Polled Portlanders find ranked choice voting easy, system advocate says

For what it’s worth, FairVote, a Maryland organization that advocates for the new ranked choice voting system being used in the Portland mayoral race, released poll numbers today saying Portlanders find the new voting process easy.

The group, whose board of directors includes former Congressman John Anderson and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic (so that’s what he’s been up to), reported having polled 122 early Portland voters over one day, being last Thursday. The organization says 94.2 percent of those polled “understood fully” the ballot instructions and how to fill the ballots out.

In contrast, only 5 percent “partially understood” the ballot and less than 1 percent described themselves as being “confused.”

To the question of “How difficult or easy did you find the concept of ranking candidates?”, FairVote reports that just more than 66 percent found it “easy” (26.4 percent) or “very easy” (39.7 percent). Another 22.3 percent responded “neither difficult nor easy,” followed by 7.4 percent who said it was “difficult” and 4.1 percent who answered “very difficult.”

Continuing on, FairVote claims 35 percent of the respondents ranked more than 5 candidates, while another 52.5 percent ranked between two and five candidates, and only 12.5 percent ranked their top choice and stopped there.

As one might expect, FairVote reported that the polling reinforced all the good things about the organization’s preferred ranked choice voting – also commonly called “instant runoff” – process while debunking arguments against it. These findings included that 40.5 percent of respondents said there was less negative campaigning in this election than in past, non-RCV races, while just 8.6 percent argued there was more.

The poll found that 45 percent of those questioned said they were more likely to vote for their preferred candidate using the ranking system – RCV advocates say if a voter really likes a long shot candidate, he or she can mark that candidate No. 1 without worrying the vote is being wasted, because if or when that long shot candidate is eliminated during the instant runoff process, the voter’s second choice will be brought into play. Less than 1 percent reported in the survey that they were less likely to vote for their preferred candidate.

Here is a statement issued by FairVote executive director Rob Richie:

These results show that voters not only understand the ranked choice system, but are using their rankings in the way that benefits them, by ranking as many candidates as they prefer. The majority of voters are choosing not to bullet vote, and not a single respondent choosing to bullet vote said they did so because they didn’t understand RCV. Portland is traditionally a very civicly engaged community and voters have continued that tradition in this election by researching more candidates than just their top choice. This means that they have back-up choices if their first choice is dropped from the race during the counting process.

As I’ve suggested along the way, the poll report is unlikely to dissuade outright ranked choice voting opponents, as it was conducted by a group with a defined positive perspective on the process. Still, it’s interesting to chew on whatever data is available. Take it for what it’s worth.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.