Q: Is STAR Voting committed to open sourced implementation?

The STAR Voting project, STAR Elections, and the Equal Vote Coalition are 100% committed to open sourced elections, and all of our implementation and tabulation tools are open sourced. As largely volunteer driven organizations our resources are all designed and built collaboratively, transparently, and accessibly.

If you are interested in contributing to any aspect of the STAR Voting project please reach out to [email protected], join our Slack, plug in with the tech team, and get involved.

 

Q: How does STAR Voting help marginalized communities?

 

How does STAR Voting help improve representation for marginalized communities?

1. By putting in the work.

STAR Voting Action, our c4 nonprofit, is led by women and people of color who were inspired to step up and take action because we feel unsatisfied and unrepresented by the political status quo. We do this work because representation and the ability to have an effective government that can get things done is deeply personal, and because we know that our voices matter. 

 

2. STAR Voting empowers voters to vote their conscience, supporting candidates they truly like at the level they deserve. "Electability" is a huge driver of implicit bias in politics.

Peer reviewed research shows clearly that with STAR Voting it's safe to vote your conscience -- unlike the current system (and unlike Ranked Choice Voting). Voters do not need to strategically vote and you should not give an unliked lesser-evil candidate 5 stars. Voters are strongly incentivised to follow the instructions: give their honest favorites 5 star, give their last choice 0 and show their honest preferences. 

In the current system, a big part of the problem is that voters face massive pressure to vote for candidates they think are "electable" so as to not waste their vote on someone who isn't viable. STAR Voting eliminates that dilemma. And as we know, the candidates deemed most "electable" are typically older white men, incumbents, people with big money funding, and those with the name recognition with major party backing. 

Women, people of color, younger people, working class people, non-incumbents, 3rd party candidates, and grassroots candidates are at a huge disadvantage in a system where it's not safe to vote for an underdog candidate, even if you like them best. 

 

3. STAR Voting ensures that your vote makes a difference, even in you're in the minority and your favorite can't win. If the runoff comes down to your last choice and your lesser evil, your FULL vote goes to the finalist you prefer and helps prevent your worst case scenario.

Let's say for example you are a voter of color in the deep south. The three candidates are Walt the White-Supremacist, Fred Family-Values, Paula Progressive, and Gary Green. You prefer the progressive, but know she won't win in this district. Under the current system you would have to strategically vote for the frontrunner you prefer. 

With STAR Voting you can vote your conscience and give 5 stars to the progressive, 4 stars to your next choice, 1 star to the family values conservative, and 0 to the white supremacist candidate. Even if your favorite can't win, your vote is just as powerful as anyone else's in the runoff. If Walt the White-Supremacist and Fred Family-Values both advance to the runoff, your full vote goes to Fred, even though you only gave him one STAR. Your ballot always counts as One Person, One Vote in the runoff, and your full vote in the automatic runoff always goes to the finalist you gave a higher score.

Correcting the Record:


4. STAR Voting combats polarization and elects broadly representative consensus candidates because it allows voters to show their full opinions, and polarizing candidates have a hard time getting the broad support needed to make the STAR runoff.

STAR Voting offers us a chance to break free of the black and white, toxic, us-against-them political paradigm and show more nuanced opinions. Then it uses that better voter data to find real consensus candidates and advance them to the automatic runoff.

 

5. STAR Voting improves accountability. Right now, if your elected leadership betrays you but you didn't vote for them, you have no leverage. With STAR, even if you gave them 2 stars, they care about your opinion and need your support to win reelection.

In STAR Voting, candidates have a strong incentive to reach out to all their constituents and make sure they are making your feel represented. In a close race it might make just as much difference for a candidate to move you from a 0 star voter to a 2 star voter as it would to move someone else from a 3 to a 5. 

 

6. STAR Voting levels the playing field so we would have better candidates running in the first place, and it empowers voters to have a real impact on the issues we care about.

STAR Voting allows new candidates to run for office without the fear of being branded a spoiler and being scapegoated for throwing the election to the other side. The spoiler effect is pervasive in the current system and it's a huge reason gatekeeping by political insiders is pervasive as well.

STAR Voting is also highly accurate with any number of candidates in the race, so it eliminates the need for a primary in non-partisan races. This makes running for office way more accessible. 

With STAR Voting, the campaign season would be shorter overall, and candidates would only need to fundraise for one election, not two. 

 

A few common points of misunderstanding corrected:

1. If a voter scores both finalists equally that is counted in the runoff as an "equal preference" vote. It is counted exactly according to the voter's stated intent.
 
2. In the STAR Voting Automatic Runoff, your full vote goes to the finalist you prefer. No matter what scores you gave the finalists, your vote is just as powerful as anyone else’s. The finalist with the most votes wins.

Read the Peer Review:

Q: What's wrong with our current system?

"Choose One Only" Voting (aka. "Plurality" or "First Past the Post") is universally regarded as the single worst voting system.  It works fine if and only if there are two candidates in the race, which is why it leads to a two party system.

If there more than two candidates in the race, Choose One Only Voting is extremely vulnerable to a phenomena called The Spoiler Effect. It consistently results in two party domination, and in order to avoid your vote being wasted there are very strong incentives to vote "Lesser Evil" if you aren't sure your favorite can win.

 

 

1.     The Spoiler Effect:

  • Choose One Only Voting is highly vulnerable to a phenomenon called the "Spoiler Effect,” also referred to as “Vote Splitting,” or the “Nader Effect.”

  • Because of the Spoiler Effect, Choose One Only Voting is wildly inaccurate when there are more than two candidates. Voter blocks who support more than one candidate can end up divided and conquered.

  • This creates a strong incentive to only vote for the “front-runners.” Voters in a majority can easily lose the election if they don't come together to strategically all vote for one candidate.

  • Choose One Only Voting gives a huge advantage to candidates who are deemed "viable" and puts voters who have more candidates on their side at a significant disadvantage.

2. Once we solve the spoiler effect, we don't need to have 2 elections:

  • Primaries generally have lower turnouts and unrepresentative voter demographics. In most cases, primaries bias in favor of older, whiter, and more wealthy voters.

  • Primary elections are designed to narrow the field, which restricts voter choice in the general election. When people feel like nobody on their ballot represents them, voter turnout suffers.

  • For jurisdictions which use a non-partisan primary and a top-two general election, the spoiler effect can be magnified by the large primary field. When this happens the primary election can actually advance two candidates from the minority faction, guaranteeing an unrepresentative winner in the general. 

  • This two-election process makes for a long campaign season, which is disliked by both voters and candidates. Longer campaign seasons advantage candidates with more money, especially those who can afford to take a year or sometimes more off of work while they campaign.

3.     Magnifying the influence of Money in Politics

  • To avoid the Spoiler Effect, voters are coerced into voting for the front-runner on their side who is most “viable.”

  • The most viable candidate is usually the one who raised the most money and the one with the backing of the media. This gives big money an undue influence over not only voter opinions, but also over voter behavior.

  • In order to be seen as viable, or "electable," candidates and politicians have to spend a huge amount of their time fundraising. In many cases this leaves them indebted to their donors, breeding corruption.

4.     Wasted Votes and Disenfranchised Voters

  • If you know that your favorite is a shoo-in, or that they don’t stand a chance, then it’s a safe bet that your vote won’t make a difference anyway. Together with the other issues listed above, many people choose not to vote at all because voting their conscience would be a wasted vote.

 

Q: Is this the same as Ranked Choice Voting?

  • Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) technically refers to a family of voting systems that use voter's rankings to determine the winner. Instant Runoff Voting is the most common RCV system in use today. Because STAR Voting actually uses the ranking derived from scores to make the final runoff decision, it is arguably an RCV system, but it is not at all the same as Instant Runoff Voting. STAR is similar to IRV in that voters can show relative preferences between candidates, but there are important differences. For example:
  • With STAR Voting you can show that you like two candidates equally; with IRV you would have to rank one over the other.
  • In STAR Voting everyone's full ballot is counted; in IRV your down ballot rankings may never be counted, depending on the order of elimination.
  • In STAR Voting there is only one automatic or "instant" runoff; with Instant Runoff Voting there can potentially be many instant runoffs.

 

Q: Why bother with the automatic runoff? Shouldn’t we just elect the candidate with the highest score?

  • Score Voting is the voting method where voters score candidates and the highest-scoring candidate wins. One criticism of Score Voting is that voters may be incentivized to only use the highest and lowest scores available to maximize their voting power, which would negate the benefits of the more expressive ballot. In order for a voting method to find the most representative winner, honest and expressive voter data is key. In STAR Voting, it is in a voter’s best interest to honestly show their preference order because, in the runoff, each voter’s one full vote goes to the finalist they prefer.

  • The STAR Voting scoring round and automatic runoff measure two different, important metrics, in essence quality and quantity. The scoring round measures how much, or how little, voters overall support each candidate; this ensures that the two finalists are strong consensus-supported candidates. The automatic runoff measures the number of voters who prefer each finalist; this ensures that the winner is preferred by a majority of voters who expressed a preference.

  • With STAR Voting, each voter’s one full vote goes toward exactly one candidate, and the winner is the finalist with the most votes. STAR Voting dovetails perfectly with a classical interpretation of One Person, One Vote. This makes STAR Voting one of the most legally viable alternative voting methods, naturally complying with election codes and constitutions around the country — and beyond. Another common election code provision is a majority requirement. The STAR Voting automatic runoff elects the finalist who is preferred by a majority of voters who expressed a preference. The fact that STAR Voting includes a built-in top two runoff enables it to eliminate costly separate runoff elections in many jurisdictions.

  • Under Score Voting, voters who don’t score any of the frontrunners highly have less voting power than those who do. With STAR Voting, every voter gets exactly one fully powerful vote for the finalist they prefer, leveling the playing field for voters and ensuring true equality in the vote itself.

Q: What if I give both finalists the same score?


Some people worry that if their vote is counted as "equal preference" in the runoff they wasted their vote. Absolutely not!

Giving candidates equal scores in STAR Voting is saying that you like them both equally and would be equally satisfied with either.

In STAR Voting, "equal preference votes" are not thrown out. They are counted as the voter intended.

For an example, see the graphic below. This voter scored Carmen and David equally, and Carmen and David ended up being the two finalists. Their choice to give high scores to both Carmen and David helped them beat out the less preferred candidates (Blake and Erin).

For this reason, with STAR Voting there's a strong incentive for voters to show you honest preferences between the candidates and vote your conscience. It's part of what makes STAR Voting so resilient to strategic voting.


When should I give candidates the same score?

Whenever you’re considering scoring two different candidates equally, ask yourself this question: “If the election came down to these two, would I have a preference?” If your answer is yes, then score them differently. If your answer is no, then score them equally.

Long story short, if you have a preference you should show it.


Why does STAR allow equal scores?

