You know an issue is hot when you go to a Labor Day weekend party and people are talking about it. The issue is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and it will be on the ballot this November as part of the Charter Reform referendum to reorganize city government.
More precisely, voters will be voting on a specific type of RCV called Single Transferable Vote (STV).
As BikePortland previously reported, the Portland Charter Commission has proposed a package of changes to voting and city governance after grappling for a year and a half with how to improve the way we run our city.
I wanted to better understand how the STV method was implemented, and I have a hunch that some BikePortland readers would also like to take a deeper dive. So if you are someone who isn’t satisfied until you understand the details, I’ve pulled together a wonkish explanation of STV, and how the method could give bicycling concerns more voice in city government.
The Big Picture
It helps to think of the opinions and candidate preferences of voters as a big conglomeration of information. A good voting method extracts as much of that information as possible so that the candidates we put in office best reflect what voters want.
Ranked choice, single transferable vote is a nuanced way of extracting information about voter preference. Its aim is to make sure every voter has some influence, in proportion to the popularity of their choices. In this way, the fullness of your opinions is captured, even when your first choice is for a candidate who has no chance of winning, or alternatively, who is sure to win.
I don’t understand that 25% bit
On the ballot this fall is RCV with STV in multi-member districts. That means you will rank candidates who are running in your geographical district. The city will be divided into four districts, with three candidates elected to council from each one.
The arithmetic of having three winners is that each candidate will need to capture over 25% of the total vote in their district. Let’s walk through that.
If you have a voting system with only one winner (N = 1)—like we do now—that candidate will have to capture one more than 100 divided by (N+1) votes to win. That comes to 100 divided by 2, or 50% of the vote. That’s what we are used to.
With two winners, N = 2, it becomes 100 divided by 3, or 33% of the vote. Three winners is 100 divided by 4, to arrive at the 25% from the method proposed on our ballot (see table above).
Another way to think about it is that the threshold is set so that it is mathematically possible for only N candidates to get enough votes to win. That’s just the arithmetic of voting.
Here is how tabulating the vote works
This is the fun part. And honestly, there is a short YouTube video from Minneapolis Public Radio which does a fantastic job of explaining tabulation in only 2 minutes and 42 seconds using colored sticky notes, dry erase markers and hands. Their explanation is delightful and will satisfy most people.
Here goes my explanation, it’s a little less delightful, but is tailored to being a cyclist in Portland.
The first pass of vote counting is similar to what we are used to—count how many first choice votes each candidate got.
It’s the next steps that differ. Any candidate who passes the 25% threshold is a winner. But how far did they make it beyond the threshold? We are accustomed to declaring elections “landslides” and talking about “mandates” according to how how strong a win is, so the next step—the actual transfer of votes—might take some thought to get used to.
Any win above 25% has “surplus” or extra votes beyond what is needed to win. It is the number of surplus votes a winning candidate receives that will be transferred to other candidates, in proportion to the votes each candidate received as the second-ranked choice of those winning voters.
In other words, the second-ranked choice of all the voters of a first-pass winning candidate are counted and the fraction of the total vote each candidate got is calculated. Those fractional proportions are then multiplied into the number of surplus votes and distributed to other candidates proportionally.
Why it matters for bicycling
I might have lost you in the previous paragraph, so let’s talk bicycles. Let’s say there is an election, and the big issues are police reform, law and order, and renter protection. Under our current system of winner-take-all voting, improving active transportation infrastructure—better bike facilities—can’t break through those hot-button issues.
But under RCV STV you might get a candidate, call her Catherine, who advocates for better bike infrastructure. It’s her main issue. She gets 10% of the vote on the first round. Candidate Joan, who is an incumbent and whose main issue has always been police reform gets 50% of the vote, so she has a surplus of 25% of the district vote. She’s a winner.
Let’s distribute Joan’s 25% surplus votes to other candidates. Looking at the 2nd-ranked choice of Joan’s voters, we see that a whopping 50% of them chose Catherine. Half of a 25% surplus is 12.5% so Catherine’s total vote count becomes 22.5%—the bike advocate has got a shot at winning!
There is a third candidate, Pascal, who is the law and order candidate. He wins with 30% of the vote, or a 5% surplus. Let’s redistribute that surplus. It turns out that 60% of Pascal’s voters chose Catherine as their 2nd choice candidate. That’s 3% of the total district vote which gets added to Catherine’s column, and she too is now a winner with 25.5% of the vote!
And that is how issues which have trouble breaking through to become a “hot-button” number one issue, but which nevertheless have strong community support, can gain representation on the City Council. These are called “minority” positions. I point this out because this is distinct from positions held by racial or ethnic minority voters, and there is a tendency to conflate the two.
Importantly, the process does not lose ranking information. Both Joan and Pascal will know that a large percentage of their voters want better bike facilities, and you might end up with the two of them—opposites on the police issue—supporting Catherine as she pushes bike issues on council.
Moreover, because a candidate might be angling to be the 2nd or 3rd choice of a competitor’s voters, they would be wise to avoid running a campaign that angers those voters who are not ranking them as 1st choice.
Finally, RCV STV does away with primaries. Historically, the turnout for primaries is low, which means that a small percentage of highly motivated voters determines the selection of candidates that the larger voting public will see in the general election.
Not quite done
Of course, there is more to STV than my explanation covers. The process may make several passes through the data, reaching 3rd- and 4th-choice candidates, and beyond. Also, there are methods for eliminating the bottom scoring candidates when it becomes mathematically impossible for them to win. Their lower-ranked voter choices then percolate up to candidates who can still feasibly win.
This video, also out of Minneapolis, goes into greater technical detail about STV starting at minute 20:51. I don’t know what software Portland will be using to tabulate votes if charter reform passes this fall, so there might be differences in details, but the Minneapolis video gives a good general explanation of the methods and addresses some of the “what ifs” that come up.
