Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions come up frequently when we're chatting with folks about the equal vote in person and online. If you have a question we haven't answered here, feel free to ask about it on our Facebook page.

Was it a creed, written into the founding documents?

Yes, and it declared the destiny of a nation. "One person, one vote."

Actually, they didn't write it out like that back then (they were a bit more wordy). James "Jemmie" Madison, our fourth President and author of the Bill of Rights, wrote in Federalist #57:

"Who are to be the electors of the Federal Representatives? Not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States."

In Wesberry v. Sanders the Supreme Court specifically equated Madison's passage to the principle of "one person, one vote."

In that same opinion the Court mandated the equality of vote "weight":

"... The apportionment statute thus contracts the value of some votes and expands that of others. If the Federal Constitution intends that, when qualified voters elect members of Congress, each vote be given as much weight as any other vote, then this statute cannot stand.

We hold that, construed in its historical context, the command of Art. I, § 2 that Representatives be chosen 'by the People of the several States' means that, as nearly as is practicable, one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's."

The Equal Vote Campaign will make this principle real for the first time, not just in the weight of individuals' votes between districts, but in the mechanics of the vote itself.

Is Unified Primary going to be on the ballot?

No. The Unified Primary - Initiative Petition #54 fell short of the required signature count. The Oregon Open Primary - Initiative Petition #55 did qualify. That measure's operative text creates an open field primary and advances the two top performers to the general election. Although it carries a strong statement of intent towards equality in the vote, the Open Primary makes no explicit new policy regarding voting method.

As a result, this campaign's focus will be on our 2015 legislators, to make sure they understand the inherent inequality presented by our current voting method (plurality voting) and its magnification when a wider field is present. We will encourage them to realize the true equality intent of the Open Primary by introducing an equal voting method into the first stage of the election process as well.

But won't this just mean that two candidates from the same party will end up on the General Election ballot?

This outcome will likely happen only in jurisdictions where one major party has a dominant registration advantage. In those districts today, the election is basically over in the primary, before a significant number of voters have even had a say. In many districts, our current election system effectively shuts out an actual majority of voters. This shutout allows special interests to force extreme agendas through threats of primary election challenges in party strongholds.

Well, won’t this just mean that the two big money special interest-funded blandidates will always advance?

Money creates name recognition, which is particularly important if voters can only show support for a single candidate: such voters are strongly incentivized to support only a front runner/well-funded/well-recognized candidate.

As long as the 2015 Legislature fulfills the equality intent of the Oregon Open Primary and removes the single choice limitation, voters will be able to show support for all favored candidates. Consequently the name recognition/electability factor becomes a less dominant consideration, voters can be more honest about their preferences, and underdog candidates have a better chance to advance.

Have you ever heard of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)? It's way better than this system.

Yes, we've heard of Instant Runoff Voting.

In IRV you rank candidates according to your preference - first choice, second choice, third choice and so on. All of the first choice votes are counted, and if no candidate has a majority, the one who got the least votes is knocked out. Votes from those who chose the eliminated candidate first are transferred to the second choices of those voters. This cycle repeats until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote, hence the name "Instant Runoff."

While it sounds like a good system, IRV has serious flaws and is not mathematically supportable, does not create equality in the vote, in practice still yields a two-party dominated system and doesn't even come close to performing as well as equal voting methods (Approval, Range3, Approval2Runoff, Range, Range2Runoff) in terms of creating good election outcomes.

The full discussion of IRV is beyond the scope of this FAQ, but to get a sense for the problem, check out this video.

Basically, because IRV has you express favoritism first and approval second it doesn't eliminate the spoiler effect, it just hides it. As a result, an honest vote in IRV has a good shot at knocking out an acceptable candidate and having your worst outcome beat your favorite. Because an equal vote in the first stage lets you show approval first, you have a decent shot of seeing your favorite square off against your acceptable candidate in the general election, and then you can see if the people as a whole support your favorite too.