The ability to show no preference between candidates you like equally is key to letting voters weigh in on multiple candidates. Imagine a crowded primary or election with 20 candidates. STAR Voting seamlessly allows you to score as many candidates as you like, even in a crowded race.

It's common for elections to happen where similar candidates with similar platforms run against each other. In the current system, the choose-one-only limit causes vote-splitting and can even leave a majority faction divided and conquered. With STAR Voting you can show that you prefer any of the candidates in your coalition over the opposition.

Note that in the current system we give votes of no preference all the time. The current system basically forces us to vote no on everyone beyond our favorite, even if we do have a more nuanced opinion. 



Benefits of allowing equal scores votes: 

  • Preventing voter error: One thing we've learned from the use of Ranked Choice Voting in real elections is that voters often rank candidates equally, even when it's not allowed. In Ranked Choice Voting this is a voter error and it can cause your ballot to be thrown out. In STAR Voting it's always allowed and these votes can easily be tallied as the voter intended. 

  • Consistent ballot formatting: No matter how many candidates file to run for an office, the STAR ballot remains consistent. No need to have a sea of bubbles or put a cap on how many candidates voters can weigh in on. Consistent ballot formatting saves money. 

  • No vote-splitting or spoilers: Vote-splitting is a pathology that's common under the current system and that can also happen under Ranked Choice Voting when a majority faction who runs more candidates can split the vote and lose the election. In voting methods that have this problem the more candidates you have on your side the worse your odds of winning are.

    In order to eliminate vote-splitting and the Spoiler Effect, a voting method has to allow a voter to show that they prefer all the candidates they like over the candidates they oppose. In order to do that, in practice, the voting method needs to allow voters to show equal support. STAR Voting eliminates vote-splitting and the Spoiler Effect.

 

Q: Would STAR Voting cost money or save money?

  • Both. There would be some initial costs associated with educating voters and reprogramming vote tabulation computers, but in the long run STAR Voting would save money by eliminating the primary election for local offices.
  • The shorter election season would reduce the amount of money required for candidates to run a successful campaign. This should make running for office more accessible for candidates without big money backers.

Learn more about the cost analysis for STAR Voting

Q: What if voter behavior isn't ideal under STAR Voting?

Is scoring subjective?

In STAR Voting, scores given are not subjective like a 5 star rating you might give on a movie or restaurant review. The difference is that in STAR Voting you aren't just rating each option independently, you're comparing a set of options, showing your favorite, last choice, preferences, and degree of support relative to the other options

 

Instructions: 

In STAR Voting, voters score their candidates from 0 stars (worst) to 5 stars (best).

  • Give your favorite five stars.
  • Give your last choice zero or leave blank.
  • Equal scores are allowed.
  • Score other candidates as desired.

These instructions are actually written into the STAR Voting ballot initiative language to ensure that real world voters will have clear, consistent, and accessible instructions on how to vote in multiple languages. While the exact wording is left to the jurisdiction adopting the method, the law itself will ensure that the correct information is clearly written on the ballot itself so voters know what to do.

* Specific recommendations for wording and other ballot design considerations can also be found in the STAR Voting Technical Specifications

 

The 5 star ballot allows voters to clearly show exactly how they feel about the candidates:

Voters can honestly show their favorite, their last choice, their preference order, and also how much or how little they like their candidates. A 5 star ballot works well for "traditional" voters who only have one candidate they like and who strongly dislike everyone else. It also works well for voters who have a clear preference order, (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0). It also works great if voters have some candidates they like equally (5, 3, 3, 1, 1, 0), or if their preferences aren't evenly distributed (5, 5, 4, 1, 1, 0).

 

Incentivizing honest voting

Peer Reviewed studies modeling voter behavior have demonstrated that in STAR Voting, the instructions aren't just recommended, they're actively incentivized. This means that if voters want to maximize the power of their vote, they should follow the instructions: give your favorite 5 stars, give your last choice zero, and show your honest preferences. Having incentives align with honest voting is a huge advantage that means that over time we can expect voter behavior to get more consistent and more honest, unlike under the current system. 

 

What if voters don't follow the instructions?

In STAR Voting, if voters don't follow the instructions (don't give anyone a 5 or a 0), then in effect what they are showing is that they don't have as strong a preference as someone else who used the full scale. This is absolutely allowed and it'll be counted as the voter intended, it's just not going to do as much to help their favorite pull ahead of their last choice as if they'd showed a stronger preference.

Regardless, in STAR Voting, the automatic runoff round ensures that your vote is just as powerful as anyone else's no matter how you scored the finalists.

For example, a voter who scored the finalists 0 stars and 1 star in the scoring round will still have their full vote count for the finalist they scored higher. In other words, the STAR Voting automatic runoff works exactly like a top two runoff election: each voter ultimately counts as one fully powerful vote for the finalist they prefer. They only difference is you don't have to vote again. It's automatic. 

In summary, no matter how you choose to vote in STAR Voting, it'll be counted, and it'll be just as powerful as anyone else's vote.

 

What if voters are strategic or try to game the system? 

Peer Reviewed studies are clear that strategic voting in STAR Voting isn't effective or incentivised. In particular, the most harmful types of strategic voting are prevented by STAR Voting. This includes strategically voting for someone other than your favorite as your top choice, trying to bury the competition, and just giving your favorite 5 stars and leaving everybody else blank. These strategies are more likely to backfire than to help a voter who is dishonestly voting to try and get an edge.

Moreover, studies are clear that even if voters are strategic at first and take some time to unlearn old behaviors, the results for STAR Voting still outperform other voting methods. 



Why Rating not Ranking?

4. Lastly, and most importantly, ranked systems can waste large numbers of votes due to voter errors when equal rankings are not allowed.

Ranked Choice Voting as currently proposed simply cannot handle equal rankings. This comes down to the way ballots are tallied in elimination rounds with votes transferred to a voters next choice if possible. There is a better way to tally a ranked ballot that does allow equal rankings, but this is an entirely different voting methods, not just a modification.

 

Ranked Choice Voting and Voter Error Issues

In STAR Voting, voters who like candidates equally can show that on their ballot with no problems.

In Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) if you rank candidates equally it can void your ballot. This is known as an "overvote" and it's essentially the same thing as voting for two candidates in the current system. Rates of overvoting and ballots voided in RCV are much higher than with traditional voting and much higher than under other systems. 

Alarmingly, rates of voided ballots are consistently higher for already at-risk populations, including voters of color, lower-income voters, lower-education voters, and voters who don't speak English as a first language. This is prevented by systems that allow equal rankings, but Ranked Choice Voting does not.

"Higher counts of [ranked choice] overvotes were also found, at times, among San Francisco communities with more Latino residents (Neely and Cook 2008), something shown in a similar analysis of voters in Los Angeles (Sinclair and Alvarez 2004), and in areas with more foreignborn residents."

"What has not changed is the nature of the discrepancies in who tends to overvote: consistently, precincts where more African-Americans reside are more likely to collect overvoted, voided ballots. And this often occurs where more Latino, elderly, foreign-born, and less wealthy folks live."

Another common type of voter error in RCV (that's not an issue in STAR) is skipped rankings. Skipped ranks in RCV often result in voided ballots depending on the jurisdiction and its level of technological sophistication. 

The third type of RCV voter error is the only kind that may also apply to STAR Voting. It's also the least common of the three error types. This is if a voter gave multiple scores or ranks to one candidate. In many cases, voter intent can be determined on the ballot, but sometimes that's not possible. No system can prevent all types of voter error, but STAR Voting keeps the possible types of voter error to a minimum. 

 

 

 

 

Source: Constitutional Political Economy. STAR Voting, Equality of Voice, and Voter Satisfaction: Considerations for Voting Reform

Source: Overvoting and the Equality of Voice under Instant-Runoff Voting in San Francisco. Francis Neely and Jason McDaniel, San Francisco State University.

Source: David Kimball. University of Missouri, St. Louis. Conference on Electoral System Reform. Stanford University. March 14-15, 2014. Voter Participation with RCV in the USA 

Source:  Miller, G. A. (1956). "The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information"

Q: Is STAR Voting vulnerable to strategic voting?

  • With STAR Voting, honesty is the best policy. The best strategy is to give your favorite or favorites a full 5 stars and to use your scores to show your preferences between the other candidates.
  • While there are some hypothetical scenarios where you might get an edge by putting down higher or lower scores for various candidates, in practice there is no way to know when this might help and when it would hurt. This kind of dishonest voting is more likely to backfire so it’s not a good strategy.
  • You can read a more technical comparison of strategic incentives in various systems here.

 

Q: Why is it a 0 through 5 star rating? Not more or less?

  • Extensive study of cognitive load shows that while individuals like to have choices, if there are too many options, then they become overwhelmed. The 5-star ballot has six distinct ratings, landing right in the sweet spot of what can expect most voters to need and want for expressive voting.
  • Polling using large ranges has demonstrated that most people use the only ends and middle of the range. For example, if the ballot allowed voters to score candidates from 0 up to 99, most voters would only use the scores 0, 1, 49, 50, 98, and 99. With a 5 star ballot, this results in ideal expressive voter behavior.
  • Statistical modeling has been conducted with variations of STAR Voting using a variety of ranges. Overall accuracy improved with up to about 5 stars but the analysis saw diminishing returns above that.

Q: Does STAR Voting pass One-Person-One-Vote?

Yes. In STAR Voting each ballot ultimately counts as one full vote.

STAR Voting perfectly complies with the legal definition of one-person-one-vote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that equality of voting - one person, one vote - means that the weight and worth of the citizens' votes as nearly as is practicable must be the same. There are a few components to this, so we'll break it down further. 

 

1. Every vote cast must be equally powerful: In STAR Voting all ballot data is counted in both the scoring round and again in the automatic runoff. In the scoring round voters are instructed to give their favorite(s) 5 stars and to show their preference order and level of support for their candidates. All the stars given to each candidate are totaled, and the two highest scoring candidates advance to the automatic runoff. 

In the automatic runoff your ballot is your one vote, and your one full vote goes to the finalist you prefer. This ensures that no matter how much or how little you liked the finalists, your vote is just as powerful as everyone else's.

For example: Lets say that none of your favorites made it to the runoff and it comes down to your worst case scenario (zero stars) vs a mediocre candidate (two stars.) Your full vote goes to your two star candidate. This is just like voting in a primary, having your favorites not win, and then voting again in the general election for the finalist you prefer. 

Some people get confused and think that in the runoff if you only gave your preferred candidate two stars that your runoff vote would be less powerful than someone who gave their favorite five stars. Rest assured. That's not how it works. 

 

2. Every vote cast must be counted in the deciding round: In STAR Voting all ballots are counted in the deciding round and every ballot carries equal weight in the runoff, regardless of the scores given. The runoff is binary. Your vote goes to the finalist you prefer, and the finalist with the most votes wins - Just like a Top-Two general election. 

