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Despite some pushback from activists, Arlington officials appear in no rush to bring ranked-choice (or “instant-runoff”) voting to November’s County Board race.
“That is unlikely,” Arlington director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer told Electoral Board members recently.
County Board members have had the authority since last year to mandate ranked-choice voting – as opposed to the longstanding winner-take-all approach – for County Board races. It was not implemented last year for somewhat obvious reasons (the pandemic was paramount in government’s thoughts), and board members thus far this year have not pushed election officials to get ready for implementation.
That is a pace that is fine with Reinemeyer, who pointed out that candidates already have filed for the lone County Board race on the ballot, and rejiggering the process now would amount to “changing the rules in midstream.”
“It’s better just to start a cycle . . . so everybody knows the rules,” said Reinemeyer.
That would point to 2022 as the earliest start date.
Legislation permitting instant-runoff voting for County Board elections does allow imposition of the process for primary elections as well as general elections, although simply approving a policy change is not the same as dealing with the technological ramifications and public education that would need to be worked through to prevent the prospect of chaos at the polls.
Among those eager to see the new format implemented is Mike Cantwell, an Arlington civic activist who has pressed Electoral Board members to set a faster pace of preparation. In the end, however, the decision is the province of County Board members.
“Our job is to implement it,” Electoral Board chairman Matt Weinstein said. The General Assembly members in 2020 approved, and Gov. Northam signed, legislation by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) allowing Arlington to switch to ranked-choice voting for County Board elections.
A similar measure, allowing the same for city council and board of supervisors races across the commonwealth, takes effect later this year.
If enacted, it would allow (but not require) voters to rank candidates in order of preference, assuming there were more candidates than open positions.
If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated, his or her votes are reallocated as directed by voters, and the process continues until a candidate wins a majority.
It is a process Arlington Democrats already use for School Board endorsement contests and to choose nominees in County Board special elections.
And it does have an impact: Twice last year, candidates who would have won under traditional winner-take-all procedures found themselves leapfrogged by others.
As a result, Takis Karantonis rather than Barbara Kanninen currently sits on the County Board, and David Priddy rather than Steven Krieger sits on the School Board.
It’s too late to implement ranked-choice voting in time for the June Democratic County Board primary, but it would have been a moot point, as there are only two candidates (Karantonis and Chanda Choun) in the running.
In order to implement it for November – where again, it might be a moot point – County Board members would have to hold a public hearing no later than June or July.
Would a change in the voting procedure make much difference in County Board election results? Probably not at the general-election level, where Democrats have almost total dominance.