Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy says her staff may run the ranked-choice voting computer program on election night.
If they do, it would provide a glimpse of how candidates for county executive, assessor-treasurer, sheriff and County Council District 2 are fairing in early returns under the new voting system.
McCarthy said there’s no guarantee her office will run the computer program that redistributes votes under the new system. She said if there are glitches on election night – like a broken tabulating machine – she’ll stick with her original plan, which is to run the program for the first time on Friday.
But if things go smoothly, the auditor’s office could run the program and have results by 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Ranked-choice voting advocates and our editorial page have been pressuring McCarthy to run the computer program sooner than Friday. McCarthy has resisted, saying the workload from a big-turnout election – combined with the extra ballot cards required by ranked choice voting – means her staff will be working 24 hours a day just processing ballots. She said running the program will require her staff to stop counting ballots for two to three hours.
She’s also expressed concern that confusion could result from running the program too early and with too few ballots in hand. That could lead to big changes in results from report to report. That’s why she wanted to wait until Friday, when most mail ballots would be in hand.
McCarthy said she’s changed her mind because she believes the integrity of her staff has been questioned. "They have worked so darn hard," McCarthy said. "I don’t want them to have unwarranted attention."
If all goes smoothly, the auditor’s office also will release the raw data from ranked-choice ballots on election night, along with the results of the computer program.
Even if the office runs the computer program in election night, they would not run it again until Friday, McCarthy said.
Pierce County voters approved ranked-choice voting in 2006 but are using it for the first time in this election.
The new system does away with the primary election for most county offices, and all candidates advance to the general election. Voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority of first-place votes, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated.
If your first choice is eliminated, election officials give your vote to your second choice. If your second choice is eliminated, your third choice gets your vote. The process of eliminating candidates and redistributing votes continues until someone has a majority of votes.
Of course, it’s possible someone will get a majority of votes and a clear winner will emerge on election night. In that case, running the computer program would be unnecessary.
But not one is predicting that, especially in the hotly contested county executive’s race.