Six months is a long time to have only two candidates in the race, don't you think?

We agree. Because an equal vote will do a very good job in the first pass at producing viable winners, we think it would make a lot of sense to shorten the general election season by moving the primary much closer to the November general election date. For example, were the first vote to happen in early September, all candidates would have the warm summer months to connect with voters at the various fairs, parades and celebrations around the state before the first vote.

The Oregon Open Primary reform makes no policy at all regarding the date of the primary. We expect that the Legislature can easily take up this discussion if it should become law.

Has this system ever been used before?

Each key aspect of this system has been used and analyzed in other areas. Oregon was the first state to use an equal voting method on a statewide ballot for a 1990 referendum on five different options for school funding. Approval Voting is used to select the Secretary General of the United Nations and by lots of people who know math: the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the American Statistical Association (ASA). The Top Two portion of the Oregon Open Primary is used currently in California, Washington and Louisiana, where it has been credited with reducing partisanship in elected bodies.

The use of the two systems in combination will be an Oregon first.

Why don’t you try it at the local level first, before making it the law statewide?

Because once you see clearly how totally unequal our vote is now, there is a moral imperative to repair it as widely and quickly as possible.

Also: the 31% of voters not affiliated with the two major parties can already vote in local/nonpartisan races. And using equal voting for some offices and plurality voting for others will create confusion for the electorate and result in more spoiled ballots.

If you want to vote in the primary, why don’t you just join one of the major political parties?

We don't believe the state should compel membership in one of two private political organizations in order to enjoy the full benefit of the taxpayer-funded voting franchise. That requirement is arguably a violation of the federal equal protection clause as well as an obvious violation of Article 2 Section 1 of Oregon's Constitution: “Elections free. All elections shall be free and equal.” Separate is inherently unequal.

Opening the primary isn't just about the disenfranchised third of the electorate. It's about giving all voters an equal voice and more choice, regardless of political party affiliation or lack of affiliation, and giving all candidates the freedom to advance without having to pass a partisan filter first.

Doesn't this violate the associate rights of political parties to choose candidates to represent them in the general election?

No. This measure merely shifts the election function of political parties from one of nomination to one of endorsement. In the Unified Primary, parties still enjoy the unique “fusion voting” privilege of candidate endorsement on the ballot. Parties may set up their own processes and elections to select their endorsees.

Wow, this sounds pretty cool. How can I help?

Thank you! There are two good ways to pitch in: contribute to help fund the campaign or join our #UFTV mass mobilization drive to help with the legislative upgrade push.

Why do only two candidates advance to the General Election?

Because a single choice vote is only equal if there are two candidates in the race: otherwise the more similar candidates split votes, which disadvantages voters who like more candidates. Since voters are aware of this, today's current elections are effectively a top two already - one candidate each from the major parties. Although minor party and independent candidates can compete in today's General Election directly, they are unable to compete effectively in no small part because of the spoiler effect and the “don't waste your vote” phenomenon.

From the candidate’s perspective, this is also a benefit. Each candidate has one clear opponent for the General Election against whom to compete and differentiate, versus an uncertain field of disproportionately aligned opponents.

But it’ll make it harder for minor parties to maintain their minor party status, won’t it?

Unfortunately yes. The Oregon Open Primary makes no new provisions for maintenance of minor parties, who can currently maintain qualification by polled voter support of candidates they nominate directly to the general election.

Fortunately there is a simple legislative fix for this problem. Concurrent with adoption of an equal voting method as required by the intent of the Oregon Open Primary, the Legislature can shift minor party qualification to voter support in the primary of candidates registered with a minor party. Because this voting system more accurately reflects the electorate's true support of minor party viewpoints, this will very likely make it easier for minor parties to maintain official minor party status.

