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Friday, March 18, 2011
HB638--New Voting System for Hawaii: Round up as many candidates as possible, gang up on the front runners
By Andrew Walden @ 6:52 PM :: 9567 Views :: Office of Elections

by Andrew Walden

Ranked Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting, is propelling criminals into office in Pierce County Washington.  In San Francisco, the new RCV/IRV-based political strategy is “don’t win the first round” as a crowded Mayoral race is shapes up as a “train wreck”.  RCV/IRV was repealed by Burlington, VT voters. But it passed the Hawaii House (HB638 HD1) and is now awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Because voters in the Dec 29 special election for Honolulu County Council District 1 elected a Republican, Tom Berg; the billion dollar Progressives at Civil Beat quickly concluded that the system of elections must be changed, “to prevent such an election in the future.”

But this plan to prevent anybody from displacing the “conscious, enlightened, and progressive” elite from its God-given position of power doesn’t actually achieve the Progressives’ goal.  If anything, it produces even more erratic electoral results. 

In 2008, Dale Washam, a gadfly perennial candidate who had lost elections since 1972, was elected Pierce County (WA) Assessor-Treasurer with 37% support.  Voters then repealed Ranked Choice Voting and are now trying to recall Washam.

Tacoma Weekly, March 11, 2011 tells the story:

The fact that Washam is a target of a recall is fittingly ironic. There have been many times in the past, prior to him finally winning an election after countless defeats, that Washam has attempted to unseat one elected official or another in these parts. Now he is about to get a taste of his own medicine.

No elected official in this county within the past three decades has deserved to be recalled as much as Washam. He was elected due to two reasons: the incumbent, Ken Madsen, had announced he would not seek another term. The absence of an incumbent typically draws numerous candidates, as it did in 2008.

The other reason was instant runoff voting, an intriguing yet confusing election method that had never been used in this part of the country before. It was approved by voters, then withdrawn by another vote after Washam took office. The gadfly from Puyallup got nowhere near a majority of the vote, but with so many candidates and a system that gave credit to second and third-place votes, Washam finally won an election. Certainly the fact that he had run so many times gave him some name recognition, so some voters may have picked him simply for that reason.

His time in office has been marked by internal strife, lawsuits and irrational antics. His obsession with punishing Madsen borders on paranoia. Every official he has turned to, from the governor to the county prosecutor, has declined Washam’s requests for an investigation into Madsen’s time in office.

His treatment of staff has drawn the ire of organized labor, which has filed grievances for unfair labor practices. Several key employees, some who had spent many years in this office, have quit and filed lawsuits. In a time when Pierce County is making painful budget cuts, wasting money on legal expenses to protect a buffoon such as Washam is pathetic. The taxpayers are footing the bill for his irrational behavior; now they have a chance to save some money by removing him from office.

The Tacoma News-Tribune explains “Pierce County RCV elects minimally qualified Candidates.”

Ranked Choice Voting is causing problems in San Francisco as well.  The San Francisco Examiner March 10 explains: 

San Francisco is heading into its first competitive mayor's race using ranked-choice voting with a majority of voters who don't understand how the system works, according to a poll to be released today.

Despite ranked-choice voting being introduced for Board of Supervisors races in 2004 and used in every city election since, 55 percent of respondents to a recent poll commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce said they didn't know whether their vote counted once their first-, second- or third-choice candidate had been eliminated.

In that scenario, their vote would not affect the outcome of the race, although 29 percent of respondents thought that their vote would be counted. Only 15 percent of the respondents said that their vote would not be counted, according to the poll, which was conducted by David Binder Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

"It's clear that San Francisco voters understand ranked-choice voting about as well as they understand quantum physics," said Nathan Ballard, a Democratic strategist who was a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom when he was mayor.

"It's cloaked in mystery to the degree that most voters find it indecipherable, and will have no idea of the impact of their votes on election day," Ballard said.

Under RCV/IRV, winners are losers.  And losers pick winners as campaigns vie for the second and third place picks of the also-rans.  The new electoral reality is explained by a San Francisco political operative:

A landslide of candidates may be the new winning metric for ranked-choice voting. Candidates round up as many choices as possible, build coalitions, and then gang up against the front runners.

"I'm not sure I would want to be in first place going into the election," said political consultant Mark Mosher, who is working with candidate Dennis Herrera. "You're going to get absolutely shelled."


HB638 HD1: “Provides for instant runoff voting for all elections in which no primary election is held; authorizes the chief election officer or the county clerk to use the instant runoff voting method in special elections that would normally require a separate runoff election if no candidate received a majority of votes.”

LINK: San Francisco Poll Results

CB: Civic Leaders Eye Instant Runoff Elections



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