Paul Jacob

A famous tyrant once quipped, "It's not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes." Yet it turns out that democracy suffers from other technical problems.

How the votes are counted, that matters too.

In Pierce County, Washington, a new voting system came online for the last election: Ranked Choice Voting or (as it is usually called) Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). And a number of politicians aren't happy about it. Challengers appear to have a better chance in the system, with a smaller percentage of big spenders winning under IRV. So the Pierce County Council has put the new system up for repeal on this November's ballot.

The chief sin of the system can't be that incumbents don't like it, of course. Nor can it be that poorer funded challengers like it a lot (as appears to be the case). The fact that a dark horse got in as Assessor-Treasurer and asked the state attorney and auditor to look into the county, that can't officially matter, either. So, in searching about for a reason to nix the new system, politicians say it is "too complicated."

And if you try to explain it from front end to back end in one sentence, you do end up with quite a long sentence.

So maybe we should explain it in parts.

Front end: Voters rank their top three candidates from all those running.

Hey, if we can rank our favorite pop songs, and Dave Letterman can go all the way up to ten every night for his best or worst this or that ("Top Ten Reasons to Think Politicians Are In It for Themselves" -- hint, hint, eh, Letterman?), then this isn't too complicated.

I usually know who my favorite candidates are, in strong order of preference.

The problem I have is probably the problem you have: My preferences might not have a shot at winning. And if I voted my true preference, I might never, ever vote for a winner. My vote would never seem to count.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.