Legislative forum: Patrick Hope

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), left, speaks at a legislative roundtable sponsored by the Leadership Center for Excellence on Oct. 17, 2017. At right is Arlington County Republican Committee chairman Jim Presswood.

Municipal elections in Arlington could move to an instant-runoff voting procedure if the General Assembly gives its OK.

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) has introduced legislation allowing the County Board, if it desires, to mandate instant-runoff voting in local races. The bill would apply only to Arlington, and the County Board could, by majority vote, impose it for County Board and School Board general elections and, potentially, for County Board nominating processes.

“Instant-runoff voting has proven itself to encourage more positive campaigns, and ensuring the eventual nominated or elected candidate will be the one with the broadest consensus of the public,” Hope told the Sun Gazette.

The proposal has elicited a wary reaction from the county’s Electoral Board and elections staff. Linda Lindberg, the supervisor of elections in Arlington, brought up concerns related to the cost for new technology, the potential confusion for voters and a likely lag time in reporting election winners.

“Absentee reporting may provide some additional challenges, since a sizable number of absentee ballots are actually hand-counted, not machine-tabulated,” Lindberg said.

(The three-member Arlington Electoral Board is next slated to meet on Feb. 3. The measure, if it remains in play in the General Assembly, likely would be discussed then.)

Currently in Virginia political races, elections follow the “first-past-the-post” rule: The candidate who gets the most votes wins, even if he or she has not piled up an absolute majority.

Under instant-voting rules, which would only have an impact if more than two candidates are competing, those casting ballots rank the candidates in order of preference. The rules are somewhat complex, but in general, if no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes cast, the lowest-scoring candidate is eliminated and his or her votes are reallocated to the voter’s next choice.

The process is repeated – rinse, lather, repeat – until one candidate ends up with a majority of votes cast. If it’s a year when there are two County Board or School Board seats up for election, the rules would vary slightly but remain generally the same.

Voters would not be required to rank candidates beyond their first choice.

Under the instant-runoff voting process, it’s possible that the candidate who is leading (but without a majority) in the first round might not end up the ultimate winner.

Over the past two decades, there have been only two County Board general or primary elections when such a procedure would have come into play: In a 2012 special election, Democrat Libby Garvey won 49.17 percent of the vote in a three-way race, and in a 2015 Democratic primary for two open seats, no candidate reached 50 percent.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee has used the instant-runoff process in its recent caucuses for County Board and School Board; there have been times when the vote-leading candidate has not achieved a majority and a second round was necessary, but, so far, the candidate leading at the end of the first round always has come out the eventual winner.

The Arlington County Treasurer’s Office over the past two years has used the process in its community vote for the design of the tax decal that goes on vehicles.

(3) comments

CJE

[thumbdown]Another Fire-Aim-Ready from one-party government.When were the public hearings about this proposal? Another back-of-the-room deal at the monthly ACDC meeting. Or maybe a deal made over lunch at Busboys and Poets?

Dave Schutz

"CJE", it's hard to take your complaint seriously. This bill responds directly to a request from the 8th Congressional District Dem convention, held last year and widely announced. That itself responded to substantial public discontent with the use of caucuses, with their much smaller turnout than a precinct primary, to pick Dem nominees. The Arlington Young Democrats group has complained about use of caucuses, and quite publicly - their discontent has been reported in Arlington Now and in the Sun Gazette. The 'public hearings on this proposal' will take place in the legislature, and 'CJE', if you have a problem with this you should contact your delegate and complain about it.

Dave Schutz

I'm very happy to see this bill introduced. There has been a lot of ... discussion ... among the Dems about the choice between party-run caucuses, in which far fewer voters participate but in which ranked-choice voting can be used, and precinct-based primaries, for which many more voters turn out but for which first-past-the-post has been mandated by the state. If Hope's bill passes, and the Board decides to enable it, precinct-based primaries can use ranked choice.

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