Olympia City Council To Choose New Member Tomorrow

Olympia will have a new City Council member this week.

On Tuesday, January 5, the councilwill choose from seven finalists for the position, likely using a system that will be new to them – ranked-choice voting – as proposed by member Lisa Parshley.

“It can be very difficult if you can only vote for just one,” Parshley said. In past appointments, council members would interview the candidates, discuss them, and then vote for their favorite. In the ranked-choice system, the council members will rank each applicant as first choice, second choice, etc. The process will be administered by Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, who will be assisted by Chris Mason of FairVote Washington.

“This is a more orderly and transparent process,” Parshley said. The public will be able to view the process beginning at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84342197591

The finalists are: 

  • Kento Azegami, who lists his top priorities as homelessness, housing affordability, and making the city’s transportation system and neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly. Azegami, a five-year city resident, is on the city Planning Commission and once was president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
  • Tracey Carlos, a 10-year resident whose top issues are climate change, houselessness, and community division. She’s is a board member for Partners in Prevention Education, which partners with houseless, street-dependent, and marginalized survivors, and a founder of the state Rainbow Alliance and Inclusion Network, a resource group for LGBTQ+. 
  • Holly Davies, a 16-year resident who chairs the city’s Heritage Commission on the use and preservation of historically significant buildings and districts. Her three top priorities are housing/homelessness, public safety/police, and sustainability. She has been active in Olympians for People-Oriented Places, a group that vibrant economies and sustainable communities.
  • Yen Huynh, who serves on the Olympia Planning Commission. The nine-year resident lists her top priorities as public health and safety, economic recovery, and climate justice. She’s a member of the Olympia Area Chinese Association and has experience in advocacy and equity work with historically marginalized communities.
  • Robbi Kesler, a six-year resident, and enrolled member of Skokomish Indian Tribe, and former general counsel for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. Her top issues are putting in place a better system to hold council members accountable, entering a compact with area governments to address public health issues associated with existing encampments of homeless persons, and increasing the availability of affordable housing.
  • Dontae Payne, a five-year resident who is the primary liaison between the Governor’s Office, local communities and tribal governments, community organizations, and the public on regional and statewide issues. His top issues are housing and homelessness, public safety, and the environment/climate change.
  • Maria Siguenza, an eight-year resident who is the board director for Centro Integral Educativo Latino de Olympia (CIELO), an organization that serves the South Sound Latino community. She serves on the state’s Poverty Reduction Workgroup and her top issues are housing fairness and access, homelessness, economic development, and police accountability.

Ranked Choice Voting

The finalists were chosen from 28 applicants for the position being vacated by Representative-Elect Jessica Bateman, who will begin her first term in the state House of Representatives this month after her election in November.

In October 2020, council members passed a resolution expressing support for ranked-choice voting and several of them expressed interest in using the system to appoint the new member.

If the council approves the process, Chris Mason of FairVote Washington will assist Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall in administering the vote after the council is done interviewing the applicants. FairVote Washington is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that backs electoral reforms such as ranked-choice voting that it believes will give voters a “greater choice and a stronger voice”.  It is working to pass a bill in the 2021 Legislature that would allow cities, towns, counties, and others to opt-out of state-mandated primary elections in favor of a general election conducted with ranked-choice voting. 

How Olympia’s process will work

Each Councilmember, while on camera in separate rooms in City Hall to accommodate social distancing, will rank all the candidates in the order of their preference, one through seven, by filling in a circle on the ballot. When all have completed their ballots, voting will be closed. Council members will then, one-by-one, place their ballots in a drop box in Council chambers.

Hall will open the ballots and verify signatures. Mason will tabulate the ballots.   

  • If an applicant receives more than half of the first-choice votes, that applicant wins.
  • If no candidate receives a majority of votes in a given round of counting, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
  • A council member’s vote will be counted for the candidate that they ranked highest who has not been eliminated.
  • Tabulation will continue in rounds until a candidate receives a majority of votes in that round.

Because small group selections are prone to ties (in this instance, six council members will cast ballots), additional rules are being used in case of a tie.

*Tracey Carlos and Dontae Payne are contributors to The Olympia Tribune.

By Mindy Chambers

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