Friday, December 30, 2005

Charter Thoughts by George Robison

In reviewing comments made by John Ladenburg and several County Council members, it seems to me that there should be a provision in the charter that the County Executive is to sign contracts only after funding and contract terms have been approved by the council. The News Tribune reported last week a Ladenburg comment that council members needed to keep in mind that the County Executive was the only one authorized to sign contracts and that he therefore had the right to go ahead and sign golf course related contracts even though the council had not acted to fund them.

The Sheriff should be elected so that the office is responsive to the public. An appointed person needs only satisfy the appointing authority. The office should be subject to direct scrutiny by the taxpayers or provide funding and not be subject solely to the County Executive.

George Robison, Gig Harbor

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Election reform by Krist Novoselic

A Washington State System?

This is a guest post by Krist Novoselic, a board member of the Center for Voting and Democracy and a Washington state resident.

There is a battle in Federal Court regarding our primary elections. The struggle is between two principles. But Washington State need not choose between free association and more choices with our elections.

Ranked Choice Voting is a versatile electoral system with many benefits. It’s an idea worthy of the Pierce County Charter Review Commission’s consideration.

Here is an overview of where things are and where they can go.

Cajun Primary

I-872, the Top-Two Primary passed by a 59.84% majority. Voters wanted a primary with more choices that was like the late Blanket Primary. The restrictive Montana Primary, tired out by voters mere weeks before the general election ballot question, was unpopular and voters spoke accordingly in November.

It’s likely the Top Two Primary will be restored – but with ballots featuring candidates lacking any party designation.

The US Supreme Court set the stage for non-partisan primary elections when it struck down California’s Blanket primary (1). In that ruling, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority on the court, said a non-partisan Blanket Primary, “ … has all the characteristics of the partisan blanket primary, save the constitutionally crucial one: Primary voters are not choosing a party’s nominee.”

The cosmetic remedy of erasing party designation off the ballot comes at a high cost to voters. The valuable information voters get by the little D, R or whatever affiliation next to a candidates’ name is important. A non-partisan ballot deprives voters of this informative tool.

Big Sky Liabilities

Let’s face it; while the Montana Primary does protect a political party’s rights, it does little to speak to the valid frustrations of most Washington voters.

Many voters perceive the Montana system as a benefit only to the major political parties at the expense of taxpayers.

Most elections are uncontested or uncompetitive in our state – and primary elections are even more so. The Montana system only aggravates this sad state of affairs. Few or no choices on a partisan ballot can make voting virtually meaningless.

Don’t be fooled by thinking Washington voters will become comfortable with the Montana primary over time. I-872’s formidable near 60% poll showing will embolden its resurrection in non-partisan form.

Ranked Choice Voting – A Friendly Alternative

We need not adhere to the false dichotomy between more choices and free association currently slogging through public discourse regarding our elections.

On October 25th 2005, a group of Washington State citizens, myself included, came together with the Center for Voting and Democracy, to file a friend-of-the-court brief (2) in the appeal before the US 9th Circuit Court, that seeks to overturn I-872, the top-two primary.

All of the parties in the case seek to block the Court from considering this valuable information, ostensibly because of a supposed sense of urgency or that, greater voter choice, vote dispersal problems and freedom of association are somehow irrelevant to this lawsuit.

But most Washington voters are not in any hurry to participate in primary elections as evidenced this past September when 63% shrugged off primaries.

By filing this brief, we recognize the deeper challenges regarding our state’s elections. Too many citizens hold our democratic structures in low esteem. Most races are uncontested or uncompetitive. And primary elections only tend to make the situation worse.

Our brief seeks to draw the Court’s attention to a small modification of the top-two system that would;
• alleviate the concerns of all parties involved,
• remove the constitutional problems created by I-872,
• ultimately build a quality democratic system that would invite increased participation

Modifying I-872 with a ranked choice ballot would still narrow the field to two candidates who, regardless of party affiliation, then advance to a general election.

The main difference is that each voter ranks the candidates for office in his or her order of preference, from the first choice down through as many candidates as the voter chooses to rank, or as many as the rules permit. It’s as easy as listing 1 – 2 – 3. Votes are counted in a series of rounds. Each round eliminates the candidate with the fewest votes and redistributes ballots to those voters’ next choices. This process of redistribution and elimination is repeated in subsequent rounds and the top two ranked candidates advance to the general election.

Ranked choice voting accommodates the elimination of the self-identification provision that doomed I-872. Parties could be allowed to nominate their own candidates. However, in order to re-create the wider choice benefits of I-872, parties would be allowed to nominate multiple candidates for office. With ranked choice voting, parties could be assured of their votes converging on their most popular candidates while avoiding dispersion problems. Parties would hence have great incentive to nominate a diverse field of qualified candidates from within their party in order to bring a wider swath of their supporters to the polls.

Partisan voters could rank their candidates faithfully, while at the same time, independent voters who do not wish to vote along any party line may now select candidates from a larger mixed pool thus preserving the wider choices of I-872.


