A volunteer research committee in Portland recently discovered that you can’t talk about improving local government without considering an upgrade the form of voting.

City Club of Portland spent about a year studying the city’s government and invited more than a dozen witnesses to speak about their findings at an event to release the report held February 12. Sightline Institute’s own Senior Researcher Kristin Eberhard was one of the witnesses. (Her remarks start at about the 10-minute mark.)

The report identifies five problems with Portland’s city government but also makes five recommendations to address these issues. Among them, dropping the first-past-the-post form of voting and exploring advanced voting systems such as ranked-choice voting and cumulative voting. It also recommends electing councilors from districts, preferably multi-member districts.

Eberhad spent some time explaining the differences between single-winner and multi-member districts. The former relies on having—and maintaining—at least one majority-minority district.

“Somewhat ironically this particular voting rights remedy (single-winner districts) depends on racial segregation,” Eberhard said. “I asked a mapmaker to try to draw a minority-majority district (in Portland) and it couldn’t be done. The highest he could get was 38 percent.”

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  • Researching voting systems was not part of the committee’s charge but it became obvious that the first-past-the-post voting system isn’t the most equitable.

    “Multimember districts with multi-winner ranked-choice voting, you can get a voice no matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how that changes over time,” Eberhard said.

    You can also catch a summary of the City Club report and Eberhard’s interview on Portland TV.