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'STAR Voting’ proposal qualifies for Eugene ballot

A hand depositing an envelope into a container marked "Lane County Elections."
Brian Bull
Petitioners obtained enough valid signatures to qualify a STAR Voting initiative to the ballot in Eugene.

A proposal to bring rating-based voting to Eugene has qualified for the ballot next May.

STAR Voting lets the public rate multiple candidates on a scale of zero to five. The two highest scorers advance to an automatic run-off, and the finalist preferred by more voters wins.

Voters can give multiple candidates the same score, but if they go to a run-off, the ballot is considered a “vote of no preference.”

Advocates for the initiative say this could end concerns around spoiler candidates and electability.

“STAR Voting is an amazing, simple and effective way to empower voters so that we get more representative and less toxic political discourse,” said Sara Wolk, a lead petitioner for STAR Voting for Eugene.

If voters approve the proposal, the new voting method would be used for the city elections for Mayor, City Council and EWEB starting in 2026.

A proposal to enact STAR Voting countywide failed at the ballot in 2018. However, over 54% of voters in Eugene city limits supported the measure, according to precinct data.

“Right out the gate as a novel concept, STAR Voting was able to get that kind of support,” said Wolk. “But now that we've had a chance to get our message out, and to let people absorb it for a couple of years, I hope to see even better numbers.”

A mock-up of a STAR Voting ballot.
Sara Wolk
Equal Vote Coalition
A mock-up of a STAR Voting ballot.

The system has drawn comparisons to ranked choice voting (RCV). However, proponents in both camps say there are key differences.

Wolk claims STAR Voting would be cheaper and more efficient than RCV, since ballots would only need to be checked twice.

Wolk said she’s also concerned about errors and confusion under an RCV system. She cited a case in Oakland, California last year, when county officials mistallied RCV votes and declared a false winner.

“In STAR voting, all ballot data is counted and all data is used,” Wolk told KLCC. “It’s just simple addition, so it’s transparent, secure, and compatible with our existing election infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, supporters of RCV argue that STAR Voting doesn’t have the long record of successful implementation that other alternative voting methods do.

“STAR Voting is not ready for primetime,” said Blair Bobier, a founder of Oregon Ranked Choice Voting Advocates. “It may never be, but it really needs to be vetted and tested before it's put to use.”

Bobier said ranked choice has momentum in Oregon, with a measure for state and federal elections headed to the ballot next November. He said proposals like STAR Voting are a distraction.

In Oregon, Benton County and Corvallis have already approved RCV, as have Multnomah County and Portland. STAR Voting has been adopted by some third parties in the state, and was used to elect Oregon’s delegates for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Wolk said Eugene could be a model for the entire country. She said the next step is educating the community about the merits of this new system.

“We owe it to voters to put forward the best proposal we have,” said Wolk.

The STAR Voting campaign is backed by a $50,000 donation from California software engineer Dylan Hirsch-Shell, and over $7,500 in other publicly reported contributions.

More recent contributions may not be reflected, as state campaign finance law does not require immediate reporting of transactions.

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.
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