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Before heading out to cast ballots on May 8, delegates to the Republican Party of Virginia’s statewide convention might want to get a primer on the procedure.
“It’s not something we’re used to – a process most of us are not familiar with,” Arlington GOP chairman Andrew Loposser said of the planned ranked-choice voting for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The process was used last year as Virginia Republicans elected a statewide party chair. But far larger numbers of people – 1,400 in the immediate area, perhaps 50,000 or more statewide – are expected to take part in the upcoming nominating convention.
After wrangling that went on for months and only ended recently, the rules are in place. Voters in the Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church areas of the 8th District will be able to cast ballots from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the National Right to Work headquarters in Springfield. Fairfax County voters will cast ballots during the same window at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
Under ranked-choice voting, low-scoring candidates are successively eliminated until one contender emerges with more than 50 percent of the vote. The theory is that voting this way, rather than the traditional winner-take-all approach, will lead to a candidate acceptable to the largest possible part of the Republican rank-and-file.
Voters can (but are not required to) list the candidates for each of the three offices in order of preference. If a voter’s top choice is eliminated in early rounds of voting, that vote will be reallocated to the next person selected by the voter, and so on.
While voters are not obligated to rank candidates, some party leaders are encouraging them to do so, as it will give them more input in the final selection.
“Do your research” on candidates, said Mark Kelly, a past chair of the 8th District Republican Committee. (Loposser is doing double duty, holding down that post as well as the Arlington chair’s slot.)
A field of four in the race for attorney general could result one contender walking away with a majority of votes in the first round. But having seven candidates for governor and six for lieutenant governor, being the second – or third, or fourth – pick of voters could ultimately prove a sound political strategy.
“Nobody’s going to get 51 percent on the first round,” Loposser predicted.
Come-from-behind victories have now occurred twice in local ranked-choice voting, albeit on the Democratic side. Takis Karantonis catapulted past first-round leader Barbara Kanninen to garner the Democratic endorsement for an Arlington County Board special election in the spring of 2020, while David Priddy surmounted the first-round lead of Stephen Krieger to win the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board, also last year. Each went on to win office, Karantonis in the subsequent July special election and Priddy in the ensuing November general election.
(Democrats are choosing their nominees for statewide offices in a June 8 primary. State law does not provide for ranked-choice voting in primaries, so the Democrats who finish with the most votes, even if not majorities, in those three races will move on to the general election.)
A recent meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee provided a chance for GOP leaders to explain the voting format to the rank and file. Leaders asked those who signed up to be delegates to be ready to vote when they arrive at the location.
As was the case last year, convention voting will be held in a drive-through format that should take just minutes.
“You will pull up and you will vote and you will go enjoy your Saturday,” Loposser said. “You don’t have to wait around.”
It was not that long ago that, outside Northern Virginia and downstate urban areas, Republicans rolled up big majorities in Virginia elections. But the party has seen its fortunes dwindle, due in part to changing demographics but also due to infighting among different wings of the GOP.
The 2020 defeat of Donald Trump – who was supported by many but no means all Virginia Republicans – seems to have galvanized some in the GOP to put victory at the top of the party’s to-do list.
“I’m tired of losing,” said Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general who is supporting Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) for that post in the Republican convention.
Others saw possibilities galore, if the statewide party could focus on cohesiveness.
“Virginia’s a red state. We just have to get back there,” Loposser said. Not only is the field of candidates set in stone; so, too, is the list of delegates, as the process to register closed in mid-April.
Counting their ballots will be a much more labor-intensive process than simply running them through a tabulating machine. The current best-case scenario has the GOP ticket being announced by May 12.
Despite the lag between voting and announcement of results, “we should have confidence in the process,” said Scott McGeary, a former Arlington County Republican Committee chair and currently secretary of the Arlington Electoral Board.
For full details on the election, see the Website at www.rpv.org.