Nov 18, 2022 - Politics

Ranked choice voting is winning in Seattle

A yard sign along a sidewalk says "Seattle for RCV" and "Yes on 1B"

A yard sign for ranked choice voting in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Seattle's measure to implement ranked choice voting has pulled ahead in recent days, with a majority of city voters now approving the reform.

Driving the news: As of Thursday, about 51% of Seattle voters favored changing the city's method of conducting its primary elections. That's a shift from election night, when slightly more than half of voters favored keeping Seattle's elections the same.

Why it matters: Supporters of ranked choice voting say it better reflects voters' preferences, ensuring their second and third choices are taken into account if their first-choice candidate can't win.

Catch up quick: Seattle voters were asked two questions on the Nov. 8 ballot: First, whether they wanted to overhaul the city's method of conducting primary elections, or would rather keep the status quo.

  • Voters then were asked which of two changes they'd prefer: Ranked choice voting, or approval voting, in which voters could choose any number of candidates in city primaries.
  • Those who answered the second question overwhelmingly preferred ranked choice voting — by about 76% to 24%.

What they're saying: "Voters delivered a mandate for ranked-choice voting and sent a strong signal to the legislature that Washington voters want better elections," said Kamau Chege, executive director of Washington Community Alliance, in a statement.

  • He said ranked choice advocates will continue to push for changes in state law to allow more local jurisdictions to adopt the system.
  • Logan Bowers, co-chair of the Seattle Approves campaign, told Axios on Thursday that he still thinks approval voting would be easier for people to use and more likely to produce competitive general elections. But, he said, "I think it's over at this point."

What's next: King County Elections officials have yet to certify the midterm results. Once they do, should the current results hold, they'll get to work on the details of implementation, spokesperson Halei Watkins told Axios.

  • That will include designing new ballots, conducting voter outreach and upgrading tabulation software to accommodate the ranking of multiple choices, she wrote in an email.
  • County election officials also are tasked with deciding whether voters will be able to rank only five candidates in city primary elections, or if they'll be allowed to rank more.
  • Under the ballot measure, the new system will need to be up and running by 2027 — although advocates say it can be propped up much sooner.

Of note: The ranked choice system would apply only to August primary races for Seattle city attorney, city council and the mayor's office.

  • November elections are still set to feature two candidates going head to head.

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