What is Top 2 Pro? It is proportional representation for the Washington State House of Representatives. That’s the “Pro” in Top 2 Pro.
There are many reasons for this dynamic voting change. The main goal is to put power in the hands of voters. The current system relies on a redistricting commission — who are actually proxies for legislative leaders in Olympia. No doubt a redistricting commission is a good idea; and better than the partisan gerrymander occuring in most states. Washington’s bi-partisan system gives the minority party leverage with redistricting; which ususally results in collusion of both parties to protect incumbent legislators. In 2021, this leverage could not prevent the commission to crash and burn.
The 2021 redistricting commission was controversial to the point where the non-voting, independent Chair distanced herself from the results and the process that lead to them. According to a November 2021 story in Crosscut, "[T]he commission’s four voting members, in the final seconds of their meeting, voted to approve a deal that they hadn’t explained to the public — one that multiple commissioners said wasn’t even captured in writing."
Instead of relying on the high stakes, secretive insider game that is our state’s redistricting commission, Top 2 Pro gives power to the voters themselves to choose who best represents us in the Washington State House of Representatives.
This means Republicans can get elected again in suburban areas and Democrats winning seats again in rural places. There is also space for independent candidates and 3rd parties.
Voting rights laws on the federal and state level have eliminated the usefulness of our state redistricting commission. Washington's system gave the minority party leverage in reapportionment — until the very real possibily of litigation over voting rights loomed over the proceedings. The reality is: Any final commission map will be challenged in court anyway.
This is the same voting system we currently use in our state’s primary elections. The difference is the top 2 voter getters are elected in each of our State House districts. Voters get one potent vote to elect two seats. There is no primary election with Top 2 Pro.
Voting for the two state house at-large seats will occur in the November general election — where the top-two vote getters are elected.
This version of modified at-large voting is also known as Limited Voting, and, in more political science jargon, as the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV). This voting plan requires a multi-member district (or at-large council) where the voter must cast fewer votes than there are seats at stake. Such a system acts to minimize the potential for a majority bloc to "sweep" all of the council positions at stake in a contest.
SNTV has been measured through the lens of such concepts as Decision-Theoretic Analysis. Professor Gary W. Cox, an expert on SNTV, has studied the results of this system’s use in Japan (1994). Cox explains,
“If voters are exposed to lots of free information (e.g., frequently published polls) that reveals some candidates to be clearly trailing the others and if this information seeps out to a large proportion of the instrumental electorate, then one expects that trailing candidates will be left with not much more than their non-instrumental support.”
In other words; most voters, rationally seeking value with their ballot, abandon who they perceive as marginal candidates. Anyone who observes Washington’s primary elections already knows this; so there is no need to cite more academics. Still not convinced? Look at how third-parties fare on our multi-candidate presidential ballots! With our primaries, voters in Washington tend to send the two strongest candidates to the general. Top 2 Pro should produce the same, the only difference is — the top two candidates are elected.
SNTV has been used in local races with partisan systems to fill at-large council seats in New York City, Philadelphia, and West Hartford, Connecticut. SNTV was used in non-partisan Rome, New York and in Hartford, Connecticut, under previous charters. It is currently in use in some Connecticut cities and towns, and in some Pennsylvania counties. Over fifty years of VRA case law and judicial scrutiny confirm modified at-large as a constitutionally protected form of voting.
Vote splitting is already a problem with Washington State ballots. Look at the 2020 governors race or the 2022 Secretary of State contest. The effect of our state’s novel “PREFERS PARTY” ballot needs to be assessed in primary and general elections. Top 2 Pro does not change the disclaimers or what a candidate states on our public ballots.
Absolutely! Top 2 Pro (SNTV)is an American version of proportional representation used in around 100 jurisdiction in the United States. In many places, this is a remedy to a Voting Rights Act (VRA) violation. In fact, the case law upholding SNTV is found in VRA jurisprudence. Read more about proportional representation and voting rights litigation in our state.
Enacting Top 2 Pro is a simple statutory change.
The current system consisting of Position 1 and Position 2 on our State House ballots was invented by Olympia lawmakers in 1966. The previous system featured State House districts of various sizes. There were various one, two and three seat districts. Voters got as many votes as there were seats to fill in a respective district. For example, in a three-seat district, voters cast three votes to fill three seats and the top three vote getters would get elected. In the 1950s, the Supreme Court of the United States, while addressing civil rights, mandated uniform apportionment of political jurisdictions. Olympia’s answer was to create 49 State House districts, each featuring two seats. Another feature of this change was the creation of the respective Position 1 and Position 2 on the ballot.
We are at the point where there are no longer split delegations in the State House. The current system makes State House seats partisan redundancies. This exacerbates the current urban / rural divide; reenforcing the so-called Cascade Curtain. With Top 2 Pro many districts could send both a Republican and Democrat to Olympia — giving most voters in that district representation they prefer And again, there is space for independent and 3rd party candidates on the November ballot.
Top 2 Pro brings important perspectives to the major party caucuses in Olympia. Urban Republicans and rural Democrats can build bridges across the isle in the course of serving their constituencies.
We pay taxes and are subject to the rules and laws of our land. As such, we deserve fair and effective representation in Olympia. We need not lay at the mercy of a commission consisting of legislative proxies, or political decisions made in the 1960s. Top 2 Pro empowers Washingtonians with a potent vote in State House elections.
Cox, Gary W. “Strategic Voting Equilibria Under the Single Nontransferable Vote.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 88, no. 3, 1994, pp. 608–621.