Got other questions or observations about charter reform? Let us know in the comments.
Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for over 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kudos to Lisa for all the hard detailed research that enables the rest of us to shoot our mouths off!
Also to JM for providing the forum.
STV in and of itself is a solid election method that will help improve our democracy by giving voice to more than just the 50%+1 majority. If our city had a parliamentary government where the legislature chose the executive, it would be a great fit. The downside is its cousin, IRV, is what naturally gets paired with it for single-seat elections. IRV (commonly called by its marketing term of “RCV”) is not materially better than our current voting method, and by some measures is actually worse. It does not solve the problem of vote splitting and, as we saw last week in the Alaska House election, it tends to squeeze out the consensus candidate that would win head-to-head against any of the others, favoring extremes. Using IRV to elect the mayor and auditor is not a win for Portland.
I don’t think this is sufficient reason to reject the pending measure. It has plenty of changes that are going to be of great benefit to our city. But it is disappointing to see the commission opt for the least reforming voting method of all the possibilities. Proposing Approval Voting (which is already in use in other cities) or STAR (more expressive, but untested in city elections) would have given our city a voting method that works great in single-seat and proportional multi-member elections. I imagine the commission went with RCV because it’s “popular” and “has momentum,” but the backlash we’re now seeing seems to indicate that wasn’t the straightforward assessment that Fairvote and Sightline were promising.
Agreed. I would’ve much preferred STAR and testified as such, but it’s still a yes for me.
The problem with RCV is that no one can explain it in a single sentence – it doesn’t fit on the front of a ball cap.
And the fact that results are also not clear and easy to explain makes RCV a target for “Stop the steal” charges.
Even the dimmest person can understand “One person, one vote” – and the winner is the candidate who got the most votes.
I agree with Clay that we need to vote for charter reform in November b/c our current gov’t is awful and unsustainable, but I want to see some really smart people figure out how to explain RCV in a very CONCISE way.
The sad truth is, simple things don’t tend to work very well. We need to embrace some complexity if we want solutions that really make sense. I hope enough voters understand this.
Is there a voting system out there that isn’t vulnerable to “Stop the Steal?” Including the one we are using now? LOL.
Will (below) has a good short description:
For the most part, our current system has resisted “Stop The Steal”. People are still huffing about it, but they’re not getting much traction.
With a more opaque and complex system, I could imagine that would be different.
No the current system hasn’t. State legislatures in red states are proving that point repeatedly. And it might be more complex, but how exactly is it more opaque?
People vote, a bunch votes are shuffled around, and people are elected. If people don’t understand the math and how votes transfer between one candidate and another and how the the winners are ultimately selected, the process is opaque (even if clearly documented). If someone doesn’t like the outcome, and doesn’t understand how it was arrived at, they’re likely to feel the system was (or could have been) manipulated, and who would know?
I’m a math guy, and, as I posted elsewhere, despite hearing several explanations, I still don’t really understand the implications of transferring votes from winners to runners up to help them become winners too.
If I find the process a bit mysterious, chances are others will too. In any system where trust is paramount, mysterious is bad.
More likely than the pro-bike candidate getting elected is the super pro-police candidate (who would appeal to a lot more folks than a pro-bike candidate would) gets elected.
I think to the extent that “minor issue” candidates get elected, they’re going to be largely conservatives on issues like homelessness and policing and driving, who have a lot of support in all districts in Portland, but not enough to get elected currently.
I am quite sure a city council elected under the new regime will be whiter than the current crew, and I’d be willing to bet that they’d be more conservative and pro-business* as well.
So… be careful what you wish (and vote) for.
*Because in a crowded field where voters feel overwhelmed by choice, those with name recognition — incumbents and well financed candidates — are going to have an easy time finishing in the top 3.
The current crew is quite the anomaly, so this is like betting the next US president will be whiter than Obama. Not exactly a brave or bold statement. Now if you want to bet on some averages (say, the last 3/4 cycles before reform versus the first 3/4 cycles after, assuming it passes of course), that I’d be willing to hold you to.
I admit my prediction was a bit “safe” in the way you described, but the point is that the current system has elected minority candidates in multiple elections recently, (and women candidates for a lot longer) so I think we have proven that it is not as exclusionary as some would suggest (even if it was in the past).
This seems a really bad way to elect people? Why would we want someone to win who normally would only have gotten 10% of the vote? How is that a good idea? Imagine instead of a bike candidate we replace that with a a far right proud boy candidate. They might have normally only gotten 10% of the vote and lost, but now with this system we have a proud boy on city council?
That would imply a LOT of people wanted that proud boy candidate as their second pick. So it would be a better outcome (in the sense that more people like it, which is what we want in democracy) even though you and I may hate it.
If Catherine were a well off NIMBY who wants to preserve her district’s character the math might work the same way. I am not at all convinced that this system of voting will result in a more progressive government — and especially so with the ongoing “regressive” changes in Portland’s demographics (e.g. the rapid loss of lower and working class demographic cohorts).
When someone trots out the “NIMBY” slur, I stop listening. It’s been used to the point where it’s essentially just a dog whistle for so-called progressives.
NIMBY is a widely applicable term for people who support things like zoning and free parking.
Zoning is a bad thing? Okay, enjoy your heavy industrial smelting plant situated next door to a residential neighborhood.
Or something like a colored glass plant next to a neighborhood and daycare:
“NIMBY is a widely applicable term”
That a slur is widely used doesn’t make it any better. And what in the world does free parking have to do with “not in my backyard”?
Just for the record, I’m not a progressive and never have been.
I’d argue the point of an electoral system isn’t to prejudice the outcome toward one political philosophy or another, but to accurately reflect the political desires of the population. In that regard STV is more effective than our current system.
Despite your spin, proponents of this reform are crowing about its ability to repress the NIMBY vote. My only intent in posting was to challenge this, IMO, naive political assumption:
This electoral system is irredeemably corrupt and plutocratic and has never served the political desires of the entire population, ATMO.
