What’s wrong with our current system?



1.     The Spoiler Effect:

  • Our current system is highly vulnerable to a nasty phenomena called “The Spoiler Effect,” also referred to as “Vote Splitting,” or the “Nader Effect.”

  • For county elections we currently have the California “Jungle Primary” system.  It consists of a non-partisan primary and a top-2 general election. Because of vote splitting in the primary, that system could actually advance 2 candidates from the same party to the general… Even if the other party got more votes!

  • Our current system 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.” Voting your conscience can actually backfire and cause your side to lose the election.

2. Once we solve the spoiler effect, we don't need to have 2 elections:

  • We currently elect county officials with a "top two" system using a primary election in the spring and a general election in the fall. The primary narrows down the field of candidates to one or two candidates for the general election. Using a primary restricts voter choice at the general election when many more voters are participating. Sometimes there is NO choice--the winner was chosen in the primary!

  • When there are several candidates in the primary and no one gets a majority, the top two each win with a minority of votes. This can be unrepresentative of the majority of the voters.

  • This two election process makes for a long campaign season, which is disliked by both voters and candidates. It also advantages candidates with more money.

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. This gives big money an undue influence over not only voter opinion, but also over voter behavior.


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, this is a big reason many people choose not to vote at all.

Can we use STAR Voting for Presidential elections? Is there a plan to adopt this on a larger scale?

  • We are starting with county elections but this reform has great potential for statewide and national elections too.
  • It would be possible to use STAR Voting for Presidential elections, either with the Electoral College or a National Popular Vote.

Is STAR Voting constitutional? Does it pass One-Person-One-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.

Isn't scoring subjective? What if some voters are "easier graders" than others?


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.

Is this the same as Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), aka Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)?

  • Ranked Choice technically refers to a family of voting systems that use the expressed ranking of the voter to determine the winner. Instant Runoff Voting is the primary RCV system in use today. Because STAR Voting actually uses the ranking derived from scores to make the final runoff decision, it is arguably a 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 second choice counts; in IRV second choices only count for voters whose first choice was eliminated before his or her second choice.
  • In STAR Voting there is only one automatic runoff; with IRV there can potentially be many automatic runoffs.

Is STAR Voting vulnerable to strategic voting?

  • 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.

Has STAR Voting been used for elections before?

  • Not in public elections. STAR Voting was invented in 2014 using the accumulated knowledge of the good and bad points of previous voting systems in order to create something even better.
  • STAR Voting has been tested in small groups and computer simulations of various election scenarios and has performed very well. We've created a new web application at http://star.vote that lets you easily set up a STAR Voting election or vote in a bunch of 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.

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.

Would STAR Voting cost money or save money?

  • 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 the county money by eliminating the primary election for county 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.