At a time when polls show the top local concerns are public safety and homelessness, expect this summer to be consumed with another topic: municipal elections.

More specifically, whether Seattle should drop its current system in favor of either approval voting or ranked-choice voting. Never heard of either of them? You’re not alone.

Both are solutions looking for problems with how ballots are cast, and both should be scrutinized carefully. How we got to this situation is thanks to a Seattle City Council that played political games instead of giving voters a simple choice.

In approval voting — on the November ballot as Initiative 134 — voters select as many candidates as they want. The two candidates receiving the greatest number of total votes advance to the general election. The I-134 campaign is bankrolled by a California cryptocurrency entrepreneur and promoted by a local pot-store owner.

Not surprisingly given its financial backing and paid signature-gathering effort, I-134 garnered enough support to be placed on the ballot. Last week, the city council decided to upend the I-134 campaign.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis offered an alternative to appear on the same ballot: ranked-choice voting. Under that system, voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference, and counting occurs in rounds. The two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes advance to the general election.


In last week’s Council meeting, Councilmember Lewis said he wasn’t even sure there was any specific problem that demanded fixing: “I don’t know that there is a necessarily a fundamental need to change the nature of our elections.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant said approval voting would be “a major step backward.” But her fellow Socialist Alternative party candidates didn’t fare well under ranked-choice voting in other cities, either. “Ranked-choice voting is still less democratic than our current top two primary system,” she said, before voting to put both on the ballot.

Saying the public cared about cops and reducing homelessness, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said, “I’m not so sure either option will solve problems facing Seattle today.” He voted to put ranked choice on the November ballot, too.

Councilmembers Debora Juarez and Sara Nelson opposed the move. Nelson noted that the council has sent its own alternative to the ballot only twice in 20 years. She wanted a transparent process and careful deliberation before tossing the issue to voters. Wayne Barnett, the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission director, said such a process would have likely meant council members lobbying for or against an initiative, which is against ethics rules.

Council members seemed to hope the public would be confused enough to just vote no on everything and leave the status quo.

That’s no way to treat something as important as voting. Seattleites should have had the opportunity to consider the pros and cons of approval voting. And the city council could always come back with another measure later.

As it stands, the real casualties in all this mayhem about voting may be the incumbent city council members. While some activists may relish the approval-versus-ranked-choice debate, voters have every right to wish the whole thing would go away, along with the politicians who brought it on.