Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Voters' Rights Win in Pierce County

Early results in Pierce County show the voters sorting their way through some confusing proposed charter amendments to pass some worthy amendments and reject those which would have postponed a better voting system.

Charter Amendment 4 would have postponed implementation of IRV (or Ranked Choice Voting) until 2010 rather than the current law which requires implementation in 2008. No reason was given for delay. The Auditor has a plan in place to implement. The early results show this proposal being defeated 33-66%. We will have IRV in 2008.

Charter Amendment 5 would have required the Auditor to allow voters to make three rankings for each race in 2008 and not allowed for more rankings as technology improved. This restricts the Auditor's office from improving with technology. The early results show this proposal being defeated 39-61%.

Charter Amendment 6 will allow the Auditor's office to use current technology in 2008 and implement enhancements as they occur. This means voters will be allowed to make three rankings in each race in 2008. The early results show this proposal passing 55-45%. This will strengthen the Pierce County Charter and our elections.

Charter Amendment 7 levels the playing field for independents and third party candidates. With the passage of Amendment 7, these candidates will have the same ballot access as major party candidates. The early results show this good amendment passing 66-33%. More voter choice is on the way. Indeed, Mike Lonergan, Tacoma City Councilmember, has announced he is planning to run for Pierce County Executive next year as an independent.

The Pierce County Charter is now a model for election reform in the state. Congratulations to the voters of Pierce County.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Seattle P-I wishes Pierce County good luck

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer does not like the pick-a-party primary, but it does like Pierce County Charter Amendment 3. The paper wishes Pierce County good luck with its experiment in improving democracy for the voters.

The Pierce County Charter Review Commission put Amendment 3 on the ballot in Pierce County. Ron Sims, King County Executive, is in the process of appointing a new King County Charter Review Commission. Let's hope the new commission puts an Amendment 3 style reform on the ballot in King County.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Seven out of nine Charter Amendments are on their way to passage

As of this writing, seven out of the nine amendments put on the ballot by the Pierce County Charter Review Commission are on their way to winning! The only two amendments (Amendments 4 and 5) to go down to defeat were those lowering the number of signatures for referendum and initiative. In terms of passing Charter Amendments, this Charter Review Commission is the most successful of any Commission in the history of the Charter.

Pierce County will now be electing its Sheriff (Amendment 1). Paul Pastor, the current appointed Sheriff, has already said he will be running for Sheriff in 2008. A more formal announcement will occur later.

Pierce County will be using Instant Runoff Voting (Amendment 3) to elect its county level officials (Executive, Assessor-Treasurer, Auditor, Sheriff and County Council members) starting in 2008. Auditor Pat McCarthy has vowed to make the IRV implementation in Pierce County the best implementation in the country. Let's all pitch in and help her make good on her commitment. It is great for Pierce County to take such a leadership position in improving democracy.

Pierce County will not be able to use eminent domain to condemn private property to give it to another private party. Amendment 9 was written to prevent such takings by the county government.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vote Yes on 3, 4, 5 and 9

Please vote Yes on Charter Amendments 3 (Instant Runoff Voting), 4 (Initiative), 5 (Referendum) and 9 (Eminent Domain). These amendments all strengthen the power of the voters and citizens in general. Thank you for considering the Charter Amendments.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Amendment 3 is first step

Pierce County Charter Amendment 3 will replace the pick-a-party primary with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for county level officials except the Prosecuting Attorney and judges. For those of us who want to see IRV replace the pick-a-party primary completely in the state of Washington, Amendment 3 should be seen as a first step towards that goal.

Why does Amendment 3 only affect county level officials?

The Pierce County Charter Review Commission is only able to propose changes to the Pierce County Charter which is the constitution for the county. Further, the changes which can be proposed are governed by Article XI, Section 4 of the Washington State Constitution. This part of the state constitution allows the county is choose which officials to elect and how to elect them with the exception of the Prosecuting Attorney and the judges. The Charter Review Commission went as far as the law would allow it to go.

So if Amendment 3 is the first step, what would be the subsequent steps?

1) The Charter Review Commission recommended to the County Council that in the event that Amendment 3 passes they should request the state legislature to allow the County to elect its Prosecuting Attorney and judges using IRV. Obviously, this follow-up would make sense to do. The state legislature has passed similar legislation in the past, so we would have a good shot at accomplishing this.

2) In addition, to better leverage the IRV software we should ask the state legislature to allow local jurisdictions in Pierce County to use IRV and eliminate this expense. For example, the Metropolitan Park District would have saved $65,000 in 2005 through using IRV to elect its Commissioners. Once again, the state legislature has passed similar legislation in the past, so the prospects are good.

3) Amendment 3 has attracted comment in the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as on the Dave Ross Show on KIRO. Why? People around the state are interested in the model Amendment 3 provides for ridding us of the pick-a-party primary statewide. Some have suggested that, after Amendment 3 passes, we should do a statewide initiative in 2007 or 2008 to pass Amendment 3 style reforms statewide. Some state legislators have volunteered to introduce legislation which would replace the pick-a-party primary system with IRV statewide. Which approach to the statewide problem would work remains to be seen; however, there will be people considering how to make this happen.

