Friday, February 13, 2009

Pierce County Voting System Under Fire

This is a piece from KUOW's website.

Pierce County voters approved the use of ranked–choice voting in 2006. It was seen as a victory for progressives and as an interesting experiment. But the Pierce County Council is now asking voters whether they want to pull the plug. The council voted this week to let voters choose whether to do away with the system.

Instant runoff voting, or ranked–choice voting as it's also called, gained some popularity in the wake of Ralph Nader's third party candidacy in 2000. It was seen as an alternative to "spoilers" and "wasted votes" because voters can list their first, second and third choices. If their first choice — perhaps a third–party candidate — loses, then their vote goes to their second choice candidate.

Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic now chairs the organization FairVote, which advocates ranked–choice voting around the country. He says the system leads to more people running, and more issue–oriented elections. But he says Pierce County politicians seem threatened by the change.

Novoselic: "There's no leadership at all with ranked choice voting in Washington state; I don't know any lawmakers who are coming out and defending it, so it's kind of like, 'let it wither on the vine.'"

He says politicians should defend the system and iron out the wrinkles. Meanwhile, Pierce County administrators say the new system has been a headache.

Shabro: "Last year, it just about doubled our election costs to have it in the general election. We had to have two separate ballots which in itself causes an increase in postage."

That's Pierce County Auditor Jan Shabro. The county issued one ballot for the races using ranked choice voting, and one for the rest. That added $1 million to election expenses, apart from one–time costs. And officials say the majority of comments from voters have been negative, that it's confusing. But advocates say ranked–choice voting gave voters more choices, for example in the race for Pierce County Executive.

Richard Anderson–Connolly is a professor at the University of Puget Sound. He says voters can choose who they want, instead of the lesser of two evils.

Anderson–Connolly: "Four strong candidates, no spoilers, no vote splitting even though there were two Democrats. In the early rounds, those votes went to their first choices but then they came back together in the later rounds. And you did it all in one election, you didn't have to go through weeding out some people in August."

Anderson–Connolly says most voters aren't paying attention to the August primary, so it's better to just have all the candidates on the November ballot. That's how ranked choice voting works. He predicts a vigorous campaign before Pierce County voters pass judgment on the new system this November.

Amy Radil, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2009, KUOW



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