Voices & Choices

Ranked Choice Voting used to select Republican nominee in VA-10

Ranked Choice Voting used to select Republican nominee in VA-10

In Virginia, parties at the county and district level regularly choose whether to nominate candidates using their own procedures or with the state's regularly scheduled primary ballot. Republican committees in the 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts chose to nominate candidates with party-run contests with ranked choice voting. The 8th district was won in the first round of counting, and the 11th district was decided with RCV earlier in May. This write-up focuses on the 10th district.

 

On Saturday, May 21, Republican voters in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District selected their party’s nominee, Hung Cao, using ranked choice voting (RCV). The 10th is the second district in Virginia to use RCV for its primary this month, after their neighbors in the 11th district used RCV on May 7. 

Both primaries reflect a growing enthusiasm for RCV from Virginia Republicans following their successful RCV convention in 2021 that nominated now-Governor Glenn Youngkin, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears, and Attorney General Jason Miyares. The Virginia GOP continues to embrace RCV as an efficient, common-sense way to produce strong nominees with broad support – while also incentivizing friendlier campaigns.

In the VA-10 primary, Cao earned the most 1st-choice preferences in a crowded 11-candidate race, then expanded his lead during the rounds of tabulation by earning 2nd-, 3rd-, and later-choice support from voters in the district. 

 

Some key takeaways from this election include: 

  • Voters enthusiastically used their rankings, and those rankings made a real difference. 99.7% of voters cast a valid ballot and over 97% of ballots were active in the eighth round of the vote tally, when Cao earned his winning majority. In all, 14,781 out of about 15,000 voters ranked at least one of the three finalists: Cao, Jeanine Lawson, and Brandon Michon. 
  • Turnout was twelve times higher than in 2020. RCV preserves the benefits of nominating conventions (a multi-round process that results in a majority winner with broad support from the party), while making it easier for voters to participate. Only 1,240 voters participated in the 10th District’s drive-through convention in 2020, compared to over 15,000 voters who cast ballots this year. Similarly, this year’s in-person GOP nominating convention for Virginia’s 5th District – held the same day as the 10th’s RCV election, and just two districts over – saw only about 1,300 voters. 
  • The winning candidate engaged with RCV. Hung Cao took to Twitter to ask voters to rank him first and to remind voters how to use the ranked ballot. He said, 

“It’s quite simple. Next to my name, hopefully I’m your candidate, put number one.” 

Cao picked up more votes than his top competitors in every single round of the vote tally, showing he was able to make a connection to backers of all the defeated candidates. In other words, he built consensus and is in an excellent position to rally the party together – exactly what RCV creates incentives for candidates to do.

  • Ballots were counted by hand, and counting went smoothly. Like last year’s Virginia GOP convention that nominated Youngkin, Sears, and Miyares – and the VA-11 GOP primary earlier this month – the VA-10 primary used paper ballots and hand-counting. The successful counting process reflects the ease of RCV election tabulation, which can also be done on all modern counting machines.

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