Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pierce County Voters to be First in State With Ranked Choice Voting

Note: This is an article from the Kitsap Sun.

Lori Losee, for Gig Harbor Life
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

During this year’s General Election, Pierce County voters will be the first in the state and third in the country to participate in Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

Approved by voters in 2006, Charter Amendment No. 3 (Instant Runoff Voting, now referred to as Ranked Choice Voting) will allow voters to select up to three candidates in all county official races except for judges and prosecuting attorney.

Pierce County Auditor and County Executive candidate Pat McCarthy (D) said her department’s major goal is knowing that voters have confidence in the new system and will know what to do.

“We hope and believe in our protocols to have a successful election,” she said.

What does this mean for voters? In the past, voters could only choose one candidate for any particular race, now with RCV, voters can rank a first, second and third choice candidate for a single office for certain county offices.

For RCV races, no primary will be held.

As for tabulation, McCarthy said RCV will be conducted in rounds and that the candidate who receives the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated from the race after each round.

Voters, who selected an eliminated candidate as their first choice, will have their second and third choices distributed appropriately. These rounds will continue until one candidate has a majority (50 percent plus one).

“For a traditional election based on plurality, you (candidates) don’t have to have a majority to win,” McCarthy said. “This really changes the dynamics of the election since its winner takes all in November with no primary.”

In addition to her staff, McCarthy also established a 10-member Blue Ribbon review panel to provide input and feedback as the Auditor's office writes the voting protocols necessary for carrying out RCV elections. Panel members include the county chairs of the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties.

Along with the panel, McCarthy said she and her staff have been working with election officials in San Francisco who also use RCV as part of their training.

County election staff were flown to San Francisco to watch the election process and learned from their experiences and are trying to copy the successes while avoiding the same problems, McCarthy said.

“It’s going to be great, fabulous,” she said. “We worked a lot of hours to prepare for this and it was very challenging, I am very blessed with a good staff.

“This was a huge undertaking that included writing new election rules and procedures.”

This September after the primary election, the Pierce County elections department will roll out a countywide awareness campaign.

“Our hope is that voters won’t get confused with the two ballots,” she said. “Most people are shocked and wonder how we ended up with a system likes this, even though it was approved by the voters.”

For this year’s general election, RCV will be used for the races for county executive, sheriff, assessor-treasurer and council districts (positions 2, 3, 4 and 6). In 2010, voters will use RCV to elect the auditor and council districts (1, 5 and 7).

RCV does not apply to state and federal officials or the adoption of ballot measures, nor will it apply to federal and state elections or the elections for Port of Tacoma, cities and towns, nor school, fire, park, water, sewer or drainage districts.


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