The Portland City Council will hold a public hearing next month on a proposed charter amendment to extend ranked-choice voting to all city and school board elections.

That discussion could lead to a citywide referendum in March.

The expansion of ranked-choice voting was originally spearheaded by Fair Elections Portland through a petition drive. The advocacy group also petitioned to create a clean elections program in Portland similar to one that allows state candidates to use public campaign funding instead of raising private donations.

Neither proposal was placed on the city’s November ballot. The group failed to get the required number of signatures for ranked-choice voting and the council did not advance the clean elections effort based on advice from the city attorney. She said the proposed clean election reform was significant enough to require a charter commission – a long deliberative process that would open up the city’s entire governmental structure to review and potential changes.

Fair Elections Portland has sued the city in an effort to get the clean elections program on the November ballot, although the city says time has run out. Ballots have been printed and absentee voting is underway for the Nov. 5 election.

Most councilors have said they support both proposals going to a future ballot, but not with language that would trigger a charter commission.

On Tuesday, the council’s Legislative Committee voted to advance the proposed expansion of ranked-choice voting to all city council and school board races.

The ranked-choice method, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference, has been used in Portland’s mayoral races since 2011.

In a ranked-choice election, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no one wins a majority after the first tally, election officials eliminate the last-place finisher and redistribute that candidate’s votes based on each voter’s second-choice ranking. This process continues – with non-viable candidates being eliminated from the bottom up and their votes reallocated – until someone hits the magic threshold of 50 percent plus one vote.

The full council will hold a public hearing and vote on the measure on Nov. 18. If approved, it would be sent out to voters in March.

Meanwhile, Fair Elections Portland continues to look to the courts to settle a dispute over its clean elections proposal.

The group collected enough signatures to send it to voters as a charter amendment. But the city attorney refused to sign off on the proposal because she said a provision requiring the city council to allocate funding for the program would alter the balance of power in the city, making it a charter revision that would need to be studied by a charter commission. The charter gives the council control over such spending decisions, the lawyer said.

Attorney John Brautigam, who represents Fair Elections Portland, argued that the city is obligated to send out the question in November because it was certified by the clerk as an amendment. He also argues that state law only requires a proposed charter amendment to be signed by an attorney in good standing, which he is.

However, City Attorney Danielle West-Chuhta has said that authorization has traditionally come from the city attorney, who is hired and overseen by the nine-member council.

The city last formed a charter commission in 2008. It was comprised of council appointees and residents elected by voters. After a year of meetings, the group recommended a series of changes to the city charter, which is essentially the city’s constitution.

The biggest changes involved making the mayor a full-time position with no executive authority with a four-year term elected by voters citywide, rather than a ceremonial mayor chosen by the council for a one-year term. It also adopted ranked-choice voting for the mayor’s race.

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