Newest vote rely exhibits Seattle approving plan to vary voting in primaries

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Mail-in ballots
(King County Elections Photo)

Seattle voters are nearly evenly split on the question of whether to change how the city votes in primary elections, but the latest count is tilting toward approval of a new approach.

Voters in last week’s election were asked two questions: first, did they want to change how they vote for primary races in Seattle, and second, how should the voting change if it did.

Early returns had voters slightly favoring the status quo, but counts released on Saturday and Monday put changing the process barely ahead, with 50.53% of voters in favor, a lead of 2,924 votes. Slightly more than 60% of Seattle’s ballots had been counted by late afternoon Monday.

On the second question of what the voting should change to, voters clearly favored ranked choice, titled Proposition 1B on the ballot. Ranked choice was beating the alternative option, called approval voting, with more than 75% approval.

The ranked-choice measure was driven by FairVote Washington and had endorsements from King County Democrats, the League of Women Voters and Washington Conservation Voters.

Pivotal Ventures, a company founded by Melinda French Gates that supports female empowerment, recently deemed ranked choice “a better way to vote” compared to traditional ballots. An election blog post on the Pivotal Ventures site said that ranked choice leads to the election of more women and minority candidates, resulting in more representative governments. It cited research concluding that the approach led to New York City’s first female-majority city council. It didn’t comment on the potential impact of approval voting.

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Ranked choice allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. When tallying votes, the least popular option would be eliminated, then votes would be recounted with the second-choice option ranked highest for those who listed the eliminated candidate as a first choice.

“As more ballots are counted, we’re seeing even more clearly that Seattleites want ranked-choice voting. Our campaign feels confident and we are thrilled about the momentum we see in Seattle and across Washington for better elections,” said Stephanie Houghton, managing director of FairVote Washington, by email.

FairVote Washington also supported ranked-choice amendments in two of the state’s counties. In the latest returns, voters in both Clark and San Juan counties were rejecting the switch to ranked choice, with 58% opposed in Clark County, which includes Vancouver, Wash., and nearly 55% against in San Juan County.

The campaign for approval voting was led by several veterans of the Seattle tech scene, including former Amazon manager Logan Bowers and entrepreneur Troy Davis. The effort received financial support from The Center for Election Science think tank; Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of recently imploded cryptocurrency exchange FTX; John Hegeman, a Silicon Valley-based vice president at Meta; Seattle venture capitalist Aviel Ginzburg; and others.

Ranked choice is a more commonly found alternative than approval voting. It’s in statewide elections in Alaska and Maine, as well as local races in New York City and other municipalities.

If ranked-choice voting is ultimately approved for Seattle, it will require changes to county election processes and won’t go into effect until 2027. The election will be certified on Nov. 29.

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Approval voting advocates were underwhelmed by the potential impact of ranked choice given the time delay until it could be implemented as well as the state’s existing “jungle primary” system where voters consider all of the primary candidates and the top two advance regardless of party.

“We don’t see ranked-choice voting as a meaningful voting reform in Seattle,” said Aaron Hamlin, executive director of The Center for Election Science, via email.

“While we had hoped for more for the voters of Seattle, we still respect the democratic process,” he added. “There may also still be opportunity for Washingtonians to experience approval voting further down the road.”

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