An effort to bring ranked choice voting to Clark County launched Tuesday at FairVote Washington’s virtual campaign kickoff.
The local campaign is part of a larger effort by the nonpartisan nonprofit to introduce ranked choice voting to local elections across Washington. Guest speakers included former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, who was the 3rd District representative from 1999 to 2011, and state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.
Unlike a traditional ballot, where voters select a single candidate, ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, i.e., first, second, third, etc.
If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she wins. If no candidate wins outright, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated from consideration with the second choice votes from ballots for the eliminated candidate applied to the remaining candidates.
If that doesn’t give one of the remaining candidates a majority, the process is repeated until one does.
The charter amendment would apply to county elected officials only.
“The issue has to be about, is this good for our democratic republic form of government,” Baird said. “Will it lead to more citizen engagement? Will it help elect people who can work together, who can solve problems? Will it reduce the tone of antagonism and hatred, even, and bring people together? I think ranked choice voting will do that,” Baird said.
But there are pros and cons to ranked choice voting. Supporters say it gives voters more choices on the ballot and means voters aren’t left choosing between two candidates they don’t want. Supporters also say it discourages negative campaigning because candidates may not be the second-choice vote if they treated the voter’s first choice poorly.
“There are lots of reasons to support this. Clark County has the potential to be a leader in our country,” Baird said.
Only Alaska and Maine allow ranked choice voting for federal and/or state level elections. An additional 13 states have jurisdictions that have either implemented or adopted ranked choice voting.
Opponents say ranked choice voting will lead to confusing and complicated ballots, which could lead to fewer voters casting ballots. There also are concerns that ranked choice ballots will be more difficult, and more expensive, to count and could result in no candidate getting a majority of votes.
Stonier said her campaigns in Clark County’s 17th and 49th districts would have been helped by ranked choice voting.
“I’m somebody who’s been elected in a very partisan role in a very partisan swing district with very tough conversations to have across the aisle and then in a very strong Democratic district … would have benefited from having a cleaner conversation — in both those races — when it comes to just making sure voters know who they are supporting and taking the politics out of it,” Stonier said.
A statewide effort has also been in the works. Bills were introduced in both the House and Senate during the 2022 legislative session to allow ranked choice voting in county, city, school district, fire district and port district elections but failed to pass before the session cutoff date. State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, also introduced a bill this session to allow ranked choice voting in presidential primary elections but that bill, too, failed to pass.
To watch FairVote Washington’s campaign kickoff, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63PRxc2szcg.