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New initiative would bring 'STAR Voting' to Eugene elections

A hand depositing an envelope into a container marked "Lane County Elections."
Brian Bull
STAR Voting, which stands for "score then automatic run-off," would be an alternative method of electing municipal candidates in Eugene.

This month, petitioners will begin collecting signatures to overhaul election rules in the city of Eugene. The initiative would allow voters to rate multiple candidates instead of choosing just one.

Under a STAR Voting system, the public would score candidates on a scale of zero to five. The two highest scorers would then enter into an automatic run-off, with the finalist that more voters preferred becoming the winner.

Voters could give multiple candidates the same score, but if two of them went to the run-off, the ballot would be considered a “vote of no preference.”

If approved, the new voting system would apply to elections for Eugene mayor and city council members starting in 2026.

Sara Wolk, a Eugene resident, is one of the chief petitioners for the initiative. She said the goal of STAR Voting is to end concerns over so-called "spoiler candidates."

“Your vote isn't wasted, whether or not your favorite can win," she said. "It's safe to vote [with] your conscience.”

To get on the ballot, petitioners will need to collect nearly 10,000 signatures from registered Eugene voters in less than four months. In 2018, a similar initiative reached the Lane County ballot but received only 48% of the vote.

Wolk said while the countywide initiative failed, a majority of voters within the Eugene city limits supported it.

So far, the committee behind the initiative has publicly reported only two contributions to the campaign. The largest donation, by far, is a $50,000 gift from Dylan Hirsh-Shell, a California resident who lists his profession as a software engineer for Tesla. More recent contributions may not be reflected, as state campaign finance law does not require immediate reporting of transactions.

Meanwhile, petitioners across the state are collecting signatures for another ballot initiative, which would implement STAR voting for all state and federal elections in Oregon. A separate effort is underway to enact another alternate method of voting known as "ranked choice." Both campaigns have until July 2024 to submit enough valid signatures to be considered on the 2024 general election ballot in Oregon.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.