Ranked-Choice Voting supported by Bellingham City Council

Stoney explains the what, why and how of what may be a much better method of electing our representatives and leaders.

Stoney explains the what, why and how of what may be a much better method of electing our representatives and leaders.

• Topics: Elections,

These days, you’ll find ranked-choice voting (RCV) popping up all over. Only last November, New York City voters adopted ranked-choice voting by a margin of 73% for and 27% against. Another twenty cities elsewhere in the country are already using it. Maine adopted ranked-choice voting in 2016 for all their state and congressional elections. Massachusetts and Alaska will have initiatives to adopt ranked-choice voting on the ballot this November.

Our big local news is that on February 24, the Bellingham City Council adopted a resolution supporting the Local Options Bill – more about that below. You can see the resolution the council adopted on page 287 of here - click and wait as it is slow. It is the first city council in Washington state to do so.

Just in the last year, there have been at least 55 op-eds and editorials across the country supporting ranked-choice voting, as well as plenty of podcasts and ordinary news articles. You might check these out, just to name a few: New York Times, Everett Herald, Harvard Business Review, Freakonomics, and Radiolab. For links to all 55, go here. There’s also been a drumbeat of support from local publications Cascadia Weekly, Whatcom Watch, and Northwest Citizen. The links are to just one of several articles in each of these.

Lee Drutman’s new book Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop is the basis for this interview on C-Span.

Many signing the the petition for local option choice.
Many signing the the petition for local option choice.

Beyond the media, grass roots support for ranked-choice voting is taking off in Washington state and especially in Whatcom County!

Just in the last several months, a non-partisan non-profit advocating for ranked-choice voting in Washington state, called FairVote Washington, has signed up well over 5,500 concerned voters across the state as supporters. Of these, about 700 are in Whatcom County.

So what is ranked-choice voting and why all the enthusiasm?

Ranked-choice voting is a simple improvement to the way we vote in which you rank candidates in the order of your preference. You have the option to indicate your 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, etc. There are tons of benefits, such as:

Voters have more choices since it’s not necessary to narrow the field to the top two, like Washington does now. You can have a wide field of candidates with diverse viewpoints, and still ensure that the person who wins is the one with the broadest possible support.

It’s simple for voters. Ranking options is something people do in daily life all the time.

Candidates have a motivation to be nice (!) and actually do less negative campaigning. They don’t want to risk alienating voters who might choose them as their 2nd choice by bashing those voters’ 1st choice candidates.

We can get rid of the primary, saving money for taxpayers and candidates. Getting rid of primaries is good for democracy because the turnout in primaries is low, and as things presently stand, that minority of voters chooses who the rest of us can vote on.

You get to vote for the candidate you really like without fear that it’s going to throw the election to a candidate you really can’t stand. There’s no risk of vote-splitting.

In its multi-winner form, ranked-choice voting makes gerrymandering effectively impossible.

Local Politicians Support Ranked-Choice Voting

Because of the benefits to democracy and voters, nineteen of the 32 candidates in local races last year said they supported ranked-choice voting. This included all four of the candidates for Bellingham mayor and all eight of the candidates for Bellingham City Council. It also included newly elected state Senator Liz Lovelett, who promptly introduced the senate version of the Local Options Bill in the state legislature, and Bellingham City Council’s recent resolution cements that support.

How Does It Work?

After voters have ranked the candidates they favor, the vote count goes in rounds. The first-choice votes are counted and if someone has a majority, meaning more than 50%, they’ve won. If no one has more than 50%, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and then ballots that listed that candidate as their first choice are transferred to that voter’s second choice candidate. The votes are re-tallied, and if someone has a majority this round, they win. Otherwise, you keep tallying and eliminating the lowest candidate, then transferring ballots to the next choices on the ballot until someone has a majority.

That’s the way it works for single-holder offices like governor or mayor. The real gold in ranked-choice voting is when we elect multiple winners, like city councils and legislators. Although there’s one more wrinkle in the vote tabulation, the end result is that representation is proportional to the perspectives of the voters – real proportional representation. It also means that gerrymandering is effectively impossible.

Why Don’t We Just Adopt It?

As things stand there are a couple of barriers to ranked-choice voting in state law. One of them is that all elections in Washington are required to have a top-two primary, which means there are only two candidates in the November general election, so there is not much point to ranked choice voting. Another is the requirement that even for legislative bodies like a city or county council or the legislature itself, every election is one to a position – so we can’t have proportional representation.

To counter these barriers FairVote has been working up support for the Local Options Bill, HB 1722. The Local Options Bill would allow local jurisdictions to adopt ranked-choice voting in their own elections.

The Big Plan

FairVote Washington’s overall plan is to proceed with a statewide initiative if the legislature doesn’t act next year. We will need both money and volunteers for that effort.

