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Survey shows voters are interested in alternate systems, but there's no consensus on preferred systems.

While Oregon's voting rate remains among the highest in the country, most Oregonians aren't satisfied with current election systems, a new poll finds.

A survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found that less than one-third of Oregonians think that the process for electing the governor and state legislators should stay the same. One-third of Oregonians think voters should be able to rank their top three candidates, while 24% think there should be runoff elections if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.COURTESY PHOTO: MULTNOMAH COUNTY - A Multnomah County voter deposits their ballot at a drop box in May 2022.

Alternative voting systems are increasingly on the minds of voters as the November election approaches. With Betsy Johnson running as an unaffiliated candidate for governor — with more funding and support than minor party or unaffiliated candidates in recent history — vote-splitting is a concern for some voters. PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon's vote-by-mail ballots are opened and scanned at local elections offices.

Voters in Portland and Multnomah County will also weigh in on ballot measures that would implement ranked-choice voting for county and city officials in future elections.

Statewide, just 36% of Oregonians are satisfied with the political party they're registered with.

"I just wish that there was something better because it just doesn't even seem effective anymore," Leanne Spivey, a Marion County resident in her 50s, said of the current election system. "I don't even feel like the average person, the average citizen or person that lives anywhere, their voice really matters," Spivey said. "It almost makes me not want to vote — but I do vote."

For many, ranked-choice voting or other voting systems seem confusing.

"I'm frustrated and overwhelmed," one Washington County woman wrote in the survey.

"We will need to add way more civics and government to our education to make sure we have an educated populace to engage with this kind of system," a Tillamook County woman wrote.

Spivey said she was considering voting for either ?Christine Drazan or Betsy Johnson but was worried about splitting the vote by casting her ballot for Johnson.

"If (ranked-choice voting) could help somebody make that decision, and not feel like their vote is wasted, it would probably be helpful, but I don't know how these things are tallied and messed around with," Spivey said.

Benton County adopted ranked-choice voting for county commissioner races when there are more than three candidates. In Benton County, county commissioner is a partisan position, so ranked choice voting is only used if three or more parties nominate different candidates. The system was first used in 2020, but the winning candidates for both positions received more than half the votes in the first round, so the additional rankings weren't necessary.

Under ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates on their ballots. When elections officials receive ballots, they first total all the top-ranked candidates. If no candidate receives more than half of the votes, the candidate who received the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes that went to that candidate are then distributed to the second-choice candidates. If there is still no candidate with more than half of the votes, the process repeats.

"Ranked choice voting could end strategic voting and better reflect the will of the people," Seth Hill, a Multnomah County man, wrote. "Right now I feel that as a Democrat, the only choice I have when voting is to stick with whoever the party selected, regardless of what I think of them. … The alternative is likely to spend all their time trying to get a fascism high score."

Forty-three percent of Oregonians said they would support an election system that used ranked-choice voting and multi-member districts. Though that isn't a majority, only 28% of Oregonians said they opposed that system; 29% said they didn't know.

Some respondents voiced concerns about the cost of multi-member districts, driven up by more elected officials' salaries, and the difficulty of getting things done with too many cooks in the kitchen.

Statewide, 37% of Oregonians said the Democratic and Republican parties have too much say in selecting candidates to compete in the general election, while 27% said the parties have the right amount of say and 8% said they have too little say.

State primaries are handled in a range of ways across the country, but Oregon is one of just nine states with closed primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A significant majority — 59% of respondents — said they believe the two major political parties should open up their primaries to allow all voters to have a say in the nominees.

Most city and county offices are officially nonpartisan. In those that hold primaries, including the city of Portland, the top two candidates in the primary face off in the general election, unless one candidate receives more than half of the vote in the primary.

The last mayoral election in Portland ended with Ted Wheeler winning a second term with 46% of all votes, while 13.2% of votes — more than double the margin between Wheeler and Sarah Iannarone — were for write-in candidates.

The ballot measure for Portland makes additional changes to city government. It would also add a professional city administrator and expand city council from four at-large commissioners to 12 commissioners, with three commissioners representing each of four districts.

In the OVBC survey, 47% of respondents said they would favor a system with multiple elected leaders representing the same region, while 28% said they would favor having one elected leader per region.

"We are so divided, and a 'winner-take-all' system means that the 'losers' don't get any representation at all. Just look at the Oregon State Legislature and how skewed it is; conservatives have done crazy things just to feel like they have any power at all," one Clackamas County respondent wrote. If the top two vote-getters from their district went to Salem "both 'sides' would have representation and actual compromise and discussion would have to happen to get anything done," they wrote. "I'm a rabid progressive, but even I think things in Salem are too skewed and a few checks and balances would be a good thing overall."

Oregon Values & Beliefs Center methodology

The survey was conducted online among Oregonians 18 and older from professionally maintained online panels. The polling group said its surveys are within the statistically valid margin of error.

The nonprofit is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.

Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more about the panel, click here.


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