Initiative to change Seattle elections heads toward ballot

An election worker opens envelopes containing vote-by-mail ballots for the August 4 Washington state primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on August 3, 2020.  ((Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images))

An initiative that would alter the way Seattle elects mayors, city attorneys and City Council members is headed toward the November ballot.

Elections authorities said Wednesday the Initiative 134 campaign, run by a group called Seattle Approves, has secured enough qualifying signatures, The Seattle Times reported. Under the proposal for "approval voting," a voter would be able to select multiple candidates in each primary race rather than only one.

The two candidates with the most votes in each nonpartisan race would still advance to the general election. In the general election, voters would still select only one candidate.

The initiative needed 26,520 signatures from Seattle voters and the group submitted 43,215 last month. King County Elections validated 26,942.

The process next moves to the City Council, which can pass the initiative into law, send it to the ballot or send it with a competing proposal.

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Proponents say approval voting provides a more accurate picture of voter views. It is designed to advance candidates with broad appeal, and would be simple to implement.

"Seattle’s leaders must represent everyone," Sarah Ward, campaign co-chair of Seattle Approves, said in a written statement Wednesday. "Initiative 134 will make Seattle’s elections as representative as possible, so that its leaders represent the entire electorate."

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Approval voting is similar to but not the same as ranked-choice voting, which other Seattle-area reformers want to implement. With that method, voters select multiple candidates ranking them in order of preference.

Kamau Chege, executive director of Washington Community Alliance, called Wednesday’s news "really unfortunate," describing approval voting as a subpar method and the Seattle campaign as backed by "affluent individuals" rather than historically disadvantaged groups. The initiative would constrain voter choices as compared to ranked-choice voting, Chege added.

St. Louis recently adopted approval voting. More jurisdictions use ranked-choice voting, including New York City, Minneapolis and San Francisco. Portland, Oregon, will decide in November whether to adopt ranked-choice voting.

The Seattle Approves campaign raised more than $460,000 and spent over $323,000 through May, according to public filings.

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The campaign’s top donor, contributing $208,000, is the Center for Election Science, a national think tank focused on the approval voting method. Its No. 2 donor, contributing $135,000, is Samuel Bankman-Fried, founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

Seattle Approves was launched by Logan Bowers and Troy Davis. Bowers ran unsuccessfully against City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in 2019, placing sixth in the primary. Davis is a tech entrepreneur.