Voter-Owned Elections: an "incumbent protection racket"?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

The opponents of Voter-Owned Elections have been selling the snakeoil idea that VOE is just an "incumbent protection racket". That's completely bogus - and here's why...

Above all else, remember that the VOE system is entirely voluntary. Candidates choose to participate - or not participate - in it.

So, there are two basic scenarios involving incumbents:

* VOE incumbent vs. Big-$$$ challenger

* Big-$$$ incumbent vs. VOE challenger

Let's examine this idea of VOE-as-incumbent-protection...

The incumbent chooses to fundraise privately (Saltzman/Fritz):

If the incumbent chooses to fundraise privately, the challenger has two options - either go toe-to-toe with the incumbent, or qualify for $150,000 in public money.

If the challenger believes that she can't beat the incumbent with $150,000, she has the choice of opting out and raising money privately. The sky is the limit.

In the case of Fritz/Saltzman, it clearly can't be called an "incumbent protection racket". Amanda had the option of raising a million bucks if she wanted to.

There are only two tactical reasons that Amanda Fritz - or any challenger to a private money incumbent - would choose to go VOE (other than the philosophical belief that it's the right thing to do):

1. She thought $150k was more than she could raise herself, so VOE was a net gain.

2. Even if she thought she could exceed $150k, she thought that Saltzman could substantially out-fundraise whatever she could do. Choosing VOE means a match, and the possibility of holding the incumbent close to the $150k soft cap.

The incumbent chooses to use public funding (Sten/Burdick):

Now, what about the reverse scenario? The argument of VOE-haters is that for $150,000 you can't possibly beat the substantial name ID of an incumbent. How wrong is that argument?

For starters, under the traditional big-money system, more than 90% of the time the incumbent has more money than the challenger. So, 90% of the time, this question doesn't apply. The smart challenger runs as a VOE candidate and forces the incumbent to limit their spending.

But let's say you have a challenger that can raise large money, like Ginny Burdick. Well, the challenger CAN raise as much money as he or she wants. There's nothing in the law that restricts a non-VOE candidate's fundraising to $150,000.

Of course, there's a match built into the system - but it's hard-capped at $300,000. If, for example, Burdick had raised $600,000 - Erik Sten would have received $300,000; and she'd have outspent him two-to-one. If she'd have raised as much as Jim Francesconi two years ago, she'd have outspent Sten more than three-to-one.

In a non-VOE world, the incumbent almost always has more money than the challenger. But now, if the incumbent chooses VOE, the challenger is guaranteed to have as much or more money than the incumbent. (And by the way, due to timing issues, Burdick was able to outspend Sten by some $35,000 and he's returning thousands in cash to the city.)

So, under either scenario, VOE can't possibly be an "incumbent protection racket". In fact, it wipes out the traditional advantage that incumbents have - the ability to out-fundraise their opponents 5-to-1, 10-to-1, 20-to-1, or more. It levels the playing field, and that helps challengers. Sten and Saltzman may have won this time, but it wasn't because VOE helped 'em.

(And don't forget the other two scenarios - nobody chooses VOE, or both candidates do. The first will be the same-as-it-ever-was. The second? The best of all worlds. Campaigns focused on voter outreach, not fundraising - and both candidates have the same exact resources. Substantive ideas, grassroots support, and campaign strategy will win; not money.)

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    There is a third tactical reason for candidates to use public financing. In Arizona and Maine, most do, because public opinion is strongly in favor of the principle. I chose to use it because it's the right thing to do. In the future, I hope incumbents will choose to use it for the same reason, but it would be fine if its use becomes politically necessary even for incumbents.

    I wish supporters of the new funding system would stop saying, "it levels the playing field". It doesn't. It makes it more level, which is different.

    I also wish we would all refer to it as Public Campaign Financing, which is what it is. It does indeed offer the potential for Voters to Own the outcome of Elections more than the traditional system. Voters certainly own Councilors who are elected using public funds, more than they own those elected with private money. But all the ongoing inequalities in the electoral process, even with the overt funding being more level, mean we still have far to go before voters truly take ownership of elections. And, voters should vote on it, in 2010 in my opinion, before the system deserves the VOE name.

