Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Will King County learn from Pierce County's experience?

Hint: Aspen, Colorado did.

King County has the opportunity to move its county level elections to Ranked Choice Voting, and, if done efficiently, saving money for the taxpayers. To do this, King County must learn from the experiences in Pierce County, Washington and Aspen, Colorado. The potential for savings in odd-numbered years is in the millions of dollars. How can King County accomplish this?

In November, 2008, Pierce County held its first ever Ranked Choice Voting election with races for County Executive, County Assessor-Treasurer, and County Sheriff and County Council. The Elections Department chose to implement Ranked Choice Voting through buying the software from their existing election systems vendor. The software was expensive and required a second ballot card with the associated printing and postage costs.

In May, 2009, Aspen, Colorado chose to employ a specialist firm who used the existing hardware and software for the standard elections and a combination of off-the-shelf optical scanners plus open source software to generate the Ranked Choice Voting results. This off-the-shelf solution does not require a second ballot card and the associated expenses.

Both in Pierce County and in Aspen, the systems provided ballot image files of the voters' choices and reporting of the rounds of RCV results. These reports represent a significant step forward in openness and transparency in elections. This publishing of results and ballot images is a model for all elections.

In Aspen, the vendor charged $7,500 plus expenses of getting there. These expenses were obviously less than the savings from eliminating a run-off election. Thus, Aspen saved money on a net basis as compared to their old system.

If King County were to move to RCV to elect its county level officials, it would save $1+ million in each odd-numbered year by folding the primary for those positions into the general election. The additional expense would be associated with getting state certification of the cheaper outside vendor plus a nominal sum for consulting and expenses. On a net basis, there would significant savings by the county.

Of course, if entities such as the Port of Seattle were to follow King County's lead, the expense savings would increase since there are significant economies of scale in using elections systems. The Port would likely save as much money as the County in moving to RCV, but is not likely to be able to do so unless the County makes the first move.

The King County Citizens' Elections Oversight Committee should recommend to the County Council and the voters of King County the implementation of RCV for King County's county level officials. RCV will encourage voter choice and save money for the county.

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At 7:58 PM, Blogger Chris Telesca said...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but Aspen has had some serious election integrity problems with hiring TrueBballot on the cheap. Election integrity costs money - how much is public confidence in elections worth?

And the last three runoff elections in Aspen cost $21,000. Divide that by three and you get $7,000 each - $500 cheaper than the single IRV election that Aspen had run by TrueBallot on jury-rigged software designed for another type of IRV election and patched up to work in Aspen according to news reports.

Other states that have either studied the costs associated with IRV have found that IRV does not save money by the time you factor in costs for certified voting systems, voter education, training for election administrators and poll workers, documentation and higher costs for ballots. The State of MD found it would cost an extra $3.08 to $3.50 per registered voter for implementation and another $0.48 for voter education. Pierce County spend over $5.00 per registered voter for their IRV election.

If we took those costs for implementation for a state like NC with 6 million registered voters, and had to pay $0.48 per registered voter for voter education each year you have elections (every year in NC) - you'd spend from $20 million to $30 million for starters and $3 million a year for voter education - all that to save $3 million every 4 years for a runoff election.

IRV is only cheaper than traditional elections and primaries or runoffs only if you don't consider all the costs - and if you lower your standards for election integrity.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Diane Ryba said...

Haughton seems to believe this process is going to save money for taxpayers, and would like you to believe it, too.

Read this, gentle voters...


and make up your own mind.


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