Explaining Seattle’s new ‘ranked choice’ voting

What it means and why we’re doing it 🗳


Ballots are going to start looking a little different in King County.

Photo via King County

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Whew — even though the dust of election season has just ended, we’re already looking ahead to future votes. Because that’s how civically geeky we are.

Let’s talk about Seattle’s new ranked choice voting (RCV) system — or you might know it as Proposition 1B from our most recent ballot. It passed with ~51% of the vote.

Wait, what is this? 🗳

In our most recent general election, we decided that we wanted to choose more than one candidate on our ballots for certain positions in the future.

This new system will only be used in elections concerning the mayor, city council, and the city attorney. We won’t be using this for any presidential or state positions.

The rest is pretty simple, we swear. Instead of picking just one candidate that you like, you’ll rank your favorites from first to last — kinda like how you ranked your friends in the early days of MySpace (we know, what a throwback).

After that initial primary vote, you’ll keep narrowing down candidates until there’s only two left for whichever position you’re voting on. After which, you’ll have to just choose one (no pressure) in the general election.

Why are we doing this? 💡

Basically, the hope is by allowing voters to rank the candidates, we’ll have a system that allows for better representation of the population since voters can include their “back-ups” on ballots.

FairVoteWA, an org advocating for RCV, also claims that the change can increase diverse politician representation and reward politicians who reach beyond their base.

When will we first see these new ballots? ⏰

Well, there’s a lot of boxes to check first — new ballots will have to be designed; the election commission will have to write new guidelines on how to handle voter mistakes; and someone will have to build a new counting system, just to name a few tasks

There’s no exact timeline on when this will all finally get put into place, but the city needs to have RCV totally ready to go by 2027.

It’s not a major election year, though. And even elections for city council seats were just moved to even-numbered years, so don’t expect to give it a real go until 2028.

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