By George Cheung
The ballots of Seattle voters will pose a very important question: Do we want to change our democracy? To put it simply: Yes. Of course. Unequivocally. American democracy is falling apart. To save it—at least here at home, which would create a domino effect—we have to vote yes on this first question.
Public trust in our government and institutions has never been lower. And it’s no surprise. Just look at the other Washington, mired in January 6th insurrectionist hearings, bipartisan gridlock, and Russian interference. Things aren’t looking good.
Here in our Washington, though, everyday people have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to improve and strengthen our democracy. The stakes have never been higher. Right now, the winner-take-all system always leads to voter dissatisfaction writ large. How many times have you been excited about a primary candidate only to be completely deflated with your options during the general election?
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple, effective, and proven alternative. It’s the only viable path forward, and it is the logical next step to our democracy’s evolution. But for Seattle to see the benefits of RCV—which voters and endorsers alike clearly favor—then we must also vote yes on the first question that asks for change. RCV will not happen without both yes votes. It’s silly to vote “yes” on 1B, or RCV, and then prevent it from happening in the first place by saying no to the first half of the question. It’s like saying you want to eat cereal but refuse to use a bowl. If we want RCV, we do in fact want to change our democracy.
Ranked-choice voting is a necessary step in the unsexy but critical work of crash-proofing our democracy.
At the end of the day, RCV is a straightforward voting system that would ensure the Pacific Northwest becomes a stronghold against the rapid crumbling of our nation’s democracy. We can be a bulwark against fascism and eroding social cohesion. And as we’ve done with marriage equality, minimum wage, and marijuana legalization, we can lead the country toward a better path.
Ranked-choice voting delivers accurate voter representation even before a necessary, separate-but-connected movement gets to tackling campaign finance issues. There are critics of RCV who suggest lax campaign finance laws are the real issue. But let’s use a parallel analogy for a second: Reducing the risk of dying while operating a vehicle. When drivers’ deaths were at an all-time high, we passed a whole slate of laws, policies, and standards that made driving safer. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t now, to oppose airbags because you think steering wheels need to look the same, or because you think seat belts got it covered.
This includes, as PubliCola’s editorial board rightfully points out, stronger campaign finance laws. But more importantly, it will require many policy changes. To pull American democracy back from the brink of pseudo-fascist authoritarianism is a daunting task that requires every tool in our toolbox. That starts with the choices we have right now: Voting yes on Question 1 to improve our democracy and voting yes on 1b, RCV.
RCV is a necessary step in the unsexy but critical work of crash-proofing our democracy. We know it’s simple because voters themselves have said so in overwhelming majorities. We know that RCV is effective at preventing democratic manipulation because it delivers the actual will of voters, making elected officials truly representative of the votes cast. We know that RCV is proven thanks to the more than 50 jurisdictions where it has reduced polarization and attack ads, allowing third-party candidates to run competitive races.
RCV makes voters feel heard by making every vote count. In crowded races, much like Seattle’s mayoral elections, candidates who advance to the general election often have as little as 32-34 percent of voter support. RCV allows voters to designate a first, second, and third choice for run-off rounds, ensuring that the candidates who advance actually have a majority of votes behind them—not just a plurality of die-hard, uncompromising supporters. This, in turn, improves voter satisfaction and boosts participation. Time and time again, RCV has led to increased voter turnout! And of course it did: When people know their vote matters, they show up.
This is precisely why RCV has the endorsements of every Democratic Party legislative district in Seattle, the King County Democrats, the League of Women Voters, and nearly 30 more grassroots organizations. These organizations include those who represent workers, communities of color, and advocates from all sorts of backgrounds and issue areas. It’s the same ecosystem of partners who advocated for mail-in ballots, democracy vouchers, and campaign finance laws that voters have overwhelmingly supported over the years. I know, because I’ve been working on these solutions to our weakening democracy since they were simply ideas.
I’m proud of the democracy we’ve built here in Seattle. But the work is far from done. Read the news. Our democracy can be better. And we have a moral obligation to make it better.
Democracy only works if we all agree to it. Protecting our local democracy against the ugly patterns to demolish it nationwide and improving our local voting system, too, only happen if we all agree to it. When you’re filling out your ballot: make sure you vote yes to the first question, yes to improving our democracy, if you want your yes on 1B to go into action.
George Cheung is the Director of More Equitable Democracy and the former Program Director for the Joyce Foundation’s Democracy Program and Co-Chair of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation. Cheung was also executive director of the Win/Win Network and founder/executive director of Equal Rights Washington, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization.