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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Choice Voting on the Ballot in November

In November, Seattle voters will consider whether to stick with their status quo electoral method or switch to approval voting (AV) or ranked choice voting (RCV) for their primary elections. The measure still may be a victim of the state courts. 

Approval voting is a single-winner voting method that allows voters to choose any number of candidates. The candidate chosen the most wins. Approval Voting is most often discussed in the context of single-winner elections, but variations using an approval-style ballot can also be applied to multi-winner (at-large) elections. Note that the tallying process is often different there. This article focuses on single-winner approval voting.

Some say that RCV — also known as instant runoff voting (IRV) improves fairness in elections by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. RCV is straightforward: Voters have the option to rank candidates in order of preference: first, second, third and so forth. Votes that do not help voters’ top choices win count for their next choice. Supporters of this says it works in all types of elections and supports more representative outcomes.

Sightline retained a Seattle-based law firm with a wealth of experience in campaign finance, election, and voting law to examine the legality of the two systems and offer an opinion, based on an extensive reading of federal and state law and court decisions. 

Also possible, according to the firm’s analysis, would be a court rejection of AV even before it was implemented. Some experts say that is law poses at least a potential risk to approval voting, but not RCV. 

Experts say that the analysis does not suggest that either type of court loss for AV would be likely. To the contrary, voting rights cases are hard to mount and win, and the sentence in state law that seems to ban AV has never been interpreted or called upon by a court.  

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