Proportional Representation maximizes equity so that everybody has a seat at the table
Single winner elections are only ideal for some situations:
Basic STAR Voting is a great voting method for determining a single winner that best represents the electorate as a whole. It's ideal for electing offices like our county commissioners, mayor, governor and also for higher offices like senators and our president, but what if we are trying to elect a council with multiple members to better represent the people as a whole?
The Round Table Model:
Governing by council is probably one of the oldest methods in existence and the round table model can mean that diverse factions within the population can still have a voice, even if they don't have a majority. The idea is that if there are 4 seats on the council a candidate representing a 1/4 of the population should be able to win a seat at the table.
District Based Equal Representation:
Splitting the electorate into 4 districts (for example,) and electing one representative from each is a simple way to accomplish fair geographical representation. District based elections are well suited for situations where the council will be focused on local issues, and less on bigger picture ideological decision making. Districts are an especially good fit for situations where different ideological factions are clustered in different areas because then the district representative can also represent their demographic.
Districts have a lot of advantages, but aren't ideal for every situation. For example let's consider a city where a third of the people belong to a minor political party or cultural group, but where there is a strong majority group who is evenly spread out around the city. With a district based election method the majority party or group would win every single seat, and that 1/3 of the population would be left with nothing. Since there are 4 seats up for election in this example, 1/4 of the population should be enough for them to earn representation but that doesn't happen here.
Another major problem with district based representation is gerrymandering. There are a number of ways to prevent gerrymandering without getting rid of districts altogether (such as measuring efficiency gap, looking at district compactness, and having independent re-districting boards,) but gerrymandering is an important concern to take into account and safeguard against.
Lastly some geographical areas or groups just can't or shouldn't be subdivided. Neighborhood associations and corporate boards are two examples where single-winner, district based elections aren't an option.
Proportional Representation and STAR-PR:
Proportional Representation (PR) voting methods aim to elect representative councils and allow minority factions to have a seat at the table without dividing up the area into districts. A number of situations call for a multi-winner election, but in order for these elections to elect a representative council we need to use a Proportional Representation voting method. The Equal Vote Coalition is recommending STAR-PR as the multi-winner proportional voting system using the STAR Ballot.
Voters using STAR-PR could vote exactly as they would for a single winner STAR Voting election and elect the council that best mirrors the makeup of the electorate.
What is STAR-PR and how does it work?
STAR-PR works much like single winner STAR Voting but with a twist. Voters would still only have to fill out a ballot once and that ballot would be counted in rounds until the council is elected.
Voters would still give each candidate a score from 0-5. The two highest scoring candidates are finalists, and the finalist that was preferred by more voters wins the first seat on the council. The ballots are then recounted again with the remaining candidates until each seat is filled.
The twist is that you "spend" some of your voting power each time a candidate you supported wins. If you fully supported them you spend more, but if you only supported them a little you spend less. This allows voters to use their voting power to elect like minded candidates. The more voters agree with you, the more like minded candidates you are able to elect. Each voter ends up fairly represented at the table while other voters are able to win fair representation as well.
Proportional Representation systems are specifically designed so that a 1/4 of voters could win 1/4 of the available seats. STAR-PR elects a council that mirrors the makeup of the electorate.
Note: You might be wondering why not just skip the "twist" and elect the top candidates using basic single-winner STAR Voting? In general, using single-winner voting methods to elect multiple candidates is neither proportional nor representative of the electorate as a whole. If the goal was to find the most popular candidates overall that is a fine method and it can be useful, but we don't recommend it for elections.
Are Oregon's current multi-winner elections proportional?
No. There are a few different types of multi-winner and at-large elections used in Oregon, but none of them offer proportional representation. The problem is that with these types of elections the majority wins every single seat and everyone else ends up with no representation at all. At-large and multi-winner versions of our current plurality systems are actually worse than single winner plurality voting where at least each district is accurately represented.
Portland's City Council is an example of an unrepresentative at-large multi-winner election. Setting aside concerns about the Bureau system, many people in Portland are concerned that almost all of the City Council lives in West Portland and in affluent neighborhoods. This leaves East Portland largely unrepresented and issues that are critical to East Portland residents can easily fall through the cracks. When there is a problem these voters don't have a representative they can hold directly accountable.
How should we reform City of Portland elections?
Our current ballot initiative is for Multnomah County elections specifically and despite demand to reform City of Portland elections we deliberately decided to start by reforming Multnomah (and Lane) County elections. Our county elections are already non-partisan and single-winner which makes them a good foundation for future reforms that are more complex or that require bigger changes. Passing STAR Voting in county elections allows us to focus on educating people about STAR Voting itself without getting derailed trying to explain complex and controversial election methods used elsewhere.
The Equal Vote Coalition has been doing a lot of outreach and networking in the community for our current ballot initiative and we have made sure to use this opportunity to talk with people who have strong feelings about how to reform City of Portland. What we have heard unanimously is that this is a decision that Portland's diverse communities want to have a voice in. A number of people are advocating for a switch to single-winner districts. Others are advocating an at-large proportional representation system. Still others are advocating for a combination of both. We could switch to districts but have multiple candidates in each district that are elected by proportional representation.
