Saturday, June 30, 2007

Public Comment Before the King County Charter Review Commission

The last two opportunities to testify before the King County Charter Review Commission will be on July 9 and 10. Please see the Charter Review website for details.

Proponents of ranked choice voting are encouraged to testify on behalf of implementing election reform similar to Pierce County's ranked choice voting.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

McCarthy's Progress Report on Implementation of Ranked Choice Voting

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy provides a good progress report to the public on her plan for implementing ranked choice voting in Pierce County. She does a nice job of updating the public and noting the upcoming changes to county level voting.

She notes her oft-stated goal of implementing a sustainable ranked choice voting procedure. She did not repeat San Francisco's Director of Elections John Arntz comments that he was impressed with both the amount time given to implement ranked choice voting and how McCarthy is using the time to her advantage. Arntz was impressed by the planning done by McCarthy, her elections team and the Blue Ribbon Review Panel.

Carolyn Merrival wants to wait for implementation of ranked choice voting. McCarthy is planning on using her existing vendor's software for implementing ranked choice voting. This software allows voters to list their first three choices, but if there are more than four candidates this means they can not rank all of the candidates. (Note: If there are four candidates and the voter lists their first three choices there is an implied fourth rank.)

McCarthy is making a practical choice on this one. While I would prefer to be able to rank all of the candidates, being able to rank three candidates is very preferable to being restricted to ranking only one candidate as our current system does.

Further, the vast majority of the races will have four or fewer candidates in the race. Pierce County has had a history of remarkably few candidates on the ballot. Merrival's concerns are not well founded and McCarthy's elections decision will result in a better election in 2008.

Having said that, I would encourage McCarthy to push her software provider to write software for the 2010 election which will allow voters to rank all of the candidates.

Closing the Polls

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy in considering input from her staff and the Blue Ribbon Review Panel on Ranked Choice Voting has decided to propose eliminating poll voting starting February 2008.

Katie Blinn of the Secretary of State's office and member of the Blue Ribbon Review Panel has noted that almost all of the other counties in the state have already moved to all mail voting and over 70% of Pierce County voters already vote by mail.

Pierce County has already consolidated its polling sites so that many precincts use the same polling site. In addition, for some of the low turnout elections such as school levies, poll workers get lonely due to limited participation at the polls.

While ranked choice voting may be the tipping point for this decision, by 2009 Pierce County would have been the only county in the state with poll voting. Most voters seem to like voting by mail and the Auditor was being pushed this direction by multiple forces.

The editorial board of the News Tribune comes down on McCarthy's side on this issue and rightly so.

Implementation of Ranked Choice Voting in Pierce County

There has been a variety of pieces in the News Tribune on the subject of the implementation of ranked choice voting over the last couple of weeks.

Professor Richard Anderson-Connolly voices optimism about the successful implementation of ranked choice voting in Pierce County. While he is frustrated by some of the details, he is looking forward to being able to rank candidates in the 2008 election.

Erika Cranmer felt that Anderson-Connolly was too critical of Auditor McCarthy and believes McCarthy and the Blue Ribbon Review Panel on Ranked Choice Voting did a good job.

Cranmer points out that we will be using ranked choice voting only for county level offices. In my letter to the editor, I agree with Cranmer that it would be better if ranked choice voting were used on a statewide basis, but believe that the Auditor is making good progress towards implementation.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Voter Choice Should Be Improved

During the meetings of the Pierce County Blue Ribbon Review Panel on Ranked Choice Voting, the lawyers representing the Secretary of State's office and the Auditor interpreted the Charter to require minor party candidates and independent candidates to need four times as many signatures to get on the ballot as major party candidates.

The members of the panel felt this was not in the spirit of Charter Amendment #3 and discussed potential remedies. After much discussion, panel member Ruth Bennett proposed asking the County Council to put a charter amendment on the ballot to even the playing field for minor parties and independents.

Her recommendation is to replace Section 4.15 (3) with

"(3) The County Executive Committee, or, if there is none, the State Executive Committee of each minor party who files with the State Public Disclosure Commission may determine which candidates may use their party label for each county level office."

The consensus of the panel (including representatives of all three parties) was that this amendment would even the playing field, increase voter choice and improve the charter.

We encourage the County Council to put such an amendment on the ballot in November 2007.


Pierce County Council Questions for the Auditor

On June 11, the Pierce County Auditor will be meeting with the County Council in a study session to discuss the outcome of the Blue Ribbon Review Panel on Ranked Choice Voting. Below are some recommended questions to be asked of the Auditor either during the study session or some other time. The Auditor's presentation on May 30 contained a list of Items to be discussed with the County Council. For reference purposes, we listed the relevant Item # for each question.

