STAR Voting Helps Create Smooth Party Elections

Here in Multnomah County, Democrats are leading the way on voting reform. We now use a preference voting system with an automatic runoff. It’s called STAR Voting, and it eliminates vote splitting, assures a winner preferred by the majority and enables voters to vote their conscience, knowing their vote will always go to the candidate they prefer most. After 18 months of study, the state party Election Integrity Caucus released its Alternative Voting Methods Report, in which STAR Voting emerged as the method that best met criteria called for in our state party platform. It’s a game-changer for democracy and we are leading the way. STAR stands for Score Then Automatic Runoff. It’s familiar and easy for voters, and we’ve now used it successfully several times to elect officers and delegates in local party elections. In both recent elections, candidates from traditionally underrepresented communities did well. From a field of over 100 candidates in the January Organizing Meeting, 20 candidates who were people of color or from other marginalized communities won 25 of 39 delegate positions (64% of the seats.), showing that STAR did not disadvantage minority candidates in that race. Similarly, at the CD3 Committee Meeting, while representing less than half the overall candidates, candidates from traditionally marginalized communities won 60% of the delegate and alternate positions. For those who have questions about STAR Voting at the 2021 Reorg, we’ve gathered some Q&A from experts who watched the elections.

On Sunday, the CD3 Committee hosted a meeting to elect new delegates and alternatives to the DPO Standing Committees. The committee used STAR Voting to run the election, and the voting system worked well to smoothly and quickly elect a group of candidates supported by the majority of all voters. Two months earlier, in January, the Multnomah County Democrats used STAR Voting to elect officers, as well as SCC Delegates and Alternates. That meeting had numerous interruptions and got sidetracked into long discussions, but the actual voting process (the act of voting and tabulating results) went smoothly and quickly. Indeed, had we been using the former system, the meeting could have taken even longer!

While most people felt comfortable using the STAR ballot and voting required minimal instructions, it is worth noting that giving proper instructions for any new voting system is important. In both sets of elections, candidates from traditionally underrepresented communities did well. From a field of over 100 candidates in the January Organizing Meeting, 20 candidates who were people of color or from other marginalized communities beat the other 80% of candidates to win 25 of 39 delegate positions (64% of the seats.), showing that STAR did not disadvantage minority candidates in that race. Similarly, at the CD3 Committee Meeting, while representing less than half the overall candidates, candidates from traditionally marginalized communities won 60% of the delegate and alternate positions.

For those who have questions about STAR Voting at the 2021 Reorg, we’ve gathered some Q&A from experts who watched the elections.

Some Questions & Answers about the 2021 MultDems Reorg

Q: The last election for MultDems used a different voting method. What was the new system?
A: In September of 2019 Multnomah County Democrats voted by a supermajority to adopt STAR Voting for all internal elections with three or more candidates. Officers are now elected using single-winner STAR Voting, and for multi-winner races such as for State Central Committee and congressional district delegates Bloc STAR is used.

The new system was first used in a Party Reorganization (regular election for party offices) on January 23rd, 2021. 

Q: Is there a voter guide for how to vote in the new system?
A: Yes. This link to the guide on how to vote with STAR Voting from the Equal Vote Coalition can be found here, in both English and Spanish. These resources are available in additional languages on request by emailing  

Q: Results were gender balanced. What does that mean and how does it work?
A: All multi-winner elections for Multnomah County Democrats are gender balanced, with neither male or female identifying candidates able to win more than ½ + 1 of the seats for each delegation. All candidates are listed on the same ballot, and non-binary candidates are able to win a seat anytime they have the most support, regardless of gender.

Gender balancing is an additional step that’s performed after the STAR Voting election is tallied. The election is tallied according to STAR Voting, and a candidate ranking is generated, showing who came in 1st place, 2nd place etc. Gender balanced winners are then selected by going down this list alternating between male and female candidaets and electing non-binary candidates any time they are at the top of the list.

Q: Why did the meeting take so long?
A: This was the first electronic Reorg meeting hosted by the Multnomah County Democrats, which is the largest county party in the state. The meeting was 100% staffed by volunteers, and included over 320 participants. There were some significant technological hurdles with credentialing, volunteer coordination, and tech support for participants, as well as the logistics of emailing multiple resources to so many people, both before and during the meeting.

Party bylaws are clear that participants should not be automatically muted, but with so many people on the call, waiting to be called on was challenging in some cases, due to the volume of participants.