  • sasha (unverified)

    Kari, to unseat an incumbent you pretty much have to outspend him. The reason VOE favors incumbents is because it basically ensures the incumbent can't be outspent.

    The incumbent always has the option of going VOE. If the challenger does it too, there is no way to outspend him. So the only way to do it is to raise significantly more than $600K to outspend him. This of course is more than any city council campaign has ever raised.

    Great way to keep the money out of politics! Make sure that the ONLY way to unseat an incumbent is to raise more money than has ever been raised in a city council race!

    That really opens things up. Good job!

  • Buckman Res (unverified)

    As was demonstrated in the last election, incumbents in a political race have a built-in advantage over challengers trying to unseat them. With their name recognition and ability to hand out favors during their time in office they don’t need Voter Owned Elections to act as an Incumbent Protection Racket, although as Sasha pointed out it helps by depressing spending levels for challengers.

    I agree with Ms. Fritz we should call the act by another name, I prefer Voter Funded Campaigns. We should amend the act so contributions to it are voluntary, just as it is at the federal level when filing your taxes. And that should be done only after Portland voters have had a chance to vote on the plan in the next election, not in 2010.

    Portland is not some hotbed of political corruption in need of sanitization by infusing valuable tax dollars into the campaigns of a few political wonks. Candidates spending less than their opponents have won in the past and politicians seen as beholding to special interests can be voted out by the citizens.

    As badly written as this act was it should never have been put in place without going before the voters for an honest and open debate. For those looking to tweak the political process this public campaign financing measure has only made the situation worse.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    The vote in 2010 is a recommendation, not a promise and not a certainty. The current council cannot bind a future council to bring the vote forward. Auditor Blackmer confirmed this to me when I was interviewed by the citizens review panel on public financing in early May. He can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that was the reason for Commissioner Leonard's dissenting vote. We need to stop talking about "when" we get to vote on it and talk about "if" we get to vote on it.

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    Dave is correct that the current Council cannot bind a future Council, but I think if the Council tried to duck a referral in 2010, there would be a lot of backlash, including from this VOE supporter.

    To Kari's original point, there are LOTS of advantages for incumbents. However, one way to diminish an incumbent's VOE matching ability is to have multiple VOE challengers. If a privately funded challenger goes over $150K, and the incumbent and say two other challengers use VOE, the 'match' is split three ways. I guess one way to 'go after' an incumbent would be to run a couple of stalking horse VOE challengers (a non-trivial task) with the main challenger privately funded (not that I am encouraging anyone to game the system this way).

    So far we've only seen cases where we have one VOE candidate against one prinipal privately-funded competitor (no slight to Dave Lister who in my opinion ran a much more sincere campaign than Ginny Burdick). We need to see a lot more scenarios in action to judge all the possible benefits/issues.

  • Rob Milesnick (unverified)

    Kari's argument is accurate and well founded. Many people would like to serve in an elected capacity, but until you sit across the table from a contributor and ask them for a financial contribution...the desire is academic.

    Publicly Financed Elections do not eliminate the act and art of raising money, but they work to reduce the extensive amount of time ALL candidates spend fund-raising. Name recognition, message, accomplishments, viability...these are the standards the political process has created for voters to select their candidates. Publicly Financed Elections help turn back the campaign inflation clock to a simpler time and political climate.

    Like Kari said, there are a number of outcomes for Incumbent and Challenger alike. But in any scenario, Publicly Financed Elections are neither a silver bullet for one or multiple challengers to win, nor an impossible monetary disadvantage for any participant to overcome.

    Rob Milesnick

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    I'd also like to add that, while unseating a popular incumbent, rquires bucketfuls of cash to saturate the airwaves with flat out smears, unpopular incumbents have no such advantage. Dianne Lynne didn't win. Karen Minnis may not either.

