Voters will be able to decide this November whether to change the voting method used in Multnomah County elections.
A 15-person committee tasked with reviewing the county's charter — functionally a local constitution — concluded its work in July, recommending seven charter amendments, which must be approved by voters to be implemented.
The committee recommended that instant-runoff ranked-choice voting be adopted for county elections starting in 2026.
The voting method has become increasingly popular, being used in 43 jurisdictions across the country in recent elections, according to the group FairVote. Benton County held its first ranked-choice election in 2020.
If adopted, the method would not apply to other local, state or federal elections. Portland recently conducted a charter review process, however, advancing a package of amendments that would include adopting ranked-choice voting.
Under the voting method, voters would rank candidates in an election in order of preference, with their first choice being their most-preferred candidate. If more than 50% of voters select the same candidate as their first choice, that candidate is elected. If not, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their first choice then have their votes added to the vote totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes.
Currently, the county holds a primary in which a candidate can win an election outright by receiving more than half the votes cast. If no one receives more than half of the votes, the two top candidates advance to a runoff election in the subsequent general election.
If ranked-choice voting is adopted, the county would no longer hold primaries.
Committee members said the voting method would allow Multnomah County voters to express their political preferences on the ballot more fully, without fear of "vote-splitting." The term refers to cases in which two similar candidates split votes from a population of voters who would prefer either of those candidates over another dissimilar candidate. It can result in neither of the similar candidates receiving enough votes to win, despite them potentially having majority support together.
The voting method would promote more candidate coalition building, a greater diversity of candidates and discourage negative campaigning, committee members said.
They added that they heard from a diverse list of local community groups that support ranked-choice voting.
The committee also commissioned a survey about voting methods that received 268 respondents. Ranked-choice voting received the most support among the voting methods presented.
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