Monthly Archives: May 2017

STAR Voting: The Quest for Democracy



Imagine if you could vote your conscience and never vote for the lesser of two evils again… What if you knew that your vote would make a difference, even if your favorite wasn’t going to win? What if our voting system wasn’t rigged to favor some voters and parties over others and we were all on an even playing field? The basic principle of democracy is “For the people, by the people”. If we can’t safely express what we want, then this is not a Democracy!


The problem:

We all know that democracy is broken. In our current voting system we have no way of knowing if the candidate who won even had the most support. People are afraid of wasting their vote, betraying their conscience, or worse, helping to elect their worst case scenario. Many voters are so discouraged that they don’t vote at all.

Known as Plurality or First-Past-The-Post, our voting system is riddled with pitfalls that herd voters and candidates alike into the two major parties. Our whole goal here is to break through the two party monopoly and give 3rd parties, 4th parties, and 5th parties a chance. We want to let people honestly vote, while letting the candidates honestly represent what they want to represent, without getting pigeon-holed and bullied into spouting a party line to get elected… and then doing who knows what once the get into office. Right now candidates basically have to run as either a Democrat or a Republican because our voting system only works if there are two candidates. It’s basic bad design and we can do better.


The solution:

A good voting system has the power to give the people back their voice. This issue, election reform, is the keystone for rebuilding our broken country and tackling every other issue down the line. This is our chance to make a difference!

We all want a voting system where we are free to vote our conscience, where the system is fair and impartial and where nobody’s vote is wasted. Let’s pick the best system and work together to get it implemented!


Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) aka Instant Runoff Voting:

Ranked Choice Voting has been the flagship of voting system reform for over a century now. It’s shown the world that there are better options out there and it’s caught our attention. Yet despite decades of implementation and enticing promises it hasn’t fully achieved the three goals listed above.

At the root of the matter is Ranked Choice Voting’s runoff process. The problem is that the voters rankings aren’t actually all taken into account. If your first choice isn’t eliminated until late in the game, your second and/or third choices might have already been eliminated. Those other rankings you gave are never actually looked at or counted. When the voting system ignores some of the data it can lead to unrepresentative outcomes where the candidate who wins isn’t actually the one who best represents the voters.

Many people are excited about RCV because they want to give 3rd parties a chance but RCV elections with viable 3rd party candidates are actually the most likely scenario for a failed election; where the candidate who wins isn’t the one with the most support. We want to give everyone a fair chance and RCV can’t offer that. We need a system that works great with any number of candidates.


Enter STAR Voting:

STAR Voting picks up where RCV left off and was designed and created to fix these problems. We need an accurate, representative voting system where nobody’s vote is wasted, that rewards us for voting honestly, and that if fair, equal and unbiased. Now, for the first time it actually exists! STAR Voting, (aka SRV) is an innovative, new system designed right here in Oregon by a group from Eugene called Equal Vote. Led by election reform advocate Mark Frohnmayer, it’s been gaining traction and getting field testing in non-government elections as it gears up for it’s first round of ballot measures in 2018. STAR Voting offers a combination of benefits that we have never had available all at once. We’ve had to pick and choose what is most important. It doesn’t meet every criteria 100% perfectly, but it balances them in such a way that it does a really good job all around. STAR Voting let’s voters be honest and expressive. It lets voters put their favorite first but also show support for others without worrying that it will backfire because honest is the best strategy. It works just as well with any number of strong viable candidates which means that voters only have to go to the polls once.

How STAR Voting works:

STAR stands for Score-Then-Automatic-Runoff, and it uses a score ballot like we use to give 5 Star ratings on Amazon or Yelp. Your ballot shows a list of candidates and next to each there are bubbles that allow you to give each a score from 0-5. Your least favorite should get a 0 and your favorite should get a 5 with the rest somewhere in the middle. It’s fine to give the same score to multiple candidates. If you only want to give a score to your favorite that’s fine, but there is incentive to rate as many candidates as you want and to have your rating show your relative preferences between the candidates. As a voter this is all you need to know, but if you are curious here’s how it works:


“In the first round all the scores from each ballot are added up,

the top 2 are finalists.

