorities voted for spoiler-free, majority elections through instant runoff voting in Memphis, Tennessee (71%) and Telluride, Colorado (67%), which extends a nearly unbroken string of wins for IRV in ballot measures since 2002. Meanwhile, an opportunity to win the ranked choice form of proportional representation lost in Cincinnati after a late infusion of opposition money and deceptive advertising dropped the majority support won among early voters down to 47%. Other Fair Vote-endorsed reforms won with more than 70% of the vote in Maryland (for early voting) and Connecticut (for 17-year-old primary voting), while redistricting reform won in California.

Instant runoff voting had a terrific first election in Pierce County, Washington, accommodating a full range of voter choice in a high-turnout general election. If early returns hold up, the system will elect the first women county executive in the state's history, with her victory dependent on the preferences of the third and fourth place candidates that vaulted her from second into first. San Francisco also held its fifth set of IRV elections; local press lauded the impact it had in reducing the degree of negative attacks that too often dominate our politics.

Even with Barack Obama's strong national numbers and the low vote totals for minor party and independent presidential candidates, electoral votes in three states and one congressional district were won over the opposition of most voters in that jurisdiction. Obama's 49.9% of the vote in Indiana defeated John McCain by a margin less than Libertarian Bob Barr's 1.1%. Obama won North Carolina with 49.7% of the vote (Barr won 0.59%), while McCain carried Missouri with only 49.4% of the votes (where Obama won 49.2 % and Ralph Nader 0.6%). Obama also looks likely to pick up an electoral vote by taking Nebraska's second congressional district with less than 50%.

Nine U.S. House seats were elected with less (and sometimes far less) than a majority of the vote, including Ohio's Second district that was won with only 45%.

The Senate had several non-majority results. In Oregon, Democrat Jeff Merkley will win narrowly with less than 49% of the vote, while Republican Ted Stevens looks likely to be re-elected in Alaska with a similar vote-share. In Minnesota, where fully 14 of the last 20 statewide races have been won with less than 50%, Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley won 437,377 votes (15%) and two other candidates won more than 20,000 votes in an election in which incumbent Republican Norm Coleman leads his Democratic challenger Al Franken by merely 326 votes - they are now going to a recount. IRV would have given the backers of Barkley and the other third party candidates a way in choosing between the frontrunners, both of whom won less than 42% of the vote. Meanwhile, Georgia requires its Members of Congress to win a majority of the vote, and incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss leads with 49.8% in a race where Libertarian Allen Buckley won 3.1%. Chambliss will face Democrat Jim Martin in a December 2nd runoff. Turnout is sure to plunge from Georgia's record participation this week, and the candidates and their backers will spend millions. IRV would have given us a clean winner on election night.

In the Senate, no new people of color won - and the Senate will again have no African Americans if the Illinois governor does not select an African American to replace Obama. Two women won (Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire), but there is only a net gain for women of only one seat, making the Senate 83% male.

In the House, there was a net gain of only two women - notching women up 0.5% to 16.5%. There were no gains for African Americans and an increase of one Latino, with Ben Lujan's victory in New Mexico.

Women defeated men in the two close gubernatorial elections, but there was no net gain for women in governor's mansions.

Women did win a remarkable seven statewide offices in North Carolina, while the New Hampshire state senate became the first woman-majority state legislative chamber in our nation's history. On the other hand, the South Carolina state senate became the first legislative chamber to not have a single woman representative since 1991, and the share of women in state legislatures stayed flat at 23.7% — less than 3% higher than it was in 1993.

In the last dozen years, Democrats have won sweeping victories in the Northeast, with the region's Republican Party now on life-support. After the1992 elections, Republicans in New England and New York collectively held 20 of 54 U.S. House seats and held at least one House or Senate seat in every state. The intervening years for Republicans in the region have been devastating, especially in 2006 and 2008. New England's last Republican House member, Chris Shays of Connecticut was defeated this week, and Republicans now hold only 3 of 29 seats in New York and no Senate or House seats in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.


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