Arlington School Board: Barbara Kanninen

Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen.

Even before a new era in Arlington elections has dawned, it already has snagged its inaugural victim.

Barbara Kanninen has become the first Arlington political candidate to fall to a come-from-behind challenger in instant-runoff voting, a way of casting ballots that soon could become standard in County Board elections.

Kanninen, a School Board member, initially won the most votes in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s May 5-6 caucus to select a nominee in the upcoming County Board special election. But with just 31 percent of the vote, she fell well short of the 50-percent-plus-one requirement, kicking in the instant-runoff process in which candidates with low vote totals are eliminated and their votes reallocated as directed by their voters.

In this instance, former Columbia Pike Redevelopment Organization executive director Takis Karantonis, who was lagging Kanninen slightly (77 votes to 80) in the first round, picked up the vast majority of second- and third-place votes of those initially supporting candidates Chanda Choun and Nicole Merlene, catapulting himself to victory on the third round of balloting.

Karantonis now moves on as the Democratic nominee in a three-way field to succeed the late County Board member Erik Gutshall. The election is July 7.

Arlington Democrats have used instant-runoff voting before, largely in School Board nominating contests, but there has never been a case in which the candidate leading after the first round has not, ultimately, come out on top.

(The instant-runoff, or “ranked-choice,” system also is in place for the current Democratic School Board caucus, which is being conducted by mail due to public-health concerns. Five candidates are seeking two available seats, with the winners moving on to the Nov. 3 general election.)

State law has always mandated that general elections, special elections and state-run primaries use the winner-take-all approach (which the British, in their charming way, describe as the “first-past-the-post” system). But that could change in Arlington this year, as a recently enacted state law gives the County Board the power to mandate instant-runoff voting for County Board primaries and elections.

Arlington board members would have to act in July to establish instant-runoff voting for the November County Board election, where County Board Chairman Libby Garvey will be the Democratic nominee, facing perennial candidate Audrey Clement and, potentially, others who may file before the June 9 deadline.

The General Assembly enabling legislation, shepherded through Richmond by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), is exclusive to Arlington and limited to County Board races. It makes Arlington something of a guinea pig for other Virginia localities, which in 2021 will themselves get the power to implement instant-runoff voting for their own boards of supervisors and city councils.

The Karanonis-Kanninen-Choun-Merlene race seemed to accomplish what supporters of instant-runoff voting envisioned – ending up with a victor who has the broadest appeal to voters in a multi-candidate field.

The race was something of a one-off, however, as voting was limited to the roughly 275 top Arlington County Democratic Committee leaders because there was no way for the party to conduct a broader caucus due to time constraints and limitations imposed by current public-health conditions.

Going forward, moving to an instant-runoff process for general elections is unlikely to make much of a difference in Arlington; even on their worst day and no matter their nominee, county Democrats usually are assured of at least 60 percent of the vote. But as the recent County Board caucus showed, instant-runoff voting is likely to have more impact in the party’s nomination process. It also could be a bigger factor in lower-turnout special election.

And on the plus side, at least for those who think Arlington has too many elections already, Kanninen’s defeat means she will stay put on the School Board. Had she won the Democratic nomination and then special election for County Board, a special election to fill her seat would have been required to be held on Nov. 3 – meaning three of the county’s five School Board seats would have been on the ballot on a single day.

(21) comments


Then there was Foodstar, which Takis could not and would help renovate not help relocate to South Arlington, but which is thriving just off the Pike in Fairfax County. Why don't you pedal to the strip plaza mess in Manassas and peddle your Dumb Growth there?

Janet Smith

Pretty sad when Blue Virginia Democrats who live 40 and more miles from Arlington troll the news blogs trashing anyone who doesn't go along with the PlutoCrats' Urbanist Ponzi Scheme.


Thanks largely to long time CPRO VIP Takis Karatonis the Pike's a mess...everything from the Form Based Code and the unaffordable "affordable housing" that gentrified out the workforce to massive parking for new in-fill redevelopment to crumbling older buildings that haven't received even a modest makeover for decades. Now the Pike is being narrowed so more traffic from more infill will be backed up even further during rush hours (whenever rush hours resume). That what we get from local media printing press releases as "news" with no on-the-ground reporting or fact-checking and ignoring candidates who don't support the ruling regime....elections are popularity contests.