A few issues came up with technology and a few mistakes were made, including a mix up with the sample ballot and real ballot links, and incorrect voting links were distributed a couple of times. Correcting the mistake ended up requiring the body to debate and then approve proposed solutions and extended timelines.

Mistakes happen and democracy can be messy, but the meeting length didn’t have anything to do with STAR Voting. Results were available following voting within the expected time frame. 

Q: What takeaways were there from the Bloc STAR election outcomes?
A: In the MultCo election, diversity won big and polarizing candidates from both factions appear to have done worse than in the past, though that is an inherently subjective determination. Here are the diversity results. “From a field of 100+ candidates, 20 diverse candidates (all but two,) won 25 of 39 delegate positions (64%.)”

Q: Slates encouraged voters to give their candidates 5 stars. Did that give them an advantage?
A: The old system, Bloc Plurality is notorious for being SUPER gameable. Factions who all voted as a block for a slate, and voted for exactly the number of candidates as the seats available, got a huge advantage in the old system. That’s why slates have historically been such a big deal. Individuals who didn’t vote with the block were at a huge disadvantage with the old system.

Bloc STAR mitigates those issues, making slates less powerful, and making it less important to vote for the exact number of candidates running. Of course getting good endorsement will always be helpful, and of course voters will ideally score at least as many candidates as there are seats, but if there are 10 seats you do not need to give 5 stars to all 10 candidates, unless there are 10 you truly love. You should show your honest preference order.

Q: Is Bloc STAR vulnerable to strategic voting? 
A: With any new system people experiment with how to game it. With Bloc STAR the key to good strategy is the same as in single-winner. Give your favorites 5, your worst candidates 0, and show your preference order and level of support for the rest. In short, honesty is the best policy.

Even if voters are strategic in Bloc STAR the results will be much more representative, and those who vote strategically will have less of an edge. No voting method can eliminate all possibilities for strategic voting, but in STAR Voting strategic voting is not incentivized or effective. 

Attempting strategic voting in STAR can backfire, and most voters will get the best results if they are honest. For example, a voter who only loves 9 candidates but who strategically decides to give 5 stars to 21 candidates because there are 21 winners for SCC is giving up their power to have a say in which of those 21 will win, or in what order. If you honestly just want any of the 21 to win that is an honest good vote. If you want your favorites to win the top spots then you should only give top scores to your favorites. A good vote in this situation would be to give a top score to your 9 favorites, and then give other candidates you hope will win 4 stars, or the number of stars you think they deserve showing your honest preference order.

Q: Do people who give less high scores have less power?
A: No. Your scores will help your favorites pull ahead of the rest. If your have lots of favorites give lots of high scores, if you only have one favorite then only give your top score to them. It’s up to you to decide what your honest vote looks like. Showing your preference order and level of support for the candidates helps ensure that your scores help the best candidates advance to the runoff and hopefully win each seat.

A key point here is that in the runoff, each ballot is one vote. Whether voters give lots of 5s or just a few your final vote will go to the finalist you prefer. The runoff is binary, and it actually will correct for any strategic voting or distortion from normal variations in voting behavior, to the extent possible.

Q: Do we propose voting like this, with multi-winner Bloc STAR and lots of winners, for governmental elections?
A: No. The SCC elected 21 delegates off one ballot. That’s not a situation we ever see in Oregon governmental elections. Having this many winners in a single governmental election would compromise geographic representation, so it’s not recommended. 

Multi-winner bloc voting may be a good option for a few limited situations where a small multi-member district makes sense, but in general At-Large elections are not recommended for a number of reasons that are beyond the scope of this FAQ. 

This system makes good sense for delegate elections and is a big step up from what we had before. In the future Proportional representation could be another good option worth considering. 

Q: Would Bloc STAR be good for a primary?
A: Yes. Bloc STAR would be the best choice for a top 5 primary as it would eliminate vote splitting and accurately advance the top 5 most viable candidates.

With STAR voting primaries could be eliminated entirely, or they could advance the top 10 or top 5. We like 5 when a primary is needed, but in most cases it’s better to just skip the primary, which is more inclusive, cheapest, and has real advantages for reducing the influence of money in politics.

Run for Something!

Want to run? Local elections deadlines are coming up fast!

Seats are open for the May election, across Multnomah County, including school boards, community college boards and more. The Campaign Committee asks you to think about running, and to reach out to Democratic neighbors and friends who can represent us well and ensure excellent, safe, and equitable service for our county’s residents, families, staff and students. Could this be you?

