Open letter to City Club members, in their preparation for:
New Government for Today’s Portland: It's Time to Rethink How We Vote
Member Vote Event, November 18, 2020, 6-8 pm

STAR Voting Critically Missing from Portland City Club Report on Alternative Voting Methods

Dear Portland City Club Member,

As City Club leads the way in recommending structural changes to the city charter, in two recent reports it rightly identifies the importance of reforming the way we vote in order to vastly improve participation and representative results in city elections.

Both City Club reports, Rethinking 100 Years of the Commission System and Rethinking How We Vote, do correctly point out significant and substantial weaknesses of the current, historically entrenched First-Past-the-Post Voting method. They also introduce weighty benefits of various Instant Runoff and Proportional and Semi-Proportional Voting methods.

However, the two reports fail to analyze the merits of other voting methods which are strong contenders in the United States, such as Score Voting, Approval Voting, and STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) Voting. We believe that not considering STAR Voting was a profound oversight in the City Club report being presented November 18th, which we otherwise respect as insightful.

The report highlighted the substantial benefits that come with adopting an alternative voting method such as Ranked Choice Voting, including better representation and more fair outcomes, benefits which STAR Voting also brings.

The report did point out a couple of problems with single-winner Ranked Choice Voting:

  • Ballots become complex if there are many candidates, with the only way to simplify it being to limit the number of candidates that voters can rank, thus reducing the effectiveness of the method.
  • The candidate preferred over all others can lose the election, especially in races with three or more competitive candidates. The more candidates, the greater the chance for this to occur. (We assume this is what the City Club report meant when it referred to “counterintuitive results.”)

These are not the only areas where Ranked Choice Voting falls short.* Ranked Choice Voting has been around for about 150 years and is an improvement over First-Past-the-Post Voting, but more recent innovations in election science have surpassed it as we have gained better understanding of the dynamics and mathematics of voting.

STAR Voting was invented in Oregon in 2014 as a hybrid between Score Voting and Ranked Choice Voting. It has since been studied by statisticians and voting experts in multiple studies**, and it tops the charts in terms of voter satisfaction efficiency and other key measures.

In STAR Voting, voters score candidates on a scale of 0-5. In the first round, scores are totaled. The top two candidates proceed to an automatic runoff, where the winner is the finalist which was preferred by the most voters. There is always exactly two rounds of tabulation.

The STAR Voting method encompasses the best features of other alternative voting methods while minimizing their deficiencies. Powerfully, it eloquently combines honest preferential methods with instant runoff, and resolves vote-splitting manipulation. STAR Voting can be used for single-winner or multi-winner elections, and it can be combined with Proportional Representation. It eliminates the need for a primary, but it could be used for both a primary and general election if desired.

STAR Voting has earned the top comparison rating by the Election Integrity Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon and the Election Integrity Study Group of the Multnomah County Democratic Party, who have studied these systems objectively. STAR Voting is now being used by those groups for presidential delegate selection and for internal elections, respectively. The Deschutes County Democrats Workgroup on Alternative Voting Systems also recommended STAR after their review and a vote on adoption is pending. The Independent Party of Oregon used STAR Voting in its statewide primary election in 2020.

STAR Voting advocates in Oregon count in the thousands, with its largest chapters in Eugene and Portland, and among its leadership are people with years, in some cases decades of expertise in voting method reform, including Mark Frohnmayer who founded the Equal Vote Coalition, Clay Shentrup who co-founded the Center for Election Science, and Alan Zundel who helped spearhead Ranked Choice Voting in Benton County, OR. The STAR Voting movement is by far the most active voting reform movement in Portland and in Oregon, with ballot initiative campaigns in Troutdale, Eugene, and Lane County, in addition to outreach and advocacy work.

In summary, we applaud City Club’s persistence and leadership in informing the public of how alternative voting methods will make a potent upgrade to the ability of Portland government to represent and serve its residents. But we strongly recommend that your decision to endorse a specific voting method be delayed until you thoroughly and objectively evaluate STAR Voting among your alternatives. We are not asking that you replace Ranked Choice Voting as a recommendation, but that you endorse STAR Voting alongside it. We are happy to facilitate serious discussion by voting scholars in City Club with voting method experts.


STAR Voting for Portland 

*Additional shortcomings of Ranked Choice Voting include: Unequally weighted votes; not all data is counted; honest votes can backfire; and reduced transparency.

**See links below for some examples. Note that Ranked Choice Voting is often referred to by its technical name, “Instant Runoff Voting” or IRV: