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: 


Reclaim The Vote! How to fix our voting system in one fell swoop.

Finally a way to vote your conscience and make every vote count.

Who? Everyone. Equally represented, equally included, and equally listened to.

What? It all starts with a new Unified Primary in early September but this is unlike any plan you’ve heard before. The top 5* candidates win and would all advance to the General Election. (*Or Top 6 or 7 or 8?) All candidates would run on one primary ballot together and voters would score the candidates they support with a new, more accurate system called Star Voting (aka. Score Runoff Voting or SRV.) You would give each candidate a score from 0-5. Star Voting allows you to honestly vote for multiple candidates and show varying degrees of support without having to worry about being strategic. The number of candidates each party is allowed to run in the Primary would be proportional based on party registration. Each party could run one candidate for each 5% or 10% of the electorate registered with them. Every party would be guaranteed at least one candidate. Additional candidates could petition to be added to the Primary ballot by gathering signatures. If a given race had less than the 5 candidates that race would skip the primary and the candidates would all automatically advance to the General Election. This really means that only the most important and hotly contested races even have a primary, so candidates running for most local offices wouldn’t have to spend so much time and money on campaigns trying to get elected to lower paying public service positions that only a few people want to do anyways.

Regardless of Political Party, the top 5* candidates (*or 6, 7 or 8) would go on to the General Election 2 months later in November. The top candidate from each party would be guaranteed a spot in the final round of debates up through November even if they didn’t qualify for the ballot. The General Election would be a straight forward Star Voting Election where voters score candidates from 0-5. The two candidates with the highest totals are finalists and the finalist preferred by the most voters wins.

So… if the primaries aren’t deciding the leader of each party how do political parties keep and develop their identities? Before the Unified Primary the political parties could still get together and hold conventions where the registered card holders participate. These conventions wouldn’t be primaries or caucuses. They would be for choosing who deserves a party endorsement and for choosing the party platforms. The parties still need a an opportunity to let their own members define what direction the party is going in and who should lead it! Political parties could endorse as many candidates as they want and they could also cross endorse candidates from other parties if they wanted. A candidate’s endorsements would be shown along with their party registration on the ballots.

Where? Everywhere! This would be an election system that scales well and would work for local, state or federal elections.

When? The Primary would take place 2 months before the general election. A shorter election cycle would save money and prevent candidate and voter burnout. Candidates should save some energy for actually doing their jobs once they are elected!


  •  Star Voting effectively ends the spoiler effect, wasted votes, and inaccurate, non-representative election results by letting voters express their full opinion and then taking all that data into account. All voters, candidates and parties should have an equal chance and an equal platform to be heard and listened to.
  • This Star Voting+Unified Primary plan would save money and prevent burnout by shortening the election cycle. It would cut candidate fatigue in half while still giving voters a chance to narrow the field down to a number they can actually learn about and follow. This would help make running for office more accessible and affordable.
  • Unified Primaries allow all voters to have a say in which candidates they would like to vote for, not just voters who perfectly walk a party line. The truth is that voters and candidates are individuals first and foremost. Some of us see eye to eye on many issues but the partisan primaries force candidates to pretend to perfectly fit a party line in order to win a partisan primary and have a shot at getting elected. Unified Primaries would allow candidates to create their own platforms and might even help the parties evolve to better represent the people over time. Lastly a Unified Primary helps ensure that candidates who have real support will make it to the general election. If people don’t have a voice in who can run in the general election then people really have no voice at all. In America many more voters identify as independent or non-affiliated than either Democrat or Republican and all voters deserve an equal voice.
  • Your party registration would actually help your favorite political party but would never limit your options or your voice! Registration with a party you like would help that party increase their ballot access, but all parties would have some ballot access and full debate access anyways. Current party registration is not representative of actual voter affiliation because people currently have to register with the major parties to vote in the important primaries. If this problem was solved voters would be motivated to register honestly.
  • For some people eliminating the primary altogether seems like a good idea. After all Star Voting is still accurate, even for elections with multiple candidates. Skipping a public primary would save a lot of public time, money and resources, but there would still need to be a way to decide who can run in the general election and who doesn’t make the cut. Eliminating public primaries would put the most important decisions in the election out of the hands of the people and into the hands of the party bosses to handle as they see fit. Most parties would chose closed private primaries that leave most voters and all independents excluded. We deserve better.
  • Closed primaries are unfair and undemocratic. Equal but segregated was a popular pitch for decades but the truth is out. When you divide up services it’s just not fair or equal in practice. Keep the Primary unsegregated! A Unified Primary would give all parties an equal platform and equal opportunities to reach the voters!