As long as you have a preference between the finalists, your vote will go to the finalist you preferred. Voters who don't have a preference between the finalists (for example if you gave both finalists three stars,) will still have their scores all counted, and their runoff vote counted as a vote-of-no-preference between the two finalists. 

Contrast this with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV,) specifically the Instant Runoff Voting version that is most widely adopted. In RCV, many of the rankings which voters put down on their ballots will never be counted, and many of the ballots will end up not being counted in the deciding round of tabulation. On average over 10% of RCV ballots are "exhausted" meaning they can not be counted in the deciding round, even if these ballots could have made a difference if they had been fully counted. Learn more about the ways that RCV wastes votes here

 

3. The system must ensure an equally weighted vote, the legal definition of One-Person-One-Vote, and not mathematically advantage or disadvantage specific factions. 

In a 1965 Voting Rights Act ruling on gerrymandering, The U.S. Supreme Court declared that equality of voting - one person, one vote - means that the "weight and worth of the citizens' votes as nearly as is practicable must be the same." This has profound implications on voting methods which suffer from vote-splitting, including Choose-One Plurality, and Ranked Choice Voting. 

In a gerrymandered election a faction that had a majority can find themselves unable to win due to gerrymandered districting. The result is that the faction of voters targeted by gerrymandering has votes which are mathematically less powerful than voters on the other side. 

This exact same thing can happen in voting methods like Plurality Voting and RCV even if the districting is done fairly. In this case the mechanism putting voters at a disadvantage is vote-splitting, not gerrymandering, but the impact is the same. When vote-splitting occurs, a majority coalition or faction who runs more candidates than the other side risks splitting their factions support. This phenomena is known as the "Spoiler Effect" and it can result in electing a candidate who was opposed by a majority of voters. 

The astute reader may have noticed that the Supreme Court gave themselves an out with the "as nearly as is practicable" clause, and at the time of this ruling no voting method in use had ever delivered an equal vote, but that changed in 2020 when Approval Voting was first adopted for municipal elections. Many voting methods including Approval, Ranked Robin, and STAR Voting eliminate vote-splitting by allowing a coalition of voters to show that they would prefer any of the candidates on their side over the opposition. These voting methods ensure that every voter can cast an equally weighted vote as required by One-Person-One-Vote, and as a result these methods produce more accurate, fair and representative outcomes in competitive races with larger fields of candidates.

 

Q: Is STAR Voting constitutional?

In short - Yes. The US Constitution does not include anything that would render STAR Voting unconstitutional, and in fact STAR Voting does a better job at ensuring One-Person-One-Vote than the current system. For more on One-Person-One-Vote click here.

Every country and every state has their own constitution and the exact wording on elections and how they should be conducted varies, but in general, STAR Voting is compliant with these legal codes. 

There are a number of specific requirements that are commonly found in state constitutions or local charters that STAR Voting complies with easily, even when other voting methods like RCV do not:

 

1. Many constitutions or charters call for a "win by Plurality" or state that "The candidate who receives the most votes wins." 

STAR Voting complies with this requirement because in STAR "your vote goes to the finalist you prefer and the the finalist who receives the most votes wins." 

This is the requirement where Ranked Choice Voting has had the most problems. In the state of Maine, despite having been passed statewide by voters, RCV is still unable to be used for statewide races because it was ruled unconstitutional on these grounds. Maine now uses RCV for local and federal elections, but using RCV for statewide races will require a constitutional amendment to remove the "win by plurality" clause. Many other states including many in New England have similar clauses in their constitutions. 

 

2. Many constitutions or charters call for a "win by majority" or state that "The winner must receives a majority of votes cast." 

STAR Voting complies with this requirement because in STAR the two finalists advance to the runoff and the finalist who is preferred by a majority of voters who had a preference wins. Since no voting method can ensure that a true majority will exist (if for example there are three polarized factions who hate each other) the most any voting method can do is narrow down the election to two finalists, and then find the majority preferred option between those two. This is exactly how STAR Voting works

In contrast, RCV elections find a candidate with a majority of votes from "remaining ballots" only. Studies on the "majority winner" claims by RCV advocates looked at elections where more than one round was needed and found that RCV failed to elect a candidate who received a majority of votes over 61% of the time. Learn more about majority winner compliance for STAR and RCV here.  

 

3. Many constitutions, charters, and election statutes call for ballots to be processed and tabulated at the local countywide or precinct level and call for local or precinct level reporting of results. 

STAR Voting's simple two round tabulation doesn't require centralized tabulation, is compatible with current vote tabulation logistical requirements, doesn't require new voting machines in most cases, and allows for preliminary reporting of election results in real time as votes are tallied. In STAR Voting both the scoring round and the runoff are tabulated with addition. In the scoring round you add up the stars for each candidate, in the runoff you add up the votes for each finalist. 

In contrast, RCV elections require all ballots to be returned and centralized in one location before tabulation can proceed through the tabulation rounds. It's impossible for one jurisdiction to fully tally or audit their own ballots in a meaningful way because many of the rankings given are not be counted under RCV. Which ballot data is counted in each round of an RCV election depends on the order of candidate elimination, which must be determined by the central authority and can only be done after all ballots are in hand, and after the previous round of tabulation has been completed. This requirement for centralized tabulation is illegal according to election codes in many parts of the country, and may make requirements for audits, partial hand recounts, and other election integrity requirements impossible as well. 

 

4. Some state constitutions require a Top-Two Runoff Election. 

STAR Voting's tabulation includes a top-two runoff, so there is a case to be made that STAR Voting would be constitutional in states with this requirement where other methods like RCV are not. 

 

If you are interested in learning more about the legal considerations of adopting STAR Voting in your area, feel free to send us an email.

 

Q: Has STAR Voting been used for elections before?

Political Elections:

  • STAR Voting was used in the Independent Party of Oregon primary for Secretary of State and State Treasurer, as well as in a presidential preference poll.
  • STAR Voting was used by the Democratic Party of Oregon to elect Oregon's presidential delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
  • STAR Voting is being used for all internal elections for the Multnomah County Democrats.
  • STAR Voting has been widely used by many groups in the private sector and non-profit space for internal elections and decision making. 
  • Eugene, Oregon hopes to be the first city to adopt STAR Voting for public municipal elections. 

For more information, check out our Elections Case Studies page.

 

More Vetting:

  • Voting method outcomes can be tested and studied using computer simulations of various election scenarios and statistical analysis. These studies allow researchers to model tens of thousands of realistic election scenarios, including those with distinct factions, with strategic voters, and with realistic voter behaviors. STAR Voting has performed very well and topped the charts across the board in all simulations and studies it's been included in, including peer reviewed research on voting method accuracy and strategic voting incentives
  • STAR Voting was actually invented based on the findings from voting method studies and cutting-edge science in voting theory. In the year 2000, modeling showed that the most accurate voting method of thousands tested was a score voting primary followed by a top two general election. STAR Voting is the same method, but voters only need to vote once because the top two preferences are already shown on voter's ballots.
  • Since 2018 thousands of STAR elections have been hosted in person and online using a variety of tools; Google Forms, Simply Voting, Telegram, and Star.Vote all let users easily set up a STAR Voting election or vote in existing polls. More on election hosting options can be found here. 

 

This is a pivotal moment for Oregon to pioneer a new path in voting reform, just as Oregon was a pioneer in adopting the initiative and referendum a hundred years ago, and more recently in nation-leading reforms like vote-by-mail and automatic voter registration. This is our chance to lead on voting reform and offer a better model to the rest of the nation. 

 

Q: Can we use STAR Voting for Presidential elections?

Yes. STAR Voting is a nationally viable and scalable method that can be used for Presidential elections, either with the Electoral College or a National Popular Vote.

 

How Would STAR Voting Work for US Presidential Elections? 

Currently, presidential elections are run by each state with partisan primaries or caucuses and then a general election among the top candidates from each qualifying party. Each state has a set number of electoral votes in the electoral college based on the number of US congresspeople in each state. If a candidate receives at least 270 electoral votes, they are elected president. If no candidate receives 270 electoral votes, the election is decided by US Congress.

Currently, all states in the US except Nebraska and Maine are winner-take-all, meaning that the candidate who wins in that state gets all of that state's electors. Nebraska and Maine assign their first two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one electoral vote to the winner in each of their US House districts. To protect the interests of individual states, this winner-take-all nature would not change under STAR Voting unless additional reforms are passed. 

 

How would the popular vote be counted with STAR Voting?

The popular vote is used for determining party ballot access, delegate allocation rules, and national reporting of preliminary election results, especially for races that use different voting methods in different jurisdictions (such as if one state or county used STAR and another used RCV or Choose One). Under STAR Voting, a candidate will get a simplified “popular vote” from a voter if they are that voter’s favorite. This effectively converts 5-star ballots to Approval ballots for these purposes, where every candidate you give a top score (eg. 5 stars) will get a popular vote. Note that the “popular vote” conversion is not used for actually electing candidates. Candidates are elected using STAR Voting. 

The total scores for all candidates would also be released, showing the number of stars received by each in the scoring round. Each candidate's average rating would also be available as part of election results.

This process is used to maintain simplicity for voters without hurting minor parties or reducing the power of individual states in national politics. If a National Popular Vote were to be used to elect the president, a different process is recommended.

 

How would STAR Voting work with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? 

When the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) was drafted, no provisions were made and no clause was included that specifies how the popular vote would be counted in states which use alternative voting methods for the presidential general election. Because the NPVIC has already been signed by a number of states, it's too late to add this clause to the original compact. 

The founders of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact have since recommended that any state which adopts an alternative voting method sign on to another interstate compact which would specify how votes in these states would be summed with each-other and with Choose One votes from the rest of the country. 

Even states who do not plan to sign onto the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact should sign onto the Alternative Voting Interstate Compact in order to ensure that their votes would be counted correctly and fairly. If the the NPVIC goes into effect, this will ensure that votes from all states will be included in the national popular vote.

 

Alternative Voting Interstate Compact

Summary:

  • All states which adopt alternative voting methods would be encouraged to sign on to the Alternative Voting Methods Interstate Compact regardless of their National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) status. 
  • This compact would go into effect immediately, allowing national election results to publish vote totals consistently and accurately, including votes from states using alternative voting methods.
  • This compact does not change the way state electors to the electoral college are allocated, but does specify how alternative votes should be summed for states which may choose to assign their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

Vote Calculation Process:

  1. Convert all ballots from each state to universal ballots using the "Universal Ballot Conversion."
  2. Sum the universal ballots from all states to find the top two popular vote getters nationally, described here as Candidates A and B. (This includes ballots from every state and every method.)
  3. Each state in the Alternative Voting Methods Compact would then determine the number of voters who had a preference for candidate A over B or vice versa as well as the number of voters who had no preference for either. 
  4. Assign votes from each state in the Alternative Voting Methods Compact to candidates A or B. These vote totals will be considered the popular vote totals for each state for the purposes of the NPVIC. 

