Partner Spotlight: FairVote & Representation2020

It's Time Network. Posted by Cynthia Terrell on October 31, 2016

In order to address the complex and interdependent issues that exist in our world today, people across the gender spectrum must work in partnership for collective impact and systemic change. To facilitate and support this, It’s Time Network is building a national network of individuals and organizations across sectors that engage, support, and elevate women and girls, so we can work collectively to evolve democracybuild fair economies, and regenerate the Earth.

It’s Time Network affiliates with innovative, independent thought leaders representing a full spectrum of issues, sectors and lived experiences.

One of these leaders is Cynthia Terrell, co-founder of FairVote, a non-partisan reform nonprofit that works to make each voice count in elections at every level by way of structural electoral reforms. Since helping to found FairVote in 1992, Cynthia has been on a mission to find practical ways to advance proportional representation voting methods informed by American, candidate-centered values in order to represent the full spectrum of voters more fairly.

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Starting at an early age, Cynthia became active in student government. In college, she worked on numerous candidates’ campaigns, passed ballot measures, and even won three campaigns of her own for student council president. After college she became increasingly aware of the underrepresentation of women and racial minorities in positions of political power, and the need for more meaningful and innovative discussions around the voting system. In partnership with her husband, Cynthia set out on a mission to change this, and opened the doors to their first office under the name the Center for Voting and Democracy.

In 2004, they changed the name to FairVote, embracing additional reform innovations like the national popular vote plan for presidential elections,universal voter registration and a right to vote in the Constitution. As Americans, it is our vote that elects representatives at all levels of government. FairVote believes each viewpoint must be respected, every voice must be heard and each vote be counted. To make this a reality, it’s important that we make democracy work for everyone, hearing not just the opinion of the majority, but those of the minority as well.

In 2013, Cynthia and her team launched Representation2020, a program of FairVote that focuses on raising awareness around the underrepresentation of women in elected office, to strengthen coalitions that are supportive of measures to increase women's representation, and to highlight the often overlooked structural barriers to achieving gender parity in American elections. While women make up 51% of the U.S. population, they make up only 19% of congress, 24% of state legislators and 12% of governors. Cynthia supports efforts to encourage and prepare individual women to run, but believes that if we are to win gender parity, we must learn from the structural changes that have elected women in higher numbers in the 95 nations that rank above the United States in women’s representation.

One of the biggest challenges these programs face is that Americans don’t entirely understand our current voting system. While a handful of other nations operate under the same system as we do, our system of democracy is far from the norm. Many believe that money, power, and success come to those who simply work hard, but that is hardly the truth for women and minorities, who face barriers to leadership that we must break down through systemic change.

Alongside the mission of Respresentation2020, Cynthia and the FairVote team are focused on moving forward, working on getting more cities and states to implement a ranked choice voting system and fair representation voting for Congress and state legislatures. With our government being impacted by historic levels of dissatisfaction among citizens and the lowest voter turnout in years, it’s their goal to strengthen democracy at every level. FairVote looks beyond the short-term actions of political parties and power-seekers, working to develop simple and practical solutions to advance the reforms that result in a more fair election and challenge the status quo as outlined in FairVote’s Monopoly Politics report.

By empowering every citizen to have a voice, they bring power back to the vote, and make democracy work better for all. Here are some major advancements happening right now:

  • Ranked Choice Voting For All:Ranked choice voting, gives voters the opportunity to rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice, rather than having to vote for just one candidate among two main party options. San Francisco was the first city to switch to ranked choice voting, adopting the system to elect all city officials by a charter amendment in 2002 and holding its first ranked choice voting elections in 2004. Currently, ranked choice voting has been implemented in four Bay Area cities in California. Voters in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Leandro were able to elect leaders in a high turnout presidential election instead of having to rely on either low turnout runoffs in December or low turnout primaries in June. Studies have confirmed that ranked choice voting elects more women and people of color, while also increasing civility and reducing the impact of money on campaigns, as candidates have an incentive to get second and third choice votes from their opponents supporters. With the hope of adding more to the list of participating cities, FairVote tracks bills in state legislatures that move innovations forward. Check out these lists to see if there’s pending reform legislation in your state.

  • Maine Taking The Reigns: While Maine has a long history of independent thinkers in local, state, and national offices, the state also has a large number of independent voters that have elected governors, U.S. Senators, and state legislators from a variety of parties. Though ranked choice voting was introduced to Maine voters in Portland in 2011, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a citizen-led grassroots organization, is now pioneering efforts to promote majority winners in statewide elections through a statewide measure for ranked choice voting that is on the ballot this November. Check out the video describing the benefits of ranked choice voting in Maine.

Cynthia Terrell’s work  to make American democracy fair by changing the way we vote, and giving voters more voice and greater choice in their elections is truly inspiring.
Change starts with you! What can you do right now? Be agents of change within your community by working to get ranked choice voting adopted in your city or on your college campus. Using the Ranked Choice Voting Activist Toolkit, supporters are given the necessary tools to become leaders, activist, and organizers, creating change at every level of government.

If you’d like to learn more about FairVote, and stay updated on their mission, check out their website, and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

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