A welcome experiment with runoff votes

By Editor
Published November 24th 2006 in Seattle Times

Pierce County voters will get a small taste of life without the pick-a-party primary in 2008. That is when the county will switch to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which eliminates the primary and the need to pick anything — except candidates.

The charter amendment, passed by voters Nov. 7, allows for IRV only in county races, except for judges and the prosecutor. That might be just enough to demonstrate that there is another way to run elections — a way that would eliminate costly primaries, change the dynamics of campaigning and give voters more choice. The Pierce County experiment will also give voters hope that IRV could spread across the state. It would be reasonable to believe that if IRV works, other counties will adopt it because of displeasure with the unloved pick-a-party system, which replaced the much-loved blanket primary.

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy has said in news reports she opposed IRV, but that she would implement it if passed. Her claim that the county would pay $2 million for voter education is overkill.

IRV is simple and intuitive. On the ballot, voters rank candidates in order of preference. A winner is declared if he or she receives a majority of the first-choice votes. If there is no majority winner, the election kicks into a runoff, eliminating the last-place candidate. The second-place votes of the eliminated candidate are then transferred to the other candidates until one gets the majority.

Nothing too difficult there. From yea to nay. Richard Anderson-Connolly, who led the charge to get IRV on the ballot as a charter amendment, is not waiting for 2008.

"King County is now the focus in the state for the IRV battle," said the University of Puget Sound professor. Anderson-Connolly theorizes that if Pierce and King counties go to IRV, so will the state.

He is probably right. Thank goodness. Washingtonians have chafed under the pick-a-party primary. With IRV, there is hope for a more open and representative voting system that works well with Washington's populist tendencies.