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The Oregonian

House gives approval to instant runoff measure
By Jonathan Charnitski
March 14, 2003 
OLYMPIA -- A bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, that
would provide a different way to elect officials was approved by the
House on Thursday.

Substitute House Bill 1390 would create a five-year pilot program
that would select a city to test instant runoff voting for local
nonpartisan offices.

The new system effectively would eliminate primaries and require
that the winner of the election garner a majority of the votes
rather than simply more than other candidates.

Voters would rank their choices, and if no candidate received more
than 50 percent of the vote, the person in last place would be
eliminated. All votes for the eliminated candidate would
automatically count toward the next-choice candidates selected by
those voters.

The process would be repeated until one candidate received more than
half the votes.

"Essentially, what (instant runoff voting) does is, it eliminates
the primary," Moeller said during the House floor debate. "All
candidates would run up to the end."

While no one during Thursday's debate could guarantee that runoff
voting would work more effectively than the system it would replace,
several lawmakers expressed support for the bill if only to provide
adequate information for continued discussion.

"People are afraid of what they don't know," said Rep. Jeff Morris,
D-Anacortes. "This toe in the water will give us real facts to

"It gives us an opportunity to test it and see how it works," said
Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver.

Other legislators saw no need to tinker with voting methods.

"We have a system in this state that is working fairly well, as
evidenced by all of us sitting in this room," said Rep. Mike
Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, eliciting a chuckle. "The system is not
broke; we shouldn't be trying to fix it."

Nevertheless, the measure cleared the House 64-30.

"Woo-hoo!" Moeller said afterward. "I'm very excited about this;
it's never gotten this far before."

However, Moeller said, he also realizes that his bill could have a
tough road in the Senate, where a companion measure died without
receiving a hearing.

Even if the Senate were to approve Moeller's bill and the governor
signed it, Vancouver would not necessarily want to involve itself in
the program, said Mark Brown, the city's lobbyist.

"Vancouver may not pursue instant runoff voting as a method of
electing officials," he said, "but we want to have that option."

The issue was presented to Vancouver voters in November 1999 in a
measure that asked the City Council to examine runoff voting as an
option. The measure received 53 percent of the vote.

"We kind of had the carpet pulled out at that point," Brown
said. "The secretary of state said there wasn't the statutory

Bills to provide that authority were introduced by Rep. Bill
Fromhold, D-Vancouver, in 2001 and 2002, but they did not reach the
floor for a vote.

If Moeller's bill becomes law, Brown said, "Runoff voting proponents
would come back and say, 'Now you have the authority to do it if you
want, so re-engage the discussion.' " 

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