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Monday, September 7, 2009

An Update on Rank Choice Voting in Wa.

About a month ago, I did a story about a voting battle being played out in Pierce County in Washington state. Back in 2006, Pierce County put on its ballot an initiative to change its voting system to ranked choice voting.

RCV) is the American English term for a voting system used for single-winnerelections, 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.[1]

The initiative passed by 53-47%. Then, the county council attempted in 2007 to postpone it unti after the 2008 elections. That failed by a 2-1 margin. Now, the forces of the status quo are once again trying to eliminate ranked choice voting. On the ballot this November, the county council, the county's legislative body, has once again engineered a referendum on Rank Choice Voting. It's the third of three referendum that will be on the ballot. I've confirmed that one individual that is leading the charge to reverse Rank Choice Voting. He's the recently appointed Prosecuting Attorney for the County Mark Lindquist. His old boss, Gerry Horne, resigned only recently. By law, the county council would appoint a successor. Lindquist,who until now was the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, had already started campaigning to be the Prosecuting Attorney and so this would be perfect. Lindquist, a Democrat, was recently approved by every single member of the county council even though 5 are Republicans. Now, he's favoring the same ballot initiative that the council is pushing itself.

Well, now somethings have come to light that make the story. First, the county council is blocking efforts to change the language for first referendum. Currently, here is the first referendum.

The Pierce County Council passed Ordinance No. 2008-113 proposing to amend the Pierce County Charter. If approved, Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1 would (a) move the election of Councilmembers and the Executive to odd-numbered years by 2015; and (b) increase term limits for Councilmembers and the Executive from two consecutive four-year terms to three consecutive four-year terms, consistent with term limits in effect for Auditor, Assessor-Treasurer and Sheriff; all as set forth in Ordinance No. 2008-113.

The objectionable language comes at the end, "consistent with the term limits in effect for Auditor Assessor..." This initiative would loosen the term limits to three from two. The reason that there is objection is because there is a subtle bias in that statement. It's totally irrelevent what the term limits are for the Auditor, yet, the referendum is implying that it's fine because of this. Then, here's the second referendum.

The Pierce County Council passed Ordinance No. 2008-113 proposing to amend the Pierce County Charter. If approved, Proposed Charter Amendment No. 2 would move the election of Auditor, Assessor-Treasurer and Sheriff to odd-numbered years by 2015; all as set forth in Ordinance No. 2008-113.

Now, there's language in the first referendum about moving some elections from even to odd years. In this one, they want to move a bunch more from odd to even years. Doesn't it seem as though you'd have to vote for both or neither? I've confirmed that 4 of the 7 council members would be term limited out November 2010.

Finally, there's the salt in the wound. On the ballot, the voter will vote affirmative or negative for the initiative. It's usually the standard yes/no. They obviously didn't tell the folks that are opposing this initiative. I spoke with Kelly Haughton, who leads the movement to keep RCV in Pierce County, and he told me that his supporters had already made hundreds of sign that say Vote NO on 3. With the change in language, it's unclear what they'll do with the signs. Here's how Haughton describes how the process is supposed to go.

The state process for ballot measures is for the Attorney General's office to consult with the pro and con committees BEFORE writing the ballot title.

Here's how Haughton says his side was treated.

Not only did the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's office write the ballot
titles without consulting the committees, the Auditor and the Prosecuting Attorney's office refused to discuss the ballot titles with the committees outside of court. They informed us that the only way they would discuss the issue was if we sued them

It should be noted again that the new Prosecuting Attorney is the afforementioned Mark Lindquist. He's conveniently in place to make sure that these initiatives are given as much help as possible. As such, Haughton and his supporters are saying no to all three initiatives and frankly I smell a rat. Both Lindquist and the County Council, lead by Shawn Bunney, returned emails yet.

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