The Multnomah County filing deadline is  March 18th, and the deadline to submit a candidate statement for Voter pamphlet is March 22nd. Ballots will be mailed to voters on  April 28th, and Election Day is Tuesday, May 18th!

For all Democrats: Have you moved lately? Make sure your voter status is current and confirm that you are a registered Democrat. It’s easy and quick to register and update.

Go to My Vote

Quick links:

Multnomah County Elections office- Who’s already filed?

Which seats are open?

How to file and more information

Supporting Black Activists and Businesses

Here are some other ways to celebrate and support Black activists and businesses...

A film and discussion about outstanding Black women activists.

The panel: Dr. Rosa Colquitt, Candace Avalos and more notable women! 100% of the proceeds go to the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Black Caucus and women-owned indie Clinton Street Theater. Tickets are $10 and scholarships are available.  For more information, visit

Check out this excellent documentary chronicling the little-known history of racism in Oregon and the moving story of people, both black and white, who worked for civil rights. There are moments of highly disturbing racism in a state not known for diversity. But there are also moments of inspiration and courage as people take a stand to bring about important change.

The variety of foods offered by black-owned restaurants and food trucks in the Portland area is wide and varied, and represents every corner of the U.S. to the Caribbean to Africa.

Cannabis Reform is a BIPOC Issue:

“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.” – Joint Statement from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Senators. Ron Wyden and Cory Booker


Black Leadership in Oregon History

During Black History Month, it’s good to reflect on just a few of the many leaders of color, who have worked hard for equity and inclusion and helped make Oregon a better place. This month, Multnomah County Democrats want to honor people who blazed trails and worked with many others to bring change to our state.

Avel Gordley

Avel Louise Gordly is an activist, community organizer, and former politician in Oregon, who in 1996 became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Oregon State Senate. She served in the Senate from 1997 to 2009. Previously, she served for five years in the Oregon House of Representatives.

After five years at Pacific Northwest Bell, she enrolled at Portland State University, earning a degree in the administration of justice.[1] Though an avid reader, it was not until her time at Portland State University that she was first exposed to African American literature and noted how she had not been exposed to this during her time in the public school system.[2]During her time at PSU she also applied to participate with Operations Crossroads Africa and was accepted, sending her to West Africa with most of her time spent in a small village in Nigeria, all of which would go on to be a life-changing experience.[2] In 1974, she became the first person in her family to graduate from college.[2] After graduating, Gordly began working with the State of Oregon Corrections Division as a counselor in a work release facility for women where she noticed racial bias that led to work release for black women and education release for white women. [3]

Willie Beatrice Barrow (née Taplin; December 7, 1924 – March 12, 2015) was an American civil rights activist and minister. Barrow was the co-founder of Operation PUSH, which was named Operation Breadbasket at the time of its creation alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson. In 1984, Barrow became the first woman executive director of a civil rights organization, serving as Push’s CEO. Barrow was the godmother of President Barack Obama.[5]

When she was 12, she organized a demonstration with fellow students to protest that white students were allowed to ride the bus, but black students had to walk to school. Barrow confronted the bus driver and demanded that he let her fellow students ride.[6] When the bus driver confronted her about it she said “Y’all can kill me if you want to. But I’m tired.”[7] When Barrow turned 16, she moved to Portland, Oregon, to study at the Warner Pacific Theological Seminary (now Warner Pacific College). While still a student, Barrow and a group of black residents helped build one of the first black Churches of God in the city; she was ordained as a minister after graduation.[8] She started working as a welder during World War II at the Kaiser Shipyards in Swan Island, Washington, where she met Clyde Barrow, whom she married in 1945 in Washington state.[9]

Willie Barrow

Beatrice Morrow Cannady (January 9, 1890 – August 19, 1974)[1] was a renowned civil rights advocate in early 20th-century Oregon, United States. She was editor of the Advocate, the state’s largest African-American newspaper.[2] She was also co-founder and vice president of the Portland, Oregon chapter of the NAACP.[3][4]

Upon moving to Portland, Cannady became associate editor of The Advocate.[6] Her work through the newspaper drew attention to racial violence during the early 1920s and prompted a statement from Governor Ben W. Olcott decrying the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, which was spreading through Oregon at the time.

