Low Turnout Elections and Ranked Choice Voting
Low turnout elections are a concern to advocates of democracy and taxpayers.
Americans suffer from election burnout. We ask our voters to vote too often. As a result, in elections such as our August 2007 primary many voters do not participate. In San Francisco, one of the main motivations for implementing ranked choice voting was to consolidate their low turnout runoff and general elections to accomplish the functions of both in one blanket general election. This consolidation has had the positive side effect of saving money as well.
In Pierce County, the Charter Review Commission and the voters wanted to try an alternative to the despised pick-a-party primary system. The voters have chosen to elect county level officials using ranked choice voting. This consolidates the primary for county level officials into the general election, but does not eliminate an election as we continue to elect our federal and state level officials using the pick-a-party primary. With the current implementation of ranked choice voting, Pierce County will have the benefit of a better voting system for only a limited number of races.
Thus, the fixed costs of running ranked choice voting elections will be spread over a limited number of races in 2008. Without state-enabling legislation, we will not be able to spread these costs over more races and will not be able to eliminate any elections. If the state legislature were to pass legislation allowing local Pierce County jurisdictions such as cities, the port district, school districts, etc. to use ranked choice voting to elect their officials, then Pierce County could use its new software more often and eliminate some or all of the low turnout August 2009 primary. This would allow Pierce County to start gaining more of the positive benefits of its investment in ranked choice voting.
Auditor's 2008 budget
The Auditor's budget request for ranked choice voting for 2008 includes several one-time items. The software module, the 400c high speed tabulators, the professional services, and the bulk of the voter education request are all one-time items which would not need to be repeated in 2009, if local jurisdictions were to choose to implement ranked choice voting to elect their officials. The implementation of ranked choice voting for just the port district would have meant many precincts had no August 2007 primary. The consolidation of this low turnout election into the general election would have saved the port district the cost of the primary without spending any additional money on the items above.
We should also recognize that the additional staffing and the high speed tabulators will benefit the speed and efficiency with which ALL elections are counted, not just ranked choice voting elections.
The Council has now passed the Auditor's budget and the work continues for smooth implementation of RCV in Pierce County. To get further benefits of Pierce County's investment in RCV, we will need state enabling legislation to allow usage of the RCV software for local jurisdictions.