- Q: What's wrong with our current system?
- Q: Can we use STAR Voting for Presidential elections?
- Q: Is STAR Voting constitutional? Does it pass One-Person-One-Vote?
- Q: Isn't scoring subjective? What if some voters are "easier graders" than others?
- Q: Is this the same as Ranked Choice Voting?
- Q: Is STAR Voting vulnerable to strategic voting?
- Q: Has STAR Voting been used for elections before?
- Q: Wouldn't I want to "bury" a strong second choice and give a higher score to a weaker opponent to help my favorite win?
- Q: Would STAR Voting cost money or save money?
- Q: How are ties in STAR Voting broken?
"Choose One Only" Voting (aka. "Plurality" or "First Past the Post") is universally regarded as the single worst voting system. It works fine if and only if there are two candidates in the race, which is why it leads to a two party system.
If there more than two candidates in the race, Choose One Only Voting is extremely vulnerable to a phenomena called The Spoiler Effect. It consistently results in two party domination, and in order to avoid your vote being wasted there are very strong incentives to vote "Lesser Evil" if you aren't sure your favorite can win.
1. The Spoiler Effect:
Choose One Only Voting is highly vulnerable to a phenomenon called the "Spoiler Effect,” also referred to as “Vote Splitting,” or the “Nader Effect.”
Because of the Spoiler Effect, Choose One Only Voting is wildly inaccurate when there are more than two candidates. Voter blocks who support more than one candidate can end up divided and conquered.
This creates a strong incentive to only vote for the “front-runners.” Voters in a majority can easily lose the election if they don't come together to strategically all vote for one candidate.
- Choose One Only Voting gives a huge advantage to candidates who are deemed "viable" and puts voters who have more candidates on their side at a significant disadvantage.
2. Once we solve the spoiler effect, we don't need to have 2 elections:
- Primaries generally have lower turnouts and unrepresentative voter demographics. In most cases, primaries bias in favor of older, whiter, and more wealthy voters.
- Primary elections are designed to narrow the field, which restricts voter choice in the general election. When people feel like nobody on their ballot represents them, voter turnout suffers.
- For jurisdictions which use a non-partisan primary and a top-two general election, the spoiler effect can be magnified by the large primary field. When this happens the primary election can actually advance two candidates from the minority faction, guaranteeing an unrepresentative winner in the general.
- This two-election process makes for a long campaign season, which is disliked by both voters and candidates. Longer campaign seasons advantage candidates with more money, especially those who can afford to take a year or sometimes more off of work while they campaign.
3. Magnifying the influence of Money in Politics
- To avoid the Spoiler Effect, voters are coerced into voting for the front-runner on their side who is most “viable.”
- The most viable candidate is usually the one who raised the most money and the one with the backing of the media. This gives big money an undue influence over not only voter opinions, but also over voter behavior.
- In order to be seen as viable, or "electable," candidates and politicians have to spend a huge amount of their time fundraising. In many cases this leaves them indebted to their donors, breeding corruption.
4. Wasted Votes and Disenfranchised Voters
- If you know that your favorite is a shoo-in, or that they don’t stand a chance, then it’s a safe bet that your vote won’t make a difference anyway. Together with the other issues listed above, many people choose not to vote at all because voting their conscience would be a wasted vote.
- We are starting with local city and county elections, but this reform has great potential for statewide and national elections too.
- STAR Voting is is a nationally viable and scalable method which could be used for Presidential elections, either with the Electoral College or a National Popular Vote.
- Yes! The Oregon constitution specifically authorizes the use of preferential voting.
- STAR Voting gives every voter an equally weighted vote and equal voting power. This is the legal definition of one-person-one-vote.
The idea that voters are subjectively “grading” the candidates in STAR Voting is not quite correct. In STAR, voters offer an objective level of support from 0 (no support) to 5 (maximum support) to each candidate. These support levels are then added up for all of the candidates to determine the two most broadly supported candidates overall. It is up to each voter to decide how much or how little support to offer each candidate. If a voter strongly prefers one candidate over the rest of the field, this can be shown on the ballot; likewise if a voter wants to support several candidates, that can be shown as well. Every voter has an equal, full range of expression about each candidate.
- Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) technically refers to a family of voting systems that use voter's rankings to determine the winner. Instant Runoff Voting is the most common RCV system in use today. Because STAR Voting actually uses the ranking derived from scores to make the final runoff decision, it is arguably an RCV system, but it is not at all the same as Instant Runoff Voting. STAR is similar to IRV in that voters can show relative preferences between candidates, but there are important differences. For example:
- With STAR Voting you can show that you like two candidates equally; with IRV you would have to rank one over the other.
- In STAR Voting everyone's full ballot is counted; in IRV your down ballot rankings may never be counted, depending on the order of elimination.
- In STAR Voting there is only one automatic or "instant" runoff; with Instant Runoff Voting there can potentially be many instant runoffs.
- With STAR Voting honesty is the best policy. The best strategy is to give your favorite or favorites a full 5 stars and to use your scores to show your preferences between the other candidates.
- While there are some hypothetical scenarios where you might get an edge by putting down higher or lower scores for various candidates, in practice there is no way to know when this might help and when it would hurt. This kind of dishonest voting is more likely to backfire so it’s not a good strategy.
- You can read a more technical comparison of strategic incentives in various systems here.
- STAR Voting was used in the 2020 Independent Party of Oregon primary for Secretary of State and State Treasurer, as well as in a presidential preference poll.
- The Democratic Party of Oregon is using it to elect Oregon's presidential delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
- It is being used for all internal elections for the Multnomah County Democrats.
For more information, check out our Elections Case Studies page.
- Additionally, STAR Voting has been tested in small groups and computer simulations of various election scenarios and has performed very well. http://star.vote lets you easily set up a STAR Voting election or vote in existing polls. Check it out!
- We see this as a pivotal moment for Oregon to pioneer a new path in voting reform, just as Oregon was a pioneer in adopting the initiative and referendum a hundred years ago, and more recently in nation-leading reforms like vote-by-mail and automatic voter registration.
Q: Wouldn't I want to "bury" a strong second choice and give a higher score to a weaker opponent to help my favorite win?
"Burying" is where you promote an electorally weak third choice candidate over a electorally strong second choice, in the hopes that will help your first choice candidate win against your weak third choice.
Here’s the problem with that in STAR Voting: if you think your first choice can’t win head-to-head in the runoff against your second choice, that means you think your favorite is vying for the second seat in the runoff. In that case the worst thing you can do is add points to a candidate you like less than both your first and second favorites. If you aren’t sure your favorite has a shot at the runoff, you’re very likely to give your strong second choice at least one point. Adding any support to a less preferred candidate in this scenario simply increases the likelihood your own favorite will be squeezed out and that your runoff vote will go to someone you really don't like.
Fundamentally, for the "burying" tactic to work, voters from opposing factions have to gang up on a well-liked consensus candidate by supporting the opponent they really don't like higher on the ballot than their true second choice. But if either of those factions actually believe that the opposing faction is going to adopt this strategy, their own best play is to simply vote honestly in order to give their own favorite the best chance of winning against the (now diminished) consensus choice. For "burying" to work in STAR, voters of true opponents must work together to be dishonest on their ballots, yet if one faction decides to be honest instead, the honest faction will gain the significant upper hand.
Conclusion: "burying" is not a viable tactic in STAR Voting.
- Both. There would be some initial costs associated with educating voters and reprogramming vote tabulation computers, but in the long run STAR Voting would save money by eliminating the primary election for local offices.
- The shorter election season would reduce the amount of money required for candidates to run a successful campaign. This should make running for office more accessible for candidates without big money backers.
Tie votes in STAR Voting are rare -well over 10 times less often than with choose-one voting- but as with any voting method they can occur, especially in elections without many voters.
In most cases, ties in STAR voting can be broken by referring back to the ballots themselves. Ties in the Scoring round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was preferred by more voters. Ties in the Runoff round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was scored higher. Ties which can not be broken as above are considered a true tie.
True ties can be broken by random selection, as outlined in the bylaws or charter governing the election in question. Alternately, if complexity is not an issue they can be broken using another voting method such as Minimax voting.