One of the most interesting — and perhaps the most confusing — items on the Nov. 8 ballot is ranked-choice voting. While the proposal warrants consideration, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on Charter Amendment No. 10, which would institute ranked-choice voting in Clark County.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian suggests that voters study the issue and the impact it would have on local elections before casting an informed ballot.
Under a ranked-choice system, voters rank their preferred candidates in a particular race. The first-place choices are then counted; if a candidate wins a majority of those votes, they are the victor. Otherwise, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and those who voted for them will have their second-place vote counted. The process continues until a candidate wins a majority of the vote.
There are, indeed, benefits to this system, and we will explore them in a moment. But the editorial board believes those benefits are outweighed by the drawbacks.
Primary among those drawbacks is the fact that Charter Amendment No. 10 would apply only to Clark County races. For this year’s election, ranked-choice voting would have been in effect for county council and county executive positions such as auditor and sheriff, eliminating the need for primary elections in those contests. It would not apply for legislative or statewide races.
That would lead to disparate voting systems for different races on the same ballot. While Washington voters have become accustomed to the simplicity of a top-two primary that sends two candidates in each race to the general election, a ranked-choice system used for some elections and not others would create confusion.
Such confusion would undermine confidence in our election system. At a time when lies and conspiracy theories easily gain traction and foster doubt in our democracy, adding additional complexity would increase the vulnerability of that democracy. The clarity of having two candidates and having the one with the most votes declared the winner (we’ll save discussions about the Electoral College for another time) helps stabilize our election system.
Finally, Charter Amendment No. 10 would not go into effect until 2026. If ranked-choice voting is the panacea that some advocates claim it to be, there should be no delay. We believe this demonstrates that the system is not the cure-all supporters suggest.
Indeed, there are benefits to ranked-choice voting. Given the increase of political polarization throughout the country, supporters say the system discourages negative campaigning, bolsters moderate candidates and leads to increased voter satisfaction. It also saves money by eliminating primary elections for some races, and it would fix some problems that come with Washington’s oddly timed late-summer primary.
Ranked-choice voting has been implemented in many parts of the country and often has proven to be popular. But it also should be noted that Pierce County voters adopted the system in 2006, then abolished it in 2009.
Ranked-choice voting is an intriguing and somewhat attractive idea. If it were being proposed statewide for all elections, we might support it.
But stability and consistency are needed to restore faith in our elections. And because Charter Amendment No. 10 would apply to only a handful of elections, creating different systems for different races, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on the question of ranked-choice voting.