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Put voter-owned elections to rest

Our Opinion

Portlanders face a number of tough decisions in the Nov. 2 general election. But the choice to continue the city of Portland's voter-owned election system isn't one of them.

Since it was first implemented in 2005, this elections program has proven itself expensive, ineffective and susceptible to fraud and abuse. Voters should end this experiment by voting no on Measure 26-108.

The voter-owned elections system has cost Portland taxpayers nearly $2 million during the past five years, but just two publicly funded candidates - Erik Sten and Amanda Fritz - have been elected with the help of taxpayer dollars.

Sten, a long-time councilor who originally was the main proponent of voter-owned elections, resigned from office after serving only 15 months of a four-year term that he won with the help of taxpayer funds. Fritz arguably benefited from the public financing, but in our view she didn't really need it to run for City Council. She already possessed a substantial community involvement record, grassroots support and the personal determination required to make her a successful candidate.

Meanwhile, other council candidates have spent tens of thousands of public dollars in unsettling and creative ways, only to end up with meager support when the votes were counted.

This program was marred early on, when candidate Emilie Boyles used fraudulent signatures to qualify for the public financing and then burned through the $145,000 she received - and even paid her own daughter $12,500 for consulting. (Boyles is still paying back the money.)

In short, Portland's experiment with public financing of council elections has been a grand flop.

Along the way, precious taxpayer funds have been diverted from more significant and immediate public needs. Wouldn't it have been better over the past five years to use these funds to pay for more police officers or firefighters, to pave a few streets, better maintain city parks or further assist private-sector strategies to employ more Portland residents in living-wage jobs?

In this election, Portlanders finally are being given a chance to weigh in on a program that was created by the City Council without voter approval. It's time to acknowledge that the initial noble intention of opening City Hall to a diversity of candidates through public financing has resulted in real-world outcomes that are of little to no value.

Voters should put the matter of publicly financed elections to rest by firmly rejecting Measure 26-1081.