Breaking the two-party duopoly, one city at a time

Are you tired of the political constraints created by our two-party system? Do you find yourself weighing the choice between voting for the candidate who best represents your views against the candidate that seems most likely to win? Are you tired of your preferred candidates being labeled “spoiler” because they run against more mainstream candidates?

One of the secrets to unlocking this dilemma is to establish a system of ranked-choice voting. Whenever there is a choice between more than two candidates on the ballot, ranked-choice voting enables us to vote for our favorite candidate without worrying that such a choice will split the vote and help the worst candidate win.

The Seattle Charter Amendment 27, a citizens’ initiative campaign, launches this Saturday. It would create a system of ranked-choice voting for our municipal elections. Seattle would then join many other cities using this voting system, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Cambridge, MA.

Ranked-choice voting might seem a bit unfamiliar at first, but it’s really as simple as 1-2-3. Instead of casting a single vote in a multi-candidate contest, you rank your top choices. If no candidate wins a majority in the first round of counting, then subsequent rounds allow a voter’s first choice to shift to a second choice until a majority winner is determined.

Such a process would not only open up the field to a wider range of candidates, but also potentially eliminate the need for primary elections.

To quote the ballot summary:

If passed, this charter amendment would create ranked-choice voting for Seattle municipal primaries or, if state law permits, eliminate primary elections and have ranked-choice voting for general elections. Ranked-choice voting would allow voters to rank candidates in order of choice. If a voter’s first choice received the fewest votes, then that voter’s second choice would be counted and so on, until only two candidates remained for a primary or, if no primary was held, one candidate remained for a general election.

Still unclear? Imagine this hypothetical: A race among three candidates where Candidate A is a right-wing extremist, Candidate B is a mainstream liberal, and Candidate C is a progressive rabble-rouser. You like the progressive rabble-rouser, but are afraid that casting a vote for “C” will help the right-wing extremist. With all other things equal, let’s say voter choices tended toward 40% for A, 35% for B, and 25% for C. But voters who prefer C feel compelled to vote for B, lest A win, thus distorting the vote and perpetuating the myth that progressive rabble-rousers like C are a lost cause.

Ranked-choice voting fixes that problem. If you are someone who believes that we need a progressive political alternative to the Democrats, be aware that without ranked-choice voting, such an alternative is unlikely to ever get any traction. This reform is badly needed at state and federal levels (wouldn’t it be great to eliminate the spoiler problem in presidential elections?), but getting it established in more cities like Seattle is an important step toward wider adoption.

From FairVote WA’s CA-27 press release:

In Seattle, the recent mayoral primary was the inspiration to put forth the charter amendment at this time. With 21 candidates in the race, those supporting most of the candidates had to consider their preferred candidate’s chances of success for fear of “wasting” their votes. With RCV a voter can rank candidates in order of choice without having to worry about how others will vote and who is more or less likely to win. Many Seattle candidates support RCV, including:

Cary Moon running for Seattle City Mayor:
“I am in favor of Ranked Choice Voting. Reforming the processes of how elections work is a powerful tool to achieve the goal of our democratic system working in the public interest.”

Teresa Mosqueda running for Seattle City Council Position 8:
“I have been a long-time advocate for lifting the voices of underrepresented communities. With ranked choice voting, we have a opportunity to get away from primaries with low participation, particularly among people of color and young people. That’s more equitable and that’s why I endorse Charter Amendment 27.”

Jon Grant running for Seattle City Council Position 8:
“I’m excited to endorse Seattle Charter Amendment 27 because politics as usual isn’t working. Ranked choice voting will empower grassroots candidates to compete with big money and establishment interests.”

FairVote WA is also working with King County Elections to ensure the transition to Ranked Choice Voting is successful. In addition, if state law eventually permits, primaries can be phased out and RCV could be used in the general elections, which cannot happen with the current state requirement of top-two primaries.

The campaign must collect 31,000 valid signatures from registered Seattle voters before early March 2018 to be placed on the ballot in 2019. For more information on the campaign, see the campaign’s Facebook page or the website for the campaign’s sponsor, FairVote Washington.

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