Nov 9, 2022 - News

Voting reforms trail in Seattle, but it's too close to call

A pile of ballots in red and white envelopes waiting to be sorted, with the word "vote" written on one side.

Unopened ballots await processing at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Washington in 2020. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Seattle voters were narrowly rejecting a pair of proposed election reforms on Tuesday night — but the results remained too close to call, based on early returns from King County Elections.

Driving the news: Voters were asked to choose between two types of reforms: ranked choice voting, which lets voters choose candidates in order of preference, or approval voting, which lets voters select as many candidates as they like.

Details: For either change to be adopted, at least 50% of people would need to vote yes on an initial question asking if the city should adopt either reform.

  • But a slim majority of ballots counted in early returns favored rejecting both proposals, with about 51% favoring keeping the city's elections the same.
  • More ballots remain to be counted, meaning the results could change later this week.

Why it matters: Backers of both reforms expressed some shared goals, including making political campaigns less divisive and ensuring that elected leaders have a wide base of support.

  • But they disagreed about whether approval voting, which is only used in two U.S. cities, would accomplish that — and whether the less-tested voting system could prompt legal challenges.

Catch up quick: Either reform, if adopted, would be used only in primary elections for city attorney, city council and the mayor's office.

By the numbers: Those who wanted to change the city's election system overwhelmingly favored ranked choice voting over approval voting in the earliest round of ballot counting, according to King County Elections.

  • About 74% favored the switch to ranked choice voting, Proposition 1B, the elections agency reported.
  • The measure to enact approval voting in city primary elections, Proposition 1A, sat at about 26% support as of Tuesday night.

What's next: More ballots will be counted in the coming days, clarifying the results.

  • If approval voting is adopted, officials would have to implement it no later than 2025.
  • Ranked choice voting, if adopted, would need to be implemented by 2027.

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