‘Approval voting’ initiative led by Seattle tech vets qualifies for November poll

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Members of the Seattle Approves campaign at Seattle City Hall. Back row, from left: Evan Radkoff, Logan Bowers, and Sarah Ward. Front row: Efrain Hudnell, Mason Traylor, and Troy Davis. (Seattle Approves Photo)

An initiative designed to change the way voters select candidates in Seattle has qualified for the November ballot.

Initiative 134 aims to bring “approval voting” to Seattle primary ballots, where instead of choosing just one candidate, voters would would select as many as they approve of. Just like today, the two candidates with the most votes would still move on to the general election.

An example of what ballot wording could look like. (Seattle Approves Photo)

I-134 was filed in January by Seattle Approves, a campaign led by several veterans of the Seattle tech scene. They needed to collect more than 26,000 signatures in the first half of the year.

Approval voting is already in use in St. Louis and Fargo, N.D. In St. Louis, the system was adopted in November 2020 with support from 68% of voters and then used successfully four months later.

According to Seattle Approves, approval voting elects more representative leaders than our current voting system. It also eliminates vote splitting and enables voters to be more honest about their true support for each candidate.

“If you’ve ever debated between voting for a candidate that you really like and another you like less but has the big money backing to win, you’ve experienced the problem with our existing elections,” said Logan Bowers, a Seattle Approves co-chair.

A startup founder and former Amazon employee who ran for Seattle City Council in 2019, Bowers added that “the money flowing into elections combined with the flaws in our current voting system means our elections aren’t a fair assessment of what voters want. Too often, voters feel compelled to vote strategically based on who they think can win.”

Troy Davis, another tech veteran and founder of the Seattle Approves campaign, said if passed in November, I-134 might even take effect in time for the 2023 elections.

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“I’m thrilled to see that regular people can actually improve the system,” Davis said. “We’re not political insiders or special interest group staffers, we’re just average voters who want Seattle to thrive over the next 20 years.”

The tech backgrounds of the Seattle Approves leaders have influenced how they’ve approached election reform.

‘I’m thrilled to see that regular people can actually improve the system.’

“For me, that background has encouraged me to think about the bigger picture of how systems work,” Evan Radkoff, a former Amazon engineer, previously told GeekWire. “We’re used to civic engagement that’s just working toward the next election cycle. But how do we want elections to be run on the scale of decades?”

Davis thinks the rest of the country is starting to pay attention and that approval voting could be the new norm.

“Because this change is very simple to implement and great at understanding voters’ preferences, it’s likely that city and county councils around the country will consider making the same change,” Davis said. “In most jurisdictions, a council can simply adopt it — no need to wait for an initiative, wait for a long implementation process, or even change their charter.”

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