May 21, 2020

The Independent Part of Oregon made history by being the first to use STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) voting for a binding election. Online ballots for the party’s primary were due in Tuesday and the results are in.

First, a quick recap:

STAR voting allows voters to rate candidates on a scale of 0 to 5 -- like products on Amazon. The winner is the majority favorite between the top two candidates.

The Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) decided to use the alternative voting method in conjunction with open primaries for its 2020 primary elections. This meant not only could independent voters participate in the party’s primary, but all participants could score every candidate in each race.

The Equal Vote Coalition, which has been campaigning for STAR voting in Oregon, praised the IPO’s decision to use the new voting method in their primaries in 2020, seeing it as a potential catalyst for adoption elsewhere.

“One of the main obstacles to any new reform is that it has not been enacted. Having this opportunity to have STAR voting in a real election with real results, including the presidential preference election, is a big deal,” said Mark Frohnmayer, Founder of the Equal Vote Coalition.

Here are the results:

Over 700 people participated in the online primary -- without the public funding and resources the major parties were afforded for their primary elections. Participants voted in the presidential preference election as well as a couple of statewide races.

In the presidential preference election, Joe Biden and Donald Trump were only 230 points apart in the first round as Biden averaged a score of 2.2 points with voters and Trump averaged 1.9 points. Since they were the two highest scoring candidates, they moved on to the runoff where Joe Biden won with 52% to Trump’s 32%. Interesting to note, 9% of voters had no preference between the two.

The inclusion of “no preference” in the runoff is unique to this primary election. Nearly as many voters had no preference between the final two candidates in the secretary of state’s race as the number of people who cast a ballot for each of the top two candidates.

The Star Voting Twitter account pointed out some other interesting facts about the results:

  • The results show 3 different party affiliations winning in 3 races: A Democrat for president, a Republican for secretary of state, and an independent for State Treasurer. 
  • In a three-way race between Biden, Trump, and Sanders, Trump would have won under a choose-one voting method despite the bulk of voters preferring a Democratic candidate. This is because Biden and Sanders would have split the vote (based on how many voters scored them highest individually).
  • 71% of voters used values other than 0 or 5 to score candidates in at least one of the races.

Advocates say the ability to score candidates has the added benefit of showing how voters actually feel about each candidate rather than just forcing them to choose one or the other, giving every voter more voice in the election process.

The results indicate that independent voters and members of the IPO have a more nuanced view in elections that could otherwise not be expressed under the voting system used by most Americans. In the closed primary system Oregon uses, for instance, voters are forced to pick and side -- limiting their options severely.

STAR voting has not been incorporated into public elections yet. However, in an interview for IVN, Mark Frohnmayer said the Equal Vote Coalition is attempting to get STAR voting on the ballot in Eugene, Lane County, and Troutdale. 

What people have witnessed in Oregon and are witnessing in St. Louis represents different types of political innovation to solve the same problem: Transforming a political process that is explicitly designed to serve those in power to one that serves the people.

The voting methods might be different, but the goal is the same, and the US literally has hundreds of laboratories of democracy that can be used to experiment, collaborate, and showcase how nonpartisan reform is the key to fairer elections, greater representation, more competition, and a healthier political environment.

Shawn Griffiths

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