Instant Runoff Voting: Working out the wrinkles in a new way of voting


May 30th, 2007

Pierce County, WA - Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy wasn’t thrilled last fall when voters approved instant runoff voting beginning in 2008 for most countywide races.

Implementing a change of this magnitude won’t be easy, and it will be expensive.

But McCarthy gamely accepted the result and set about preparing early for an election radically different from traditional voting. An advisory panel has been helping her work through some of the challenges.

McCarthy prefers the term ranked choice voting, which more accurately reflects the new process. And there’s nothing instant about finding out who wins in an RCV election, which eliminates the traditional primary.

It is a computerized, statistical winnowing process that might not determine a winner until most or all of the votes have been counted. That leaves McCarthy having to decide how to report the election results, which could vary greatly from day to day.

While that remains an unsettled question, other potentially troublesome issues have been constructively resolved by the advisory group.

For instance, voters will rank only their first three choices for all county offices except judges and prosecutor. That happens to be all that new vote-counting software will handle. Besides, trying to rank more is too bothersome for most voters.

Another unforeseen problem involves independent candidates, whose elections are governed by state law. Right now the law requires independents to hold nominating conventions in April. But the filing period won’t be until early June, which means candidates who don’t get the blessing of local parties to run as Republicans or Democrats wouldn’t have the option of running as independents.

The solution: The county Republican and Democratic parties voluntarily agreed to announce their anointed choices – which could be one, two or more candidates in each race – before independents have to hold their nominating events.

The panel also wrestled briefly with going to all-mail voting or creating regional “voting centers” around the county. The consensus was to keep the status quo, at least in 2008, to avoid creating further confusion.

Mail voters likely will have to use more than a first-class stamp to return their ballots. Including an RCV ballot with the regular ballot will make the return envelope heavier. The county could pay the return postage – which McCarthy favors – but that could cost upwards of $200,000. And conducting a voter-education campaign could cost anywhere from $175,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of campaign.

The advisory panel has done conscientious work. At its final meeting today, it wants to hear from citizens (see box for details). This is the time for citizens to speak.

What Do you think?

The ranked choice voting advisory panel meets today at 6 p.m. at the county’s election center, 3009 S. 36th St., Tacoma.

Originally published: May 30th, 2007 01:21 AM (PDT)


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