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Blair Bobier, co-chief petitioner of Measure 2-100, tracks the election on his laptop inside the Del Alma banquet room on Tuesday. The Benton County ranked choice voting measure was passing handily in early returns. 

Godofredo Vasquez, Gazette-Times

Benton County is poised to become the first jurisdiction in Oregon to use ranked-choice voting in future elections.

In updated unofficial returns released at 9:56 p.m., voters were passing Measure 2-100 with 22,593 yes votes to 19,023 no votes.

“I think we made history tonight,” said co-chief petitioner Blair Bobier at an election watch party with about 50 supporters at a downtown Corvallis restaurant. “This is one small step for Benton County, and one giant leap for Oregon democracy.”

The measure could go into effect as early as the next general election in 2018, when it could be used in balloting for sheriff and county commissioner. Party primaries would not be affected.

First, however, the voting method and equipment will have to be certified by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, and that will cost money.

The measure includes language requiring the county to request up to $200,000 in state funding to educate voters, upgrade vote-counting equipment and have the new balloting method certified. If the state fails to provide the money, backers of the measure say they’ll seek funding from other sources, such as FairVote, a national organization that promotes ranked choice voting.

“I think it’s in the interest of the state to come up with the money to fund this because this is the future of voting in Oregon,” Bobier said.

Here’s how it would work: Voters would rank all candidates for sheriff and county commissioner in order of preference. If one candidate receives more than half the votes on the first ballot, that person would be declared the winner.

If not, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes would be eliminated, and the second-place choices of the losing candidate’s supporters would be counted. That process would be repeated until a clear winner emerges with more than 50 percent of the vote.

Supporters argue that instant runoff balloting encourages people to vote their conscience by eliminating the spoiler effect that happens when a political outsider siphons votes away from one major party candidate only to hand the victory to the other mainstream contender.

Ranked choice or instant runoff voting is already in use for some or all municipal offices in 11 U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis, according to FairVote. Five states use the system for overseas voters in runoff elections, and eight cities have approved ranked choice voting for advisory, option or contingent measures, although half of those are still awaiting equipment or software upgrades before actually implementing the system.

And on Tuesday, voters in Maine were casting their ballots on Question 5, a statewide ballot measure that would implement ranked choice voting for major offices including members of Congress, governor and state legislators. It was leading in early returns.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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