Council Could Place Ranked-Choice Voting On Ballot; Ballard Commons Still on Slow Track to Reopening

Ballard Commons
Ballard Commons

1. On Tuesday, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis is expected to introduce legislation that would put ranked-choice voting—a type of election in which voters rank candidates according to their preference—on the November ballot alongside an existing initiative, I-134, that would allow voters to choose as many candidates as they want, a process called approval voting.

When presented with a validated initiative proposal, the council can put the measure on the ballot as-is, pass it as law themselves, or place an alternative measure on the ballot alongside the original initiative; if they put two measures on the ballot, the one that receives the most votes above a majority wins.

Ranked-choice voting, or instant-runoff voting, has been implemented in cities across the country, though in a slightly different form; in places with partisan like New York City, voters from each party use ranked choice voting to choose one person to move forward to the general election. In Seattle, which doesn’t have partisan elections, the top two candidates in the primary move forward to the general. Approval voting, in contrast, has only been implemented in two places in the US: Fargo, ND, and St. Louis, MO.

Advocates for ranked-choice voting argue that it elects leaders who are more representative of the general electorate. According to Fair Vote Washington spokesman Ben Chapman, ranked-choice voting produces “more civil, more issue-based campaigns, more voice for the voter and better representation for previously underrepresented communities.”  Advocates for approval voting say their system gives a fair chance to candidates who tend to languish in a winner-takes-all system where voting for the candidate you really like can feel like “throwing away your vote.”

Cannabis store owner and former city council candidate Logan Bowers, a member of the Seattle Approves campaign, says the council should put Initiative 134 on the ballot as-is, without introducing a second measure that would impose a totally different system. Under its ethics rules, the council is not allowed to discuss I-134 (or any alternative) publicly until it starts formally considering legislation to put the proposal on the ballot, which it will do next week. Because of the ethics constraint, Lewis declined to comment on his potential competing initiative.

Bowers says the council is rushing through an alternative measure without giving it the kind of scrutiny approval voting received through its campaign and signature gathering process. “I don’t think they need to rush this; they should just let approval voting go through or not, and they can always [put forward] another proposal later,” Bowers said. “We shouldn’t push this through as a two-week summer project.” Chapman counters that ranked choice voting is already a “known quantity” in use in more than 50 places across the US. “We don’t want Seattle voters to be an experiment,” Chapman said.

2. Since last December, the Ballard Commons—a 1.4-acre park surrounded by apartments and kitty-corner from the Ballard library— has been closed, its skate bowl, spray park, and grassy fields just out of reach behind the tall metal fence that has kept unsheltered people from setting up tents in the area for the last seven months. 

In a memo to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office April, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation recommended “fully reopening the park by summer,” but added that they recognized “we cannot be successful without strong, sustained support of the obstruction process” by the city’s Unified Care Team, a group of about 60 Parks, Department of Transportation, and Human Services Department employees that is in charge of removing encampments, including those that obstruct the use of public spaces.

The memo went on to recommend fully reopening the park by Memorial Day, with assistance from the Unified Care Team to “implement the… obstruction [removal] process.”

Although the park remains closed, City Councilmember Dan Strauss, who represents Ballard, says the city may partially reopen the Commons at some point this summer to give people access to at least the skate park and spray park. The schedule for reopening these areas (while keeping the rest of the park fenced off) will depend at least partly on neighborhood buy-in; although Strauss says local residents are eager to have access to the park, they want the city to ensure that there are no benches anywhere near the children’s spray area and to provide programming to activate the park, making it less attractive to people who might want to set up tents there.

Because the city hasn’t finished restoring the grass in certain areas, Strauss said it’s unlikely the whole park will reopen this summer; the question, he said, is “what is the timeline? Are we going to do a partial opening and then reclose a portion of it? What is the cheapest, most impactful way to do this?”

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said that although the city doesn’t have a reopening date yet, they’re working “to develop a safety and community programming plan” with the goal of reopening the park.


9 thoughts on “Council Could Place Ranked-Choice Voting On Ballot; Ballard Commons Still on Slow Track to Reopening”

  1. So Logan Bowers feels it’s unwise to rush through a complicated untested voting method without the scrutiny approval voting has received. Okay, fair enough. And it’s especially risky to give those pesky voters the chance to honestly compare voting methods side by side – that might give one side an unfair advantage. True, one method has had widespread use in multiple contexts for decades (even up to a century in one place), which may seem like enough time and sufficient testing. But you can’t be too careful. Maybe Fargo, ND and St.Louis, MO knows something nobody else does.

    1. If Council is looking to give the electorate options, why stop at ranked choice? Why not entertain bringing parties back to municipal elections, or other iterations of ranked choice or approval that might be out there? Why have an initiative process at all if electeds make an end run to put the option they like on the ballot?

  2. I don’t see any way to avoid having benches for parents/grandparents to watch their kids in the spraypark. Exactly how paranoid are we?

  3. Lol whoever asked for no benches near the spray park is obviously never going to use the spray park with children. I want benches. There’s no shade in that park. At least let me sit in the sun while my children play.

  4. I’m skeptical ranked choice voting as a primary system mechanism does much of anything? You’re still working with a top two result to advance to the general. Sounds a lot like approval voting but way more complicated to explain.

    1. I agree.

      Instant run-off ( works well when you have outlier candidate(s) with relatively low support in a two person race where neither has a majority. For example, Ralph Nader in Florida (and New Hampshire) in 2000. He comes in third, so his votes go the second choice, which is likely to be Al Gore. Gore gets a majority, and is elected. Second-choice voting solves that problem. But so does approval voting. It is likely you would have the same result.

      For instant run-off to matter in a primary, you need lots of votes for the third, fourth (and perhaps more) candidates to make a difference. This is rare. In contrast, approval voting ( can change the outcome in a primary, as we’ve recently seen in our own elections.

      Consider the city attorney race. Holmes came in third in the primary. With second-choice voting, his votes go to the other two candidates. The general election is the same either way. Nothing is different, and Davison becomes city attorney.

      In contrast, with approval voting, it is quite possible that Holmes gets enough people from both candidates to make it to the general. It is unlikely very many voters who supported Davison liked Thomas-Kennedy. It is quite likely that a significant number of Thomas-Kennedy voters were OK with Holmes. If 10% of the Thomas-Kennedy voters approved of Holmes, then Davison doesn’t make it out of the primary. The general election becomes Holmes versus Thomas-Kennedy.

      Another example: Seattle City Council, Position 9. There were 7 significant candidates. The last four got around 6% combined. With instant-runoff, nothing changes. Even if all of these votes went to the third-place candidate (Brianna Thomas) she did not have enough votes to get into the general election. Where her votes went is meaningless (you still have the same two in the general election). Thus instant-runoff wouldn’t have changed anything.

      In contrast, Brianna Thomas was the consensus candidate. It is possible that a significant number of Nelson and Oliver voters approved of her, but not the other. Thus it is quite possible that Thomas makes it to the general election. In the general election, it is quite likely she defeats either candidate.

      I can’t think of a single race where instant-runoff would have changed the outcome for the primary election. In contrast, approval voting probably would have changed one race, and likely would have changed another, just in the last set of local elections.

      Election results:,_Washington_(August_3,_2021,_top-two_primary),_Washington_(2021)

  5. It will be great to have the commons reopen for the use for which it was intended. Please keep it a safe place for the residents of Ballard who prior to the illegal encampment made good use of it.

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