Oregon voters may get to choose whether they want to use ranked-choice voting to elect their top federal and statewide officials.

That system is proposed in House Bill 2004, which the Oregon House passed on a 35-24 vote on Tuesday, May 23 and sent to the Senate. Aside from its uncertain fate in the Senate, where the current Republican walkout has stymied all business in that chamber, the measure hinges on voter approval in the Nov. 5, 2024 General Election. If approved then, the system would start in 2028.

The Oregon measure would apply to elections for president, U.S. senator and representative, and governor, secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general. It would not apply to statewide elections for the Oregon Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Tax Court. It would apply in contests with at least three candidates.

It also would allow cities and counties, beyond the four that already have it or are planning to use it, to set up standards for a ranked-choice voting system.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis and a chief sponsor, said he would have liked to include elections for state legislative seats under ranked-choice voting.

But he told reporters after the House vote that county officials, who conduct elections in Oregon’s 36 counties, expressed concerns about lengthening the ballot — which could increase mailing costs — and taking on so much change at once.

“House Bill 2004 establishes the blueprint for all of Oregon to implement ranked-choice voting in an accessible way,” said Rayfield, whose home city and county are two of the four local governments under the system.

“Ranked choice voting creates a more collegial electoral environment. It allows all voters to be engaged and excited about election outcomes and encourages good candidates running good campaigns. This is about integrity, it’s about electing people in control with the will of the voters.”

The measure also provides for a statewide effort to inform voters about how the system works.

Alaska and Maine are the only states so far that use ranked-choice voting, under which voters rank candidates by preference instead of choosing a single person. The candidate who gets a majority of the first-preference votes is the election winner. If none does, the candidate with the least first-preference votes is eliminated and votes are transferred to the second-preference candidate. This process continues until one candidate wins a majority of votes.

Alaska and Maine use the system for state primaries and federal elections.

However, the system is used in about 20 cities across the nation, including New York and San Francisco.

In Oregon, Benton County voters approved it in 2016, but it was not implemented until the Legislature approved funds for the county to use it in 2018. The system was not needed to determine the outcome of two races in 2020.

Voters in Corvallis, the seat of Benton County, did use it in 2022.

Multnomah County voters have authorized ranked-choice voting for county offices starting in 2026.

Portland voters, when they approved a sweeping reorganization of city government last year, instituted the instant-runoff for the citywide offices of mayor and auditor starting in 2024.

One Republican, Charlie Conrad of Dexter, joined 34 Democrats to vote for House Bill 2004. The other 24 Republicans opposed it. One Democrat was excused.

Rep. Khanh Pham, a Democrat from Southeast Portland, also is a sponsor of the bill.

“Our current ‘pick-one’ voting system often pressures voters to cast their ballots strategically, picking a candidate they see as electable rather than the candidate whose vision best aligns with their hopes for their community,” she said. “Ranked-choice voting is about understanding voters’ actual values and preferences.”

House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said in a statement that she hoped the system would lead to a change in the tone of political campaigns.

“In order to be successful under ranked-choice voting, a candidate must build bridges and broaden their appeal,” she said. “I’m excited that voters will get to consider this important change to our elections next year. My hope is that this change will be a positive turning point in the health of our democracy.”

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