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Delaying ranked choice voting in King County was ‘right decision,’ says advocacy group

King County Elections workers process ballots at King County Elections headquarters on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

King County councilmembers tabled a proposal Monday that would have put a plan for ranked choice voting in front of voters this November. Despite the short-term blow this dealt to advocates, one group of proponents has since expressed support for the county’s decision to press pause.

King County to explore putting ranked choice voting on ballot

The initial proposal was led by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, and would have had voters decide on whether to give the King County Council the authority to amend its charter to allow ranked choice voting, and then begin the process of devising a roadmap.

But as discussions in the council began to take shape, concerns quickly mounted for FairVote Washington (FVWA), a state-level nonprofit advocating for ranked choice voting in 12 separate counties.

FVWA pointed to the introduction of “amendments that would have excessively weakened” the measure in its nascent stages, including a push to not include an implementation deadline in the event that voters gave the council the go-ahead in November.

“At FairVote Washington, we’ve watched places across the country adopt RCV and we have taken note of best practices,” it said in a Tuesday news release. “One of these practices is to establish a firm deadline for implementation.”

“Without a deadline, elected officials don’t ever have to act, leaving voters disappointed and election administrators uncertain,” it continued.

Given that, FVWA praised Councilmember Zahilay for making “the right decision” to postpone plans for ranked choice voting in King County, with the focus now shifting toward getting it on the 2022 ballot.

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Zahilay also cited the fact that many others on the council “wanted more time to work through the details without the fast deadlines associated with this November’s ballot.”

Ranked choice voting has been implemented in 20 jurisdictions across the United States over the last decade-plus.

In practice, it allows voters to list their favorite candidates in order of preference. On the tabulation side, if any one person garners 50% of first place votes, the election is over and that candidate wins. In the event there’s no majority winner, ballots are put through an automated runoff, starting from the candidate who received the fewest first-place votes.

That candidate is then immediately eliminated. After that, all of the people who listed that last-place candidate as their first choice will have their second-choice votes allocated to the remaining candidates. If no candidate has a majority after that, the process repeats again and again, moving from the bottom up until someone gets to 50%.

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