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Star Voting

STAR Voting: An Alternative Election System

2 min read
Star Voting
Good Party Politics Team · Dec 12, 2023

Since it has become evident that our current method of conducting elections isn’t working, activists, voters, and independent candidates are on a quest to find a fair and representative voting method. While ranked choice voting (RCV) has gained significant attention in recent years, another innovative system called STAR Voting has emerged as a promising alternative. 

Read on as we explore the ins and outs of STAR Voting, explaining how it works, its advantages and drawbacks, and where it’s currently used. We’ll also compare STAR Voting with our current voting system and the more well-known ranked-choice voting system to provide a comprehensive understanding of these distinct voting methods.

What Is STAR Voting?

STAR Voting, which stands for "Score Then Automatic Runoff," is a voting system designed to address some of the limitations of traditional methods like first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting. This system was first proposed in 2018 by Mark Frohnmayer and Alan Zundel as an alternative voting method for those who were tired of the status quo and wanted to initiate true change in the election process.  

Rather than simply ranking candidates, STAR Voting allows voters to score each candidate on a scale, typically ranging from 0 to 5. Voters give a score to each candidate, indicating their level of support or preference.

How STAR Voting Works

Anyone who has taken an online customer satisfaction survey knows the basics of STAR Voting. Although there are several variations of this voting procedure, such as STAR Proportional Voting (STAR-PR) and Multi-Winner STAR, the process of STAR Voting can be broken down into several key steps:

  1. Voter Scores the Candidates: Voters are presented with a list of candidates running for a specific office or position. Instead of ranking them, voters assign scores to each candidate. A higher score signifies a higher level of support.

  2. Adding Up Scores: The next step is to add the scores together across ballots.

  3. Automatic Runoff: The two candidates with the highest scores proceed to an automatic runoff. In this runoff, each ballot counts as one runoff vote for the finalist that voter prefers (the finalist who was scored higher on that ballot). The finalist with the most votes wins the election.

The Pros of STAR Voting

  • More Expressive: STAR Voting allows voters to express their preferences with nuance. By assigning scores, voters can distinguish between candidates they strongly support and those they only moderately favor.

  • Reduced Strategic Voting: Unlike ranked choice voting, where voters may hesitate to rank their true favorite as their first choice, STAR Voting encourages honest scoring. Voters can confidently give their preferred candidate the highest score without worrying about vote splitting or tactical voting.

  • Majority Support: STAR Voting ensures that the winning candidate was preferred by a majority of voters who had a preference between the finalists.

  • Clarity and Simplicity: STAR Voting is relatively simple for voters to understand and participate in, even though it employs an automatic runoff.

The Cons of STAR Voting

  • Complexity in Counting: The counting process in STAR Voting can be slightly more complex than traditional methods, which may require more time and resources.

  • Limited Adoption: STAR Voting is not as widely adopted as ranked choice voting, and its application is still relatively limited.

  • Potential for Tactical Scoring: While STAR Voting reduces strategic voting, it does not eliminate the potential for tactical scoring, where voters might strategically give lower scores to certain candidates to boost their preferred candidate's chances.

Where is STAR Voting Currently Used?

STAR Voting is not as widely used as ranked choice voting, but it has gained traction in certain regions and communities. Some notable examples of STAR Voting in action include:

  1. Lane County, Oregon: Lane County, Oregon conducted a pilot election using STAR Voting in 2019 to gather data and test the system's viability. Initiatives to adopt this system have since been put to voters in Troutdale and Eugene, although none have passed. Meanwhile, STAR Voting has been adopted for internal voting by the Monmouth County Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party of Oregon. It is also used for primary voting by the Independent Party of Oregon and for electing delegates by the Democratic Party of Oregon

  2. Non-Profit and Academic Settings: STAR Voting has been utilized in non-profit organizations and academic settings as a method for decision-making when there are multiple options or candidates to evaluate.

  3. Online Voting Platforms: Some online voting platforms have integrated STAR Voting as an option for users conducting polls or surveys.

The STAR Voting System vs. Other Voting Systems

In order to find the most viable voting system for a country as vast and diverse as the United States, it’s important to weigh our options to see how they compare against each other as well as our current FPTP system. 

STAR vs. FPTP Voting Systems

Let's expand on how STAR Voting addresses some of the problems with the current voting system in the United States when compared to the traditional first-past-the-post (FPTP) system:

#1: Winner Takes All vs. Majority Support:

  • Current System (FPTP): In the FPTP system, candidates can win with a mere plurality of votes, meaning they don't necessarily have to have majority support. Things are further complicated in presidential elections when the Electoral College becomes a factor. This can lead to situations where the majority of voters do not feel represented by the elected candidate.