Soren, if you look at the geographic voting results, your lower and working class cohorts don’t vote for the progressive candidates. Rene Gonzalez won Portland east of the 205. That is the lowest income area of Portland and also has the highest proportion of foreign born. Also if you deem Sarah Iannarone progressive, she lost badly east of the 205. It is your inside of Cesar Chavez crowd that were her biggest supporters and who are the most “progressive.” In a vast generalization, the inside of 39th crowd is more educated, less diverse, and thus less likely to be working class. It is also higher income.
And thus you see that as time goes on and less educated people move out of Portland, the government has moved further to the left. Its white, college grads in this town who vote “progressive.”
This is apart from your assertion that a more progressive government will make Portland a better place. It depends on how you define “progressive” but I don’t agree with that assertion. But again, thats not my point.
Your definition of left leaves something to be desired.
East of 205 here, college educated progressive. I’m excited to vote for Rene again this fall (and I’m not the only one). Jo Ann has accomplished nothing.
Nice try, Lisa.
On a good day I understand RCV, but if I were a teenager I’d say STVs are harder to grasp than STDs.
As I have pointed out before, the populist argument that we have the only council-administration system in the country is greatly misleading, for what we have now is a variation on parliamentary governance, the primary feature of which is elected officials overseeing ministerial bureaus, as appointed to do so by a “premier” member of parliament, usually called a “prime-minister.”
This is by far the most popular kind of representative governance in the world. Our city’s system is non-partisan, so our elected mayor functions as “premier,” assigning bureaus. Among the five, he is only “primus inter pares.” It is a really good structure for us. But it demands smart voters.
In the system you advocate the mayor is a figurehead, the council is fragmented among special interests, and the only real power resides in the city manager. In her sense of “noblesse oblige” she might condescend to humor the likes of Joan, Pascal, Catherine, et. al. from time to time, but need not, for their power is fragmentary and they can do her no harm.
Our present system may be prone to “silo-effects,” but they have proven to be manageable if we elect mayors like Bud Clark and Vera Katz, who gave us 20 consecutive years of good governance between them. The sorry dingbat mayors since have much to answer for.
Your system would trade ephemeral “silos” for a coagulant “bunker,” presided over by an unelected autocrat.
In November I shall vote “no” on this issue, right after I write in “Greta Thunberg” for governor.
“Geez folks, just vote smarter like me.”
Yeah, it really seems like if you assume a world with “smarter voters” it shouldn’t matter what system of voting you use because “smarter voters” would just make the right choice every time.
Judging by the current conditions, it’s obvious we’ve outsmarted ourselves.
Almost 20 years ago. Those days are gone. We need to face the political era we live in today.
In defense of primaries… who is going to be doing the in-depth candidate profiles and reviews that we normally don’t get until the general election (with just 2 candidates per race) on 12 or so candidates in each of up to 3 races across the city? How is the harried voter going to make sense of it all?
For all their problems, primaries (which could be held using proportional voting) help the voters focus and give everyone time to dig deep on a manageable number of candidates. It strikes me that the proposed system will give endorsement bodies much more power (likely leading to “approved” slates or de facto political parties), and might also dampen turnout the way the primaries do now (they’re just too much to bother with for a lot of people).
I see this all as empowering the political and business classes at the expense of the rest of us.
The fact that the political and business classes are fighting this suggests otherwise – what do you know that they don’t?
Primaries or no, many people will run, and the electorate will have to make those choices. All primaries do is move that decision to an earlier election – they do not solve the problem you’re expressing here, which is, ultimately, that sometimes voters have too many options and have to do work.
There is no substitute for that in a democracy.
Maybe they are thinking about what’s best for the city, rather than acting cravenly in their best interest. And much of the political class does support this proposal (even if our current and former elected officials recognize the damage it could do).
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Personally, I am incredibly frustrated at how the Charter Commission gaslit all of us. “Oh, you want charter reform? Ok, here’s an incredibly Byzantine package that you must unquestioningly accept or you get NOTHING.” Reading BP’s coverage on this, it seems that intelligent, well-meaning people can’t even agree on how to explain this or how it is going to work. Lisa has been doing an admirable job, but you shouldn’t need a 1,000 word essay to explain how representatives get elected.
I really hope Mingus Mapps makes good on his promise to release a simplified reform package before November. If he presents something that eliminates the commission system and adds geographic representation, with a promise to get it on the ballot next year, then I’m a hard no on the current proposal. I want to vote yes on charter reform, but the well is poisoned on this go-round.
100% this. It’s beyond frustrating. I just wanted to vote to end the commissioner form of government. Instead we got this all or nothing s***show of a measure because the review commission felt they knew what was best for everyone. If we don’t agree they are just going to take their toys and go home and we get nothing. I really hope Mapps can fix this the next time around cause we can’t afford another 10 years of this same dysfunctional system.
I’ll echo your frustration with the all or nothing approach the Charter Commission has take with this hugely important issue.
Its also super frustrating that our current leaders handpicked the Charter Commission and now 3 of the 5 (Wheeler, Mapps, and Ryan) are trying to kill the proposal. Shouldn’t they have done a better job of screening Charter Commission members? It reminds me of Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski complaining that the supreme court justices they voted for overturned Roe v Wade. Uh…they should have known that beforehand.
I will wait to see what Mingus Mapps comes out with and hope that its at least worthy of some debate against the proposed reform.
You mean they should have vetted prospective committee members to ensure a preordained outcome rather than pick folks they believed would do a good job and see what they could come up with?
It is no contradiction with saying that 1) Commission was a group of smart, dedicated people, who put in a lot of hard work; and 2) I see some fundamental problems with some of the recommendations they made, and we probably shouldn’t accept their proposal without modification.
