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This is a BFD: Oregon lawmakers pass instant runoff voting

Three things to think about this July 6th

Ross Sherman
Press Director
July 6, 2023

Happy (belated) July 4th! I hope you had a great weekend and time off celebrating Independence Day. It’s a great time of year to not only reflect on the progress we’ve made as a nation since our founding, but also recognize that it’s our patriotic duty to make America stronger. That’s what we do at Unite America: put country over party to protect and improve our democracy so that it truly puts the people first.

In recognition of the 4th of July, our partners at Veterans for Political Innovation (VPI) are looking for volunteers! VPI is a nonpartisan movement led by military veterans and military spouses to replace our highly-partisan elections with more competitive systems that are fully open to registered independents. Nearly half of veterans identify as independent or unaffiliated voters. Like us, VPI’s goal is a government that is responsive to the reasonable majority of Americans who know our system today is broken. Learn more about how to get involved here.

1. A historic win in Oregon

Another state is making moves to tackle the Primary Problem. After the longest lawmaker walkout in state history, the Oregon Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that puts a statewide ranked choice voting (RCV) proposal on the ballot in 2024. That means Oregon voters will have the final say on whether the state adopts RCV — also called instant runoff voting (IRV) — for statewide and federal offices.

While many in-state groups deserve immense credit, we want to shout out our grantee in this effort — Oregon RCV — for running a sophisticated, winning campaign. The campaign included a coalition of 30-plus organizations, led by the Coalition of Communities of Color, who lobbied elected officials and mobilized thousands of Oregon voters in support of the bill. This victory also would not have been possible without Oregon House Speaker Dan Rayfield, who championed this bill and ensured it got over the finish line in the final days of the legislative session.

So… how would IRV improve Oregon’s politics? While we at Unite America prioritize supporting campaigns to pass nonpartisan primaries as the main solution to the Primary Problem, IRV also has a role to play. By ensuring candidates have to win a majority in primary and general elections, it liberates Oregon’s elected officials to cater to the majority rather than being held hostage by the partisan extremes. IRV also eliminates the pesky “spoiler effect”. Voters can express their true preferences between candidates without fear they might be wasting their vote. This improved system will result in elected officials who better represent their constituents because they’ll be more incentivized to work on solutions that more voters support. If Oregon voters pass the measure in 2024, the state would join a growing list of states including Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Washington who are tackling the Primary Problem.

Check out our Tweet thread for more.

2. Supreme Court rejects fringe election theory (for now)

In a case election reform advocates were watching closely, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Moore v. Harper last week. While the specifics of the case are extremely technical, the main takeaway is that the Court rejected a fringe theory called the Independent State Legislature Theory (ISLT). If the justices had embraced ISLT in Moore, it would have meant that North Carolina’s Legislature could gerrymander voting districts to their heart's content. And state courts wouldn’t have the authority to prevent them from doing so.

But this case was about more than just gerrymandering. Fundamentally, it was about checks and balances. An extreme interpretation of ISLT would have given state legislatures unchecked power over all election rules related to federal elections. That would threaten ranked choice voting, anti-gerrymandering, vote at home, and any law passed by the voters. Our partners at RepresentUs released a report last year showing that more than 200 state rules could be at risk. That’s why we, along with many around the country, are breathing a sigh of relief. This likely isn’t the end of ISLT, but this ruling was certainly a victory in the short term.

3. Like Alabama, Louisiana may have to redraw its congressional maps

In more Supreme Court news, the justices did not intervene in a case that may result in Louisiana having to redraw its congressional map. Last year, a Louisiana judge ruled that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act because it was gerrymandered to dilute the power of Black voters. Sound familiar? The Court made a similar judgment about Alabama’s congressional map last month.

This case is a reminder that ending gerrymandering is a key way we can fix our democracy. In the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans won five out of the six congressional seats (83%), despite the fact that nearly 40% of registered voters in the state are Democrats. It’s clear that Louisiana should implement an independent redistricting commission to draw maps so voters get better representation.

One final note: New York City — the most populous city in the country — held its second citywide ranked choice voting election. There wasn’t a high-profile mayor’s race like in 2021, but NYC voters used the improved voting system successfully in primary elections for city council. Read more here.