James Hurysz

Blaming Takis for everything you dislike about Columbia Pike is sadly mistaken and ridiculous. Takis is a decent and honorable man who has been working to improve Arlington for decades, but his tenure at CPRO was relatively short and his influence on the Pike has been far more modest than you falsely assert.

A better boogeyman would be Chris Zimmerman, who resigned from the County Board more than six years ago.


Yellow Dog Democrats have run the County for going on 40 years. It's reached the point they are completely intolerant of blog postings that don't agree with the Party's agenda. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the block CPRO is located on is a dump, including the streetscape, and Takis Karatonis did nothing to improve it. Pretty sad for a so-called revitalization organization. All Takis would do on the County Board is do what he did at CPRO.

James Hurysz

If not Takis, who was responsible for replacing the "Sandy's Bloomers" awning at the CPRO office?

Comment deleted.

WHAT "affordable housing"? You mean like zero AHIF-subsidized housing via the Form Based Code and a handful of AHIF-subsidized workforce housing units at $400,000 / unit via the for-profit non-profit housing corporations? CPRO is just another component of the Urbanist Ponzi Scheme that's been around for more than 30 years. Next scam will be missing middle housing (i.e., one $800,000 tear down single family home to four $800,000 cottages on the same lot).

Why do Yellow Dog Democrats trash anyone and everyone who differs with their Party's ideology on these blogs?

Comment deleted.

My initials are CJE and I live in Arlington, not Manassas. Take it to Blue Virginia. Or ArlNow. I and others are sick and tired of our lives being micro-managed by layers of non-residents including County bureaucrats, for-profits, non-profits, lobbyists, media owners and publishers. Arlington residents can't express dissatisfaction with 40 years of the same-old without being trashed by non-resident Yellow Dog Democrats for the Same Old.


Take the non-resident Urbanists' decades long infill gentrification Ponzi Scheme to the non-resident Urbanists' backyards.


There will be a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent running in the Special Election. Equal and unbiased media coverage for all candidates, please.

Henry Howell

Thank goodness that SJW Kanninen lost, to actual development oriented Takis Karantonis.


Take it to the Blue Virginia blog. Rant for 40 more years of one party government in Arlington there.


High school prom queen and king elections? That's what we have with ranked choice voting. Post, InsideNova/Sun Gazette, ArlNow, and other local media are largely to blame for frequently printing Arlington Democratic Party press releases as "news" while perennially ignoring and disparaging candidates who aren't Democrats.

Janet Smith

[thumbdown]to Scott McCaffrey's perennial bias against candidates for public office who aren't Democrats. Time for Inside Nova and the Sun Gazette to amicably part company so McCaffrey / Sun Gazette can vent his angst on the Range Rover Progressives (Talk like Bernie, Live like Hillary) in North Arlington, McLean, Oakton, etc., who are receptive to Yellow Dog "Journalism".

Scott McCaffrey disses my candidacy with the usual deprecatory reference to me as a "perennial" candidate. Yet my opponent, Libby Garvey, the Democratic machine candidate, has been running for office twice as long as me. What gives?


Uh, Libby wins.

James Hurysz



Like many other adults, I want Libby to retire from Arlington County Government and become a registered lobbyist for bicycle manufacturers and dealers, which is what she spends at least 50% of her time on the County Board (of Supervisors) doing. When she's not driving around in her big SUV telling everyone to ride bicycles 24/7/365. Thanks to fibbin' Libby I have to stop twice for stop signs - once for the stop sign and another time for bicyclists who are running the stop sign, often at high speed.


Democracy doesn't die in darkness. Democracy dies when the media are boosters of one-party government for decades and not only disregard and disparage candidates who don't support the status quo but employ surrogates to trash those candidates, and anyone else who is unhappy with the status quo.


[thumbdown]to more shenanigans by one-party government. Keep the high school prom queen and king elections in high school. BTW, I am not voting for perennial candidate Libby Garvey because all we've gotten from her perennial terms in office is perennial in-fill gentrification and perennial tax increases.

James Hurysz

In fact, the Democratic nomination process for this County Board Special Election involved about twice the number of 150 registered voters that are needed to place Audrey Clement on the General Election ballot, year after year.

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