Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Comments on Instant Runoff Voting by Richard Anderson-Connolly

I will be unable to attend the CRC meeting this week and thus would like to respond to the criticisms made against IRV/RCV last week.

The auditor’s presentation made essentially two arguments. The first is that IRV will add complexity to her job at a time when other changes are occurring. This is doubtless true. Learning a new system always entails a bit of stress during the early stages. On the other hand, the auditor will surely learn the IRV software quickly enough and adapt to the new system. And more than compensating for whatever difficulty during adjustment will be the worked saved by elimination of the even-year primary for county races.

The second argument was that IRV will cost more, largely due to voter education and additional printing for the longer ballots. Paralleling the argument regarding complexity, this argument only works by ignoring the ongoing savings from eliminating the primary. The savings in San Francisco are in the millions. Under questioning the auditor admitted that there will be savings for Pierce County by eliminating the primary. The auditor failed to include these savings in her PowerPoint demonstration but yet included the cost that San Francisco paid for software even though free software is available for Pierce County (and is currently being used for RCV elections in Burlington, VT and Cambridge, MA). She thus omitted a relevant savings and included an irrelevant cost.

Commissioner Pearsall-Stipek invoked the RCW to claim that the county can not eliminate the primary for the prosecuting attorney. Yet no specific code was mentioned. In fact, contrary to her intimation, RCW 29A.52.111 requires a partisan primary except where a county home rule charter provides otherwise. And to reject a partisan primary is not merely to accept a non-partisan primary. Analogously the opposite of a black car is not a white car. Instead of replacing the adjective (partisan) we can replace the noun (primary).

The opponents of IRV offer many reasons why it won’t work. I suspect, however, that their real fear is that it will work all too well: The voters will like it, the technology will handle it, more voices will participate in the elections, winners will have majorities, and it will save money.

Pierce County, let’s not be afraid of success.

Richard Anderson-Connolly

Voters can handle Instant Runoff Voting by Caleb Kleppner

Testimony to Pierce County Charter Review Commission
Presented April 13, 2006

1. Introduction

Good evening. The title of my remarks tonight is, “Voters can handle instant runoff voting.”

Voters can handle instant runoff voting, and I’m pleased to hear from the Auditor that if the voters pass instant runoff voting, she can and will implement it better than anywhere else in the country. Running an election is a difficult job, and it’s certainly true that instant runoff voting adds some burden to the job, but as San Francisco and Burlington have demonstrated, it’s entirely manageable.

If there’s one thing I want you to remember about my presentation, it’s that voters can handle instant runoff voting.

That doesn’t mean that IRV is right for Pierce County, and I’m not going to try to convince you it is. Your job as commissioners is to figure out that out, by thinking about what criteria to use to evaluate an election system and then weighting the advantages and disadvantages of the various proposals according to those criteria. I’m confident that that at the end of the charter review process, you’ll put some good proposals before the voters.

So instead of trying to convince you that IRV is the answer, I want to simply demonstrate that when used in actual public elections, IRV doesn’t pose any problems for voters. I’ll try to do this by discussing how it has been implemented, what issues were raised, how those issues were addressed, and what the election results and exit polls show.

No voting method is perfect, which Kenneth Arrow received a Nobel Prize for proving, which means that all voting methods have disadvantages. But in the case of IRV, the idea that IRV is too difficult for voters is not one of those disadvantages. So if you want to oppose IRV, you’ll have to find another argument. I think I’ve heard all the arguments against IRV, and I’d be glad to enumerate them if you’d like, but I’ll feel like I accomplished my job if I can get you to use a valid argument against it rather than an spurious one, such as it’s too difficult for voters.

