Quit mucking around with RCV voting
Published July 27th 2007 in The News Tribune
The Pierce County Council should stop looking for ways to muck around with the instant runoff voting system county voters approved last fall.

The voters made it clear – not by any squeaker of a margin, either – that they want to elect most county officials by ranking their choices in one election in November.

It’s called ranked choice voting or instant runoff voting; the terms are interchangeable. We’ll use RCV because county Auditor Pat McCarthy thinks it’s more descriptive of the process.

The council, incredibly, could decide Tuesday to ask voters to “tweak” the first RCV vote with as many four proposed charter amendments on this November’s ballot.

If any amendments are needed at all, just one will do.

The reason there’s even any talk of an amendment is that the auditor is worried that the only software available for tabulating RCV ballots in 2008 allows voters to rank just their top three choices. Last year’s charter amendment could be interpreted to mean voters wanted to rank all the candidates in each race.

To avoid any potential legal challenge, she asked for an amendment that would clearly specify that RCV in Pierce County means ranking the top three choices. She’d like to keep it that way in the future, too.

But the better alternative – and the only remotely justifiable one – is Councilman Tim Farrell’s proposed amendment. His would authorize top-three ranking in 2008 and thereafter require allowing voters to rank all candidates in each race – provided suitable software is available.

That’s it. That’s all the council needs to do to move ahead and honor the wishes of the voters.

McCarthy would prefer to stick with top-three ranking permanently because it’s simpler, and she wouldn’t have to buy any additional software after 2008. But the voters didn’t vote last year for an amendment that said “only your top three choices, folks.”

Councilman Dick Muri proposes delaying RCV voting until 2010, which would primarily spare all of the 2008 candidates for county executive, county council, assessor and sheriff from facing the unknowns of an RCV election.

Three council members are declared candidates for executive; auditor McCarthy is likely to declare after November’s elections. Only the politicians stand to gain from this proposal.

The worst of all is County Executive John Ladenburg’s proposed amendment, which would simply repeal RCV and restore primary voting for the applicable county races. Ladenburg complains about the expense of converting to RCV and even argues, weakly, that top-three ranking in 2008 would not legally be instant runoff voting.

The unspoken motivation for repeal is to ensure that the two major parties retain control of the primary nominating process. That is precisely what voters voted against last November.

On Tuesday, the council should do only one thing: Put Farrell’s proposed amendment on the ballot. Respect the voters.