A Response to “The case against STAR voting”

clay shentrup
6 min readApr 30, 2024

Aishiki Nag’s recently published an attack on STAR Voting in The Daily Emerald, which contained numerous factual errors and invalid conclusions. She also failed to disclose her employment with Next Up Oregon, an opponent of STAR Voting for Eugene that promotes, and is even funded by, the lobby for the alternative Ranked Choice Voting method. Properly understood, her critiques are more damning indictments of Eugene’s current voting method.

Since publication, some but not all of these errors have been corrected. See the editor’s note that now appears at the top of the article:

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is involved in the organization Next Up Oregon, a group that endorses ranked-choice voting. This information was not disclosed to editors prior to publishing. A previous version of this article referred to the number of “votes” candidates received, which is factually incorrect. STAR voting assigns candidates scores or “points.” A previous version of the article also stated that STAR voting ranks candidates one through five, which is factually incorrect. STAR voting ranks candidates zero through five.

How do we know Nag’s employer is funded by the Ranked Choice Voting lobby? Because Oregon Ranked Choice Voting was specifically called out in the Funders and Donors section of their 2023 yearly thank you letter.

Notably, Nag praises another alternative voting method, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Publicly, the Ranked Choice Voting leadership is fairly supportive of STAR Voting. FairVote, the leader of the RCV lobby, states “we do not oppose efforts to win enactment of other “alternative” methods.” and “[STAR Voting] is superior to both vote-for-one plurality and to two-round runoff elections.” I.e. RCV advocates acknowledge that STAR Voting is superior to the current Eugene election process.

This raises the concerning possibility that Nag is working against STAR Voting not because she sincerely believes the status quo is better, but because she and others in the RCV lobby see STAR Voting as competition. Moreover, Nag’s background suggests a role more akin to lobbying than genuine subject matter expertise and activism.

Aishiki Nag’s LinkedIn includes numerous lobbying roles, but zero background in electoral reform.

Consider the evidence. Aishiki Nag’s LinkedIn profile gives no indication of any experience with alternative voting methods. Until two months ago, she had worked for eight months as an opinion columnist for Emerald Media Group, publisher of her article in question, and she also lists some political campaign experience. But she’s been employed since last month (April 2024) as an “Election Organizer” at Next Up Oregon, after interning there from May 2019 to Feb 2024. One of the opposition statements against STAR Voting in the Eugene voter pamphlet included the disclosure that it was paid for by Next Up Action Fund. And the author? Brian Smith, whom Nag says she interviewed for her piece, describing him as the co-founder of the Tribal Democracy Project.

In March of 2023, Smith gave testimony in favor of Oregon House Bill 2004 for statewide Ranked Choice Voting, in which he claimed Tribal Democracy Project was “a recently formed organization”, though I was unable to find them in Oregon’s non-profit database. Their web site is essentially an empty placeholder.

The Tribal Democracy Project “web site” has the markings of an AstroTurf organization.

Smith also submitted other opposition statements against STAR Voting in the Eugene voter pamphlet, in collaboration with Colin Cole, an out-of-state paid lobbyist for RCV advocacy orgs including FairVote Washington and Sightline Institute. Cole also fought a 2022 ballot measure to bring Approval Voting — which has some key similarities to STAR voting — to Seattle, using eerily similar tactics, especially weaponization of race. He lists his current job as Policy Director at More Equitable Democracy, which interviewed Brian Smith in 2023, and also testified to the Portland Charter Review Commission in favor of Ranked Choice Voting.

The clear picture is that Nag has no genuine dispute with the advantages of STAR Voting over Eugene’s present voting method. She’s in the employ of a group promoting their own competing electoral reform. To them, STAR Voting is competition, and must be killed early before it can build momentum.

But it’s not just Nag’s motives that are concerning; she also appears to be unfamiliar with the topic of voting reform itself. In her article’s opening, Nag incorrectly asserted that “a STAR voting system would allow voters to rank all candidates on a scale of one to five.” In reality, the scale goes from 0 to 5 (not 1 to 5), and voters provide ratings (scores) rather than rankings. While this might seem like a minor oversight to a layperson, these are critical differences amounting to glaring errors in the eyes of subject matter experts. [Update: this was corrected after the STAR Voting team reached out to the Daily Emerald, as noted above.]

Nag also claimed that the results in the 2020 STAR Voting primary conducted by the Independent Party of Oregon “did not accurately represent the relative pool of voters” due to vote splitting between the three Democrats. But The Independent Party of Oregon endorsed the Eugene STAR Voting measure, saying “STAR Voting worked perfectly.”

More damning is the fact that Nag completely botched basic math. She says: “This, however, did not accurately represent the relative pool of voters; only 1,478 delegates voted for a Republican candidate, 1,240 voted Independent and the majority, 2,931 votes, were for Democratic candidates. This particular case study is a perfect example of the misrepresentation and structural flaws within STAR voting.”

But the election only had 722 voters! The numbers Nag cites are the total score for the Republican and Independent Party candidates. The fabricated number 2,931 votes for the Democrats is a number she’s contrived by adding the total scores for all Democrats together. That obviously makes no sense. It’s as if she’s saying an increase in the number of Democratic candidates should make Democrats more likely to win, even with no increase in the popularity of any individual Democratic candidate.

Indeed, the results show that 43% of voters were left-leaning while 44.3% were right-leaning, countering Nag’s argument that Democrats were harmed by a vote splitting failure.

A breakdown of voters by favorite candidate

Unsurprisingly, a Google search reveals Nag has scarcely touched the topic of the Ranked Choice Voting method she now promotes. And this is her first known mention of STAR Voting. For comparison, we get around 2000 results if we run the same search on Jameson Quinn, a voting-focused Harvard statistics PhD who serves as one of the numerous experts on the STAR Voting team. Real activist/experts have receipts. The activities of Aishiki Nag and Brian Smith instead look suspiciously like a lobbying campaign to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about STAR Voting among its core constituency of progressive-minded voters.

This tactic manifests most sharply in Nag’s attempt to pit STAR Voting and Ranked Choice Voting against each other. For instance, she says “a voting system that allows voters to score candidates the same ranking essentially creates a complicated and redundant system that can cancel out votes.” But under the current system, the voter may only choose one candidate, and effectively ranks every other candidate equally. This comment is obviously meant as a comparison to Ranked Choice Voting, which doesn’t allow equal rankings.

STAR Voting advocates have thoroughly addressed this topic, and provided robust evidence as to the superiority of STAR Voting over Ranked Choice Voting. But the much more crucial point is that Ranked Choice Voting isn’t on the Eugene ballot. After nearly a decade of grassroots activism, STAR Voting advocates put in the work and submitted 10,613 verified signatures with 9,689 required. If STAR Voting doesn’t pass, it’s simply not conceivable that local RCV advocates with far less local support will be able to gather the signatures and run a successful campaign. And the statewide RCV ballot measure does not affect local races. In light of this, Aishiki Nag’s article amounts to nothing more than an obstructionist appeal for the status quo.

Eugene voters who support better voting have one good option, and it is to vote YES on Measure 20–349 for STAR Voting this May 21st, 2024!



clay shentrup

advocate of score voting and approval voting. software engineer.