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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