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Why Portland (specifically) needs Approval Voting

Portland’s city council races have become more equitable and accessible by virtue of our broadly popular finance reforms. Approval voting can make our elections even more meaningful and inclusive by encouraging diverse candidates to run. Modernizing our voting method can mitigate the unintended consequences of campaign finance reform without tampering with the availability of funding for underrepresented voices in policymaking.

Portland’s publicly financed Open and Accountable Elections make candidacy for city office accessible to a much larger number of Portlanders. This program is amazing for promoting greater equity and representation. The financial barriers to entry for running a campaign are greatly reduced, meaning one doesn’t personally need deep pockets or connections with deep pockets to run for office. But this accessibility can actually backfire under our current “choose one” voting method. More candidates means more vote splitting among similar candidates. Vote splitting favors those with the largest, most devoted faction instead of candidates with broad appeal and a popular platform.

Approval Voting would eliminate this impediment. Approval Voting is a voting method that simply allows voters to vote for as many candidates as they “approve” of for a given seat. Whomever gets the most approvals wins. For example, if your priority issue is housing for all, you can vote for all three of the candidates who support this among a pack of, say, eight candidates. This is simple on an Approval ballot. Just fill in three circles instead of one. With our current “choose one” voting, you and your like-minded peers would end up each voting for only one of the three comparable candidates, diluting the unifying power of your common values.

While other methods help prevent some voting pathologies, we need to focus on adopting methods that are best suited to the context of our city and its election practices. Ranked Choice Voting, for example, helps eliminate “spoiler” candidates, but it does not help against vote splitting and doesn’t even allow voters to rank their preferred candidate first without potentially helping the candidate they like least. Most notably, the greater the number of candidates, the more RCV breaks down. It is not a good fit for our city where we’ve specifically adopted policies that enable greater numbers of candidates to run for a seat. Approval Voting, which has been favorably adopted in St. Louis, Missouri and Fargo, North Dakota, gets us the other half of what’s needed for truly open and accountable elections. It will allow more diverse, broadly appealing candidates not only to run for a city office, but enable them to win.