STAR Voting Initiative Petition Filed

by Alan F. Zundel

The 2016 elections exposed just how broken our election methods are. Now we have a chance to start changing that!

On Tuesday November 14 an initiative petition to institute STAR Voting for Lane County offices was filed at the Lane County Elections Office in Eugene. A parallel campaign is being organized in Portland for Multnomah County. If enough signatures are collected in each respective county, the initiatives will appear on their November 2018 ballots.

STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) Voting is a solution to multiple electoral problems. It:

  • Allows voters to express their preferences more fully and accurately,
  • Doesn’t force a voter to choose between more than one candidate they like,
  • Gives equal weight to each voter’s vote, and
  • Produces a winner with wide support.

In STAR Voting voters can score each candidate in the general election on a scale from zero to five, including giving two or more candidates the same score. Scoring candidates is similar to the familiar zero-to-five star scoring we use for products or movie reviews.

The two candidates with the highest overall scores are entered into an automatic runoff without the need of a second election. Each voter’s vote goes to the finalist who they scored higher, and the candidate who was scored higher most often wins.

STAR Voting builds on the long history of studying alternative voting methods by combining features of Score (or Range) Voting, Instant Runoff Voting, and Top-Two Elections, for a simple, integrated system that improves on all of them.

If the Lane County initiative passes, offices such as the county commissioners, the sheriff and the district attorney would be elected using STAR Voting instead of the current Top-Two voting method. For county elections STAR Voting has the added attractions of eliminating the cost and bother of a primary election and reducing the prospect of only one candidate appearing on the November general election ballot.

Mark Frohnmayer and Alan Zundel, both long-time activists for voting reform, are the chief petitioners for the Lane County initiative. Mark is a software and clean technology entrepreneur who was the Chief Petitioner in 2014 for an initiative to create a Unified Primary and is the founder of Equal Vote. Alan is a former political scientist who was instrumental in last year’s successful campaign to allow Ranked Choice Voting in Benton County and recently served on the Secretary of State’s task force to reform Oregon’s redistricting process.

Once the petitions are approved after review in each county, signature gathering will begin.

Volunteers for Lane County can contact lane@equal.vote, and volunteers for Multnomah can contact PDX@equal.vote. For news of the campaigns you can follow the STAR Voting Facebook page, and for more information on STAR Voting see the Equal Vote website.

Interested parties in Multnomah County are invited to join a planning meeting on Sunday, November 19th from 3-5 pm at Lucky Lab, 1700 Killingsworth in Portland. If attending please RSVP sara@equal.vote.

The Lane County campaign is currently accepting donations but only by check at the present time. Checks may be made out to “STAR Voting for Lane County” and mailed to:

STAR Voting for Lane County

c/o Alan Zundel

825 Monroe St., #1

Eugene, OR  97402

Update on Oregon Single-Payer Health Care

by Alan F. Zundel

Charlie Swanson of the Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) board has written to correct some of my speculations about SB 1046, the bill for single-payer health care currently in the Oregon legislature.

I guessed that the plan to refer single-payer health care to the ballot was a way for state legislators to “pass the buck” to voters so they would not antagonize powerful interests such as the insurance industry.

According to Charlie, SB 1046 was introduced as a way to move discussions forward and build support in the legislature. It was not expected to get out of the Senate Health Care Committee, and it had only a courtesy hearing there.

He writes, “We knew before the session started that we were not going to try to convince the health care committee to move the bill forward, though at that time we were hoping for a courtesy hearing in both the house and senate health care committees.”

The bill was not regarded, even by HCAO, as ready for action. There are still many considerations about the best way to shift costs for health insurance from the private sector (for example, premiums, co-pays and deductibles paid by employers or individuals) to public insurance. The amount needed is also uncertain and subject to various factors.

Funding considerations are a major aspect of a single-payer plan, and still need more discussion, research and reflection to create a sound plan.

In any event, a single-payer bill will entail provisions for raising revenue, which in Oregon requires a 60% super majority in both legislative chambers, not a simple majority. Even if all Democrats backed it, it would still need Republican support, unless there is a large shift in party representation in the legislature.

(As an aside, State Senator James Manning recently claimed at a meeting of Our Revolution Lane County that if Democrats could gain “six seats” in the 2018 election, they would pass a single-payer bill. They are currently one seat short of 60% of the seats in each chamber.)

But even if a bill did pass the legislature, it is virtually certain someone would institute a referendum on the bill, placing it on the ballot to give the voters a chance to approve or disapprove of it. As it will end up in the voters’ hands anyway, it would be much easier to move it forward in the legislature by asking them to refer it to the ballot in the first place.