How? All on one ballot measure baby! Or, if voters prefer an incremental approach we could pass Star Voting first in local non-partisan races and leave the rest of the system unchanged for now. Then we’d reform the primary in the following election.

So you might be thinking, “This all sounds amazing but what’s Star Voting and how does it work?”

Star Voting is an innovative new voting system designed by election reform advocate and Equal Vote founder Mark Frohnmayer with input and feedback from many of America’s leading election scientists. Until recently all the leading alternative voting systems fell short of the mark. Most were a huge step up from our current broken system and solved one problem or another but still were plagued by some major issues: Inaccurate or non-representative results, strategic and dishonest voting, vote splitting and the spoiler effect, complicated math, expensive and hard to implement logistics… the list goes on.

No voting system is perfect but Star Voting also known as Score Runoff Voting, does a really great job! You can and should vote your conscience. Every voter gets an equal vote and no party, voter, or candidate gets a special advantage. Star Voting is the most accurate system out there because it measures both the quality and the quantity of support that each candidate has overall. Star Voting is the reform we’ve been waiting for. It’s the reform we’ve desperately needed all this time.

Here’s how Star Voting works: You give each candidate a score from 0-5. Zero is “Worst” and Five is “Best” so you should always give your favorite a full score. Next you decide if you’d like to give some support to other candidates as well. It’s fine to give multiple candidates the same score but if you honestly prefer one to the other you scores should reflect that.

The ballots are tallied and the two candidates who scored the highest are finalists. The finalist that was preferred by the most voters wins the election.

In a multi winner election like the primary the ballots are tallied to find the first winner, then re-tallied to find the next winner and so on until all the seats have been filled or until the candidates have been sufficiently narrowed down.

Star Voting Ballot-Progressive Voter

Other Election Reforms to complete the picture.

The reform described above would lay the foundation for a real American democracy. This alone would accomplish more for voters than all the other reforms combined but there are a lot of other important building blocks that need to happen as well. We need to make election days legal holidays so that voters can take the time to research candidates and get their ballots in. We need to have at least a few in-person polling places to allow people who move during election season to still vote and to resolve issues with registration and messed up ballots. These polling places should offer same day voter registration! Most voting would still be Vote-By-Mail and places that don’t have Vote-By-Mail need to get on board with this fabulous, user-friendly system. Superdelegates should be outlawed. We definitely need to end corruption by passing much needed Campaign Finance Reforms. Campaign donations over $50 could be taxed and this money could be used to help fund our public election process. Corruption and buying off politicians needs to be illegal. Gerrymandering is easy to identify and fix by measuring “efficiency gap” and setting a limit on disparity of numbers of wasted votes between districts. Once we have fair districting we can improve proportional local representation and accountability. We need a system that triggers audits and recounts for close and contested elections in order to restore confidence that our election system isn’t being hacked or rigged. For Presidential Elections the winner of the National Popular Vote should win.

These election reforms are mostly easy sells to informed fair-minded voters. They are bipartisan issues that are just common sense. All we need in order to get major change is voters who care enough to get educated, get inspired, spread the word, and show up to vote!

This plan is a proposal from Sara Wolf to Equal Vote and RCV Oregon that can be used as a template for a statewide Oregon ballot measure to reform our elections.

To learn more and get involved:

Equal Vote

Ranked Choice Voting Oregon:
facebook group:
facebook page:

Comparing Voting Systems: A Report Card

A better voting system is the key to democracy! But which one is the best?

Report Card Graph Only

With a little help from my friends at Oregon RCV, Equal Vote and The Center for Election Science, we’ve come up with a set of key criteria that we can use to compare and contrast the leading voting systems out there. The graph above displays our findings visually so that you can get a quick impression, but the criteria and systems are complex so please use it as a tool to come to your own conclusions.

This isn’t to say that these are the best 3 systems, just the three that seem to be the most competitive at the moment here in Oregon. For the record, the best three systems as judged by these criteria seem to be Star Voting, Score Voting and Ranked Pairs. Our current system, aka. Plurality or First-Past-The-Post, is the worst option out there by (almost) every standard.



HONESTY- Encourages and rewards honest voting.
EQUALITY- Doesn’t favor some voters or candidates over others based on preferences, location, political party, etc.
ACCURACY- The candidate that best represents the electorate wins. Measured by Voter Satisfaction Efficiency.
SIMPLICITY- User friendly for voters and elections officials.
EXPRESSIVENESS- The ballot can show nuanced support for multiple candidates.
VIABILITY- Has a good chance of being passed and not being repealed.


