County officials should be up to IRV challenge

By Editor
Published November 15th 2006 in Tacoma News Tribune

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy was given two mandates when voters handed her a second term on Nov. 7.

The first is to continue running the auditor�s effectively and efficiently � a task that includes managing the county�s elections system.

The fact that McCarthy cruised to re-election with 63 percent of the vote can be taken as a referendum on her first-term performance.

The second mandate is to implement instant runoff voting for 11 county elected offices in time for the the 2008 election cycle. The voters decided that when they also approved Pierce County Charter Amendment 3 with a 53 percent �yes� vote � not a landslide, but clear-cut approval nonetheless.

So it is time for McCarthy to carry out the pledge she made about IRV prior to the election. Although she made it clear she didn�t favor the change, she told the Charter Review Commission earlier this year that if Amendment 3 passed, �We will do it, and we�ll do it to the best of our ability.�

There�s no reason to doubt that McCarthy won�t carry out that promise. And there�s no reason to believe that McCarthy isn�t capable enough to implement IRV at a cost much lower than the $2 million to $3 million estimates bandied about before the election.

The biggest cost of the switch will be mounting a voter education campaign, much like the one the auditor�s office conducted to introduce the �pick a party� primary to county voters.

Dave MacDonald, the official who oversees elections for Alameda County, Calif., is preparing to conduct the first IRV elections next fall for the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. Alameda County uses optical scanner machines provided by Sequoia Voting Systems, the same company that makes Pierce County�s voting machines.

MacDonald says his county has a $350,000 contract with Sequoia to have IRV tabulation software ready for next year�s election cycle. He expects the voter education campaign there will be modeled on the one used when San Francisco implemented IRV, at a cost of approximately $1 million for about 421,000 registered voters.

Pierce County has about 374,000 registered voters. Amendment 3 proponents claim the county should be able to do the necessary voter education for around $200,000. That estimate may well be too low. But McCarthy�s early estimate of $2 million in implementation costs, which includes printing extra ballots and acquiring tabulation software, is just as likely to be high.

It�s understandable that McCarthy would not be keen on complicating an election system that has been running well. But now that the voters have spoken, we won�t be surprised if McCarthy does the job professionally and economically.