State Legislators Passing the Buck on Health Care for All?

by Alan F. Zundel

Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) is a citizens’ group that has been working for several years to bring publicly-funded health insurance to all Oregonians.  The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010, provided the opportunity for this by allowing waivers for states to set up their own health insurance systems, provided they cover the same number of people with the same level of benefits as under the ACA.

HCAO has managed to get a study funded and is developing a bill to create a single-payer system in Oregon. “Single-payer” means that instead of having a confusing maze of multiple health insurance plans, both private and public as we currently have, the state would provide health insurance that covers everyone. HCAO is aiming to put an initiative on the ballot in 2020 to create a single-payer system.

State-run single-payer systems are essential to the larger goal of bringing a single-payer system to the entire nation, such as the “Medicare for All” concept promoted by Senator Bernie Sanders. While a bill in the U.S. Congress can continue to keep the concept in the public eye and give supporters a rallying point, it is unlikely to pass a Republican President or a Congress dominated by Republicans. (Not to mention the fact that Congressional Democrats aren’t all on board with it either.) But if the concept can be shown to work in one or more states, the prospects for a national system will greatly improve.

HCAO wants the state legislature to refer their initiative to the ballot so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time and money gathering the thousands of signatures that would otherwise be needed. This raises the question: If the legislature could be persuaded to refer such an initiative to the ballot, why wouldn’t they be willing to simply pass it into law themselves rather than having the voters decide it?

There are two ways to answer this question. One is that legislators might like the idea of a single-payer system but feel that such a big change should be decided by the voters themselves. The other is that legislators prefer to pass the buck to spare themselves the heat from private health insurance lobbyists. I suspect the second is closer to the truth.

It is predictable that private health insurance companies will oppose a single-payer system, as it essentially would put them out of business. Other powerful players that now profit from people’s health care needs, such as pharmaceutical companies, would also oppose it. These opponents are going to rally their formidable resources against a single-payer system whether via a bill passed by the legislature or an initiative passed by the voters.

If you were a legislator, would you rather have them threatening your reelection prospects or aiming their fire at defeating an initiative? The question answers itself. An initiative gives a double bonus for legislators. Not only do they escape the direct wrath of opponents of a single-payer system, but if an initiative is defeated they can say, “You see, the voters didn’t want this anyway.”

It’s up to us as voters to pressure our legislators to support a single-payer system. Preferably they’d pass a bill themselves, but if we don’t actively engage them they may not take any action at all.

A bill in the recently ended legislative session, SB1046, would have set up a state board to develop, implement and oversee a single-payer system in Oregon. It got stuck in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which failed to act on it before the session ended.

The bill was co-sponsored by 8 out of 17 Democratic state senators and 24 of 35 Democratic state representatives. (No Republicans were co-sponsors.) If you live in one of their districts, please contact the co-sponsors to thank them for their support for the bill and encourage them to continue to actively support a single-payer system. They are:

  • Sen. Michael Dembrow, chief co-sponsor (District 23, Portland)
  • Sen. Lew Frederick, chief co-sponsor (22, Portland)
  • Sen. James Manning, Jr., chief co-sponsor (7, Eugene and Junction City)
  • Sen. Rod Monroe (24, Portland)
  • Sen. Floyd Prozanski (4, Eugene)
  • Sen. Chuck Riley (15, Hillsboro)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (17, Portland and Beaverton)
  • Sen. Kathleen Taylor (21, Milwaukie)
  • Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, chief co-sponsor (District 46, Portland)
  • Rep. Chris Gorsek, chief co-sponsor (49, Troutdale)
  • Rep. Jeff Barker (28, Aloha)
  • Rep. Phil Barnhart (11, central Lane and Linn Counties)
  • Rep. Deborah Boone (32, Cannon Beach)
  • Rep. Margaret Doherty (35, Tigard)
  • Rep. Julie Fahey (14, Eugene and Junction City)
  • Rep. David Gomberg (10, central coast)
  • Rep. Ken Helm (34, Washington County)
  • Rep. Diego Hernandez (47, Portland)
  • Rep. Paul Holvey (8, Eugene)
  • Rep. John Lively (12, Springfield)
  • Rep. Sheri Malstron (27, Beaverton)
  • Rep. Pam Marsh (5, Ashland)
  • Rep. Rob Nosse (42, Portland)
  • Rep. Carla Piluso (50, Gresham)
  • Rep. Karin Power (41, Milwaukie)
  • Rep. Dan Rayfield (16, Corvallis)
  • Rep. Jeff Reardon (48, Happy Valley)
  • Rep. Tawna Sanchez (43, Portland)
  • Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (45, Portland)
  • Rep. Jennifer Williamson (36, Portland)
  • Rep. Brad Witt (31, Clatskanie)
  • (Rep. Ann Lininger of District 38, Lake Oswego, resigned from office in August)

If your state senator or representative is not on the above list, contact them to ask them why they did not support the Oregon single-payer bill.

