RCV Makes Uneven Advances; STAR and Approval Voting Looking to the Future
By the Voting Methods Team
Voting methods were on the ballot from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and from 3 places in Washington State to Fort Collins to Palm Desert, CA. The city of Boulder even had a ballot measure that will impact its use of a better voting method starting in 2023.
Replacing plurality in the US with a better voting method usually involves one of these three more-expressive ways to mark your ballot:
- Rank candidates: 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, etc – used in all forms of RCV (Ranked Choice Voting)
- Thumbs-up or Thumbs-down on every candidate – used in Approval Voting
- Score candidates from 0 to 5 – used in STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) Voting
Any of these ballot forms can be used for single-winner (e.g., governor, sec of state) or multi-winner (e.g., Boulder and Lafayette city council) contests. Our LWVBC Voting Methods Team would like to see the conversion of more single-winner contests for legislative (e.g., US House of Representatives) and executive (e.g., county commission) bodies to multi-winner contests.
In particular, we would like proportional voting methods used to elect more multi-member bodies, ensuring diversity through structural changes rather than depending on voters to support ideologically, racially, ethnically, gender, and socioeconomically diverse candidates who are not necessarily establishment candidates, but who may represent a sizable minority. Proportional representation (PR) results in an elected body that proportionally reflects the characteristics that the electorate most cares about.
Here are two Congressional District contests where results might have been different if a more expressive voting method were used.
Colorado’s new CD 8 Michigan’s CD 10
Yadira Caraveo (D) 48.4% winner John James (R) 48.8% winner
Barbara Kirkmeyer (R) 47.67% Carl Marlinga (D) 48.3%
Richard Ward (L) 3.92% Andrea Kirby (WC) 1.8%
The LWVBC Voting Methods Team would prefer that the US convert single-seat congressional districts into multi-seat congressional districts and use a proportional voting method. The US Fair Representation Act would do exactly this for any state with more than one US Representative. Fun fact: Did you know that the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, came in 2nd in the 1916 two-winner Montana contest?
Under the US Fair Representation Act (FRA), Republicans in Denver and Democrats in Colorado Springs would be able to elect a US Representative who represents their political ideology. An added bonus is that few, if any, gerrymandering cases would be brought in front of the courts. We are proud that Rep Joe Neguse is an FRA co-sponsor.
While we wait for national legislation, this past November voters locally and regionally voted on ballot measures to adopt better voting methods. Forms of RCV made advances, but unevenly. If you are interested in detailed results, you’ll find them after the Democracy text box below.
This year forms of RCV and Approval Voting went head-to-head both at the ballot box and in legislation. Bottoms-Up RCV prevailed over Top-Two Approval Voting in Seattle, and, closer to home, CU Boulder’s student government changed from Approval Voting to the Instant-Runoff Voting and Single Transferable Vote forms of RCV.
STAR Voting advocates have announced a 2024 Oregon ballot initiative effort to get STAR Voting adopted as the default voting method for all governmental elections. If a jurisdiction is already using Approval Voting or a form of RCV if and when this initiative passes, then the jurisdiction would keep its voting method. Jurisdictions who wish to adopt a voting method other than STAR Voting after this initiative would take effect would also be explicitly allowed to do so.
Approval Voting advocates are also looking toward the future and exploring a statewide campaign in Missouri.
Democracy heaved a big sigh of relief that, for the most part, recent election results were accepted and election deniers were not elected to office
Results of Elections about Voting Methods
Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV) - the single-winner form to be used starting in 2023 for Boulder mayor and Broomfield mayor and council
- Fort Collins, CO (est population 170,000) – Won 58%
- Evanston, IL (est pop 78,000) – Won 82%
- Multnomah County, OR (est pop 800,000) – Won 69%
- Clark County, WA (est pop 510,000) (WA) – Lost 42%
- San Juan County, WA (est pop 19,000) – required WA legislature to pass enabling bill. Lost 46%
- Note: In 2008 Pierce County, WA, (est current pop 925,000) used IRV for one election before reverting back to Plurality Voting
Partial Failure (Reduces number of candidates in an IRV contest):
- Boulder, CO – Ballot Question 2D, which passed with 83%, limits candidates to run for only mayor or council, despite the city allowing people up to now to run for council and then mayor in the same election cycle and despite the planned use of IRV in mayoral contests
Final-Five IRV – “Choose-one” Primary with the top 5 vote-getters advancing to an IRV general election (similar to Alaska’s Final-Four IRV)
- Nevada – Initiated constitutional amendments in NV must be approved in two even-numbered election years, so this question will appear again in 2024. Won 53%
- Fun fact: Nevada voters can select “None of these candidates,” and 1.2% of voters did so in the Nevada US Senate contest.
Bottoms-Up RCV – repeated rounds of IRV until the target number of candidates remain.
- Seattle, CO – The city council controversially added Bottoms-Up RCV on the ballot after supporters of Top-Two Approval Voting collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot. In this expensive campaign, the local LWV endorsed Bottoms-Up RCV. The 2-part ballot measure:
- Prop 1 – Should either Approval (1A) or RCV (1B) be adopted? Yes got 51%.
- Prop 1A got 24% and 1B got 76% so Bottoms-Up RCV prevailed.
Regular IRV or Approval Voting would not have worked with the Top-Two Primary system that Washington has used since 2008. This system allows voters to choose among all candidates running for each office. In Alaska small political parties recently argued unsuccessfully in a lawsuit that top-four primaries (and, even more so, top-two primaries) effectively take away their ability to field candidates in the general election.
Proportional RCV (STV) – also known as Single Transferable Vote
- Ojai, CA (est pop 7,500) – Authorizes city council to change from 4 single-winner districts to 1 at-large district, but ballot language indicates council could keep districts and adopt IRV. Won 56%
- Portland, OR – Change from 4 to 12 council members in 3-member districts. Won 58%
- Portland, ME – Applies to any multi-winner contest, e.g., school board at-large. Won 64%
- Meanwhile, a separate measure to change to single-winner school board districts failed getting only 35%. Yay!
- Palm Desert, CA – Measure B passed with 53% and advises council to change from the 4-member District 2 to four single-member winner-take-all districts. City council may yet decide that single-member districts won’t pass muster with the Voting Rights Act and keep STV, but meanwhile voters voted against proportional representation.
Some Elections That Used Better Voting Methods
- Alaska – In both the US Senator and the US Representative contests, an instant runoff was needed to determine the winner.
- Albany, CA used STV for the first time to elect 2 of their 5 city council members. The council members are elected in staggered terms, alternating 2 in one municipal election and 3 in the following election. In those years, school board uses STV to elect 3 and 2 members, respectively, but this year had only 3 candidates for 3 seats.
- LWVBC member Doris Flax, who has served on school boards in Arizona and New York, thinks that electing school board members at-large without a district residency requirement is better than BVSD and SVVSD’s current district-residency requirement.
- Our Voting Methods Team points out in our multi-winner pamphlet that moving to at-large multi-winner contests reduces or eliminates both gerrymandering and the number of uncompetitive contests.
Comic from https://xkcd.com/2225/