OLYMPIA – Some Washington voters in the future could mark their ballots for more than one candidate in local elections, indicating which one they like best.
Local governments could choose to use a system known as “ranked choice voting” under a bill heard Wednesday by a House committee.
The switch to that system improved turnout and maximized the power of ballots in Minneapolis, which began the practice in 2009, said Casey Carl, Minneapolis city clerk. Candidates are more likely to run, and voters are more likely to find representation on ballots, he said.
“We’ve found that the fact that RCV allows candidates direct access to the ballot, that there isn’t a winnowing through a party primary process,” Carl told the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee. “It seems to engage people more and bring more people to the polls in November.”
The bill would allow counties and cities, as well as school, fire and port districts, to use ranked choice voting in elections. In races with five or fewer candidates, no primary would be held and all five would go on the general election ballot. In races with more than five candidates, a voter could mark a primary ballot for as many as five, ranking them from highest to lowest preference.
But the Washington State Association of County Auditors opposes the switch.
It could be expensive, and many counties use a system not certified to handle ranked choice voting, said Diana Bradrick, chief deputy auditor for Whatcom County. A plan to implement and pay for such a system needs to be in place before allowing such a switch, she said.
“The auditors can support new balloting methods, but they need to be properly resourced,” Bradrick said.
In a general election, a candidate who is the first choice of a majority of voters wins. If no candidate has that majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the votes of those who listed the eliminated candidate as their first-choice would go to the second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes.
Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore said ranked choice voting is confusing for voters and for auditors who would have multiple election types to oversee.
Residents in Pierce County voted to use a form of the system in 2006, but after two elections voted to give it up. Ranked choice voting is used by 13 local governments across the country. Maine began using it for all state and federal primary elections last June.
The committee will decide on Friday whether to advance the bill.
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