Your ballot already shows which finalist you preferred.

In the runoff, whichever finalist is preferred by more voters wins.”


STAR Voting is a hybrid two-round voting system that gives us the advantages of both scoring and ranking. The first round uses score voting, but then the runoff looks at your ballots implied rankings to determine you preference. We can tell just from looking at a score ballot how that voter would have ranked all the candidates. The finalist you prefer gets your full vote in the runoff.


How is STAR Voting able to be more fair and accurate than other alternative voting systems?

STAR Voting is so representative because it uses the most expressive type of ballot and then it takes into account all the information from every single ballot all at once. More data collected and used means better results. The first round looks at “quality” of support; how much support does each candidate have. The runoff looks at “quantity” of support; if the election was just between these 2 finalists how many people would vote for each. You need quality AND quantity of support to win.

In contrast other voting systems don’t offer the same. Ranked Choice Voting has an expressive ballot and encourages most voters to be honest but then it doesn’t actually count all the rankings from all the ballots, which can lead to skewed and non-representative results, especially in elections with more than two strong candidates. Approval voting uses a much less expressive ballot so there is limited data in the first place. Approval and Score Voting don’t always encourage or allow voters to show their honest preferences. If voters aren’t honest the results can’t be accurate.
Strategic STAR Voting?

In Star Voting honesty is the best policy. The best strategy is to honestly and expressively rate each candidate so your ballot shows how much you like each candidate and also which candidates you would prefer no matter which two make it to the final round. For example: lets say that you are in a minority party in your area. None of your preferred candidates make it into the top two runoff round. There are three candidates you dislike but one you hate, one you dislike and another is mediocre. If you gave these three a 0, a 1, and a 2 then in the runoff round your ballot will show which finalist you prefer and you will still have a meaningful voice. Even though your candidates didn’t win you are less likely to end up with your least favorite because you voted expressively. In most other systems a voter in this situation’s vote would have been wasted. Since they know that their favorite won’t win anyway, there is really no reason to vote in the first place. This is one reason voter turnout is so low. With STAR Voting nobody’s vote is wasted and every vote makes a difference. It’s always worth it to show up and vote.

Critics of plain Score Voting (where there is no runoff round) worry about a strategy called tactical minimization or maximization, where voters would give everyone a max or min score, even if they have a more nuanced opinion. In plain score voting this could be a valid strategy that could help your favorite pull ahead, but in STAR Voting dishonest strategies like this are likely to backfire. “Bullet Voting” is also not a viable strategy. For those that are still concerned, studies done at Harvard on simulated elections comparing multiple voting systems under a variety of conditions show that even if voters did resort to dishonest strategies, STAR Voting would still be more accurate than RCV would be under ideal conditions. (3.) When voters in STAR Voting use their best strategy, honesty, the results are much more representative of the electorate. The runoff adds real incentive to show your preferences if you have any. The runoff makes honest, expressive voting the best strategy and this honesty translates directly to more accurate, representative outcomes.
How this translates to better democracy all around:

Unlike Plurality, Approval Voting, and IRV, STAR Voting doesn’t favor one type of voter, candidate, or party over the others. It also is one of the few voting systems that still gives good accurate results in elections with any number of viable candidates competing. We believe that because STAR Voting rewards honest and thorough voting and gives all political parties a fair shot, it will have a dramatic and unprecedented outcome on the quality of candidates and the viability of minor political parties. Even the major parties have something to gain. Candidates wouldn’t have to worry about walking a party line they disagree with in order to get elected, so in the future political parties would likely be less diluted by outsiders trying to run under a major party umbrella. Because candidates want to appeal to voters outside their core, STAR Voting also encourages positive, issue-oriented campaigning.

Candidates and politicians that we have spoken to so far in Lane County, where STAR Voting is already well on its way to becoming a ballot measure, have been excited or at least open to the idea. Because STAR Voting works so well for any number of candidates it makes the primary redundant and unnecessary. If a county opted to eliminate their primary it would save the county and the candidates tons of money and months of grueling campaigning. Win-win!

