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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Choice Voting is fairer way for Seattle to elect City Council
By Janet Anderson
April 13, 2003

If you had the power to devise the fairest way to elect a nine-person representative body for the city, would you create a system that gives all nine seats to the political group that makes up a bare majority of the voters?

Or would you want a council that most closely mirrors the political and ethnic makeup of the entire city? In other words, would you prefer a council in which the political majority would elect the majority of the members but would also include representatives of any political minority that could unite a substantial portion of the city's voters?

We have the power to improve the way we elect the City Council, and it is not by dividing the city into nine "pork hungry" voting wards in which the people who gerrymander the district boundaries often have more to say about who wins than do the voters. Ward elections are an old-style method that fostered Tammany Hall style cronyism, and we don't need that in Seattle.

Dividing the city into districts assumes that where the voter lives is the most important factor in choosing a representative. Chances are that not everyone in your block shares the same political point of view. Yet if the city is split into individual districts, all voters in the district will have to share the same representative. That's fine if you voted for the winner but what about those who vote for the loser and have no representative who thinks like them? Frequently district elections don't even offer choices, just an incumbent.

Seattle's current at-large election system shares many of the same faults as election by district: non-competitive elections and 100 percent of the representation for the largest bloc of voters, with none for the rest.

Fortunately there is a better system. It's called Choice Voting. With Choice Voting the majority wins only a majority of seats instead of everything, and political or racial minorities win their fair share too -- without having to gerrymander a single district. Voters who share a common concern, no matter no how scattered geographically, can elect a representative if enough of them join citywide.

Voters in Cambridge, Mass., have used Choice Voting to elect their City Council and school board for more than 60 years. Cambridge elects all nine council members at once and a candidate needs about 10 percent of the vote to win a seat.

On the ballot, which offers many more choices than does Seattle's, the voter indicates his favorite candidate. He may stop there or go on to indicate second and third choices. If the first choice doesn't receive enough votes to be elected, the vote will not be "wasted." Instead, the second choice vote will be counted. In this way, nearly everyone gets to have his or her one vote count toward electing a favorite candidate.

Choice Voting also: provides greater diversity of representation, works equally well for partisan or non-partisan elections, could eliminate the need for city primary elections, allows voters more meaningful choices, reduces campaign costs, increases voter turnout, discourages negative campaigning, encourages candidates to have a citywide understanding of issues and allows neighborhood representation if enough of a neighborhood supports the same candidate.

Seattle has the opportunity to adopt a fairer voting system. As an indication of how appealing Choice Voting is, more than 18,000 Seattle voters have signed petitions asking that the city give the voters a chance to adopt such a system.

Let's do it!

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