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Yankees on the ridge

August 21, 2008

I emailed my husband at work:

“The Yankees are camped on the ridge, and alien squatters occupy our fields.”

This is my typical post-election day mode. Yesterday was the morning following our bluest-of-blue state’s primary election.

Nothing was really unexpected. We had a friend in the state supreme court race who became an even better friend for fighting the good fight. He lost, of course.

Most incumbents soared to easy victories on the fair winds of other people’s money.  But evidently Washington Democrats have been morbidly unhappy with the running of the Department of State Lands. Gee, what’s Doug done? I doubt ten people in Washington State know what the Commissioner of State Lands does. But we can’t have two Republicans in high office in Washington state, and we elected a Republican attorney general last time around, so a Democratic contender was funded with over half a million dollars, of which he spent less than half. The race is in a back-and-forth virtual tie. That in itself is fairly interesting.

There was one perturbation in my own county. An incumbent superior court judge is apparently losing to a challenger. I have no comment on either candidate; but, theoretically, if a bad incumbent is seated and a no-better challenger unseats him, the newer bad judge is easier to remove from office later than a bad judge who has been in office longer. No further comment.

Much was made of Washington’s “top two primary,” but it isn’t even something voters notice. People were scared, calling the papers, calling the election offices. How do we vote now? We still vote for just one person for each office and the two candidates with the most votes go on to the general election in November.  What’s new is that the two candidates may or may not be from different parties.  It could happen that two candidates from the same party will be in the November run-off election. 

For Pierce County residents, it’s the November election that’s screwy.  We will debut Ranked Choice Voting in Washington.  The top-two primary does not thin the crowd for every office. Some races, like County Executive and County Commissioner, are run only in the general election and were never part of the primary election. Instead of the primaries weeding out excess candidates from each party, voters select their choice from multiple candidates from multiple parties. Voters are permitted to vote across columns for their first, second, and third choices for offices that are subject to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).  That’s all voters have to do.  Votes are tabulated and candidates receiving the fewest number of votes in the first round are eliminated.  At some point, a candidate is certified with a majority of the votes.  The process is complicated, but not for voters.  The Pierce County Auditor’s website explains the process and its history.  What she does not emphasize is that you do not have to vote for more than one candidate.  If you strongly favor only one candidate, vote only for that candidate.  Giving a second-choice vote to another candidate could give that candidate an advantage in a second-round tabulation.

Ranked choice voting does not mean anyone is casting more than one vote.  Only one of your votes is counted.  Your first-choice vote is counted unless that candidate is eliminated; then your second-choice vote is the only one counted.  If your first- and second-choice candidates are eliminated, then your third-choice vote is your only tallied vote.  But again, if you only wish to vote for one candidate, do so.  Either he wins or loses, just as in any election. 

I dislike ranked choice voting.  It displaces the original intent of primaries, which is to consolidate votes within a party and back one candidate per party in the general election.  It smacks of complicated European elections.  And if the computer breaks down, it’s extremely complicated and time-consuming to tabulate the votes by hand.

We conducted a trial run of RCV on paper at home and found that it is possible for the candidate with the most second-choice votes to be eliminated in the first round because he had the fewest first-choice votes.  He was the clear second choice in the election, but the candidate with the second-highest number of second-choice votes can win a majority in the second tabulation and win the election.   

RCV smacks of pragmatism because voting can become indifferent: more choices, less passion. Primaries fire up thoughtful voters.  Primaries thin the crowd; RCV thickens it.  More is not necessarily better.  What is better is passionate choice, not more mediocre options from which to choose.  After doing the math, we decided that RCV promotes mediocrity.  But then, that might not differ so much from primaries, after all.

The Yankees are packing, and the squatters, tired of the weeds, are in retreat. I’m over my post-election blue-state blues. God is sovereign and in purposed control of these things. I am resigned that I will never understand, this side of Glory, why He would take responsibility for our frivolous politics. But then, He does tell us that He laughs.

This post has been amended to correct some of the facts concerning the November election in Washington state and to clarify ranked choice voting.

  1. August 21, 2008 12:38 pm

    He also tells us to kiss the Son, lest he be angry.

    I’m glad Yankees and squatters are off seeking other pastures, leaving our grapes and blueberries be. Oh to be a peasant in Judea!

  2. August 21, 2008 1:02 pm

    Careful what you wish for. . . .

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