Yes On Three

Instant runoff not voting fix-all, but it's no joke

Published: October 17th, 2006 in The News Tribune (Tacoma, wA)

I have learned two things about the people promoting instant runoff voting in Pierce County.

They really, really believe in the concept. And they don't have much of a sense of humor about it.

After poking fun at the complexity of the system and the sometimes-inflated claims of IRV acolytes, I received several responses that hinted at hurt feelings and disbelief.

Like this: "Just what, besides either ignorance or a misguided attempt at humor (could you call it that?), could have led you to write such an inane article on such an important concept as Instant Run-Off Voting?, which along with true campaign reform is the only, ONLY, hope we have of ever restoring fairness to and more participation in our elections." The messages reminded me to take Pierce County Charter Review Commissioner Kelly Haughton up on his offer to talk about IRV, no joking allowed. Haughton has been a supporter of IRV for years and pushed for proposed Amendment 3, which will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Supporters hope approval of the amendment would demonstrate to other local governments and eventually the state that IRV works better than traditional partisan primaries and general elections.

Haughton admits that some of the materials produced by the Yes-on-3 folks could be more specific. For example, when they say it will replace the pick-a-party primary, that is true only for Pierce County elections. Unless the Legislature adopts IRV or some other alternative, voters will still have to pick a party in congressional and state offices.

But Haughton said IRV supporters have to start somewhere, and the recent county charter review process gave them an opening.

"We think we have an opportunity for the voters to say they want to try this," he said.

The concept is getting some attention, mostly in political circles. The Republicans and Democrats hate it, even if their reasoning carries its own share of hyperbole. Political junkies enjoy playing war games, replacing current primary systems with IRV and seeing who wins, even if it is hard to gauge who benefits from IRV.

Most likely, most races still will be won by major-party candidates. It is also most likely that redistricting will be a bigger factor in a County Council race than either the candidates themselves or the type of election we run.

Still, Haughton said he thinks voters are looking for alternatives after the state's long-used blanket primary was tossed out by the federal courts. Voters, he said, miss the blanket primary under which they could vote for candidates of either party.

What is IRV? Rather than have a primary to nominate candidates and a general election to decide between finalists, the county would have one election only, in November.

All candidates who collect 25 signatures would be on one ballot (although the parties could decide who could run as a party member). Voters could pick one regardless of party. They also would have the option of giving another candidate their second preference and a third candidate their third preference.

If one candidate gets a majority, he or she wins. If not, the candidate with the lowest total is knocked out and we look at the second choice of that candidate's supporters. If there is still no majority winner, then the next-lowest candidate is gone and the process is repeated until there is a winner.

"You have to have three or more candidates to make it interesting," Haughton said. It would all be done by computer and could be concluded "instantly" get it?

The way it might change campaigns, however, is that candidates would have to appeal to supporters but wouldn't want to alienate those of other candidates. They might need them if second choices are counted.

Is it a miracle cure for what ails the political system? Maybe not. But the parties have not made any case that it is worse than the horrible system they and their lawyers have given us.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657











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