Amid 15-way race for Seattle mayor, candidates express support for ranked-choice voting

Aug 2, 2021, 8:30 AM | Updated: 11:04 am
Seattle polling, ranked choice voting...
Candidates for Seattle mayor in the King County Voter's Guide. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

In mid-July, a proposal from King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay that would have started the county down the road toward ranked-choice voting (RCV) stalled out. Despite that, a handful of candidates for Seattle mayor have expressed their support for a switch later on down the road.

Delaying ranked choice voting in King County was ‘right decision’

With incumbent Jenny Durkan not running for reelection, 15 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to replace her as Seattle’s next mayor. Washington currently uses top-two primaries to narrow down large fields of candidates, but in races as expansive as this one, supporters believe that ranked-choice voting is the far better option.

“Seattle’s next mayor faces a challenge — or rather, a host of challenges. One of the 15 candidates will be tasked with answering difficult questions in the interest of a diverse city. It won’t be easy. Wouldn’t it be better if voters could honestly choose their favorites?” posits FairVote Washington (FVWA), a state-level nonprofit advocating for ranked choice voting in 12 separate counties.

FairVote Washington recently sent Seattle mayoral candidates a questionnaire to gauge their approval for RCV, with six voicing their support. That list included: Andrew Grant Houston, Casey Sixkiller, Colleen Echohawk, Jessyn Farrell, Lance Randall, and Lorena Gonzalez.

In practice, RCV allows voters to list their favorite candidates in order of preference. 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%.

King County district forges ahead on smartphone voting

As FVWA puts it, ranked-choice voting is “a simple improvement” that allows candidates to “build coalitions and prove they have broad support from voters,” particularly in larger fields like Seattle’s mayoral race, where candidates represent a broad spectrum of political positions.

“When they have to compete for second and third choice votes, candidates have an incentive to find common ground with opponents by focusing on issues,” it described in a recent news release.

Moving forward, Zahilay plans to continue working on his proposal with eyes toward garnering voter approval on the 2022 ballot, crediting early support this year as having “laid the foundation” for the near future.

Ranked choice voting has been implemented in 20 jurisdictions across the United States over the last decade-plus, including in New York City’s recent mayoral primary.

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Amid 15-way race for Seattle mayor, candidates express support for ranked-choice voting