Women of the Northwest

Voting Reform with Annie Kallen and Lynn McConnell

October 31, 2023 Annie Kallen and Lynn McConnell Episode 80
Women of the Northwest
Voting Reform with Annie Kallen and Lynn McConnell
Show Notes Transcript

Why voter reform?
The Problem
STAR stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff

Give your favorite 5 stars, give your least favorite zero and score the others as you like.

You can score your conscience.

You don't have to worry about voting for the lessor of two evils or wasting your vote.

Scores are created by adding all the scores until all the ballots are counted.
The two highest scoring candidates are finalists.
The remaining candidates are out of the running.

Next, scores are tabulated in the automatic runoff.
All ballots are considered again, looking at the scores of the finalists to consider the winner.

STAR is non-partisan.

We should be able to vote our conscience, our votes should never be wasted, and our elections should accurately reflect the will of the people.

The initiative would establish STAR voting, where voters rate the candidates for a given office and the top two finishers advance to an automatic runoff.

Oct 6, 2023 — Eugene residents will likely will decide in May whether to implement the STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) voting method. 

SECTION 1. Legislative Findings.
The People of the State of Oregon find that:
(1) Upgrading our electoral system to a modern, user-friendly, and more accurate voting method would significantly improve Oregon's political landscape by ensuring that every voter can vote their conscience, that our votes are able to make a difference, and that our system elects winners who better represent the will of the people.

(2) Modern electoral science has consistently shown that STAR Voting is the best voting method available to empower voters, to level the playing field, to remove barriers to entry for candidates, and to ensure our elections are fair and representative.

(3) The current voting method used in most Oregon elections, in which a voter can vote for only one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins, is fundamentally flawed:

(a) Voting for one's honest favorite can and often does backfire, if a voter's favorite isn't strong enough to win, and voters must strategically vote for a "lesser-of-two-evils" candidate to avoid wasting their votes.

(b) This is due to a problem known as vote-splitting, where like-minded voters can end up effectively divided and conquered. Vote-splitting is common in elections with more than two candidates, even if the third candidate has no chance of winning. When vote-splitting results in the election of a candidate opposed by the majority of voters, it is known as the "Spoiler Effect."

(c) Candidates who may have brought valuable ideas to the table are often pressured not to run because of vote-splitting concerns. Vote-splitting also makes elections subject to manipulation, and political operatives can fund non-viable candidates they actually oppose in order to split the vote and game the election.

(d) The current system increases polarization and leads to two-party domination because it only works accurately with two candidates in the race. When there are more candidates, voters have to align with one of the two perceived front runners to avoid wasting their votes.

(e) Voting for an under funded candidate who may not be viable runs the risk of "wasting" your vote, so vote-splitting magnifies the already outsized influence of money in politics.

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[00:03] Lynn: I want to again, underscore, this is not a partisan issue. This is about everybody and everything you care about value and your ideals.

[00:20] Jan:  proponents of voter reform have heard voters say we should be able to vote our conscience. Our votes should never be wasted and our election should accurately reflect the will of the people. Welcome friends, to Women of the Northwest. I'm your host, Jan Johnson. My guests today, Lynn McConnell and Annie Kallen, talk about an option for voter reform called Star. For more information you can go to starvoting.org and you can find more links in the show notes. Let's listen in for an interesting discussion.

[00:59] Jan: Welcome to Women of the Northwest. Glad to have you here.

[01:03] Lynn: Lynn McConnell, happy to join you.

[01:06] Jan: And I also have Annie Kallen here with me as well. Welcome, Annie.

[01:12] Annie: Hi, glad to have you.

[01:14] Jan: So both of you are working on some voting reform. Tell us about that.

[01:21] Annie: Did you want to start, Lynn, or should I start?

[01:24] Lynn: I'll start with local angle and then you can take it over from there. I began to write letters in support of voter participation through an organization called Vote Forward, where I wrote, again, nonpartisan, just encouraging people to exercise their right to vote and participate. And I did quite a bit of that. And then it kind of occurred to me when I looked at some of the aspects of voting, how few people are participating in general. And it led me to ask some questions that led to the recommendation that I learn more about voting reform and Star voting in specific. So I began to explore that and met Annie in the course of the Equal Vote site and the Star voting site.

[02:26] Jan: I see.