HONESTY – The voting system should encourage and reward honest voting:

Current System- Only voters who prefer the Dem. or Rep. can vote honestly. Since barely half of voters in the US are actually registered to these parties this is a fail. 29% of voters were registered Dem. and 26% Rep. at the beginning of the last election cycle with 42% Ind. (1.) Many voters have to be strategically dishonest to get the best results. GRADE: F

Star Voting- With Star Voting you can vote honestly and vote your conscience! Dishonest voting strategies don’t work or backfire. Star Voting gives the best outcome if you are honest. GRADE: A

RCV- It’s not necessarily safe to vote honestly if you favorite is pretty strong but you’re not sure they can win. You’re better off marking someone who you think can win as your first choice to avoid the spoiler effect if there are more than 2 viable candidates. Voters who’s favorite is very strong or very weak can safely vote honestly and everyone can vote honestly if there are only 2 viable candidates. GRADE: B-


EQUALITY – Fair, equal, and impartial. Doesn’t give anyone an unfair advantage.

Current System- Two similar candidates can split their supporters between them and both loose, even if they have support from a strong majority. Closed partisan primaries exclude 3rd party voters from having a meaningful voice. The system puts 3rd parties at a huge disadvantage. GRADE: D

Star Voting- In Star Voting everyone’s scores for every candidate are counted right away in the first round. In the second round you always give your full vote to the finalist you scored higher. This means that every vote is fully counted and every vote is equally strong in both rounds. GRADE: A+

RCV- People say that in Ranked Choice Voting if your first choice is eliminated, your next choice will be counted but for many voters this isn’t true. By the time your first choice is eliminated your 2nd and 3rd choices may already be gone. This means that some voters get more say than others. In some elections it actually happens enough to eliminate the candidate that actually had the most support. GRADE: C


ACCURACY – The candidate that best represents the electorate wins. Voter Satisfaction Efficiency:

Current System- Plurality is the least accurate system out there. (Besides dictatorship!) It only gives accurate results if there are only 2 candidates in the general election and even then it’s likely that those candidates don’t represent everyone. Spoiled elections happen all the time and the danger of spoilers drives dishonest voting, an even bigger threat to accurate results. GRADE: D

Star Voting- Star Voting gives the most accurate, representative results of any voting system. It picks the candidate that will make the most people as satisfied with the results as possible. If there is a compromise candidate that is the best option SRV helps find them. GRADE: A+

RCV- Ranked Choice is about ½ way between Star Voting and our current system in terms of accuracy. It gives accurate results for 2 candidate elections but can cause spoilers in up to 1 in 5 elections or worse when there are more candidates according to expert analysis. (2.) GRADE: C+


SIMPLICITY – User friendly for voters and elections officials.

Current System-This is about as simple as it gets in theory. GRADE: A

Star Voting- 5 star ratings are very intuitive but require voters to learn about the candidates! How the scores are counted and how the runoff works can be explained in two sentences. Star Voting is a simple enough system that hand recounts can be done and it’s user friendly for elections officials. GRADE: B

RCV- Ranking candidates is intuitive but understanding how candidates are eliminated can get quite complicated. Understanding the election results can be challenging. Votes can’t be processed locally and must be sent to a central location which can be a huge logistical challenge. Hand recounting would be next to impossible. Results are hard to understand for voters. GRADE: C


EXPRESSIVENESS – The ballot can show nuanced support for multiple candidates:

Current System- At least we get to vote! This is the least expressive system possible. GRADE: D

Star Voting- Voters are encouraged to give a detailed opinion on as many candidates as they wish. Your completed ballot not only shows what order you would rank the candidates in, but by giving higher or lower scores for candidates in the middle you can show how much you like them as well. All the info you give on your ballot will be counted. GRADE: A

IRV- You can rank 3 or more candidates but you are unable to show ties or show how much you actually like each. Not all the rankings you give will be counted, it depends on the elimination process. GRADE: B


VIABILITY – Has a good chance of being passed and not being repealed:

Current System- The plurality system has proven that it can get passed and stay passed and is the leading election system in the world but it is an extremely unpopular system! Many people around the world are trying to repeal and replace it with something better and many have succeed. GRADE: C+

Star Voting- Star Voting is the new and improved hybrid of RCV and Score Voting. It hasn’t been adopted yet but analysis is very promising and all the evidence shows that it will work the best out of all the systems we’ve seen. Voting machines would need an upgrade but the code and programing is simple and doable. We’d like to give it an A but because it’s untested and we have to start from the beginning we probably shouldn’t. GRADE: B

