PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ranked-choice voting is growing in areas throughout the United States. But pairing it with multi-member districts is rare.

Portland would become the first major city in the country to use ranked-choice voting this way if voters pass the charter reform measure on the November ballot.

The role, size and representation of the Portland’s City Council will change drastically if this is approved. The city would go from 4 members elected city-wide on the council to 12 councilors from 4 different sectors of the city. The mayor’s role would change, as well.

Melanie Billings-Yun, who co-chaired the review of Portland’s city charter, said it was clear Portland’s 5-member commission form of government favored the interests of the city’s wealthiest voters.

Melanie Billings-Yun of the Portand City Charter Reform Committee, October 25, 2022 (KOIN)
Melanie Billings-Yun of the Portland City Charter Reform Committee, October 25, 2022 (KOIN)

“I’m not saying we don’t want to represent those people, we do. But we also want to represent those people plus the other people who had historically not been invited to the table,” she told KOIN 6 News.

In Portland, 31% of voters are people of color and 46% of voters are renters.

The commission heard research looking at minority representation 3 times. The first looked at several methods, including having either 5, 7 or 9 single-member districts in 100,000 computer generations.

No district produced a district with a majority of voters of color and found it “very unlikely” that have a district that has anything more than 40% of minority voters.

“In any district throughout the city, even if you have 9 districts. in every single district voters of color are going to be in the minority,” said Colin Cole with More Equitable Democracy. “Therefore, if voters do have different priorities of white voters, voters of color will never be able to elect a candidate.”

The commission came up with 4 multi-member districts with 3 members each, and each elected through proportional ranked choice voting.

That means once a candidate hits 25% plus one vote, the excess 1st place votes are taken from a winner and the second place votes are proportionally distributed until 3 members are elected.

Cole worked on the second piece of research, finding out 12 members is where minority voters would begin to get proportional representation.

“They’re not going to win every seat, they’re not going to win even a majority of seats unless a lot of white voters share their priorities and then they will,” Cole told KOIN 6 News. “But all that it’s guaranteeing is that they can elect their fair share of candidates, which seems like a pretty American idea.”

Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, October 14, 2021 (KOIN)

Current City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who proposed an alternate charter reform plan that is not on the ballot, is skeptical.

“I don’t see how any of that moves us closer to representing our neighborhoods more effectively or picking up garbage on the streets,” Mapps said.

His alternate plan is more of a wish list. He wants 7 single-member districts to ensure neighborhood representation.

KOIN — Your Local Election Headquarters

He and other critics are troubled by not knowing what the 4 districts in the proposal that is on the ballot this year look like or what councilors would earn.

Co-chair Billings-Yun said it’s “kind of impossible actually” for Portlanders to know what the 4 districts would look like before they vote.

The commission was not given the legal authority to determine districts or compensation. If the proposal passes, two more commissions would decide that.

However this commission did put guardrails on the size and shape of the districts, saying districts should be compact and neighborhoods not broken up.

As for the collective pay. the charter proposal website said it’s a range of $900,000 to $8.7 million. That range hinges on if councilors would be paid for part time, stipend-type role or full time.

“If we are really trying to reach diversity within the city and make it so it’s voluntary or part-paid position, what that means is only rich people can run,” Billings-Yun said.