Ballot initiative may bring major changes to DC voting

Voting could radically change D.C. if a proposed ballot initiative for the 2024 general election is passed, implementing ranked choice voting and opening party primaries to independent voters.

Currently, independent voters in the District cannot vote in a party primaries.

“I’m an independent voter, and I am locked out of voting in my own hometown. You know, I’m a native Washingtonian. And this, it’s really important to me, I want to be able to vote. And I should not have to register for any political party, in order to exercise my constitutional right to vote,” Lisa D. T. Rice, the ballot initiative proposer, told WTOP.

The proposed initiative, Make All Votes Count Act of 2024, would allow “No Party” voters to choose one party’s primary to cast a ballot in.

“With the exception of a couple of offices at large offices that are only elected in general, the rest of the contests are determined, basically, in the Democratic primary,” Rice said. “We should be allowed to be a part of that difference-making vote on a larger scale.”

The ballot initiative, if approved, would also implement ranked choice voting.

Voters would select the candidate of their choice and then rank backups. If a voter’s top candidate has the least amount of votes, the vote would automatically move to their next ranked choice available. Each voter would only rank up to five candidates for any given election, except in situations where only two candidates are on the ballot, in which case the candidate with the most votes would win.

“It really encourages candidates to build a broader coalition among the electorate,” Rice said about the potential voting method, adding that they would only be able to win office with at least 50% of the vote. “And we do have people in office here in D.C. that don’t achieve 50% of the vote.”

This is not the first time ranked choice voting has been considered. In 2021, the D.C. Democratic Party came out against the VOICE Amendment Act, stating that “the District faces a substantial challenge with undervoting which would be exacerbated by ranked choice voting.”

“Election data from the DC Board of Elections indicates when District voters are asked to vote for up to two candidates for At-Large Councilmember, consistently more than half choose not to do so,” wrote Charles Wilson, chairman of D.C. Democratic Party in 2021.

“The chief criticism I’ve heard about ranked choice voting is that it’s too complicated for Black voters, and for seniors, which, quite frankly, is insulting and, you know, a horrible fear tactic. It’s just not that complicated. And people get it if you don’t intentionally confuse them,” Rice responded.

The initiative was submitted for review by the Board of Elections this week. Proposers hope it will make it onto the 2024 general election ballot.

Ranked choice would appear on primary, special and general election ballots starting with the June 2026 primary ballot, if the initiative is approved by voters.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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