SEATTLE—Increase representation and voter participation in local elections—that’s the goal of House Bill 1156, introduced by Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle) and 26 cosponsors to allow ranked choice voting in some local elections. This was the first piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Harris-Talley, who was first elected to the legislature in November 2020.
“It is wonderful to have an option that lets us all engage in voting justice and can level the playing field for all Washingtonians to have stronger voice in local elections,” said Rep. Harris-Talley. She continued, “ranked choice voting is especially important to increase the viability of diverse candidates, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We’ll never have true representation until our elected leaders reflect the communities they serve.”
Ranked choice voting is a system of counting votes in which votes are tabulated based on a voter’s ranking of candidates in order of preference. In elections where there are more than two candidates for a single position, the winner is determined using the instant runoff voting method in which ballots are counted in rounds simulating a series of runoffs until two candidates remain or until one candidate has a majority of all votes counting in that round. The candidate having the greatest number of votes is declared the winner.
The bill would allow counties, cities, towns, school districts, fire districts and port districts to implement ranked choice voting in elections where more than two candidates are competing. Up to five candidates can appear on the general election ballot, and voters are not limited by party preference.
Additionally, the legislation would strengthen the Voting Rights Act, providing for reimbursement of costs associated with bringing forward a notice of systemic disenfranchisement of underrepresented communities.
“I was thrilled when Washington enacted the Voting Rights Act, but the process of challenging voter suppression it created was prohibitively expensive for people who wanted to fix systemic injustices in their local elections,” said Harris-Talley.
Under the legislation, ranked-choice voting may begin as early as 2024 in jurisdictions that choose to implement the system.
The bill will be heard in the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee on Monday, February 8 at 1:30pm. It is currently scheduled for a committee vote on Thursday, February 11 at 10am.
The public hearing can be viewed here: https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2021021219