The Equal Vote Campaign

We, the people of Oregon, have a chance to create equality in the vote for the first time in the nation’s history, and in so doing solve both hyper-partisanship and two root causes for the extreme influence of money in politics.

Isn't the Vote equal now?
Status != Quo
Ranking vs. Rating
The Measure
The Intent
The Equal Vote

The Equal Vote on

Frequently Asked Questions

Problems and the solution

Plurality Voting = fail.

Instant Runoff Voting = fail.

What the yoots say

#UFTV - Extra Time coming soon!

Six kittens from Catsburg

The push for the equal vote was initiated on October 1, the day the federal government shut down because of partisan gridlock. Independence Day marked the beginning of the campaign.


Our plan is simple. As we consider the reform of our voting process in advance of election day, we will ask our friends and associates to learn about and join the campaign for the equal vote. Together we will ask Oregon’s luminaries, political taste makers and interest groups, our elected leaders and those seeking office - particularly our 2015 legislators - to embrace the equal vote too. Please join us.

What’s the equal vote? Isn’t our voting system equal now?

No. Although it is required to be by the founding principles of our nation. “One Person, One Vote” means that all our votes should carry an equal weight


In order for us to be equal then, for every possible way you can vote, there must exist a counter-balancing vote I can cast that leaves the election outcome the same before and after our two votes are counted.

A single choice between two passes the equality test: if you vote for Alice and I vote for Bob, our votes exactly counter-balance, so the overall election outcome reflects the will of the majority. 


But whenever there are more than two, the vote-splitting inequality, commonly known as the spoiler effect, creates a vote that is impossible to balance. The more similar candidates divide supporters' votes, so the voting system gives more power to those of us who prefer fewer candidates.


As a result, we are encouraged not to “waste our votes” on a long shot candidate we might really like and instead vote only for the “lesser evil,” in order that our worst option be prevented from winning. And who is the lesser evil? The more tolerable of the two frontrunners with the biggest financial war chests, who are therefore most beholden to the money. Independents without big backing don’t even get a fair count.

The first inequality, the vote-splitting spoiler effect, leads to two party domination and outcomes heavily biased towards special interests.

The Status is not Quo

We actually have two elections. First is the primary election, where members of the two major parties select a candidate to go beat up on the guy or gal from the other party in the 2nd (general) election.

Which one should you choose? The overriding concern has to be, “which one on my side has the most name recognition and has raised the most money in order to win against the really corrupt bad guy the other side’s gonna pick?”


Oh by the way: the closed primary creates partisan exclusion, the second inequality in our voting system. Nearly a third of us aren't in a major party and almost 20% are in the minority in the strong majority of districts that are “safe” – those districts that give just one party so much of an advantage that whomever is chosen in their primary always wins.

Together, more than half of us are shut out and we must choose only between the two polarized candidates deepest in the money's pocket. Not super surprising then that we have a special-interest dominated government mired in partisan gridlock.

Ranking vs. Rating

The choice of a single favorite, Plurality Voting, is the simplest ranking system. It turns out that with more than two candidates, all ranking systems fail the equality test and are provably "unfair." Rating systems don’t suffer these significant defects. Think of Olympic judging, product reviews on Amazon (5 out of 5 stars!), or the simple “Like” on Facebook. All are examples of rating – attributing to each competitor, product or idea an independent measure of value. For every rating you give a candidate, I can give a balancing rating: yes to your no or zero stars to your five, so all rating systems actually pass the voting system equality test.

compare_ballots.pngEven the simplest rating system – a binary yes or no, +1 or 0, support or not – lets us communicate what no rank ordering can: which choices we actually approve. And the ballot for the simplest rating system looks the same as the ballot for the simplest ranking system, only with the single choice limitation removed.

The Measure

The Oregon Open Primary measure has qualified for the November 2014 ballot. 


The operative portion of the Oregon Open Primary text fixes the partisan exclusion inequality that shuts out half the voters. Yay! Instead of segregating us by major party (or not), we all get a primary ballot that shows all the candidates, and the top two who get the most votes advance to the general election regardless of party.