[02:29] Lynn: For me, it's an answer to what can, you know, one little person, but really a response to concerns about, well, our democracy. And it's so much bigger than a partisan issue and it's so much bigger than a single issue, but whatever you care about in your daily life and your family life and your community life, we depend on government getting things done for us in our behalf and things that line up with our ideals and values. And I have come to believe that voting reform can engage more people and there's a ways to vote that are so much more effective and representative of what people do care about. It leads us towards a time where we're not so polarized, where there are more choices and where your vote really makes a difference. I think we've all probably had the experience of voting and looking at our choices and just thinking, oh dear, how do know lesser of two evils? Or if I vote my conscience, could I cause another candidate to win the splitting the vote issue that everybody's heard about and Star voting, which I'll let Annie elaborate on, kind of the wonky side of it. It's simple, but it's really designed in a way that you can vote your conscience and the person who has the most broad representation wins. And with choose one voting, that just does not happen.

[04:27] Jan: That sounds like a very interesting concept and I am eager to learn more. So tell us more, Annie.

[04:36] Annie: Yeah, so star voting is the voting method that the Equal Vote Coalition advocates for. And it's a voting method that has an equally weighted vote, which all of the voting methods that we support satisfy that criterion. And the way that it works is you score all of the candidates on a scale of zero to five. So instead of just having to say, well, I like this one the best, you can actually say, how do you feel about all of the candidates? How much or how little do you like or dislike all of them? And then we add up the total scores. We take the two highest scoring candidates and then we figure out of those two, which one was preferred by more voters. So it's always exactly two rounds of counting. You only have to vote once and it makes it so that it's safe to vote your conscience. And whether or not your favorite candidate wins, your vote still makes a difference. So, like Lynn was saying, it's a way to make it so that you don't have to sit there and agonize over, oh, if I vote honestly, is it going to backfire on me? You can just vote honestly and of course you may not get what you want. That's life. But you'll know, that your vote counted regardless, and that's something we don't have right now.

[05:58] Jan: I think that's something that keeps people from voting anyway. Is it going to matter if I vote?

[06:04] Jan: Who cares?

[06:06] Jan: Is it really going to sway anything or do anything important anyway? So what's the history? How did the star voting even come about?

[06:14] Annie: What is yeah, that's interesting. Voting method science has been around for thousands of years. As long as we've had voting, we've had people trying to figure out what's the best way to do it. And there's been lots of debates back and forth about what's the best way to do it. There are some ranking systems and in particular what's called now rank choice voting is starting to be popular around the country right now. But there's always been kind of a discussion about whether ranking systems are better or scoring systems are better. Those are kind of the two camps. And in 2014, there was the Equal Vote coalition. This was before I was involved, held a conference and experts from around the country came to Oregon and debated, discussed, talked about the different merits of different voting methods. And from those conversations, a few people started to think, well, what if we combine the two? What if we take score voting, which is where you score your candidates and just add up the totals and that's the end? What if we combine that with a kind of ranking and so that's where the second round of Star Voting comes in, where you're taking the top two candidates and you're figuring out which one was ranked higher by the most voters. And at first everybody was sort of skeptical. Like it was a new idea. Usually new ideas you can sort of bash to bits, but because it's a curious group of people, they started running simulations and they found that actually it outperformed almost every other voting method that they could think of. So it was kind of a situation where out of conflict became something new that was better than the sum of its parts. And so that's the origin of Star Voting. I got involved in 2018 when I ran into a petitioner who was collecting signatures in Multonoma County for Star Voting. That was my introduction to it and I recognized it as being similar to ranked choice voting. I didn't really know the differences at that point and I've just kind of gone down a rabbit hole since then, activism and yeah, it's now my passion.

[08:31] Jan: So is that something that's just in Oregon or it's a national thing?

[08:35] Annie: Yeah, so we have chapters around the country. The main crux of it is in Oregon right now, Eugene, Oregon, is where the headquarters are. We just got voting on the ballot in Eugene, so that's very exciting. That vote will happen in the spring and so hopefully Eugene will be using Star Voting as early as this spring or they'll have it in place by then.

[09:03] Jan: So is that something that has to be like to vote on Star? You have to vote to have Star Voting, right?

[09:10] Annie: Yeah. There's different ways that you could do it. Theoretically, a city council could just decide to do it if they wanted, but we found that the ballot initiative is a lot more effective because politicians are oftentimes afraid to take risks or to try something new. So voters kind of have a better idea of what they yeah, it's going to be voted on in May in Eugene to decide if they want that to be their voting method.

[09:38] Jan: So you have to have a lot of education on that.