RCV- RCV has been passed and is used in countries like Australia and Ireland and in cities around the US. It was recently passed by Maine and also Corvallis, OR. and has some momentum. Unfortunately, because of it’s complexity it can be hard for everyday people to know if elections were actually a success or not. IRV was recently repealed in Burlington, Vermont and four other cities, because of it’s problems with the spoiler effect and logistical challenges. Failed election reform is worse than none at all because it makes it harder to implement future reforms in those places. Additionally we are concerned that misconceptions about RCV can make it an slippery stepping stone toward getting an ideal system someday. Many people falsely believe and state that it is safe to vote your conscience and that voters rankings are all counted. IRV consistently advertises more than it delivers. At least with our current system people know it’s problematic and are motivated to find something better. GRADE: C



  • Our current is called Plurality Voting aka. First-Past-The-Post. Plurality Voting is where each voter can vote for one candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins. There is often a primary round of voting and then a general election later.
  • Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is commonly used to refer to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) but technically RCV is an umbrella term that refers to all voting systems that use ranked ballots or rankings. IRV is a voting system where voters can rank candidates in order of preference. 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice and sometimes more. Voters only fill out one ballot but the ballots are counted in an instant runoff style with multiple rounds. In the first round, the 1st choices are counted and the candidate in last place is eliminated. If you voted for the eliminated candidate your next remaining choice will be counted in the second round unless it’s already been eliminated. Your candidates may be eliminated before your support for them is noted if your 1st choice is strong enough to survive the early rounds but not strong enough to win.
  • Star Voting is also known as Score Runoff Voting (SRV). In Star Voting votes can give each candidate a rating from 0-5 stars. Voters only fill out one ballot but the ballots are counted in an instant runoff style with two rounds. It’s fine to give the same rating to multiple candidates. Leaving a candidate blank is a Zero. In the first round all the scores from each ballot are totaled. The top 2 are finalists. Your ballot already shows which finalist you prefer. In the runoff, whichever finalist is preferred by more voters wins.

*Disclaimer: These systems are complex and so are these criteria! Grades are subjective. Please read the write-ups which explain each grade given. Not all criteria are equally important but we believe they all deserve your consideration. Please use this report card as a tool to help evaluate the voting systems and come to your own conclusions! 

*A word on other election reforms: We fully support a number of other changes in our voting system and recognize that no voting system alone can solve all of the problems with democracy we are currently faced with. Still, implementing a system that allows for full honest voting would create the foundation! This is only the beginning!
IDEAS WE LOVE: Solving gerrymandering, enacting The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact/Electoral College reform, reforming primaries, eliminating superdelegates, making Election Day a holiday, improving voting access for those without a stable address or those that move around election times, lowering the voting age to 18. 


(1.) “29% of voters were registered Dem. and 26% Rep. at the beginning of the last election cycle with 42% Ind.” Democratic, Republican Identification Near Historical Lows.

(2.) “[IRV] 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


Learn more and get involved at:

Facebook page:

Facebook group:

RCV OR Loomio group:


Learn even more at:
The Center For Election Science,
The Center For Range Voting,
Ranked Choice Voting on facebook

Note: It has come to our attention that the website FairVote has a long history of printing misinformation and misleading statements about Instant Runoff Voting. This is unfortunate because they are one of the leading sites for election reform and are trusted and used as a source for many, myself included in the past. I offer my sincere apologies and my commitment to setting the record straight. Overselling the merits of a voting system or spreading propaganda can only hurt the quest for election reform in the long run and it appears that this strategy has already backfired:

” STV/IRV was used in roughly two dozen US cities in the early 1900’s and repealed in all of them except for Cambridge, MA. In the modern era it was repealed in Ann Arbor, MI in 1976, then these four places in the past decade.

  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Cary, North Carolina
  • Pierce County, Washington
  • Aspen, Colorado”-Clay Shentrup, Center For Election Science



Through The Eyes Of The Enemy




There is some key history being overlooked and misunderstood about the war in the Middle East. We cannot have an educated opinion on foreign policy until we understand what our enemies are fighting for and why. To understand this we have to look back in time 100 years.

In 1918 The Middle East was divided between European powers as part of a peace agreement to end WWI. ISIL, (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, aka. Daesh or incorrectly ISIS) and Al Qaeda are fighting to re-create a sovereign Islamic State that has not existed since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the death of the last Caliph in 1924. They are fighting to unify and free the Middle East from the colonial influences that have played a huge role in the region since the UN Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.

ISIL plans to govern their new State based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Islam, which justifies it’s cruel tactics as the quickest means to secure a peaceful and unified state that would offer it’s citizens a high level of social services and protections in exchange for religious purity and loyalty, as spelled out in the Koran as Sharia Law. The Islamic State is ruled by the Caliph, the religious and political leader of the Caliphate and descendant of the prophet Mohammad.

