Ranking the Candidates


If this guy can figure out ranked voting, you can too.

What if you really like Barack Obama?s domestic programs and Rudy Giuliani?s take no prisoners approach to terrorism? The way the system works now, you have to pick one over the other, but slowly gaining a foothold in the door of democracy is ranked voting, a system where you select your top three or so choices creating what amounts to a ranked ballot.

Ranked voting will debut in the Northwest in a few of the Pierce County races next year after voters there decided they wanted it in 2006. And as a method of voting, it?s being tossed around by the King County Charter Review Commission as well. On the surface it seems complicated. There is no primary, everyone is on the general election ballot. In the first round of counting, losers are eliminated. For people who voted for a loser as their first choice, their second choice becomes their first and the ballots are counted again.

If ranked voting was used in the 2000 presidential election, it would have meant that Democrats voting for Ralph Nader in the general election could have voted for Al Gore as their second choice--or George Bush for that matter. When Nader was knocked out, those second choice votes would have been added to the totals. Advocates say it would erase the stigma of voting your conscience as spoiler voting.

Pierce County auditor Pat McCarthy, originally an opponent of the system, who now calls it her ?baby,? says her biggest concern in Pierce County is the possibility voters will get ranked ballots in the mail, have no idea what?s going on, and just give up. McCarthy adds that her budget request for education on the new system was halved by the Pierce County Council. Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro told the commission they should wait and see how it works out in Pierce before considering it here.

Proponents of ranked choice voting have two main goals: do away with expensive primaries in races by essentially building that process into the general election ballot, and make third party and independent candidates and their supporters relevant.

Pierce will still have to have primary races in 2008, but for four county-wide positions and the council member races, there will only be one ranked vote general election. This was done in part to do away with the pick-a-party primary the voters hated.

Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western, says that candidates outside the main parties won?t likely win under a ranked voting system, but because their supporters could become instrumental to the bigger parties in a close race, candidates would have to work harder to bring them into the fold. In other words, you could expect people to campaign on things like: I Want to Be Your Second Favorite. ?If you?ve got organized groups out there trying to coordinate their voters, they can send a message without necessarily winning,? Donovan says.

As to whether such a system is too confusing for voters, Donovan points to Australia?s successful implementation of the system in this year?s house elections. ?If the Australians can do it, anyone can do it. It?s not that hard.?

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