[09:43] Annie: Education is a big part of it. The nice thing about Star Voting is because you're scoring on a scale of zero to five, most people have a lot of experience scoring things on a scale of zero to five. So it's not a foreign concept. Of course, the way that it's counted is something that needs to be explained. But even if you don't understand how it's counted, you can still score the candidates and it's still going to work for you.

[10:08] Jan: Right, but if they have the vote to decide to do it, then they have to understand they're voting.

[10:15] Annie: And so that's kind of what we're really focused on right now. And Eugene is getting the word out and making sure people are excited to vote on it.

[10:26] Jan: And where could people I'm sure there's a website for people to look that up and to find out more about.

[10:33] Annie: Yeah. So if you go to Starvoting.org, somewhere on there is the Eugene campaign. I could probably look it up, but.

[10:41] Jan: I can put a link to yeah.

[10:45] Annie: On Starvoting.org, we've got a campaigns link. Let me see starvoting.org slash Eugene for that campaign. But yeah, you can go to that site and find out all sorts of information.

[11:01] Lynn: I met Annie in some zoom meetings. The Eugene focus has been really important, but there's also an initiative to bring this to all voters in the state of Oregon. A petition underway, and I'm helping collect signatures. That's one of the ways I've met Annie face to face, that if we reach enough signatures on that, it would be in front of all Oregon voters in November of 2024. The last state legislature did have some discussions around rank choice voting, and Annie would know more about the backstory. But rank choice, a form of rank choice voting, will be before voters in November of 2024 based on legislative action. Interestingly, it's for all elections except legislators, which I think is very curious. But the good news is voting reform is on people's minds. Voting reform deserves all of our attention and curiosity, and as we take a look at different options, I do believe Star voting has some real advantages. I appreciated, Jen, that you talked about how maybe discouraged and unconnected people can be just does my vote matter? Does it make a difference? And I'm not a policy wonk, but I think most of us would recognize that there's not a lot happening right now in our behalf. And in terms of what's the right word approval, of how people are performing in Congress, the approval rates are terrible and the reelection rates are really high. So we seem to be kind of stuck with some players who and I'm generalizing now, but who once elected, are really focused on staying in office and fundraising and calling to their base. So the other part of star voting, aside from hoping, really engaging with some hope and getting more people involved, is it also makes it incumbent upon anyone running for office to explain themselves, have discussions and appeal to everyone so that we don't just have the two party system lobbying, insults, and negative campaigning. It switches it to positive because the more people, even if you get three stars from someone instead of four stars, it can have a big impact.

[13:55] Jan: Well, and if you don't know about your candidates or what you're voting for, you don't know who to vote for other than reading your voters pamphlet, which is tedious, and you still don't totally get it.

[14:10] Lynn: Always.

[14:11] Annie: Yeah. And that's an issue separate from voting method reform. But yeah, that is a problem where, especially if you have a large number of candidates, you probably can't do research on all of them. But with most voting methods, you can just not and Star voting is like this too. You can just not mark the ones that you don't know anything about. And if they're not viable candidates, that shouldn't cause any issues. If they're viable candidates, you probably should do the research and score them appropriately.

[14:47] Jan: What got you interested in wanting to do this?

[14:53] Annie: I've always struggled with voting where I didn't know. I just never felt comfortable with the front runners or very rarely felt excited about the person that I'm voting for. It was always kind of a chore of like, well, I guess lesser evil will get my vote. And there's been a few times where I've voted third party or independent and just knowing that it wasn't going to count, it starts to feel like a waste of time. After a while, you got to open the envelope and you got to mark it, and then you got to put it in the envelope and sign it and send it up. And it's like, why am I doing all this work for something where it's not going to count anyway? And it was just kind of discouraging. And I just thought, well, that's just how it is. That's just politics. And then I heard about different kinds of voting methods and it just opened up this world to me of, wait a minute, we don't have to do it the old way. There are actually better ways to do it. It kind of makes me wonder why. We've been a country for 200 years. Yeah, we're not doing this for the first time. We've had different kinds of voting methods at different parts of our history. So this isn't the first time that we've thought about this. But with Starboarding, I feel like this is the first time we actually have a chance to get something that sticks and that's going to be really transparent and really effective in what it's setting out to do.

[16:37] Jan: What have you seen or what will be some of the obstacles?