Example: If a state had 100,000 voters, and if 60,000 of voters in the Alternative Vote Compact member states preferred candidate A, 39,000 preferred candidate B, and 1,000 had no preference between them or preferred neither, then the popular vote for that state would be reported as 60,000 votes for A and 39,000 votes for B. 

 

Why Count Votes As Proposed:

  • Ensures One Person, One Vote. Every voter in every state, regardless of voting method, has an equally weighted vote. Every vote’s power is worth one vote.
  • Ensures that voters in states which use alternative voting methods can safely vote for the candidates of their choice, regardless of those candidates national viability, without fear of wasting votes or an incentive to vote “lesser-evil.”
  • Ensures that states which adopt a voting method which eliminates vote-splitting and spoilers do not have their presidential votes split or spoiled in the process of compiling their votes with Plurality votes.
  • Would allow 3rd party or independent candidates to run and win (assuming they had the support needed,) without fear of being scapegoated as spoilers.
  • Prevents states in the Alternative Voting Methods Compact from collectively acting as a spoiler, throwing the election to a less preferred candidate or candidate who didn't win the popular vote.
  • Ensures that states in the Alternative Voting Methods Compact are never responsible for preventing any candidate from receiving 270 electoral college votes, which would result in Congress determining the winner of the Presidential Election instead of having the election decided by the voters. 

 

National Popular Vote Alternative Voting Methods Compact Universal Vote Conversion:

The Universal Ballot Conversion is used to convert all ballots from all voting methods into one standardized total which can be summed to find a universal ballot count total across states or jurisdictions using different voting methods. After conversion, regardless of the voting method used, a designation of the best possible ranking or rating shall always be worth 1 point and a designation of the worst possible rating or ranking shall always be worth 0 points. 

 

Click image above to read full text of this draft proposal. 



Note: This proposal is a coalition project and we are still accepting feedback. If you have questions or concerns or would like to collaborate on this project please send an email to [email protected] and request a link to the draft document.

 

Q: Can STAR Voting elect winners who are not majority preferred?

No voting method can guarantee that winners will always have a majority of all votes cast.

This is because elections may exist where there are three or more polarized factions who refuse to coalition. The recent Portland, Oregon mayoral election is a perfect example where even in a top-two majority runoff election Ted Wheeler was unable to get a majority because the write-in campaign for Rayford received many votes. 

When voters are able to support multiple options, like in STAR Voting, it's common for there to be multiple candidates who had the support of a majority of voters. For example pizza and burritos could both be majority supported dinner options in a family. In these cases, STAR voting not only ensures that the winner is majority preferred, but also that the strongest majority supported candidate wins. 

 

Majority winners in STAR Voting: 

  • STAR Voting is a majoritarian voting method and it guarantees majority preferred winners to the extent possible. 
  • STAR Voting finds the two candidates with the most support overall (in the scoring round) and then elects the finalist who was preferred by a majority of voters who had a preference, (in the Automatic Runoff.)
  • In STAR Voting every ballot is counted in the final round. There are no exhausted ballots and voters are able to weigh in on as many candidates as they want. 



Comparison of majority winners with Ranked Choice Voting: 

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) advocates claim that RCV elects majority winners, but in many cases this is a false majority which is manufactured by discarding ballots and then counting remaining ballots only. Ballots in RCV can removed from the tabulation process by several methods:

1. If a voter doesn't rank all the candidates, their vote may be unable to transfer when their favorite or favorites are eliminated. Most jurisdictions limit rankings to the top 4, 5, or 10 because doing so helps reduce voter error and voided ballots, and also because of ballot formatting, printing, and tabulation constraints. Unfortunately, this leads to an increase in exhausted ballots if the finalists don't end up in a voters list of ranked candidates. 

2. If a voter's first choice or top choices are quite strong, but not strong enough to ultimately win with the RCV tabulation, then a vote may not transfer until that voter's next choice(s) has already been eliminated. Voters whose favorite comes in second place will always have their first choice eliminated but their next choice not counted. This directly contradicts claims to the contrary that can be found in most voter education materials. 

3. Voters may strategically not rank additional candidates due to incorrect assumptions about the way RCV is tallied.

These ballots are called exhausted ballots. On average, 10.9% of RCV ballots are not counted in the deciding round and 61% of RCV elections do not find a true majority.

4. If a ballot is voided due to voter error their vote may be unable to be counted or unable to transfer. These are called "spoiled ballots" Spoiled ballots are sometimes included in statistics for ballot exhaustion and sometimes are not. Spoiled ballots include ballots which gave candidates equal rankings, gave multiple rankings to a candidate, and in some cases, voters who skipped rankings. 

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) often fails to elect the strongest majority preferred candidate or the candidate preferred over all others because many of the rankings voters give are never counted, due to tabulation of RCV acting as a series of Choose-One elections, where only one ranking a voter's ballot is considered. These wasted rankings can skew election results in competitive races where multiple candidates are viable. 

Unlike RCV, STAR Voting uses all ballot data and voter preferences during tabulation. No ballots are exhausted. STAR Voting advances the two highest scoring candidates to the runoff and then elects the finalist who was preferred by more voters. This is a majority of all voters who had a preference between these two.  

 

Non-majority outcomes in RCV:

The Burlington, Vermont 2009 Mayoral Election, which used Ranked Choice Voting, is a classic example where there were two majority preferred candidates. RCV failed to elect the candidate with the larger majority, and the candidate preferred over all others lost. This election is also a classic example showing massive strategic voting incentives for RCV voters. In this election Kurt Wright voters had been told that if their favorites were eliminated their next choice would be counted and so they voted for their favorite honestly even though it was clear from polling that Wright would not be able to win in the left-leaning town. Honestly ranking their favorite 1st backfired and actually helped elect these voter's last choice, whereas if they had not voted, or had voted lesser-evil, their 2nd choice would have won. It's also worth noting that Wright voters did not have their 2nd choice counted because the election was called (prematurely) for Bob Kiss.

While we don't think that failing an impossible majority requirement should be a deal breaker in general, it is for jurisdictions that have this requirement in their election code. In these cases, STAR is a viable option, while RCV does not comply. That said we do believe that the RCV exhausted ballot and wasted vote phenomena is a deal breaker as it violates the spirit of 'one-person, one-vote' when ballots which could have made a difference are discarded without being fully counted.

 

 

Q: Are STAR Voting elections secure?

Yes. Any election can be tallied following best practices for elections security and fully audited. STAR Voting is not only transparent and secure when officiated well, but unlike some other voting methods it is also compatible with best practices in auditing and election integrity. Unlike some other alternative voting methods, STAR Voting doesn't require centralized tabulation of ballots. 

 

Is STAR Voting batch summable?

Yes, in STAR Voting, any subset of ballots can be independently tallied, and then those ballot sets can be added together without changing the winner. This means that if an election was run statewide, any precinct or county within that state could independently process and tally their own ballots. This also means that vote tabulation can begin and can proceed unobstructed as soon as votes start to come in.

While tallying STAR ballots is a bit more involved than tallying a Choose-One Plurality election, there is no need to wait until all ballots are in hand or until the Scoring Round tally is complete before beginning to tabulate the Automatic Runoff.

On election day, batch summability is important because it means that preliminary results can be shared as soon as they are available, during the tally, in real time, just like they are with Choose-One Plurality voting. To see how STAR Voting results can update in real-time, click the "show results" button on any live poll on the star.vote website.

For STAR Voting, a batch sum or tally includes the total score for each candidate and the number of voters who preferred each candidate. Head-to-head pairwise preferences are generally displayed as a preference matrix. 

Most voting methods are batch summable, including Choose-One Plurality voting, Score Voting, Condorcet voting, and Approval voting, but it's worth noting that Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting) is not summable. Due to the fact that not all rankings will ultimately be tallied, in Ranked Choice Voting a preference matrix is not sufficient for summing ballots and election officials must track the preferences on each unique ballot.

 

A note on Risk-Limiting-Audits and recounts:

For small scale non-governmental elections, full recounts are a simple option. When paired with other election integrity best practices, full recounts are always the most thorough way to verify the integrity of an election, especially if an error or foul-play is expected.

Audits and recounts are an important part of election integrity best practices, and every election should have a plan in place for this, but full recounts can be time consuming and expensive, especially for large, governmental elections. Risk limiting audits for STAR Voting are a sufficiently accurate and reliable method for doing partial recounts as needed to confirm an election's validity.

Risk limiting audits, or (RLA)s, prescribe a number of ballots to be recounted depending on the margin of victory. If a race is won decisively, then an audit will look at a small fraction of ballots, but if the margin is smaller, a larger recount is prescribed. If the RLA finds that the audit results are consistent with the reported election outcome, or if the margin of error is within expected limits, the election is certified. If the evidence from the initial sample does not provide enough evidence to meet the risk limit, the sample size is expanded until it does.

Risk Limiting Audits for STAR Voting can be done using the same tools and similar protocols as are used for plurality voting. For more information on how to conduct a STAR Voting Risk Limiting Audit, click here

Risk Limiting Audits are possible for most voting methods, including Choose-One Plurality voting, Score Voting, and Approval voting, but it's worth noting that while it they may be technically possible for Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting,) the complexity of the process, the existence of exhausted ballots, and the fact that not all ballot data is counted in RCV may present serious barriers for the real world use of RCV RLA's in practice. Procedures for efficient audits of Single Transferable Vote are still in the research phase.

 

Q: Does the League of Women Voters Support or Oppose STAR Voting?

Q: Does the League of Women Voters Support or Oppose STAR Voting for Eugene?


A: Neither. The League of Women Voters policy is to speak with one voice on policy issues, and there is not a consensus on STAR Voting. It's complicated.

 

Locally, The League of Women Voters Lane County has many members who support STAR Voting and have been helpful and involved personally. As a group the Lane League co-hosted a Town Hall series on STAR Voting with The Equal Vote Coalition and the Eugene Library. They've been fantastic to work with.

 

Statewide, The League of Women Voters Oregon stance is less rosy and also much more controversial, as it contains a number of factual inaccuracies and positions that don't mesh with the positions of many Leagues and League members, locally, statewide, and nationally. There is a push within the Oregon League to revise the position and make corrections as needed.

Still, their May, 2023 paper leads with the sentence: “We fully recognize that STAR voting is preferred to plurality, as is true for almost every other electoral system.”

 

Nationally, The League of Women Voters position is very supportive of voting methods like STAR Voting, and the position is inclusive of better voting methods broadly which comply with their goals:

"We encourage electoral methods that provide the broadest voter representation possible and are expressive of voter choices.

Whether for single or multiple winner contests, the League supports electoral methods that:

  • Encourage voter participation and voter engagement

  • Encourage those with minority opinions to participate, including under-represented communities

  • Are verifiable and auditable

  • Promote access to voting

  • Maximize effective votes/minimize wasted votes

  • Promote sincere voting over strategic voting

  • Implement alternatives to plurality voting

  • Are compatible with acceptable ballot-casting methods, including vote-by-mail"

STAR Voting excels at all of the above, as is widely documented in all available research. 