Here in Multnomah County, elections are already non-partisan. This means we can simply replace the current primary/general election with a single STAR Vote general election. This alone will go a long way towards helping candidates without big money backing be viable players.



So how do we go about comparing RCV and STAR side by side? RCV Oregon and Equal Vote came up with a list of six criteria that any voting system should aim to accomplish. Honesty, Equality, Accuracy, Simplicity, Expressiveness, and Viability.

Ranked Choice (RCV) and STAR Voting both get at least passing grades for all these criteria -unlike our current system which fails miserably- but STAR Voting really knocks it out of the park getting straight A’s in Honesty, Accuracy, Equality and Expressiveness. Let that sink in for a minute. Don’t we want a system that’s as accurate as possible? Where your best strategy is to be honest? Where the system doesn’t favor some voters or candidates over others, and where every vote is counted equally? Let’s take a closer look at the two systems side by side.

Honesty means that the system encourages and rewards honest voting: In RCV voters who prefer a viable underdog candidate might be better off putting their favorite front runner as their first choice. Honest voting in this scenario can backfire if there are 3 or more strong candidates. Gaming the system in STAR Voting would require an impossible amount of information. Dishonest voting is more likely to backfire than to help a voter so it’s not worth it.

Accuracy: RCV proponents sometimes falsely claim that Ranked Choice solves the spoiler effect but it only mitigates it. In elections with more then 2 viable candidates the candidate with the most overall support can get eliminated because the rankings from all the ballots aren’t actually counted in RCV. No system is perfect but STAR Voting maintains a very high standard of preventing the spoiler effect and selecting the winner that best represents the electorate across a wide range of scenarios.

“[STAR Voting (SRV)] has a Voter Satisfaction Efficiency of 91% all the way up to 98%… SRV is undeniably a top-shelf election method, and arguably the best out of all the ones I tested.” -Jameson Quinn, Harvard Statistics Ph.D. candidate and Director of The Center For Election Science. (3.)

Equality means that the system is fair and doesn’t favor some voters or candidates over others. Legally this means that the system passes “one voter-one vote” and gives each ballot equal weight: Because some voters will have all their rankings counted and others will only have some of their rankings counted RCV isn’t equal and isn’t even legal in many places. The algorithm gives an advantage to fringe voters and front-runners but puts viable underdogs at a disadvantage. STAR Voting offers textbook equality. That’s why our organization is named Equal Vote.

Simplicity is a threefold criteria that means that the system is simple for voters, simple for elections officials to process and that it’s simple for voters to understand the election’s results: Decades of misinformation that “if your 1st choice is eliminated your next choice will be counted” goes to show that even though ranking seems simple, people are glossing over critical details. For the voter both 5 Star and Ranking ballots are pretty simple to fill out, but RCV Ballots can’t be processed locally and must be sent to a central location which can be a huge logistical challenge and expense. Hand recounting would be next to impossible and computers are required. This means RCV is more vulnerable to fraud.

On the other hand STAR ballots can be counted in each local area and totals can be sent to a central location. This saves a ton of work! Voters can know how their area voted as well as how the election went in general. Election result can be published that show what all the candidates score totals were and also what percentage of voters preferred each finalist. The runoff results can be presented just like the results for a general election in our current system.

For RCV once the election is over there is another complication. The news can post the who the winner was, but can’t really give more insight than that. Percentages would be meaningless and understanding how the votes translated into the results can be so complicated that even many elections officials don’t fully get it. RCV can make it look like the people came to a good collective decision when the elected candidate was actually not the most popular at all. If and when voters do find out that an election has failed to pick the candidate who should have won they are furious, and in many cases this is all the incentive needed to repeal the system, just like what happened in Vermont.

Viability: By now many of you are familiar with the 2009 Burlington, Vermont example, where a spoiled election played a large part in causing voters to repeal their new IRV voting system and go back to Plurality. (

The non-representative election result in Burlington was made even worse by the fact that the “experts” from FairVote who were advocating RCV in the first place had done so with a LOT of false and overstated claims. Voters in Burlington had been told that #1, RCV elects the majority winner, #2, that in RCV you can safely vote for your favorite, and #3, that if your first choice is eliminated your next choice will be counted. All three of these claims are false for many voters. This dishonesty was probably unintentional for many volunteers who were misinformed and who worked on the effort, after all, the system is complex and most of us here today had also read and believed these false claims up until recently. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t change the outcome. Voters took it personally and took it to the polls. We can’t afford that kind of setback. The good news is that we don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way. We can skip straight to STAR Voting and become leaders in Democracy.

