Voting experiments continue: Eugene to decide on STAR voting, and ranked-choice proponents are opposed

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The confusion ballot

The liberal stronghold of Eugene is voting during Oregon’s May 21 primary on a new method of voting in its local elections.

No, it’s not purely ranked-choice voting, which was implemented in Alaska’s general elections in 2022, along with open primaries. But it’s close, because there is ranking involved and an automatic runoff. Think of it as a hybrid.

Here’s how STAR voting works:

  • – Voters score each candidate on a scale of zero to five.
  • – The candidate you like the most is the one you score highest.
  • – The two candidates who receive the most of the highest scores become finalists and enter an automatic runoff.
  • – During the automatic runoff, a ballot counts as one vote for the finalists that the voter scored higher.

This new method was invented by a software engineers, including Mark Frohnmayer, who earned his electrical engineering degree and computer science degree from University of California Berkeley. STAR voting stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff. It was developed in 2014 after a conference at the University of Oregon organized by the Equal Vote Coalition, a nonprofit that remains the driving force behind the new system.

If STAR passes in Eugene, it will have been 10 years in the making in that city, which will be the first in the world to use it for municipal elections.

As the May 21 election nears, early voting has already begun.

But in making the case to voters, the pro-STAR group is finding that ranked-choice voting advocacy groups are not being helpful.

“The fact is, Colin Cole is an out-of-state lobbyist for a multi-million dollar conglomerate notorious for coordinated mud-slinging campaigns and the intentional spread of misinformation on voting reform,” STAR claims on its website.

Cole is a founder of Fair Vote Washington and the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, which partners with Earthjustice and has been involved in Alaska elections. Cole also used to work for the Washington State Democratic Party.

“Both he and Brian Smith are directly funded by Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) lobby organizations that see STAR as competition, as are almost all of the other organizations and individuals who submitted coordinated opposition statements for the Voters Pamphlet,” according to the STAR website.

Brian Smith is the co-founder of a group called the Tribal Democracy Project.

“STAR Voting is not something that makes the current system better,” Smith told public broadcasting. “It is a regression. It takes us backwards.”

“Publicly, the Ranked Choice Voting leadership is fairly supportive of STAR Voting. FairVote, (Colin Cole’s longtime employer and the leader of the RCV lobby,) states “we do not oppose efforts to win enactment of other “alternative” methods.” and “[STAR Voting] is superior to both vote-for-one plurality and to two-round runoff elections,” STAR says on its website.

“Given the opposition statements in the Voters Pamphlet this is Orwellian double-speak a la 1984 at its finest. No wonder FairVote is known as the “Ministry of FairVote” in Election Science circles,” the article continues, attacking the proponents of ranked-choice voting.

According to the Eugene Register-Guard, directors of a group known as “Communities of Color for Inclusive Democracy,” also make up some of the formal STAR opposition. The group has four points of contention with STAR:

  • – The potential for STAR to not reflect voters’ preferences
  • – The system is counterintuitive and gameable
  • – It may disenfranchise voters of color
  • – It’s untested

The League of Women Voters of Oregon says STAR does not meet a “majority criterion” because the majority’s first choice may lose if that candidate doesn’t reach the runoff phase. Also, if a voter gives everyone on the ballot the same score, their ballot will not count.

30 COMMENTS

  1. How about we just go back to one person, one vote. The candidate with the most votes wins.
    .
    Why is that a problem?
    .
    The people pushing this crap assumes politicians are like selecting soft drinks. Sure, you may really want a Coke, but Pepsi is all that is available. Good enough for a lunch. There is no equivalency in politics. No, Palin was not “close enough” to Begich to think “well, if I cannot have Begich, Palin will do.” And, do not even bring the Peltola train wreck into the picture.
    .
    I would rather have the candidate I support lose outright, and be stuck with someone I do not want, then end up with some watered down politician that is just “OK” in everyone’s mind.
    Besides, have you ever spoken with the average voter? Do you really think that the politician that is least repulsive to the largest percentage of the population will do the best job for that largest percentage? Especially since people tend to vote personality, not policy way too often.

