Keep RCV election on schedule for 2008
Published October 26th 2007 in The News Tribune
Editor’s note: Eight proposed Pierce County charter amendments appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Because of the number of propositions and the potential for confusion over the four relating to ranked-choice voting (also known as instant-runoff voting), we are reprinting our Oct. 11 editorial recommendations on these measures.

Pierce County voters made it abundantly clear last fall that they want to use a ranked-choice voting method to elect most county officeholders.

For some reason, however, County Council members seem to want to go back to voters and say, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

Four of the eight proposed charter amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot concern ranked-choice voting. Two of the amendments appear to be necessary. The other two are not; they only create confusion.

Three other amendments would make some county elected positions nonpartisan and extend term limits. The final amendment leads to an odd little story about a serial referendum filer. Let’s take the charter amendments in order, with our recommendations:

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1:

This makes the sheriff a nonpartisan job and establishes a three-term limit. Voters decided last year to switch from an appointed sheriff to an elected one, starting in 2008.

An appointed sheriff serving at the pleasure of the county executive would be better. But there is no reason at all the position should be subject to party politics. Experience is important in this job. If voters like the job the sheriff is doing, he or she should stay on as long as possible. Recommendation: YES.

Proposed Charter Amendments No. 2 and No. 3:

These would make the auditor and assessor-treasurer nonpartisan positions and allow three terms of service. Political calculations related to the 2008 county elections may have prompted the two proposals, but experience is useful in these jobs, too.

Council members would remain limited to two terms. So the changes might stem the ritual movement of term-limited council members to other elected county positions, and vice versa. Recommendation: YES.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 4:

This one is just a stall. It would delay RCV voting until 2010, supposedly to work out the bugs. Voters said they want RCV next year. They should get it. Recommendation: NO.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 5:

This would allow voters to rank only their top three choices in 2008 and all future RCV elections. Again, this is not what the voters said last fall. Recommendation: NO.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 6:

Voting equipment that would allow voters to rank all candidates in each race (for all county offices except prosecutor and judges) may not be available by 2008. As a precautionary legal step, this amendment would allow voters to rank their top three choices in 2008. When the proper voting equipment is available, presumably by 2010, voters will be allowed to rank all the candidates in each race. Recommendation: YES.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 7:

This would change the filing requirements for independent and minor-party candidates in RCV elections. It’s necessary to assure these candidates equal access to the ballot with major-party candidates. Recommendation: YES.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 8:

The charter currently requires no fee for filing a referendum against a county ordinance. This proposal would set a $5 fee.

The story: Over a six-week period earlier this year, a citizen – who shall go nameless here – alarmed county officials by filing for a referendum on 14 ordinances the council passed.

Each filing requires the auditor to process the paperwork and prepare an official ballot title to be used for the signature-gathering process. This is a waste of time and money if the filer has no intention of following through with a signature campaign.

The $5 fee, council members hope, would deter serial frivolous filings while posing no burden to citizens filing serious referendum challenges. We kid you not. Recommendation: YES.