Changing the way we elect public officials can change who runs for office, how they run their campaigns, who wins, and how voters feel about their democracy. Sightline believes that better electoral methods can create better campaigns, better options for voters, and more representative governments. In the past months we have examined:
- Which election methods work best for electing executive officers like the mayor and the governor (we concluded that single-winner Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting, has a track record of performing well, and Score Runoff, a.k.a. Star Voting, shows theoretical promise and should be put into practice);
- Which methods work best for electing legislative bodies like the city council or the state house of representative (we concluded that multi-winner Ranked Choice Voting, a.k.a. Single Transferable Vote (STV), could work well at both the local and statewide level and that Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) could work well for statewide elections);
- State laws and policies governing election reform (Washington faces some state law limitations); and
- Voting equipment requirements to count ranked choice ballots (no voting machines are yet ready to count score runoff ballots).
This article summarizes our current thinking, as of June 2017, about which cities, counties, and state actions advocates could target for reform based on the best combination of legal, political, and equipment opportunity. First we provide brief summaries of each priority action; at the bottom of the article you’ll find a table summarizing this information.
1. Secretary of State could require counties to acquire only RCV-ready equipment.
Timeline: SOS might disburse funds in 2017-2018.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: Washington counties would gradually become RCV-ready, making electoral reform efforts easier.
Electoral Reform: RCV-ready counties would face no technical obstacles to adopting RCV, and a statewide RCV election would be easy to administer with some minimal cooperation between counties.
Advocates could ask the Secretary of State to require counties to acquire only RCV-ready equipment when upgrading systems. With a single requirement and no additional cost, Washington could make huge strides towards becoming completely RCV-ready.
2. King County charter review committee could put ranked choice voting on the ballot in 2018.
Timeline: The review commission will meet during 2017-2018.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: This would be a step towards Clear Ballot counties becoming RCV-ready.
Electoral Reform: This would be a first step toward King County adopting RCV.
King County is right now putting together its once-a-decade charter review commission to meet in 2017 and 2018 to craft charter amendments for the 2018 ballot. The commission will hold public meetings where advocates may encourage commission members to put a charter amendment on the ballot that would allow King County voters to elect county councilors with ranked ballots.
3. King County voters could approve a 2018 RCV ballot initiative.
Timeline: November 2018 ballot
Impact on Equipment Readiness: If the initiative passes and King County requests an RCV software module from Clear Ballot, then all counties using Clear Ballot (currently 13 in Oregon and Washington) would become RCV-capable.
Electoral Reform: If the initiative passes, King County voters would use RCV to elect county officials.
If the King County Charter Review Commission puts RCV on the ballot, advocates could work to convince voters to approve the initiative.
4. The five counties already planning to replace their voting equipment in the next five years could buy RCV-ready equipment.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: Five counties would become RCV-ready.
Electoral Reform: These counties and the cities within them would face no technical obstacles to adopting RCV.
Three charter counties (Clallam, Clark, and San Juan) and two code counties (Benton and Lewis) are planning to update their voting equipment in the next two to five years. These counties will be spending money on new equipment anyway, so they might as well make sure that equipment gives the flexibility for the counties, cities, or the state to adopt ranked choice voting.
Advocates could encourage the county auditors and councils to choose RCV-ready equipment to preserve flexibility, or they could encourage the charter counties or any charter city within any of the counties to adopt RCV, thus necessitating RCV-ready equipment.
5. Charter counties and cities with RCV-capable equipment could adopt RCV.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: Three counties would purchase RCV software module and become RCV-ready.
Electoral Reform: These three counties would face no technical obstacles to adopting RCV.
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Franklin, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties use RCV-capable voting equipment. Dominion, the manufacturer of their equipment, has a certified software module available that can count ranked ballots, so the charter counties (Snohomish and Whatcom) or any charter city within any of the three counties (for example, Bellingham, and Everett) could adopt RCV and prompt the county to purchase the software module.
6. The state could use proportional RCV to elect the state legislature.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: Leading up to the change, enough counties could convert to RCV-ready equipment that, with some sharing between counties, the RCV-ready counties could count the ballots in a statewide RCV election.
Electoral Reform: Washington voters would elect state legislators via proportional RCV.
Proportional election methods yield more representative legislatures, break the two-party duopoly, make gerrymandering moot, make more votes count, and generate more substantive campaigns. Washingtonians could change state law to elect state representatives via multi-member districts and ranked ballots, a proportional method called Single Transferable Vote (STV).
For example, the state could draw 19 legislative districts, and voters in each would elect five representatives using a multi-winner ranked ballot for a total 95 state representatives. Each district would elect two senators, for a total of 38 senators. In the five-member districts, Libertarians, Green Party members, and independents would likely win some seats. Alternatively, Washington could draw 33 districts, each electing three representatives (for a total of 99) and one senator (total of 33). Because only one senator would win in each district, those races would use a single-winner ranked ballot .
The law or initiative could also require counties to acquire RCV-ready equipment whenever they turn over, and in the interim, ask counties with capable equipment to count the ranked ballots.
7. The state could use Mixed Member Proportional representation to elect the state legislature.
Impact on Equipment Readiness: Current equipment can already count MMP ballots.
Electoral Reform: Washington voters would elect state legislators via Mixed Member Proportional voting.
Instead of RCV, Washington could use the same method that New Zealand uses to achieve proportional representation, called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). Voters would get to vote for one senator, one representative, and one political party. The local senator and local representative would come from their local district, and they would also elect party representatives to represent their region. For example, Washington could keep its same 49 districts, and each would elect one senator and one representative. The other 49 representatives would be regional representatives coming from 5 regional districts, made up of 9 or 10 districts combined. Current voting equipment can already count MMP ballots.
Summary of potential Washington advocacy efforts
The table below shows our estimate of the timeline and impacts of each of the above efforts.
|Timeline||Electoral System Reform Goal||Equipment Needs or Updates|
|1. SoS funds RCV-ready equipment||2017-2018||N/A: Not an attempt to change electoral system||Statewide: All counties would select RCV-ready systems when purchasing new equipment.|
|2. King County Charter Review Committee||2017-2018||N/A: Not an attempt to change electoral system||No new equipment required.|
|3. King County ballot initiative||Nov 2018||IRV||Clear Ballot would need to produce RCV-capable software.|
|4. Five counties already planning to replace voting equipment||2018-2022||N/A: Not an attempt to change electoral system||Update to RCV-ready equipment.|
|5. Two charter counties with RCV-capable equipment||2018-2022||IRV||No new equipment required: This effort would take advantage of existing equipment.|
|6 & 7. Statewide campaign for proportional representation||2024||MMP or STV for state legislature||Statewide: All counties would need access to RCV-capable equipment.|