Sides differ over value of instant runoff voting in Clallam County
By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
October 25, 2007
PORT ANGELES - Instant runoff voting could fix what's broken with Clallam County elections, or it could be an idea whose time never may come.
Depending on your viewpoint, you'll vote yes or no on Amendment 1 to the county charter in the Nov. 6 general election.
That question, and three other proposed changes to the Clallam County Charter, were the focus of a Tuesday forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
Members of the charter review commission spoke for or against the amendments.
Tom Shindler spoke in favor of instant runoff voting, in which voters mark their first, second, and third choices - or more - if more than two candidates run for a county office.
Washington's secretary of state has not yet certified instant runoff voting, meaning it cannot now be used.
The charter change, though, would authorize county commissioners to adopt the system if and when it is certified and affordable.
Instant runoff voting would end the need for primary elections, Shindler said, and would eliminate the "spoiler" effect of voting for a third-party candidate.
"The voter needs do nothing but rank the candidates," Shindler said.
"The counting does the rest."
Confusing and expensive
But Terry Roth said the process would complicate elections and confuse voters.
"Can you imagine giving this to the general voter and explaining to him how to vote?" he asked.
Besides, software to count instant runoff voting ballots would cost the county at least $350,000, he said.
Shindler countered, "The whole voting experience would be a little bit wider," he said, by attracting more candidates.
Shindler also said authorizing commissioners to adopt instant runoff voting would put Clallam County in the lead of a revolution in the election process.
Roth, however, called it "an interesting thing to play with if you have the time and the funds."
Other debates on other charter changes included:
The change would forbid the taking of private property for private economic development.
· Pro (Patti Morris): Although abuses haven't occurred in Clallam County, she said knew of "hundreds of horror stories" elsewhere, including one in which a big-box retailer shouldered aside a mom-and-pop business, only to pull out of the project later.
"It is very painful when somebody walks up to your door and says, 'We're building a big box store. You need to be gone in 30 days,'" she said.
· Con (Norma Turner): The proposed charter change is "a rushed attempt" at a solution that may produce "unintended consequences."
Besides, "we're always talking about public/private partnerships," she said.
The amendment would return the elected county Department of Community Development director's job to one appointed by county commissioners.
· Pro (Norma Turner): Making the job an elected one in 2002 was the result of voters' outrage over the Growth Management Act and critical areas codes.
"You like to shoot the messenger," she said.
In this case, that was Bob Martin.
Most people who testified to the Charter Review Commission recommended an appointed director to get a qualified person and to establish continuity in the department.
Also, the North Peninsula Builders Association has recommended appointing the director again.
· Con (Terry Roth): Reports of mismanagement and personality clashes prompted people to require that the director be elected.
Voters "have an opportunity to grade the director from Grade A through fail," he said.
Martin, he said, urged avoiding more disruption to the system.
As for the builders, they hadn't spoken up when the Charter Review Commission was debating whether to keep the position an elected office, he said.
This proposal would require that a Charter Review Commission be elected every eight years.
Commissions - five citizens from each county commissioner's district - currently are chosen at five-year intervals.
· Pro (Sue Erzen): Charter changes and counter-changes have come too fast, she said, waving pingpong paddles labeled "appoint" and "elect," a reference to the proposed DCD flip-flop.
"We need to stop playing pingpong with our charter," she said.
"There is no groundswell of interest in changing our form of government," judging from the amount of people who testified to recent charter commissions.
Five of Washington's other six home-rule charter counties review their charters every 10 years, and eight years is a compromise, she said.
· Con (Tom Shindler): The charter-change process was "the most impressive grassroots experience Clallam County has to offer."
"The Charter Review Commission is really for the little guy."
Rather than lengthen the time between reviews, voters should involve themselves in county government and run for charter commissioner.
"Maybe we just need to play pingpong a little better," he said.
Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at email@example.com.