    • “One person, one vote” has been defined by the Supreme Court to mean that the weight of the vote between voters must be equal — and the “choose only one” plurality method fails this test, whenever there are more than two candidates in the race.

      Voters in our current system have more power on the ballot if they like only one candidate, because voters who like multiple candidates will divide support. This is variously known as the Spoiler Effect or vote-splitting, but at its root, it is a fundamental inequality in the voting method itself.

      The consequences of this method are not good- voters are heavily encouraged to support only one of two polarized “frontrunners” and vote against candidates they may truly prefer, lest they “waste their vote”. And since “frontrunner” status is largely influenced by the candidate’s ability to raise money, the influence of money in the political process is magnified.

      STAR addresses this by allowing the voter an equal expression from 0-5 stars on each candidate, and always elects the majority favorite between the two most supported candidates overall. It’s simple, fair, and combines a two-election process into a single vote, saving money and time for voters and candidates.

      Alaska’s recent statewide experience with Ranked Choice Voting illustrates the key flaws with that system – see ‘http://rcvchangedalaska.com . STAR was invented in part to address these flaws.

      • “and the “choose only one” plurality method fails this test, whenever there are more than two candidates in the race.”
        How?
        Cause leads to effect explanation please.
        Oh… wait. Because people will not “throw away” their vote? That is not an argument against “choose one candidate.” The weight of one’s vote does not change if they willingly choose not to vote for the candidate they most want.
        .
        However, the weight of my vote IS diminished when others get to chose multiple candidates.

        “…always elects the majority favorite between the two most supported candidates overall.”
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        And, just because a bunch of people saw these two as the least worst does not make them good representatives of the people’s will.
        .
        I am not opposed to run offs. I am adamantly opposed to instant run offs. If the rule is a candidate needs to get more than XYZ% of the vote, otherwise the top two go to a run off election, fine. But it has to be a separate election.

        • Mark seems to be of the belief that the voting system is at fault because people will not vote for the candidate they like most, but instead vote for one that can win.
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          Like changing the voting system will change human nature or something.

      • > “One person, one vote” has been defined by the Supreme Court to mean that the weight of > the vote between voters must be equal — and the “choose only one” plurality method fails > this test, whenever there are more than two candidates in the race.

        This doesn’t make any sense. Of course even in plurality voting voters have equal weight, because they can only cast one vote. It doesn’t matter how many candidates there are. STAR voting clearly violates this principle, because (1) different voters might have different subjective “scales” on the SCORE phase of the vote, so anyone who rates a candidate with 5 stars has more weight that someone who only rates them with 3 stars, and (2) a voter who ranks more than one candidate has more weight than a voter who ranks only one. It clearly violates “one person, one vote”.

        > Voters in our current system have more power on the ballot if they like only one candidate, > because voters who like multiple candidates will divide support. This is variously known as > the Spoiler Effect or vote-splitting, but at its root, it is a fundamental inequality in the
        > voting method itself.

        What? If you can only vote for one candidate, it doesn’t matter if you “like” more than one, because that is not reflected in your cast vote. Or if you do vote for more than one, you “overvoted” and your ballot doesn’t count at all. Your description of the “spoiler effect” is inaccurate. It is not because a voter likes multiple candidates, it is because candidates that are “similar” enough to attract votes from the same pool of voters will dilute that pool’s aggregate influence. This is what leads to “strategic voting” and can result in handing the election to a candidate with only minority support. There are fixes for this that don’t have as many bad side effects as STAR voting.

        Unlike many posting here, I like Ranked Choice Voting, among other reasons because it *does* only allow one vote per person *at a time*, despite what people who don’t understand it have to say about it. And unlike any other ranking system, a vote for your 2nd choice cannot hurt your 1st choice. As mentioned by another commenter, STAR voting, like Approval voting, will tend to make people “bullet vote” (vote for only their favorite candidate), which reverts to plurality voting, once they understand it, because an additional vote for anyone other than your 1st choice can hurt your first choice.

