How do we make this a pro-democracy year? It’s not looking good so far, with so much attention focused on the drama of the horse race–who’s retiring, who’s running. Deep change, structural change, is not as sexy as people change–but it’s exactly what is required for "real change we can believe in"–a phrase progressives need to retrieve in 2010.

One group that deserves far more attention for the work it has done day in, day out, for nearly twenty years, is FairVote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that makes real the mantra "respect, include, and empower every voice and every vote."

FairVote just scored two sweet victories in Rhode Island. Two of its initiatives overcame gubernatorial vetoes through bipartisan votes. As a result the state will now allow voter pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds and mandate popular elections to fill all US Senate vacancies. Young people who pre-register will automatically be added to the rolls for the first election in which they are eligible to vote.

"Rhode Island voters will now have expanded access for its newest voters and the first–and only–word about who represents them in the US Senate," Rob Richie, FairVote exective director, told me. "These wins uphold the first principle of representative democracy–elections by the people–and advance our goal of policies that result in systematic registration and civic education of all eligible voters. It was a good day for democracy in Rhode Island–and the nation."

These two victories come on the heels of a similar win for FairVote and its allies in North Carolina, where pre-registration legislation was passed and tied to a civics education requirement. A new study by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald finds that voter pre-registration combined with civics makes young people more likely to get involved in elections and exercise their right to vote.

Kudos to FairVote on its continued success–I’m confident many more victories lie ahead. If you want to repair and reclaim our democracy get involved in this pro-democracy campaign here.