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Ranked choice and political shenanigans

Ryan Blethen // Published February 12, 2009 in The Seattle Times

Seattle Times writer Ryan Blethen disagrees with the Pierce County Council's decision to send an IRV repeal charter amendment to the voters.

The Pierce County Council's charter amendment to repeal ranked choice voting is an insult to the voters who chose the system in 2006. According to the Tacoma News Tribune the council voted 6-1 to abolish ranked choice voting. The council's action sends ranked choice voting back to the voters in November.

The system was implemented this past year and seemed to work. The council should give the system at least a couple voting cycles. If ranked choice is not working in a few years then send it back to the voters.

What is ranked choice voting? The system, also called instant runoff voting or IRV, allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference. Candidates only win when they get a majority of first-choice votes. A run-off is triggered when nobody achieves a majority. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the voters second and third place votes are tabulated. This continues until somebody gets a majority.

It sounds confusing but is rather simple. Check out this animated demonstration at FairVote. (Note the pictures of David Hasselhoff and Condoleezza Rice in the background. Funny).

The system has the added bonus of eliminating the primary. A good thing for cash-strapped counties. That should be incentive for the council to keep ranked choice. Problem is that politicians tend to not like the system because it takes some control away from the parties, which I wrote about during the campaign for ranked choice.

In an e-mail Richard Anderson-Connolly, a University of Puget Sound professor who lead the ranked choice campaign, said the Republican and Democratic parties are trying to ditch the system:

This is the predictable backlash of the two parties when faced with the prospect of voters having more choice. Of course this is not what they will say in public, at least not many of them.


Anderson-Connolly said that proponents will run a "vigorous" no campaign. Good. The voters should rebuke the council and give ranked choice a chance.