A Ranked Choice Blanket Primary promises many more benefits. In San Francisco, where Ranked Choice Voting is used, negative campaigning was greatly reduced. In fact, rival candidates actually endorsed each other, vying for their opponent’s supporters second choice.

Ranked Choice Voting fosters positive participation because voters express themselves without feeling like they’re throwing their vote away or wasting their vote – a tragic reality in the lexicon of American democracy.

Washington voters could get better value out of our primary elections. Most races are uncontested thus poorly attended. Why not utilize this smart and efficient system in otherwise mostly redundant elections?

As we mention in our brief, this is a system that can be built on. Down the road, we can choose to fold the primary into one efficient ranked choice general election. This will shorten the election season and save tax dollars. Pierce County can lead the state with this important electoral innovation.

Ultimately, we can consider the Proportional Voting version of ranked ballots that would;
• make our county and legislative races much more competitive,
• give voter’s real choices
• increase the voice in Olympia of candidates and voters around our state who are politically handicapped because of redistricting.


Legal precedents show Ranked Choice systems as fully consistent with the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (3), and also complying with the Voting Rights Act (4).

No provision of the Washington State Constitution poses any barrier to the ranking of candidates in a primary. Ranked Choice Voting does not interfere with voters’ guaranteed right to free and equal election as it does not frustrate the voters’ will and allows each voter an equal opportunity to rank their choices. In 1908, the Supreme Court of Washington upheld a Ranked Choice system very similar to the one proposed here for our state primary (5).

Foes of ranked ballots in San Francisco tried hard to slow its implementation after it was passed by voters. But they ultimately failed and ranked choice voting stands unchallenged because of its solid case law. Once put into place, voters were wildly enthusiastic about more real choices. All the benefits did come to fruition.


Pierce County needs to consider ranked ballots. This innovation speaks to many of the problems currently weighing on our democracy.

When looking at all the uncompetitive or uncontested races, lack of participation and voter cynicism the question begs to be asked – is this the best democracy can get?

The Charter Commission and Pierce County voters must ask themselves this question.

Krist Novoselic

1. California Democratic Party v. Jones 530 U.S. 567 (2000)
2. Amici Curiae Brief Of Fairvote – The Center For Voting And Democracy et al. See
3. Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 18 (1964). Moore v. Election Comm’rs of Cambridge, 35 N.E.2d 222, 238 (Mass. 1941)
4. Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 47 (1986).
5. State v. Nichols, 50 Wash. 508, 97 P. 728 (1908). See

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eminent Domain by Nathan the "Pajama Jihadist"


In light of the Kelo decision many citizens, myself included, have become concerned about potential abuses of the government's right of eminent domain. Those of us in the State of Washington have been somewhat mollified by our State's Constitution, which in Article 1, Section 16 prohibits the taking of private land for private use (with certain limited exceptions), and provides judicial review to ascertain whether the seizure of private property is really for public use.

However, there are ways around these constitutional restrictions. The condemnation of the Sinking Ship parking garage by the Seattle Monorail Project is a perfect case in point.

Despite the fact that the monorail station SMP intended to build on the Sinking Ship parcel would only take about one quarter to one third of the property, and in spite of the fact that HTK L.L.C., the owners ofthe Sinking Ship, were willing to work with the Monorail Authority, SMP condemned the entire property with the intention of selling the unused portion at a profit once construction was complete.

HTK objected, and fought the condemnation all the way to the State Supreme Court, but even given the protections afforded by the State Constitution, the Court ruled in favor of the SMP (see the majority opinion in the matter of the petition of the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority and Jim Johnson's pointed dissent).

It is clear to me that further limitations on the right of eminent domain are necessary in order to protect citizens from the unreasonable seizure of their property by the government.

We in Pierce County are fortunate to be in a position to do something about that. In accordance with the Pierce County Charter, a CharterReview Commission has been empanelled that will "review the Charter to determine its adequacy and suitability to the needs of the County and .. . propose amendments."

Here's what I'd like to see the Pierce County Charter say in regards to eminent domain: No property taken for public use may be sold, leased or otherwise transfered to private ownership within ten years of its condemnation unless it be returned to its original owner.

Such a restriction would lessen the temptation to seize property for a purely temporary "public use" and then turn around and sell that property to the highest bidder.

For more by Nathan, see

Washington State Constitution - Article 11

The section of the Washington State Constitution about Home Rule Counties can be found here.
The section most relevant to the Pierce County Charter Review Commission in 2006 is Section 4 shown below.