The new European imposed borders of 1918 did not take into account the existing locations and history of the ethnic groups which they contained, and as a result the new borders often put warring neighbors together in disastrous combinations, (such as the Sunni, Shia and Kurds in Iraq.) The era of European colonialism and these new borders catapulted the region into chaos and wars for independence. By the end of WWII the region had largely acquired the borders we now know. These new borders gave the traditional lands of many ethnic groups to others, creating new enemies between groups that had previously co-existed. (Israel and Palestine, Turkey and Armenia.) Many believe that this was done intentionally in order to permanently destabilize the region, to ensure European influence and to guarantee access to the region’s resources. Oppressed ethnic groups who lost land and were split between nations and many others will never accept the legitimacy of these often arbitrary borders. The desire and quest for sovereignty of ones homeland is universal.

This is why Bernie Sanders has said repeatedly that the war in the Middle East is a “war for the soul of Islam”. It can never be “won” by outsiders and our continued control in the region can only add fuel to the fires that justify their cause in the first place. From their perspective they are fighting for freedom too! It is important to note that attacking the US and our Allies is not a primary goal of ISIL or Al Qaeda.. it is a means to drive us from the Middle East. If we were to withdraw our troops it follows that the terrorist threat to us would end. Terrorism as a tactic would not end, but we would no longer be it’s target. ISIL would focus on fighting it’s neighbors in order to expand it’s territory. This is the primary goal of the Islamic State. This is why Bernie Sanders says that the Nations of the Middle East need to stand up and lead the fight against ISIL which is at war with them over territory and that America should take only a supporting role.

Who are our allies in the Middle East? Since we are not trying to conquer or colonize the region, our main objection and justification to fight ISIL has to be that they are a strict and oppressive dictatorship governed by Sharia Law and ruled by an unelected monarch… but if that is the case our line becomes very blurry. Our ally Saudi Arabia fits that description too. Saudi Arabia is our closest ally not because we agree with them on moral issues or how the region should be governed but because they provide us with oil and we provide them with weapons. Saudi Arabia is now the 3rd largest military spender in the world. If an aspiring terrorist wanted to be armed and trained in the Middle East they would do well to get their training and weapons from the Saudis before joining ISIL.

Is our goal in the Middle East stability? Justice? Democracy? Depending on how we answer we generate three very different lists of our allies and enemies. Should we be continuing down Hillary Clinton’s path of arming and training strict adherents to Islamic Fundamentalism and Sharia Law? How can we know that their loyalties are to their individual Middle Eastern countries and not to a unified Islamic State?

The United States (of America) has a long history of overthrowing democratically elected progressive leaders that pose a threat to the US agenda in their countries. The US has killed close to 50 times more Middle Eastern civilians in the Gulf Wars than American Civilians who were killed in 911 and by Al Qaeda and ISIL in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their casualties of soldiers are also much, much worse than ours.  UNICEF estimates that at least 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the US embargo of Iraq in the 90’s. If our agenda is humanitarian we have failed miserably. We see ourselves as the good guys, but from their perspective that is a hard case to argue to the orphans and family’s scarred and broken by war. Our foreign policy doesn’t fight terrorism, it breeds it.

Intention, action and outcome are not the same thing.

Radical Islamic Fundamentalism is undeniably horrible but it is not to be confused with Islam as a whole any more than Radical Christian Fundamentalism as practiced by the KKK is to be confused with Christianity. I believe that once the immediate threat of outside occupation is gone the peaceful Islamic majority will eventually take the power back from oppressive extremists.

Many parts of the Middle East including Turkey, Iran and Iraq have long histories as world leaders in education, women’s rights and the hallmarks of free society, both in ancient and modern times. Even in the most oppressive Middle Eastern countries you only have to go back a generation or so to find people who remember working and living a more or less modern European lifestyle. I recommend the brilliant animated film “Persepolis” for some insight into Iran, Saudi Arabia and underground culture in oppressive Middle Eastern countries. The political movement that catapulted the region into the modern era of Islamic theocracy was less about religious fundamentalism and more about religious freedom as the Middle East sought to free itself from the iron fist of the communist Soviet Union.

The vast history of Islam as the seat of science and math and the high degree of open society enjoyed in the Middle East is often overlooked entirely in the western narrative. It cannot be said enough that the libraries of Babylon, (now Baghdad, Iraq) where writing was invented, the Library of Alexandria (in Ancient Egypt) and then the universities of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) were the heart of the educated and free world for millennia while Europe was still mired in the Dark Ages. As the crossroads of Eurasia, the silk roads and the rich energy reserves of the Middle East guaranteed that the region was the heart of culture, industry and trade since the dawn of civilization.

