Friday, August 6, was the monthly Art Walk in downtown Bellingham. Kit Muehlman and I were asking people to sign up as supporters of ranked-choice voting. We had a couple of little tables, a big banner saying “Ranked-Choice Voting for Washington,” lots of handouts, and lots of clipboards with signup sheets. We were standing at the corner of Cornwall and Holly and the banner faced the phalanxes of cars as they swooped down Holly. (I was glad to see lots of bicyclists zooming down that long stretch of coordinated green lights, too. I have to confess that one of my main remaining ambitions is to get a speeding ticket on my bicycle. I figure I may be able to do that coming down Holly. . . .)
But, back to the Art Walk. At first, things were a little slow. We had set ourselves up at 5:00, but we learned that people going on the Art Walk don’t really come out in numbers until about 6:30. We had planned to stop at 7:00, but things were going so well by then that we decided to stay until 8:00. By then, the number of people walking past our little station really was decreasing – and it was getting cold – a typical Pacific Northwest summer evening. . . .
By the end we had gathered the names of 39 new people who support ranked-choice voting.
Here are some of the highlights:
- There were lots of family groups – parents of mature age and their adult children together with spouses, a few teenagers. Mostly, people weren’t trying to meet deadlines, so they had a little time to talk.
- On two separate occasions someone drove past, saw us, pulled over into the first parking space they found, and walked back so they could thank us and put their names on our list. They were that excited about ranked-choice voting!
- Six people – including these two – said they wanted to help in any way they could.
- Lots of people said they wanted to break up the two-party system. As one of them said, it presents itself as giving you choice, but you don’t really have choice. You get Party A heavily funded by billionaires – or Party B heavily funded by billionaires. You get War and Wall Street Party No. 1 or War and Wall Street Party No. 2.
(Note: If ordinary people in the U. S. happen to want what the super-rich want, they usually get it, but public opinion by itself has – literally – no effect on what the people in Congress do. I can get you the study that shows this if you want to see it.)
A trio of conservatives came by. They opined at first that ranked-choice voting was a “progressive plot.” We were able to tell them that the Local Options Bill in Olympia now has bipartisan support. In deciding to co-sponsor the bill this year, Representative Jim Walsh (R) from Aberdeen said he wanted to “mix things up.” His belief is that it will give access to minorities of all sorts – maybe even some unexpected minorities, like conservatives in deep blue districts. After hearing Jim Walsh and Republican co-sponsorship those conservatives were pretty interested. Jim Walsh recognizes that ranked-choice voting would mean that progressives in Eastern Washington finally get some representation, too.
The Local Options Bill (HB 1156), by the way, would allow local jurisdictions in Washington state to adopt ranked-choice voting if they felt like it. Getting the Local Options Bill passed is the first step toward the general use of ranked-choice voting in all Washington elections.
Kit and I even talked with a couple from Maine, who were enthusiastic supporters of ranked-choice voting. They couldn’t put their names on our list of supporters, but it was fun to talk to people from the state that is leading the rest of the country in adopting this way of voting. Maine uses ranked-choice voting for all its state and federal elections – and has been doing so since 2018.
Then there were all the people who didn’t already know about ranked-choice voting but were willing either to listen to our brief pitch or to take one of the handouts that explain it. They usually didn’t put their names on our list there and then. They needed a little time to digest the idea, and that’s reasonable enough. Next time, they are likely to sign up.
There are more and more people for whom the idea is familiar – and who want to see it come to be.
Go to www.fairvotewa.org if you want to:
- Find out more about ranked-choice voting
- Join us in talking with people about ranked-choice voting – say, at the Art Walk or the Farmers Market
Register your support for the Local Options Bill by going here.
Stoney Bird has been talking and writing about ranked-choice voting since the sessions of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission in 2015.