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Voter-Approved Democracy Reforms Changing WA Elections


Monday, December 5, 2022   

Democracy reforms got the seal of approval from many Washington state voters this November.

While some changes were big, others were subtle but could make a difference in election turnouts.

In King County, voters approved a measure to move local elections from odd to even numbered years.

Jay Lee, democracy researcher with the Northwest-based organization Sightline Institute, said this will make a difference in elections immediately.

He said turnout craters in odd numbered years when federal elections aren't on the ballot.

"By moving elections to even years," said Lee, "you can really increase voter turnout and increase the number of residents who have a say in local decision making."

King County, which has more than two million residents, approved the measure to move elections by nearly 70%.

An arguably bigger change is coming to elections in Seattle. Voters approved ranked choice voting in the city's primaries.

However, Lee said state law bars Seattle from using ranked choice voting in general elections. He said state lawmakers have been looking at this issue in recent years.

"Moving forward, in the future," said Lee, "one of the avenues to change this is to provide for what folks are calling a local option to give localities the option, if they choose to, to do ranked choice voting or another system."

Lee noted that in two other Washington counties - Clark and San Juan - voters opted not to change their charters and allow ranked choice voting.

Regardless, he said this is an exciting time in Washington state because states and localities have a chance to try new ways of voting to see what models work.

"There's a concept in political science where states are laboratories of democracy," said Lee. "States are able to try different systems and different policies that are harder to do at the federal level, and much bigger changes."

Disclosure: Sightline Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Housing/Homelessness, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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