State auditor rebuffs instant runoff voting - Fast polling might eliminate primary elections in races

By Jim Casey
Peninsula Daily News

Friday, March 30, 2007

     PORT ANGELES---Sam doesn’t like Irv.
     That’s Sam---as in Reed, Washington’s secretary of state---and Irv---the acronym for instant runoff voting.
     Reed, who visited Port Angeles on Thursday to campaign for the state heritage center on Olympia’s Capital Campus, said instant runoff wouldn’t work well for the state’s ballots that typically are crammed with candidates and issues.
     “Instant runoff voting is not very complicated when you have one or two positions up for election,” he said.
     In Washington, though, the system would be “awfully difficult and confusing.”
     Instant runoff voting would eliminate primary elections in races with more than two candidates.
     Instead of making a single choice, voters would rank candidates as first, second, third and so forth.
     Should no candidate garner more than half the votes, the least popular candidate’s second-choice votes would be distributed among the remaining candidates, possibly pushing one over 50 percent.
     Failing that, the next lowest vote getter’s second choices would be tallied.
     The process would continue until a winner emerged.

 Instant runoffs

     Instant runoff voting proponents have asked the Clallam County Charter Review Commission to recommend it to voters in the general election that will end Nov. 6.
     Nelson Cone, a member of the Green Party, defended the voting plan against Reed’s criticism.
     The current system is beloved by Republicans and Democrats, Cone said, who use primary elections “to filter our radical or unwanted candidates that might threaten the natural order of things.
     “It hasn’t represented the minority groups or let new opinions or new issues into the public forum.”
     Instant runoff voting would empower minority parties by eliminating their role as “spoilers,” he said.
     It would have awarded second-choice votes to Al Gore, for instance, that were cast by people whose first choice was Ralph Nader.
     Reed acknowledged that minority parties have pushed controversial topics onto the national agenda by being “ideologically pure.”
     His own party---Republican---coalesced around the slavery issue in the 1850’s, for instance.
     The Socialist Party championed the 4—hour week during the 1890’s, and George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968 pushed the mainline GOP toward being “tough on crime.”
     More recently, Ross Perot in 1996 focused national attention on deficit spending, Reed said.

Current system

     But the current system of two parties and their primaries has served the state well, he said---even though instant runoff voting would have made Republican Dino Rossi governor in 2004 and kept Slade Gorton as U.S. senator four years earlier.
     “In theory, this kind of sounds like a nice idea,” Reed said.
     “I just doubt it could get there from here.”

Parties raise ‘big tents’

     “Both parties have had to be ‘big tents,” he said, citing conservative state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, as an example.
     “The genius of American politics is that we sit down and work it through in a very pragmatic way.”
     Cone, however, remained unconvinced.
     “We see instant runoff voting as a way to reform the voting system and get it back to where the people actually have a voice,” he said.
     At the local level, Cone said, parties are mindful of community issues.
     But on the higher rungs of power, “they revert to the narrow-minded, limited-issue stance that they’ve always taken.

“There’s a whole bunch of ideas in this country, and they should be brought to the people’s attention.”



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