Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Non-partisan Races Sometimes Elect Independents

In the newly non-partisan Assessor-Treasurer race in 2008, outsider Dale Washam was elected. The results of races are affected by the structure of the election. Making the Assessor-Treasurer race non-partisan allowed an independent to compete more effectively.

Below we examine four different structures and what the impact of those structures would have had on the Assessor-Treasurer race. The data used in the analysis was obtained from the Pierce County Auditor's website.

Partisan RCV Winner: Barbara Gelman, Jan Shabro or Terry Lee

In partisan races, RCV rules give the parties the right to determine who is allowed to use their name on the ballot. The Democrats endorsed Gelman and Beverly Davidson in the non-partisan race, so it is reasonable to assume that in the case of a partisan RCV race, they would have allowed the same candidates to use their label. The Republicans would likely have allowed Shabro and/or Lee to use their label on the November ballot. Washam would have had to run as an independent or a third party candidate.

In this scenario, Washam would likely have received about as many votes as Mike Lonergan did in the County Executive race and one of the Democrats or Republicans would have won the race.

Non-partisan RCV Winner: Dale Washam

This is how the race was structured and Washam won.

Non-partisan Top 2 Winner: Dale Washam

In the November election, Dale Washam and Terry Lee had the two highest first choice totals. If there had been an August primary, these two candidates would have made it through to the November general election.

During the actual race, neither Washam nor Lee campaigned much for the position other than putting in their candidate statements and asking the News Tribune for their endorsement, which Lee received. The data shows Washam would have beaten Lee in the non-partisan Top 2 general election.

Partisan Top 2 Winner: ???

In the Top 2 system, candidates can prefer to be "Democrat" or "Republican" without the permission of the party. In this environment, Gelman and Davidson would have preferred the Democrats while Shabro and Lee would have preferred the Republican party. Washam and Bernardo Tuma would probably have picked parties as well. It is really not clear what would have happened in this environment. The winner could have been Gelman, Lee, Shabro or Washam. It is quite difficult to tell from the data we have.


Whether a race is partisan vs. non-partisan has more impact on the outcome of a race than Top 2 vs. RCV. In a partisan RCV race, Washam clearly would not have won. In any non-partisan race, Washam would have won.

For analysis of the impact of election structure on voter turnout, see here.



At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes you wonder what will happen with David Irons in King County. Irons was trounced by Ron Sims in his partisan race for County Executive. Now, Irons is running for non-partisan Director of Elections.


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