Del. Patrick Hope

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) speaks to members of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington on March 30, 2016. (Photo by Dick Barr)

Just as it appeared to be moving toward passage, a measure that would open the door to a new type of voting in Arlington County Board races was derailed in the House of Delegates.

The measure, patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), cleared the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns on Feb. 9 on a 14-8 vote and was sent to the floor. But in a procedural move, legislators on Feb. 12 on a 51-49 vote referred the measure to the House Committee on Privileges & Elections, and with time running out for legislation to be considered, the measure was effectively dead for 2018, Hope said.

There was no companion bill filed in the state Senate for the 2018 session.

The bill was designed to allow Arlington voters 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 on Counties, Cities and Towns, 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 on Counties, Cities and Towns, 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 would give 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 caucuses for School Board and County Board. Hope’s measure would permit the method for County Board both in 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.

The measure might have a more direct impact on Democratic County Board primaries, which often attract larger fields that would trigger the provisions because no candidate would reach the 50-percent threshold on the first round.