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Grunge-Rock Pioneer Stumps for U.S. Election Reform

Washington – Eleven years after the demise of his million-selling rock band Nirvana, Krist Novoselic is back on the road, but this time he’s getting out of bed before noon.

Novoselic, whose bass guitar anchored one of the most popular and influential bands of the 1990s, now spends his time pushing for voting reforms that he thinks could change the cynicism many people feel about U.S. politics.

It’s a gig that requires him to wear a suit and tie and speak to audiences that measure in the dozens, rather than the thousands.

But Novoselic, 39, sees parallels with the heady days when Nirvana stormed up the charts and brought grunge into the mainstream before singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994.

“Once music becomes predictable and a formula to sustain the establishment, people tune out, they become cynical and they stop buying records. But then a new wave of bands come in, and that restores vitality to the music scene,” Novoselic told Reuters after a recent appearance at a Washington think tank.

“What we need is a new wave of democracy, because elections are predictable and they’re formulas for sustaining the establishment,” he said.

In a slim book, “Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy!,” Novoselic outlines two approaches that he believes would breathe new life into politics.

Instant-runoff voting allows voters to pick several candidates for the same office, ranking them in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of first choices, second choices are considered.

Supporters of third-party candidates like Ralph Nader

could feel like they’re not throwing their votes away because their secondary choices would be considered in a close election, Novoselic said.

The second method, known as proportional representation, would allocate legislative seats based on the percentage of votes a party receives – if the Republicans win 60 percent of the vote in a district, they would get 6 seats out of 10 available.

These methods could give greater influence to third-party candidates, other election-reform advocates say.

“These are things the parties don’t talk about, the Republicans and Democrats, because it might mean they might have to give up the holy and privileged position that they have under a two-party system,” said former Illinois Rep. John Anderson, who won 6.6 percent of the popular vote as an independent presidential candidate in 1980.


Novoselic grew interested in election reform while fighting laws in his native Washington state that kept minors from attending rock shows or buying certain CDs.

Novoselic developed a taste for the day-to-day work of politics – attending hearings, building coalitions, lobbying lawmakers. He testified in front of the U.S. Senate and even considered a run for lieutenant governor in 2004.

But as he became more involved, he realized that many of his peers felt that the Republican and Democratic parties didn’t address their concerns, or they lived in an area so dominated by one party that there was no competition for their vote.

Instant-runoff voting and proportional representation would offer voters a wider range of choices and make political races more competitive, he said.

“If competition drives our economy, competition can drive our democracy. Why vote in an uncontested election?” he said.

Novoselic admits that these reforms won’t catch on easily in the United States, where most elected officials belong to one of the two parties that benefit from the current system.

The best possibility lies at the local level, where ballot initiatives can allow voters to put them in place directly, he said. San Francisco recently adopted instant-runoff voting and several other cities have plans to use it as well.

Novoselic says he hasn’t ruled out a run for office on the Democratic ticket, but right now is devoting his energies to election reform.

And music? Novoselic says he still plays for fun but has no interest in the rock and roll life anymore.

“A lot of being on the road is waiting around, waiting to play,” he said. “I love Pittsburgh, don’t get me wrong, but the fourth or fifth time through… I’d rather be home.”

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