Two significant proposed changes to Washington State elections that might dramatically alter the landscape of local races are moving through the Legislature.
The larger proposed change is House Bill 1727, which would get rid of most elections in odd-numbered years. The bill’s sponsor, SeaTac Democrat Mia Gregerson, argues that such elections — mostly for local offices — draw about half as many voters as even-year elections that feature more races for higher office. Nick Bowman over at MyNorthwest.com has a good write-up on the issue.
The bill would eventually reschedule those local elections alongside races for president, governor, Congress, and the Legislature. That would give local candidates a bite at the large chunk of voters who typically turn out only for higher-profile races.
Gregerson’s bill passed out of House State Government & Tribal Relations on a party-line vote on Wednesday. The sharpest opposition came from Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who highlighted its potential impact on the referendum process, which lets citizens challenge laws passed by the Legislature via signature drive.
Lawmakers tend to pass the kinds of controversial measures that draw referendum campaigns during the longer sessions in odd-numbered years. Should the bill pass, a successful referendum petition would put the offending bill on the ballot the following year, some 18 months after its passage.
The other significant proposed election change in action on Wednesday was Senate Bill 5584, Tacoma Democrat Yasmin Trudeau’s proposal to allow ranked-choice voting in local elections.
Here’s how ranked-choice voting works: Instead of voting for just one candidate in a crowded but usually low-turnout primary in August, setting up a head-to-head race in November, voters would list their candidates in order of preference.
This system, also known as instant-runoff, gets to a winner, or winners, in the case of choosing finalists from a crowded primary, like this: Suppose there are five candidates. An initial count would tally only voters’ first preference. The last-place finisher would be disqualified, and his or her voters would be redistributed among the other candidates according to their second preference, and so on until one candidate got to more than 50 percent. Proponents argue the system does a better job of reflecting the overall view of the voters by preventing similar candidates from splitting large constituencies in the primary.
An election with five or fewer candidates would have no separate primary. For a crowded primary like last year’s contest for Seattle mayor, the system would be used in the primary to cut the field to five candidates for the November ballot.
A similar bill died on the House floor calendar at the end of the 2020 session. The Washington Observer took a look last year at how that might have worked in a hot Seattle mayoral race.
Ranked-choice voting has been adopted in several jurisdictions around the country. But it has new competition in the alternative voting format arena from a similar system known as approval voting, a system that will likely come before voters in Seattle this fall. For more on that, check out The Sunday Observer from earlier this month.
Trudeau’s bill passed out of Senate State Government and Elections on a party-line vote on Wednesday. It now heads to Ways and Means.
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