Also important to contact would be the members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which had jurisdiction over the bill but failed to take any action on it. The members of the committee who did not co-sponsor the bill are:

  • Sen. Richard Devlin, co-chair (Democrat, District 19, Tualatin)
  • Rep. Nancy Nathanson, co-chair (Democrat, 13, Eugene)
  • Sen. Betsy Johnson, vice-chair (Democrat, 16, Scappoose)
  • Rep. Greg Smith, vice chair (Republican, 57, north central Oregon)
  • Rep. Jackie Winters, vice-chair (Republican, 10, Salem)
  • Sen. Alan DeBoer, (Republican, 3, )
  • Sen. Fred Girod (Republican, 9, Stayton)
  • Sen. Bill Hansell (Republican, 29, Athena)
  • Sen. Arnie Roblan (Democrat, 5, Coos Bay)
  • Sen. Chuck Thomsen (Republican, 26, Hood River)
  • Rep. John Huffman (Republican, 59, the Dalles)
  • Rep. Mike McLane (Republican, 55, Powell Butte)
  • Rep. Duane Stark (Republican, 4, Grants Pass)
  • Rep. Gene Whisnant (Republican, 53, Sunriver)

Contact them and urge them to support single-payer health care in Oregon.

(Senators Frederick, Manning, Monroe, and Steiner Hayward, and Representatives Gomberg, Holvey, Rayfield, Smith Warner, and Williamson were both on the committee and co-sponsors of the bill.)

Oregon Non-Spoiler Electoral Opportunities

by Alan F. Zundel

For independent and alternative party candidates who would challenge the policy agendas of the major parties, running for office is a good way to promote different ideas. But running can also raise the prospect of acting as a “spoiler” by increasing the chances that a “greater evil” major party candidate will defeat a “lessor evil” major party candidate. This prospect dampens the willingness of voters to vote for alternative candidates, and can inhibit the decision of potential candidates to run. As a result, the political debate is narrowed and the choices available to voters are reduced.

However, there are many electoral opportunities to run with no or a very low chance of acting as a spoiler. And I am not talking about low-level nonpartisan offices, but partisan offices in the U.S. Congress or the state legislature.

Some seats have an uncontested candidate, usually an incumbent, and so it would be impossible for another candidate to act as a spoiler by challenging them. Other seats are regularly won with very high margins and so gaining votes that would have gone to the leading candidate will not be enough to cause some other “greater evil” candidate to win.

For example, in the 2016 election for the Oregon House of Representatives, eleven of the sixty seats were uncontested. In the Oregon Senate, five of the sixteen seats up for election were uncontested. And in many more, the leading candidate won by over a two-to-one ratio over the second-place candidate.

Here are some of the seats to watch for the 2018 election, which judging by recent history may present good opportunities for non-major party candidates to run without being accused of being a spoiler.

U.S. Congressional Seats

In the 3rd Congressional District in the eastern Portland area, Democrat Earl Blumenauer won with 71.8% of the vote in 2016 and 72.3% in 2014, making this seat relatively safe for alternative candidates to run without the concern of being a spoiler.

In the 2nd U.S. Congressional District covering the eastern half of the state, Republican Greg Walden won with 71.7% of the vote in 2016 and 70.4% of the vote in 2014. However, his role in the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act may have given the Democrats an opportunity to make gains, so this may not be an ideal seat for alternative candidates trying to avoid acting as spoilers.

Oregon Senate Seats

In the Oregon state Senate, fifteen seats should be up for election in 2018. (Each of the thirty Senate seats are up for election every four years, half of them each election year.) Potential candidates should keep an eye on whether candidates for both major parties file for their districts.

In Oregon Senate District 7 in the northwest Eugene area, Democrat Chris Edwards was uncontested in 2014. However, Democrat James Manning replaced Edwards by appointment and will likely attract a Republican challenger in 2018.

Democrats Richard Devlin in District 19 (south of Portland) and Rod Monroe in District 24 (eastern Portland) were also uncontested in 2014. As incumbents they might again scare off Republican challengers; however, in 2010 their share of the votes were each below 55% when they were challenged.

Three Oregon Senate candidates won with high margins in 2014, all of them against minor parties challengers with no other major party candidate in the race, but only two of these seats will be up for election in 2018. In District 10 (south and west Salem), Republican Jackie Winters won with 87% of the vote and in District 16 (northwest of Portland), Democrat Betsy Johnson won with 70%. Against major party challengers in 2010, they received 68.3%, and 54.4% respectively. Winters’ seat would seem to be safe for challengers who wish to avoid being spoilers.

