A measure that would open the door to a new type of voting in Arlington County Board races has cleared a committee and headed to the floor of the House of Delegates.
The House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns on Feb. 9 voted 14-8 in support of legislation by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) that would permit instant-runoff voting in County Board races.
If it wins passage in the legislature, receives the signature of the governor and ultimately is approved by the County Board, voters would be able to rank candidates in order of preference, with low-scoring candidates eliminated and their votes reallocated in successive rounds until one candidate reaches 50 percent of votes.
Speaking to the committee, Hope said his measure would encourage consensus candidates and eliminate the likelihood that a fringe contender could sneak through with 25 or 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field.
“This really changes the way we campaign. It focuses more on positive campaigns,” Hope said. “Let’s face it: If you ran a negative campaign, you’re not going to be the second choice of the voter. You want to conduct yourself in a very positive way.”
The measure picked up votes of all Democrats and some Republicans on the committee, even though a few members needed to be educated on the intricacies.
“This is a little unusual,” acknowledged Del. Daniel Marshall, a Republican from Danville who supported the measure.
Hope stressed – multiple times – that the measure was only for Arlington, and would not change election law in the rest of the commonwealth.
The measure gives County Board members the ability to enact the measure, but does not require them to do so.
“They would be allowed to do that, if that’s what they wanted to do,” Hope said. “This is just focused on a local election, that’s all.”
The Arlington County Democratic Committee already uses the instant-runoff method when it conducts party-run caucuses for School Board and County Board. Hope’s measure would permit the method for County Board both in state-run primaries and general elections, but would not touch School Board races.
Members of the Arlington Electoral Board and elections office have expressed reservations about the logistics of using an instant-runoff process for one race while the traditional winner-takes-all method is used for others on the same ballot. But doing so is feasible, county elections chief Linda Lindberg said.
Would a new method of casting ballots have a significant impact on the final outcome of races? Perhaps sometimes: According to election records, only two Arlington County Board races over the last two decades have ended with the winning candidate receiving less than a majority of votes cast.
If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the bill would become law on July 1. The timing likely would mean Arlington County Board members would push off consideration of the proposal to 2019, rather than try and rush it through in 2018.