2. Some quick background on my experience with IRV

I worked for FairVote, a non-profit organization that promotes fair elections, from 1999 to 2004. I helped IRV legislation for San Francisco, Burlington, Vermont, Vancouver, Washington, and many state legislatures. I have run ranked ballot elections for a major multinational professional services firm as well as a listener-sponsored radio network with 100,000 members. I designed the federal and state testing protocol for the voting equipment and software used in San Francisco’s IRV elections, and I designed the voter education program and pollworker training for Burlington’s first IRV election. I also tested the IRV tallying software and trained city staff on its use in Burlington. I am currently interviewing to be the executive director of the Cambridge Election Commission, which uses ranked choice voting for its municipal elections.

3a. IRV in practice: San Francisco 2004

San Francisco voters passed the IRV charter amendment in March 2002 and used it for the first time for 7 of 11 county supervisor races in November 2004 using the same voting equipment that the city had been using since 2000.

What happened on Election Day? It was a hotly contested presidential election, and voters formed long lines before polls opened at 7am. But voters walked into polling places, filled out their ballots, put them in voting machines, walked out and then overwhelmingly told exit pollers, “I understood IRV, IRV was easy, and I prefer it to the old system.” For example, 87% of voters said they understood IRV well or fairly well, and voters preferred IRV to the old system by a 4:1 margin.

What do the results show? Did voters decide not to vote because of IRV? Did they skip the supervisor race? Did they cast an invalid ballot? Did they decide to rank only 1 candidate?

Voter turnout was higher in this election than in many years, mainly due to the presidential election. Drop-off, which is the percentage of people who show up at the polls but don’t vote in a particular race, ranged between 5 and 12% for supervisor, which may seem high until you learn that drop off for US senator was 7% and for congress and state legislature ranged from 8% to 16%. And the drop off for supervisor was no higher than in previous years. 99.3% of voters cast a valid vote, which is pretty good considering that one of those races had 22 candidates. Voters ranked on average 2.5 candidates out of a maximum of 3 possible.

How did the media react? Many members of the local media truly didn’t believe that voters would be able to rank candidates and that the Department of Elections would be able to run an instant runoff election, especially since San Francisco has had a distinguished history of election foul ups. You might have heard about ballots being dried in a microwave during one election or ballot box tops found floating in the bay after another. One hit piece during the IRV campaign, said, “The Department of Elections would screw up a two-car funeral.” The day after the election, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined its story: “New vote -- it's a go: Premiere of ranked-choice voting method mostly gets a thumbs-up -- few glitches,” which for a San Francisco election is a rave review.

And pretty much everyone had to admit that voters handled the new system and it didn’t pose problems for pollworkers, whose jobs really didn’t change much, except they had to post an IRV poster in the polling site and answer a few questions about IRV.

Did it go perfectly? No, elections almost never go perfectly. Some voters were confused about whether or not they had to rank 3 candidates, and some pollworkers falsely told voters they had to rank 3 candidates. But these situations were quite minor for the first use of a new system, and by monitoring polling sites, the Department of Elections was able to correct them.

3b. IRV in practice: San Francisco 2005

In 2005, San Francisco had 3 citywide races on the ballot: city attorney, treasurer and assessor.

This was the first citywide use of the system, and the first use for about 40% of the city. Again, voters walked in polling places, filled out their ballots, and reported they liked the system.

This time, 99.6% of voters cast a valid ballot. Dr. Chris Jerdonek estimated that IRV increased the turnout by 168% of the number who would have participated in a December runoff if the city had not adopted IRV, with especially large increases in traditionally low turnout areas.

3c. IRV in practice: Burlington 2006

Last month, Burlington used IRV for the first time to elect its mayor. There were 5 candidates on the ballot plus a write-in slot. The city hired me and a partner to design the voter education program and additional pollworker training. To make sure the election went well, a trained city employee staffed a special IRV help desk in every polling place.

What happened? Voters walked in, got their ballots, ranked between one and five candidates, put their ballots in the voting equipment, and walked out. 90% of voters said they knew they’d be asked to rank candidates for mayor, voters preferred IRV to the old “vote for one” method by more than 3 to 1, and 91% disagreed with the statement, “The ballot was confusing.”

