Score Runoff Voting: The New Voting Method that Could Save Our Democratic Process

Created: 08 December, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
4 min read

It’s called Score Runoff Voting, and it’s about to take Oregon by storm.

SRV is a relatively new concept from the minds of Mark Frohnmayer, political scion and founder of the Equal Vote Coalition, and score voting advocate Clay Shentrup, Co-Founder of the Center for Election Science, who were inspired by ranked choice voting advocate and executive director of FairVote Rob Richie's concept of a single approval voting primary/ranked choice runoff ballot.

In some ways, the idea for SRV started with the Unified Primary, a nonpartisan election reform Frohnmayer attempted to pass in Oregon in 2014.

READ MORE: The Unified Primary: A New Way to Conduct Nonpartisan Elections

In an interview for IVN, Frohnmayer said there are major problems with the way the U.S. conducts its elections, including the choose one, plurality voting method used nationwide. He argues that plurality voting "turns people off," and decreases political efficacy, adding:

“From an outcomes perspective, Score Runoff Voting is the best avenue of election reform. It is a system that performs really well on mechanical level.” - Mark Frohnmayer, Founder of the Equal Vote Coalition

Score Runoff Voting incorporates elements of Approval Voting and Ranked Choice Voting (two popular alternatives to the plurality voting method), but "without their flaws," according to Frohnmayer.

Essentially, SRV is a simple, two-step process.

Source: Equal Vote Coalition


The first step consists of a scoring round where voters have the opportunity to score each of the candidates on a scale from zero to nine, indicating their level of approval. Once all the votes have been cast, the two candidates with the highest overall scores will advance to the next round.

The next step is an instantaneous runoff that automatically commences between the two candidates who retain the highest scores. During the runoff, one's full vote goes to whichever of the top-two candidates each voter rated higher. The candidate with the most votes between the two wins. SRV essentially eliminates the need for primary elections altogether.

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The runoff dimension of the reform aims to resolve the potential issue of bullet voting, or strategically scoring one candidate or party with a nine and all other candidates or parties with a zero in order to spoil the opposing side's chances at getting elected. Frohnmayer puts it this way:

“The runoff component of Score Runoff Voting corrects for strategic distortion...There’s a huge incentive to vote honestly, because if not, you forfeit your voice in the runoff.”

In addition to accounting for strategic voting, SRV also virtually eliminates the spoiler effect. Since voters are able to rate every candidate honestly rather than simply picking one, they don't have to worry about inadvertently electing an undesirable candidate.

"In order for your honest vote of maximum support to create your worst possible outcome, the scenario would have to be such that your support of your true favorite knocked a 'more viable' candidate out of the runoff step," Frohnmayer explains. "This is where the safety check of the instant runoff shows its worth. It is vanishingly unlikely that the third place scoring candidate would actually beat both the first and second place top scorers in head-to-head matchups. In fact, in almost all cases I would expect the top score candidate overall to also win the runoff step."

This contrasts Ranked Choice Voting, which Frohnmayer claims hides, rather than gets rid of, the spoiler scenario.

Frohnmayer says SRV is also superior to RCV because “the first round is a round of support, not just preference.” Unlike Instant Runoff Voting and other forms of RCV, the voter is able to "express support before preference."

According to Rob Richie of FairVote, "It's always interesting to see novel ideas being proposed. What I urge their advocates to do is focus on trying to get their idea tested in actual elections -- nongovernmental elections, local elections, and so on.What makes me optimistic about ranked choice voting is that it's been tested and shown to work at every level of government in literally tens of thousands of elections around  the country and world - and we know voters can like it and support it."

Frohnmayer plans to follow Richie's advise by starting local.

A short amendment to the Lane County charter has been drafted and is intended to be put on the November 2017 ballot. According to the Equal Vote Coalition, "the amendment text is currently undergoing legal review, and will be submitted before the end of the year to local elections officials." If passed, the amendment would allow SRV to be used in an election as soon as May 2018.

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“The long term goal is to make democracy function better in this country…it is imperative that we get our democracy working the way it is supposed to.” -Mark Frohnmayer

SRV might just be the method of electoral reform voters been searching for.

Photo Credit: Niyazz / shutterstock.com

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