A local gathering to discuss and promote Rank-Choice Voting.
A local gathering to discuss and promote Rank-Choice Voting.

Our Local Efforts

In the Bellingham area, we’ve been working hard to educate people and sign-up supporters of ranked-choice voting. We held a parallel ranked-choice election at the time of the primaries last summer, and are planning a mock online RCV Democratic presidential primary this year. We tabled at events like SeaFeast and the Ferndale Street Fair last summer and have been at Bellingham’s Farmers Market most Saturdays when it is open. We’re holding ranking parties and house parties.

On March 13, Lisa Airault, the volunteer Chair of FairVote Washington, will present at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship beginning at 7 p.m. There will be plenty of time for questions, and no doubt some standup demonstrations of how the counting works – just like a ranking party.

Ranking Parties

These are events where participants come to a local business, try good things to eat and drink, and then rank them. We show how ranked-choice voting works through live demonstrations. It’s vivid – and fun – and shows why ranked-choice voting is superior across the board to the winner-take-all system.

Ranking Parties Coming Up


What we will be ranking



Please let us know if you plan to come

Chocolate Necessities

1408 Commercial, downtown B’ham

chocolate, gelato

March 4

6:30 pm


FrinGe Brewing

5640 3rd Avenue, Ferndale

beer, snacks

Mar 12

6:00 pm


Potential event:

Menace Brewing

2529 Meridian, Bellingham
Come join us at one of the ranking parties that are coming up!

Presidential candidates!

Mar 15

5:00 pm

Stay tuned!

Not so incidentally, Ferndale Mayor Greg Hansen is a fan of ranked-choice voting and plans to attend the ranking party at FrinGe Brewing.

A smiling face at our table at the Farmers Market
A smiling face at our table at the Farmers Market

For the March 15 Presidential debate we’re trying to set up a ranking event at Menace Brewing. Participants would get to vote on real candidates in an election where because of the size of the field, ranked choice voting really makes sense. If this can be arranged, the event will start at 5:00 pm. Stay tuned!

How You Can Get Involved

  • To stay informed or volunteer to help, click here.
  • To find out more about RCV, a good place to start is the national FairVote site.
  • We will conduct periodic teach-ins about ranked-choice voting. To be notified when these and other opportunities come up, include your name here.
  • This summer, we’ll be tabling at the Farmers Market and festivals like Dirty Dan Days and Ski-to-Sea. Please stop by, or if you’d like to get involved, sign up as a volunteer here.
  • Urge the legislature to pass the Local Options Bill here.
  • Call or write to city councils and the Whatcom County Council urging them to pass a resolution supporting the Local Options Bill. To contact the Whatcom County Council, go here.
  • Thank the Bellingham City Council for their resolution supporting the Local Options Bill.
  • If you’re too busy to work on this, or just want to help us prepare for the initiative effort next year, you can donate here.

About Stoney Bird

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 15, 2012

Stoney Bird has been car-free for the last 20 years. It’s a good way to save money, stay healthy, and have fun when you are going around town. He served [...]

Comments by Readers

Dianne Foster

Mar 04, 2020


I worked on election reform issues back in the early 2000’s,  when it became obvious that Diebold stole the Ohio election for Bush.    It seemed to me that Pierce County adopted IRV for a couple years,  then reversed itself,  as it was too complicated for counting.    Does that ring a bell to you?    Otherwise,  I’m totally on board with anything that lets voters remain true to themselves,  and there are no “spoilers”,  like Florida in 2000.


Stoney Bird

Mar 05, 2020


I’m glad you brought up the Pierce County case. Here are some thoughts:

1. Ranked-choice voting is really simple. All the election software vendors now have it as a more or less standard  module for election supervisors like our County Auditor to purchase. When Pierce County did its attempt years ago, they had to get a custom product, which cost a lot - part of the reason the voters turned against it.

        People have tried out RCV with seventh graders deciding on their favorite kind of ice cream, for example. The kids had no problem. And ranking the options for some decision that you are making is a daily experience for lots of people.

2. Pierce voters went for ranked-choice voting in the first instance in reaction to the system, which Washington had briefly, in which you had to identify your party in order to participate in primaries. The Pierce County voters didn’t like that! After Pierce’s one election using RCV, the state adopted the top-two primary (with all its problems, but that’s another story), and the Pierce County voters said that was good enough for them.

3. One of the people elected while they had RCV was a really incompetent County Auditor. People blamed his election on RCV, when he almost certainly would have been elected in a winner-take-all election, too.

4. The real gold in RCV in my mind is when you are electing a body (legislature, city council, or county council, for example). It allows you to have proportional representation, where every significant political perspective gets representation. The legislative body actually reflects the views of the electorate! In our winner-take-all, two-party system, one perspective can monopolize the seats - even without a majority.