That also appears to be what Wheeler, Mapps, and Ryan (and lots of other folks) are saying. Sometimes committees don’t get it exactly right on the first try.
Reminds me a bit of the original Stanford-pushed Oregon Recreational Marijuana initiative: I wanted to vote for it to finally have a rational policy, but it was so problematic it was worth waiting for the next version to come along.
RCV would be easier to explain without the multi-member districts. Alaska just held a special election for its US Senate and Congress seats using RCV, and it worked out fine.
Still, it really is not mathematically mysterious how winners are selected in a multi-member district election using RCV, it just takes a higher level of numeracy to understand. The numeracy skills of the general public though are pretty poor, and people tend to reject things that would require them to think harder than they’re used to.
I think the charter commission could have helped its cause by going with, say, a nine member council, elected in single-member districts using RCV, and letting the mayor have veto power.
Nonetheless, these rules are not going to be set in stone. Voters can still amend the charter down the line no matter the outcome of the election.
Alaska has a much different RCV. A jungle primary in which all candidates are on same ballot regardless of party. The top 4 move to a general election, where instant runoff RCV (50% +1) is used.
This is far different that single transferable vote proposed here, where only 25% +1 is needed to “win.” And some people call the proposal the Incumbent Protection Act, because it is both hazy and, along with the 25%+1 – which many incumbents could get, there is a 50% +1 requirement to recall.
Your comments on how the commission could have helped its cause are spot on, and if they had listened to real public comment, i.e. from outside their ingroup, they would have done exactly that.
If you are too dumb to understand ranked choice voting you should not vote.
Alaska just showed it works, A conservative state that wanted a reasonable conservative and not a Trump supporting idiot like Palin, selected as the second choice a very reasonable Democrat who won.
They didn’t have a problem, people who want instant results like the media doesn’t like it, but the media is anti democratic anyway, who cares? In the end, the best person won.
So a conservative state ended up with a democrat? That sounds great to me but how is that good for the state if the majority wanted a conservative? I bet Alaska is having some serious second thoughts right now on rcv. If that can happen in Alaska it seems like that could happen here where we end up with conservative councilors that only a minority of the city wanted
Let’s keep doing the same thing. Maybe a moderate or conservative on the council wouldn’t be a bad thing. We have 5 people who already accomplish little.
Ok but whether it is a good thing to have that balance of ideologies is not the same thing as ensuring that we have a system of voting that awards seats to the candidate that the majority of the people wanted.
The majority did not want “a conservative”, “a conservative” was not on the ballot. Specific people were. And a majority of people picked someone else as their first or second choice, so that’s who won. Makes more people happy with the outcome instead of getting some wingnut who makes most people in the state feel unrepresented.
Alaska far different system. They have a primary for all candidates on same ballot, and then the top 4 move to a general with instant runoff (50% +1) RCV. Here they propose no primary, and only 25% +1 to win. And each voter only gets 1 vote to count for 1 of the 3 seats, not 3 votes for each of the 3 seats.
I really think we need a primary to winnow the field and provide time for research and debate.
I am personally trying to wade through all the information and misinformation that both sides are putting forth in support and against the charter reform.
My thoughts and open questions thus far are…
I welcome people who are more knowledgable to provide clarity on any of the above.
Ian, you might find this article by Kristin Eberhard interesting: https://www.sightline.org/2021/09/22/want-to-give-portlanders-of-color-a-voice-on-city-council-districts-wont-help/
The Charter Commission based its voting design recommendationa on research into voting methods by the MGGG (Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group) at Tufts University–and the MGGG analysis of Portland voting demographics.
Most of your other questions have been addressed in the commission Progress Reports, but those seem to have been taken offline, probably for legal reasons, now that the referendum is on the ballot. But the information will out in the next two months, I’m sure.
The only document on line is the 185 page revised charter. Even the commission reports explaining their decisions are not available, unless someone files a public records request. Only biased information is supposed to be taken offline. So eithet the information the Charter Commission was providing was one sided and biased, or it should be available. They can’t have it both ways.
Well we were already inching closer every day to a single party system, this will really seal the deal. Thumbs down.
How exactly is increasing representatives from disparate districts and ranked choice voting a step towards single party system? Show your work.
As my father told me many times, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is!” Here’s why I think claims about the wonders of single transferable voting (STV) sound too good to be true.
If it takes that long to explain the proposed radical method of voting in the proposed “take it or leave it” package, how will the typical voters be educated as to how it works?
Before I explain, I want to note a couple things the Charter Commission has studiously avoided telling the public.
1. It is important for the voters to understand that, even though there are 3 council seats to be filled in each of the proposed districts, voters cast only one vote. This means that even if they rank all candidates, at most they will have 1 vote counted for only 1 of the 3 seats- not 1 vote for each of the 3 seats.
2. In addition to incentivizing slates of candidates, STV’s low bar of 25%+1 means it will be very difficult to ever dislodge an incumbent. And to make matters worse, it takes 25% +1 to get elected, but 50%+1 to get recalled. That’s why many people call the proposal the Incumbent Protection Act, or IPA. It’s hazy, for sure!
Here’s the “rest of the STV story,” and why I think the Charter Commission majority and some pro-charter advocates have been misleading folks when they discuss the proposed method of voting.
First, like Voldemort in Harry Potter, many of the above have a hard time uttering the words “single transferable vote” (and I thank Ms.Caballero for doing so!). Why?
Because the Commission and friends want you to think that the proposed STV vote for council members is commonly used in jurisdictions throughout the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s some background in support of my claim about misleading statements. Please note that I will use RCV to mean instant runoff ranked choice voting, where 50% +1 is needed to win, and STV to mean the single transferable vote proposed in Portland, where a mere 25% +1 is needed to win.
1. The commission report (https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/council-documents/2022/revised-auditors-report-attachment-2-final.pdf) says, “Ranked choice voting is used by tens of millions of Americans in local and state elections, including large cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Portland, ME; and the states of Maine and Alaska.”