    Money isn't all that matters. It's is a psychological trap to think that it is. You can delegitimize the will of the majority that way, without ever having to admit that your candidate or your issue is unpopular (regardless of whether you're right).

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    I'd like to offer on more quick thought on this whole debate. The entire issue of campaign funding would, in my opinion, be less significant if the media would provide better coverage of all candidates. Early in my campaign, before admission to the city club debate, I was totally ignored by the press and dismissed as an "also ran". The reason? I had not yet raised significant money. At the same time, candidate Boyles received extensive press coverage. Why? Because she had (ostensibly) qualified for public financing. We all know now how that worked out. I think both the media and the people deciding which candidates to invite to forums and debates should include all filed candidates. Those on the fringes will be dismissed soon enough by the electorate.

    I didn't work very hard at fundraising. I didn't like it and I wasn't very good at it. I also had a little set aside that I was willing to invest in my own campaign. In the end I received nearly half as many votes as Senator Burdick but spent only one quarter of the money she did.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    It would have been very interesting if the Group of Six candidates who ran against Leonard all had VOE funding.... I know there's an annual cap for total, but think this would have made it under that... of course, having all six qualify for the ballot would have been super hard, and Randy probably could have still come in at least second and then won in the general, but imagine six people sending attack mail on Randy.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    Silencing challengers does make things worse and forces us to realize that what they teach in school about liberty and the Constitution is wrong. I was taught that the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech") was meant to protect political speech with which the government disagrees, and that the 14th Amendment guarantees federal protection of our rights when the state abridges them (a mechanism for enforcing anti-slavery).

    That Free Money elections were held "legally" means that yes, the Progressives did rewrite the Constitution and here's how. That's what they should teach in school.

    The entire hoo-ha surrounding incumbents seeking re-election makes the whole event more of a coronation than an election. By now, we all know the familiar "Entourage" surrounding celebrity incumbents: tax-funded staff, revolving-door lobbyists, and handmaiden editors. Would there be a discernable difference in governance in Portland if City incumbents could hold office until death or retirement? We'd be better off holding elections only for open seats and stop fooling folks - especially unwitting challengers - with the current charade.

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    The problems that surfaced in this first Public Financed Campaign election are exactly why we shouldn't vote on the system until 2010. Voters should be offered the choice between a good system, and no system. The first run showed many problems in the current rules, which must be fixed. We'll learn more in 2008, then the version after that should be put to voters.

    Jesse O and Dave Lister point out two other crucial factors in Portland City Council elections - number of challengers, and press coverage. The 8 community candidates who ran against Randy Leonard in 2004 pulled his vote down to 53%, with virtually no funding public or private. The press couldn't figure out who was the frontrunner of the challengers, so they each captured some publicity. Plus, they were able to be in 8 places at one time. If many good candidates run, they don't just take votes from each other, they each pull some from the incumbent. It wasn't Ginny Burdick who nearly forced Erik into a runoff, it was Dave, and his ability to get the press to cover his campaign.

  • Jennifer W (unverified)

    Ramon is right. Unless the incumbent is horribly ineffective (or really bad at public relations) he/she ALWAYS get reelected. Dianne Linn failed on both counts.

    Term limits will increase access to women and minorities, because they create open seats. How else to explain the present diversity on Multnomah County Commission?

    Mmmm. On second thought, maybe term limits weren't such a good idea. Too many mean girls out there.

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    I should have said, "If many good candidates run and receive press coverage....". I truly appreciated the other challengers in my race, and wish more citizens had been able to hear their reasons for running. My early qualification for public funding made it much more difficult for the other non-incumbent candidates to get the newspapers to cover them, debate sponsors to invite them, etc. Since it's the sum of the challengers' votes that pulls an incumbent below 50%, this is a negative unintended consequence relevant to the discussion of whether the current version of Public Campaign Financing is incumbent protection.

  • Steve (unverified)

    OK, one slight issue. What is the value of 4 years of incombency?

