Ranked ballots are new, so voters (and the Secretary of State) need to know exactly how to count the ballots. Since we mark our paper ballots at home, without computer assistance, the ballot-marking rules need to be flexible, which lengthens the counting details.
Here the voter has marked “Adams” as their first choice, “Washington” as their second choice, “Jefferson” as their third choice, “Monroe” as their fourth choice, and “Madison” as their fifth and last choice. Marking the last choice is not necessary.
Not yet. There are some videos about a simpler version of ranked choice voting that you can find using an online video search.
What most people know as “ranked choice voting” is actually the counting method that on Wikipedia is called “instant-runoff voting.” Yes, it's confusing, so just keep reading here.
This method has no bias for or against any political party. It only has a bias in favor of candidates who voters like. Of course if one party offers problem-solving leaders and the other parties offer special-interest puppets, then there will be a bias in favor of the party that offers better candidates.
Our current voting method only works when there are two popular candidates and all the other candidates are highly unpopular.
Suppose there are nine voters, and five of those voters cast their vote for the candidate in one of the two big parties, and the other four voters cast their vote for the candidate in the other big party. The rule that says “the candidate with the most votes wins” works fine.
It works in the rural district that includes the town of Burns, and it works in a district within the city of Portland.
But when there's a third candidate who has some popularity, our current counting method easily produces unfair results.
Consider the big-city example, and let's add a third candidate who is in the Green party. Suppose two of the big-city voters who prefer the Democrat now switch their vote to the Green-party candidate.
Now who should win? Using the rule that says “the most votes wins” means the Republican wins. That's because the four votes for the Republican is more than the three votes for the Democrat. And four votes is also more than the two votes for the Green-party candidate.
But that's not fair! Five voters oppose the Republican. That means more than half the voters oppose the winner.
The unfairness can be biased in the opposite way too. In the rural example involving the town of Burns, let's add a third candidate who is from the Reform party, which is the conservative party that Ross Perot created (but which has declined in popularity).
Now the Democrat wins even though more voters prefer either the Republican candidate or the Reform candidate.
That too is not fair! Five voters oppose the Democrat. Again, more than half the voters oppose the winner.
During the process of voting, each voter marks a ranked ballot.
On a ranked ballot the voter not only marks their first choice, but also marks their second choice, and marks more choices if there are more candidates.
Nope. The voter is allowed to mark just their favorite. But this means they are saying “I'll let the other voters decide among the remaining candidates.”
The least-popular candidate is eliminated, and then the ballots are counted again without the eliminated candidate. This step-by-step process of eliminating the least-popular candidate is repeated until there is just one candidate remaining. That remaining candidate is the most popular candidate, so he or she wins the election.
(How is the least-popular candidate identified? That's explained shortly.)
That works, and it gets the same result. Yet continuing the eliminations reveals which candidate is the runner-up candidate. Why is this useful?
In a Republican or Democratic primary election, the runner-up candidate deserves to move on to the general election along with the most popular candidate. This prevents money from being used as a blocking tactic.
PACs (Political Action Committees) and wealthy business owners don't just donate money to candidates in the political party they favor. During primary elections they also donate money to the most acceptable candidate, or a popular-yet-flawed candidate, in the other big political party.
As a dramatic example, some of the money given to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary election came from people who favored a Republican president. They assumed a black man could not possibly win the general election. This tactic successfully blocked Hillary Clinton from reaching the 2008 general election. Obama winning the general election revealed that their assumption was out-of-date.
Pop Quiz: In the recent 2020 U.S. presidential election, which candidate in the Democratic primary election did some PACs and wealthy business owners give money to for the purpose of making it easier for the Republican candidate to win? Bonus points: Which popular Democratic candidates got blocked from reaching the general election by using this tactic?
Allow two Republican candidates and two Democratic candidates to progress to the general election. The runner-up candidate, who is the candidate who is eliminated in the final, top-two elimination round of the primary, deserves the party's second spot in the general election.