 

The Opposition Committee to Measure 20-349 is trying to weaponize the LWV against STAR Voting. That's unacceptable. 

Learn more about the astroturfing campaign to oppose STAR Voting here.

 

Robo-texts containing false and misleading statements about the LWV position:

"Hi friend, this is Jasia with the pro-democracy organization, Next Up Action Fund. The League of Women Voters of Oregon opposes STAR voting because it violates majority rules. Please help protect our democracy and vote NO on STAR, Measure 20-349. Stop to end"

Why this is False: 

  • LWV-OR prefers STAR Voting over the current voting method used for local elections in Oregon. 
  • The claim that STAR Voting "violates majority rules" is misleading and problematic. STAR elects the majority preferred candidate between the two finalists, just like current system does. No voting method can guarantee a majority in all cases, but STAR Voting is strong on this metric.
  • Learn more about STAR Voting and Majority winners here.

 

Mailers containing false and misleading statements about the LWV position:

Claim: Giving candidates the same score wastes your vote.

  • The mailer quotes LWV OR 2021 Report as saying "Any voter giving candidates (the) same score will not have their votes count." This is false and was corrected in the later version of the LWV White Paper. 
  • In STAR Voting voters can give voters equal scores if they like them equally. These scores are then counted, and help determine which finalists advance to the Automatic Runoff. In the runoff, it's one person, one vote. Your ballot counts as one vote, for Finalist A, Finalist B, or as an Equal Preference Vote between those two. In every case it's counted exactly as the voter intended in both rounds. 
  • Learn more about "Equal Preference Votes" here.

 

Claims: "STAR Voting violates majority rules." "With STAR Voting it's possible for the 1st choice of a majority of voters to lose?"

  • The claim that STAR violates majority rules is misleading. STAR Voting always elects the majority preferred finalist, who will also always have the most votes.
  • STAR Voting's scoring round ensures that winners have broad support across the electorate, and the automatic runoff ensures that the finalist preferred by the majority wins. 
  • In the current system, a candidate can win with a 51% majority even if they campaigned on killing the other 49%. This is why a strict Majority Criteria is controversial and there's an argument to be made that a candidate who is preferred by 49% but is strongly liked by everyone should win instead. 
  • In STAR Voting it's technically possible that a candidate who was the first choice of a majority of voters might not be high enough scoring to make the runoff. If that were the case, they would be a weaker and more polarizing candidate than the frontrunners. 
  • Elections can have multiple majority supported candidates. STAR Voting aims to find the strongest majority by electing whichever of the two highest-scoring candidates is preferred by a majority of voters.

 

Q: Why is a blank counted as a zero?

Some people ask us why we don't just ignore blanks entirely and then advance the two candidates with the highest average scores to the runoff.

In STAR Voting, blanks are counted as zeros and the two highest scoring candidates advance to the runoff. This ensures that voter intent is preserved and ensures that the voting method is not giving an unfair or unintended advantage to less well known candidates.

The five star ballot and the STAR Voting rules are designed specifically to ensure that voters' votes will count the way the voter intended them to, by helping the candidates who voters explicitly chose to support beat out the voter's less preferred candidates. 

For the purpose of determining the finalists who advance to the runoff, if a blank was not counted as a zero, and if the average score was used instead of the total score for each candidate, then the system would give relatively unknown candidates with a few strong supporters an unfair advantage over well known candidates with a much stronger supporter base. This is why blanks in STAR Voting are always explicitly counted as zeros.

For the purpose of post-election data analysis, the number of candidates left blank, vs those explicitly bubbled in as a 0 does provide some additional data that could be interesting for campaigns, and could be published as part of the full election data analysis.

 

Q: Are STAR Voting ballots "summable," or do they require centralized tabulation?

In an election, if you can tally any subset of the ballots separately and then add those sub-totals together to get the correct winner, the voting method is considered "summable." This is a key criteria that is required in order to allow ballots to be tallied (and audited) at the local or precinct level without having to be centralized in one location first. It's also key to ensuring that election officials can check their work as they go and begin reporting preliminary results as ballots come in, without having to wait until all ballots have been counted. 

In most elections, ballots are tallied at the county level in batches, and results are reported by precinct. For this reason, summability is often referred to as "batch summability" or "precinct summability."

For voting methods which are not summable, like Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), all ballots, or all ballot data must be centralized and then tallied together. Tallying and reporting meaningful results of any subset of ballots is impossible, as breaking the ballots into sets could distort the results by changing the order of candidate elimination or selection. This makes it much more difficult for elections officials to check their work and catch errors, such as were made in recent RCV elections in New York City, NY when elections officials accidentally added over 135 thousand ballots to the count without noticing, and in Alameda County, CA, where elections officials did the steps in RCV in the wrong order and certified the wrong winner in one of the races. Both of these massive election officiation failures were missed by the election officials but fortunately were caught by others, in one case a candidate, and in the other case by a nonprofit who was conducting data analysis on the election months later. 

 

Is STAR Voting Batch Summable? 

Yes. STAR voting is tallied in two rounds so it is a bit more involved than a Choose-One Plurality election, but there is no need to wait until all ballots are in hand or until the Scoring Round tally is complete before tabulating the runoff votes. For STAR Voting, a batch sum includes the total score for each candidate and also the number of voters who preferred each candidate over each other candidate. These preliminary results are recorded on a preference matrix.

 

Why is Batch Summability so important? 

Summability allows election officials to check their work as they go, making it much easier to catch and fix any mistakes that may occur.

On election day, batch summability is important because it means that preliminary results can be shared as soon as they are available during the tally, in real time, just like they are with Choose-One Plurality voting. To see how STAR Voting results can update in real-time, click the "show results" button on any live poll on the star.vote website. The ability to display preliminary election results in real time is a key component of a transparent election in which voters understand how their voting method works and how their votes are counted.

Batch summability is also a key component of secure elections and election integrity, whether an election is using paper or electronic ballots. When paper ballots can be scanned and tallied at the local level, a good chain of custody of those ballots is easy to maintain and easy to verify with security cameras, independent observers, and all the best practices for election integrity. For electronic ballots, the ballot data can be tallied and recorded at the local level as well, and ballot data doesn't need to be sent over the internet or transported from one elections site to another manually. 

For elections which span multiple jurisdictions, like city elections that span county lines, or federal elections which span state lines, voting methods must be summable to comply with election laws that generally specify that ballots are counted at the county level. 

 

Batch Summability is a key component of election auditability. 

Election recounts are best conducted at the local level. Local results by precinct are the first line of defense for finding any discrepancies or errors that may occur. Recounts are generally called for by a candidate who feels that the election results do not match the outcomes that their campaign was expecting. A precinct level result that is unexpected is often the catalyst for a recount or an audit. While election tabulation errors are rare, they can happen, as we saw recently in the 2021 New York City mayoral race using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), where candidate Eric Adams sounded the alarm that reported vote numbers seemed off. His suspicions were later confirmed and it was discovered that 130 thousand test ballots had been added to the count. 

Due to the huge costs, full election recounts are extremely rare and generally considered cost prohibitive. For this reason, Risk-Limiting Audits are now the gold standard for cost effective and accurate auditing protocols. A Risk-Limiting Audit is a technique that allows an accurate partial recount to be conducted. Depending on how close the election was, a specific percentage of ballots will be recounted to corroborate the election results. If the sample results don't match the official results then more ballots are recounted. This process can be repeated until the election results are confirmed within a reasonable doubt, or until a full recount has been conducted if needed. 

 

What voting methods are not Batch Summable and which are? 

Most single-winner and multi-winner bloc voting methods are batch summable, including Choose-One Plurality voting, STAR Voting, Score Voting, Condorcet voting, and Approval voting. 

Ranked Choice Voting (specifically the Instant Runoff version that's in use widely and is the focus of most advocacy) is not summable no matter how many winners an election has.(1) In RCV, ballots or ballot data needs to be centralized in one location, and all ballots need to be in hand before the elimination rounds can proceed. This often results in very long delays from voting day until election results can be reported. Delays may be compounded even further if absentee or mail in ballots will be accepted if they are postmarked by election day.

In Ranked Choice Voting, it's not enough to know how many voters ranked each candidate at one level. This is because not all rankings will ultimately counted, and the election needs to track which specific ballot a ranking came from in order to know who that vote should transfer to as the ballots are processed through the candidate elimination rounds. 

Summability for Proportional Representation methods is generally more complex, and in some cases may be impossible.

Proportional STAR Voting, and most other methods which have summable single-winner versions are not considered "summable" in general, but summing ballots may still technically be possible if the number of seats up for election is low enough. Summability for Proportional Approval Voting is likely a viable option. Summability for Proportional STAR Voting is more complex but may be logistically viable for races with only two or three winners. Summability for proportional methods is highly technical, but you can learn more about it here

 

(1) "This is notable because the round-by-round tabulation of ranked choice voting results requires central tabulation of all ballot data," said Scott. "In other words, tabulation requires knowledge of how the candidate rankings are marked on every ballot that was cast." - Tim Scott, Multnomah County Clerk and former president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks.
https://www.multco.us/multnomah-county/news/multnomah-county-formalizes-ranked-choice-voting-intergovernmental-agreement

 

 

Q: Why doesn't RCV break two-party domination?

 

In each round of the Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) tally, you’re only able to support a single candidate at a time, just like in Choose One Voting. This means that RCV suffers from a similar vote splitting and spoiler effect that Choose One Voting does, as we saw in the Alaska 2022 Special General Election. Voting methods with vote splitting only work well with two viable candidates. RCV upholds two-party domination for the same mechanical reasons as Choose One Voting.

 

If you’d like a more in-depth explanation, read on.

 

 

RCV does mitigate the spoiler effect, but not in the way you think. The spoiler effect under Choose One Voting causes two ramifications relevant to third parties:

  • Third parties have a difficult time winning elections.
  • Third parties can leverage the spoiler effect to force major parties to shift on certain issues by threatening to spoil their elections.

RCV strongly mitigates the second ramification without fixing the first.

 

Third parties spoil close elections when they’re able to convince a handful of voters to vote for their party when those voters otherwise would have voted for a major party. Under RCV, those voters would simply rank the major party candidate second and their votes would transfer after the third-party candidate is eliminated. This removes the leverage of the third party and ensures the “correct” duopoly party candidate is elected. This is why RCV has higher accuracy than plain Choose One Voting but has accuracy comparable to Top Two Runoff (TTR). TTR, in practice, does effectively the same thing as the RCV tally: it eliminates all the candidates who are not viable and then gives the voters a chance to pick directly between the (two) viable candidates without interference from spoiler candidates.

 

 

Some argue this is exactly what they want from a voting method. They like the two-party system and just want to ensure the “correct” major party wins. However, 63% of Americans want a viable third party. So how does RCV fare for that?

