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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Thursday, May 28, 2009

King County Would Save $1+ million by Using Ranked Choice Voting

King County would save significant costs by adopting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and folding the primary into the general election for its county level officials. King County's system of electing its county level officials in odd-numbered years is significant in obtaining more cost savings. King County should adopt RCV.

Much has been written and said about the costs of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Pierce County, but little analysis has been done for King County elections and how they would be affected by the adoption of RCV for county level elections.

King County is different from Pierce County in several ways. It is a larger county in terms of numbers of voters. It holds its county level elections during odd-numbered years. It has a very large number of local jurisdictions such as cities, school districts, fire districts, etc. What impact do these differences have on the costs of implementing RCV at the county level for King County? All of these differences mean spreading the cost of implementation over a larger base and enjoying more of the savings.

To see how this would work, let's examine the last set of county level elections in King County. In the August 2007 primary election, 35 jurisdictions in King County held primaries for one office or another. The total cost of the election was about $3.7 million. The costs were allocated amongst the various jurisdictions and the county's cost allocation was $1.24 million. If King County county level officials were elected using RCV in 2007, the county's cost for this election would have been $0 because there would have been no primary for county level elections. This would have been a savings of $1.24 million for the county.

In the November 2007 general election, 131 jurisdictions held elections for one office or another. The total cost of the election was about $5.8 million. The costs were allocated amongst the various jurisdictions and the county's cost allocation was $750,000. This reduced cost was due to sharing costs amongst the larger number of jurisdictions participating in the general election.

In odd-numbered years, there are always more jurisdictions participating in the general election, since primaries are only held for offices where more than two candidates signed up to run for a particular city council or school board position. By opting out of the primary by adopting RCV, the county will be able to save significant money over the top 2 system currently in use.

In 2008, Pierce County did not experience this cost savings since all counties in the state of Washington must pay for the federal and state level primaries held in their respective counties. These primaries only occur in even-numbered years. Thus, the county had to pay for the primary despite the fact that there were no county level races happening. King County is in a far different position than Pierce County in this respect. Interestingly, there are a couple of charter amendments on the Pierce County ballot this year to move county level elections in Pierce County to odd-numbered years similar to how King, Snohomish and Whatcom County handle their elections.

The Pierce County Elections Department testified before the King County Citizens' Elections Oversight Committee (CEOC) and completely left out the cost savings from eliminating the primary from their presentation. From a King County perspective, this leaves a significant portion of the analysis out of the discussion.

The CEOC should understand that the King County situation is such that RCV will save King County money if it adopts RCV for its county level officials. The probable savings are something on the order of $1 million every two years after the original investment has been made.

King County should adopt RCV to elect its county level officials.

Note: The cost allocation numbers are based on information received from King County Elections.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

South Carolina State Legislator Wants to End Runoffs

In South Carolina, the voters participate in both a primary and a general election. In the primary, voter turnout in South Carolina (and Washington state) is quite low in comparison to the general election. Republican State Representative Bill Herbkersman and Fairvote Executive Director Rob Richie write about the advantages of higher turnout in Instant Runoff (IRV) or Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) elections which concentrate all of the action in the general election.