However long it will take for the Middle East to find peace, it will take longer the more we continue to ship them weapons, train them at warfare, bomb them and their children and escalate the tragedy that is this war, from all perspectives. Awarding western corporations huge construction contracts directly undermines the region’s self-sufficiency and sovereignty. Endorsing or opposing their leaders undermines their legitimacy and independence. We and our Allies do, however, have an enduring responsibility to the region. We should continue to send food, medicine and humanitarian aid as long as the region needs it. We should continue to send help when we are invited to do so and take great care to not overstep and disrespect those that we hope to help.

This war is in the Middle East but it is to be expected that the hate and violence will sometimes spill over onto our shores as well. The “lone wolf” shooter in Orlando may have done what he did for ISIL but they didn’t plan it or do it themselves. In fact ISIL has only ever taken credit for two mass killings in the US. This was a hate crime and a retaliation for war. How will bombing the hell out of a region already in total ruin heal the hatred? It can only breed more.

by Sara Wolf

The Climate Change Blame Game: How a Revolution in Agriculture can Heal the Planet

The Climate Change Blame Game:

How a Revolution in Agriculture can Heal the Planet



Hurricane Katrina as seen from space.


A friend of mine recently shared an article on climate change. The central arguments were that whenever the government is telling you to do something, you should probably watch out. Just because we can prove that global temperatures have risen on average doesn’t prove who is responsible. There is tons of evidence that the earth has gone through many huge climate shifts and ice ages in the past and while the effects have been rough for some (goodbye dinosaurs) the end of the ice ages opened up tons of land that was previously unusable such as Europe and North America. Maybe in the future Greenland or Antarctica could be the next Garden of Eden? To hear this point of view from someone who actually believes it check out the article here.

This is an interesting perspective. The article isn’t really disputing global warming/climate change, it’s saying “Don’t blame me!” It’s also arguing that massive climate change and the things that go with it (flooding of a majority of urban centers, species extinction, etc.) are part of living in a changing world and we should adapt, move if necessary and not freak out so much.

I can concede a few points to you here. There are multiple factors that influence global warming and some, like solar flares, meteors and volcano eruptions are out of our control. On the other hand tons of other factors are effected in huge ways by our lifestyles and industry. What is the point of debating who is to blame when it’s clear what we could do to help?

One of the biggest and most well know factors in global warming is the fact that excess carbon dioxide catches heat radiating off the earth and keeps it from escaping. (In much the same way that clouds insulate and make cloudy nights warmer than clear ones.)

What people don’t talk about is where this excess carbon dioxide came from and the fact that we desperately need it back in the soil for fertility. Carbon is a pollutant in the air, but a priceless resource in the soil.

Carbon matter in farming is better know as organic matter and is the basis for the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water and nutrients. This is the black compost that makes up our topsoil, but in recent history it’s been estimated that 98% of our world’s topsoil has already been lost. Carbon matter in topsoil naturally decomposes and slowly releases gasses as it breaks down while at the same time plants breathe in carbon dioxide and turn it into physical carbon that is left in the soil when the plant dies and sheds it’s leaves in the fall. This is the carbon cycle. In a healthy ecosystem carbon is collected and stored faster than it is released. A healthy farm can work in much the same way. In a lot of places traditional and indigenous agriculture techniques were as effective as wild ecosystems at doing this. Sustainable agriculture calls for at least breaking even but what we really need is regenerative agriculture to rebuild our depleted soil resources.

Conventional agriculture is one of the worst offenders. When you till the soil it creates a ton of microscopic activity that breaks down soil and makes a bunch of new nutrients available to plants, but unless those nutrients are replenished with additions of compost the soil gets used up. That’s what happened to the once Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Bad agriculture can turn a forest into a desert within a few lifetimes. Adding chemical fertilizers basically does the same thing; speeds up decomposition and uses up the soils reserves without giving anything back. We can do this with great results at first, as long as we keep adding fertilizers, but over a decade or so the soil gets depleted and eventually becomes barren so it can’t grow anything. Chemically fertilized soils quickly go from being alive, with up to a billion organisms in a single teaspoon to being dead and sterile. Another side effect is that this creates a dependence on buying the fertilizers and if a farmer has a bad year and can’t afford them he or she may need to go into debt, mortgage the farm and risk loosing everything. Sustainable agriculture allows the farmer to produce almost everything the farm needs and the waste from one crop or animal becomes the food, bedding or fertilizer for another. Very little needs to be bought and so the farm is more resilient to hard economic times.


We need to switch to regenerative agriculture. Just as bad farming is one of the worst offenders in climate change, good farming offers the most effective solution. Small scale diverse farms with a good mix of types of plants and animals can speed up the production of plant matter and then the animals, microorganisms and compost savvy farmers can help incorporate it into the soil where it can be stored and not lost.