First of all, according to FairVote.org, a leading pro-RCV organization, “almost 10 million voting-age citizens live in U.S. jurisdictions that use RCV or plan to in upcoming elections” (see https://www.fairvote.org/data_on_rcv#research_snapshot).
Almost ten million, not “tens of millions.” Why does the commission report significantly exaggerate the actual number?
The commission repeatedly stated that 43 cities are using RCV in an apparent effort to imply that STV is commonly used throughout the country- including in multiple member election districts. The repeated statement omits the following facts that should be included in any discussion of RCV:
A. The use in only 43 jurisdictions means that only about .22% of the current 19,500 local governments are using ranked choice.
B. Only 23 elected local governments outside of Utah– where the state legislature authorized an opt-in pilot program, use RCV voting. In the 20 Utah municipalities that use RCV, it is generally used on a very limited basis for district or at-large council seats in what appears to be only a portion of mayor/council seats.
C. STV is not used in multiple member districts with 3 members each as is proposed. This raises the question as to whether Portland should become the first and only large city in the United States to use STV in multi-member districts.
In addition, omitted from the report is that in the cities cited, like Berkeley, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and New York City, RCV is used to elect city council members from single member districts (and in a few cases single member mixed with a couple of at-large seats). Why was this information omitted from the commission report?
I lived in Alaska for many years and am familiar with the ranked choice method for federal and state offices that was used for the first time this year in a special election to replace Rep. Don Young. In Alaska, all candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot in a primary. The four top candidates then move to the general election, where instant runoff RCV will be used. Very different from STV. Maine also uses RCV, not STV. Why was this information omitted from the commission report?
2.The Commission report says that “an example of long-standing success using single transferable vote is Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
Omitted from the report is that Cambridge elects its council members on an at-large basis, not in multiple member districts? Why was this fact omitted?
3. It is not clear that technology will exist in the near future to allow voters to rank as many candidates as they want and have all the votes tallied. The Commission appears to have made no provision for this if turns out to be the case, by, for example, limiting the number of rankings that will be counted based upon certified voting systems being available.
The Commission report states that “Clear Ballot, the major vendor for Multnomah County, is preparing for a 2023 ranked choice voting election in Colorado that is very similar to the Charter Commission’s proposal.”
After first reading the report on ranked choice by the research arm of the Colorado Legislature, I contacted election officials in the 2 Colorado jurisdictions scheduled to begin using RCV in 2023.
A. Boulder: Boulder will be using instant run off RCV for mayor only. The 8 council members continue to be elected as before. The voting systems vendor: Dominion. The elections official had never heard of Clear Ballot.
B. Broomfield City and County: Broomfield will move to instant runoff RCV for mayor and council. Council members are elected by ward, 2 each in 5 wards. The voting system vendor: Dominion.
I also confirmed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office that those are the only 2 jurisdictions, as far as they know, scheduled to implement some form of RCV in 2023.
The point is that:
(1) neither entity uses Clear Ballot, so it likely that it will be a complex and expensive undertaking to change voting systems in Multnomah and the other 2 counties to a certified system that accurately tallies a first-in-the-nation voting method.
(2) The new 2023 RCV elections in Colorado are not at all “very similar” to the single transferable vote method proposed for council elections in Portland. Why is the commission saying otherwise?
Finally, the county’s vendor, Clear ballot, told me with respect to Colorado :”We are actively developing ranked choice voting capabilities within our system, but we have not conducted any work for the city of Boulder or their upcoming Mayoral primary.”
It is not yet clear that they will have the capability to have a certified voting system in place to tally STV voting in Portland in a way that allows voters to rank as many candidates as they want- as the Commission claims voters will be able to do. Rather than adding a provision to deal with a situation where technology has not caught up with desires, as some jurisdictions have, e.g. up to 5 rankings will be tallied, the Charter Commission punted when this subject was raised.
In sum, Portland voters deserve election certainty, not a hail Mary pass using a complicated, confusing method of voting. And they deserve the truth- not propaganda- from public officials like Charter Commission members.
And in closing, with a single measure package vote, the Charter Commission and allies believe in ranked choice, but no choice for the voters!
Thank you! And former Alaskan as well (’55-’85).
Dan Saltzman got elected five consecutive times under our current choose-one, plurality voting, and you’re concerned that STV might confer too much incumbency advantage? Can you name one thing he did in those 20 years in office?
The thing about winning with 25%+1 in STV versus winning with 50%+1 in plurality is… either case requires that only two of your voters to defect in order for you to lose your seat. And having more seats and more candidates, your voters have more options for their rankings and can easily shop around. Academic research looking into incumbency advantage in Ireland where STV is used shows that it is significantly diminished compared to single-seat plurality elections. What advantage is seen there is largely conferred by party affiliation and support, which is of course not a factor in our local elections.
Wait, you’re telling me Ireland uses STV? Why would Bob Weinstein try to say this is new to big cities? I want the truth – not propaganda – from BikePortland commenters!
Sarcasm aside, STV is not this scary untested system. It has actually been used in other places for over a hundred years. I’m not really concerned that Portland is going to somehow be uniquely different and unfit for this system.
Thank you for this! I have been extremely skeptical that we had a voting tabulation software with this capability on deck. Your research indicates that we are not even close. what a clusterf**k
The first election with this method wouldn’t be until 2024. I think we can manage to update the voting machines by then.
This is huge. I didn’t realize this. Thanks for pointing this out!
Huge is right. It’s the only way for minorities (ethnic, political, socioeconomic, etc.) to get representation on a legislative body. It’s the entire purpose of multi-member districts, and one of the reasons they’ve been used so successfully in Europe.
