PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) –A coalition of community-based organizations in Oregon announced their support for the proposed change to Portland’s city charter, saying it will give voters more of a voice in their local government.
Building Power for Communities of Color, an advocacy organization for social justice, Next Up, an organization dedicated to helping diverse, young leaders, League of Women Voters of Portland, a nonpartisan voter participation organization, and Portland City Club, which is an organization of people sharing ideas for improving Oregon, announced their support in a group press release Thursday highlighting the proposal’s impact for minority groups of voters, be that because of race, income, or where they live.
“We know that this measure will create a more equitable democracy. We’ll see better, stronger representation of any kind of community that isn’t the majority,” said Jenny Lee, the managing director of Building Power for Communities of Color.
The proposal’s change to city council would create four city council districts, with three representatives from each, for a total of twelve city council members. Candidates would be elected in a ranked-choice vote, where voters rank their candidates by preference.
Lee says the current system, with five members elected in city-wide elections, leaves less accountability city leaders have to the marginalized groups and the proposal can help “everyone to have a voice on council.”
“When it’s winner take all, that’s majority rule and that frequently does not advantage many of the communities,” Lee said.
Lee points to research from Tufts University’s MGGG Redistricting Lab that has conducted research on the effect of multi-member districts and ranked-choice voting. It conducted research on Portland specifically last fall. It did not conduct research for the exact format that is proposed but found the combination of ranked-choice voting and multi-member districts “would be expected to consistently secure” POC-preferred candidates to 11-33% of the council’s seats. The study found it would be “unlikely” for a POC candidate to win a single-member district, given the demographics of Portland, without “significant White Crossover voting.”
Vadim Mozyrsky was on the commission that sent the proposal to the fall ballot and was one of the few no votes when the commission approved the proposal 17-3.
Mozyrsky is also part of a political action committee that is fighting the measure, saying the measure is trying to accomplish too much at once.
“I am not against rank choice-voting by itself. It’s really the combination of multi-member districts and ran choice voting together that has been sold as a panacea.” Mozyrsky says.
Mozyrsky says the proposed system is untested and unproven in the United States. He doesn’t believe Portland is in a place to be an experiment.
“Over the last few years, there have been quite a few experiments in Portland in the state as a whole,” he said, adding, “Those experiments have not necessarily improved a lot of life for people.”
Mozysky prefers single-candidate districts and points to research shared last fall by “More Equitable Democracy” that looked at several different proposals for Portland, including what the the four districts it would look like. In its analysis of four districts with three members each, it found one to two POC candidates would likely be elected, but unlikely more than that. Its analysis of city-wide elections for 12 members would elect an average of two POC candidates.
Mozyrsky also worries about the accountability of multi-member districts.
“You’re still going to be electing several people. So how do you know who is actually doing a good job for that district?”
Lee will be fighting for the proposal with the other groups to convince voters to support the transformational issue in November.
“It’s really about more choice, more voice for voters. And so the expression of voters’ choices is what really makes that difference.” Lee said.