A number of folks have asked us what the cost implications will be of implementing STAR Voting. This is a difficult question to answer with a high degree of certainty, but we can do a broad analysis that shows both the short- and long-term financial advantages of implementing STAR Voting.
Implementation cost will depend on a number of factors such as location, scale, and election details. Some costs, such as certification, are one time expenses which do not need to be budgeted for after other areas have adopted STAR, and others, such as voter education are not fixed. The analysis below is for Lane County, but it can be referenced to inform a broader analysis.
Immediate cost of implementation
Lane County uses a system called ClearBallot to design and scan paper ballots. ClearBallot is an advanced, flexible system for vote tabulation, and while it doesn't support STAR "out of the box," we have checked with the software vendor who has indicated that a STAR voting ballot can be created and scanned using their system. The only missing piece is computing the winner using the rules of STAR Voting. Using the "Cast Vote Record" output from ClearBallot, we developed an open source proof-of-concept vote counter in the Python programming language. This effort took our intrepid coders a full two hours to write and debug, and the final program was just 40 lines of computer code.
When it comes time for the County to work with our software vendor to implement STAR, we plan to offer this proof-of-concept to help the county put cost controls on vendor estimates, as well as provide working samples to ease implementation. This exercise has given us confidence that the software engineering costs will be minimal. The true significant cost of adding STAR voting to ClearBallot’s system is the cost of re-certifying the software according to voting system requirements. ClearBallot’s Oregon representative has estimated the cost of recertification to be approximately $50,000.
This upfront cost is more than mitigated by the tangible and intangible savings outlined below.
Voter education plan and costs
The Equal Vote Coalition is committed to working to ensure that STAR Voting is implemented properly and that our voting peers understand how the system works and how to properly fill out their STAR ballots. The coalition’s multi-pronged plan will significantly mitigate the cost burden on the taxpayers. Here's our plan:
- Provide multi-lingual educational materials to the county for how STAR Voting works and how voters should be instructed to fill out the ballot. This will save the county the significant cost of starting from scratch when drafting their own explanatory statements for the ballot and voters' guide.
- Provide clinics for political parties and other interest groups. We expect that political interest groups will be on the "front lines," explaining how STAR works to their constituent groups. We plan to provide educational materials and templates, free of charge, to all local political organizations.
- Candidate clinics for those running for office under the new system. Candidates for office in 2022 will be the true educators about how STAR works, and we expect that, since STAR allows candidates to talk to more voters, that candidates will be the most effective advocates for thoughtful voting using the new system. The Equal Vote Coalition will provide these clinics, free of charge, for political candidates.
- Media outreach. The Equal Vote Coalition is committed to advocating that our local media organizations - newspapers, TV stations, podcasts, radio shows, etc. are well-versed in the STAR system and we'll push them to report heavily on STAR in the form of public service announcements leading up to the first 2022 STAR vote.
- Online materials. We plan to make video and print materials for voter education available through the STAR Voting and Equal Vote Coalition web sites.
STAR Voting is a type of preference voting, like Ranked Choice Voting, and we recommend basing budgets for education campaigns on RCV efforts in areas with a similar population, then subtracting the value of resources provided by Equal Vote. Across
Campaign finance and the influence of money in the political system
If no candidate wins outright in May in our current system, the top two candidates have to run another election in November, meaning they campaign for another six months and raise a ton more money, giving special interests even more of a hold on political outcomes. This fact was made clearly apparent by the races in Lane County in the 2018 election cycle. Joe Berney and Sid Leiken, who competed for the Springfield seat on the County Commission raised a combined total of $235,727.84 to compete in a single May election, while Heather Buch and Gary Williams, who had to compete twice in East Lane County, raised approximately twice as much money as their one-election counterparts.
When using STAR Voting for local nonpartisan offices, there is always just a single election in November. The benefit to city and county residents on the whole is enormous when hundreds of thousands of extra special interest influence dollars are not a part of the process.
Election cost savings over time
According to the Secretary of State, the cost for recent elections is between $1.71 and $1.91 per voter. This includes printing, mailing and counting costs for our vote by mail system. Currently some elections, such as School District and Judge races take place on the primary ballot, but this could be changed by ordinance, and doing so would improve the cost savings of STAR dramatically. If all local nonpartisan races are run just a single time in November, this means that all nonpartisan and minor party voters need not receive ballots nor voter guides for what would, in Lane County, be a primary only for major party affiliated voters. As of our latest voter registration statistics, 83,119 of Lane County's 254,589 voters are not affiliated with a major party. Using an average cost per voter of $1.81, this represents a potential savings of $150,445.39 for county taxpayers, every two years.
STAR Voting: better outcomes, less expensive
When weighing new proposals, cost is a critical component. This analysis shows that, on the balance, STAR Voting carries low cost risk and may provide significant savings over time, both to taxpayers and by reducing the influence of special interest money in the political process.