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. Continue Reading →
The roilings of the two dominant political parties by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have more in common than “voter anger.” Both stem from serious defects in our plurality voting system: vote splitting and spoilers.
In plurality voting a voter can choose only one candidate for an office, and whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. In the Republican primaries votes are being split between multiple similar candidates, thus allowing a very different candidate—Donald Trump—to come out the winner with a minority of the votes. (As of Super Tuesday he’s been receiving from 21.3% to 49.3% of the vote, averaging 34.6%.)
Because of vote splitting, candidates are usually pressured to drop out of the race and not be a “spoiler” for “taking away” votes from another candidate. To avoid being a spoiler in the general election, Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination instead of running as an independent. However, insurgent campaigns like Sanders’ risk resentments between the insurgents and the party regulars, antagonizing those who would otherwise be allies against a common enemy.
The vote splitting and spoiler defects are common in elections at various levels in the United States, most of which use plurality voting. But there are alternative democratic voting systems, one of which is ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. RCV can lessen the vote splitting and spoiler problems and has been slowly spreading to cities and counties across the U.S.
What are the opportunities for bringing RCV to elections in Oregon? This report identifies which elected offices in Oregon would be capable of being filled by RCV given current election technology. Continue Reading →