Friday, June 05, 2009

More Lay-offs at the Port?

The game of filing week Top 2 roulette is over and the losers are the Port of Tacoma, the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma School District. The winners included the Metro Parks District and Pierce County itself. The losers had "too many candidates" sign up to run for a position on the Port Commission, the Civil Service Commission or the School Board. The winners had only one or two candidates fill for each of their positions OR are using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to elect their officials.

In the Top 2 election system used by most local jurisdictions, if more than two candidates sign up to run for a particular office, the corresponding jurisdiction must hold a primary and pay the associated bill. For example, three candidates signed up to run for Port Commissioner, Position 1, so the Port will receive a bill probably between $350,000 and $400,000 for the primary. The Port has to pay a big share of the total bill for the primary since it is a countywide district. If there had been one fewer candidate for this position, the Port's bill for the primary would have been $0.

The county itself will be using RCV to elect the Auditor position. Three candidates signed up to run for Auditor, but since RCV elections fold the primary into the general election, there will be no primary and the County's bill will be $0.

Facing this unforeseen bill, the Port Commission is likely to have to come up with additional lay-offs to cover the bill for the primary. This is quite unfortunate and could be prevented in the future by shifting the election of Commissioners to RCV.

All of this applies to the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma School District as well, but the scale of their problem is smaller. Their bills are more likely in the $80,000-100,000 range. Obviously, these are significant numbers in this day of tight budgets. The Metro Park District will have no primary, so they will not be affected by a bill for the primary.

The current Top 2 system for electing local officials causes districts to want fewer candidates vying for office in order to save money. Obviously, we should prefer systems which encourage more civic engagement, including more candidates running for office. The RCV system used by the county encourages more candidates without the additional cost of a primary. The Port should adopt RCV to elect its commissioners.

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