Release of Ranked Choice Voting rounds
In November 2008, for the first ranked choice voting election in Pierce County, the Auditor's office should release the preliminary first choice results for the ranked choice races at the same time as the preliminary results for the other elections. In addition, the Auditor's office must choose when to start releasing the preliminary results of the elimination rounds.
The three logical possible choices to me are at the end of Tuesday night (Election Night), the end of Wednesday night or the end of Friday night. This is a tough choice, but I recommend doing it at the end of Election Night with the end of Wednesday night as a close second.
In addition, once you have started releasing the ranked choice voting round results, you should do it again each time you release the first choice counts. Further, there should be appropriate labelling of the results as preliminary at all times until they become final.
The Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy is faced with a tough choice on this one. While I come down on the side of Tuesday night's close, this is a tough choice. Let me go into my rationale recognizing this is not a clear cut decision.
In our current election system, the final results can be different from the preliminary results at times. However, the percentages at the end of election night are seldom dramatically different from the final percentages. As we saw in the 2004 Governor's race, the winner changed but the percentages were not dramatically different. The citizens of Pierce County are accustomed these kinds of shifts. The votes counted by the end of the first night of counting are a pretty representative sample, but the results are not final until the last vote is counted.
Likewise, since the ballots counted on the first day are a large representative sample of the total vote, so long as we label the preliminary results of the ranked choice voting rounds, voters will not experience much more in the way of swings in ranked choice elections than our current system.
Some advocates of waiting until later to release the results have expressed a concern about "wild swings" in the results. This could happen if at the end of election night, we had counted only a small sample of unrepresentative ballots. Due to the structure of Pierce County's mail-in elections, we have a large sample which tends to be pretty representative. This issue does not justify waiting to release the results.
Releasing the results on election night has the advantage of transparency and openness. This will particularly be an issue in the Pierce County Executive race in 2008; in particular, if Auditor McCarthy decides to run in this race. (Blogger's note: I favor McCarthy entering the Executive race since I am in favor of more voter choice.) Since it appears as if there will be several candidates in the Executive race, the other candidates will be suspicious if the Auditor's office does NOT release the preliminary results of the elimination rounds on Tuesday night. Both the media and the other candidates are likely to put pressure on McCarthy to release these results.
Having said all of the above, there may well be technological/operational reasons to postpone until Wednesday afternoon the release of elimination rounds. Until the elections officials have had a chance to do a practice run through, we will not be sure if that is true or not.
Currently, I can not imagine any justification for waiting until Friday afternoon to do the first release of the elimination results. The Auditor's office generally has a very large sample of votes counted by the end of Wednesday and we should do the first run through by then at the latest.