Friday, May 29, 2009

Who will pay for the August primary this year?

Hint: It won't be Pierce County.

Events of the coming week will make a difference of $300,000+ to the Port of Tacoma's budget. The City of Tacoma may well send people into the Auditor's office to file to run for Port Commissioner and save Tacoma some serious money. While we have never heard of someone doing this, in this time of budgetary problems it wouldn't be surprising. Why?

Let's look at what happened during the last cycle. In 2007, the Port of Tacoma had one Commissioner race where more than two candidates signed up to run. Using their current election system, the Port is required to hold a primary if more than two candidates file for one or more of their Commissioner positions. The result was a $327,000 bill to the Port for the August primary. If there had been no race with three or more candidates, the Port's bill would have been $0.00. This is what the Port is up against.

On the other hand, Pierce County has a race for County Auditor happening this year, and regardless of how many individuals sign up to run in this race with no elected incumbent, their bill for the primary will be $0.00. Why? Because Pierce County will be using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to elect its Auditor and there is no primary in RCV races regardless of how many candidates sign up.

The total costs of the August 2007 primary in Pierce County were about $850,000. Using the formula prescribed by the state, the Port was billed $327,000. If the Port had not participated in the primary, most of those costs would still have been incurred but they would have been billed to the other jurisdictions who participated in the primary. Most of the $327,000 of cost would have gone to the Tacoma Schools, the Metro Parks District and the City of Tacoma. Probably just under $100,000 each.

This year, the City of Tacoma will have a primary due to the large number of open seats for City Council and Mayor. To control costs, the City will want the Port, the Tacoma School District and the Metro Parks to have primaries as well. The City may well want to consider going into the candidate recruitment mode.

Of course, if all of these entities were using RCV, this would all be moot. None of these entities would be on the hook for expenses in the primary because they would not be participating. Unfortunately, currently state law does not allow local jurisdictions such as the Port to use RCV to elect its Commissioners. So while the County can relax this week about the number of candidates who will be signing up to run for Auditor, the Port will be sweating this one out.

Too bad, the Port is in the position of discouraging people from running for Port Commissioner since it would cost the Port money if "too many" candidates filed. It would be a better system if this anomaly were fixed so that the Port could use RCV to elect its Commissioners.

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At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very valid point Kelly, and thanks for making it. More need to be aware of the benefits of RCV and inherent costs. Perhaps we can change the erroneous paradigm out there that RCV is the cause of the delays in reporting the 2008 returns.


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