City Club of Eugene: Is Oregon Ready for Ranked Choice Voting?

May 8, 2017

Recorded on: May 5, 2017

Air Date: May 8, 2017

Is our current method of voting the best? Do the winners of elections reflect the popular will? Many election reform efforts have been directed at campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration and where and how to vote, with the goal of ensuring our elections are fair to all ideas, candidates and parties. Now the focus has turned to the method used to tally up votes to determine who wins.

In November 2016, Benton County Oregon voted to choose county officials by ranked choice voting. So too did the entire state of Maine, where a measure passed 52% to 48% to use the method for election of all state offices.

Ranked choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, allows voters to list candidates in order of preference so that if in the first round no one wins a majority, officials can recount the ballots immediately until someone does.

Proponents say the voting method ensures that whoever is elected has the support of a majority of voters. This claim addresses the biggest objection to the current voting system, where a mere plurality can win – that it’s possible for someone to gain elected office even if most voters don’t support them.

It’s also claimed ranked choice increases civility, because candidates must appeal to a spectrum broader than just their base in order to win acceptance from their opponents’ supporters and be marked as a second or third choice on the ballot, which could be decisive.

Ranked choice could change the prospects for candidates who would otherwise be identified as possible “spoilers” – third, fourth, or fifth candidates in the general election. Voters might be more likely to cast ballots for candidates with good ideas, but who are underfinanced or otherwise regarded as long shots, if they could indicate their second choice when voting. With Oregon’s new electoral landscape— the Independent Party was recently reclassified as a major party—there may be an increased number of November races with more than two strong candidates in the running.

Ranked choice voting is used in Ireland and Australia in national elections. It is used to pick the nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars. Maine is the first state to approve it for widespread use. Several US cities have been using it.

In municipal elections in California, in Oakland and San Francisco, using ranked choice voting has drawn some controversy. Surveys showed many voters neglected to indicate their second and third choices. Some other voting systems that aspire to correct these problems have been proposed as a better alternative to both the status quo and ranked choice voting.

Speakers:

Kristin Eberhard, senior researcher at the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, describes herself as a proud policy wonk. She specializes in climate change policy and democracy reform. Kristin is a graduate of Stanford University. She holds a Law Degree and a Masters of Environmental Management from Duke University, and has taught courses at both Stanford and UCLA Law Schools.

Blair Bobier is a lawyer, author and veteran election reform advocate. He has worked on election legislation in both Oregon and California and in 2016 was a Chief Petitioner for the successful Benton County Ranked Choice campaign. A founder of Oregon’s Pacific Green Party, he serves as a Benton County Planning Commissioner and practices law with an emphasis on serving Oregonians of modest means.

copyright, KLCC 2017