        Even if STAR voting might help to address vote splitting, it introduces enough other problems to be a not very good choice. And there are other ways to address vote splitting.

    • > Besides, have you ever spoken with the average voter? Do you really think that the politician that is least repulsive to the largest percentage of the population will do the best job for that largest percentage? Especially since people tend to vote personality, not policy way too often.

      What’s the alternative? As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others.” Personally I’d rather have “acceptable to the largest number” than “preferred by the largest minority faction, one that can’t attract a majority.” But I guess not everyone believes in the principle of majority rule/minority rights.

      • “Personally I’d rather have “acceptable to the largest number” than “preferred by the largest minority faction, one that can’t attract a majority.””
        .
        Elected representatives are not like deciding on where the group will eat. Just because “Chinese food is acceptable” to the majority of the group, does not make the same process acceptable for elections.
        .
        Elections have long term consequences. The US House has a two year term, not an evening. One can accept a lot of “well, the group decided…” for a dinner choice, or another activity, but I would much rather have a majority of the electorate angry than “eh, it’s OK, I guess…)
        Angry and disappointed voters are more likely to actively participate in the election process next time around. Informed voters are important, and nothing will get people informed about politics than having someone they cannot tolerate in office.

        • “Angry and disappointed voters are more likely to actively participate in the election process next time around. Informed voters are important, and nothing will get people informed about politics than having someone they cannot tolerate in office.”

          The main problem with this theory is that plurality-wins elections have been the norm for a very long time, and the result has been a pretty pathetic level of voter participation rather than increased involvement.

          Nobody is forced to believe in “majority rules”, though I think it is pretty foundational to the idea of democratic (with a small “d”) self-rule. If people want to think that the strongest minority faction should be able to tell everyone else how things are going to be, because they claim to be the “better informed” group or superior in some way, that’s one way to look at things, but let’s call a spade a spade.

  2. Why are we even messing w/how we vote so much? It was bad enough that we opened the door to more fraud during Covid. There’s 0 reason to change how we vote. However, there’s plenty of reason to take steps that ensure election security and integrity.

    Keep It Simple, Stupid fits well here, imho.

    • Primaries are actually causing very many election failures. They place a less-preferred candidate into office. Most elections are decided in one primary or the other, and the general election does not matter. Add in the “spoiler” problem, and that creates a very dysfunctional voting system that does far more harm to election integrity than any level of voter fraud does.These are very legitimate reasons to change how we vote.

  3. “One person, one vote” means all voters are equal. Under the status quo, they aren’t, because the platform you prefer becomes weaker the more candidates run on that platform and “split the vote”.

    For instance, there’s some evidence that Democrat Jon Tester won in 2012 due to a Libertarian candidate who split the vote with the Republican, acting as a spoiler:

    “in the 2012 montana senate race, libertarian candidate dan cox is believed to have split the vote, which helped democrat jon tester win re-election. cox drew votes that might have otherwise gone to the republican candidate, denny rehberg. democrats were reported to have run ads promoting cox in an effort to siphon conservative votes from rehberg, ultimately benefiting tester in the tight race​”

    If you really had “one person one vote”, then people who disliked the Democrat would have a way to cast an equal (but opposite) vote AGAINST the Democrat. For instance, with approval voting you can just vote for (not rank) all the candidates you like. Anti-Tester voters could have approved both the Republican and the Libertarian, and then the Republican likely would have won.

    STAR voting is another excellent choice that solves the problem.

    Instant runoff voting aka ranked choice voting is a MUCH more complex solution that only partially solves or “mitigates” the problem, rather than fixing it. I’d say it’s still a bit better than the status quo, but I get why people are skeptical about it. But these concerns don’t apply to the vastly simpler and virtually un-game-able STAR Voting, and especially approval voting (which doesn’t even require any changes to the ballot).

