Ranked-choice and approval voting join November ballot after city council approval
Voters in Seattle will be asked to decide between two new ways of voting in citywide elections this November after the Seattle City Council voted 7-2 Thursday in favor of sending both ranked-choice and approval voting methods to the ballot.
Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced legislation earlier this week that would put ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to list their preferred candidates in order of preference, on the November ballot.
Lewis said at Thursday’s council meeting he wanted to allow voters “to choose the election form that is more broadly adopted across the United States,” as opposed to the “sparsely adopted” approval voting.
After each round of voting, the lowest-ranked candidate would be eliminated. Voters’ ballots then count a single vote for the remaining candidate the voter has ranked the highest. The two candidates who receive the most votes would advance to the general election.
“In practical terms, ranked-choice voting greatly enhances the discourse of our elections,” Lewis said.
Approval voting, on the other hand, is backed by a volunteer-run voting reform group called Seattle Approves, which has already received enough votes to get on the ballot.
It would let voters support as many candidates for a given elected position as they would like. The two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes advance to the general election.
Approval voting is conceptually new and sparsely adopted in the U.S. Only Fargo, North Dakota and St. Louis, Missouri use this system as of this reporting.
“If you’ve ever thought, ‘I’d like to vote for that candidate, but I’d be throwing away my vote,’ you’ve experienced how our current system doesn’t accurately measure voter support,” the Seattle Approves’ website reads.
In November, a single yes-or-no question will be placed on the ballot, asking voters if either initiative should be approved. If voters select “yes,” they will then select which of the two measures they prefer.
Despite both methods making it on the November ballot, Councilmember Sara Nelson publicly opposed the city council’s involvement in the decision.
“Ranked-choice voting has not qualified for the ballot in Seattle, but if it had, I would hope council would just send that measure to the ballot and let the voters approve or reject it in November,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “The advocates for ranked-choice voting did not choose that route, opting instead to persuade councilmembers to advance their proposal. Now, with just five votes, city council can potentially influence the outcome of the election by sending a competing measure to the voters.”
“I’m not taking a stand for or against approval voting or ranked-choice voting,” Nelson continued. “I’m taking a stand for good governance. City Council should get out of the way, send the qualified initiative to the voters, and focus our attention on the pressing city business before us.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold addressed that concern, stating the council is within its rights to nominate multiple initiatives.
“The council is not interfering within the process. The initiative process explicitly grants the council the authority to add an alternative to the ballot,” Herbold said. “The initiative process says if our city is going to consider an alternate voting system by initiative, we can allow a vote on both approval voting and ranked-choice voting. It’s our responsibility to the voters to have the ability to choose a voting system that they must support.
Some groups and citizens have voiced concern that if approval voting passes, Seattle would be the first major city with a majority white electorate to use this system, a scenario that risks giving white voters an outsized voice in determining election outcomes at the expense of voters of color.
During the public comment, twice as many people spoke out in favor of ranked-choice voting compared to approval voting, according to Lewis.
“The council would be depriving voters of the final decision if choosing ranked-choice voting was not an option,” Lewis said.
If approved, Initiative 134 would go into effect no later than 2025. Under Lewis’ proposal, ranked-choice voting would be implemented by 2027.