Pierce voters nix ‘ranked-choice voting’
It was widely advertised as the latest cool thing in voting – “ranked-choice voting” or “instant-runoff voting.”
Just three years ago, Pierce County voters, responding to a proposal from the charter review commission, approved this new system for all county elected officials except judges and prosecutors. This system, used rather than the Top 2 Primary, essentially combines the primary and general. Voters pick their favorites for each office, ranking their choices 1-2-3. Candidates who win strictly on first-place ballots are declared elected. If no one does, then second and third choices are apportioned out. The factoring is done by a computerized algorithm.
It has always been kinda confusing to explain, but advocates believed it would be extremely popular and then possibly catch on elsewhere. Its biggest usage was last year when a new County Executive and other offices were filled this way, running in tandem with the regular state primary and general elections.
It went downhill from there. Voters participating in an auditor’s survey said by a 2-to-1 margin that they didn’t like the system. And this year, it was back on the ballot –and voters have thrown it out by a 71-29 margin.
Proponents say that in retrospect, voters were probably confused by having two separate ballots and because they needed more information on how the system worked. If it catches on elsewhere in the country, as they expect, voters here may be more receptive, they say. Elections activist Krist Novoselic, who backs RCV, said “In retrospect, the (repeal) amendment was inevitable once the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 restored Washington’s Top 2 system for our state and federal races. From that moment, Pierce County voters were paying extra for two different partisan systmes designed to uphold the same goals of majority rule and voter choice. Something had to give.”
Elections Director Nick Handy, no fan, said it was probably the death knell for the change:
“Just three years ago, Pierce County voters enthusiastically embraced this new idea as a replacement for the then highly unpopular Pick-a-Party primary.” Pierce County did a terrific job implementing ranked choice voting, but voters flat out did not like it.
The rapid rejection of this election model that has been popular in San Francisco, but few other places, was expected, but no one really anticipated how fast the cradle to grave cycle would run. The voters wanted it. The voters got and tried it. The voters did not like it. And the voters emphatically rejected it. All in a very quick three years.”
6 thoughts on “Pierce voters nix ‘ranked-choice voting’”
Really like the blog, which I just discovered, but you write “algorithem” for “algorithm,” “elsewehere” for “elsewhere,” and “It has always been kinda confused to explain.”
I know everyone’s understaffed, under-resourced and overworked these days, but this is the public face — one of them, anyway — of the Office of the Secretary of State.
I’m not sure how Nick Handy can say Pierce County did a “terrific job” implementing IRV. Voters liked it until it was implemented. Pierce County payed way too much for it, then somehow found a way to make half as many elections cost more money by not combining IRV and non-IRV races onto a single ballot card. The voter education left much to be desired as well. Voters knew how to rank candidates, but did not know how the votes were counted or why they were voting this way.
Both auditors to implement IRV, Pat McCarthy and Jan Shabro, were opposed to the system. They did not make an honest effort to make IRV work. Voters did not like the way they implemented it, and now it is gone.
Ben, we appreciate you taking time to point out the typos, which we’ve fixed!
Pierce County’s election administrators did not like RCV. They did it absolutely no favors – and made it the scapegoat for anything that went wrong or many costs that were not connected to RCV.
I must be fair though. RCV advocates were opportunistic by promoting it in a way that capitalized on voters frustration with Pick-A-Party. But that opportunity vanished in March of ’08 with the High Court’s ruling. RCV’s other merits were more like footnotes, so when I-872 was implemented, RCV was left standing without any broad-based support.
Pierce Administrators did a good job in telling people HOW to rank candidates but there was no WHY – whatsoever. Besides misconceptions, people were dissatisfied regarding administrative costs, ballot design, and perhaps above all, the election of the assessor-treasurer.
The Washington Poll study offers a good perspective of partisan labels on the RCV ballot. It showed how they help voters choose, and with more choices on a ranked ballot, that cue is important. The study found “the logical transfer of votes between candidates from the same party mirroring election dynamics seen in traditional primary then general elections”. In other words; if there were two candidates from the same party in a race, voters would rank the major-party candidate then give their second preference to another of the same party, and, RCV isn’t that much different from a two round runoff.
Dale Washam was the leader in first choices and ahead of each of his competitors when compared to them one-on-one. On his own in a traditional second look / round runoff, he may have lost when paired against the second-place finisher, a Republican county commissioner. But if the RCV race were partisan, more voters would have ranked Democrats or Republicans ahead of him, as neither of those parties would have nominated him. Let’s not forget that a nomination is also a vetting process, if not the determinative one under RCV.
RCV didn’t have I-872’s associational problems. Regardless, it suffered from voters’ negative perception of the major parties. This view of the parties is for good reason. Democrat’s recently passed nominating rules that only reinforce the widespread suspicion of bossism among party rank-and-file. RCV was a lifeline to free association but the two major parties refused it – and led the charge against RCV.
Voters have a love / hate relationship with the major parties – they think they hate the parties, but their labels matter to many. As you know, last spring I ran a Grange party protest candidacy. I never even mentioned RCV because I had enough work explaining the basic idea of free association to people. Just because many hate the Democratic and Republican parties doesn’t mean they don’t like the principle political association. I found people who were charmed, intrigued and sometimes enthusiastic about a Grange party. I had to burst their bubble and tell them WHY I was pulling such a stunt. Good thing I dropped out – that’s a lot of talking on a per-individual basis.
Grange Party was an attempt to bring attention to a resolution passed by the Grays River Grange. It proposed a settlement to the lawsuit that’s simple; have a Top-Two election but leave the party names to the private groups. I proposed the Grange save time and money with the settlement. The pledge “pick the person and not the party “ would still be honored.
Last summer, Grangers at convention thought the lawsuit was a done deal. The chair of the committee concerning the resolution spoke on the floor telling delegates the legal issues were over – “except for the ponies and balloons for the victory party”. The resolution went down in flames.
The State and Grange had filed a motion to dismiss the case. However, not long after the convention, Judge Coughenour didn’t dismiss. His ruling instead spoke precisely to the Grays River resolution – he kept the top-two runoff and acknowledged potential problems regarding associational rights by wanting to examine them as applied.
The result of the trial next October is a real wild card. This affair has dragged on for so long and I’ve heard the grumbling for non-partisan ballots. And that goes to show that partisan labels must mean something, if not, why all of the fuss in court?
RCV and other election reforms have to speak to a need if they’re going to catch on. FairVote is moving forward with our various national efforts. We’re going to work with the village of Port Chester NY and the United States Justice Department on implementation of Cumulative Voting to give voters more power to elect candidates of choice.
Very interesting post, Krist.
The demise of RCV was not because voter didn’t know how the votes would be counted of why they were voting this way, but rather they became educated on the pitfalls of RCV.
When Instant Runoff Voting was adopted here, there was no formal opposition, it sounded like a great idea and we were told it would solve so many problems. Like many late night TV products, it came with many testimonials, cities like San Francisco, Burlington and a D list celebrity way outside his original arena. It was as if Billy Mays came in personally to close this sale. We bought it, liked it, all shiny and new. Now that the “ShamWow Salemen” are gone, and we actually tried the product, we found, embarrassingly, it did not live up to the many, many claims.
Spin it anyway you want. It was the stupidest purchase we made. The people have spoken. Give it a rest. Our electorate have wised up, and returned the product. Shipping not included.
Comments are closed.