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Vancouver Columbian

In Our View: A Better Ballot?
March 22, 2003

Let's give instant runoff voting a try.

Let's hope the state Senate follows the House's lead and gives Vancouver and other cities the opportunity to try instant runoff voting. Vancouver residents want the chance; a city charter amendment allowing the alternative voting method passed with 53 percent support in 1999. But that amendment ran into a brick wall called state law, which allows only traditional, winner-take-all balloting.

It's that system's deficiencies that instant runoff voting is designed to address. With Senate passage of House Bill 1390, our state would be one step closer to learning whether the alternate method really does result in fairer, less expensive elections.

Instant runoff voting sounds complex, but in practice it's relatively straightforward. Instead of a primary election to winnow the field for a particular office, the general election ballot lists all comers three candidates or 10 or whatever. Rather than choosing just one favorite, voters mark their first, second and third choices in each race.

If no candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, the last-place finisher is eliminated and those ballots are retallied with their respective second choices. The process continues until somebody wins.In effect, instant runoff voting combines the primary and general elections by asking voters to list their preferences on one ballot, rather than forcing them to go to the polls a second time. That's a potential dollar savings in the long run, although Clark County elections officials have warned of start-up costs ranging from $30,000 to $50,000.

Proponents also say instant runoff voting better reflects the will of the electorate by increasing the chances that a winning candidate will be at least acceptable to most voters. State Rep. Jim Moeller, a Vancouver Democrat and sponsor of HB 1390, also hopes the method will make campaigns more civil. "You don't want to sling mud and call people names if you have a chance of being the second choice," Moeller told The Columbian's Don Jenkins last week.

The system is already used in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia; San Francisco voters will use instant runoff voting to choose their mayor, district attorney and sheriff this November. Moeller's bill would allow the state's 10 largest charter cities to give instant runoff voting a try, but would not obligate them to do so.

The only way to find out whether instant runoff voting will live up to its billing is to give it a try. And the only way to do that is with Senate
approval and a signature from Gov. Gary Locke.

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