    For example, Erik realizes after a term it is better not to get involved with things with measurable outcomes (like water bureau computers) and instead strings together longer sentences with bigger words like "economic development" and "homeless housing" whenever he goes into the news. Pretty soon, thanks to Erik's handlers we see headlines like: "Erik secure homeless housing funding" "Erik makes bold vote against tram" even though meaningless "Erik swims across the Yangtze at age 75" (Opps, that was Mao.)

    Now a challenger comes along and has 3 months to make headway in the primary, so there choice is to take VoE money and be even with Erik or spend enough in 3 months to make up for 4 years of Erik's facetime.

    I mean why not just give the incumbent up to 65% (or whatever number) of what the biggest challenger gets to make up for the free press?

    Two months before the election Erik was losing to the "Anbody but Erik" vote and now divide and conquer and he can go in hiding for the next 4 years. God forbid he should meet with anybody beyond his FoEs (Friends of Erik's) group.

    Meanwhile he can take Homer's $5K worth of seed money and have lunches with Tom Imeson. Of course, no public disclosure of what they do with their time (except for Sam Adams who has the guts to publish his calendar.)

    Believe it or not, my biggest issue isn't with VoE, it is with incumbency. After a few years (or a career as with everyone in the City Council except Saltzman), they lose touch with the people they represent. I mean with $100K+ salary, gold-plated benes and like Potter up to $100K/year additional in pension, how can they identify with the common man when they make 3x what he makes and really have no pressure on them at all?

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    VOE guarantees that the incumbent will always have as much money on hand as the challenger, if not more. That makes the advantages of incumbency even more potent.

    If challenger (Fritz) takes VOE, incumbent (Saltzman) is assured that challenger won't outspend him. Incumbent can either raise up to the VOE level privately, or opt for VOE. Either way, challenger is forbidden from spending more.

    If challenger doesn't take VOE, incumbent (Sten) does, and thus is assured challenger can't outspend him. VOE candidates are guaranteed to get as much to play with as richest privately sponsored opponent (Burdick). And of course, much more than lowlier private candidates (Lister) and the same as other VOE gravy trainers (Boyles).

    I don't know why you guys are so scared to take a vote on it. Given the Stennie lovefest that's under way, it's vaguely utopian enough that it would probably meet the "progressive" gold standard. Figure out some way to tie it to bicycling, recycling, gay rights, Wal-Mart hatred, bureaucrat bloat or composting, and it would probably win in a landslide.

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    the incumbent will always have the advantage (unless they are a rotten incumbent and doomed anyway). what VOE does is give low-rent challengers some chance in hell of getting into the fray.

    so i decide to run and no one knows me expect the people who read BlueOregon and my ex-wife's family. that's not much to go on, except i am politically active and i can convince a few people i'm worth a shot. hell, i'm worth $5, if for no other reason than at least someone's running.

    well, over the course of 2 months, i not only convince my friends to pony up $5 (and sign that piece of paper), i convince these and others that i'm serious and i'm going to do a good job campaigning. they pitch in, and gradually we do it. 1000 $5 donations and the necessary signatures. i'm in! i have $150,000; i have campaign experience; i have supporters; i have my name in the paper; Willamette Week discovers the true nature of my student loans; i kick ass with my Kermit the Frog imitation at Candidates Gone Wild, and i force the incumbent to talk about the issues for a few minutes each week. i wave the progressive flag, and i miraculously get 42% of the vote when without VOE the incumbent would have been challenged only by that guy who is running on behalf of the Ancient Lords of Mars.

    the thing that matters is not what VOE is today. it's what VOE represents and how we can fix the mess that we're in. it's a start, and that's what we need: a start to something better.

