PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council will consider asking the state Legislature for the right to choose to use a new voting system for future council races.
The council voted 4-2 Tuesday to direct staff to prepare a resolution that would seek legislative support for a ranked-choice voting system that could replace the top-two primary in local elections.
Voters would rank candidates from favorite to least favorite regardless of council position; all candidates would run for any council seat.
Other cities in Washington are interested in ranked-choice elections and some states have implemented it, said Lisa Ayrault, chair of FairVote Washington.
“The point of a ranked-choice election is to make sure that the winner actually has a majority of support,” Ayrault said in a Tuesday presentation to the council.
City Council members Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Mike French, Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter and Mayor Sissi Bruch voted to consider at the next council meeting a resolution of support for ranked-choice voting.
The next council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
Council members Cherie Kidd and Michael Merideth voted no, saying they needed more information.
Ayrault said ranked-choice voting has improved voter turnout and reduced negative campaigning and partisan polarization in other jurisdictions. She said FairVote Washington is a nonpartisan organization.
Last year, FairVote Washington championed a “local options bill” — House Bill 1722 and Senate Bill 5708 — that would allow local jurisdictions to opt out of the top-two primary and use ranked-choice voting in the general election.
The bills were stalled in committee.
“We’ve been working for three years to pass it,” Ayrault told the council.
“We think we have it lined up for a good chance of passing this year, and we would dearly love to have a City Council or two, or three, around the state pass a resolution to say we would be interested in trying this form of voting in our city.”
State Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, said he would support a city option for ranked-choice voting if the City Council requests it.
“If the City Council wants me to support giving them the choice for City Council elections, I will support that legislation,” Chapman said in a Friday interview.
“But I’m not in favor of making it mandatory, and I’m not in favor of expanding it.”
Chapman represents the 24th Legislative District along with Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim. The district covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs, whose office runs local elections, could not be reached by phone or email Friday.
Chapman said he would appreciate City Council input on the bill.
“We didn’t move it last session, and I don’t think we heard from a lot of cities,” Chapman said.
In ranked-choice voting, a candidate who wins a majority of first-preference votes is declared the winner.
If no candidate wins a majority of top-ranked votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and second-ranked preferences are applied.
The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority, according to Ballotpedia.
Ayrault said the current system is outdated and results in split votes among similar candidates.
“(Voters) can say who their first choice is, but you can also indicate your next choice, and your third, and so on,” Ayrault said.
“You’re not required to rank your choices. You can still just vote for one if you want, but you can give a back-up choice.”
Eleven municipalities in the U.S. used ranked-choice voting for the first time in 2019 general election, Ayrault said.
“Not surprisingly, voters are liking it,” Ayrault said.
“They’re turning out in higher numbers for ranked-choice elections all around the country where it’s being used.”
Maine is using ranked choice voting statewide. Alaska, Hawaii and other states will use it in the 2020 presidential primary, Ayrault said.
“If you’re electing several City Council members, instead of having to separate them by posted position you can run them all on one ballot,” Ayrault said.
”You don’t have to run separate races. One of the benefits is you get proportional outcomes.”
Ayrault said ranked-choice voting provides better representation for minority groups.
“People who vote in primaries tend to be older, wealthier, whiter, more conservative and much more strongly partisan, which is why we tend to get strongly left and right candidates emerging from primaries,” Ayrault said.
”They tend to be more partisan than generally the voters would prefer.”
Bruch said she would support a voting system that encourages greater civility in campaigns.
French and Schromen-Wawrin said the ranked-choice model would have provided more options for Port Angeles voters in the 2017 City Council election in which 10 candidates filed for four positions and two races were decided in the general election.
“I only had one opponent for this seat, and some people might not wanted to have voted for either of us,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“And then Kate (Dexter) had one opponent, and maybe people wanted to vote for both of them, but they had to choose.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].