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.