In addition to her editorial work, Cannady helped to establish the Portland chapter of the NAACP in 1913. This organization marked the first such branch of the organization formed west of the Mississippi River[7] and continues to actively participate in the Portland community. Acting as the chapter’s secretary, Cannady worked with the group to remove racist, exclusionary language from Oregon’s constitution, a mission which succeeded in 1926 and 1927 when the changes were ratified.[8] Cannady also led protests against Ku Klux Klan propaganda film The Birth of a Nation.[2]

Cannady graduated from Northwestern College of Law in 1922, making her the first black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon.[9] She went on to become the first black woman to practice law in Oregon.[10] A Republican, she was the first black woman to run for state representative.[9] Cannady successfully advocated for the passage of civil rights bills by the Oregon state legislature. Her efforts helped integrate public schools in Longview, Washington and Vernonia, Oregon.[2]

In 1927, Cannady represented Oregon at the 4th annual Pan-African Congress in New York City.[11]

William Arthur Hilliard (May 28, 1927 – January 16, 2017) was an American journalist. He was editor of The Oregonian, the major daily newspaper in Portland, Oregon, from 1987 to 1994 and was that newspaper’s first African-American editor. He was also president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1993–94.

As a youth, he applied for a job as a newspaper delivery boy for The Oregonian, but his application was rejected out of concerns that having a black delivery boy would not be acceptable to the paper’s white subscribers.[2][4] He graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School, where he had worked on the school newspaper, and spent a year in the U.S. Navy after being drafted at the end of the Second World War.[3]

Hilliard worked at The Oregonian from 1952 to 1994, starting as a copy boy, and then rising to clerk, sports reporter, religion and general assignment reporter, and in 1965 assistant city editor. In 1971, he became city editor, and in 1982 was named executive editor.[4] He oversaw the merging of the paper with the Oregon Journal in 1982.[4] His first big story was the Holt Korean Babylift in 1956. When he was named city editor it was considered national news, warranting an article in Time Magazine. In 1980 he served as one of four panelists in the nationally televised debates between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.[1]

In 1987, Hilliard was named editor of The Oregonian, with “full control over the newspaper’s news and editorial departments.”[2] He was the newspaper’s first African-American editor.[4] He introduced zoned suburban coverage and expanded coverage of minorities issues, as well as increasing the hiring of minorities by the paper. While he was editor two staffers complained to him about how the nicknames of sports teams were demeaning to Native Americans. Under Hilliard’s leadership The Oregonian stopped using demeaning sports nicknames in 1992, and the newspaper also stopped identifying people by race in crime stories unless absolutely necessary.[1]

Hilliard served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in 1993–94,[4] the first African-American to be elected to that position.[1] In 1993, he was given the President’s Award of the National Association of Black Journalists, which called him a role model.[1] He remained editor of The Oregonian until retiring in 1994,[4] although during the last year of his tenure with the paper he gave his designated successor, executive editor Sandra M. Rowe, effective control of the editor’s duties and focused his attention on ASNE duties.[3]

In 1998, Hilliard was given the Oregon Newspaper Hall of Fame Award by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.[7]

In 2002, when it was discovered that USA Today reporter Jack Kelley had fabricated some of his stories, USA Today turned to Hilliard, along with veteran editors John Seigenthaler Sr. and Bill Kovach, to monitor the investigation.[8]

William “Bill” McCoy (June 11, 1921 – April 1996), was an American politician from Oregon. In 1972, he was the first African American elected to the Oregon State Legislature. After serving one term in the Oregon House of Representatives, he was appointed to serve in the Oregon Senate. In the next election he was elected to the same seat and served until his death in 1996. His senate district covered North Portland and much of Northeast Portland.[1] He was a Democrat.

One of McCoy’s first actions after being elected to the Oregon legislature was to introduce House Resolution 13, ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Oregon had never formally ratified after rescinding a previous ratification.[3]

McCoy Park in Portland is named for Bill McCoy and his wife Gladys, who became the first black member of the Portland school board in 1970, and the first black Multnomah County commissioner in 1979.[4]

The Dream, a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. in Portland, is dedicated to Bill and Gladys McCoy.[5]

Bill McCoy

Legislative Action Alert

Legislative Action Alert | And How You Can Track What is Happening in Salem

Three bills are wending their way through the statehouse right now, all of which are worthy of attention:

  • SB 683: This senate bill will help students understand the unique contributions of African Americans in this state and country.
  • HB 2168: African Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth for well over a century. Declaring it a legal state holiday is a step in the right direction. 
  • SJM 4: Reparations for African Americans are 155 years past due.
  • HB 2002: Converts mandatory minimum sentences for specified felonies other than murder to presumptive sentences.

To view and track current legislation in the Oregon House and Senate, learn to navigate OLIS (Oregon Legislative Information System) in 60 seconds with Rep. Dacia Grayber by Clicking Here.