Aside for making it easier to maintain party status, minor party and independent candidates will see an accurate level of support, where today voters face a strong disincentive to honestly support a minor party candidate. An alternative voting experiment that surveyed voters at polling places in Manhattan’s 69th State Assembly District compared plurality voting (vote for one) with a variety of voting methods including Approval Voting, with the following results:

Manhatten69Plurality.png  Manhatten69Approval.png

While the district was clearly not representative of the overall American electorate, note the relative strength of minor party candidates compared to the major party candidates. For example, Green Party Jill Stein received one vote for about every 27 votes for Obama under Plurality voting, versus one vote for every 1.7 Obama votes under Approval Voting.

Won’t people just “game the system?” Like, what if voters vote or advocate for a weak opponent in order to squeeze out a stronger opponent?

This strategy is effective in some primary systems (traditional Open Primary, California Top Two, Blanket Primary), but not in an equal voting system. In an equal voting system this type of strategic voting is very risky. Voting for a weak opponent does not change the vote calculus between the your favorite and your most feared opponent, but does increase the likelihood of squeezing out the your own favorite candidate.

Hi, I'm from Texas. Doesn’t the Primary Election have way lower turnout than the General Election? Won’t this system eliminate choices before most voters have had a say?

What most folks from out of state don’t know is that Oregon is one of three states in the country to use vote-by-mail for all voters. Consequently, Oregon ranks near the top for primary election voter turnout nationally.

Hi, I'm from Oregon. Doesn’t the Primary Election still have lower turnout than the General Election? Won’t this system eliminate choices before most voters have had a say?

Oregon’s current partisan primary election system excludes more than 30% of the electorate right out the gate, and gives minimal choice to the rest of voters since major party voters are only able to vote for candidates in their own parties. As a result, the primary election is appealing only to a subset of voters; the rest are turned away and turned off to the system as a whole. By offering maximum choice to all voters in an equal voting open primary, we expect significantly more participation in the whole political process. Moving the primary and general elections closer together could also have a beneficial effect on primary election turnout.

Well, that convinced me. Remind me again, how can I help out with the cause?

Glad to hear it, and thank you! There are two good ways to pitch in: contribute to help fund the campaign or join our #UFTV mobilization drive to help with the legislative push.

Actually I'm still not convinced. I heard the California system is bad for minor parties, and that it can be gamed when there are a different numbers of candidates espousing particular viewpoints. What do you have to say about that?

The Oregon Open Primary and the California Plurality Top Two differ significantly in terms of intent.

All of the legitimate criticisms of so-called “Top Two” systems are attributable to vote-splitting spoiler effect inequality. This restriction of support for a single candidate in a field of many causes similar candidates to split votes, so if there are an unequal number of candidates representing various viewpoints, the results can be skewed by simple candidate participation. Because all candidates for office appear on a single ballot, this effect is magnified, which enhances the shut out of minor party and independent candidates. Name recognition becomes even more important, so candidates need to raise more money to compete. Plurality with a Top Two compels voters to choose the "lesser evil" candidate on their "side" most beholden to the money.

Because the Oregon Open Primary calls for true equality in the vote, Oregon's 2015 Legislature should necessarily correct this vote-splitting inequality should the measure pass.

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. Since this is a new system, do you have any science to back it up?

Yes. Equal voting systems have been thoroughly researched through election method simulation of various voting systems. Approval voting in the first stage and a vote between the top two approved in the second stage is the highest-performing simple, unranked voting system. It also has a high propensity to elect the candidate that could beat all others one-on-one when such a candidate exists (the so-called Condorcet winner).
In an analysis of 51 different voting methods, including Range, Approval, Bucklin, IRV, Top 2 Plurality and many more, Approval with a Top Two outperformed all but two (Range and Range with a Top Two - also equal voting methods), and far outperformed the system we use today. It is by far the best system that uses a simple two-stage balloting system like the one we use today.

Ok, I'm on board. Remind me one more time how I can help out?

Excellent! There are two good ways to pitch in: contribute to help fund the campaign or join our #UFTV mobilization drive to get encourage our 2015 legislators to embrace the equal vote.