Let’s pass a system that can withstand scrutiny and set the bar high for election reforms around the country and the world! Every great idea started somewhere, why not Oregon!


So where do we go from here? How do we go about getting STAR Voting passed:

  1. Write a scalable ballot initiative proposal that works on a county level, statewide, and on a larger scale. Use the Lane country initiative as a template. Pass STAR Voting in Multnomah County and then statewide in Oregon. Become a model for the country and convince Canada and other countries struggling with democracy and elections to come along too!
  2. Get Legislators to put ballot measures directly on the ballot where possible and skip the petition step! In Lane county this might be an option. If not, that’s okay. We can petition!
  3. Fundraise! Run a high quality, well rounded campaign.
  4. Educate: Do a comprehensive outreach effort to get organizations to use STAR Voting in businesses and to demo it in schools and offices. Billboards, buses, ads, etc. We have an online election calculator that anyone can use right now to run a STAR Voting election so that by the time this goes to the ballot STAR Voting will have already been used and field tested extensively.
  5. Vote it in!


What can you do to help?


Educational Resources to Compare RCV and STAR:



(1.) Democratic, Republican Identification Near Historical Lows.

(2.) “[RCV] can cause spoilers in up to 1 in 5 elections or worse when there are more candidates according to expert analysis.” Frequency of monotonicity failure under Instant Runoff Voting: Estimates based on a spatial model of elections. By Joseph T Ornstein, University of Michigan, Dept. of Political Science and Robert Z. Norman, Dartmouth College, Dept. of Mathematics

(3.) The Center For Election Science,
(4.) The Center For Range Voting,


VSE Main 4 With Star

Report Card Graph Only


STAR Voting Ballot A-G Non Partisan! 2


Leading Election Systems – Pros and Cons

Our current voting system is fatally flawed and we can do better. That much we can  all agree on. So what’s the best alternative? Here we present the pros and cons of four options in detail. They are not necessarily the best four options, but they are the voting systems being compared in Oregon right now. Advocates are actively pursuing Ranked Choice (RCV) and STAR Voting (Score-Then-Automatic-Runoff). Thanks for taking the time to get educated!

VSE Main 4 Labled

-Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) aka Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) Candidates are ranked on the ballot in order of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th or more choices. It’s fine to leave candidates blank if you don’t have an opinion. If a candidate has a majority of first choice votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated. If your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to your next choice if they haven’t been eliminated yet, and the process repeats in rounds until one candidate has a majority. Some voters will have all of their rankings counted and others will only have some of their rankings taken into account.


  • Simple ballot for voters to fill out, just rank as many candidates as you like in order.
  • Much more expressive ballot then Plurality.
  • Voters who prefer the front runners or candidates who don’t have a chance at winning can be honest. If there are only 2 candidates who have a real shot at winning all voters can be honest.
  • Is a form of Ranked Choice Voting, a type of voting system that is used around the world.
  • Some voting machines are already coded to count the votes.


