Opinion - In Our View: 1, 2, 3 Voting
State should pass instant-runoff bill, allowing preference voting in local races
Published February 14th 2004 in Vancouver Columbian

Ever dream of voting for your first, second and third favorite candidates on the ballot, rather than limiting your preferences to just one?

You may get to in local, nonpartisan races before the end of the decade.

Lawmakers, thanks to state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, have a chance to approve a piece of legislation that could bring long-term savings to Vancouver, as well as more efficient, less divisive elections.

Instant-runoff voting, a method of voting that a majority of 1999 Vancouver voters said they would like to try, has never been used in a Washington city or county because state law prefers the traditional winner-takes-all method. Politicians should remove that hurdle with Moeller's House Bill 2669. The bill directs the secretary of state to conduct a pilot project in a willing, eligible city by 2007. Vancouver would likely be that city, given its prior yearning for instant-runoff voting.

Voters would rank candidates

Here's how instant-runoff voting works:

In a local, nonpartisan race (which so many city and county offices are), voters would rank candidates as their first, second, third (and so on) choices, rather than casting a single vote for a top favorite.

The point is to allow qualified candidates to rise to the top while weeding the weaker ones out, and thereby assuring that more people are comfortable with the end result.

If a candidate gets the majority of votes under this system, he or she would be the clear winner. But if no one candidate received a majority of votes, the last place candidate would be eliminated. Then, the people who gave their first-place ranking to that eliminated candidate would have their second-place ranking counted instead. A winner is eventually determined by eliminating candidates with weak support and transferring second- or third-tier votes to stronger candidates.

The beauty of this system is that it would eliminate primaries in local, nonpartisan races. And eliminating primaries, leaves communities with only a general election to finance. While the start-up costs for such a system in Vancouver are estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, a long-term savings would result.

Proponents of preference voting also say that more people end up satisfied with the final election result, as each person's vote isn't an all-or-nothing prospect. Only time would tell if this would be the case here, but we ought to give it a try.

HB 2669 was passed by the House Thursday. Now it goes to the Senate. There is a fiscal impact of the bill to the state of $36,000. The money is needed to conduct the pilot project and create a follow-up report about its success or failure. In tight economies, senators should rightly be concerned about this extra cost. But Moeller's bill allocates the expenditure for the 2007-2009 general fund budget, which allows the state to plan ahead.

Visit www.fairvote.org/irv/ whatis2.htm for more information on instant-runoff voting.