Whether or not to adopt a proportional election method is an important question for Santa Clara voters.
But the outcome of that June ballot is important to another group of people: the advocacy non-profit and non-partisan FairVote, whose mission is advancing the adoption of such systems in the U.S., with the aim of achieving fairer legislative representation.
The 501(c)(3) non-profit gives grants for researching elections, districting and election reform; supporting voting rights litigation and advocacy; supporting education about and implementation of ranked choice voting systems; and promoting and lobbying for the adoption of proportional voting systems.
FairVote has been active in advancing the congressional Fair Representation Act, co-sponsored by Santa Clara’s congressman Ro Khanna. The bill would institute ranked choice voting for the House of Representatives and multi-member congressional districts in states with at least six congressional districts.
While various proportional voting methods are in use in Australia and Ireland, they are uncommon in the U.S. One notable example is Cambridge, Mass. That city has been using a ranked choice at-large system to elect its City Council and School Committee since 1941.
Local legislative bodies like municipal city councils are “laboratories for democracy,” said FairVote Executive Director Rob Richie. Santa Clara’s adoption of a system like Cambridge’s would mark a notable step forward for proportional voting.
It would be such a notable step forward that the national FairVote organization is putting resources behind the Santa Clara charter change initiative. Last month it hired a PR agency to increase the organization’s outreach to the media, Richie confirmed, FairVote’s Director of Communications also advised three members of the Charter Review Committee—Hosam Haggag, Kieth Stattenfield, and Mary Hana-Weir—on the development and placement of an editorial that appeared in the Mercury News.
No political committee has been formed as of this writing, but it is anticipated that one will be. It’s also unclear if FairVote’s role can be characterized as a donation of services to a political campaign.
However, the City Council cannot use public money to finance political campaigns—even ones that are called “issues education.”
That’s one reason FairVote is putting its resources behind the charter change ballot measure. “What Santa Clara does could help elevate the understanding of ranked choice voting,” Richie said.