  • STAR Voting: STAR Voting ensures that the finalist preferred by the majority of voters wins whenever possible. By narrowing the race down to the two highest scoring candidates, STAR helps find majority winners and addresses the current issue of candidates being able to win elections without broad support.

#2: Tactical Voting:

  • Current System (FPTP): FPTP often forces voters into making tactical decisions. They may vote for a "lesser of two evils" candidate or against their true preferences to prevent their least favored candidate from winning.

  • STAR Voting: STAR Voting significantly reduces the incentive for tactical voting. Voters can assign scores honestly without worrying about vote splitting or wasting their vote, leading to more authentic expressions of voter preferences.

#3: Limited Choices and Spoiler Candidates

  • Current System (FPTP): FPTP can discourage third-party or independent candidates from running for office since they’re often seen as "spoilers" who could split the vote and inadvertently help a major-party candidate who they disagree with.

  • STAR Voting: STAR Voting encourages a broader field of candidates to participate because it allows voters to differentiate between multiple candidates accurately. This can lead to a more diverse range of choices and reduce the fear of spoiler candidates.

#4: Polarization and Negative Campaigning:

  • Current System (FPTP): FPTP can exacerbate polarization because candidates may focus on energizing their base rather than appealing to a broader spectrum of voters. Negative campaigning can also be prevalent.

  • STAR Voting: STAR Voting incentivizes candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters since they’ll seek higher scores from a diverse group rather than just focusing on their core supporters. This can lead to more positive and issue-based campaigns.

#5: Lack of Nuance in Voting:

  • Current System (FPTP): FPTP offers voters a binary choice, forcing them to choose a single candidate even when they have varying levels of support for multiple candidates.

  • STAR Voting: STAR Voting allows voters to inject some nuance into their preferences. By scoring candidates on a scale, voters can accurately convey the strength of their support and avoid the frustration of limited choices.

As you can see, STAR Voting offers solutions to several key problems inherent in the current voting system in the United States, including:

  • Winner-takes-all outcomes 

  • Tactical voting

  • Limited choices

  • Polarization

  • Lack of nuance in voting

  • Absence of majority rule

While it may introduce some complexity into the counting process, STAR Voting provides a more representative and expressive method of electing candidates. This helps to make elections more democratic and reflective of the people's true preferences.

Comparing STAR Voting to Ranked Choice Voting

Several voter choice initiatives are being put before the citizens of Oregon to determine which alternative voting system will become the standard for that state. Many of the advocates for alternate voting systems prefer ranked choice voting, while another group of petitioners, led by Deanna Kallen and Representative Zach Hudson, are pushing for the STAR Voting system. 

Both systems have their pros and cons, so let’s take a look at how STAR Voting compares with ranked choice voting to highlight their key differences and similarities:

#1: Scoring vs. Ranking:

  • STAR Voting: Allows voters to score candidates on a scale, offering a more nuanced expression of preference.

  • Ranked Choice Voting: Requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference, capturing the order but not the degree of preference.

#2: Complexity:

  • STAR Voting: Simpler to count than ranked choice voting.

  • Ranked Choice Voting: More complex to count, especially in elections with many candidates.

#3: Strategic Voting:

  • STAR Voting: Significantly reduces the incentive for strategic voting since voters can confidently score their preferred candidate.

  • Ranked Choice Voting: Reduces strategic voting but may still require voters to consider strategic ranking, particularly in competitive races.

#4: Majority Rule:

  • STAR Voting: Ensures that the finalist preferred by the majority of voters wins whenever possible.

  • Ranked Choice Voting: Can result in a majority or plurality winner, depending on the system and the number of rounds.

Final Thoughts

STAR Voting is an innovative voting system that was designed to address the limitations of traditional methods by allowing voters to score candidates and ensuring a majority winner. While it may be more complex to count and has seen limited adoption, STAR Voting provides a more nuanced expression of voter preferences and reduces the need for strategic voting. 

When compared to ranked choice voting, both alternate voting systems have their unique strengths and weaknesses, making them valuable options in the ongoing quest for fair and representative electoral systems.

Join the Movement to End the Two-Party System

A fair and representative government is only possible if we’re willing to break with tradition and adopt more innovative and accurate methods of voting. The mission of Good Party is to build a movement that reflects the true diversity and will of the American people. 

If you’re tired of politics as usual, join us in our efforts to elect independent candidates that represent the common good over the status quo. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


Electoral Reform
Civic Engagement
Independent Movement
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Star Voting
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.