  • Jennifer W (unverified)

    TA: You would never get 42% of the vote unless:

    1. An incumbent like Sten registered Republican, and started building homeless concentration camps ("out of sight, out of mind")

    2. An incumbent like Saltzman literally did no campaigning, or quit showing up for City Council meetings.

    If the incumbent wants to keep his/her job, and he/she isn't a total bonehead, they win. Amanda Fritz proves that 25% of the primary vote is achievable (against a weak incumbent) with spending parity, but I don't imagine that T.A. would have drawn 42% based on your kermit the frog prowess.

  • Steve (unverified)

    TA - I am waiting for the day when we get 6 little guys and Erik running for his seat on VoE. Then one rich challenger spends $300K. NOw the City of Portland will give 7 guys $300K each.

    So now we are spending $2.1M to keep elections clean? And this is only the primary.

    Originally this was shoved thru not as a way to get small guys involved - almost everyone said it will keep big money out of politics when it really doesn't.

    The same politcal hacks have lunches, make big contributions to a commissioner's favorite charity to get facetime, set up "independent" committees which can still give unlimited contributions to help a candidate or throw $10K into a "seed" committee.

    If we want the effects of money out of politics, why not be direct and just hold politician to some kind of accounting for their actions by making them be open with us?

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    Steve, it doesn't work that way. In that scenario the 7 VOE candidates would each get $150K + $150K/7, or about $170K each. The 'match' against a private candidate is split among all VOE candidates.

    I also think the liklihood of 7 candidates qualifying for VOE in one race is VERY low.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Chris - When Randy Leonard went for re-election, he had something like 18 people who filed. What if a few of them are sharp enough to figure out how to game the system like Ms. Boyles (not the smartest person) or an enterprising consultant starts rounding up signatures for candidates like the Russian guy for a fee?

    I don't even know if that matters, since money is going to get into the process anyways if the politician is enterprising enough, so that argument for VoE is pretty weak.

    TA - One more thought, if we really want to help the small guy against the incumbent, how about everyone but the incumbent qualifies for VoE funds?

  • Ramon (unverified)

    Let's put the folly of incumbency re-elections in terms that more people can relate to; to illustrate, let's use the Governor's race as an example - it's not City but it's still on the air.

    It's kinda like the HBO series Entourage. Nothing really good or really bad ever happens but you can't take your eye off it and the show gets renewed year after year.

    You've got the star, Gov. Ted. He's like Vince Chase, you know, Aquaman. Ted being AG was like starring in "Head On". Being Supreme Court Justice was like starring in "Queens Blvd."

    Cameron Johnson, of course, is like James Cameron, who plays himself as Vince's director in Aquaman.

    The manager, like E (Eric), that would be Tim Nesbitt. Then you have Neil Goldschmidt, like Vince's older brother and former face, Johnny Drama, unable to get out of the game. And Lisa Grove is like Turtle; she gets him all the good stuff and serves up all the latest dish.

    Jim Hill and Peter Sorensen made brief appearances, like Bob Saget and Paulie Shore - in walk-on cameos for lost has-beens seeking some glam-of-the-moment.

    Then you've got the Gov.'s tax-funded staff, like Vince's agent Ari Gold and publicist Shona, and their assistants; the revolving-door / campaign-donor lobbyists, like Josh Weinstein angling for action and movie execs jockeying for the next deal; and fawning MSM editorialists, like Variety's lead story writers and that reviewer they took real good care of in Season 2.

    See, now it makes more sense. Gov. Ted's re-coronation is like a self-referential celebrity event. It takes village to raise a child but it takes an Entourage to get re-elected.

    Incumbent-challengers' task should make more sense now.

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    Only one non-incumbent candidate qualified-and-remained-qualified for public funding this cycle. The concern that the fund would be overwhelmed with multiple recipients was unfounded. Indeed, since one of the goals is to increase opportunity for non-incumbents, in this cycle we saw that the current bar of 1000 donations of $5 may be too high. I believe we should leave it that way for 2008, to see how many qualify then, but the citizen Commission will be making that call. The crucial point is that we WANT more than one candidate per seat to qualify, in order to further level the playing field against an incumbent. That way, the challengers collectively have more money than the incumbent. And hopefully will attract more press coverage and interest in the race, since funding won't immediately identify which of the challengers is the frontrunner.

