The fate of IRV (Instant Run-Off-Voting) in Pierce County seems already in doubt, as both Democrats and Republicans express frustration with how their supporters participated in the new system’s first electoral trial. Approved by the voters in 2006, IRV was a bi-product of electoral reformers who wanted to minimize the “spoiler effect” posed by third parties candidates while simultaneously allowing residents to “vote with their heart.” To date, Pierce County remains the only county in Washington to practice IRV, which is why it only applies to county-government seats. (To see how IRV works: click here.)
I should state now, before proceeding further, that I voted against IRV in 2006 both as a citizen and as a delegate to the Democratic County Convention. My reason for doing so was simple: while I liked the idea of giving greater ear to progressive candidates, I knew that the strength of the religious Right was such that only they could truly benefit from a system such as this. My fears have since been confirmed by the election of Dale Washam to County Treasurer.
That being said, I cannot deny that IRV is a more democratic system than what most voters have elsewhere. Blaming said system is a poor argument for politicians who failed to receive enough votes to carry them into office. I contend that no matter who won this election, somebody would have been upset with the results and looked for a scapegoat in the new IRV system.
In a farewell address to his supporters, defeated Democratic contender for Pierce County Executive – Calvin Goings’ – urged fellow Democrats to “do some real soul searching on how we run and win in a Ranked Choice Voting environment. Clearly the Republicans have already thought this through.” Mr. Goings assault on IRV was so thorough it reminded me of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech: “I am deeply concerned that in a Democratic year of change it appears that because of Ranked Choice Voting, Pierce County will be a red mark on a blue state.” Obviously the fact that the Pierce County GOP not only gained seats in IRV races but also in the now seemingly uncontroversial top-two primary contests doesn’t seem to phase Mr. Goings. If IRV is to blame, then how do we explain: Randi Becker, Bruce Dammeier, Mike Carrell? Plus, Tim Eyman’s near token win with I-985?
On the other side of the coin is Joyce McDonald, who despite winning her county council race and effectively filling Goings seat, has already expressed her desire to end IRV in Pierce County. McDonald believes that, were it not for IRV, Republican candidate Shawn Bunney would now be county executive – effectively nullifying Goings aforementioned complaint.
Personally, I think the only electoral reform we should be considering at the moment is to abolish poll-voting in favor of an absentee-only or oral caucus system. But what do I know. I just vote here.