  • It’s not necessarily safe to vote for your favorite, there are cases where voting for your first choice is a bad strategy that can backfire and actually help elect your least favorite in elections where there are more then two strong candidates. (Fails Favorite Betrayal) **
  • If there are three or more viable candidates and your favorite is an underdog you might want to rank your preferred front runner 1st and your favorite 2nd.
  • Doesn’t take all rankings from all ballots into account and so is not the most accurate way of counting ranked ballots. If your first choice candidate is eliminated in later rounds your second, third, or fourth choices may never be counted. (Ranked Pairs and Borda Count are much more accurate ways to count ranked ballots.)
  • Is vulnerable to the spoiler effect aka. vote splitting, where adding an extra candidate can cause the candidate with the most support to lose.
  • Favors voters who prefer very strong or very weak candidates but puts moderately strong candidates and their voters at a disadvantage. This allows 3rd party voters to vote honestly if they are sure to lose but gives 3rd parties a glass ceiling if the Democrat and Republican parties are seen as the top 2.
  • Voters have to figure out which order to put all the candidates in before they can rank them since you can’t give tied rankings. This can be tricky if you aren’t sure which you prefer.
  • Hard for elections officials to process and understand the results, not a transparent process. Because you some 2nd and 3rd choice votes are worth the same as a 1st choice vote, while others are worth nothing there’s no way to compare how many votes each candidate got at the end without re-running the whole election using another ranked choice algorithm.
  • Votes must all be processed in one central location and can’t be tabulated by precinct. This makes it more vulnerable to top down election fraud and is a major logistical challenge.
  • If there is a non-representative result voters may never know about it due to to complexity of results. It would be up to elections officials and data analysis’s to crunch numbers and publish the data.
  • Recent work by Robert Norman, (2.) a mathematician at Dartmouth, suggests that IRV’s …[counting algorithm] issues would create non-representative outcomes in one in five close contests among three candidates and that with larger numbers of candidates, it would happen even more often. The 2009 Mayoral IRV election in Burlington, Vermont was one such sideways election, and the results led to the repeal of IRV in Burlington the next year.”
  • Has been tried and later repealed in a number of cities around the country
  • Puts viable 3rd parties at a strong disadvantage because that is the scenario most likely to trigger the spoiler effect or to encourage favorite betrayal strategy.

-STAR Voting (aka. Score Runoff Voting or SRV): This is a hybrid of Score and Instant Runoff Voting which uses scoring in the first round and then implied rankings in the runoff. Voters give each candidate a score from 0-5. The two highest scoring candidates are finalists. The finalist that was preferred by more voters wins. Your ballot already shows which finalist you preferred. It’s fine to leave candidates blank if you don’t know about them or to give multiple candidates tied scores.


  • Uses the most expressive type of ballot. Much more so than Plurality and more so than IRV. More information on the ballots allows for more accuracy.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Voters should vote their conscience.
  • Does not favor any type of voter or candidate. Equal weighing of votes.
  • In effect fixes the Favorite Betrayal problem from IRV and also the Strategic Voting problems from Score Voting. Using scoring in the first round and then implied ranking in the instant runoff makes STAR Voting more accurate than either scoring or ranking alone.
  • STAR Voting (SRV) is the most accurate voting system according to Voter Satisfaction Efficiency. It also does a good job of electing the Condorcet winner if one exists and offers compelling reasons why another winner was preferred by the electorate if VSE and Condorcet disagree on the best winner.
  • “[STAR Voting (SRV)] has a Voter Satisfaction Efficiency of 91% all the way up to 98%… SRV is undeniably a top-shelf election method, and arguably the best out of all the ones I tested.” -Jameson Quinn, Harvard Statistics.
  • Because STAR Voting (SRV) encourages voters to show preferences between all candidates it encourages positive, issue oriented campaigning as candidates try and get some support from their competitors constituents.
  • Passes Favorite Betrayal Criteria in practice. A voter should give their favorite a max score.
  • Allows voters to give the same score to candidates if they don’t prefer one over the other. This means that a voter can rate each candidate one by one and doesn’t have to figure out all the ratings before they can vote like is required with Ranked Choice Voting. This decreases voter burden.
  • It’s fairly simple to count and understand results. Results show total scores for each candidate and also the percentage of voters that preferred the winner over the other finalist.


  • Voters have no incentive to be dishonest but some thought is required when deciding what scores to give candidates that aren’t your favorite or least favorite. This kind of honest strategic thinking does not hurt the overall results.
  • Strategic voting is possible but in the very unlikely case that a voter would benefit from tactical minimization or maximization strategy, there is no way to know which strategy would be best. In order to benefit from strategic voting a voter would need impossibly accurate polling data and
  • Hasn’t been used in a government election yet. This is a new voting system.
  • Some people are concerned that STAR Voting doesn’t always pass the controversial “Later-no-harm” Criteria, but this is actually a good thing. Later-No-Harm states that a voter should never hurt their favorite by showing support for others, but this is at direct odds with overall representative outcomes. If there is a good compromise candidate that would make voters happier overall it is good for a system to encourage voters to show that support. In practice STAR Voting does a good job at L-N-H because the odds are that showing nuanced support is more likely to help you than to hurt your favorite.
  • Ideally voters should have an informed opinion on all candidates that they prefer to their least favorite.

