Clark County has an opportunity. As a home rule charter county we can make voter-approved changes to local election rules without needing state approval. This unique status means we can adopt a reform that is gaining favor around the country, bringing faster and more representative elections that save taxpayer dollars.
The reform is ranked-choice voting.
By moving to nonpartisan elections with ranked-choice voting, Clark County can shift power to voters and make better elections a reality.
Places that use ranked-choice voting find it encourages candidates to run positive campaigns and appeal to wider groups of voters. It gives voters more say in elections because if their first choice can’t win, their vote still counts for their next choice. This also means voters don’t feel forced into voting for the “lesser evil,” and can instead vote their true conscience every election.
So, how does this better voting method work?
With ranked-choice voting, you can rank candidates on your ballot in the order you prefer: 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, and so on. If your favorite can’t win, your vote counts for your next choice.
This is a big improvement over Washington and Clark County’s “top-two” system. In the current method, two candidates opposed by most voters or from the same party can advance to the general election and leave too many voters without any candidate they actually like.
This sort of partisan shutout happened when two Democrats advanced from the primary to the general election in the lieutenant governor’s race in 2020. The same happened with two Republicans in a recent state treasurer’s race.
Ranked-choice voting helps give voters the options they deserve.
Using ranked-choice voting also means Clark County could combine the primary (which consistently has low voter turnout) and general election into one event. By holding a single, high-turnout general election with ranked-choice voting, you save taxpayer dollars and increase voter turnout.
Bipartisan bill SHB 1156 in our Legislature would grant cities, school boards and other local governments easier ability to combine primary and general elections with ranked-choice voting. Currently, this option is limited to nonpartisan charter counties or requires adoption under the Washington Voting Rights Act.
The bill, which passed out of its House Policy and Appropriations committees with convincing bipartisan support, seeks to increase voter participation in local elections. Not surprisingly, the State Office of Financial Management indicates combining the primary and general election will save taxpayer dollars; but the bill is on hold until the Legislature meets next year.
Clark County doesn’t have to wait, however, to upgrade democracy immediately in our community. We can — and should — use our status as a home rule charter county to make this change right now.
Each year, more states, counties and cities adopt and implement ranked-choice voting for the simple reason that voters like it and it saves money. Places such as the states of Maine and Alaska; Minneapolis; Santa Fe, N.M; and Benton County in Oregon have successfully used ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting makes elections faster, cheaper, and more representative. Clark County should seize the opportunity to adopt it.
Michael G. Martin of Vancouver previously served as the Legislative Director for FairVote Washington.