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Republicans sue to stop Michigan voters' gerrymander reform

Republicans have gone to federal court in a bid to prevent creation of an independent commission to draw Michigan's electoral maps, which voters ordered up last year in order to thwart partisan gerrymandering.

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Tuesday are challenging eligibility guidelines that prohibit politicians and their families from sitting on the panel, saying those rules violate the free speech and equal protection rights of potential applicants to serve.

In a landmark referendum approved with 61 percent support last fall, Michiganders voted to turn congressional and state legislative redistricting for the next decade over to a new panel of four self-identified Democrats, four self-identified Republicans and five unaffiliated members.

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Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have ended straight-ticket voting in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania keeps one-step voting, but may be stuck with old machines

In one of the oddest recent pairings of election reform efforts, straight-ticket voting will still be permitted in Pennsylvania but as a consequence the state's voting machines may not be modernized before the next election.

The twinned developments, the result of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's veto last week of a single bill, could have important consequences for the 2020 presidential race, when Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes will be one of the biggest prizes on the roster of tossup states.

The measure, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature on party lines, would have ended the ability of voters to make a single selection endorsing all of one political party's candidates on the ballot. The same legislation would have provided $90 million in state funds to help counties buy new paper-based and easily auditable voting equipment that is becoming the national standard.

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Katie Fahey

Katie Fahey speaks at a Michigan rally against gerrymandering.

Meet the reformer: 10 questions with Katie Fahey

Katie Fahey is not a fan of politics, but that hasn't stopped her from scoring one of the biggest political upsets in recent years.

Just a few years out of college and working in Grand Rapids for a nonprofit promoting recycling, the Michigan native never intended to get involved in politics. But her frustration with the system reached a tipping point with the 2016 election. Two days later, she took to Facebook with a simple message: "I'd like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you're interested in doing this as well, please let me know."

Several dozen people responded, and soon her group Voters Not Politicians was born. Ultimately, it gathered 425,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot last year calling for an independent commission to draw the state's electoral districts in place of the legislature. Despite opposition led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, it was approved with 61 percent of the statewide vote.

The victory has made her something of a folk hero in the world of democracy reform, and she was flooded with calls from others hoping to similarly leverage grassroots activism. Now 30, she has recently created and is executive director of The People, a national group that aims to educate and galvanize people around reform issues. (Her co-founders are Andrew Shue of and conservative pollster Frank Luntz.) She has also joined the board of the bipartisan democracy reform group Issue One (which is incubating, but journalistically independent from, The Fulcrum.)

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San Francisco uses ranked-choice voting for its elections. According to Daley and Richie, RCV encourages a more civil race and gives candidates incentives to reach beyond their own base.

Ranked-choice voting has momentum and a track record of success

Daley is a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization. Richie is FairVote's president and CEO.

Kansas Democrats wanted to increase participation in their May 2020 presidential contest and make the balloting fairer for everyone. The state's 2016 caucus seemed to go on forever: There were hours upon hours of speeches, followed by the laborious process of dividing into groups for each candidate and being counted one by one. Only then could participants begin often hours-long drives home.

Maine voters sought to protect their state's longstanding tradition of independent candidates and vigorous third parties, while also ensuring that winning candidates had genuine majority support. Nine of the state's last 11 governors, including Democrats, Republicans and independents, and dating back to the 1970s, won with a mere plurality. They wanted to retain all their choices, but also elect the winner with the widest backing.

Eastpointe, Mich., meanwhile, wanted to ensure that black voters elected their fair share of city government seats. The city needed to resolve a Voting Rights Act complaint filed by the Department of Justice that alleged Eastpointe's practice of electing local offices through citywide elections prevented black people – almost one-third of the population -- from winning. No black candidates had been elected to the city council or school board there prior to the DOJ complaint.

New York, the nation's largest city, also had a problem with representative elections. Since 2009, according to Common Cause, two-thirds of all primaries with more than two candidates were won by a candidate with less than 50 percent support. The city's new public advocate captured the office with just a third.

They all hit on the same solution: ranked-choice voting. Now everyone seems to be taking notice. Indeed, at least some voters in at least 25 states are now slated to cast RCV ballots in upcoming elections and primaries.

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