[16:44] Annie: I think like you mentioned, education is one of the big obstacles. And it's a little bit frustrating because some people are sort of dead set on ranked choice voting because it's got that name recognition and they're familiar with it. And so they see star voting as a distraction and so they don't want to get involved for that reason. They think they want to go with the one that's more familiar. So that's on one side of things. On the other side of things, we have people who've heard about ranked choice voting and they have heard about some of the problems that it's had in elections around the country and so they're suspicious of it. And therefore they attach that suspicion to any kind of voting method reform, including star voting, which isn't really fair because star voting doesn't have those same problems. And so there's kind of different groups of people that we have to communicate to and explain the nuances of how these things are different, how they affect elections differently, and some of it's really technical. So the big challenge is trying to communicate this information to people in a way that they can process it in a way that we're not hopefully just talking in math and equations, but in a way that is accessible.

[18:03] Jan: Right. Do you find that there's certain generations that are more resistant, more probe?

[18:12] Annie: That's a good question. Yeah, I don't know. What do you think, Lynn? Have you seen any difference in, your.

[18:20] Lynn: Know, my first canvassing mistake was to do downtown Astoria in the summertime because then I got well, I live in British Columbia and I live in Kentucky, so that's actually an know the other canvassing I've done. I really think younger parents, people who really are with children, of course focused on the future and the security of their kids. And I'm very hopeful. I've done a little bit at the community college, but it's my belief that young people could get very excited about making a difference and very open to change. They're all used to scoring everything that's true phones, so I think change is hard, but I think the logic of zero to five stars, five is my favorite or favorites and zero I hope they never get in office while I'm around, but also then able to show their support for all candidates. So I'm really of the belief that younger people are going to be inspired by this and engaged by this, but we're just trying to spread the word to all Oregonians because it does matter. And I do believe it's a way to revitalize and reinvigorate our democracy. I won't go into all the sadness that's in the world right now, but we cannot take our democracy for granted. We can't. It's not a noun, it's a verb. I didn't make that up. I read that somewhere. But it does take action, it does take commitment. Our country has faced many challenges over the years, but we have some unique challenges in front of us now. And I think talking about voting reform and what star voting offers people, voters could be very revitalizing and reinvigorate our.

[20:39] Jan: What? Talk to me about the process of canvassing.

[20:44] Lynn: Well, Annie is much more experienced than I went to the community college and I will go back to the community college. I probably won't do downtown in the summertime.

[20:57] Jan: Well, no worries for a while.

[20:59] Lynn: We're getting to a point where none of us are going to be standing on street corners in terms of weather. But it's been a good experience. It was a stretch for me. I've always been attentive to politics and I consider myself a patriot. I think that term has been co opted. And I love my country and I'm so grateful for my life here in Clatsop County, so thankful for where I live and the fact that we do have a representative democracy. But it's time to tend it. It's time to tend it.

[21:38] Annie: Yeah.

[21:38] Jan: So you just walk around with your clipboard or what do you do?

[21:45] Lynn: Yes, I do have a clipboard, and I do have petitions and small little leaflets to hand out.

[21:52] Annie: Okay.

[21:54] Lynn: I've never been an activist before. I'm a baby activist. But I will say that the conversations I've had with people, some people don't want to talk to you, and that's just the truth. But many people are curious. Many people are concerned and curious and happy for the information.

[22:15] Jan: So maybe at the library do something.

[22:20] Lynn: Know, one of the reasons I'm doing this is to share the word, but also in terms of local, I think Annie can tell us. You can go on a website and sign the petition. You certainly go on the websites and learn a lot more. But there's also a way to sign the petition online. But if I haven't knocked on your door here in Classic County, because I haven't done any door knocking, you can get a hold of me, and I would be happy to tell you more, share the little leaflet. And I do have.

[22:54] Annie: Online. There's a way if you're a registered Oregon voter, you can print out a page online and then mail it in, and we can collect your signature that way.

[23:06] Jan: Yeah, okay. Excellent. I was wondering too, are all states pursuing this or looking at this, or are there some states more than others?

[23:18] Annie: Yeah, so Star voting in particular, Oregon, is kind of the main I don't know, what would you call that? The headquarters, the head of the charge. But we have chapters in California, Massachusetts, and New York and Utah that are working on different things in those areas. No other ballot initiatives at this point in time besides the Oregon statewide one and the Eugene one that just got on the ballot. But, yeah, those are definitely options. And especially if we can have a success in Eugene, that helps to build the momentum, because frequently a question that we get asked know, where is this being used? And the answer is, it's been used by a lot of different political parties. It's been used for the Independent Party of Oregon primary. It's been used by the Democratic Party of Oregon. It's probably going to be used by the Libertarian Party of Oregon soon. But as far as, like, a city or state, it hasn't been used. You know, we need to build that trust so that people can see how good of a system it is, and then that should hopefully explode into interest around the country.