In single member districts (or multi-member with multiple votes), factions that can only achieve 30% or 40% of the vote get zero representation on the council. It’s a major flaw with our current system (and, incidentally, the reason we’re stuck with only two major parties at the national level). But Bob seems to be totally fine with this state of affairs. I just wish he would be a little more honest in his arguments. The question is not how many times we get to vote. It’s whether or not sub-50% factions should have representation on the council.
An assertion that is belied by the our current city council.
Imagine a close election that requires hand recounts in 3 counties:
RCV would be difficult.
What kind of loonies put this rubbish together?
In case anyone is wondering, Bob is a spokesperson for the well-funded PBA campaign against the charter reform measure. He’s not very good about disclosing that fact. I don’t know if he’s on payroll or just a volunteer, but regardless, he’s deeply involved in the opposition and his lengthy posts here in the comments are presumably part of that role.
There are a lot of red herrings and mischaracterizations in his posts. I’ve debunked some of them before, but don’t have the time or patience today. Just keep in mind that he’s here as a representative of the PBA and count or discount his views accordingly.
JM, your call, but to me it seems like Bob should have to disclose his associations if he wants to comment here. Association given in this article: https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2022/09/07/46062456/why-are-portlands-leaders-opposing-proposed-charter-reforms
You are right. I am a member of the Partnership for Common Sense Government (https://www.commonsensegovpdx.com/). But if you are concerned about well-funded campaigns, while we have raised $14,000 in this reporting period, the pro-charter advocated have raised over $200,000, mainly from some nonprofits, and surely your should be concerned about that.
According to the Oregonian article, “Neary three-quarters of the coalition’s contributions, or about $146,925, came from five nonprofit organizations plus a board member of one of them that pushed for the measure’s most contentious provisions, which would change the way Portland selects members of City Council through methods used in only a handful of U.S. cities.”
What is it that these 5 nonprofits are willing to pay so much for? And why are the voting methods they are pushing not used at the same time elsewhere in our country?
One must wonder why 75% of their funding is coming from organizations pushing the Commission- and though them the people of Portland- to radically alter the method of voting so that people only get 1 vote for 1 of 3 candidates, and “winners” only need 25% +1.
In any case, thank you for the opportunity to clarify that I support Common Sense government, not a package deal from a commission that claims to support ranked choice, but no choice for the voters (and hid a poll frok Lahe Research that showed 72% of respondents wanted to vote on the key measures separately, not a “take it or leave it package).
I stand by all the facts in my original comment.
Vote “NO” to get to a better yes!
Your talking points are still mostly red herrings.
Yes, in the package put forth by the commission, I will only get to vote for one of the 12 members on the council. But in the alternative proposal (twelve small districts), I would also only get to vote for one of the 12 members on the council. That’s just the nature of district-based voting. If I were able to vote for three members of the 12 person council, my vote would be diluted by a factor of three. If I were able to vote for all 12, my vote would be diluted by a factor of 12. There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s just a question of how we divvy up voting power.
There are good reasons for using single vote systems. Take a hypothetical scenario where 60% of the population is White and 40% is Black, and voters vote along racial lines. If there are 5 members running in a single district, and everyone gets 5 votes, all 5 elected members will be White every time, and the population that is 40% Black will have no representatives. This is an objectively bad outcome since it poorly reflects the actual preferences of the voters.
That’s why single-vote systems are used. Here in the U.S., most single-vote systems assign votes in a way that prioritizes geography. But that’s an arbitrary decision, and comes with a lot of unfortunate side effects (parochialism, NIMBYism, districts split along income lines). There are good arguments to be made for assigning votes in a way that prioritizes ideology instead, as is done in most parliamentary systems.
But you keep harping on this single-vote question, in a way that is rather confused. Do you support single-vote or at-large systems? If you prefer at-large systems (like our current one), just say so. If you prefer single-vote systems, there’s no difference in voting power distribution between the commission’s proposal and (for example) Mapps’ proposal.
It’s clear to me that you aren’t that interested in engaging in good-faith debate, which is why I dug around to see who you’re associated with. The PBA is afraid of a voting system that doesn’t let them closely manage the outcome with targeted donations, so they’re funding an astroturfing campaign to sow division and confusion. And you’re a part of that.
As I’ve stated before, the meat of the package is the governance reform. That’s what matters. All voting procedures are imperfect measures of the electorates’ preferences. No system will be perfect. The commission proposed a voting procedure that is commonly and successfully used in many countries around the globe, though unfamiliar to most Americans. It’s a reasonable system that does a reasonable job reflecting the will of the voters, and if there are problems they can be addressed later. There are other problems with other systems like the one proposed by Mapps. For now, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Vote Yes.
One more thing, about incumbency. I haven’t seen a whiff of evidence that RCV+multimember districts protects incumbents any more than a primary/general system.
Suppose there are 12 candidates running for three seats. In a primary/general system, the 12 candidates are first reduced to six, who run in three separate races. If each election is a 50-50 tossup, any individual candidate has a 25% chance of being elected.
Now have all 12 candidates run in a single election, again for three seats. All else being equal, each candidate has a 25% chance of being elected. The same probability, in other words.
Furthermore, the odds of all three incumbents winning in a multi-member election are very low. It’s not unlikely one or two might win, but that’s no different than the odds in a primary system. Each incumbent will draw a challenger that will compete in the same lane as them. Some will win, some won’t, just like our current system. Again, highly unlikely all three would win.
You’re assuming a lot of “all else being equal”. If you have 12 candidates on the ballot (which seems quite plausible), most voters aren’t going to look into all 12 before voting. Many will go with the person/people they’ve heard of, which are the well known folks, which will include the incumbents. Newspapers won’t be able to investigate 12 candidates in each of three races (just as most primary candidates get very little attention today).
If Hardesty’s primary had been held under the new rules, Hardesty, Gonzales, and Vadim all would have been elected by a landslide, not because they were necessarily the best candidates, but because they were the only ones anyone knew anything about. They had early momentum, and there was no catching them. It wouldn’t have been an election so much as an ordination.