    Qualifying more than one candidate per seat must be done legitimately, of course. I've submitted 12 pages of comments to the Commission this week, recommending changes to improve the structure. I'm working on another set. One of the ideas I'd like considered is adding a rule that donors may only donate $5 to one candidate. There are drawbacks to this restriction, but it would take care of the issue of the hired consultant getting contributions from the same donors for multiple candidates.

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    There is one scenario you haven't considered. By lowering the bar for challengers, VOE dilutes the anti-incumbent vote pool and thereby increases the probability that incumbents win.

    Amanda argued in a previous thread that more challengers against Saltzman made it more likely that Saltzman would be forced into a runoff, but the logic runs precisely backwards. The more candidates in a race, the less likely it is that any one will emerge as a viable challenger.

    This is not a "negative unintended consequence." I have made this point with respect to the Open Ballot system and with respect to VOE. There are good reasons to support both, but allowing more candidates onto the ballot does not automatically result in fewer incumbent losses, a more informed electorate, or more rational democratic outcomes. Most often, it leads to just the opposite.

    I would not support lowering the bar. We want to set the bar HIGH enough so only the SERIOUS and well organized challengers--like Amanda--make it into the race, and we weed out the non-credible, incompetent, and pure amateurs.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Kari:Now, what about the reverse scenario? The argument of VOE-haters is that for $150,000 you can't possibly beat the substantial name ID of an incumbent. How wrong is that argument?

    Are VOE-haters really saying that? I hate VOE and would even think of saying or believing such a thing.

    There are clearly other factors to consider. Let's take Erik Sten. As seen in some topics of late, in previous campaigns he received many thousands of dollars from various Fat Cats and developers and engineering firms, all of whom gain from the Sten supported New Urbanism Gravy Train.

    His challengers in the earlier races had puny budgets (Liz Callison for one). But Sten didn't come close to $150,000 himself, so a challenger with $150,000 could have at least made sure that everyone knew he or she was running, and why. That wouldn't have guaranteed a win, either.

    Sten simply has a following of hypocritcal supporters who looked the other way when it came to who funded his campaigns (those Fat Cats on the New Urbanist, corporate welfare Gravy Train), all while sending out Chicken Little alarms about how his opponents were the real ones doing that!

    Sten should have been defeated at least because of his ineptness. Incumbency really helped, and coupled with the same $150,000 he received, his incumbency neutralized opposition just enough.

    Perhaps his razor thin win showed that he's not exactly a darling of the Portland electorate any longer. But still, it's hard to think of another city council member in recent memory who's been so worshipped by the progressives while also doing what those same progressives claim to despise.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Amanda: I chose to use it because it's the right thing to do.

    You say it's the right thing to do, so it must be?

    Either you haven't explained why yet, or I missed something. Anyway, my own opinion is that you ran against the wrong person.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Buckman Res: Portland is not some hotbed of political corruption in need of sanitization by infusing valuable tax dollars into the campaigns of a few political wonks.

    That's right. Instead, it's a hotbed of political corruption in need of having more voters paying attention to and caring about which candidates (including the incumbents) are or are likely to hand out corporate welfare faster than it can be counted. If more voters in Portland walked the talk and had the guts to turn their backs on someone handing out this money to Fat Cats on the New Urbanist Gravy Train, then Sten would have been booted out four years ago. His ineptness regarding things like the $50 Million water bureau blunder and his foolishness in supporting some of the corporate welfare things like the Tram and Civic Stadium renovation were just extra negatives that were not really needed in order to make the case against him.

    One candidate could take a check from a developer and be called a candidate in the pocket of a Fat Cat, yet Sten took many thousands in two previous campaigns (including thousands from his buddy Serena Cruz-Walsh's family Fat Cat business), yet the Progressives by and large never noticed.

    Bob Tiernan

    Candidates spending less than their opponents have won in the past and politicians seen as beholding to special interests can be voted out by the citizens.