So few people used the IRV help desk that the staffers were bored, and one precinct sent their help desk person home for the afternoon lull. The polls closed at 7pm, the city uploaded the data from all 7 polling sites, and announced the final, official tally at 9:05 pm, which included absentee ballots, since they get delivered, verified and fed into the voting machines in the polling places.

What did the media say? The Burlington Free Press headlined their article, “Voters ace instant runoff,” and a noted Vermont political commentator said the system went “smooth as silk.”

How did voters do? The valid ballot rate was 99.9%, voters ranked on average 2.9 candidates, and 90% of voters ranked one of the top two candidates. In Burlington, the Republican Party is the third party, and of the people who gave their 1st choice to the Republican candidate, about 1/3 ranked the Progressive next, 1/3 ranked the Democrat next, and about 1/3 said a pox on both of their houses. That looks to me like rational voter behavior. The drop-off for mayor was about 1%, which was lower than the 2% in 2001 and the 24% in 2003, and was much lower than contested city council races, which hadn’t been the case in previous elections.

These 3 elections are pretty strong evidence that voters are in fact capable of ranking candidates, and if you have a decently designed ballot, do basic voter education, and give pollworkers a little extra training, voters not only can handle it, but they like it.

5. Effect of IRV on low-income voters, racial and ethnic minorities, seniors and youths

When people claim that IRV is too hard for voters, I often ask them if they can rank candidates in order of choice. Most say they can, but they often say they are worried about other people. Who those other people are depend on where you are, but I’ve heard them all: less educated, poor, Asian Americans, Latinos, African Americans, old people, young people, you name it. And I’ve often heard these arguments made by members of these very groups. Strange that I, a well educated middle class white male, have more faith in the ability of these groups than some leaders in those groups, but I’ve seen voters of all stripes use IRV successfully, and the data is clear.

Rather than showing you data about everyone of these groups, which I could do if you had the time and interest, let me talk about two groups who were most prominently represented to be disadvantaged by IRV: Asian American voters in San Francisco, and low-income voters in Burlington.

Professor Rich DeLeon, of San Francisco State University, used the individual rankings combined with census data to test 9 hypotheses about whether IRV disadvantaged Asian American voters. Those hypotheses were:

Supporters of Asian American candidates would have, compared to voters in general,

a higher proportion of voters who didn’t rank one of the two finalists;
a lower average number of rankings;
a lower proportion of second & third choices;
a lower proportion of "effective ballots,"

In precincts, the higher the proportion of Asian Americans,

the higher the proportion of drop-off supervisor races;
the higher the rate of over-voting (ranking more than one candidate as first choice);
the higher the proportion of "exhausted" ballots;
the lower the mean number of choices (ranks) used in voting;
the lower the proportion of second or third choices made in voting;

He tested the 9 hypotheses in two supervisor districts that had high percentages of Asian American voters and several Asian American candidates. What did he find?

“Nine hypotheses with clear predictions were tested in each district, adding up to 18 opportunities for the available empirical evidence to reveal patterns of data at least consistent with, if not proof of, the arguments advanced by some critics that SF's new RCV system systematically disadvantages the city's API voters vis-à-vis voters in other racial/ethnic groups. Based on the evidence presented here, the score is zero for 18.”

So although an Asian American group campaigned against IRV, calling it the latest “Chinese Exclusion Act,” and then declined our offer to work together on voter education aimed at Asian American voters, it turned out that Asian American voters didn’t have trouble with it.

Burlington doesn’t have a lot of Asian American voters, but there is a sizable population of low income less educated people who are most concentrated in Ward 3. How did voters in Ward 3 do compared to the rest of the city? Did their turnout go down? Did they skip the mayor’s race? Cast invalid votes?

Ward 3 turnout was 25% higher than the 2003 mayoral election and 72% higher than the 2001 election. 1% of Ward 3 voters skipped the mayor’s race, the citywide average. Ward 3 voters were five times more likely to skip the contested city council race, which did not use IRV, than the mayor’s race. So IRV didn’t cause low-income voters to skip the mayor’s race; many more skipped the city council race.