Think of sustainable farmers like reverse coal miners. Mining carbon from the sky and then burying it in the earth. There is even a technique from the Amazon where farmers do controlled smoldering of plant matter to turn it into charcoal that is then buried. This locks the carbon into a permanent form that won’t break down over time. (Burning the wood with barely any air prevents the carbon from bonding with oxygen to for carbon dioxide.) Burying the charcoal creates a stable and rich black soil that will stay fertile and productive for thousands of years, even in a climate where torrential rain usually leaches away tons of nutrients.

Modern soil scientists are just now “discovering” that a number of North and South American indigenous peoples had developed some of the most sophisticated and productive agricultural systems in the world. Food systems centered around salmon runs, oak forests and camas roots for the NW Coastal Tribes and around the buffalo and prairie for the Lakota Plains Tribes were the most advanced in the world in terms of productivity and sustainability. They were so advanced and low maintenance that colonists couldn’t even tell that the humans were an integral part of the system. Settlers thought they could improve productivity by decimating the buffalo, introducing cattle and tilling the prairie for wheat but the result was the dust bowl, one of the worst human made environmental disasters in recent history.

Good farmers know that they need to be building their soils. They are the architects and choreographers of an elaborate dance between humans plants and animals, both tended and wild. It isn’t rocket science but it is skilled and interesting work that needs to be done with local knowledge and long term goals in mind. Good farming requires family farms where long term productivity is valued as much as short term productivity. A fertile farm is a legacy and an heirloom to pass down to future generations. When corporations own all the farmland they have no incentive to play the long game. They don’t love the land.

Cutting down on our emissions of greenhouse gasses is a big part of the solution to climate change. At the least we can move towards renewable energy like solar, wind, micro-hydro and wave energy and also use sustainably harvested plant based fuels where possible. Firewood ends up being a net zero fuel because the tree cleans up as much carbon in it’s life as the tree can put off in smoke going up the chimney. But using less is only part of the solution. We need to be actively collecting carbon and storing it in the soil. We can take a pollutant and create a resource.

Climate change deniers get caught up in the blame game and miss the big picture. The same industries that are causing or contributing to global warming are also poisoning our air, soil and water with toxic chemicals. You don’t have to believe that climate change is happening or is bad to believe that poisoning each other and our children is bad and that corporations need to be stopped and held accountable!!! You don’t have to believe that humans are responsible to decide we need to get inspired and have a plan for replenishing our depleted renewable resources like topsoil and mature diverse forests. If we don’t admit that there is a problem we can’t get started fixing it. We need you on our side. Lets work together to heal the world. Or at least try and head in the right direction. There are a lot of us and our small actions add up.



Sara Wolf is a small scale farmer and permaculturalist from Portland, Oregon. She traveled the world farming and gardening in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Spain and before studying with the internationally renowned Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme in BC, Canada. She has started and managed small farms and CSA programs in Canada and Oregon and continues to be an activist for environmental healing through agriculture.



Climate Change Explained by the World Wildlife Federation

John Oliver hosts a mathematically representative climate change debate, with the help of special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy, of course.

You Can Farm by Joel Salatin

Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food  by Wendel Berry
Losing Ground: Re-thinking soil as a renewal resource


Oregon Voter’s Guide for NE Portland

by Dreamtime Compass

Ballot '16 Primary


NOTE: I changed my registration from Independent to Democrat for this election!


#1: President: Bernie Sanders!!!

#2: US Senator: Kevin Stein

  • Endorses Sanders!
  • On the Issues: Single-Payer Medicare based healthcare. No corporate money/lobbyists in politics. Treat marijuana businesses like other businesses. Anti bad Free-Trade, TPP, NAFTA etc. No cuts to Social Security
  • Running against Ron Wyden who is a Hillary Superdelegate and has a terrible record on a number of key issues including trade. Wyden has done some good things too but Oregon can do better

#3: US Representative 3rd District: Sara F. Wolk.  Write in anyone as a symbolic gesture! Write in me!

  • Earl Blumenauer is a Hillary Superdelegate running unopposed. As far as I know he has done a lot of good in other areas from agriculture to trade. Let’s put some pressure on him to switch his endorsement!  Looking into other districts, Suzanne Bonamici is also a pledged Hillary Superdelegate! Where’s the democracy?  Kurt Schrader led a Pro GMO bill and is opposed to GMO lableling. Let’s not vote for Monsanto sellouts.
  • Please write to Earl Blumenauer and ask him to cancel his Hillary endorsement as a superdelegate. Superdelegates are undemocratic and are misleading the people into thinking Bernie never stood a chance!


