Sunday, June 18, 2006

Instant Runoff Voting Proposal by Kelly Haughton

This speech was given by Commissioner Kelly Haughton on June 17, 2006 before the Pierce County Charter Review Commission just prior to the final vote on the Instant Runoff Voting proposal which put it on the November ballot for consideration by the voters.

Instant Runoff Voting is a better way to vote. It allows voters to better express their preferences about the candidates available to them. IRV is pro-voter and pro-democracy.

Voters like IRV. In San Francisco, a survey of voters after the initial 2004 election found that voters preferred IRV to their old system by an overwhelming 4 to 1 margin. After the 2005 election, every single grouping of voters – as defined by party, political philosophy, race and so on – preferred IRV by a landslide margin. Voters in Burlington, Vermont were similarly enthusiastic.

Voters of the state of Washington do not like the pick-a-party primary. According to the Secretary of State’s website, only 21% of the voters like the pick-a-party primary. The Secretary of State’s website also reports that they received many phone calls complaining about the pick-a-party primary. The system is broken.

Our choice is between a system voters like and one which voters do not like.

Soon the state will be moving its primary to August. Voters will be on vacation. The already low turnout for the primary will decline. Fewer voters will participate and democracy will suffer further.

This IRV proposal is a chance for Pierce County to display leadership in addressing voter concerns and desires. Voter turnout will increase. We always get broader participation in the general election.

By leveling the playing field for independents and third parties, IRV will encourage more candidacies. This will broaden the political discourse and deepen the democracy in our county. Many are concerned about the apathy of the voting public. Giving voters more choices will encourage more participation.

At the same time, by giving the Democrats and Republicans control over who appears on the ballot with their name, it will give parties more authority to prevent the Will Bakers and Mike the Movers of the world from hijacking their party labels. This right is important in terms of ensuring the freedom of association rights of the parties.

The proposal gives the Elections Department two years to implement the new voting system. This provides the Department with plenty of time to consult with IRV proponents and experts about the most cost effective way to implement IRV. Thus far, the Auditor has not found the time to contact the proponents about ways to cut costs and implement efficiently.

For example, with further research the Auditor will find that in San Francisco the Board of Supervisors allocated only $750,000 to voter education, not $2,000,000. She will also find that most observers feel San Francisco vastly overspent on voter education. Many observers believe 25 cents per resident is more than sufficient – and only needed in the first IRV election. That would be $200,000 for Pierce County.

For another example, I have passed out a letter from League of Women Voters President Lyz Kurnitz-Thurlow to the Commission on Instant Runoff Voting. The League not only endorses IRV, but it offers to help with the voter education process.

Once the county has made the investment to have the capability to do IRV, local jurisdictions should petition the state legislature for permission to use this technology to eliminate their primaries and their associated costs. In 2005, Pierce County spent $250,000 on the Charter Review primaries. This money would be saved with this proposal. If the Metropolitan Park District had had IRV for its commissioner positions, it would have saved $65,000. Indeed, if all of the local jurisdictions had been using IRV in 2005, the collective savings would have been $650,000 for the primary. While this proposal only affects county level positions, it sets the stage for greater savings for all of the jurisdictions in Pierce County.

For these and other reasons, the Commission has heard testimony from the League of Women Voters and several others advocating IRV. The voters like IRV. We will have more candidates. Democracy will improve.

The existing system is broken. It is time to provide the voters with a choice. It is time to allow the voters to choose between the status quo and IRV. Please vote Yes on the proposal.

Kelly Haughton
June 17, 2006



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