The city council followed the wishes of 17 speakers at the most recent public forum asking them not to interfere with an initiative on STAR voting. On Jan. 10, councilors opted not to take any official action.
Katie LaSala (City Recorder): When a initiative petition is certified to the ballot, council has a few options. You have the option to vote to urge adoption or defeat of the referred measure. You also have the option to order a submission of an alternative measure (or measures) to be voted on at the same election as the referred measure.
And you can take no action in which case, it will just be the measure that’s been referred on the ballot.
[00:00:45] Councilor Emily Semple: I strongly urge that we don’t take a position on this. And I even more strongly say we should not put up a competing measure. I think there’s no reason to confuse it. People have brought this forward. I think it’s fine for them to promote it, and other people who want to, to argue against it.
[00:01:06] I think one of the problems will be that people find it confusing, and I suggest that people who are in favor of it have mock elections, you know: a chili cook-off, a brownie bake off which ice cream do you like best, Albertsons or Fred Meyer, and just, anything light hearted wherever you are, and make the vote, and add it up, And see how it works. I think that would help people understand it.
[00:01:32] But mostly I really believe we should stay neutral on this.
[00:01:38] Councilor Matt Keating: I’ve expressed both publicly and privately my concerns about moving the municipal elections from May and November to just November, because eliminating the primary process, from my vantage point, increases the amount of dollars that a candidate would need to raise to be viable and compete for marketing or digital, radio, TV, and print. Those costs go up in November. And if folks want to get money out of politics, I don’t think this is the way to do so.
[00:02:15] I have a question about the cost to the city and/or the county in regards to implementation. Do we have an analysis of what that dollar amount is?
[00:02:27] Katie LaSala (City Recorder): We do not, Councilor Keating. We’ve asked the county if they could provide us an estimate of what implementation would cost us. The last I heard is that they were working on that estimate. It would be a cost borne entirely by the city though, because we are the only ones who would be using this method.
[00:02:47] Councilor Randy Groves: I do not want to see us put something out there that will be seen as a way to confuse what we’re voting on. I do have some concerns with STAR voting, especially if we have a different way of voting for the city than we do on the same ballot for all the other races. I think that just adds confusion to a system that sometimes confuses people as it is.
[00:03:11] At the same time, the members of our community who have been part of the move to get this on the ballot, worked hard to collect those signatures, and I don’t see it as the council’s place to take that away through a competing measure.
[00:03:27] So, as council president, I will not be making a motion to really do anything, Mayor. If somebody else wants to do that, they can make their own motion, and I’ll listen to it, but I’m pretty locked into, we should not interfere with the process where it is right now.
[00:03:43] Councilor Mike Clark: I agree with all three of them. I feel the same. These folks have worked hard and we shouldn’t mess with it. We should let the voters decide. I don’t think the council as a body should endorse or otherwise comment on it.
[00:03:56] But I will say that I personally hope that the voters decide to vote no. I will. With the number of elections I’ve been involved with over time, my experience is, I believe this will produce considerably more negative campaigns as a result.
You get away from the discussion of particular issues and particular courses of action that someone might hope to take as a candidate and reduce it to: How much do you like this person or not? How many stars are you going to give them?
And I think that’s going to produce some really ugly results with regard to negative campaigning. And I hope that the public is wise enough to elect not to change our system.
[00:04:47] Councilor Alan Zelenka: Yeah, I’m not in favor of putting forward an alternative. But I do think it’s appropriate for the council to take a position on a ballot measure that’s in front of our community. If we’re all opposed to it, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for us to do that.
[00:05:00] But reading the tea leaves, I don’t think that’s going to fly.
[00:05:03] I don’t like STAR voting either for three reasons. One: I don’t think the current system is broken. We have one of the highest participation voter rates in the country, if not highest. And replacing it with a confusing new system, I think, is not a wise move.
[00:05:22] And I agree with what other folks have said, which is that I think this will foster an increased negative campaigning. It’s not going to be as simple as: ‘Vote for me. I’m the right candidate.’ You have to show that other people shouldn’t get stars and votes. So I think it’s going to foster negative campaigning, which I think will be detrimental. And it’ll probably increase because of that.
[00:05:45] And because of the shifting from May to November, I think the increase of money in elections is going to occur as well.
[00:05:53] So for those three reasons, I don’t think this is a good idea, and I’ll be voting no on it, when it gets on the ballot.
[00:06:02] Mayor Lucy Vinis: I’m recognizing there’s not going to be an action here today, but I do want to add my thoughts on this. And the first is that: This is a strongly youth-driven campaign, actually. There have been a lot of young people out there really energized about the voting.
[00:06:17] So I agree with all of you. I think it belongs. They’ve worked hard to get it to this point. And they’ve had struggles getting it to the ballot. So I’m happy to see them succeed in getting it to the ballot.
[00:06:29] I would also say that you as individual councilors will have and can seek opportunities in which you can express your individual opinions as elected officials on this.
And I just recently had a brief conversation with the League of Women Voters. I think they’re very interested in hosting some candidate sort of panel forums, informational forums on this.
[00:06:49] So councilors have an opportunity to participate in those and maybe other opportunities that appear. So I think I would hope that there would be a pretty robust conversation about this, ’cause I think it’s a big change.
[00:07:02] And I agree with all of you that there are some potential downsides both in terms of costs, and I would worry about voter turnout for local elections that we’d have a bigger undervote in November rather than May. But I think we all can learn over the next few months.
[00:07:17] And I think it’s a good opportunity for us to have a lot of conversations about it. So I encourage the public to pay attention to this one closely.
[00:07:24] John Q: The city council will officially be silent and let the voters decide whether to conduct city elections with STAR voting starting in 2026. It’s a method that was invented right here at the University of Oregon. The S-T-A-R in STAR voting stands for ‘Score Then Automatic Runoff.’ Learn more at the website StarVoting.org.