 

Not much different from the current system, as demonstrated by Australia’s lower house. It's still largely two-party dominated after a century of using RCV despite having compulsory voting, which boosts the turnout of moderate voters relative to the rest of the electorate.

 

 

When people first learn about RCV, their intuition often tells them that it creates a path for a third-party candidate to win. To understand this, we’ll walk through this intuition and then demonstrate why it doesn’t work.

 

Many voters vote for a major party candidate not because a duopoly candidate is their favorite, but because they want their vote to help determine who wins. To achieve this, they dishonestly give their vote to a viable candidate instead of their genuine favorite.

 

RCV would (supposedly) allow these voters to support their honest favorite as their first choice and have their preferred major party candidate as their backup in case their first choice gets eliminated. Either way, they would be helping to prevent the greatest evil from winning. If RCV is implemented, then perhaps enough voters would now feel safe enough to honestly vote for their favorite candidate – a third-party candidate. If enough voters do that, then a third-party candidate can actually win! All that was needed was for voters to feel safe enough to vote their conscience.

 

Unfortunately, this is not how it plays out.

 

There are several problems, but the simplest one is that voters who don’t prefer a major party are not a monolith. Even though 43% of Americans now identify as independent while the major parties have fallen to 27% each, it’s important to recognize that those independents are even more diverse than two major parties are from each other. While the biggest chunk is in the center, the most politically active are on the fringes. The Democrats and Republicans are genuinely the two largest political factions in the US, and independents will never coalesce around a single candidate. Independents on the far left will often rank the Democrat second and the same happens from the far right and the Republican. Those fringe candidates won’t make it to a competitive final round of RCV.

 

 

Even a “Great Mediator” wouldn’t do the trick. While they’d be the first choice of a decent chunk of voters in the middle, they’d be the second choice of the two largest chunks of voters: Democrats and Republicans. Since RCV ignores most second choices through the first competitive round, the Great Mediator will be eliminated before either of the major party candidates, despite being preferred over either head-to-head. Those second choices from major party voters are then never counted in favor of the Great Mediator. There have already been multiple American RCV elections where we know this happened: Pierce County, WA, 2008, County Executive; Burlington, VT, 2009, Mayor; Alaska, August 2022, US House. There have likely been others that we don’t have the ballot data for and we also have reason to believe voter and candidate behavior causes this to happen invisibly before elections.

 

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem: count all of the ballot data. If those second choices are always counted, then the third-party candidates actually have a shot at winning. STAR Voting counts all of the ballot data, and if you want to stick with a ranked ballot, Ranked Robin solves this, too.



Q: Wasted Votes?: What's the difference between an exhausted ballot in RCV and an equal preference vote in STAR?

  • An exhausted ballot in RCV is NOT COUNTED in the deciding round, even if it could have made a difference.
  • A vote of equal preference in STAR Voting's automatic runoff round IS COUNTED and the voter intent, to support or oppose both finalists equally, was respected. 
There are a number of types of exhausted ballots in RCV, and only some of them are problematic. An exhausted ballot in RCV may be the same thing as a equal preference vote if the voter left multiple candidates blank because that was their honest vote. 
It all comes down to voter intent. Voter intent should not be corrupted by the system. The system should count your vote and it should be able to make a difference if possible and help you gain representation, but in Ranked Choice Voting that's not necessarily the case. Exhausted ballots are only one example of types of wasted votes in RCV that STAR Voting prevents.

Most people are surprised to learn that the RCV algorithm doesn't actually count most of the rankings voters put down on their ballots. Which of your rankings will be counted and which are not depends on the order of elimination. As a result, it may not be safe to vote for your favorite in RCV, just like with traditional Choose-One Voting. Worse, in some cases, voting your conscience can actually backfire, resulting in a worse outcome than if you hadn't voted at all in RCV. 
Voters in any system can chose to vote in a way that's not as effective as it could have been, but the STAR Voting system won't waste the vote of a voter who showed up and voted their conscience and your vote will never backfire. It's also difficult for an inexperienced voter to accidentally waste their vote in STAR Voting. 



There are a number of different ways a vote can be wasted. Let's break it down:
  1. Voter Error = A voided ballot which is thrown out due to voter error. Spoiled ballots are much more common in RCV than in traditional Choose-One Voting and are highest for lower-income voters and historically marginalized communities. In RCV, equal rankings, skipped rankings, and double rankings are all examples of ballot errors. In STAR Voting, equal scores and skipped scores are allowed, and with protocols in place to cover the scenario where a voter fills in too many bubbles, it becomes very difficult to accidentally void your ballot.

  2. Lazy voting = A vote that can’t make a difference in the deciding round because the voter wasn’t as expressive as they should have been and didn’t show a preference between the finalists when they actually did have a preference. This voter behavior can happen in RCV or STAR, but it's only problematic if the voter actually had a more nuanced opinion. When voters only rank one candidate it's called a Bullet Vote, and if a voter doesn't rank as many candidates as they were allowed that's called a truncated ballot. It's impossible to tell if a voter intentional showing that they had equal preference or if they were being lazy from looking at the ballot alone. 

    According to FairVote as of 2021 'bullet voting' rates in RCV averaged 32% and varied widely based on the election circumstances. More polarized voters are the most likely to bullet vote. In STAR Voting, election data available to date shows lower rates of bullet voting but similar trends as to who bullet votes and why. 



  3. Ballot Limitations = A vote that couldn’t transfer because the voter wasn’t allowed to rank enough candidates in RCV. Most RCV elections limit voters to only ranking a certain number of candidates. In NYC it's 5. (3, 4, 5, or 10 are common.) A voter who doesn't like the finalists may not be able to rank the finalists at all unless they strategically rank them higher than they deserve. In STAR Voting, voters are always allowed to rate as many candidates as they want to support.


  4. False Majorities = In RCV, a candidate may have a majority on remaining ballots, but not a true majority of all ballots cast. In RCV tabulation stops when a candidate is the top choice on a majority of remaining ballots, even if there was another candidate who was actually preferred on even more ballots. In RCV only a fraction of the rankings voters put down are actually counted and it's possible that if the rest of the ballot data was considered it would have shown that another candidate had an even larger majority. 

    In STAR Voting all ballot data is counted. In the scoring round all scores are totaled and in the runoff every ballot counts as one vote. In STAR Voting the winner is the finalist who was preferred by a majority of voters who had a preference between those two. 

  5. Exhausted Untransferable Ballots = A ballot that cannot be counted in the deciding round of the election even though the voter ranked multiple candidates. In RCV, a voter's other choices may be eliminated before their first choice, so that by the time their favorite is eliminated the vote may have nowhere to transfer to. This is a type of exhausted ballot. On average in competitive RCV elections over 10% of ballots are exhausted. In some cases, the eliminated candidate may have actually been the candidate preferred over all others, but because RCV doesn't count most of the rankings voters put down, it can fail to elect the most popular candidate.

    Compare these uncounted exhausted ballots in RCV to a vote of equal preference in STAR Voting, where a voter explicitly chose to score both finalists equally. These votes are counted and do make a difference to help advance the candidates who were more preferred. Allowing voters to give equal scores in STAR is the key to preventing spoiled ballots, and it's also key for eliminating vote-splitting between similar candidates and maintaining election accuracy in larger fields of candidates.  



  6. Nonexhausted Untransferred Ballots = A ballot where the voters top remaining choice made it to the deciding round, lost, and the voters next choices were not counted. RCV tabulation is almost unilaterally explained as follows: If your favorite is eliminated, your next choice will be counted. This is false for all voters who's favorite makes it to the final round but losses. Many see it as fundamentally unfair that some voters who have their top choice eliminated will have their next choice counted, but that others will not. This bias consistently puts strong underdog type candidates at a disadvantage and favors the supports of more polarizing and unpopular candidates. In some cases this can actually change the winner and lead to the election of a candidate who wasn't actually preferred over the other options. In STAR Voting every vote is counted in the scoring round and also in the runoff. 

  7. Nonmonotonicity = Some close competitive RCV elections exhibit a phenomenon where a voters vote backfires and has the opposite of the voters intended effect. In these scenarios ranking a candidate higher can hurt them and/or ranking them lower can help them. A number of real world elections exhibiting this extremely harmful and counterintuitive phenomenon have been bad enough to throw the election to a less preferred candidate. No other serious voting reform proposed has this issue. It's exclusive to RCV. 

 

 

NOTE: For simplicity's sake, we are referring to single-winner elections above, but the same trends in STAR Voting and Ranked Choice Voting hold if we were to talk about Proportional STAR Voting and Single Transferable Vote, the proportional versions of both methods.

NOTE: In this article we are using the common meaning of a "wasted vote" for voters, "Don't waste your vote! Vote for So-And-So." In this sense a vote is wasted if it's unable to make a difference when it otherwise could have, or if the system itself is not counting a vote. Whether or not wasted votes are numerous enough to throw an election and change the winner, wasted votes leave voters feeling powerless, disenfranchised, and they are a leading reason many people cite for not voting at all. In the USA almost 50% of voters don't vote.

The term wasted vote is also used in another sense in discussions about gerrymandering or proportional representation. In that sense, in a given election the term "wasted votes" refers to the number of voters who did not vote for the winner and who may be left feeling unrepresented, even if their vote was counted and did make as much of a difference as it could have.

 

Q: Will voters bullet vote with STAR Voting?

STAR Voting incentivises expressive voting, not bullet voting

STAR Voting has not demonstrated high or problematic levels of bullet voting. Across the thousands of elections and polls held with STAR, the trend is that the vast majority of voters do vote expressively, scoring multiple candidates. As you would expect, voters who have multiple candidates on their side are more likely to score multiple candidates than voters who actually only have one candidate they support.

The STAR Voting runoff specifically encourages voters to be expressive and to show their honest preference order to ensure that no matter who the finalists are, their vote will go to the finalists they prefer. 

In the current system there's little to no incentive to learn about candidates beyond your favorite, but with the 5 star ballot, voters have a strong incentive to learn about the candidates so they can show their preferences and level of support. Doing so helps you get better representation.

This is especially true for minority voters - those whose true favorite is unlikely to win. With the current system if your candidate doesn't win, your vote doesn't make a difference. With STAR Voting even if your favorite can't win, your vote still helps prevent your worst case scenario. If the STAR runoff comes down to your 1 star candidate versus your 0 star candidate, your full weight goes to preventing your worst case scenario from winning. 

In real elections, STAR Voting has not demonstrated high or problematic levels of bullet voting. Across the thousands of elections and polls held with STAR, the trend is that the vast majority of voters do vote expressively, scoring multiple candidates. As you would expect with preference voting in general, voters who have multiple candidates on their side are more likely to score multiple candidates than voters who actually only do have one candidate they support.

 

Bullet voting can be honest voting in some cases:

The fact is, some voters only like one candidate. For these people a 'bullet vote' is an honest vote. The key is to ensure that voters who do have a more nuanced opinion are empowered and encouraged to vote more expressively, and STAR Voting does this.