SECTION 4 COUNTY GOVERNMENT AND TOWNSHIP ORGANIZATION. The legislature shall establish a system of county government, which shall be uniform throughout the state except as hereinafter provided, and by general laws shall provide for township organization, under which any county may organize whenever a majority of the qualified electors of such county voting at a general election shall so determine; and whenever a county shall adopt township organization, the assessment and collection of the revenue shall be made, and the business of such county and the local affairs of the several townships therein, shall be managed and transacted in the manner prescribed by such general law. Any county may frame a "Home Rule" charter for its own government subject to the Constitution and laws of this state, and for such purpose the legislative authority of such county may cause an election to be had, at which election there shall be chosen by the qualified voters of said county not less than fifteen (15) nor more than twenty-five (25) freeholders thereof, as determined by the legislative authority, who shall have been residents of said county for a period of at least five (5) years preceding their election and who are themselves qualified electors, whose duty it shall be to convene within thirty (30) days after their election and prepare and propose a charter for such county. Such proposed charter shall be submitted to the qualified electors of said county, and if a majority of such qualified electors voting thereon ratify the same, it shall become the charter of said county and shall become the organic law thereof, and supersede any existing charter, including amendments thereto, or any existing form of county government, and all special laws inconsistent with such charter. Said proposed charter shall be published in two (2) legal newspapers published in said county, at least once a week for four (4) consecutive weeks prior to the day of submitting the same to the electors for their approval as above provided. All elections in this Section authorized shall only be had upon notice, which notice shall specify the object of calling such election and shall be given for at least ten (10) days before the day of election in all election districts of said county. Said elections may be general or special elections and except as herein provided, shall be governed by the law regulating and controlling general or special elections in said county. Such charter may be amended by proposals therefor submitted by the legislative authority of said county to the electors thereof at any general election after notice of such submission published as above specified, and ratified by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon. In submitting any such charter or amendment thereto, any alternate article or proposition may be presented for the choice of the voters and may be voted on separately without prejudice to others. Any home rule charter proposed as herein provided, may provide for such county officers as may be deemed necessary to carry out and perform all county functions as provided by charter or by general law, and for their compensation, but shall not affect the election of the prosecuting attorney, the county superintendent of schools, the judges of the superior court, and the justices of the peace, or the jurisdiction of the courts. Notwithstanding the foregoing provision for the calling of an election by the legislative authority of such county for the election of freeholders to frame a county charter, registered voters equal in number to ten (10) per centum of the voters of any such county voting at the last preceding general election, may at any time propose by petition the calling of an election of freeholders. The petition shall be filed with the county auditor of the county at least three (3) months before any general election and the proposal that a board of freeholders be elected for the purpose of framing a county charter shall be submitted to the vote of the people at said general election, and at the same election a board of freeholders of not less than fifteen (15) or more than twenty-five (25), as fixed in the petition calling for the election, shall be chosen to draft the new charter. The procedure for the nomination of qualified electors as candidates for said board of freeholders shall be prescribed by the legislative authority of the county, and the procedure for the framing of the charter and the submission of the charter as framed shall be the same as in the case of a board of freeholders chosen at an election initiated by the legislative authority of the county. In calling for any election of freeholders as provided in this Section, the legislative authority of the county shall apportion the number of freeholders to be elected in accordance with either the legislative districts or the county commissioner districts, if any, within said county, the number of said freeholders to be elected from each of said districts to be in proportion to the population of said districts as nearly as may be. Should the charter proposed receive the affirmative vote of the majority of the electors voting thereon, the legislative authority of the county shall immediately call such special election as may be provided for therein, if any, and the county government shall be established in accordance with the terms of said charter not more than six (6) months after the election at which the charter was adopted. The terms of all elective officers, except the prosecuting attorney, the county superintendent of schools, the judges of the superior court, and the justices of the peace, who are in office at the time of the adoption of a Home Rule Charter shall terminate as provided in the charter. All appointive officers in office at the time the charter goes into effect, whose positions are not abolished thereby, shall continue until their successors shall have qualified. After the adoption of such charter, such county shall continue to have all the rights, powers, privileges and benefits then possessed or thereafter conferred by general law. All the powers, authority and duties granted to and imposed on county officers by general law, except the prosecuting attorney, the county superintendent of schools, the judges of the superior court and the justices of the peace, shall be vested in the legislative authority of the county unless expressly vested in specific officers by the charter. The legislative authority may by resolution delegate any of its executive or administrative powers, authority or duties not expressly vested in specific officers by the charter, to any county officer or officers or county employee or employees. The provisions of Sections 5, 6, 7, and the first sentence of Section 8 of this Article as amended shall not apply to counties in which the government has been established by charter adopted under the provisions hereof. The authority conferred on the board of county commissioners by Section 15 of Article II as amended, shall be exercised by the legislative authority of the county.[AMENDMENT 21, 1947 Senate Joint Resolution No. 5, p 1372. Approved November 2, 1948.]
Original text - Art. 11 Section 4 COUNTY GOVERNMENT AND TOWNSHIP ORGANIZATION - The legislature shall establish a system of county government which shall be uniform throughout the state, and by general laws shall provide for township organization, under which any county may organize whenever a majority of the qualified electors of such county voting at a general election shall so determine, and whenever a county shall adopt township organization the assessment and collection of the revenue shall be made and the business of such county, and the local affairs of the several townships therein shall be managed and transacted in the manner prescribed by such general laws.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Roberts Rules of Order

To get a copy of Robert's Rules of Order, here is the official site.