#4: Governor:  Julian Bell (D)

Kate Brown has endorsed Hillary and is a superdelegate and reports are mixed with most seeming to show her as uncommitted but some counting her as pledged to Clinton. Kate Brown has done a good job so far but there are also concerns.

  • Kate Bell raised the minimum wage by such a small margin that counting inflation it might as well have gone down. She passed a law to phase out coal power in Oregon, but her plan focuses on natural gas as the alternative which may not be any better. Kate increased education funding by 7.4 billion and that’s great! I think she is trying and if it wasn’t for the Hillary thing she might have had my vote.
  • Writing in Cliff Thomason is an option too… He is a S. Oregon Hemp Farmer and his platform is innovative and and focused on strengthening local economies. Please look him up. I wish he made his positions on other issues like coal, environmental issues and taxes more clear. His slogan, Make Oregon Great, is very reminiscent of Trump…
  • Julian Bell is endorsing Bernie and is making climate change his central platform!!! He also has a great stand on the housing crisis! On the other hand he pronounced Oregon as Argon, like the gas. 😦  Where is this guy from! Why is nobody in Oregon from Oregon anymore!???

#5: Secretary of State: Write in Paul Damian Wells, INDEPENDENT!!!!

  • Paul is running on a platform of election reform for a non-partisan primary where the best 2 candidates progress regardless of party. He would also get rid of state funding for partisan primaries which are unfair to 3rd party candidates and voters!
  • Paul is fighting for the idea that corporations aren’t people-they don’t have rights (UNDO CORPORATE PERSONHOOD!!!! Corporate personhood was the legal downfall of democracy and is at the root of corporate immunity and unaccountability in our country! It is probably the single most important issue and he is the first candidate I’ve seen talking about it!)
  • Brad Avakian is the most progressive democratic candidate with a strong record. He is my second choice. Want’s to expand the office and audit corporations, fight for equality and the environment but is very focused on issues that aren’t in the job description, as his opposition pointed out.
  • Devlin and Val Hoyle both played a role in disenfranching 3rd party voters, especially independents. Major dealbreaker for candidates to an office that  overseas elections!
  • Val Hoyle killed a 2015 bill that would have banned the buying and selling of ivory in Oregon and is under attack by the humane society.
  • I wish one of these candidates would take a stand for Ranked Choice voting but none did! Paul Wells plan is a step in the right direction!

#6: State Treasurer: Tobias Read

  • Tobias Read is running unopposed by other democrats but female candidate Chris Telfer is running as an Independent. She seems good too.

#7: Attorney General: Ellen Rosenblum is running unopposed.

  • Seems okay as far as I know.

#8: State Senator 22nd District: Lew Frederick is running unopposed.

  • Seems good! Says he will work to better protect us against environmental pollutants like from the Bullseye Glass catastrophe!

#9: State Representative 43rd District:  Tawna Sanchez

  • First Nations activist, community builder, progressive and native Portlandian!
  • Roberta Phillip-Robbins looks good too.

#10-23: State Judiciary and DA: All are running unopposed.


#24: Portland Mayor: Sarah Innarone

  • From Portland! Endorsed by Mark Lakeman of City Repair and the Village Building Convergence.

#25: City of Portland Commissioner Pos. 1: Amanda Fritz

  • Endorsed by Jeff Merkley. The Senate’s only Bernie Superdelegate

#26: City of Portland Commissioner Pos. 4: Chloe Eudaly

Chloe Eudaly for Portland City Council is the only candidate running who has shown strong support for rent control and renter protections.

#27: Metro Councilor: Sam Chase

  • Great platform Sam! Endorsed by Bike Walk Vote along with other incumbents incumbents: Craig Dirksen, Sam Chase, and Bob Stacey!
  • Kudos to opponent Colby Clipston for his work against citizens united. Keep up the fight!

#28: County Measure 26-174. A 5 Year Levy for Oregon Historical Society Library, museums and educational programs: YES

#29: City of Portland Measure 26-173. Temporary fuel tax for street repairs and traffic safety (10 cents per gallon for 4 years): NO

  • measure should target trucking industry! While I do think it’s generally good to tax gas by the mile, the majority of damage is done by large vehicles. I would like to see a statewide tax on vehicles over a certain weight or size.  I don’t like to support taxes that target the poor along with the rich. This would be hard on struggling Portland low income families.

#30-31 Democratic Precinct Committee-person: Write yourself in for this 2 year term grassroots position. They are short on candidates so you can get it if you really want. They need 4 men and 4 women.


THANKS FOR VOTING! please comment if you have advice on who to vote for in other districts or if you disagree on any of my choices and think we should hear you out.