Seattle to consider ‘approval’ voting option

The city of Seattle will decide whether to adopt a new style of voting that would allow them to choose as many candidates as they like in future election contests.

The proposal, called “approval voting,” allows a voter to select every candidate of whom they approve in primary elections. The two candidates with the highest number of votes would advance to a general election, when voters would be allowed to choose between the two.

The group behind the initiative, Seattle Approves, submitted just over the 26,520 signatures necessary to qualify the measure for November’s ballot, according to King County Elections, which announced the results of the petition process on Wednesday.

“Seattle’s leaders must represent everyone,” said Sarah Ward, the group’s co-chair. “Initiative 134 will make Seattle’s elections as representative as possible, so that its leaders represent the entire electorate. This initiative puts voters first.”

Supporters of the process say it allows voters a wider variety of candidates, eliminating the prospect of a “spoiler” candidate who siphons votes away from another similar candidate. If two candidates who share much of the same platform compete, a voter could select both of them.

The system “is fairer to both major and minor parties,” wrote supporters of the process at the Center for Election Science, an electoral reform group founded in 2011. “Under the current system, popular major party candidates sometimes lose when a strong minor party or independent candidate draws some of the support that would have otherwise been theirs. Approval voting addresses this by allowing supporters of alternative candidates to also support a more electable frontrunner as a compromise.”

The Center for Election Science helped bankroll the Seattle initiative. That group was founded with the support of Open Philanthropy, a group that is in turn funded largely by Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook. The initiative’s second-largest funder is a foundation bankrolled by Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto billionaire behind a super PAC that has drawn attention this year as one of the largest donors in Democratic primary campaigns.

Approval voting is similar to, but distinct from, ranked-choice voting, in which voters select the candidates in the order in which they favor them. In ranked-choice voting, candidates who finish at the bottom of the pack are eliminated in successive rounds, and their votes redistributed based on the voter’s second choice. In approval voting, only the total number of votes any candidate gets are counted, without elimination rounds.

Voters in Fargo, ND, and St. Louis, Mo., have passed approval voting options in recent years. Several local Democratic Party organizations in Seattle use the method for endorsing candidates. The College of Cardinals used a similar method to select new popes for about 400 years in the Middle Ages, according to a 1998 paper by political scientists at Georgetown and Oxford universities.

Now that the initiative has won approval, it will go first to the City Council, which can approve it on its own or forward it to voters to decide in November.