In some elections there may be one faction that runs only one candidate while other faction(s) run multiple candidates. These lopsided elections are the most vulnerable to vote-splitting and spoilers, and STAR Voting does a great job of preventing spoiled elections even under these kinds of stress tests by allowing voters to support all the candidates they prefer.

The Independent Party of Oregon 2020 primary election, which used STAR for the first time, was one such example. Close to 1/2 the voters leaned Republican (based on their 1st choice votes) and in all three races there was only one Republican candidate, whereas there were multiple left candidates in all three races. As expected, many Republican voters gave 5 to the Republican and 0s to the others. On the left, which ran more candidates, most voters were much more expressive, showing which Democrat or Progressive they preferred and who else they supported. In all three of these elections the STAR winner was both the Condorcet winner (preferred over all others) and the highest scoring candidate, so there is no doubt that even in these types of difficult scenarios, STAR Voting was able to elect the correct winners and avoid spoiled elections. 

 

How does STAR Voting compare to Ranked Choice Voting in regard to bullet voting?

Both STAR Voting and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) do a good job of encouraging voters to be expressive and in both systems bullet voting is not a viable or effective strategy. This is because both STAR and RCV are preference voting methods with an instant runoff. In this sense they have a lot in common. 

In this FairVote* article they cite the fact that the average/median amount of bullet voting in RCV elections is 32%As the FairVote article shows, bullet voting trends have much more to do with the distribution of candidates than with the voting method itself.

In RCV there have been many elections that have had higher rates of bullet voting than we saw in the Independent Party of Oregon primary, which is why it's important to have a larger, statistically relevant sample size and take context into consideration before we draw broader conclusions.

 

What about the Later No Harm criterion? 

Some people are concerned that because STAR Voting doesn't pass Later No Harm that voters wouldn't have any incentive to score candidates beyond their favorite. That's simply not true. Again, the STAR Voting runoff specifically encourages voters to show their honest preference order, at least between all relevant candidates, to ensure that no matter who the finalists are, their vote will go to the finalists they prefer. STAR Voting also strongly incentivises voters to give their honest favorite a full 5 stars. 

In election science there are a number of desirable criteria that voting methods can either pass or fail. Some of them, like the "Favorite Betrayal" criterion and the "Later No Harm" criterion are mutually exclusive and it's been proven that it's impossible for any voting method to pass all desirable criteria 100% of the time. In voting reform, competing priorities need to be balanced. 

While it's impossible to pass both 100%, it's absolutely possible to excel at both in practice. STAR Voting easily gets an A on both criteria, which has been clearly demonstrated in the peer reviewed literature.

 

Further Reading:

Q: Does STAR Voting fail the Later No Harm criterion?

Learn more about Favorite Betrayal, Later No Harm and the Spoiler Effect in this ground breaking article

Read the peer review on metrics for comparing voting methods, voting method accuracy, and strategic incentives

* Veteran readers of this site may be surprised to see us citing FairVote as a source on bullet voting rates. While they still have a long way to go before the electoral science community considers them to be credible, this article is a step in the right direction.

 

Q: How are ties in STAR Voting broken?

Tie votes in STAR Voting are rare - well over 10 times less common than with choose-one voting - but as with any voting method they can occur, especially in small demos or elections without many voters.

 

Establish tie-breaking protocols in advance

The body hosting the election is responsible for establishing tie-breaking protocols in advance of its elections.

In the event that an election has already been conducted but no protocol was specified, and an election tool that handles ties automatically wasn't used, the Simple Tiebreaker Protocol below should be used. We also recommend the Simple Tiebreaker Protocol for hand counted elections hosted by volunteers or lay people because of its simplicity and transparency.  

Otherwise, we recommend the Official STAR Voting Ties Protocol, which is the stock implementation included on all STAR Elections voting platforms. The official protocol is a bit more complex, but is exceptionally good at breaking ties wherever possible, even in small elections with only a few voters. 

 

Simple Tie-breaker Protocol:

Step 1: If two candidates receive the same total score in the scoring round, the tie should be broken in favor of the candidate who was preferred (scored higher) by more voters, if possible. 

Step 2: Ties in the Runoff Round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was scored higher if possible.

Step 3: In the event that a tie can not be resolved as above, the tie will be broken randomly with a method such as a coin toss or by drawing a name out of a hat.

 

Official Tiebreaker Protocol:

Step 1: Ties in the scoring round should be determined in favor of the candidate who was preferred (scored higher) by more voters. If there are only two candidates this will be the majority preferred candidate. If there are multiple candidates who are scored equally, ties are broken by comparing the tied candidates head to head and eliminating the candidate(s) who lost the most match-ups. This can be repeated with the remaining tied candidates as needed until two candidates can advance to the runoff. 

Step 2: Ties in the Runoff Round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was scored higher if possible.

Step 3: In the event that a tie can not be resolved as above, break the tie in favor of the tied candidate who received the most five star ratings. If this does not fully resolve the tie, eliminate the candidate(s) with the least five star ratings.

Step 4: In the event that a tie can not be resolved as above, the tie will be broken randomly with a method such as a coin toss or by drawing a name out of a hat. If needed, repeat the tiebreaker protocol from the top with remaining tied candidates until the election is complete. 

 

What is a preference matrix and why might I need one?

A preference matrix is a chart which shows all the voter preference data from a given election. In most elections a full matrix isn't needed. All that is needed to select the winner is to determine the preferences between the two highest scoring candidates.

A preference matrix is a great reference point for looking at the additional data which can be gleaned in STAR elections. It may also be helpful for breaking ties in the scoring round. 

Another reason a matrix might be needed is if ballots are not being tallied centrally, or if ballots will be counted in sets as they come in. Creating a matrix for each sub-set of ballots allows each set to be fully tallied on its own and then be compiled with other sets of ballots later. This is a feature known as summability. Ballot summability means that with STAR Voting local audits and/or partial recounts are possible if needed. Summability is an important requirement for election security and integrity. STAR Voting and most voting methods are summable, but Instant Runoff voting, the type of Ranked Choice widely used around the world, is not.

Preference matrices provide a lot more information beyond who won and lost, so they are often used in data analysis. One advantage of STAR Voting over choose-one is that all of this additional data is available.

 

How do I create a preference matrix?

Unless you are doing a hand count, a matrix can be generated automatically and will usually be available with your election results, depending on the platform you're using.

Creating a preference matrix by hand is just like tallying a STAR election, but with an extra runoff for each pair of candidates:

  • Total the scores given to each candidate in the election.
  • Just like in the STAR runoff, the two highest scoring candidates are selected. Sort the ballots to find how many voters preferred each of those finalists. Ballots are sorted into three stacks: Ballots preferring one finalist, ballots preferring the other, and ballots who gave both the same score and thus have no preference between those two.
  • If you are doing a hand count you will likely have found your winner and can stop here, completing a full preference matrix is completely optional. In the example below Allison won with 35 points. She was preferred by 8 out of 10 voters, or 80%.
  • To create a full preference matrix, repeat the step above for each pair of candidates, for example, Allison vs Bill, Allison vs Carmen, and so on. Record the number of ballots which preferred each candidate in each head-to-head match in the corresponding box. 


Tiebreaker Example #1: 

In the example above we have a tie in the scoring round. Bill and Carmen are tied for 2nd highest scoring candidate with 32 stars each so we'll need to break the tie to determine who should advance to the runoff. Looking at the preference matrix we can determine that Bill is preferred over Carmen, (five voters prefer Bill over Carmen, but only four voters prefer Carmen over Bill,) so this is a simple tie that can be easily resolved. Bill advances to the runoff. 

In the runoff, we find that Allison and Bill are both preferred by the same number of voters, (5 each,) but looking at the scores we find that Allison was scored higher overall so this is another simple tie that can be easily resolved. Allison wins the election.

 


 

Tiebreaker Example #2:

In the example above, Allison, Bill, Carmen, and Doug are all tied for highest scoring with 78 stars each. Looking at the preference matrix we find that there is a three way tie in the runoff as well! Allison is preferred to Bill, Bill to Carmen, and Carmen to Allison. Doug is not preferred over any of the others so he is not one of the tied candidates.

Ties like these will be broken by a random tie-breaker if you are using the Simple Tiebreaker Protocol above, but using the Official Tiebreaker Protocol it may be possible to break the tie by referring back to the ballots themselves. In this case you would look at the ballots cast and see how many voters gave Allison, Bill, and Carmen a top score of 5 stars. The candidate with the most 5 star ratings will win the tiebreaker.  

 

 

If you are running an election and have additional questions or would like guidance please email us at [email protected].

If you are interested in open-sourced code to help you implement STAR Voting on your website or platform please email us at [email protected] so we can help.

 

Q: What is a preference matrix?

A preference matrix is a chart which shows all the data from a given election. Unless you are doing a hand count, a matrix can be generated automatically and will usually be available with your election results, depending on the platform.

A preference matrix is a great reference point for looking at the additional data which can be gleaned in STAR elections. In most elections a full matrix isn't needed. All that is needed to select the winner is to determine the preferences between the two highest scoring candidates. When an election is tabulated electronically the full preference matrix is generated automatically.

 

When might I need a matrix and why?

In the event of ties, the full set of voter preferences shown in the matrix can often be used to break ties in favor of the more preferred candidate.

When ballots are not all tallied centrally, creating of matrix for each sub-set of ballots allows each set to be fully tallied on site and then be compiled later. This is a feature known as precinct summability, and it means that with STAR Voting local audits and recounts are possible if needed. Summability is an important requirement for election security and integrity. STAR Voting and most voting methods are summable, but Instant Runoff voting, the type of Ranked Choice widely used around the world is not.

Preference matrices provide a lot more information beyond who won and lost, so they are often used in data analysis. One advantage of STAR Voting over choose-one is that all of this information is available.




Creating a preference matrix by hand is just like tallying a STAR election, but with an extra runoff for each pair of candidates:

  • Total the scores given to each candidate in the election.
  • Just like in the STAR runoff, the two highest scoring candidates are selected. Sort the ballots to find how many voters preferred each of those finalists. Ballots are sorted into three stacks: Ballots preferring one finalist, ballots preferring the other, and ballots who gave both the same score and thus have no preference between those two. If you are doing a hand count you will have found your winner and can stop here. In the example below Alison won with 89 points. She was preferred by 8 out of 10 voters, or 80%.
  • To create a full preference matrix, repeat the step above for each pair of candidates.

 

Q: Does STAR Voting fail the Later No Harm criterion?

STAR Voting does a good job at both the Later No Harm and Favorite Betrayal criteria

In election science there are a number of desirable pass/fail criteria. In order to get a "pass", the system would need to pass the criteria 100% of the time. Some of them, like the "Favorite Betrayal" criterion and the "Later No Harm" criterion are mutually exclusive and it's been proven that it's impossible for any voting method to pass all desirable criteria 100% of the time. In voting reform competing priorities need to be balanced. 