Primaries (even if conducted with STV), winnow the field to a manageable number that people could really look into.
This issue doesn’t seem related to STV specifically, but is a consequence of eliminating primaries and just having a giant field run in a single election.
And to get rid of a bad incumbent, you need to find 3 people who can beat them.
First, speaking of mischaracterizations, your repeated use of the PBA bogeyman is a prime example. That would be like me saying that you represent that powerful out of town lobby groups and wealthy eastern Oregon ranchers who are are lavishing big bucks on the pro- campaign.
Second, I think that in our political system people rightfully expect that they can have a vote counted for each candidate in a race. Single member district, vote gets counted for 1 candidate. 3 member district, votes get counted for 3 candidates. The charter commission could have accomplished this by designating seats in their proposed districts, so voters would get 1 vote each for candidates in seat A, B, and C. But that did not fit the pre-ordained outcome.
And speaking of districts, why did the commission choose not to have maps drafted before the election? Did they think that voters might have concerns with districts the size of Eugene and Salem?
This reminds me of the quote attributed (out of context) to Nancy Pelosi about the ACA that voters need to vote for it to find out what is in it. It would have been very easy for maps to be provided before the election so people could see if they made sense or not.
What a stretch. This is barely a bike blog anymore, it’s more like an outlet for lobbyists.
The all powerful bike lobby?
I can’t see voting for this measure, because I don’t get the advantage to three-representative districts with a confusing voting system. I’m trying to figure out what the result is, and I’m concerned that every district will come up with a “top three” consisting of one radical-reform-minded progressive, one status-quo Chamber of Commerce centrist, and one cranky MAGAt. And we wind up with a city council that gets nothing done.
Plus, what if we have a race where the favorite candidate gets 60% of first-choice votes, the second place finisher gets 15%, the third place gets 10%, and a dozen also-rans split the last 15% between them. I get that there will be fractional second-choice and third-choice votes and so forth bring the numbers up … but it means that Ms. 60% and Mr. 10% will have equal power on the council, and that seems wrong to me.
And what happens in, say, an 18-candidate race? Do we need to vote in an 18×18 grid as we rank our choices? Because I can definitely see a lot of mistakes happening on a ballot like that.
Right now, I’m strongly inclined to pass on this reform, in hopes that we’ll be offered something more comprehensible next time around.
Then you have 85% of folks’ top choices represented. This is a good thing – in a single-member district, you’d only have that 60% represented.
Imagine this scenario: 12 single-member districts. But all laid out so the the same demographic is distributed to be 51% of each district. Those same 51% get to elect their candidate always, while the 49% are simply locked out (i.e., gerrymandering). In a multi-member district, those 49% get another chance at representation.
I’ll freely admit the choice of ranked-choice voting and this outcome in particular are my biggest issues with this package, and that you are correct – there will be many spoiled ballots. I brought this up to the Charter Commission using an actual 10×10 grid out of some mayoral election in New Mexico. Ranked-choice scantron ballots are literally exponential – just one of the reasons I pushed for STAR, which is flat – six (0-5) bubbles for every candidate, regardless of how many candidates. Alas, as Clay mentions in this article’s first comment, groups with deep pockets have been very successful pushing ranked-choice.
Why am I still a yes vote? I think the rest of the reforms are too important to pass up, especially multi-member districts.
I don’t think it’s a good thing when the 10% get 1/3rd of the representation and the 60% get 1/3 of the representation. It means the “first choice placed third” voters get 6x the per-capita influence as the “first choice placed first” voters.
It’s quite possible that I’m misunderstanding this. But I’m not going to support a dramatic (and AFAIK, untried) change to our city government when I’m not sure I even understand it properly.
But it’s not 10% get 1/3rd of the representation. It is common enough to like muliple candidates. The candidate that gets 10% of votes is maybe not everyones front runner choice, but is well enough liked to have a large number of 2nd ranked candidate.
You are misunderstanding. Under STV, the excess 35% of votes for the first place vote getter will be redistributed to those voters second choices.
The notion that representative voting power should be tied to their vote percent is weird. To use an extreme example, Ashton Simpson ran unopposed for his Metro seat. He, by default, has 100% of the vote. Duncan Hwang may only win election with 51% of the votes. Should Ashton have double the voting power of Duncan?
As for untried, that’s quite false. STV is how local elections have been arranged in Scotland for 15 years, and in Ireland for 100 years. Note, I say local, not parliamentary. NYC, Cleveland, Boulder, and West Hartford all used multi-member districts with STV in the 1940s, to pretty good effect.
I think a lot of people are going to find this aspect surprising, confusing, and weird, and even I have difficulty wrapping my head around the specific implications.
Legitimacy of the system depends on everyone understanding how the system works and trusting the math. Some proportional and instant run-off schemes can probably meet this bar, but the proposed system almost certainly cannot.
What part of it is difficult? I’ve got time to explain.
I know I’m going to end up explaining this to about 20 people, so the best way for me to get the thorough understanding I need is to sit down and work through an example (thoughts on where to find a good one would be welcomed).
The point is that the process is complicated and unintuitive, and in this era of mistrust and readiness to believe the other tribe is cheating, that’s bad.
I believe at this moment in history, trust is paramount.
Mr. 10% only has equal power if enough of Ms. 60%’s voters also liked Mr. 10% and would be OK with him winning. That’s what it means to rank someone.
You don’t have to rank someone you don’t want to win. So in the case of a 10% winner, it means many people decided they weren’t their first choice, but as the numbers would have it, their vote would have been wasted on their first choice, so instead they get a shot at their second choice. This is one of the best possible things.
For example, in a race with just a single regular vote in a multi member district, it’s a catch 22: I either vote for the person I like well enough who I think will win, and thereby waste my vote if they win in a landslide, or I vote for who I actually want to win, but my vote is wasted because they only get 10% total (because of said landslide). With this STV system, I can make sure my first choice gets my vote if they need it, but if it turns out my vote would have been wasted it gets transferred to my second choice.