In Ward 3, there were exactly two invalid ballots out of nearly 1,200 voters. It’s hard to have a lower rate than that. Again, no evidence that IRV led to increased invalid ballots, nor that voters in Ward 3 were more likely to cast invalid ballots.

Did they rank fewer candidates than voters in other wards? No, in fact Ward 3 had the highest average number of rankings of all 7 wards. They also had the highest percent (93%) of voters who ranked one of the top two candidates, and the lowest percent who ranked only 1 candidate.

I could go on about African American voters, Latino voters, Australian aboriginal voters in the outback, voters in Papau New Guinea in the 1960s or ethnic minorities in London, but I think you get the point: voters of all stripes can handle instant runoff voting.

There just isn’t any evidence that IRV compared to plurality elections is too difficult or confusing.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence of differential participation in primary and runoff elections. For example, in San Francisco, which used to hold a December runoff election after November local elections, voter turnout generally went down all across the city. But voter turnout was lower in low income and minority neighborhoods, and it decreased even more in those neighborhoods. So you might conclude that a December runoff is “too confusing” for those voters, but a better conclusion to reach is probably that December is a terrible time to hold an election, and it’s a lot easier to get people to vote in November. The same dynamic may well occur in Pierce County in an August primary election compared to a November general election

6. Poll workers and election officials

Running elections is tough work. I have a great deal of sympathy for the many hardworking auditors, city clerks and other election officials. They have a lot of work to do, and with new Help American Vote Act requirements, their jobs have gotten even more difficult. But the implementation of IRV is manageable, as San Francisco and Burlington have demonstrated with different vendors and different software, and by eliminating portions of an August election, you make that election slightly easier and cheaper.

Polling place procedures change very little, but pollworkers do need additional training to respond to questions about IRV.

The voting equipment, instead of storing vote totals, has to store individual rankings, which are then aggregated after the close of polls. The IRV tally is then applied to the aggregate set of rankings. To see what that looks like, check out San Francisco and Burlington’s websites, where all the data is posted.

It’s not a trivial change, but it’s not a difficult one. In a state like Washington, where people are increasingly turning to vote by mail, you might consider going to an all mail election, and eliminating polling places. That makes election administration easier, and since the central scanners used in absentee voting already capture ballot images, it makes the conversion to IRV even easier.

7. Political implications: who wins, impact on two-party system

The candidate with the most 1st choices win 95% of IRV elections in Australia. There have been 11 recent IRV races in the United States, and the initial frontrunner has won them all.
IRV lessens, but does not eliminate, negative campaigning, especially between candidates who might be logical allies, such as Libertarians and Republicans, Democrats and Greens, and independent candidates and whichever other candidates they form alliances with.
It broadens the range of candidates,
It broadens the range of issues discussed and covered by media

What IRV doesn’t do:

End the two-party system or elect lots of extremist or third party candidates. In Australia, for example, which has used IRV to elect its House of Representatives for 80 years, I believe that no third party candidate has won a general IRV election. I believe one third party candidate won a special election to fill a vacancy, but that’s a pretty small number, especially considering that there are several third parties that win election to the Federal Senate using a different system. IRV elects the candidate preferred by a majority, and unless you’ve got a pretty strange majority somewhere, that winning candidate isn’t going to be some kind of fringe candidate.

Again, whether or not these things are good is a value call for the people of Pierce County, but this is what happens when IRV has actually been used in American public elections.

8. Conclusion

Now for the short part: What did I want you to remember? Right, voters can handle instant runoff voting. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak, and I’d be pleased to respond to any questions or comments you have.
Burlington Free Press

Instant Runoff Voting vs. Montana - Change

In the debate before the Pierce County Charter Review Commission comparing Instant Runoff Voting and the Montana primary, those speaking in favor of retaining the newly instituted Montana primary have noted that Instant Runoff Voting would represent a change for voters. Change can be for the better and change can be for the worse.