The vote between the top two is always equal. But what about the primary vote itself? Although the Oregon Open Primary text makes no specific policy regarding the voting method, if its enactment were to continue the limitation of a single choice, the vote-splitting spoiler effect inequality would actually be magnified.


And therefore the pressure would increase for us to support not our true favorites, but the one candidate we think has the best chance to beat the one we like least– the lesser evil of the two candidates most beholden to the money. Not yay.

Do we really want to fix one voting inequality by amplifying the other and increasing yet again the influence of money in politics?

The Intent

Fortunately, the preamble and intent of the Oregon Open Primary clearly state that the voters “should have the full and equal ability, at every election, to choose those whom they believe are best suited to govern them,” “may participate on an equal basis” and “have the equal ability to select two finalist candidates.”

These statements send a crystal clear signal, from the authors and the voters to our Legislature, that full equality in the vote is the true intent of the Oregon Open Primary’s passage.

The Equal Vote 

The easiest (but not the only) way for the Legislature to enact the Oregon Open Primary’s equality intent then, should it pass, is to remove the single choice limitation in current Oregon election law and so allow us to rate support or not for each candidate in the first open election stage. 


Finally, at long last, we’ll be able to honestly express support for candidates we actually prefer, without having to consider first who has the most financial strength or who the media says is “electable.” We can actually look at a candidate and think, “I like. Support!” 

Since we know that the top two advance, we benefit by supporting at least two, so we can support our favorite(s) and if necessary support a merely acceptable candidate too. Instead of choosing the lesser of two evils in the general election, we may be able to select the more awesome of two greats. And unlike many other primary election systems, voting or advocating for a weak opponent is a very risky strategy. We actually have good reason to vote honestly.

We’ll get rid of the election system division that creates hyper partisanship and diminish the influence of money in politics by taking away the sneaky incentives to support only the candidates with the most money. And since U.S. public elections have only used ranking systems, we’ll make the equal vote another significant Oregon first.

Please join us.





The influence of money in politics

76% of Americans think that the amount of money in elections gives rich people more influence than the rest of us. They're right. Princeton and Northwestern University recently released a released a study suggesting that our government outcomes function on behalf of a polarized special interest oligarchy not the majoritarian democracy. That's not the deal promised by the whole "We The People" thing.

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The Founding Vision of Equality in the Vote

The earliest Supreme Court reference I could find defining the principle of "one person, one vote" is Gray v. Sanders, where the Court unequivocally concluded:

"The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing-one person, one vote."

This language of equality flowed through the opinion:

"Once the geographical unit for which a representative is to be chosen is designated, all who participate in the election are to have an equal vote -- whatever their race, whatever their sex, whatever their occupation, whatever their income, and wherever their home may be in that geographical unit. This is required by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The concept of 'we the people' under the Constitution visualizes no preferred class of voters, but equality among those who meet the basic qualifications."

In Wesberry v. Sanders the Court affirmed this notion of vote equality and traced the principle of "one person, one vote" even further back, before the adoption of the Constitution itself. The Court cited James "Jemmie" Madison, our fourth President and author of the Bill of Rights, who 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."

The 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 purpose of the Equal Vote Campaign is to adjust the mechanism of voting itself to address clear vote weight inequalities in the franchise: the limitation of a single choice in elections with more than two candidates and the segregation of voters and candidates by major party (or not) in the first (primary) election stage.

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The Spoiler Effect and Lesser Evil Voting

The spoiler effect is the effect of vote splitting between candidates or ballot questions with similar ideologies. One spoiler candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major candidate with similar politics thereby causing a strong opponent of both or several to win. The minor candidate causing this effect is referred to as a spoiler.

The lesser of two evils principle (or lesser evil principle) is the principle that when given two bad choices, the one which is not as bad as the other should be chosen over the one that is the greater threat.

