Sunday, February 15, 2009

League of Women Voters supports Ranked Choice Voting

by Lyz Kurnitz-Thurlow, President of the League of Women Voters of Tacoma/Pierce County

The League of Women Voters first discussed Ranked Choice Voting, or Instant Runoff Voting, about seven years ago, in a study of election methods. As a result of that study, the League of Women Voters of Washington added, "Action to support a majority vote requirement if achieved through a mechanism such as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)," to its position on Representative Government.

Therefore, the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County was interested when IRV was brought up, first as a possibility for Tacoma, and then as a possibility and reality for Pierce County. We participated in many candidates forums this year, and explained both the voting and the counting at these forums.

What do we perceive as the advantages? It ensures that someone will win with a majority of the votes.
It eliminates the primary, which gets minimal voter participation. All the candidates are on the general election ballot, which gets them more publicity and, because of higher voter turnout, allows more people to be involved in the actual choosing of the winner. It allows more people to run. Rarely can a person not from one of the two major parties get on the general election ballot, ESPECIALLY with a top-two primary. It allows you to vote for the person you really want to have win, even if this person is not likely to. Rather than not getting to vote for such a candidate, because then your vote really doesn't seem to count, you can vote for that person as your first choice - and still vote for a second choice who is the candidate you prefer from the more-likely winners.

It is unfortunate that people think RCV is difficult. The counting is complicated, and without computers would be horrifying, but we do have computers, and they can run the necessary recounts quickly and easily. The voting, we say, is as easy as 1 -2 - 3. Who's your first choice? Who's your second choice? Who's your third choice?

People who attended candidate and ballot issues forums this year were asked to vote on names for the bridges across the Tacoma Narrows. These were tabulated at each forum, and all were saved and tabulated after our last forum. (Narrows East and Narrows West were the ultimate winners, with Gertie and Gordy coming in second.)

Many did not know much about Ranked Choice Voting. They thought it was really complicated, until they got to do a sample vote. The actual ballot was also very straightforward, with clear directions. The touchscreen voting machines worked well, putting a 1 next to the first name touched, a 2 next to the second, and a 3 next to the third.

Australia loves this. San Francisco loves it. Maybe, we can grow to love it also. Many many people voted this year. Pierce County didn't do such a great job of getting ballots counted fast in previous years, with lower voter turnout and without ranked choice voting. The Pierce County Elections Department had a lot to deal with this year. They have certainly been learning from the process and will have had this experience to use the next time we use ranked choice voting. Do not, please, ask that there not be a next time.

The voters chose this. The voters have now gotten to use it. Give it a chance.


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