  4. This article inspired a brainstorm! I just now came up with a NEW voting system! It will be called VFOFC. Not really a very snappy acronym, but it stands for “Vote For One (F*#@**ng) Candidate. So, how it works is, only two candidates for each race end up on the ballot, which is filled out by legitimate voters on election day. Then the votes are counted, and the candidate who gets the most votes wins! Kinda edgy, I know, but these are different times we live in, what with Bruce Jenner being a woman and all. We should at least give it a try.

  5. And here’s us thinking STAR stood for Screw The Average Republican.
    .
    What’s this but another child prodigy with another bright idea for improving what -never- needed improving in the first place?
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    Supreme Court ordered America to use RCV, STAR… ordered America to ditch same-day paper-ballot voting, hand counting overseen by observers who knew what the hell they were observing?
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    Just like the RCV champions, this one’s full of ideas on how STAR –should– work, but not a clue how it –will– work when unelected government officials get their hands on it.
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    Why not do something useful, Master Frohnmayer, and invent an open-source statistical analysis tool which detects reliable probability of voter fraud?
    .
    Can’t? Then what’s the point of your monkeying with voting systems at all?

  6. It really doesn’t matter what method we use to vote. The candidate most people want will win. “Vote-splitting” is not a system problem; rather, it is a candidate and voter problem.

    • > “Vote-splitting” is not a system problem; rather, it is a candidate and voter problem.

      Tell it to George H W Bush, about Ross Perot, or Al Gore, about Ralph Nader.

  7. STAR voting, as Approval voting, are legitimate alternatives to traditional plurality voting. However, to improve your favorite’s chance of winning, you should give zero stars to all other candidates (STAR voting) and approve only your favorite (Approval voting). If enough folks do this, both alternatives morph back to plurality voting. With RCV you can vote only for your favorite but if you chose to express your opinion more fully by ranking others, it won’t hurt your favorite. Your ranking of others will only have influence if your favorite is eliminated.

    No voting method can express the collective will of voters most accurately in every election every time. Some methods, however, are better than others, and in my opinion RCV is among the best. Plurality voting is among the worst.

    • Ohh…. RCV is among the best, because???
      Because a candidate that was first in only a small number of people’s preference list won the seat? Is that why it is best? What if Sarah Palin and/or Kelly T. won instead of Peltola and Murkowski? Would you still be of the same mind?
      .
      It is easy to say it works well when you like the outcome. But, the people who are thinking rationally will acknowledge the problems even when their preferred candidate wins. I do not see a lot of proponents of RCV who also dislike that Peltola and Murkowski benefited from it.

  8. to CBMTTek

    My comment was “… in my opinion RCV is among the best.” I respect other opinions (OK, almost all) although I may not agree with them. Hopefully you can say the same. Also, my opinion of RCV would not change had Peltola or Murkowski lost. Again, in my opinion RCV is among the best; plurality voting is among the worst.

    • First of all, there is a reply button under my comment. Use it.
      Next, why is RCV among the best? Provide a “this leads to that” justification on why you believe that.
      Frankly, I see it as the absolute worst choice among any possible way of electing representatives.
      .
      I would rather see an involuntary service to the House/Senate and the State and City legislatures than RCV or any other “vote for as many candidates as you want” scheme.
      And, sorry, if 10% of the vote is enough to get into office, than so be it. If you want to have a run off, I am OK with that, but not an instant run off.. The voters MUST have an opportunity to evaluate the remaining two candidates. RCV destroys that chance.

    • One more question.
      Why is plurality the worst?
      I can only assume it is because too many people are unhappy with the outcome.
      .
      How does that differ in any way with the results of RCV? Peltola was not the first choice for the majority of Alaskans, but tough noogies AK. You are stuck with an “acceptable” candidate winning.
      .
      And, this differs from every other voting scheme… how exactly?

      • Thanks for the reminder of the “reply” button. Sorry, got it right this time. And my comment said plurality in my opinion is among the worst. It didn’t imply absolutely the worse of every voting method. And again it’s my opinion – shared by many others (as no doubt is yours).

        Honestly, I understand your opinions, do see your arguments and appreciate them without fully agreeing with them. Hey, if we all had the same opinions we wouldn’t need elections.

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