What is Approval Voting?

Approval Voting is a voting method that allows voters to vote for as many candidates as they approve of, not just one candidate.

Today, Seattle allows voters to choose only one candidate. Instead of saying “Vote for one,” ballots will say “Vote for one or more” or “Vote for as many as you approve of.”

Watch how this works:

Why is this important?

Unfortunately, the election method that Seattle uses for primaries (known as “First Past The Post” or FPTP) is widely considered the worst method at electing leaders supported by the most voters, while Approval Voting is considered one of the best methods.

Seattle and Washington are known for innovations in democracy, including Democracy Vouchers, mail-in ballots, and non-partisan primaries where the two candidates who get the most votes advance to the general election. 

Implementing Approval Voting on top of these existing innovations would give Seattle residents the most representative elections anywhere in the country.

What are the benefits of Approval Voting?

Switching to Approval Voting would: 

  • Elect more representative leaders. Studies show that Approval Voting elects far more representative leaders than our current system. More here.  
  • Virtually eliminate spoilers. In Seattle’s crowded races, many voters support more than one candidate. Today, that leads to “vote splitting,” where similar candidates “split the votes” of like-minded voters, and a less popular candidate ends up getting elected. Approval Voting would solve this problem by allowing like-minded voters to select more than one candidate. 
  • Measure voter support for all candidates. Approval Voting would empower Seattleites to express support for their honest favorite(s), without worrying if they might be “throwing away” their vote. Each candidate would know where they stand with voters.
  • Make politics less divisive. Candidates would no longer need to fight each other for individual voters. Instead, they would all work to adopt positions with broad public support.

Check out more of the many benefits of Approval Voting here

How has Approval Voting worked in other cities?

Approval Voting has been working well in practice in Fargo, North Dakota and St. Louis, Missouri.

In the 2017 St. Louis Democratic mayoral primary, the winner received only 32% of the vote. St. Louis then adopted Approval Voting for primary elections in 2020 (with 68% support!), and used it for the first time in March 2021. In that mayoral primary, there were four candidates and voters cast an average of 1.56 votes per ballot, meaning many voters were able to express their support for two or more candidates. The top two candidates – Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer – received over 57% and 46% approval in the primary, respectively. 

Jones went on to win the general election with 52% of the vote. Jones is the first Black female mayor of St. Louis, where people of color make up more than 50% of the population.

Will this help or hurt a certain political party or candidate?

No, it’s truly candidate-neutral and non-partisan. 

Approval Voting provides election results that more accurately represent the will of the voters. It actually un-skews our current flawed election system, making our democracy more democratic!

Approval Voting is supported by a broad coalition that includes all walks of life, parties, and opinions. St. Louis’ Approval Voting proposal was endorsed by the League of Women Voters, both major city newspapers, the City Treasurer and City Recorder, The Organization for Black Struggle, many aldermen/alderwomen and state legislators, and national election analysts.

Does Approval Voting help major or minor parties?

Approval Voting is actually fairer to both major and minor parties: 

  • Major parties: Today, popular major party candidates sometimes lose when a minor party or independent candidate draws support away. Approval Voting allows supporters of alternative candidates to also support a more electable candidate as a compromise. Again, the candidate supported by the most voters wins. 
  • Minor parties: Approval Voting also allows minor parties to track their approval track-record in elections, because voting for minor parties is no longer a “throw away” vote. Minor parties could grow more competitive over time by building a coalition that captures the support of additional voters. 


When could this be implemented?

King County Elections will determine the implementation timeline for Seattle. St. Louis adopted Approval Voting in November 2020 and first used it in March 2021 – 4 months later.

I've heard of ranked choice voting, known as RCV. How does Approval Voting compare?

RCV and Approval Voting would both be improvements on our current voting method. In fact, many Approval Voting supporters have supported RCV in the past. Since learning about Approval Voting, many of us have come to think of it as “RCV 2.0” – similar, but better. 

Here are few aspects of Approval Voting that stand out:  

  • Approval Voting winners more accurately match the opinions of the electorate. (more here and here)
  • Approval Voting is easier and faster to implement. In Seattle, Approval Voting could be adopted in November 2022 and used in the 2023 primary election. RCV would have a difficult and long road to adoption because it would require changes to the law and voting software. Another thing to keep in mind: we could adopt and use Approval Voting now, then switch to RCV down the road if voters want (and it clears the many hurdles to adoption).
  • Approval Voting is better for third party and independent candidates. Approval Voting allows voters to choose their favorite candidates regardless of viability. Third party candidates who are supported by growing numbers of voters over time will have evidence of that support, and may eventually build broad enough support to win. In contrast, RCV has maintained massive two-party domination everywhere it has been used for long periods of time.
  • Approval Voting is far simpler and easier to understand. Even if people understand how to vote with an RCV ballot, many people may not understand exactly how the winner is chosen. This understanding is important for instilling trust in the electoral system. Approval Voting offers a simple approach that is remarkably easy for voters to understand. 

For more on the differences between RCV and Approval Voting, check out this Center for Election Science comparison or the Alaska Policy Forum analysis

What's required to switch to Approval Voting?

Approval Voting is easy to implement and simple to use and explain. 

No City Charter modification or other change to the law is required, so passing Initiative 134 with majority support is all that’s necessary. Another avenue to adoption is for the City Council to pass an ordinance adopting Approval Voting for Seattle primaries, in which case an initiative would not be required.

How can I help?

Thanks for asking! Donating to the I-134 campaign is one of the most impactful ways to help ensure this change makes it to the ballot, and to help us spread the word about the reasons to vote “Yes” when it does. 

We’re all volunteers and can always use more helping hands, too! Here are some easy ways to get involved: 

  • Sign up for updates below
  • Tell your friends, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers that we can have better elections with this tiny change 
  • Volunteer (just send a quick note and we’ll get back to you)
  • Sign the I-134 petition! You’ll see Seattle Approves signature gatherers around town starting in mid-February. 

How will my donation be used?

Donations are currently directed to two main areas: signature gathering and voter outreach. 

We’re currently focused on gathering the ~26,000 signatures needed to put I-134 on the ballot. Once we’ve finished signature gathering, we’ll focus on getting the word out about I-134 and the benefits of Approval Voting.

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