Faced with a short timeframe for their governing body to select a nominee for a July 7 county board election, the Arlington County Democrats (VA) turned to a familiar and effective method: ranked choice voting (RCV). And once again, this election showed how much more representative RCV is than a plurality vote system that limits voters to a single preference.
For years, the Arlington County Democrats have used RCV when they hold “firehouse primaries,” which usually have several thousand voters. In this election––with four viable candidates and an “instant runoff” tally––the RCV process guaranteed that the eventual nominee would be a consensus pick of the party. Furthermore, RCV ensured that all of the 247 members of the county’s Democratic Committee would have their voice heard even if their top choice was eliminated.
In fact, had the Arlington County Democrats used the traditional first-past-the-post method, they would have elected Barbara Kanninen with plurality–but not majority–support from voters. It was only because RCV that the eventual winner, Takis Karantonis, was elected with majority support. In the first round of balloting, Karantonis’s 31.1 percent support was not enough to best Kanninen’s 32.3 percent. But when the votes of the eliminated third and fourth place finishers were reallocated to their backup choices, Karantonis came away with overwhelming 60.3 percent support—indicating his broad support among the party.
Maggie Davis, deputy chairperson of the Arlington County Democrats, spoke highly of RCV and it’s value to the party.
"The Arlington Democrats have been using Ranked Choice Voting for our internal endorsement and nomination processes for several years, seeing a strong value in identifying the candidate that draws the broadest support from Democratic voters. In previous years, the consensus candidate had often been the same candidate that would have won in a plurality election. In the County Board Special Election nomination process, which drew four exemplary candidates, for the first time we have found that our consensus candidate was not the person leading in the first round."
David Dalpert, Executive Director of Greater Greater Washington, also extolled the virtues of RCV in a write-up about the election.
“This is a perfect example of the value of ranked choice voting. About 32-38% of members supported Kanninen, while the other 60-plus percent supported Karantonis, Choun, and/or Merlene. Choun and Merlene would have been “spoilers” in a classic plurality ballot, but their supporters didn’t have to try to game out which candidate was most likely to win and have to vote strategically. They simply could vote their preferences, and the 60% in the Karantonis-Choun-Merlene camp ultimately got the candidate nominated who had the strongest support…. What started as a narrow edge became a decisive result in the other direction. This clearly seems to reflect the ultimate views of the Arlington Democratic committee voters.”
The Arlington County Democrats are also set to use mail-in RCV ballots to endorse two school board candidates—a successful method of election administration used by Wyoming, Alaska, and Kansas to conduct widely-praised presidential primaries.That contest will effectively be two consecutive “instant runoff” tallies.
This comes on the heels of major progress for RCV in Virginia, with Gov. Ralph Northam last month signing into law two bills that would allow Virginia municipalities to pilot the method in local elections. Introduced by long-time RCV advocate, FairVote Virginia cofounder, and current Virginia House of Delegates member Sally Hudson, the bipartisan bills allow municipalities to institute a pilot program for RCV elections in town council and board of supervisors elections.
As RCV’s success with the Arlington County Democrats illustrates, Virginia is clearly ready to rank. We hope that more jurisdictions within the state turn toward the method to ensure that voters are guaranteed a voice and choice in Virginia elections.
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash