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Portland Voters Favor Reform for City Government, Election System

Sixty-three percent of likely voters said they would support a ballot measure that would transform the city’s government, including the number of representatives on the City Council and how they are elected.

(TNS) — Nearly two-thirds of likely Portland, Ore., voters say they’ll back a contested ballot measure this fall to radically reshape the city’s form of government and election system, according to a new poll commissioned by the metro area’s most influential business organization and several industry groups.

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed earlier this month indicated they are in favor of the Nov. 8 proposal, which would transform how Portland’s vast bureaucracy is run, more than double the number of representatives on the City Council and change the way they’re selected, people briefed on the poll results told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

That is three times the 21 percent who say they plan to vote against Measure 26-228, which has come under fire from coalitions that also want significant reforms to Portland’s government but prefer what they say is a simpler, less experimental overhaul of the city’s charter.

Only 16 percent of those polled said they remain undecided as ballots head for mailboxes in mid-October, those briefed on the results said.

The findings were disclosed by pollster John Horvick of DHM Research to a group of people convened Friday by the Portland Business Alliance, multiple sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive. The business alliance, which lost a legal challenge to the proposal in August, has yet to announce whether it will formally oppose the current charter measure.

Oregon Smart Growth, Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors and Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland joined the Portland Business Alliance in bankrolling the survey, which polled 420 people and had a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percent.

The business alliance could not be immediately reached for comment Monday, Sept. 26.

Horvick, during Friday’s meeting, said his polling indicated that the charter proposal’s high support had less to do with specific changes in the measure than with ongoing frustration among voters toward City Hall, those briefed on the poll said.

Still, the results are likely to add momentum behind a coalition that was created to champion the proposal. That coalition, Portland United for Change, is supported by dozens of progressive, labor and good government groups.

“Two resounding sentiments remain true: Portlanders are overwhelmingly ready for change and the coalition supporting Measure 26-228 grows each day,” said the coalition’s campaign manager, Sol Mora, in a statement. “Portland cannot wait any longer for better services and representation.”

The reform proposal, crafted and referred to the ballot by a 20-member charter commission, would end Portland’s unique approach of having individual City Council members act as administrators over the city’s many bureaus and departments and turn most of that responsibility over to a professional city manager overseen by the mayor.

It would also include a complex version of ranked-choice voting and have voters elect three council members from one of four geographic districts, leading to a 12-member council. The mayor would only be allowed to vote in the case of a tie.

Fewer than 50 U.S. cities use ranked-choice voting and only about a half-dozen currently employ a version of multi-member districts, including Spokane and Anchorage. No U.S. city uses the hybrid system detailed in the Portland charter proposal, which would have candidates who place second and third in a ranked-choice tally take office as well as the winner.

Yet the survey also showed a few bright spots for a pair of political committees organizing to oppose to the measure.

Support for the proposal, for example, fell to 49 percent when those surveyed received statements critical of the current ballot measure, Horvick told those at Friday’s meeting, multiple people briefed on the results said.

And 60 percent, Horvick said, indicated they would support an alternate proposal like the one being crafted by Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who plans to introduce his measure early next year if the current measure were to fail, which now appears unlikely.

Mapps is exploring proposals that would create six or seven council districts with a single member elected from each and place oversight of bureaus under a professional city administrator. The mayor, elected citywide, would remain a voting member of the council. He and his allies are also considering a form of ranked-choice voting.

The commissioner plans to release his draft proposal Oct. 3 through the Ulysses PAC, which Mapps created last year to support charter changes but is against the current measure.

Another political committee, Partnership for Common Sense Government, has criticized the current measure’s estimated $43 million price tag and argues that multi-member council districts would diminish government efficiency and permit elected officials to avoid direct accountability. The group says it plans to support Mapps’ draft proposal.

“This poll will focus voters’ attention,” said Chuck Duffy, spokesman for the Partnership for Common Sense Government. “During this campaign, they will learn more and see that unless they vote ‘no’ to get to a better ‘yes’ with the alternative proposal in May, our city will be stuck with this dysfunctional, experimental proposal for a very long time.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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