Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pierce County Better Government League

The Pierce County Better (sic) Government League is advocating the passage of three proposed charter amendments all affecting our county level elections systems. Collectively, the three amendments attempt to rig the system in favor of allowing existing members of the County Council to keep their jobs for over a decade with little to no competition. To read more about the collective impact of these amendments, see

One section of the PCBGL website deals exclusively with proposed amendment 3 and its proposal to move Pierce County to the "statewide primary system." Below in italics is some of the verbiage on their website with our responses interspersed.

"In 2006 Pierce County adopted the experimental 'Ranked Choice Voting' system for most county elections."

Australian and Irish voters who have been using Ranked Choice Voting for decades are likely to find the word "experimental" amusing. RCV has a long history of success in promoting democracy.

. ...RCV has hurt voter turnout,..."

In 2008, when RCV was used in Pierce County, voter participation rates for county level elections were higher than in 2004 and 2006 the two previous comparable election cycles. RCV has not hurt voter turnout.

"...cost more tax dollars to administer..."

In 2008, the vast majority of costs incurred by Pierce County were one-time investments in software and hardware. Properly implemented in 2009, the RCV race would have saved money for Pierce County.

"RCV did not replace the unpopular 'pick-a-party' primary as claimed in 2006, but instead denied voters the 'top two' primary."

In 2006, the statewide primary system used by Pierce County was the pick-a-party primary. The lawsuit by the Democrats and Republicans to prevent the Top 2 from becoming law had prevailed. For county level elections, the voters of Pierce County went with RCV as the replacement for the statewide primary then in effect. In 2007, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court decisions and the state of Washington is now using the Top 2 as the statewide primary system. The Supreme Court left open the possibility of the Democrats and Republicans overturning the Top 2 on other grounds. The Democrats and Republicans are currently suing in court to overturn the Top 2. We do not know how this will come out.

Amendment 3 provides that Pierce County will move to elect its officials with the statewide primary system, not the Top 2. If the Democrats and Republicans prevail in their lawsuit and amendment 3 is approved, Pierce County will be using the pick-a-party primary system again. Just like in 2006.

The PCBGL claims that there is no way the Democrats and Republicans will prevail in their lawsuit. We have no such foresight, but this begs the question of why use the phrase "statewide primary system" rather than the Top 2.

"RCV is bad for democracy, it grants new powers to the political parties to control who files for office and rewards political extremism."

RCV is good for democracy. The RCV law does two things about candidacies. First, it dramatically reduces the number of signatures required for independents and third party candidates to get on the ballot. In 2008, this resulted in one independent and one third party candidate on the ballot. This is the first time in years we had such candidates on the ballot. Second, our RCV law requires that candidates get permission from the parties to use their labels on the ballot. Candidates can run as independents if they are not successful in getting a party label.

What happened to the number of candidates when we shifted to RCV? In 2006, in five races, we had five incumbents running for re-election. Four of them were unopposed by any challenger. The remaining incumbent had just one challenger. In 2008, we had seven races with three incumbents running for re-election. There were a total of 22 candidates on the November ballot. None of the incumbents ran unopposed.

While most voters appreciate having more choices on the ballot, the PCBGL prefers to limit the number of candidates. In fact, PCBGL wants our election system to go back to a world where voters are not "confused" by having multiple candidates on the November ballot. Voters choosing amongst lists of candidates is called democracy. Amendment 3 is bad for democracy.

"The 'top two' primary is the constitutional alternative that is most like our beloved blanket primary."

RCV is a constitutional alternative to our beloved blanket primary. RCV allows one to pick the person, not the party. RCV allows independents and third parties on the November ballot. The Top 2 is currently under legal challenge.

Reject Amendment 3. Reject all three amendments.

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What is the Statewide Primary System?

The Pierce County Council wrote proposed charter amendment 3 to install the "statewide primary system". Why didn't they say the Top 2 system? Perhaps this is due to the ongoing lawsuit on the part of the Democrats and Republicans to have the Top 2 system legislation declared illegal and send the state back to the pick-a-party primary system.

By choosing to use the wording "statewide primary system", the amendment leaves the county at the whim of what happens on a statewide basis. This includes the possibility that Pierce County could be forced back to the pick-a-party primary. This is not something the voters of Pierce County want to have happen.

In 2006, the pick-a-party system was the statewide primary system. The voters had a chance to choose to change from the statewide primary system to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and decided it was a better system.

In 2009, the County Council wants to shift back to the statewide primary system. Reject amendment 3. Reject all three charter amendments.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Utah Republicans Use IRV/RCV

Utah Republicans used Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) (aka Ranked Choice Voting) to elect their choice to fill a vacancy in the State Senate.