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More on Ranking Systems

Plurality voting - the choice of one favorite in a field of many candidates - is the simplest ranking system. Other methods like Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) allow you to rank multiple candidates 1,2,3, etc. in order of your preference. It turns out that for elections with more than two candidates, ALL ranked voting methods fail the test for voting system equality because there are rank orderings for which there are no counter-balancing orderings. Further, rank orderings can't account for disproportionate clusterings of candidates, so such systems are necessarily vulnerable to vote-splitting. Some super smart dude named Nobel Prize Winning Economist Dr. Kenneth Arrow actually proved that no rank order voting system with more than two distinct alternatives can produce a “fair” outcome.

Other complaints regarding ranked systems include ballot complexity and winner computation complexity.  

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Computing the shutout

Currently only members of the two major parties can participate in the primary election. According to May voter registration statistics, 30.9% of voters don't affiliate with either, and are therefore excluded from the contests that select the two frontrunner candidates for the general election. Further, a strong majority of districts provide a single party enough of an advantage because of the imbalanced segregation of voters in the primary stage that its candidate always wins the general election. This silences another 19.7% of voters in the minority party in dominated districts.

That's actually more than half of us. Without a voice of representation in a "representative democracy." Hmm...

You can download the spreadsheet that computes this result.

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The Oregon Open Primary Statement of Intent

The intent of the Open Primary Act of 2014 is to create a fully open, equitable, and fair election system, that will be applied to specific federal and state elected offices currently elected on a partisan basis.

This Act will abolish the current practice of relying on political party members or party officials in closed primary elections or conventions to nominate candidates for these offices -- while prohibiting the participation of non-affiliated voters entirely -- and replace it with a system through which all Oregon electors may participate on an equal basis, in all phases of the selection process.

This specifically means changing the current system of primary election contests for these offices so that all Oregon voters have the equal ability to select two finalist candidates to appear on the general election ballot, regardless of the political party affiliation, or lack of party affiliation, of the elector or candidate.

Read the full text of the measure.

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A discussion of strategic voting in the equal vote with a top two

"Bullet Voting" - FairVote, a national election reform advocacy organization, has criticized rating systems because "they create obvious, immediate and ongoing strategic dilemmas in every election. With approval voting, each equally weighted vote counts both for that candidate but effectively against the other candidates -- if you indeed have a preference between the two candidates, you need to weigh whether to 'bullet vote' for your favorite to avoid canceling out that vote by voting for someone else. You can be sure candidates will publicly call for voters to reach out to all candidates they might like with their votes, but privately to urge all backers to bullet vote for themselves."

In a discussion of using a rating system for the primary election with a top two, Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote conceded that adding a second round mitigates the bullet voting concern. A voter's desire to see his or her favorite candidate win is balanced by the safety of having two acceptable candidates advance (including his or her favorite).

"Voting or advocating for the weak opponent" - A number of folks have suggested that one way to "game" this system is to cast dishonest votes in favor of a weak opponent candidate in order to squeeze out a more-feared strong opponent. This is not a safe voting strategy; in fact it is only viable if the voter has a very high degree of confidence that his or her favorite candidate will out-poll the strong opponent in the first round. Voting insincerely does not change at all the calculus between the voter's favorite and most feared opponent, but actually increases the likelihood that the voter's own favorite will get squeezed out. This weak opponent strategy is an effective technique in most other primary election systems.

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What's the story with the logo?

The Equal Vote Campaign originated in the drive for the Unified Primary ballot initiative. The Unified Primary imagery comprised three "reddit-style" voting arrows meeting at a single point: the red and blue symbolized the approximately 2/3 of the electorate belonging to the two major parties and the green arrow represented the 1/3 of us not in a major party.

As we transitioned from an initiative to a campaign, the logo "bloomed" and represents not input but outcome: an equal vote allows us all to find consensus not as three aggregations of all possible viewpoints, but in multiple independent, balanced groupings.

We thank the fine artists at DA Metals for allowing us to use one of their very cool designs as the new campaign logo.

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