Under the proposal, almost 35% of Ms. 60%’s vote (60% minus 25% +1) will be “transferred” to other candidates, so that no winner gets more than 25%+1. Even if one is truly more popular in terms of having broad community support.
This is a ridiculous thing to posit. The top-ranks are plainly visible in how the tally is shown. The candidate with 60% of first ranks is easily shown to be an overwhelmingly popular one when charting results. Are you suggesting because she made more than double the quota she should get to hold two seats on the council and get two votes?
The worst part about RCV/STV is that it’s being used to prop up the Charter Commission’s biggest mistake of all: overly-large, low-threshold-for-election, multi-member districts.
Multi-member districts compound the accountability and responsiveness problems we have now by making it even more difficult to remove poor performers. You still don’t have a single council person to call, who can be responsible and accountable for problems in the district. And the districts will be huge – each *district* would be tied for third largest city in the state.
Multimember districts aren’t used in *city* governments anywhere in the U.S. for very good reasons. And they are in declining use in state legislatures. Had the Charter Commission been not led down this path by the RCV/STV lobbyists (represented heavily in donors to the charter campaign), charter reform would have been a wildly-popular landslide.
I’ve seen this claim repeated frequently, but yet to see any evidence for it. Sometimes there are some examples of cities repealing them, but no information as to why. Is this something you can provide?
No, you’ll have three. How is that not better? Imagine, say, having “one person to call” at your internet service provider – what do you do when they’re busy? Already on the phone with one of thousands of other customers? To be clear, this still exists in any situation where the number of reps is less than the number of constituents (e.g., all representative democracy), but three reps for ≈162k constituents is much better than five reps for ≈650k constituents (or, to use the current configuration of one rep being in charge of a whole area of city functioning, e.g., Parks or PBOT, one rep for the whole ≈650k).
Today you have five. And with districts so big, there’s no reason to think your three tomorrow will be more responsive than your five today (some of whom I have found to be quite responsive, including, credit where it’s due, Commissioner Hardesty).
And if even they are responsive, there’s no reason to think that, with no real power besides the ability to vote on council, they’ll be more effective at addressing the sorts of day-to-day issues most people contact them about.
And if they’re neither responsive nor effective, it will be hard to get rid of them, so good luck with that.
But there is – the math I laid out in the post you’re responding to. 4x reason to think they’d be more response (all other things being equal – of course, with any system, you’ll get reps more engaged than others).
But if you had ONE commissioner in a district 1/12 the size, you’d actually have someone to call for neighborhood-scale problems. And that person would be the one person who you’d hold accountable for responding (or not). Candidates could (and should!) knock on every voter’s door in a campaign. The level of access to government for regular people with regular problems would be much greater. The scale of city council representation should be designed to be much much smaller. These were conclusions when we studied it in Baltimore and they turned out to be true.
And if that one councilor isn’t sympathetic to my issue, I get to go pound sand. Having three councilors means there’s greater likelihood that at least one councilor I get to vote for/against shares my priorities.
You must really like the current system where you can call four of them!! 🙂
In the current system they’re all elected into single seats, which has the propensity to produce majoritarian clones rather than diversity since. Time passes and voter whim changes along with the slate of candidates, so we do end up with some diversity at various points in time. But longitudinally they largely reflect the vision and values of the overall plurality (as you experienced in dear Baltimore).
In a proportional system, the largest plurality gets their say and elects their candidate. Then the next largest tier of plurality, with their distinct vision and values, gets theirs. And then the next. It is fundamentally different from a majoritarian system. Just because you personally prefer majoritarian rule does not mean that proportional systems behave the same way as the worst majoritarian methods that you like to slag.
I’ve interacted with officials at all levels of government. Nothing in my experience has led me to believe district size will have any bearing on responsiveness. You allude to the key factor in your final sentence — operating style swamps every other factor.
But regardless, those three are going to have a lot less power to help, even if they want to.
I was on a “Charter Commission” that looked at the Baltimore multimember districts in 2002. Accountability, responsiveness and efficiency were the reasons for repeal. The City Council had become moribund, with same-district members deflecting and hiding from responsibility for district work, while either voting together as a slate, or bickering amongst themselves on policy. With no single councilperson responsible, nothing ever got done. Plus, it was practically impossible to hold individual councilmembers accountable because there was never a clean up-or-down accountability vote on an individual councilmember. (Here, currently at least, you get to vote up-or-down on individual incumbents.)
Baltimore, essentially the last city to still have multimember districts, repealed them by a 2-1 margin, with an initiative campaign led by a coalition of progressives, neighborhood groups and unions. It now has 14 single-member districts (down from six three-member districts) and never looked back.
The effort to gather the 10,000 signatures required to put Question P on the ballot was spearheaded by Community and Labor United for Baltimore (CLUB), a grassroots coalition of community groups and labor unions. Members of CLUB included organizations such as the League of Women Voters, AFSCME—a national association for labor unions of public sector employees, and ACORN‘s Baltimore chapter—a collection of local community organizations that advocate for low-income families and people living in poverty.
I know this is going to be hard to believe, but apparently the Commission thought that a proposal for a city manager would not pass on its own, so they “sweetened” the deal by tying it to multi-member districts and STV voting in an effort to gain more support. I’ve heard this directly from two people on the Charter Commission so I believe it is true.
To me this sounds like the biggest misreading of public sentiment since New Coke, and I hope Mapps (or someone else) puts forth an alternate way forward before the election.
The video really helped. Thanks for posting that link, and for fleshing out the relevance of STV to cycling in pdx.
You’re welcome John. Both videos helped me, so I thought I’d share them w others. The cycling example was inspired, I got lucky that the numbers worked out w/o too much trouble.