Opinion: A new kind of primary, a greater say for voters
Robert Harris and Mark Frohnmayer
Harris is co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon. Frohnmayer is founder of the Equal Vote Coalition.
“The partisan political process is a cesspool.” “My vote doesn’t matter.” “I can’t vote for my favorite candidate because it would help my least favorite to win.” “Why can’t we have more choices?”
We’ve all heard statements like these from our fellow Oregonians. Many of us have said them ourselves. At the root of these complaints is a deeply broken voting method and election structure that divides us, minimizes our choices and magnifies the influence of special interests in the political process. Now, two organizations dedicated to improving elections and empowering more voters are working together to reinvent our political process at its foundation.
This primary election is historic for several reasons.
- This will be the first time in history that the STAR – Score then Automatic Runoff – voting system will be used in a binding statewide political election. Instead of limiting voters to choosing only one candidate in the field, STAR allows voters to score each candidate on a familiar 0-5 scale. In STAR voting, the winner is determined in two simple steps. First, the scores for all the candidates are added up. The second step is an automatic runoff between the two highest scoring candidates. In the runoff, your full vote is automatically assigned to whichever of the top two you rated higher. The use of STAR in this election will give an unprecedented degree of insight into the level of support political candidates have among Oregon’s Independent and non-affiliated voters.
- The Independent Party is running a self-funded, open primary that will empower more than one million voters who are normally locked out from the taxpayer sponsored Democratic or Republican primaries. This is vitally important as non-affiliated voters have become the fastest growing group of voters in the state, thanks to Oregon’s motor voter automatic registration system. It’s time for them to have an equal say in the process and assert their influence in a united way.
- All leading candidates for statewide office like secretary of state will be on the same ballot, including Democrats, Republicans, Independents and non-affiliated candidates. This offers a chance not only for voters to confer the Independent nomination, but also provide data as to how these voters rate the relative strengths of candidates across party lines.
The “choose only one” voting method we use now suffers from vote-splitting, commonly known as the spoiler effect, where similar candidates on the ballot can divide supporters’ votes, leading to the election of a candidate opposed by the majority. Because STAR voting counts voters’ levels of support for all of the candidates, it eliminates the spoiler effect, and allows for competitive elections with a wide field of contenders. Voter satisfaction will improve as voters feel empowered to express their true preferences without having to worry about supporting only someone deemed “electable” just to stop their least favorite candidate from winning.