Clarification: The runner-up candidate in a general election does NOT deserve to win any kind of office. Why not? Because the same majority of voters who cast the ballots favoring the winner also control which candidate is the runner-up candidate. When an election needs to fill multiple equivalent seats, such as on a city council, the vote counting needs to give compensating influence when filling the second seat, and further seats.
The first step of unblocking general elections is to adopt ranked ballots in general elections so they can handle more than just two candidates.
Consider the big-city election that includes the Green-party candidate. The Green-party candidate gets the fewest first-choice votes, just two votes.
This count is less than the three votes for the Democrat, and less than the four votes for the Republican, so under the rules of simple ranked choice voting, the Green-party candidate is eliminated. Why? Because it has the fewest first-choice votes.
The two voters who ranked the Green candidate at the top of their ballot now get their vote transferred to their second choice, which would be the Democrat in the big-city scenario.
Now there's another round of counting, but this time the two voters who most prefer the Green-party candidate get their second choice counted.
Now there are five votes for the Democrat. The Republican still has just four votes. Now the Republican is the least-popular of the remaining candidates, so he or she is eliminated. That leaves the Democrat as the only remaining candidate, so the Democrat wins in this big-city example.
This result is much fairer than our current vote-counting method. Why? Under our current method the Republican would win, even though more than half the voters (five of them) oppose the Republican.
This simple version of ranked choice voting works fine as long as the third-party candidates are not too popular.
But it didn't work in the 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, Vermont.
In the city of Burlington, Vermont the 2009 election for mayor involved three strong candidates: a Progressive candidate (who was the incumbent mayor), a Democratic candidate, and a Republican candidate.
After eliminating some other unpopular candidates, and after shifting the votes of voters who ranked those unpopular candidates at the top of their ballots, the vote counts became:
The Democrat has the smallest percentage of the vote (28% which is less than 33% and less than 37%). So under the simplistic version of ranked choice voting that was being used in Burlington at that time, the Democrat was eliminated. The 28% of the voters who ranked him highest got their votes transferred to either the Progressive or the Republican. At that point the Progressive had 48%, and the Republican had 45%, so the Progressive candidate was declared the winner.
(Yes, those two numbers don't add up to 100% because some voters failed to express a preference for either one of those two candidates.)
On the surface this result seems fair. Yet ranked ballots collect lots of information so let's look further down on all the ballots.
Ranked ballots collect enough information to determine the outcome of any one-on-one contest between any two candidates. These one-on-one contests are called “pairwise comparisons.” In the Burlington mayoral election there were three pairwise comparison results:
Notice who lost each pairwise comparison. The Republican lost both of the pairwise comparisons he was in, and the Progressive lost one of the two pairwise comparisons he was in.
A candidate who loses all their pairwise comparisons.
In the Burlington election the Republican was a pairwise losing candidate. That's because he lost both of his pairwise comparisons: the one against the Democrat, and the one against the Progressive.
When an elimination round has a pairwise losing candidate, that candidate deserves to be eliminated as the least-popular candidate.
If the Burlington election had been done this way, the final elimination round would have been between the two most popular candidates, the Progressive and the Democrat. Then the Democrat would have won. That would have been fairer because the Democrat won the pairwise comparison against the Progressive.
In other words, the presence of a candidate who could not win caused the wrong candidate to win. That's crazy.
(Interestingly Burlington voters probably would have retained their use of ranked choice voting if that election had been successful.)
Consider the ballot above where the voter ranks the Green candidate first, the Democrat second, and the Republican last. Here are the pairwise counts for that one ballot:
We can summarize these counts in a table.
|... over Republican||... over Democrat||... over Green|
|Prefer Republican ...||—||0||0|
|Prefer Democrat ...||1||—||0|
|Prefer Green ...||1||1||—|
That's how pairwise counting is done.
Ranked ballots collect more information, so there are more counts to keep track of.
Remember that even primitive single-choice ballots with only two candidates have to keep track of three counts:
When we add a Green-party candidate there are three pairs of candidates:
Each of these pairs can be counted as if they were a two-candidate contest, so we have nine pairwise numbers. (Nine is three times three.)
Computers easily keep track of this counting.
Fortunately, usually, we only need to look at two of the numbers:
The bigger of these two numbers tell us whether the winning candidate deserves to win.
Ranked Choice Oregon allows clearly unpopular candidates to be eliminated in a single batch before starting the one-by-one elimination rounds. This provision eliminates the need for the central counting location to wait for every bit of preference information on every ballot before official counting can begin. This improvement is yet another example of how Ranked Choice Oregon overcomes a valid criticism of simple (unimproved) ranked choice voting.
Yes. Someone could write “Captain Underpants” as a write-in candidate and rank him at first choice. If enough people write in the same candidate name it's possible that candidate could win. But the write-in candidates who are not popular do not cause problems during the counting process.
They tell us how many voters oppose each candidate.
When the majority — more than half — of voters oppose a candidate, we shouldn't allow that disliked candidate to win.
If the disliked candidate loses every one of its pairwise comparisons, the candidate deserves to be eliminated quickly.
Each time a candidate is eliminated the ballots on which that eliminated candidate is highest ranked get their one vote transferred to the next-highest-ranked candidate. Notice that all other ballots continue to count towards whichever candidate is highest-ranked (because those candidates are still in the race).
If an elimination round does not involve a pairwise losing candidate, then the candidate who is highest-ranked on the fewest ballots is eliminated. Scroll up to the pie charts to see how this works.
Eliminating the candidate with the fewest transferred votes is the simple version of ranked choice voting that Burlington used. It works great for eliminating clearly unpopular candidates. But as already explained, it can make mistakes when choosing among popular candidates.
The Ranked Choice Oregon ballot initiative avoids these mistakes by inserting the safety net of eliminating pairwise losing candidates when they occur.
Yes! In the Burlington mayoral election 99.9% of the ballots were filled out correctly.
Some voters, when filling out a ranked ballot for the first time, mark just a single candidate on a ranked ballot, without ranking any second-choice candidate. That's what sixteen percent (16%) of the Burlington voters did. That's not small, yet these voters do get their first-ranked candidate counted as being supported. And these voters continue to get their vote counted in each elimination round until their single-marked candidate is eliminated.
Only when a ballot runs out of preference information does an incompletely filled out ballot get ignored.
The most-preferred of the marked levels is used for that candidate.
Consider the following ballot on which the voter has marked the Green candidate as both the second choice and the third choice. Second choice is the higher rank so the third-choice mark is ignored.
Yes. That's shown in the ballot above where the voter has marked the Democrat and the Green-party candidate at the same ranking level.
This kind of ballot marking is handled just as you would expect:
In other words, the above ballot would not contribute to the pairwise comparison between the Democrat and the Green-party candidate. And if the Republican gets eliminated first, then the Democrat and the Green-party candidate would each get half a vote while looking for the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes.
Nope. The number of ranking levels between any pair of candidates has no effect on pairwise comparisons, and no effect on how the vote is transferred to the next-highest-ranked candidate.
In other words the following ballot is equivalent to just marking the Republican as the first choice and leaving all the other ovals unmarked.
Under the counting rules of Ranked Choice Oregon the only way to spoil a ballot is to not be clear about whether an oval is marked or not marked.
Some other elections that use ranked choice voting have rules that entirely discard a ranked ballot as “spoiled” if it's marked with more than one rank for the same candidate, or if more than one candidate is ranked at the same ranking level. That's crazy. The Ranked Choice Oregon rules are not that finicky.
To reduce the influence of money in Oregon politics.
Do you recall the example where adding a third candidate caused the wrong candidate to win? The money tactic exploits this unfairness.
A wealthy person who wants the Republican candidate to win can give some campaign contributions to the Green-party candidate for the purpose of defeating the Democratic candidate. (Of course more money is given to the Republican.) This financial support splits some political “left” voters away from the Democrat to the Green-party candidate, which reduces the number of votes for the Democrat, and that makes it easier for the Republican to win. Remember that the Republican only needs to get more votes than the Democrat.
Back when the Reform party offered candidates who split votes away from Republican candidates, a wealthy person could have helped a Democrat win by donating money to the Reform candidate (in addition to donating money to the Democrat).
You have, but typically it's hidden in primary elections where the winner is always from the correct political party.
You've noticed that the candidate in the primary who gets the most financial support tends to win, right? Now you know why it happens so often.
Wealthy people don't just give money to the candidates they want to win. They also give smaller amounts of money to a weak candidate who is similar to the popular candidate they want to defeat. That splits votes away from their “enemy” candidate. This makes it easier for their money-backed candidate to win the primary election.
This tactic of giving money to extra, similar candidates becomes useless if ranked choice voting is used.
Consider this recent example. Suppose wealthy business owners wanted to defeat Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang during the 2020 Democratic primary election. They would give (and some of them did give) money to Joe Biden to increase the chance that he would get more votes than either Sanders or Warren or Yang. That tactic exploited vote splitting between Sanders, Warren, and Yang, which made it easier for Biden to get more votes than either of the political “left” candidates.
When ranked ballots are used in general elections a second Democratic candidate and a second Republican candidate can progress to the general election. This change would be allowed because vote splitting can no longer occur.
We don't know. There are multiple reasons why:
Follow the money. Alas, that's difficult to track. So ...
Look at the fact that the two best-financed political parties both oppose ranked choice voting. They claim it's too complicated, and that it takes up too much space on the ballot.
Actually what's more complicated is figuring out how best to mark our primitive primary-election ballots, where we can only mark a single choice. And isn't using some extra sheets of paper worthwhile if it keeps people employed, prevents depression and homelessness, and saves lives?
When looking at the amounts of money spent to oppose ranked choice voting, remember that spending millions of dollars to protect tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, subsidies, legal monopolies, and other governmental advantages is a great return on investment (ROI).
It's long overdue! So please help us get this initiative on the ballot by sending a letter of support to the address shown on the pre-written letter of support.
To save a stamp and envelope, scan (or carefully photograph) the signed letter and email it to: LC.email@example.com.
It's a related reform, but they are different in two ways.
House Bill 2678, which is being considered by the Oregon legislature, only changes primary elections and nonpartisan elections. It does not change general elections.
This Ranked Choice Oregon ballot initiative is a grassroots effort to reform general elections. This initiative would bypass any opposition in the Oregon legislature because adoption will be determined by you, the voters, not by elected politicians.
The open primaries that have been adopted in California, Washington, Alaska, and other states continue to use single-choice ballots. That's crazy. Our primitive ballots are what make elections relatively easy to influence using money tactics. And remember the biggest unfairnesses occur in primary elections, where most voters don't notice them.
In the case of Alaska their recently approved method does use ranked ballots in the general-election runoff. However the primary uses single-choice ballots. That's like building a nice house on top of sand (or snow).
These open primaries are flawed because whichever political party offers the fewest candidates gets a big advantage. Even if a political party intends to limit the number of their candidates, that intention is easily undermined by money supplied to weaker candidates in that party. The result is vote splitting that favors the party with fewer candidates, and more money.
Remember that the Oregon legislature offered an open primary election system on the ballot some years ago. Wisely we defeated that unfair change that pretended to be a “reform.”
Using ranked ballots in both the primary election and the general election.
Plus, allowing two candidates — not just one candidate — each from the Republican and Democratic parties to compete in the general election.
When ranked ballots are used in a primary election, the runner-up candidate — who is the last candidate to be eliminated before reaching the single winning candidate — also deserves to reach the general election.
Clarification: The runner-up candidate in a general election does not deserve to win any kind of office. That's because the voters who are numerous enough to support the winning candidate should not also determine which candidate deserves to win a second seat, such as on a city council. Instead the ballots that elect the winner of a first seat need their influence reduced to give the other voters fairer influence in filling the second seat. Yes, it's complicated. That's because there are two different meanings for the words “second-most popular.” This complexity is yet another reason the ballot initiative is not as short as some critics will claim it should be.
Oregon ballot initiatives cannot change too many sections of law. This Ranked Choice Oregon initiative will change the wording of only a single paragraph, plus add some new paragraphs that mostly explain the important details of marking and counting ranked ballots. Alas, first we have to reform general elections before it becomes possible to reform primary elections.
Approval voting uses the same ballots we use now. It just changes the instructions to say that you, as a voter, can mark more than one candidate's oval. This change would be easy to make.
Approval voting would work well in primary elections. In fact, the original draft of Ranked Choice Oregon included a provision to allow any political party to use Approval voting in any primary election. Unfortunately Oregon laws do not allow a ballot initiative to change more than one thing at a time, so that option was removed.
However, Approval voting would not work well in a general election. That's because the winner could too easily be from the wrong party. Especially in situations where there are three popular candidates. (Does this sound familiar?)
Figuring out how best to mark an Approval ballot is challenging. Fans of Approval voting say that you just need to “approve” the candidates you like, and leave the other candidates' ovals unmarked. Alas, some voters can, and will, use special tactics that give their ballot extra influence over voters who don't use these tactics. This vulnerability makes it not good enough for use in general elections.
STAR voting, which is explained in answer to the next question, would be better than the primitive ballots we use now. And it would work well in primary elections. And it's better than Approval voting. But using it in general elections would too easily elect a candidate from the wrong political party. Expressed another way, STAR voting can too easily elect a candidate who lacks support from more than half the voters.
STAR is an acronym for “Score Then Automatic Runoff.” STAR voting is a new voting method being promoted within Oregon. It combines Score voting with an “instant” “top-two” (pairwise) runoff.
The STAR ballot looks like a ranked ballot, but always with six preference levels, usually labeled “0” (zero) through “5”. When you give a candidate a score of “4” then 4 score points are added to that candidate's total score. The two candidates who receive the highest score numbers progress to an instant pairwise comparison. The top-two candidate who appears above the other top-two candidate on the most ballots wins.
The best-known example of Score voting is Amazon's use of five stars for rating (as opposed to ranking) the products they sell. The school grades A through F are another familiar Score rating system. These work great in these contexts where the voter's financial situation is not affected by how they vote.
But under Score voting a voter can gain extra influence on the election outcome by rating candidates at the highest and lowest ratings, without rating any candidates at the intermediate ratings.
To better understand this voting tactic, consider what happens when an emcee announces that a Halloween costume contest will be decided by the loudness of clapping for each contestant. You can get extra influence by clapping loudly for your favorites, and just pretending to clap for the other contestants. Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. Yet that's the strategy that works well with Score voting.
The ballot version of this strategy is to mark your favorites at the highest score and mark all other choices at the lowest score. The skipping of score levels in between highest and lowest give your ballot extra influence. For example, if you separate two candidates with three empty score levels between them, your ballot cancels out three other ballots on which those two candidates are at adjacent score levels with the opposite preference.
Clarification: Unlike Score ballots, ranked ballots do not give extra influence to voters who skip ranking levels.
If everyone marks Score ballots using this strategy, the result amounts to Approval voting. This is why fans of Score voting also favor Approval voting.
Yes. It would have fewer failures of the kind that happened in Burlington, Vermont when simple ranked choice voting was used.
Nope. Ranked Choice Oregon yields fairer results compared to STAR voting.
Why? STAR voting does not ensure the winner is supported by more than half the voters.