Prior to 2004 in the state of Washington, we used the blanket primary to elect our partisan officials. Then, the Democratic and Republican party organizations successfully sued the state to get the blanket primary declared illegal. The Democratic and Republican party organizations then lobbied to get the Montana primary instituted in its place and in 2004 we used the system.

The Secretary of State's office and the various county auditors around the state worked hard to educate the voters on the new Montana primary system since it represented a change for voters. According to the Secretary of State's website, they received many phone calls and emails from voters about the newly instituted Montana primary. Almost all of them negative. Further, they did a poll and only 21 % of the voters liked the Montana primary.

In 2004, a statewide initiative to rid the voters of the Montana primary (I-872) qualified for the ballot. The initiative passed statewide and received over 62% of the vote in Pierce County. The voters of Pierce County do not like the Montana primary we use in partisan elections today.

The Democratic and Republican party organizations persisted and successfully sued the state to get I-872 overturned. These party organizations do not seem to care if the voters like their change or not.

When Instant Runoff Voting was implemented in San Francisco, it represented a change for the voters. After the Elections Department engaged in voter education on Instant Runoff Voting and the voters had a chance to use the new system, a poll was taken and the voters preferred Instant Runoff Voting 4 to 1 over the old system. The voters of San Francisco liked the change in their voting system.

Some changes work out to be for the worse. Some changes work out to be for the better. In the debate between Instant Runoff Voting and the Montana primary, we should keep our focus on the merits of the two systems, not whether or not something is a change.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Snohomish County Charter Review elections

Snohomish County is a home rule county like Pierce County. This year both Pierce and Snohomish counties elected Charter Review Commissions. Each county's charter called for three Charter Review Commissioners to be elected for each County Council district.

Pierce County chose to elect its Charter Review Commissioners by position within each district and to use a Cajun primary system where necessary. For some positions, more than three people filed to be candidates, so a primary was run in September with associated expenses. Some precincts in Pierce County had only Charter Review Commissioner races on their ballots in September.

Snohomish County chose to forego a Charter Review Commissioner primary and put all of the candidates for each district into one race on the general election ballot. The ballot told voters to vote for three candidates in their race for Charter Review Commissioner. The candidates with the top three vote totals in each district were then elected. The voters were able to follow these directions with no trouble. There was no voter confusion about the ballot reported by the Snohomish County Auditor. This system saved money for the county since there was no primary for this race.

In Snohomish County, they elect their partisan County Council members in odd-numbered years. The 2005 general election ballot in Snohomish County had partisan races with the winners of a Montana primary, various non-partisan races with the winners of a Cajun primary plus the Charter Review Commissioner races with a request for voters to vote for three candidates in one race. Despite these different types of elections, there were no reports of voter confusion.

In 2005, the Snohomish County Auditor saved money by eliminating the primary for the Charter Review Commission and having the voters vote for three candidates in the general election. There were no reports of voter confusion.

The draft charter amendment regarding Instant Runoff Voting before the Pierce County Charter Review Commission would also eliminate the primary for county level elections by having voters vote for three candidates in the general election.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Richard Anderson-Connolly's testimony before the Pierce County Charter Review Commission

Testimony for the Pierce County Charter Review Commission
Regarding Ranked-Choice Voting/Instant Runoff Voting

Richard Anderson-Connolly
April 6, 2006

I. Description of Ranked-Choice Voting/Instant Runoff Voting

Citizens vote on a ballot that allows them to rank the candidates in their order of preference.

All votes are counted in rounds until a majority winner is found. In the first round, only first choices are counted. If there is no majority winner, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. All ballots are recounted using the highest ranked candidates still in the race. (In other words, the second choices for some voters are now considered along with the first choices for everybody else.) This process continues until a majority winner is produced.

II. Comparison and Contrast of RCV/IRV and Plurality

Ø Majority Winners with RCV/IRV

RCV/IRV is a majoritarian system. Plurality is not; on a frequent basis officials are elected with less than 50% of the vote, casting doubt on whether the most preferred candidate was elected.