     In this form, RCV can make gerrymandering effectively impossible.

5. Elsewhere where it has been adopted, people love it. If you look around at, for example, Minneapolis, Maine, New York City, just to name a few, you’ll see this.  In its various forms, it’s by far the most common form of election in the world.

The Pierce experience just wasn’t a true test.

Hope this helps.

Incidentally, FairVote Washington has now set up an online mock Presidential primary election in which you can still rank all eleven candidates - or as many as you want. Just go here. You can see how the counting is going right after you vote.


Konrad Lau

Mar 07, 2020


It seems strange to me that Leftists are always looking for ways to squeeze out political opponents.

Washington State adopted the “Top Two” system some years ago in order to better control over who ascends to office. Why does the Left feel so threatened by a system that allows for a differing opinion?

A wise fellow once said, “The Left does not like to campaign in the arena of ideas because they are bankrupt. They try to push their agenda in the courts, supported by Leftist leaning, activist judges.” Every day I see ideological opponents of the “woke” Left shouted down, protested and threatened.

It would seem that as their (the Rabid Left) political opponents have caught onto this ploy and have begun seating ever increasing numbers of conservative judges, the never-ending quest for communism proceeds unabated, this time in the Legislature.

The commentator was correct.

This is not a debate about right and wrong. It is a debate over how one Party will consolidate power.


Stoney Bird

Mar 08, 2020

My goodness, Mr. Lau, I can’t find the connection between what I wrote and your comment. Ranked-choice voting isn’t about “one Party” consolidating power. It’s about all the different perspectives in our society finding representation so that representative bodies like legislatures and councils and commissions actually represent the range of views that our citizens have.

Ranked-choice voting would be a benefit for everyone. It would mean that we actually had government of the people, by the people, and for the people.



Konrad Lau

Mar 08, 2020

Dear Stoney,

Our republic had serious birthing issues regarding all the different perspectives in our society. I suppose parlimentarianism reflects the ultimate in hearing each and every voice; however, look how well those systems actually function. If we are truely concerned about solving national issues, it would seem to me that having three national elections in one year (as in Israel) or hashing a decesion made by the electorate for four years without accomplishing anything (as in the British Brexit vote) is no way to go.

The Electoral College is the finest solution ever devised for making sure the “Little Guy  and Gal’‘s ” voice has impact on national policy. The same folks who push  sliding scale vote counting are the ones who would destroy the Electoral College.

The way I see it, we need informed participation beginning with the reintroduction of Civics and Government classes in school. I was shocked to learn many districts have abandoned these classes. The primary function of the educational system is to  produce god citizens.

Florid discriptions of “equality” do not equate with actual equality under the law.

Now do you see that connection?

Thanks for your comment,




Dianne Foster

Mar 08, 2020


Thanks for the clarity.    I have a BA in poli sci from UW,  and have always been interested in voter turnout issues.   But I see an electorate that is fatigued with turning out,  yet they never get anything from it.     Hence we get movements like Occupy,  that don’t see participation in electoral politics as fruitful.     I didn’t like either Obama,   Clinton,  or Bush,   yet I was a caucus leader in ‘08,   so I remained uncommitted.    The effect on local politics seems more nuanced and potentially hopeful.


Konrad Lau

Mar 08, 2020

If the Electorate is fatigued from turning out and nothing being done afterward, may I suggest both parties are ignoring their constituancies?

I would also suggest that decades of liberal  politicians  (both democrat and republican) and their promises soon forgotten, are the very genisis of Donald Trump.

May I also suggest that the very fact that he is actually fullfilling his promises is the reason his popularity  and job approval continues to rise?

I would also add that in an effort to blunt his policies and the extreme probability he will be re-elected, the American Left is left grabbing at straws.

A perfect example of your “fatigue” is the way in which Leftist School Boards run elections. If they don’t get what they want, they just continue to hold elections every four months untill only Leftist union members remain to vote. Then they get their tax increases. School Board or education related measures should be restricted to general or primary elections. At least these school boards should be liable for the costs associated with conducting the elections.

School tax measures are passed, by and large, using voter fatigue as a means of voter suppression.



Steve M. James

Mar 08, 2020

Just a couple of points on this thread. Ranked voting or IRV voting is used in many countries throughout the world such as Australia, New Zealand and by the major political parties of Canada. These are hardly political hot beds of non functioning governments. For example, each of these has been able to enact sensible gun regulations with support of their citizens, while our Country has not been able to make any progress on the isuue even know that the vast majority of it citizens support gun registration and other sensible regulation.

Comparing Parlimentarian systems of government  which can call for National electiions at almost anytime with our Democratic Republic where elections are set by the Constitution  is an apple vs organges arguement and not germain to the question. 