  • Randy (unverified)

    Does BoJack ever get tired of being wrong???

    First Emilie B. pays back nearly $70K of the VOE money she got. Bojack was saying he'd buy dinner for anyone who got closest to the number she gave back, while snarkily suggesting the city would never see a dime. Guess you'll be buying dinner soon for someone, BoJack!

    Next, he was convinced Kitzhaber would get the OHSU presidency in exchange for some ridiculous back room tram scam, or whatever. Gee, OHSU released some names today under consideration for their next president. Kitzhaber is nowhere on the list!

    Can't wait for more BoJack blunders...especially after his preferred candidates continue to top out at about 25% of the vote... snicker.

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    Paul wrote: There is one scenario you haven't considered. By lowering the bar for challengers, VOE dilutes the anti-incumbent vote pool and thereby increases the probability that incumbents win.

    I don't think so unless there's something I'm missing. The more candidates you have in a primary, the more likely it is to have a run-off. The important variable is whether the incumbent breaks 50% + 1 or not, not where the anti-incumbent votes go in the primary. An increased pool of candidates would of course go back down to two candidates for the general.

    I'm not necessarily for lowering the signature bar either, I just don't see that as helping incumbents necessarily.

    Anna G. made a similar argument at one point in the campaign -- that Lister would hurt Burdick -- but the important thing's the run off, not just the first vote total.

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    I wrote: The argument of VOE-haters is that for $150,000 you can't possibly beat the substantial name ID of an incumbent. How wrong is that argument?

    Bob T asked: Are VOE-haters really saying that? I hate VOE and would even think of saying or believing such a thing.

    Yeah, Bob. Hard to believe, but that's what some supporters of Ginny Burdick have been saying -- that $150,000 just isn't enough to beat out Erik Sten's name ID.

    Nevermind that she had the same exact ten years in office that Erik did to build her name ID. (Sure, different job, different media recognition...) Nevermind that she had the option to spend as much as she wanted.

    If she had raised $600k, she'd had outspent Erik 2-to-1... and likely come close to the media saturation point for the Portland electorate.

    Does anybody remember when Don Morrisette spent $440,000 running for a single Metro Council seat? He was on TV so much, people thought he was running for governor. For the right amount, Ginny could have a) raised her name ID as much as she wanted, and b) outspent Erik, who would have topped out at $300k.

    It ain't an incumbent protection racket...

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Kari: Yeah, Bob. Hard to believe, but that's what some supporters of Ginny Burdick have been saying -- that $150,000 just isn't enough to beat out Erik Sten's name ID.

    Then she/they are nuts. I'll grant that. Money isn't everything as one other person mentioned. Burdick had good name recognition to begin with and Sten had enough negatives to hurt him -- but to an opponent/campaign savvy enough to capitalize on that and without his or her own negatives. Burdick's ties to PGE or some such company apparently didn't help her with a large number of potential Sten waverers (and Lister was ignored by too many overall as an "also ran").

    Bob T

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    You have the right intution. It's a dynamic system. You need to get the incumbent below 50% so you need more than one opponent to do that. At the same time, you need the anti-incumbent forces to coalesce around a single candidate, or else the vote will be diluted and viability considerations will hurt (citizens don't tend cast votes for candidates with no chance to win).

    The Leonard race is instructive; how much better would the opposition have done if they coalesced around one or two contenders rather than spreading the vote among eight? The vote totals are here , and you'll see that no candidate other than Leonard received over 8% of the vote. That would have been an odd November election.

    A much superior election, from the standpoint of my concerns, was the Adams/Fish race, where there were clearly two viable contenders, but enough other candidates that no one made the 50% threshold and we had a November runoff.

    Lower turnout also affected how many more votes were needed to win. Leonard's 61,201 votes gave him 52.67%, while Saltzman's 56,433 gave him 57.48%.

    And even in a presidential election year, 22,907 voters made not choice ("undervote") in the Leonard contest.

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