Ø No Wasted Votes or Spoiled Elections with RCV/IRV

RCV/IRV eliminates the spoiler problem associated with minor candidates. With plurality voting minor candidates can help the “wrong” candidate win. This discourages some potential candidates from running and leads to insincere voting by citizens (voting for a major party candidate instead of the most preferred candidate).

Ø RCV/IRV is Fiscally Responsible

RCV/IRV can reduce public expenditures by eliminating the primary.

Ø Higher Turnout with RCV/IRV

Candidates are elected at one election – the general election – which has the higher turnout. The new primary in August will likely have even lower turnout than the previous September primary.

Ø Voting Experts Strongly Criticize Plurality Elections

The broad consensus among political scientists, social choice theorists, and mathematicians is that plurality voting is the worst system:

In spite of its widespread use, the plurality method has many flaws and is usually a poor method for choosing the winner of an election when there are more than two candidates. Its principal weakness is that it fails to take into consideration the voters’ preferences other than the first choice, and in so doing can lead to some very bad election results. (Tannenbaum and Arnold, Excursions in Modern Mathematics)

The real problem concerns our archaic election procedures…The point which will be made is that our basic voting procedures can generate problems so worrisome that it is reasonable to worry about the legitimacy of most election outcomes. This is not conjecture; mathematical support will be provided. (Donald Saari, Chaotic Elections: A Mathematician Looks at Elections)

Plurality rule is pervasive even though it is a flawed system. Fortunately, there is no lack of suitable alternatives. (Leven and Nalebuff, An Introduction to Vote-Counting Schemes)

Very few democratic countries still use plurality elections. England and some Canadian Provinces, among those few, are currently considering changes to their voting systems.

III. Responding to the Objections to RCV/IRV

Ø Voter Confusion

While opponents claim that voters will not be able to understand RCV/IRV there is no empirical evidence to support this. In San Francisco nearly 90% of voters said they understood RCV. In Burlington only 9% said it was confusing. RCV/IRV is also used in Ireland and Australia without difficulty.

Even ignoring the empirical evidence, common sense suggests that most Pierce County voters are smart enough to know whether they have a second or even a third preference among the candidates. Furthermore, for those who do not have a second preference, it is entirely permissible to vote for only one candidate.

Pierce County would be advised to follow the successful voter education campaigns in San Francisco and Burlington. There is no reason to assume that the auditor would be unable to conduct such a campaign here.

Ø Technical Difficulties

Sequoia is the vender for voting equipment for Pierce County. The machines we use – 400C, Insight, and Edge – are compatible with RCV/IRV. The only change would be the need for software to count ranked ballots.

The use of RCV/IRV is increasing in the US and other vendors (Election Systems and Software; Diebold) could also conduct these types of elections.

Ø Cost of RCV/IRV

Given the voting equipment already used in Pierce County, the only additional cost would be for software that could count ranked ballots. Sequoia has such software and the price would be negotiated between the vendor and the county. Since other vendors can also conduct RCV/IRV elections the auditor should be able to negotiate a good price.

The best option, however, might be third-party support. In fact, software to count ranked-choice ballots is also available from Voting Solutions free of charge. The program, ChoicePlus Pro, is used for the elections in both Burlington, Vermont and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is free and has a proven, successful record.

Should the county decide to buy software instead of using the free ChoicePlus Pro, it would be a one-time purchase. In contrast, the county would save money on an on-going basis because it would not conduct an even-year primary. In the future it is reasonable to predict that many cities in Pierce County will want to adopt RCV/IRV as a means to save tax dollars and thus eliminate odd-year primaries.

Ø Legality of RCV/IRV in General

RCV/IRV has survived numerous court challenges.

In 1908 the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of Washington law that permitted second-choice voting (a more limited version of RCV/IRV):

The principal argument against the second choice provision is that it interferes with the freedom of election guaranteed by the constitution, and compels the elector to vote for a person other than the candidate of his choice. This contention is untenable. (Coon v. Nichols, 1908)

There have been numerous failed challenges to RCV/IRV in other states. The most recent (that could be found) was in Michigan in 1975:

The fact that the Charter Amendment in question consolidates two elections into one, does not of itself create a classification nor discriminate against any group of voters. It possesses a monetary savings to the municipality in question and is not a factor to be overlooked.

