Benton County officials prepare for voting changes in Corvallis

Wes Flow , News Contributor

After significant preparation by Benton County election officials, Corvallis voters will be using ranked choice voting in municipal elections for the first time on Nov. 8.

According to the City of Corvallis website, RCV will be used for all races with at least three candidates. This year, voters will be using RCV for the mayoral race, as well as the race for City Councilor of Ward 9.

Ranked choice voting is a system in which voters, rather than selecting one candidate, rank several candidates by preference. In January, the Corvallis City Council passed Ordinance 2022-02, adopting RCV for future Corvallis municipal elections.

While the 2022 general election will mark its first use in a Corvallis municipal election, Benton County voters have used RCV before, with Benton County having implemented the system for the 2020 county commissioner election. 

According to Benton County Records & Elections Department Director James Morales, county officials learned a lot about RCV before and during the 2020 election.

“Professionally, RCV offers some new challenges,” Morales said. “Having a public education and awareness campaign regarding this new method of electing candidates is a very important part of the process.”

In Morales’s opinion, the switch may make a difference in this year’s election results.

“I believe RCV has the potential to have a significant impact in any contest to which it is applied,” Morales said.

While Benton County officials had big plans for an awareness and education campaign before the 2020 election, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to scrap any in-person public forums and demonstrations. 

However, the online portion of the campaign was more successful. According to Morales, voter education website BentonBetterBallot.com worked well to prepare voters for RCV. 

The website provides both information about the ranked choice process, as well as a practice ballot for voters to familiarize themselves with new ballots, and is still available for voters looking to learn more about RCV. 

Morales said that the 2020 RCV rollout went smoothly in part because Benton County was able to learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions.

“We spoke with the election officials from…cities in New Mexico and Minnesota, as well as former election officials working with the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center out of North Carolina,” Morales said. 

Besides the public side of the change, there was also the matter of preparing Benton County’s vote tabulation equipment to handle RCV.

“We worked with the Secretary of State and our vote tabulation system vendor, Elections Systems & Software, to conduct certification testing on the software developed by ES&S for RCV called ExpressRunoff,”  Morales said.

Voters must have their ballot submitted by 8 pm on Nov. 8, and unofficial election results will be available as soon as possible. Official results for non-RCV elections will be released by Dec. 2, while those for RCV elections will be released by Dec. 5.