On Tuesday, November 15, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman spoke to the Rotary Club of Westfield, NJ regarding her work with the US Democracy Center and her foundation of the Forward Party, a centrist movement advocating for a ranked choice voting system, non-partisan primaries and independent redistricting commissions in the United States.
Governor Whitman was the first woman elected Governor in New Jersey, then was reelected, serving 1994 to 2001, but stepped down when she was appointed to be the head of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Governor Whitman shared her group's plan to reduce the hatred and division in our democratic system. She describes her program as more of a movement than a new political party. Her reasoning is that only 10% of the registered voters vote in party primaries. She said that those who do vote are usually at the passionate extremes of each party, and they are choosing the candidates who represent those extremes, but should be representing everyone. In addition, she said that the "election deniers" are undermining the public’s confidence in the election process, causing people to not bother to vote, because they think it does not matter. Gov. Whitman said that the Forward Party supports candidates who support the constitution; endorse an open primary and advocate for Rank Choice Voting (RCV). According to Gov. Whitman, with RCV, every vote counts. If a major candidate does not pass the 50% threshold of the vote, then the votes of the other candidates are reapportioned to the other candidates based on the ranking.  So, for example, if the top candidate got 40% of the vote; but more people like the second candidate, then the second candidate would surpass the 50% needed to win after the votes are reapportioned.  A run off election would not be needed. The candidates would need to appeal to more of the electorate, causing them to move to the moderate middle. In Gov. Whitman's opinion, every vote would count, not just people who vote in the primaries. This system is used in New York City, Alaska and Maine. California and Washington have a top two system, where the top two vote getters enter the general election, regardless of party. It is Gov. Whitman's hope that this system will reduce the polarization, and hopefully ameliorate the hatred in politics. The Forward Party's website is www.forwardparty.com
Since there were many non-Rotarian guests present, Rotary Club President Tony LaPorta summarized the activities of the Westfield Club. The two biggest programs are to help homeless veterans and to feed the locally food insecure. The club also collects used bicycles to send to the Third world- this year they collected 100 bikes to send to Honduras; planted trees to help the environment; recently ran a very successful fundraiser to help the Ukrainian refugees in eastern Europe; they are hosting a scholar from Australia to earn her Masters at Columbia University in conflict resolution; and a high school exchange student from Brazil is living in a home in Westfield; and the club gives out approximately $120,000 in college scholarships, and another $25,000 in community grants every year. In addition, the club has interesting programs every week, and likes to have fun. Guests are always welcome to the meetings.
The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first 3 Tuesdays of each month at noon in Limani Seafood Grill on North Ave. Guests are always welcome Website http://www.westfieldrotary.com
Photos by Chung Kun Shih