Among this commission was a local business executive and Libertarian, Kelly Haughton. Mr. Haughton was a libertarian by political philosophy and political affiliation. Mr. Haughton began to think about ways in which people like him could get more involved in the process. He thought about ways in which disenfranchised voters would be more motivated to come out. There is a voting system that's very popular in countries like Australia and Ireland called Ranked Choice Voting. RCV is a method of voting in which voters rank their preferences.
(RCV) is the American English term for a voting system used for single-winner
elections, in which voters rank candidates in an order of preference. If no candidate is the first preference of a majority of voters, the candidate with the fewest number of first preference rankings is eliminated and that candidate's ballots are redistributed at full value to the remaining candidates according to the next ranking on each ballot. This process is repeated until one candidate obtains a majority of votes among candidates not eliminated. The term "instant runoff" is used because the method is said to simulate a series of runoff elections tallied in rounds, as in an exhaustive ballot election.
The other unique feature of RCV is that it combines the primary and general election into one. As such, there are often multiple candidates from multiple parties on the ballot all at once. The idea was debated and then recommended to the Pierce County Board of Elections and ultimately put on the ballot for initiative in November of 2006. One of the hallmarks of RCV is that it gives minority parties a better chance of showing in elections. Here's why. Let's look at the Presidential elections as an example. A lot in 2000, and also in 2004, many Democrats complained that voting for Ralph Nader was self defeating because it took votes away from the Democratic candidate. Democrats believed that the overwhelming number of Nader voters would have voted for the Democrat. Since Nader had no chance to win, all a vote did for him was take a vote away from whoever was the Democratic candidate. In RCV, such a situation would happen. In the infamous 2000 Florida vote, no one got more than 50%. Had RCV been around, all the Nader voters would have eventually gone to Gore as the lesser candidates gave away their votes to the second choice, as the rules state. As such, if the Democrats are right, Al Gore would have won in 2000 if RCV was being implemented.
In 2006, RCV was supported by a loose coalition of third parties and independent voters. Meanwhile, much of the Democratic and Republican establishment opposed the initiative. Pierce County is a great springboard for an idea like RCV. That's because Pierce is a swing district with plenty of independents. The vote in November passed RCV by a margin of 53-47.
So, the County began to prepare for its first RCV election to be scheduled in November of 2008. Then, in the winter of 2007, the County Council weighed in. The Council is the County's legislative body. Just as the Board of Elections has the right to add an initiative to the ballot so to does the County Council. The Council approved a measure that would put an initiative on the November 2007 ballot to delay the implementation of RCV until November of 2010. Coincidentally, OR NOT, 4 of the 7 Council members were going to be on the November 2008 ballot.
So, once again, the two sides faced off again. This time the voters appeared to annoyed by having the same issue on the ballot. This time, by a vote of about two to one the voters rejected postponing RCV in November of 2008.
The November of 2008 election went off reasonably well. Six of the seven county wide offices had higher voter turn out than in 2004. All candidates were included in all debates for every office. It was common to have three and four candidates get at least ten percent of the vote. It was not without problems. Counting the ballots took longer than with normal ballotting. It was also more expensive, however most of that expensive involved implementing a new computer software system to count RCV ballots. Most importantly, the dynamics of campaigning changed. A politician on the ballot that year summed it up perfectly when they said.
In a four way race, it's hard to figure out who to attack
Ironically enough, the third party candidates were underrepresented in 2008. As Mr. Haughton explained, most of the potential candidates had been worn out campaigning for implementation of RCV in both 2006 and 2007. So, the hope from supporters is that third parties will make a bigger showing come November of 2010. Of course, things may not get that far.
Once again, The Pierce County Council has passed a measure to put on the ballot an initiative to remove RCV as the voting mechanism from the County Charter. After two bites at the apple, so to speak, the forces against RCV are hoping that third time's the charm. All around Pierce County, local elections will be held in November of 2009. On those ballots will be three amendments, and amendment number three will repeal RCV voting.
Once again, it appears that RCV has united Democrats and Republicans as the Council has again put this to a vote. One of the proponents of amendment 3 is Council member Shawn Bunney. Mr. Bunney didn't return a phone call and email. Propenents cite costs and complexity but it's important to note that the arguments haven't really changed since this was first put to the vote nearly three years ago.
Furthermore, there may be some cynical politcking involved as well. One of the groups that will help promote amendment three (along with the other two) is the Pierce County Better Government League. A major advocate of the Pierce County Better Government League is Mark Lindquist. Lindquist is currently the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney of Pierce County. His current boss, Gerry Horne, is rumored to be about to announce his retirement. Horne has stated this about Lindquist.
Mark Lindquist has distinguished himself as a strong leader in the prosecutor’s office
It is widely believed that Horne would like Lindquist to succeed him. Yet, the choice would be of the Pierce County Council. Lindquist is a Democrat and the Council is 5-2 Republican. So, it's entirely possible that Lindquist is on board to curry favor with the Republican Council. Lindquist hasn't yet responded to an email either.
Ultimately, the motivations are really beside the point. The voters have spoken TWICE, and the voters of Pierce County have voted overwhelmingly for RCV. Now, the establishment, which fears that this weakens their advantage, is attempting a war of attrition. The establishment has the money and the organization. More than that, if the independents and third party supporters spend all their time defending RCV, they will have little left for the actual elections. That's what happened in 2008, and another bruising fight in 2009 will likely mean third party candidates will have little energy left to run in 2010. Whatever you think of RCV, the voters have decided more than once that in Pierce County they want it. At this point, the establishment is cynically trying to wear down forces less powerful, less organized, and less financed than them in an attempt to finally get the vote they want. RCV passed in 2006. It was affirmed in 2007, and that still isn't enough. Now, members of the council, facing a tough re election, are using their powers to create a frivilous ballot initiative that has already been viewed by the voters twice in the last three years. Whatever you think of the policy, this is exactly the sort of politics that turns voters off.