Democracy works best when we know our votes matter. Unfortunately, in the 2020 presidential primary, too many Washingtonians knew theirs didn’t.
One in four ballots didn’t count for an active candidate in the Democratic presidential primary–25% of our voices were effectively nullified despite doing everything right. That’s 400,000 voters.
If the Legislature doesn’t act this year to pass the Ranked-Choice Voting for Presidential Primaries Bill (HB 1592), the same thing could happen to hundreds of thousands of Washington voters again in 2024.
In Washington, we’re rightfully proud of our mail-in voting system, but it also presents a unique challenge. Voters here are used to mailing in their ballots well ahead of time to make sure our votes are counted. Getting our vote in the mail early is a best practice we should all follow–except when it’s not.
In the 2020 presidential primary, shortly before Primary Day in Washington state, a spate of Democratic presidential hopefuls read the room and dropped out. Think of candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg–some of the last candidates to leave the race besides Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Voters who mailed in their ballots early for one of these candidates were stuck with their vote going to a person who wasn’t even in the race. Their votes were wasted.
In Washington, we topped the nation, with more votes for already-withdrawn candidates than any other state in the country. A whopping 25% of Democratic primary voters had their votes wasted.
These voters would have loved a do-over so they could have a say between the two candidates still in the race. But because of our choose-one election system, they were out of luck.
There is a solution to the problem: Passing House Bill 1592, the Ranked-Choice Voting for Presidential Primaries Bill.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) has many benefits, from producing more issue-based campaigns to generating more representative elected bodies. In Washington’s presidential primaries, it’s even simpler: if your first choice drops out of the race, your vote will still count for your second choice or your highest-ranked candidate still in the race.
Similarly, if your favorite doesn’t have enough support to win delegates, your ballot can count for the highest-ranked candidate who does. This is just common sense, giving a say in the outcome to hundreds of thousands of voters who otherwise might be left voiceless.
No more playing pundit and trying to guess which candidate will drop out when. No more wondering whether your top choice is “electable” enough. Just open your ballot, rank your favorite choices, and mail it in.
In our presidential primary, RCV would make voting simpler and better.
We wouldn’t be the first to implement this solution. Voters in Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming already used RCV in their 2020 presidential primary, and in 2024 Maine will follow. Voters took advantage of (and clearly understood) their ability to rank and ensure that their vote counted for an active, viable candidate. There is plenty of proof that RCV works and helps voters make themselves heard.
In Washington, over a dozen organizations have endorsed HB 1592, including the Washington Voting Justice Coalition, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, the Sightline Institute, and, of course, we here at the Washington for Equitable Representation Coalition.
Locally, momentum for RCV is on the rise with over 3 in 4 voters in our state’s biggest city choosing it last year.
Washingtonians deserve better than an election system that leaves 25% of us without a real say.
If we want to live up to our status as a state that leads on voter enfranchisement, leads on voting rights, and leads on democracy, then we need to embrace RCV for presidential primaries. This is a simple and obvious fix–let’s pass HB 1592, and give all of us more of a voice next year.
Kenia Peregrino writes on behalf of the Washington for Equitable Representation Coalition, a statewide, multiracial coalition of organizations fighting for democracy reform.