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Not all PNW voters sold on ranked-choice voting

Two women smile holding up promotional materials next to a white board that reads "On your ballot: Ranked Choice Voting Charter Amendment."
Fair Vote Washington
Volunteers with the Fair Vote Washington campaign work to inform voters about ranked choice voting in San Juan County.

A push in many parts of the Pacific Northwest to try ranked-choice voting is seeing mixed results in early returns.

In Oregon, two different types of ranked-choice voting are doing well: In Multnomah County, Oregon, which encompasses much of the Portland metro area, votes counted so far are for approving a ranked-choice voting measure with 66% of the vote.

Portland’s measure to overhaul city government – which would include switching to a form of ranked-choice voting that’s different than Multnomah County’s or the ones proposed in Washington – was leading with 56% of the vote.

Washington is far more mixed. San Juan County and Clark County appear to have rejected measures to change to ranked-choice, with 65% and 58% of voters saying “no,” respectively.

Seattle’s race is perhaps the most interesting. There, voters were given two questions: do you want to change voting at all; and, if voting is changed – regardless of whether you want to change it or not – would you rather switch to ranked-choice voting or a system called “approval voting,” which would ask primary voters to choose all candidates they like?

An overwhelming number of voters said they’d rather have ranked-choice if the system is changed, but as of election night almost 51% said they’d rather not change anything about voting. The 'no' vote lead narrowed in the days after the election, but still had about 2,000 more votes than 'yes' as of Thursday.

One reason Washingtonians might be a little more hesitant: Pierce County tried ranked-choice voting in 2008 but repealed it after just two elections.

“Win, lose, or draw, we always knew tonight was always going to be only the next step in a long march towards a truly reflective and equitable democracy,” Stephanie Houghton, managing director for FairVote Washington – the organization that pushed to get the San Juan, Clark and Seattle measures on the ballot, wrote in a statement Tuesday night.

“We’ll be taking this momentum to the legislature. Our work isn’t over until voters can elect candidates who are responsive to all constituents, who prioritize issues over ideology, policy over politics.”

A Washington state bill to allow ranked-choice voting in general elections was introduced this year by Senate Democrats, but didn’t make it through the Ways and Means committee.

Scott Greenstone started off working at his community college newspaper before interning at NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and covering homelessness for The Seattle Times. He co-produced the “Outsiders” podcast with KNKX, which was named one of TIME’s top 10 podcasts of 2020.
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