About Stoney Bird

Stoney Bird served for many years as a corporate lawyer. More recently he has been involved in local environmental, transportation and social justice issues. He has been car-free for the last 20 years.

By Stoney Bird

Ranked-Choice Voting supported by Bellingham City Council

By On
• In 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 served for many years as a corporate lawyer. More recently he has been involved in local environmental, transportation and social justice issues. He has been car-free for the [...]