-Approval Voting: Check a box for as many candidates as you approve. The candidate with the most approval votes wins.


  • Simple and doable using existing ballots and infrastructure.
  • Better results than Plurality Voting.


  • Always favors the candidates that are perceived as most electable. This basically lets the media decide who can win, like in Plurality.
  • Doesn’t let you chose your favorite over a lesser-evil candidate so it doesn’t pass the test for honest voting.
  • Favors centrist candidates and strongly discourages 3rd party candidates.
  • Strategic Voting required for best results.
  • Doesn’t allow voters to express how they actually feel about the candidates.
  • Because voters must be strategic and dishonest there is no way to know how well the results matched the actual will of the people.

-Score Voting: Voters give each candidate a score, the candidate with the highest total wins. It’s fine to leave candidates blank if you don’t know about them.


  • Simple to understand and explain.
  • Allows voters to express detailed opinions of each candidate.
  • Simple to implement and use for elections officials and easy to understand the results.
  • Not vulnerable to favorite betrayal strategy where voters feel they have to vote for a lesser evil candidate. It’s always best to give your favorite a max score.
  • Gets a very high rating in Voter Satisfaction Efficiency, or average voter satisfaction, and even if voters are tactical, results are still better than tactical IRV. At the worst Score Voting is as accurate as Approval Voting, which is still a pretty good system.
  • Uses the most expressive kind of ballot which lets us accurately gauge how representative the results are.


  • Could hypothetically be vulnerable to strategic voting tactics. Voters from the dominant parties could “bullet vote” and get an advantage by giving their favorite a max score and everyone else a zero, even if they really do have a more nuanced opinion.
  • Voters from minor parties might want to do “approval” style voting where they give their favorite a max score and also give their preferred front-runner a max score as well with zeros for all others, even if they really do have a more nuanced opinion.
  • Score Voting produces the best, most representative results if everyone shows their honest, nuanced opinion, but people can gain an individual advantage with tactical voting.


1. Favorite Betrayal in Plurality and Instant Runoff Voting:

2. Frequency of monotonicity failure under Instant Runoff Voting: Estimates based on a spatial model of elections. By Joseph T Ornstein, University of Michigan, Dept. of Political Science and Robert Z. Norman, Dartmouth College, Dept. of Mathematics

3. The Center for Election Science”

and their VSE page:

4. Equal Vote,

5. Range Voting Wikipedia:

6. RCV OR on Loomio:

** It has come to our attention that while FairVote has a lot of great info they have repeatedly made some false claims. Detailed fact checking of their info has been made on a few Loomio threads for RCV Oregon. Any info quoted or gleaned from them in the future will need to be fact checked.


**The above graph above shows the Voter Satisfaction Efficiency (VSE) of many voting systems side by side. VSE is a measure of accuracy in voting systems that tells us how many voters are as happy as possible with the outcome of the election. It is determined using simulated elections with a wide variety of circumstances and variables. A score of 1.0 VSE means that as many voters as possible are as happy as possible with the elections outcome.

The different colored bubbles show how different strategies effect an elections accuracy. Systems with the blue bubble at the right of their cluster do best when most voters are honest. Systems with a red bubble to the right, like our current system, Plurality, are most accurate when most voters are dishonest. Honest Voting is a key part of accuracy because if voters don’t vote honestly there is no way to know if a real life’s election was a success or not. We believe that VSE is the best way to determine accuracy using modern election science and that Condorcet is also a very useful metric, particularly for judging elections that didn’t use the most expressive ballots possible.

VSE graph and election simulations are from Jameson Quinn. Statistics Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University working on voting systems and Director of The Center For Election Science. Bio: