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For Lane County Voters: STAR Voting Explained

Tiffany Eckert

Lane County voters will soon be asked to decide the outcome on STAR voting Measure 20-290. The initiative proposes a change in the voting method for non-partisan elections.

Advocates say the method would equalize the voting process. They also acknowledge many people “fear change.”  KLCC's Tiffany Eckert sat down with two people who helped get STAR voting on the ballot: Mark Frohnmayer and Alan Zundel. When ballots arrive in the mail next week, they hope voters will remember that “vote by mail” was once a new idea in election reform too.

Mark Frohnmayer: “When we watch the TV on November 6th, we’re gonna see again hours long lines of people waiting at polling places for people to cast their ballots. And everyone in Oregon just kinda goes ‘Wait, what country is that happening in?’ Because we’ve grown accustomed to a major innovation that came out of Oregon in the last 20 years. We believe STAR voting is another step forward.”

Reporter: “What is STAR voting?”

Mark Frohnmayer: “STAR voting is a new voting method. So a voting method is the mechanism by which you actually make the choice on the ballot in each election. We currently have a “choose only one” voting method. STAR stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff. And the way the ballot looks it uses the very familiar scoring that you would see on say Amazon review or a song on iTunes. We’re simply applying that method of voter expression to candidates on the ballot. So if you really like a candidate, if you really want to maximally want to support a candidate you give them a 5. If you don’t support that candidate you give that candidate a zero or you just leave it blank.”

Alan Zundel: “Short form, you can render your opinion on more than one candidate without shooting yourself in the foot.”

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Mark Frohnmayer and Alan Zundel

“It is an amalgamation of what used to be known as “instant run off” voting because this has an instant run off component to it. It’s now more often called “rank choice” voting. But with STAR, instead of ranking candidates, the innovation you use scoring of the candidates.”

Mark Frohnmayer: “The way that STAR is counted, it’s not just whoever gets the highest score overall. It’s the two highest scoring candidates are finalists and then there is an automatic runoff where your vote goes to whichever of those two you gave a higher score.

So your scores are actually used both as a level of support and a measure of preference between candidates.

That’s what makes it makes it very resident to strategy. It makes it very difficult to game because your expression of opinion is looked at through both of those lenses.”

Reporter: “Resistant to strategy?”

Mark Frohnmayer: “We all want a system where voters we all feel that being honest is the strongest choice on the ballot. That will represent the strongest representation of the will of the voters as a whole. So having a voting method that is resistant to strategic machinations is a really good thing.”

Alan Zundel: “You want to not only resistant to strategy, but you want to have a winner who satisfies as many voters as possible. And a lot of voting systems including the one we have now don’t do that very well.”

Reporter: “Who does the scoring?”

Credit starlane.us

Alan Zundel: “A computer. There’s a computerized tabulator. They take the ballots that are delivered to the county clerk and they simply feed them into this machine that scans the ballots and tabulates them. That’s how it’s done now. So you just have to adjust the algorithm in the tabulator.” 

Reporter: “It’s on the ballot, Lane County voters will be making the decision. It’s a yes or no vote.”

Mark Frohnmayer: “20-290 on your ballot. Score Then Automatic Runoff voting.”
Alan Zundel: “I endorse this message.”

Reporter: “Who does not support STAR voting?”

Alan Zundel: “We don’t have any organized support. Occasionally we meet people that for one reason or another don’t like it. I mean often it’s simply that it’s unfamiliar and they just don’t like the idea of change.”

Mark Frohnmayer: “We’re definitely noticed there’s a real skepticism of any change to the voting system. People want to know who’s behind this? Is there dark money that’s funding it? The reality is it’s been largely self-funded by the petitioners and volunteers. There’s no secret funding agenda to get this done. There’s just people who believe that we need a better democracy.

Alan Zundel: “And no Russians involved.”

Mark Frohnmayer: “No, definitely not. In the voter’s pamphlet there are 9 statements in favor and they range from the Progressive party of Oregon to business owners in Eugene to former legislators. And there are no statements in opposition.”

Alan Zundel: “We got endorsements from both Mike Clark and Betty Taylor on the Eugene City Council.”

Reporter: “Have you come out the other side with any down sides to STAR voting?”

Alan Zundel: “Big silence.”

Mark Frohnmayer: “STAR voting has been scrutinized by some of the leading election scientists in the world. And it comes out best in class.”

Alan Zundel: “As a student of history and political science it’s always good to have some humility and say you never know how things are gonna turn out. But in so far as our ability to vet this and think it through and expose it to other people and talk about it we haven’t found any down sides to it. So I’m pretty strongly assured that it’s gonna be a positive thing for us.”

Outro: That was Alan Zundel joined by Mark Frohnmayer. They are co-petitioners of Measure 20-290 which would implement a new method of voting in non-partisan elections called STAR—Score Then Automatic Runoff. The STAR voting initiative will only be on the Lane County ballot.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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