Ranked-choice, approval, or neither: Seattle to decide on changes to how it votes

SEATTLE — Ballots for the November election ballot are coming to mailboxes soon, and Seattle voters will decide whether to approve a new system for voting in primary elections.

Two competing options, ranked-choice voting and approval voting, are both on the ballot.

Ranked-choice voting hit the spotlight this summer, when Democrat Mary Peltola won a special election to represent Alaska in Congress.

Alaska voters, like those in several cities including New York and San Francisco, now rank candidates in order of preference.

“Instead of voting for one candidate, you get to rank your choices, first, second, third and so on. If your favorite can’t win, then your vote counts toward your next choice,” said Ben Chapman of Fair Vote Washington.

Versions of ranked-choice voting are on the November ballot in Clark County, San Juan County and the City of Seattle, where primary elections for mayor, city council and city attorney could change.

“Ranked-choice voting makes it more likely a candidate you like is going to advance to the general election. It’s really that simple,” Chapman said.

In Seattle, there’s a rival proposal called approval voting where voters select all candidates who meet their approval.

The two with the most votes advance to the general election.

“Pick every single candidate that matches your values. So, when we have a mayoral race with 15 candidates, as we did last year, oftentimes there’s going to be one or two candidates or even more that really match your values,” said Logan Bowers of Seattle Approves.

St. Louis and Fargo, North Dakota use approval voting.

“It is the best option in this kind of latest round of voting reforms in the United States,” Bowers said.

Advocates of both multiple-choice systems say they would force candidates to reach beyond their base and build broad support, and not just get through the primary with 20% or 30% of the vote.

“In both of these cases, what we’re really talking about here are solutions that are looking for a problem,” said Seattle political consultant Sandeep Kaushik, who says city primaries already advance diverse candidates who represent the city’s political perspectives.

“I think our system works very well as it is,” he said.

Ranked choice advocates say their system is more proven, while approval voting advocates say theirs is easier to implement.

Seattle voters will answer two questions: whether to make any changes to primary voting, and then, regardless of their vote on the first question, which of the new systems to enact.

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