Written by Aaron Lewis and Clark Shimeall, Lewis & Clark is a regular column that explores the facets of life on various levels. Most recent at the top.
NOVEMBER- Amidst the chaos of a bitter and divisive national election, landscape-changing changes in local policy went mostly unnoticed. Voters in Oregon passed measure 96, which allocated funds from the lottery to support programs for veterans. Oregon measure 98 was passed as well, requiring the state to fund dropout prevention and college readiness programs in high schools. Locally, Benton county made history by becoming the first county in Oregon to legalize ranked choice voting. While expected, these changes hint at a state and a community which are moving in an encouraging direction. The passage of ranked choice voting is particularly promising. Unlike traditional voting, where citizens choose solely one candidate, the ranked choice system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a voter’s first chance cannot win mathematically (as often happens with a third party candidate), then their vote is counted for their second choice. If their second choice cannot win, then the vote goes to their third choice, and so on and so forth, until a candidate has received at least 50 percent of the vote.
Ranked choice voting has been implemented in other areas across the country, such as in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and even most recently, in the entire state of Maine. It was co-petitioned by Oregon State Representative Dan Rayfield and the co-founder of the Pacific Green Party, Blair Bobier. The pair recognized a disturbing trend in local politics: citizens were becoming more and more discouraged with the system, and subsequently less involved. Ranked choice voting, they believed, offered a solution. The system eliminates the “spoiler effect”, where voters who identify more closely with a third party candidate feel as if they would be wasting their vote on that candidate, and as a result don’t vote for them. With ranked choice, people can vote their conscience. Such freedom is especially important in an election like 2016, where many felt as if they were choosing between the “lesser of two evils”. Because it encourages a more diverse pool of political candidates and assures that the winner will have majority support, ranked choice effectively eliminates negative campaigning.
The benefits to the system are clear and numerous, so the question arises: why hasn’t it been implemented earlier? Most likely, it is due to the fact that people are naturally opposed to change. Ranked choice voting can seem confusing and scary, when in reality it is a fairly simple change. The biggest obstacle with passing the measure in Benton County was educating voters on its positives. As the election approached, many community members participated in door-to-door canvassing for the ranked choice voting campaign. Very much a future-oriented measure, the campaign attracted the attention of many young people, including CVHS and CHS students who volunteered for the measure. Says junior Jonathan Ely, “I supported ranked choice voting so that we can have a true democracy where everyone’s voice is heard.” Community efforts paid off: the measure passed by a substantial margin. While Benton County’s specific ranked choice measure will only apply to county commissioner races in 2018, it is a stepping stone for a broader version of the measure which would apply to more types of elections later on. Additionally, it is predicted to spread to Eugene and Portland, and from there go statewide.
As politics continue to grow even more polarized, and the election system moves toward complete two-party dominance, a solution is needed. Voting is the core principle of democracy, and its integrity cannot be compromised. Ranked choice voting promises to keep elections just, hinting at a fairer, more inclusive future.
Hall, Bennett. “Ranked Choice Voting on the Ballot.” Corvallis Gazette Times, 2016 Gazette Times, 24 Oct.
FairVote. “Data on Ranked Choice Voting.” FairVote, Veracity Media, 2016.