[24:37] Jan: I wonder if you could do something like a mock fun ways to do that type of thing just to get people to see, oh, you do this all the time.

[24:50] Annie: You do this for this.

[24:51] Jan: Or let's try a fun little poll, blah, blah, blah, whatever.

[24:57] Annie: Yeah, we do do that. We have a website called Star Vote. And so if you go to Star Vote, you can create your own poll. It's free, it's easy. We're also working on an upgraded version that's not out yet, but that should be coming out pretty soon. So, yeah, if you want to do it online, you can do that or you can even print out a ballot, do it on paper. It's very easy. It's a great way to like, I've used it with my family. Like, if we're on vacation and we're trying to decide, do we want to go to the aquarium, do we want to go for a walk in the woods? Do we want to go to the beach and everybody can vote.

[25:33] Lynn: Get an.

[25:34] Annie: Answer that most people are pretty satisfied with.

[25:38] Lynn: Annie, I'm glad you used the word trust, and I want to tie back into that briefly. I want to, again, underscore, this is not a partisan issue. This is about everybody and everything you care about value and your ideals. But one of the things that is true right now is that there is concern about voting integrity. And one of the things about star voting, in contrast to ranked choice voting, is that the tabulation is done locally and it's done with simple arithmetic in two rounds. So it's very easy to track. You get results quicker, and it's done in your hometown. If ranked choice voting went into place, all the ballots from all over every corner of Oregon would have to go to Salem. And there are concerns about voting integrity that I think deserve because trust is so important, that we learn more about our options in terms of voting and have more faith in the system and that our vote does make a difference, our voice does matter.

[26:47] Annie: Yeah. It's not a right or left issue when it comes to having integrity in our elections. That's something that everybody should want. And so having a voting method like Star Voting, where you can tabulate it locally and you can see clearly the results by precinct so that people understand what happened and why was the winner the winner that we got, and everybody can understand how we got there, and it's clear and yeah, I think that's really important.

[27:19] Jan: Yeah. And I think that keyword is integrity, right. Because there hasn't always been that.

[27:28] Annie: Yeah. There's two things that transparency helps with. It helps prevent things like fraud, but it also just helps catch mistakes. Sometimes innocent mistakes can happen. And so even if you don't think there's mustache twirling people that are going to ruin the election, you still want to be able to have that transparency so everybody can feel confident in the result. Right.

[27:50] Jan: Because that transparency leads to trust.

[27:55] Annie: Right.

[27:55] Jan: So what if a listener wanted to find out how they could be a part of what you're doing, maybe canvassing or something else? Where would they go?

[28:06] Annie: That would be starvoting.org. I think if you go to starvoting.org join. There's a sign up page, and we also have somewhere on there we've got a canvassing sign up sheet where you can enter your information, and we'll give you a call and get you set up with information and the tools that you need to be able to start collecting signatures. It's something that if you're really ambitious and you want to be like Lyn and go out and talk to people on the streets, you can do that. But if you just want to collect signatures from your friends and family, that's also an option. You know, big or small, it makes an you know, I'm a big believer in many hands, make light work. So if everybody can do whatever they're capable of doing, it makes a big difference.

[28:55] Jan: Yeah.

[28:56] Lynn: And these conversations will help us all, again, think about what matters and what's the smartest way to make sure that we get that right.

[29:08] Jan: Yeah. Well, this has just been really interesting. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

[29:15] Annie: Yeah, I don't think so. I think anybody who's interested go to the website and we're happy to take donations, we're happy to have volunteers. One of the biggest things people can do is just spread the word. So tweet about it, write about it on Facebook, and we're happy to answer any questions. If anybody wants a presentation to their organization, their political party, we can do that. Yeah. And spreading the word is kind of the biggest thing we're trying to do.

[29:44] Jan: Yeah, well, I'm happy to be a part of that.

[29:47] Annie: Great.

[29:48] Jan: Okay.

[29:49] Annie: Well, thank you, Annie. Thank you. Thank you for having us.

[29:52] Jan: Yeah, it's been a pleasure.

[29:54] Annie: Thank you.

[29:59] Jan: I don't know about you, but I found this to be interesting. I applaud those who are trying to find a better road for democracy. Be sure to check out the show notes for links and more information. Never hurts to be informed. Thanks again for listening. Did you know that in just a few weeks, women of the Northwest will have been on the air for two years? Thanks, everybody, for making this podcast. Have a great week, and we'll see you next time.