We believe that any of these options with a star ballot would lead to much better representation, and we plan to help facilitate that discussion and include everyone who would like to have a seat at the table. Any of the above options meet our 5 core criteria for voting systems: Equality, Accuracy, Honesty, Expressiveness, and Simplicity. We plan to work together with the communities who will be directly affected to find the best option for each election.
If you or your group would like to be included in this process or if you have feedback on how we should reforming other Oregon elections please send us an email at email@example.com. We're compiling an email list specifically for this and we can let you know if there are events or opportunities to work on this or other voting reforms in your area. If you know of opportunities or efforts we should be a part of please let us know as well!
Roots of STAR-PR:
There are a number of different methods for Proportional Representation elections that are used around the world. STAR-PR is a close cousin of Re-weighted Range Voting (RRV) and Single Transferable Vote (STV), a multi-winner version of IRV that is used around the world, most notably for parliamentary elections in Australia and Ireland. These three proportional systems are unique because they don't rely on the political parties, and because they allow for the use of more expressive ranking or rating style ballots.
Why not use other PR systems?
Much of Europe uses Party List PR systems where voters essentially vote a party line. Here in the USA nearly 1/2 of voters don't identify with a political party and so those voters wouldn't be well represented by a party list system. Proportional Representation in general does have a positive impact encouraging parties to form that better represent the political spectrum, but if PR was just adopted locally it's doubtful that effect would be significant enough to heal our polarized political duopoly. Because the two parties hold all the political power in the USA, passing a system nationally that would re-distribute that power that would be next to impossible because doing so would require a super majority to change the constitution. Adopting PR nationally is also not logistically viable in our huge country because the ballots are not precinct summable. For these reason we don't see Party List PR as a viable option locally or nationally. Non-partisan voters need fair representation too. The good news is that single-winner STAR Voting would also encourage and allow the formation of more representative political parties, AND it's already legal and constitutionally viable for national elections!
Australia and Ireland use Single Transferable Vote (STV) for parliamentary elections. The more expressive ranked ballot makes this a better option, but STAR-PR takes that a few steps further. A score ballot shows not only a voter's preferences, but also how much or little they like each candidate. Score ballots can be counted using addition instead of algebra, which allows for STAR-PR to accomplish the exact same thing with a much simpler algorithm. STV's runoff method is based on IRV and suffers from the same flaw in the elimination process where some rankings that should have been counted can be ignored. In contrast STAR-PR allows all the data to be counted in each round so that no votes are wasted. More data collected and more data used means more accurate results.
STAR-PR uses the same algorithm as RRV but with the addition of a runoff for each seat up for election. The runoffs give voters a strong incentive to honestly show their preferences between the candidates. The runoffs also prevent tactical voting strategies from being effective. The third advantage is that the runoffs help eliminate candidates that are hated by a majority of the electorate or candidates that are highly divisive or polarizing. Those types of candidates can be very disruptive to have on a council. Some political scientists have suggested that the proportional voting systems used at the time in Europe may have helped the NAZI minority gain a foothold and then rise to power. Luckily, polarizing, antagonistic candidates don't do as well in runoffs. We believe that more expressive ballots and the addition of runoffs would likely put hateful and divisive candidates at a disadvantage while still allowing other minority groups to be fairly represented. More research is underway on this topic now.
Disadvantages of STAR-PR:
* Votes must be sent to a central location before they can be counted which can make election fraud even more of a concern than it is now for any elections larger than county. Unfortunately no PR systems are precinct summable. We'd love to see added precautions taken to prevent fraud and hacking anyways but this is especially true if PR is adopted. A number of people are advocating and working on block-chain encryption to prevent election fraud. As always we advocate for paper ballots as used in Oregon.
* STAR-PR hasn't been tested in a real world government election. So far it's been tested in some non-governmental elections and in simulations. Fortunately STAR-PR is a direct upgrade of systems that have been used widely so we do have a lot of empirical data to draw concussions from. We hope to get STAR-PR implemented in smaller scale elections such as for electing boards for starters. STAR-PR is perfect for Neighborhood Associations. Adopting STAR Voting or STAR-PR is one of the most effective ways you can help lay the foundation for better democracy.
* With STAR-PR elected officials aren't tied to specific districts which can decrease accountability to local areas. Proportional Representation offers a different kind of representation compared to districts, so combining the two could be the ideal solution. We are interested in exploring how this could work in practice. One example could be to use single winner STAR Voting for county elections and then STAR-PR for city. Another idea could be to use STAR-PR for the Oregon House of Representatives and then use single-winner STAR Voting for Senate. We are also excited by the option of doing both at once and having a few representatives within each district. Every election is different and the ideal may vary for different elections.
* STAR-PR is fairly complicated, though less so than ranked ballot forms of PR such as the Australian system. We think that the huge gains in equity make some complexity worth it. Luckily computers don't mind a bit of math and all voters need to do is give each candidate a 5 star rating.
Research and Development
We're working closely with leaders in the field and on our subcommittees to gather more information around comparing different variations of proportional algorithms. To contribute, learn more, or get involved with these efforts please reach out. This is the cutting edge of the voting reform field and we encourage testing, innovation, and evolution in the field.