To its credit, STAR voting works well among friends and people who want to build trust and goodwill through cooperation. This is why STAR voting has a high number for something called the “voter satisfaction index” (which is the inverse of “Bayesian regret”).
But in politics, during a general election, under current conditions, few voters would be willing to mark their ballot in a way that says “here's a comparison between candidates that's not as important to me.”
As mentioned above, STAR voting would function well in primary elections. However, STAR voting and ranked choice voting use numbering conventions that are opposites. Specifically, on a ranked ballot “first choice” is the highest ranking, but on a STAR ballot the number five (5) is used for the highest rating. Both conventions being used on the same ballot would be frustratingly confusing.
Yes, but the vote counting is difficult to understand. More importantly they would very rarely make a difference in who wins a single-seat election.
So far the versions of proportional representation that have been adopted in European nations and elsewhere around the world are seriously flawed. These flawed versions have been adopted because, yes you guessed it, their results can be undermined by money. And that's because, as you probably guessed, they use single-choice ballots.
The case of Australia is a bit different. Some of their elections use a version of proportional representation that uses ranked ballots. However, other Australian elections still use single-choice ballots. Big political parties cannot be positioned well for both kinds of elections. Plus the vote-counting methods are flawed. As a result, lots of voters end up voting for candidates in the biggest parties even though they really want different candidates. Sound familiar?
Voting experts agree that eventually there will be a version of proportional representation that will significantly improve election fairness. Yet so far, the only methods that have been tried would not work in the United States. And none of the tried methods have proven to be successful in significantly reducing the influence of money in elections.
Although there's lots of unfairness in how district boundaries are drawn, this issue mostly affects the balance of power between the two main political parties, both of which are corrupt.
The much bigger unfairness is the balance of power between money and votes. When money declines in influence over election results, and when votes gain more influence over election results, the balance of power between political parties will become more meaningful.
Even better, after ranked ballots have been adopted, it will become easy to adopt election methods that defeat gerrymandering. This goal will be achieved using methods that produce almost the same election results even if district boundaries are re-drawn in ways that would otherwise exploit gerrymandering tactics such as “packing” and “cracking.”
After ranked ballots have been adopted in congressional elections, it will become easy to adopt better vote-counting methods in presidential elections. Those improved presidential election methods will eliminate the unfairness of involving electoral-college “electors.” But we can't make that progress until single-choice ballots stop getting used in most elections.
Currently, vote splitting in presidential primary elections is exploited to block reform-minded candidates from reaching the presidential general election. That blocking tactic won't be available when presidential general elections can offer at least two candidates from the Republican party and at least two candidates from the Democratic party. Plus there will be viable “third-party” candidates in presidential general elections.
Yes, it's difficult to imagine the many election changes that are coming in the future. Yet the mess we are in now can be understood better by realizing that the original purpose of primary elections was to prevent vote splitting in general elections. Specifically whichever party offered just one candidate usually won against the party that offered two candidates. Primary elections solved that problem, but created new problems. And it hid the unfairness of vote splitting in primary elections where the winning candidate is always from the correct political party.
Lots of voters fail to realize that the voters in the “other” political party — whichever that might be — are not excited by the candidates who win “their” party's primary elections.
Only the people who contribute the biggest amounts of money are excited by who wins elections.
The rest of us, the majority of voters, want to elect problem-solving leaders. Yet the winners are almost always special-interest puppets who protect “politics as usual.”
When votes have more influence than money, then a majority of voters will become much happier with who wins.
Please click the button below, print the letter of support, sign it, write your address, scan (or carefully photograph) the signed letter, and email it to: LC.firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can send the signed letter via postal mail to the address at the top of the letter.
You can contact us, the Ranked Choice Oregon organizers, by sending an email message to “action” at this website's domain name (RankedChoiceOregon dot org).
Our postal mailing address is: Ranked Choice Oregon, PO Box 2351, Portland, OR, 97208