Item #5: How long did Sequoia's representatives say it takes to run the RCV algorithm?

Item #5: After the algorithm is run, how long did Sequoia's representatives say it would take to run the preliminary results report on the ranked choice races?

Item #6: During the panel meetings there was much discussion about what to do about ties, how many ties have they had in San Francisco since implementing ranked choice voting?

Item #9: In 2008, there will be a maximum of four ranked choice races on any voter's ballot (Executive, Assessor-Treasurer, Sheriff, County Council). If there were an average of three candidates on the ballot in each race, how many ballot cards would be necessary? What would the return postage be on that number of ballot cards?

Item #11: The Charter contains the following sentence:

"The County Council may change the signature number requirement by ordinance so long as the same number applies to all candidates."

What does this mean?

Item #11: If the County Council changed the number of signatures required for candidates to get on the ballot to ten, what impact would that have on minor party candidates and independents?


Auditor's Items for the June 11 County Council Study Session

At the May 30, 2007 meeting of the Blue Ribbon Review Panel on Ranked Choice Voting, Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy outlined a series of "Items" which she intends to discuss with the County Council on June 11. McCarthy's list of items start on page 35 of the presentation on May 30.

The session will be at 11 am in the County Council Chambers, 930 Tacoma Avenue South, County-City Building, Room 1046. If you plan on attending, I suggest you get there early since parking and security can take some time.

Below are comments on her Items.

Item #1: Amendment #3 intended to make ballot access easy for all candidates. Unfortunately, we put a reference to state law into the charter and state law is onerous for minor party candidates and independents. Panel member Ruth Bennett has suggested a charter amendment which would remedy this situation. It is a good amendment. The County Council should put the amendment on the ballot.

Item #2: The charter is silent on the number of rankings each voter can mark. This was done to give the Auditor flexibility in implementing ranked choice voting. Current technology with Pierce County's current elections vendor only allows for three rankings. Council should adopt regulations to allow for up to three rankings for the 2008 election. Council should also encourage the Auditor to push the vendor to enhance the software for the 2010 election so that voters can rank all of the candidates.

Item #3: This really does not matter since results won't change and the difference in the computer time between the two alternatives is under 5 seconds.

Item #4: No comment.

Item #5: The Charter does not stipulate when the RCV algorithm should be applied. It would be bad public policy to put this into the Charter.

Having said that, the Council should adopt regulations on the release schedule for preliminary RCV results. At this point, I am in favor release of preliminary results for the RCV algorithm each time the Auditor releases the preliminary results on the other elections except on election night. On election night, the Auditor should release the first, second and third choices for each RCV election.

Item #6: The Auditor's suggestion is fine, but the risk of it being important is close to zero. However, the Auditor's suggestion will not cost any money and does no harm.

Item #7: Good idea. Another things which is better as a regulation rather than being in the charter.

Item #8: Given that the rest of the state is going towards all mail elections, Pierce County should be consistent.

Item #9: With gasoline prices above $3 per gallon, having to pay $0.58 in postage to mail in your ballot does not seem unreasonable expense as compared to driving to the polling booth. However, we are likely to get higher voter participation with this expenditure.

Item #10: San Francisco's director of elections John Arntz told the panel to focus on educating voters on how to fill out the ballot. The heart of these efforts should be the ballot design and the voter's pamphlet. We hope the focus of the Auditor's voter education will be to ensure these are done in an effective way.

Item #11: We will write separately on Panel member Bennett's suggested Charter Amendment.

Separately, John Arntz marvelled at how wonderful it must be to have so much time to prepare for holding a ranked choice election. He had only six months and Pierce County has about two years. By taking our time, we should be able to run a great election.


Ranked Choice Voting Panel Comments

The Tacoma News Tribune editorial board writes about the Blue Ribbon Reveiw Panel on Ranked Choice Voting and notes that Pierce County's existing vote counting system will only allow voters to list three choices (due to hardware and software limitations). While being able to list three choices is definitely superior to being restricted to one, we hope that Sequoia Voting Systems will improve their software in time for the 2010.

UPS Professor Richard Anderson-Connolly in a June 7 Tacoma News Tribune op-ed piece is optimistic on the implementation of Ranked Choice Voting in Pierce County. Anderson-Connolly wants the Auditor's office to release the preliminary outcome of Ranked Choice algorithm each day much the same as the other preliminary results are released.

Pierce County Republican Party Chair and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel Deryl McCarty wrote a long piece on his experience on the panel. In his comments, McCarty makes a small reporting error on the mailing rates. The most likely result in November 2008 is that we will need to use two ballot cards and mailing those two cards back to the Auditor will cost $0.58. This is more than the cost of mailing back a single ballot card $0.41, but cheaper than the gas required to drive to one's polling place.

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