All of the above would be made easier and more likely with the passage of Amendment 3. While Amendment 3 is only a partial step towards replacing the pick-a-party primary with IRV statewide, it is an important step which will enable all of the rest of the steps.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Charter Amendments 1-5 Proposed Ballot Titles

The Auditor's Office has released the proposed ballot titles for the nine Charter Amendments on the ballot in November. The titles for Amendments 1-5 are listed below.

1) The Pierce County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Pierce County Charter establishing an elected Pierce County Sheriff beginning in 2008, and providing for transition from the current appointed sheriff to a sheriff elected by the voters.

Shall this Charter Amendment be approved?

2) The Pierce County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Pierce County Charter concerning the County's performance audit requirements. This amendment would require ongoing performance audits in accordance with Government Auditing Standards, annual reports by the Council on the highlights, free copies of the reports available to the public, and evening public hearings regarding the audits.

Shall this Charter Amendment be approved?

3) The Pierce County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Pierce County Charter implementing instant runoff voting for County elected officials except judges and Prosecuting Attorney. Voters will rank candidates in order of preference at the general election. No primary election will be held. Candidates for partisan office must obtain 25 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Major political parties may determine which candidate may use the party label.

Shall this Charter Amendment be approved?

4) The Pierce County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Pierce County Charter reducing the number of signatures required to validate an initiative. Currently, to validate an initiative, a petitioner must collect valid signatures equal in number to not less than 10% of the number of votes cast in the County in the last executive election. This proposed amendment decreases the number of signatures required to validate to 8% of the votes cast.

Shall this Charter Amendment be approved?

5) The Pierce County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Pierce County Charter reducing the number of signatures required to qualify a referendum for the ballot. Currently, a referendum must collect valid signatures equal in number to not less than 8% of the number of votes cast in the County in the last Executive election. The proposed amendment would decrease the number of signatures to 4% of the votes cast.

Shall this Charter Amendment be approved?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Party driven primary is fundamentally flawed

By John Earl

This article appeared in the Peninsula Gateway on September 13, 2006. The article is not available in the online version of the Gateway.

I received my primary election ballot in the mail the other day, and after taking a moment to curse the absurd "pick-a-party" system that was imposed on us by the major political parties, I scanned the ballot for the hotly contested races that will shape the face of government over the next few years. Boy was I disappointed.

In the Republican primary there are three races that are actually contested. In the Democratic primary there is one - sort of. You're probably aware that the "pick-a-party" system allows you to choose and nominate candidates of only one party. If you choose the Republican ballot, out of a total of eight races you can only make a choice for the U.S. Senate, State Senate and the 1st Legislative House race. On the Democratic ballot the only choice that party is allowing you to make is in the U.S. Senate race between Maria Cantwell and a gaggle of fringe candidates headlined by "Michael Goodspaceguy Nelson" and "Mike the Mover."

The two major parties have worked very hard to enforce party discipline. The result is that our September primaries resemble a coronation more than an election. In the process, voters are given less and less choice, and have subsequently grown more and more dissatisfied with the government that we eventually receive. If you get the feeling your voice is being minimized or marginalized, that's because it is.

I understand why the Supreme Court ruled that Washington's old blanket primary system was invalid. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the two parties successfully argued that they should have the freedom to control who can participate in the selection of the party's standard bearer for a given office. I agree that a state should not be able to compel the political parties to associate with, and have their private nominating infiltrated by, people who don't embrace their political agendas.

However, if you accept the parties' argument that they are private entities and should be shielded from the general public, then why are primary elections funded with public money? As an independent voter, I protest being forced to provide my tax dollars to fund a "private" primary election for political parties whose agendas I don't support. In essence, the "pick-a-party" system compels me to either associate with political parties I disagree with, or else forfeit my right to vote in an electoral process I pay for. Through their lawsuit, the political parties have imposed on independent voters exactly the same injustice that they argued against in the Supreme Court.

But the battle is not over. There are at least two things voters in Gig Harbor can do to resist the effort of the political parties to dominate the primary election. First, unless you have an uncontrollable desire to cast an inconsequential protest vote against Maria Cantwell, fill in the Republican ballot in the primary race. Even if you consider yourself a Democrat, there are no real choices on that primary ballot, so you might as well exercise what little choice is available on the Republican side of the ticket. That way, you'll have some influence in 26th District legislative races, and you'll confound experts who hope to use the primary results to handicap the general election.

Second, support Pierce County Charter Amendment 3 in the November General election. For Pierce County elected offices, Charter Amendment 3 replaces the ridiculous "pick-a-party" system with an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system that allows voters to designate their preferences among all of the available candidates. With IRV, you get to rank candidates on the ballot in order of your preference. The candidate that receives the least amount of first place votes is eliminated, and all of their votes are transferred to the individual voter's second choice. The process repeats until one candidate has over 50 percent of the votes and a winner is declared.

The current party primary system gives undue influence to party operatives who back candidates that support their special agendas. These candidates are installed on the ballot before most voters even realize there is a race, and by the time election season arrives the electorate sometimes find they must choose between the lesser of two evils. IRV will put overly divisive and partisan politicians at a disadvantage and give the edge to consensus building candidates who can appeal to a broad range of voters. The frenzied followers of a party hack won't be able to compete with the broad middle occupied by reasonable and rational candidates who rank higher on everyone's list of preferences.

Pierce County voters can show the rest of the state a path to kicking out the "pick-a-party" system by approving Charter Amendment 3 in November. Party leaders may not like it, but the rest of the state will be far better off.