Instant runoff bill gets panel hearing

By Katie Ward
Published January 27th 2004
A bill designed to give third-party voters a chance for their votes to count was considered by the House Local Government Committee on Monday.

The bill, if passed, will establish a pilot program for instant runoff voting in Vancouver nonpartisan elections. If the pilot goes well, the method could be adopted by the state as a whole.

The instant runoff voting method works by allowing voters to rank candidates in preferential order instead of voting for just one. If no candidate has a majority during the first tally, voters' second choice votes are factored in. That process is repeated until one candidate has support from a majority of the voters.

Those who testified in support of the bill Monday said it eliminates the "spoiler" effect, in which smaller party candidates split the vote for major parties.

"I like democracy," said Brent White, a Green Party activist and chairman for the Coalition for Instant Runoff Voting, who testified in support of House Bill 2669. "In order for elections to be more meaningful, we need more choices."

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who sponsored the bill, said it allows candidates who may not have an identified base or name familiarity to run in a general election.

Vancouver voters adopted instant runoff voting as a charter amendment in 1999, but it was not implemented because officials had doubts about whether state law allowed elections to be held without primaries, Moeller said.

With this bill, Vancouver could try it for five years.

"It may expand to other cities," Moeller said.

The bill, which the committee will vote on in the next few days, is a narrower draft of a bill from last session, which died in the Senate.

"It's as narrow as it can get," Moeller said. "I don't know what else I can do to make it less threatening."

This year, he has the support of Secretary of State Sam Reed, who has not taken a formal position in the past.