King County considers Ranked Choice Voting
On December 10, 2007, Kelly Haughton and Professor Richard Anderson-Connolly testified on behalf of Ranked Choice Voting before the King County Charter Review Commission's Governmental Structure Subcommittee. Haughton and Anderson-Connolly recommended putting a charter amendment on the 2008 ballot to implement ranked choice voting for county level officials in King County.
Below is a summary of their comments before the Commission.
1) How it works
Anderson-Connolly showed an educational video aimed at voters from the San Francisco's Election Department. San Francisco has been using Ranked Choice Voting since 2004 for their municipal elections. In 2007, they elected their Mayor using Ranked Choice Voting.
a) Voter Satisfaction
All surveys of voters using ranked choice voting in the US show they prefer ranked choice voting to their previous system. On the other hand, the Washington Secretary of State's office reports it has received more complaints about the pick-a-party primary system than any other thing they have done in the history of the office. Further, the Secretary of State's office reports that only 21% of the voters thought the pick-a-party system was OK.
We recommended King County shift the election of its county level officials from an election system (pick-a-party primary) which voters do not like to one which voters do like.
b) Majority Winners
Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to list their second and third choices. If no candidate receives a majority of the first choices, the Ranked Choice Voting system moves towards finding the candidate with majority support.
c) Concentrate Decision Making in High Turnout General
By consolidating the primary and general election into one election, all voters participating in the high turnout election are participating in both narrowing down the set of candidates and selecting the majority winner. It is healthy for democracy to have more voters participating in all steps.
The August primary has very low turnout due to voter fatigue and disgust with the system. Consolidating its functionality into the general helps deal with both of these problems.
d) Equitable Treatment of Candidates
State law discriminates against independents and minor party candidates. By making the ballot access requirements for major party, minor party and independent candidates all the same plus putting them all directly on the general election ballot, King County can level the playing field.
In addition, the Ranked Choice Voting system allows voters to list independents and minor party candidates as their first choices without the spoiler effect coming into play.
e) Potential Reduced mudslinging
In some jurisdictions where they are now using Ranked Choice Voting, candidates are campaigning and fundraising together. This has included joint mailings to voters. This appears to be the result of a desire to receive second choice votes.
3) Why King County?
a) Charter County
King County is a charter county. The Washington State Constitution allows charter counties flexibility in selecting how to elect their officials. It was through this provision that Pierce County was able to adopt Ranked Choice Voting to elect its county level officials.
b) Odd-Year Elections
King County elects its county level officials in odd-numbered years. During these years, the only pick-a-party primary races in King County are the county level officials. Thus, King County can eliminate the usage of the pick-a-party primary every other year. For some precincts in the county, this may mean there will be no races on the ballot in August. This could result in cost savings for the county.
c) Local Option
The State Legislature is considering a bill which would give local jurisdictions such as cities, school districts, port districts, etc. the option to use ranked choice voting to elect their officials. Given that King County would be using ranked choice voting to elect its county level officials in odd-numbered years at the same time local jurisdictions are electing their officials, there are strong possibilities for synergies and cost savings if King County were to adopt Ranked Choice Voting.
4) Why Now?
a) Pierce County voters reject delay 2-1
Pierce County voters were given the option to delay implementation of Ranked Choice Voting and 67% of the voters voted No on delay. Why? The voters are ready for a change. King County voters want change as well.
b) Only Opponents of RCV in Favor of Delay
Really the only people who favor delay of Ranked Choice Voting are those who do not want to implement it at all. The voters want change. Ranked Choice Voting for King County can really only be implemented through the Charter Review process. Waiting for the next Charter Review Commission is not wise. It misses the opportunity to allow voters to change from a system they don't like to one they will.
We encourage the King County Charter Review Commission to put a proposed charter amendment on the 2008 ballot which would implement Ranked Choice Voting in King County in 2011.
King County has the opportunity to take a leadership position in the state. It is time for the county to step forward.