Portland Forward graciously allowed us to invite ourselves to officiate the world's first public poll using STAR Voting* this last weekend at their annual SPRING THING!!!. SPRING THING!!!'s purpose is to "bring together a diverse and multi-generational group of citizens who are invested in leaving this city better than we found it, to empower citizen voices, and make change happen." What better place to give true democracy a test-drive?
To that end, the day began with 12 one-minute pitchers, squared off to explain why the audience should support their ideas into one of several hour-long breakout sessions. From fixing Portland's commissioner/bureau governmental structure, to air quality and more just energy policies, the candidates represented a fantastic stress test of an electoral method. Would voters quickly understand the mechanics of the system and be able to effectively express themselves? Would the results be clear and easy-to-understand?
The Balloting Process
We used both online and paper ballots for the election. For the online ballots, Google Forms proved to be a huge win: because we didn't know the candidate names or topics in advance, we had to fill out the form options as people were already voting. Fortunately Google Forms handles this without a problem, since it can be configured to allow voters to update their submissions as many times as they want. We manually added the paper ballots to the Google Sheet output from the election.
Voters were given a 60-second explanation by yours truly, plus a Jefferson Smith distillation ("Zero stars bad! Five stars good!"). Although the strong majority of the audience had never heard of Score Runoff Voting before, few had any difficulty filling out and submitting ballots, and the election process was completed within several minutes.
We used the Google Sheet version of the SRV Election Calculator to compute the results:
Some cool things to note:
STAR easily handled an election with multiple strong candidates. This was evidenced by the significant quantity of top-scored options on the resultant ballots.
Ballots showed score differentiation. It has been opined by some critics of scoring systems that voters will only use the ends of the range (i.e. 0 and 5), instead of sharing nuanced opinions on the options. Whether because this assertion is incorrect, or because of the STAR runoff step, voters in this election expressed a high degree of candidate differentiation.
People get scoring. 0-5 particularly. The cultural ubiquity of scoring systems - from Amazon, the Apple Store, and Yelp that all use 5-star rating systems for their community reviews, to Olympic judging - led to the immediate comprehension of the balloting process.
The results give real insights, and scoring and preferences are well-correlated. STAR showed both a level of overall support for each candidate, as well as the preference pairings between all the candidates. As Sara noted below, STAR tied for second place in the scorings, but actually beat Novick's FixPDX plan by one vote (14-13) in the preferences. Jason, the winner, beat the second and third place scorers by 18-7 and 17-7 in the preference totals respectively.
STAR did well amongst the contenders! Sara, who gave the one-minute pitch for using STAR in Portland and Oregon elections later wrote, "Our new voting system, [STAR] Voting killed it today at Portland Forward's Spring Thing Event! 12 people presented epic ideas that Portland's best and brightest movers and shakers should be working on this coming year. We each had 1 minute only. I TIED FOR SECOND PLACE WITH STEVE NOVICK!!! Jason Kafoury won first place with a pitch to reform our ballot initiative process." Nice work Sara!
Exciting times ahead!
* Though this post has been updated to use the current name for STAR Voting. Some images in this post say SRV, the original working name for STAR Voting at the time this blog post was first published. SRV stands for Score Runoff Voting. STAR Voting stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff Voting. The name change in part came out of the Spring Thing breakout session, which provided much needed feedback around memorable marketing and highlighted the need for a name that both explained the concept and was simple and memorable. Thanks you to everyone who participated in Spring Thing 2017 for helping make history!