There were eight candidates who signed up to fill a vacancy in the Utah State Senate. Republican by-laws in the state require that the winning candidate receive over 50% of the vote. The Davis County Republican Party then used RCV to nominate Stuart Adams to fill the vacancy.

Indeed, Republican parties all over the country (including Pierce County and the national party) have the 50% rule. Various forms of runoff voting are used to comply with the 50% rule. For example, the 25th District Republicans use this rule to elect their officers.

What is good for the Republican Party is good for the common voter. Please vote to Reject Charter Amendment 3 and keep the 50% rule for county level elections.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

British Prime Minister Considering Shift to Ranked Choice Voting

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering shifting the UK election system to be like the Pierce County Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system.

Brown is pondering putting such a shift in election systems on the next national ballot. The British "first past the post" system is viewed as being quite unfair to opposition parties such as the Liberal Democrats. The Labor Party is considering such a change since they are concerned about becoming a minor party given their current standings in the polls.

The British are looking at the experiences of the Australian system (called alternative vote system) which is called Ranked Choice Voting in Pierce County, Washington.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

King County to consider Ranked Choice Voting

King County resident Joe Szwaja writes about the advantages of Ranked Choice Voting for King County in the Seattle Times.

"Mix together eight candidates, a low-turnout summer primary, and rules that send the top two candidates to the general, no matter what. Result? A million-dollar-plus bill for holding two elections to achieve what we could accomplish with one.

Voters had to awkwardly balance the desire to vote for their favorite candidate with a guess as to whether he or she could advance to the general or whether the vote would be split among similar candidates and actually help the wrong side.

And the system amplifies big-donor influence, since two elections also increase the time candidates must spend raising money for two elections.

This is our election recipe here in King County and in the city of Seattle as well.

Fortunately, there's a cheap, inclusive and democratic alternative used internationally and now in Pierce County. It's ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting."


Monday, September 07, 2009

Propaganda to remain on ballot

The committees appointed by the County Council on August 18 to write the voters pamphlet statements against proposed charter amendments 1 and 3 have pointed out to the Pierce County Auditor and the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's office that the ballot titles contain prejudicial language and are not consistent with past practice for ballot titles for charter amendments. The Auditor's office does not want to discuss the issue with the committees and is moving forward with using the prejudicial ballot titles.

Closed County Process

The state process for ballot measures is for the Attorney General's office to consult with the pro and con committees BEFORE writing the ballot title. Not only did the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's office write the ballot titles without consulting the committees, the Auditor and the Prosecuting Attorney's office refused to discuss the ballot titles with the committees outside of court. They informed us that the only way they would discuss the issue was if we sued them. So the committees sued them in Superior Court.

During the lawsuit, the Tacoma News Tribune called the ballot title for amendment 1 "propaganda". This had no visible impact on the Auditor's office or the Prosecuting Attorney's office. They were determined to win the lawsuit based on technicalities, not the merits of the titles.

"Catch 22"

As it turned out, the prejudicial ballot titles were filed by the Prosecuting Attorney's office with the Auditor's office on July 28, three weeks before the committees were even appointed by the County Council. Washington state law requires the Auditor to inform the legislative body which is putting the measure on the ballot and any other interested parties of the filing of the ballot titles.

But there is no process for becoming an interested party. Voicing an interest in becoming a member of a committee to write a voters pamphlet statement or testifying before the County Council on the issue does NOT make one interested in the relevant ballot title, according to the Auditor's office.

The Prosecuting Attorney's office and the Auditor maintained in court there is NO requirement to inform the members of the voters pamphlet statement committees of the filing of the ballot titles or to ever send them copies of the ballot titles. The Auditor's office still has not sent ballot titles to the duly appointed committees. They have not posted the ballot titles on their website. Apparently, they do not view the ballot title of the measure as required reading for voters pamphlet statement committees.

Further, the deadline for challenging the ballot titles was 10 days after the filing. At the state level, this is not an issue since the committees are consulted before the titles are written. But our County Council did not even appoint the committees until after the deadline had passed. According to the Prosecuting Attorney's office, even if the Auditor had informed the committees about the ballot titles upon their appointment, it was too late to challenge.

Prejudicial Language in Ballot Title

The judge acknowledged the Prosecuting Attorney's office and the Auditor were successful in moving the prejudicial ballot titles through the process without anyone noticing by the deadline. During the hearing on the suit, the Prosecuting Attorney's office did not defend the prejudicial language, they only focused on the deadline. Apparently, the office does not care about being prejudicial.

Of course, the Auditor still has the ability to eliminate the offensive language, but she has given no indication of any desire to be impartial or fair. The County Council members want amendments 1, 2 and 3 to pass. Using prejudicial language to help them pass helps the County Council members and they are her friends.

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