CES Updates

The New Frontier: Seattle Approves Launches a Ballot Initiative Campaign

In 2020, Seattle, WA boasted the fastest population growth of any big city in America. In 2022, they may add a new accolade to their list, as the 3rd American city to adopt approval voting. Earlier this week, Seattle officially became the new frontier of the approval voting movement when our allies at Seattle Approves launched their campaign to pass a ballot initiative in 2022. 

Moments like these are what we envisioned when we started our chapter program back in 2020. Our goal is a self-sustaining movement for approval voting led by locally-based leaders who can build grassroots support for improving elections in their own community. That’s what we have in Logan Bowers and Troy Davis, the leaders of Seattle Approves. Both of our campaign co-leaders are committed to empowering voters in the Emerald City. Logan ran for City Council in 2018, inspired by a mission to make housing more affordable, and Troy has long been involved in community improvements

When asked what inspired him to step up and lead a campaign for approval voting, Troy said, “We started with the question: How can we make Seattle’s elections as representative as possible? There is no question that approval voting is the simplest and best way to do that. With approval voting, voters can feel secure voting for their true favorite candidate. With approval voting, there is no fear of throwing your vote away. That simple change makes our elections more valuable to candidates, voters, and elected officials because it tells the whole story about what the community wants.  

Seattle is your typical American city, marred by poor elections. Like many jurisdictions, Seattle has seen a positive uptick in candidate filings in recent years. In 2019 More than 700 people ran for local offices in Seattle and surrounding King County. That included 55 candidates for seven seats on the city council — not including 17 who filed for those races and then withdrew.

But more candidates in a plurality voting system yield vote-splits that distort election results and elect officials who lack the true support of the community. That has happened repeatedly in Seattle. 

This year’s election for City Attorney offers a fresh example of how plurality voting fails us. The three-way primary yielded a vote split where the top-two candidates advanced with less than 37 percent of the vote. The runoff left voters to choose between candidates representing polar opposites, and many Seattlites felt unrepresented by the results. As we’ve seen in other elections, approval voting would have changed the dynamics of that result and given voters more freedom to express themselves. 

So What Happens Now? 

To put approval voting on the ballot in Seattle, the campaign must gather 26,000 signatures from local citizens. Logan and Troy are up to the challenge. According to Logan, “We have the plan, and we’ve received a lot of interest from the community already. The question comes down to resources.” 

The Center for Election Science is ready to support Seattle Approves and launch a public education campaign to bolster its efforts. To learn more about Seattle Approves, check out their website.