Commentary & Analysis

Bridging the Political Divide in Seattle

In 2020, CES opened up our first ever Request for Proposals for groups seeking grants to run approval voting campaigns. This article is part of a series in which RFP applicants introduce themselves and explain why their community needs approval voting.


Author: Troy Davis, Seattle Approves

I’m done voting for the least-bad, least-divisive candidate. As a lifelong Seattle resident, I think my city is done with it too.

Like a lot of our country, Seattle is struggling to move beyond “Us vs. Them.” Intentional divisiveness isn’t only at the national level, and it isn’t only between the far left and far right.

As a volunteer on a 2019 City Council campaign, I know that there are few rewards for satisfying most of the preferences held by a wide variety of voters—what politicians call “coalition-building” and what most of us just think of as good governance.

As voters and people, our opinions are nuanced and thoughtful. Our ballots only accept a coarse, shallow opinion, though. So a coarse, shallow opinion is what we express.

Prospective candidates know this as well—Seattle gets polarizing candidates because they succeed. As long as our ballots can’t collect the complex opinions that most of us hold, we’ll keep producing us-or-them candidates, electing us-or-them legislators, and implementing us-or-them policies.

We’re trying to improve this. Seattle was the first city to provide every voter with prepaid campaign donation vouchers. These “Democracy Vouchers” lower the barrier to running and campaigning, and they made an impact: most 2019 Seattle City Council primaries had 6-13 candidates. Of 7 races, 3 races attracted 10 or more candidates.

Now, we have more candidates with a wider range of opinions and approaches, but we still have to pick just one candidate. We didn’t solve the real problem.

How do we let voters express their actual opinions, nuances and all? How do we let voters reward candidates who look for shared goals, who combine the best ideas from Camp A with the best from Camp B, who look past their base and try to serve the entire city? Voters want these things, but we need a ballot which makes them possible. We need approval voting.

As a lifelong Seattle resident, I’m proud that Seattleites are committed to representative democracy, eager to invest time to improve their city, and willing to make changes that improve the process. I know Seattle can give voters the opportunity to have their voices heard, and we can do that with approval voting.

Troy Davis
Seattle Approves


CES wants to fund as many of these approval voting campaign proposals as possible in 2021. But that all depends on how much funding we’re able to bring in before the end of the year. Want to give Seattle a world-class election system? Make your gift today to support these local advocates.