Ranked Choice Voting Initiative Launched in Oregon

News report

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An initiative campaign has been launched in Benton County, Oregon, to elect the County Commissioners and Sheriff by ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting.

RCV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to each voter’s next choice. This process is repeated until a candidate gets a majority.

RCV frees voters to vote for their true first choice without the fear of “wasting” their vote. Benton County Commissioners are elected on a partisan ballot, unlike most elected county officials in Oregon. If the initiative passes, this will provide an opportunity to see whether the number votes for third party and independent candidates is affected by the changed voting format.

The chief petitioners are Dan Rayfield, State Representative for House District 16, and Blair Bobier, a Corvallis lawyer and long-time electoral reform activist. The initiative is intended as part of a long-term strategy to bring RCV to other Oregon elections and eventually institute it statewide. A Political Action Committee has been formed, an initiative petition filed, and a website is up (Better Ballot Benton).

The sponsors have endorsements from local elected officials and have consulted with the county clerk to verify that the county’s vote tabulation machines can handle RCV. About 3,000 valid signatures from Benton County registered voters will be needed by August to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

Money is now being raised for initial costs such as literature for volunteer signature gatherers to hand out. Donations can be given online or checks made out to “Fair Vote Oregon” and mailed to Fair Vote Oregon, P.O. Box 2284, Corvallis OR 97339. The name, address, occupation and employer of donors should be indicated for state reporting requirements.

Contributions qualify for the Oregon political contributions tax credit, which reduces the state income tax dollar-for-dollar up to $50 per person.

The initiative allows the county to postpone implementation of RCV until the funds necessary for its initial implementation are secured, instructing the county to request funding from the state. These costs would include a voter education campaign for the first RCV elections.

–Alan F. Zundel

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