Rock the vote

A prof helps give Pierce County a new way to conduct elections

Pierce County will soon be the first county in Washington to move away from a plurality vote and the hated pick-a-party primary when electing candidates to public office. That’s thanks in no small part to Richard Anderson-Connolly, a Puget Sound associate professor of comparative sociology who has been a tireless proponent of Instant Runoff Voting. On Nov. 7, 2006, the people of Pierce County chose to make IRV the county’s method of electing all county positions except for the prosecutor and judges.

Anderson-Connolly says it’s a sign our democracy is becoming more inclusive.

Although IRV has been used in Ireland and Australia for about 90 years, it is only now gaining a foothold in the United States, and it’s growing in popularity. Minneapolis; Oakland, Calif.; and Davis, Calif., also adopted IRV on Nov. 7. With it, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of first choices, the candidate with the fewest first-choices is eliminated and his or her voters are assigned to other candidates based on their second choices. This process is repeated until a majority winner emerges.

The beauty of IRV is that it levels the playing field for independents and third parties. Anderson-Connolly says that IRV encourages sincere voting and allows people to really vote, rather than simply voting against the candidate they hate the most.

Ryan Griffin, director of IRV America for FairVote, says it is thanks to Anderson-Connolly that IRV even got on the ballot. “He attended almost every Charter Review Commission meeting and, in addition to his own testimony, coordinated the testimony of local supporters and IRV experts from around the country.” FairVote is a national organization that advocates for a constitutionally protected right to vote, direct election of the president, instant runoff voting for executive elections, and proportional voting for legislative elections.

While there are alternative voting methods, such as the Condorcet and range voting, Anderson-Connolly thinks IRV is the simplest. He’s been a proponent since 2000.

Now that Pierce County is on board, Anderson-Connolly thinks King County won’t be far behind. And folks up there are noticing: The Seattle Times editorial board praised Anderson-Connolly’s work on IRV in an article on people and organizations that made a difference around Puget Sound in 2006.

“My ultimate goal,” he says, “is a multiparty system, which is what most democracies on the planet have.”

— Kristen Dodd ’07