Oregon House Seats

Turning to the Oregon House of Representatives, in which all sixty seats are up for election every two years, the following seats were uncontested in 2016:

  • District 2 (Roseburg), Republican Dallas Heard. In 2014 Heard won about 63% to 31% against a Democratic challenger, nearly twice as many votes. (All the percentages below are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
  • District 4 (Grants Pass), Republican Duane Stark. In 2014 Stark won against a Democrat about 68.5% to 31%, over twice as many votes.
  • District 6 (Medford), Republican Sal Esquivel, who was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 27 (Beaverton), Democrat Sheri Malstrom. In 2014 Democrat Tobias Read won against a Republican challenger with nearly 81% of the vote.
  • District 43 (Portland), Democrat Tawna Sanchez. In 2014 Democrat Frederick Lew ran uncontested.
  • District 45 (Portland), Democrat Barbara Smith Warner. Smith Warner was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 46 (Portland), Democrat Alissa Keny-Guyer. She was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 49 (Troutdale), Democrat Chris Gorsek. This seat was more competitive in 2014, with Gorsek winning about 60% to 39% against a Republican.
  • District 57 (north central Oregon), Republican Greg Smith. He was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 58 (Cove), Republican Greg Barreto. In 2014 Barreto won with about 73% to his Democratic challenger’s 25%, nearly three times as many votes.
  • District 60 (Ontario), Republican Cliff Bentz. In 2014 Bentz won with over four times as many votes as his Democratic rival, about 82% to 19%.

All of the above seats, with the possible exception of District 49, would be unlikely to be affected by any spoiler dynamic. The following seats had candidates who won with high margins in 2016, and were either uncontested or also had decisive winners in 2014:

  • District 3 (Grants Pass), Republican Carl Wilson, about 73% to 27% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 64/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 7 (Roseburg), Republican Cedric Hayden, 64/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 78% of the vote against a Libertarian candidate.
  • District 8 (Eugene), Democrat Paul Holvey, 69/27% against a Republican. In 2014 he ran uncontested.
  • District 13 (Eugene), Democrat Nancy Nathanson, 66/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she won 69/30% against a Republican.
  • District 15 (Albany), Republican Andy Olson, 83/17% against a Progressive Party candidate. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 16 (Corvallis), Democrat Dan Rayfield, 58/21% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 72/27% against a Republican.
  • District 17 (Scio), Republican Sherri Sprenger, 79/21% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 she won 74/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 18 (Silverton), Republican Vic Gilliam, 66/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 66/34% against a Democrat. In early 2017 Republic Rick Lewis replaced Gilliam by appointment, and so may face a more competitive race.
  • District 31 (Clatskanie), Democrat Brad Witt, 81/19% against a Libertarian. However, in 2014 he won only 54/40% against a Republican.
  • District 33 (Portland), Democrat Mitch Greenlick, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 82% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 36 (Portland), Democrat Jennifer Williamson, 89/11% against a Libertarian. In 2014 she won 85% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 38 (Lake Oswego), Democrat Ann Lininger, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she was uncontested.
  • District 39 (Oregon City), Republican Bill Kennemer, 65/32%. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 41 (Milwaukie), Democrat Karin Power, 72/28% against a Republican. In 2014 Democrat Kathleen Taylor won 70/29% against a Republican.
  • District 42 (Portland), Democrat Rob Nosse, 89/6% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 he won with 91% against a Libertarian.
  • District 44 (Portland), Democrat Tina Kotech, 81/19% against a Pacific Green Party candidate. In 2014 she won 85/14% against a Republican.
  • District 47 (Portland), Democrat Diego Hernandez, 67/33% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Democrat Jessica Vega Pederson ran uncontested.
  • District 48 (Happy Valley), Democrat Jeff Reardon, 63/28% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 67/32% against a Republican.
  • District 53 (Sunriver), Republican Gene Whisnant, 68/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 55 (Powell Butte), Republican Mike McLane, 76/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 72/22% against a Democrat.
  • District 56 (Klamath Falls), Republican E. Werner Reschke, 82/18% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Republican Gail Whitsett ran uncontested.
  • District 59 (The Dalles), Republican John Huffman, 71/29% against a Democrat. He ran uncontested in 2014.

Altogether over half of the Oregon House seats could be safe for independent and alternative party candidates to run in without concern of being a spoiler.

Potential candidates interested in running should keep an eye on who files for the spring 2018 primaries to run for office in their districts. The filing period runs from September 7, 2017 through March 6, 2018. Filings are listed on the website of the Oregon Secretary of State: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/CFSearchPage.do