Opinion | DC ballot initiative would mean open primaries, ranked-choice voting

A group of good governance reformers filed initial paperwork with the DC Board of Elections to put a referendum on the ballot next year that would open up primaries to independent voters and institute ranked-choice voting. These moves would make local government more responsive to the majority of citizens.

Only 10 states have a system as closed as that of the federal city. More than 80,000 voters in the District, out of a total of approximately 524,000, are registered as unaffiliated with either party. Because the city is so blue, the winner of the November general election in most races is decided in the June Democratic primary. Independent voters are functionally disenfranchised by not being able to participate in the primary elections that elect their mayor, for example, a double insult because they already lack representation in Congress.

Another common problem in DC elections is that officials win with a minority vote. Ranked-choice voting would ensure that the winner has broad support. If no one wins a majority in the first round, the lowest-performing candidate is eliminated and the second-choices of his supporters are tabulated. The process continues until someone cracks 50 percent. This has worked well, from New York City’s mayoral race in 2021 to Alaska’s congressional races last year.

In neighboring Virginia, Arlington County is experimenting with ranked-choice voting for two open county supervisor seats in the June 20 Democratic primary. With early voting underway, the process is running smoothly. In Maryland, Takoma Park has used ranked-choice voting since 2007. This Editorial Board supports legislation to allow Montgomery County to do the same.

Taking this initiative directly to the people of DC became necessary after some entrenched incumbents on the council, reflecting a cranky Democratic Party establishment trying to protect its power, sharply criticized a ranked-choice voting proposal by the councilwoman. Christina Henderson (I-At Grande). Her bill received a hearing in 2021 after a majority of members signed on as co-sponsors but never got a vote. (Ms. Henderson won her own seat in 2020 with 15 percent of the vote in a 23-way race for two council seats.)

The Electoral Board needs to certify the referendum project. From there, pro-organizers would have to collect signatures of support from 5 percent of registered voters. If approved next November, it would enter into force in 2026.

One of the strongest arguments against ranked election has been that it is too complicated and confusing for racial minorities, low-income residents, and seniors to understand. This insults the intelligence of the voters. Also wrong: DC Public Schools has parent rank preferences in a school placement lottery, and the DC Housing Authority uses rank preferences for public housing assignments.

Paradoxically, Democrats who oppose this initiative find themselves in common cause with right-wing figures such as former President Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a bill last year to ban voting. in order of preference in your state.

Ranked-choice voting helps moderate extremism and discourages smears. Not coincidentally, the only congressional Republicans to survive the midterms after voting to impeach Trump (Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, California Rep. David G. Valadao, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski) won the election in those that were used.

DC deserves a truly democratic government that represents the will of its majority.

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