ELECTION 2023: Why Seattle city races won’t use ranked-choice voting this year, though voters said yes to it last fall

With four Seattle City Councilmembers not planning to run for reelection so far, this year’s primary campaigning is likely to be lively.

That could mean long lists of candidates from which to choose – in 2015, for example, the first time district councilmembers were elected, nine people were on the ballot here in District 1. In 2021, 15 people ran for mayor.

Last November, Seattle voters approved a ballot measure to implement “ranked-choice voting” in city elections, in which you would rank the candidates in your order of preference, not just choose and vote for one. Advocates say it “improves fairness in elections … and supports more representative outcomes.”

But you won’t get the chance to try it out this year. We asked King County Elections recently about how it’s being implemented, and spokesperson Halei Watkins replied, “Ranked choice voting will not be implemented ahead of this year’s City Council elections. The measure requires implementation by 2027 and there is a long list of factors and decisions to be made about what exactly RCV will look like for Seattle voters. King County Elections will also need to coordinate with both the City of Seattle and the Secretary of State’s Office throughout the planning process. Key factors include ballot design, how many candidates voters will be able to rank, upgrades to our tabulation system to be able to count RCV ballots, how questions of voter intent will be handled, how results will be reported and on what schedule, and more. And then, of course, we’ll also need to do robust voter education on how it all works.”

There’s a chance it might be ready sooner, Watkins added: “It is possible that we could implement before 2027 and we’ll be looking to implement as quickly as we can while ensuring the same high standard of accuracy, transparency, and accessibility that we pride ourselves on, but this year is not likely.” For starters, they have to settle on a ballot design before they can start working on tabulation upgrades. But work has begun, Watkins says – “we’re very much in early planning stages and we’re connecting with the City and (state) on next steps.”

If you’re curious, places in the U.S. where some form of ranked-choice voting is being used are listed here.

8 Replies to "ELECTION 2023: Why Seattle city races won't use ranked-choice voting this year, though voters said yes to it last fall"

  • Gatewood resident January 19, 2023 (10:53 pm)

    If Sawant isn’t running again I’d say this initiative is already a success

  • Not the Mr T January 20, 2023 (1:17 am)

    Seems as if ranked-choice voting is on the same schedule as West Seattle light rail.

  • Chris January 20, 2023 (8:15 am)

    Implementing “defund the police” policies has no problem speeding through every level of government, but new voting policies that help us with better representation in districts takes years! 

    • WestSeattleBadTakes January 20, 2023 (10:53 am)

      It doesn’t make sense to you that defunding something that currently exists (although defund the police isn’t and has not happened btw) is easier than implementing something that currently does not exist?

    • K January 20, 2023 (12:59 pm)

      The police were never defunded.  I don’t know what you are talking about and I suspect you don’t either.

    • Poultine January 20, 2023 (1:11 pm)

      Changing departmental funding is already a very standard part of the annual budgetary process, so no, it didn’t take very long for the council to approve a different budget with less funding than the previous year. It’s the kind of thing small government folks are always asking to happen.Meanwhile, justified or not, people seem to be extremely sensitive to concerns about elections lately. Imagine the outcome if they roll out a half-baked, imperfect ranked-choice plan– it’ll be 20 years before anyone is willing to consider it again. I’ll take the “slow and steady” option as long as it guarantees we get there.2027 is absurd, though — I wasn’t expecting it to happen this year, but it sure doesn’t seem like something that takes a full four years of planning.

  • Roxhill Resident January 20, 2023 (8:16 am)

    Gatewood Resident: <slow clap>

  • Seattlite January 20, 2023 (10:45 pm)

    RCV is not a good choice.   Voters have difficulty researching and being informed about one candidate to vote for and RCV requires researching and being informed about multiple candidates for the same position.  One person, One vote is the way to go as election/voting history shows.  Using RCV creates Exhausted Votes that are thrown out due to error, voter confusion in not following instructions, OR the voter’s ranked choices are no longer in contention.  Voters will find using RCV that they will have to rank candidates that they do not support in order to get their ballot to count.  I bet RCV will create lower voter turnout.  RCV is not a solution but instead a convoluted quagmire.  These are all the reasons I voted against RCV.

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