I am personally fine with eleminating the Electoral College since it has not functioned as the Founding Fathers designed it to do for many decades. The technology for reasonable popular vote counting of votes now exists. Failure of the electoral college system currently sits in the White House in opposition of Hamiltons belief that the Electoral College is ““not perfect, it is at least excellent,” because it ensured “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”

Finally, using terms such as lestist, left leaning, and the rabid left do nothing but divide and add nothing to the conversation.  Mr Lau should perhaps learn to argue his points without name calling and labeling.




Konrad Lau

Mar 08, 2020

By “sensible” gun control, you actually mean “bans”.

If you are trying to convince me that sliding scale voting is a great thing by pointing to firearms bans as “functioning”, your efforts are for naught.

In many respects sliding scale voting should be compared to schools voting on a sliding scale. Yes, we pass more students. Are they doing better in their scores?

Nope, they aren’t.

Sliding scale eventually brought on the era of honor skills graduates no longer being able to be recognized during ceremonies because the students who were unable to excel are embarrassed.

To say that this system of calculating votes would be easier and produce less confusion is delusional.

Pray tell, who won in the latest Ohio caucus?

While on the topic of gun control…I have 


I have recently been researching firearms violence in America.

Washington State enacted “reasonable” firearms purchasing regulations wherein the local constabulary (police department if in a city) or the County Sheriff’s Department is now responsible for processing prospective purchaser’s firearms paperwork and background checks.

The Federal Firearms Purchase Form clearly states that falsification of any information provided by the prospective purchaser is a Federal Felony either from omission or obfuscation.

The first paragraph reads:

“WARNING: You may not receive a firearm if prohibited by Federal or State law.  The information you provide will be used to determine whether you are prohibited from receiving a firearm.  Certain violations of the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. 921 et. seq., are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and/or up to a $250,000 fine.”

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s office, while friendly and helpful, could only give me an estimate of the number of checks performed each month since the enactment (about 235 per month); however, they could not provide me with a percentage of those rejected. When asked what the procedure was for handling the rejected applications, they told me those documents were directed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

I naturally assumed that if an application was rejected, the BATF would then follow up and prosecute violators. My contact at the BATF was unable to provide me with the number of rejected applications from Whatcom County and was also unable to verify that even one of those rejected documents had been referred for prosecution!

Imagine that! More paperwork and fewer rats caught.

I am absolutely for incarcerating convicted felons attempting to purchase firearms.

THAT is what I term “sensible”.

Apparently, the State of Washington is really only interested in paying “reasonable” firearms regulations lip service.


Steve M. James

Mar 08, 2020

Mr Lau, I believe you either missd the point of my post on gun regulations or I was not articulate enough in making my point. You early made a statement that some Parlimentary governments that  have elections at irregular times and via different means than us, are hung up and cannot come to resolution on issues. My point using gun regulations as an example  is that there is poll after poll in this country that show an overwhelming majority of people in the US from all persuations believe the Federal Governmet should enact  some form sensible regulations such as registration and controls on assualt or military type weapons. I have no desire to take this thread down the 2nd Amendment worm hole. My point was the Democratic Republics can and do get bogged down also. Perhaps I should have used inaction on climate change as the example. Either way, our Democratic Republic does not seem to be able to respond very well to the wishes of the majority right now.

If instead, you do want to drag this conversation to the defense of the 2nd Amendment or gun rights, it is a waste of pixels. I will not have that discussion on this thread. 


Dianne Foster

Mar 08, 2020

Thank-you Steve;  yes,  both parties are complicit in the corporate takeover of our country,   and it needs to stop.   Which is why I,  and many lifelong Republicans I know,   support Bernie Sanders….


Konrad Lau

Mar 09, 2020

Thank you all for your kind attention and time in posting replies to my commentary.

Obviously, there will be no resolution of our differences in opinion on this website today.

I return to my main points:

  1. Whenever consensus is presented as rational for dramatic Constitutional change or institution of draconian policy, I believe someone needs to reevaluate the facts.
  2. In every case where a “sliding scale” version of calculating numerical results is instituted, the value of the top producers, students, earners is degraded beyond recognition while artificially inflating the importance of the bottom scores.
  3. Use of “reasonable gun control” as a supporting argument for degrading actual results in any tabulation is a very poor example. No “reasonable” laws enacted for firearms control will ever be observed by violent criminals. When terms and examples are illustrated to those being polled, virtually all agree additional regulations are only prohibitive to the law-abiding.

Not wanting to go down the Second Amendment rabbit hole and then using it as an example (and a very poor one at that) to support a policy that ultimately degrades the value of everyone’s vote is intellectually dishonest at best.

With that, I will leave you all with Best Wishes!

Thanks again,


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