 

Favorite Betrayal and Later No Harm assess strategic voting incentives for voters. 

1. Favorite Betrayal tells us if it's always safe to vote or your favorite. If so, it passes the Favorite Betrayal criterion. 

2. Later No Harm tells us if it's always safe to support other candidates beyond our favorite. If so, it passes Later No Harm. 

While it's impossible to pass both criteria 100%, it's absolutely possible to excel at both in practice. STAR Voting strongly incentivises honest and expressive voting, which has been clearly demonstrated in the peer reviewed literature.  

In contrast, most other voting methods badly fail one or both of these criteria.

 

Favorite Betrayal Performance: Our current system is terrible at Favorite Betrayal and the incentive to not vote for your favorite if you don't think they can win can be incredibly powerful. Ranked Choice Voting also fails this criterion, and ranking your true favorite first can backfire badly in any election with three or more competitive candidates. STAR Voting doesn't pass this criterion 100% of the time either but in practice, a voter should always give their favorite a full 5 stars.

Statistically speaking, STAR Voting gets an A in this category. The only scenario it might not pass is edge cases where the election is essentially a dead tie and where predicting the scenario and leveraging it strategically would be impossible.

 

Later No Harm Performance: The second criteria, Later No Harm only applies to voting methods where voters can support multiple candidates. Ranked Choice Voting passes this criteria, but doing so requires the method to ignore all down ballot rankings until after their first choice is eliminated, even if counting them might have helped that voter. STAR Voting counts all of a voters ballot data, so it does not pass this criteria, but it does accomplish the goal behind the criteria. In STAR Voting, studies show that voters are strongly incentivised to not only score their honest favorite 5 stars, but also to show their honest preference order between all relevant candidates. Doing so ensures that no matter who the finalists are in a given race, the voters' vote will go to the finalist they prefer. 

Statistically speaking, STAR Voting gets an A in this category too. The scenario it might not pass is when a voter may want to give a zero, not a 1, to a strongly disliked candidate, particularly if other strongly disliked candidates are essentially irrelevant anyway. In this case, the vote would still be considered a "viability aware" honest vote. 

 

A look at the data: The paper "STAR Voting, Equality of Voice, and Voter Satisfaction: Considerations for Voting Reform", which was peer reviewed and published in Constitutional Political Economy in 2023 takes a close look at the strategic incentives covered by Favorite Betrayal and Later No Harm. As you can see in the chart below, Favorite Betrayal, Burial, and Bullet Voting are all strongly disincentivised in STAR Voting. 

 

Later No Harm and the Spoiler Effect: Another mind blowing fact is that it's impossible to pass the Later No Harm Criteria 100% of the time and also eliminate vote-splitting and the Spoiler Effect. In order to eliminate the Spoiler Effect a voting method can't ignore ballot data that could be relevant. In order to pass Later No Harm a voting method has to ignore that additional ballot data, even when it's highly relevant. Selectively ignoring some ballot data comes with a number of serious potential repercussions that can and do hurt a voting methods accuracy, corrupt voter intent, and lead to voter disenfranchisement issues.

 

Takeaways: Some people are concerned that because STAR Voting doesn't pass Later No Harm that voters wouldn't have any incentive to score candidates beyond their favorite (known as bullet voting.) That's simply not true. Again, the STAR Voting runoff specifically encourages voters to show their honest preferences to ensure that no matter who the finalists are, their vote will go to the finalists they prefer. STAR Voting also strongly incentivises voters to give their honest favorite a full 5 stars. 

Groups like FairVote (and other Ranked Choice lobbyists) who try to weaponize the science by cherry picking criteria their proposal satisfies while obscuring the existence of criteria that Ranked Choice fails, do so disingenuously. In the real world, if a proposal got 99% on two competing metrics we would not call that "failing". 

 

FAQ: Does STAR Voting fail the Later No Harm criterion?

Learn more about Favorite Betrayal, Later No Harm and the Spoiler Effect in this ground breaking article

Peer Review: Constitutional Political Economy. STAR Voting, Equality of Voice, and Voter Satisfaction: Considerations for Voting Reform

Q: Wouldn't I want to "bury" a strong second choice and give a higher score to a weaker opponent to help my favorite win?

"Burying" is where you promote an electorally weak third choice candidate over a electorally strong second choice, in the hopes that will help your first choice candidate win against your weak third choice.

Here’s the problem with that in STAR Voting: if you think your first choice can’t win head-to-head in the runoff against your second choice, that means you think your favorite is vying for the second seat in the runoff. In that case the worst thing you can do is add points to a candidate you like less than both your first and second favorites. If you aren’t sure your favorite has a shot at the runoff, you’re very likely to give your strong second choice at least one point. Adding any support to a less preferred candidate in this scenario simply increases the likelihood your own favorite will be squeezed out and that your runoff vote will go to someone you really don't like.

Fundamentally, for the "burying" tactic to work, voters from opposing factions have to gang up on a well-liked consensus candidate by supporting the opponent they really don't like higher on the ballot than their true second choice. But if either of those factions actually believe that the opposing faction is going to adopt this strategy, their own best play is to simply vote honestly in order to give their own favorite the best chance of winning against the (now diminished) consensus choice. For "burying" to work in STAR, voters of true opponents must work together to be dishonest on their ballots, yet if one faction decides to be honest instead, the honest faction will gain the significant upper hand.

Conclusion: "burying" is not a viable tactic in STAR Voting.

 

Q: Is STAR Voting compatible with Electoral Fusion (aka Fusion Voting)?

Short Answer:

Yes, STAR Voting can be used with Electoral Fusion. Unlike STAR Voting, Electoral Fusion (often called Fusion Voting) is not a voting method. The two proposals affect different parts of the electoral system so they can be adopted separately or together.

 

What is Electoral Fusion?

  • Electoral Fusion is a system for cross-nomination of candidates that allows a candidate to run under multiple party labels at once.
  • There are two main types of Electoral Fusion in use in the US today:
    • Cross-Nomination: All parties that nominate a candidate will appear under the candidate’s name on the ballot. (Oregon, Vermont, etc.)
    • Traditional Fusion: Each candidate is listed on the ballot once for each party that nominated that candidate. (Connecticut, New York, etc.) When voters vote for a candidate who is nominated by multiple parties, they must choose which listing of that candidate they want to vote for, which also determines which party they want their vote to count for.

 

The case for Electoral Fusion

  • Under Choose One Plurality Voting, vote-splitting and the Spoiler Effect are pervasive. As a result, minor parties face significant pressure to not run candidates at all, which further drives two-party domination.
  • Electoral Fusion allows third parties to have representation on the ballot without the expense of running their own dedicated candidates. This decreases the total number of candidates running, so it can reduce vote-splitting, wasted votes, and spoiled elections.
  • Electoral Fusion helps minor parties get credit for their rightful share of the vote, which is then used to determine each party’s representation on government committees and commissions and even whether the party continues to exist.
  • Electoral Fusion can help to prevent third party voters and candidates from being blamed for spoiling elections.
  • Electoral Fusion can empower candidates and parties to form broader coalitions across the political spectrum.

 

How does STAR Voting accomplish the goals of Electoral Fusion?

  • STAR Voting eliminates vote-splitting and wasted votes while leveling the playing field for parties, candidates, and voters.
  • STAR Voting incentivizes candidates to draw support from across the electorate because it is always worth getting an additional star from a given voter.
  • STAR Voting empowers voters to vote their conscience, regardless of a candidate's perceived viability, which reduces the relative influence of money in politics and makes it easier for minor parties to run their own candidates.
  • STAR Voting clearly and accurately presents the overall level of public support for each candidate in the results of the scoring round.

 

Does STAR Voting make traditional Electoral Fusion unnecessary?

  • Allowing cross-nomination of candidates under STAR Voting makes sense, but STAR Voting would make traditional Electoral Fusion largely unnecessary by leveling the playing field for minor political parties.
  • STAR Voting accomplishes most of the goals of Electoral Fusion without the additional ballot complexity of listing the same candidates multiple times.
  • Additional “add ons” for STAR Voting can be implemented if desired to further help demonstrate support for each political party with candidates on the ballot. For example, at the end of the ballot, each party can be listed and voters could select one party they want their vote to count for in that election for the purposes of partisan committee and commission appointments. Another option would be to allow each candidate to choose which party should receive credit for their share of the vote. 

How would STAR Voting work with Electoral Fusion if both were implemented in tandem?

  • Combining STAR Voting with Electoral Fusion is straightforward and requires no changes to either system in states like Oregon and Vermont where Fusion is just a system for cross-nomination of candidates.
  • Combining STAR Voting with Electoral Fusion in states like New York or Connecticut that list the same candidates multiple times requires a novel implementation. There are a couple ways this could be done:
    • Each candidate would only be listed once. Candidates nominated by multiple parties would have another row below their names allowing voters to choose which party they would prefer their vote for that candidate to be counted for. Candidates could also select a “default” party in advance so that voters who left this section blank would have their vote counted for the default party.
    • Each candidate would be listed once per party that nominated them. Instructions would state to only score each candidate once per election.
    • Under both proposals, a candidate who received a voter's top score would receive a "vote" for their party for use in determining each party’s earned representation on government committees and commissions.

 

Q: Did the Independent Party and Democratic Party of Oregon abandon STAR Voting?

 

A: Nope! Both the Independent Party of Oregon and the Democratic Party of Oregon raved about the performance of STAR Voting.

The Independent Party of Oregon used STAR Voting in the 2020 statewide primary election. Read the case study here. 

The Democratic Party of Oregon used STAR Voting in their 2020 statewide delegate selection elections for the Democratic National Convention. Read about it  here.

 

Independent Party of Oregon

The Eugene Voters' Pamphlet features an endorsement from the Independent Party of Oregon (p. 16) stating:

“STAR Voting worked perfectly.… STAR Voting is a simple yet vast improvement over conventional Plurality Voting.”

The Independent Party of Oregon used STAR Voting in their 2020 primary, but didn't hold a 2022 primary election due to concerns of acting as a spoiler in the gubernatorial election. However, they plan to use STAR the next time they hold an election. 

 

The Democratic Party of Oregon 

After 18 months of study, the state party Election Integrity Caucus released its Alternative Voting Methods Report, in which STAR Voting emerged as the method that best met criteria called for in our state party platform. "It’s a game-changer for democracy and we are leading the way.”

The report summarizes:

“The committee has concluded that STAR Voting, overall, provides the most consistent best results of all studied alternative voting methods. Thus, we recommend adoption of STAR for all internal parity elections as well as state and government elections as soon as possible.”

The Election Integrity Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon, which created the report, has endorsed STAR Voting.  

The Democratic Party of Oregon adopted STAR as a trial for a single election, intending to try other voting methods as well before making the final decision to adopt a method permanently.