Basic to all, is the right of self determination by the Ann Arbor voters. Their Charter Amendment was voted into effect by a majority of those voting November 5, 1974. The fact that "Ware" or preferential voting system is "different" from the system of voting we have come to know in this State, does not affect its validity. (Stephenson vs. Ann Arbor, 1975)

Ø Authority to Use RCV/IRV in Pierce County

As noted by Bob Dick, the Washington State Constitution (Article XI, Section 4) grants Home Rule Counties substantial authority. The use of RCV/IRV would be permitted. This opinion is confirmed and supported by the accompanying analysis provided by Pierce County Attorney Richard Shepard.

We should note that the IRV Pilot Project, which grants permission to the City of Vancouver, is not the statutory authority. Charter Counties already have the authority due to the State Constitution. Cities, lacking that power, must be given special approval by the State Legislature. The proposed charter amendment for Pierce County borrows language from the IRV Pilot Project (RCW 29A.53) but is legally independent of it.

IV. Additional Advantages to Citizens of Pierce County

Ø Elimination of the Pick-a-Party (Montana) Primary

Polling data reported by the Secretary of State indicated that 79% of voters disliked the Pick-a-Party (Montana) primary and only 21% supported it.

The citizens currently must pay for an unnecessary primary election that the vast majority do not like.

RCV/IRV saves money for the citizens of Pierce County and gives them the choice to vote across party lines as they prefer.

Ø Fair and Equal Treatment of Independent Candidates and Voters

In analyzing the American National Election Survey (2004) I found the following distribution of partisan identification among voters:

Party Identification

Strong Democrat
16.5% (U.S.)
13.7% (Washington)
Weak Democrat
15.5% (U.S.)
13.5% (Washington)
38.7% (U.S.)
41.4% (Washington)
Weak Republican
12.4% (U.S.)
16.3% (Washington)
Strong Republican
16.4% (U.S.)
15.2% (Washington)

Independents outnumbered strong and weak Democrats combined and strong and weak Republicans combined. Yet our current system discourages independents from running and leads to insincere voting when they do.

RCV/IRV elections, even as partisan races, should be preferred by those who favor a change to non-partisan elections. Partisan RCV/IRV elections maintain the advantages of both systems: The information conveyed by the partisan label is available to voters yet voters are free to vote for independent candidates without fear of wasting a vote.

V. Would an RCV/IRV Amendment Pass?

Despite the advantages of RCV/IRV over plurality voting, the Charter Review Commissioners might still have concerns with an RCV/IRV amendment because of the possibility that voters will reject it. I offer two responses to this concern.

Ø The citizens of Pierce County are as likely to be disappointed as citizens in the rest of the state with the Pick-a-Party (Montana) primary. RCV/IRV will have strong appeal to this large segment of the population.

Ø I respectfully suggest that the citizens should decide whether to move to RCV/IRV. There are two ways in which the Commission could “miss the call”: (1) by submitting a proposed change to the people that is voted down; or (2) by failing to submit a change that would have passed. Of the two clearly the bigger error would be the latter. The former is hardly a mistake; some commissioners might vote to place amendments on the ballot that they will vote against in November because they believe that the people should decide. I would suggest that when in doubt, err on the side of giving choice to the people.

VI. Conclusion

If the citizens believed that the elected county officials were able to make systemic changes on their own then the Charter Review Commission would have no reason to exist. History has shown us, however, that the interests of those in office can diverge from the citizens they are charged to represent. A change to the voting system that put incumbents into office has very little chance of coming forward through the normal Council procedures. Thus it falls to the citizens – those on the Charter Review Commission and those who vote in the fall election – to make the improvements to our system that our elected officials are unlikely to consider.