The 2021 Virginia primaries, set to take place this summer, have a record number of candidates. 17 Republican and 15 Democratic candidates are competing for three nomination slots - for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.
On the Democratic side, a simple plurality is required to win the nomination. With 5 candidates running for Governor, that means a candidate could win with roughly 20% of the vote, leaving 80% of Democrats potentially unrepresented in the election outcome, and with Lieutenant Governor, a plurality is even less - just 12.5% of the vote, leaving 87.5% of Democratic voters without a voice. With large fields like this one, ranked choice voting (RCV) allows participants to indicate their preference for multiple candidates, meaning voters don’t have to think about voting strategically, candidates don’t have to worry about splitting the vote, and the party doesn’t have to worry about negative campaigning that may hurt their chances in a general election.
Over the weekend, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee decided to conduct their latest straw poll with RCV. 256 participants, who each paid for a ticket and watched the candidates give speeches over zoom, ranked their choices for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
Figure 1: Round-by-round results for Governor
In the straw poll for Governor, Jennifer McClellan and Terry McAuliffe started out in the top 2 spots, with Jennifer Carroll Foy close behind. Over the course of 4 rounds, Jennifer McClellan demonstrated strong appeal amongst straw poll voters, picking up 79.05% of her first-round vote and winning the contest with 61% of the vote to McAuliffe’s 39%. Remarkably, 78% of Carroll Foy voters preferred McClellan to McAuliffe, pushing McClellan over the 50% threshold to win. Outside of this local straw poll, McAuliffe is regarded as the favorite in the race.
Figure 2: Round-by-round results for Lieutenant Governor
In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Sam Rasoul started 8% shy of the threshold to win the race. While it took him 6 rounds to pick-up enough votes to put him over the line, Sean Perryman came 2nd place and gained 86% of his first round vote, showing broad appeal amongst other candidate’s supporters in the straw poll.
While the straw poll required a ticket to vote in, and is not representative of the electorate nor Virginia voter’s preferences overall, it is a great demonstration of how RCV can be used to find the candidate with the greatest community support in a large field, giving that candidate a stronger mandate in the general election.