Del. Patrick Hope

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) speaks before members of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns on Feb. 9, 2018.

A proposal that would allow, though not require, Arlington to elect its County Board members by “instant-runoff” (also known as “ranked-choice”) voting has cleared its first hurdle in Richmond, but still faces an uncertain future.

The measure, by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), won passage in the House of Delegates on a 68-30 vote and was forwarded across the hall for consideration by the state Senate.

The instant-runoff process already is in use when the Arlington County Democratic Committee selects its nominees for local office through a caucus (though not in state-run primaries). Voters are able to rank candidates in order of preference; should no candidate receive 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot, the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated, and his/her votes would be reallocated based on voter preferences.

The process would continue in multiple rounds until a candidate hits the 50-percent threshold.

Hope’s bill came out of the House of Delegates with a not-inconsequential amendment affixed. It would require the Arlington government, if it moves forward with instant-runoff voting, to pay not only the local costs of making the transition, but also costs that the Virginia Department of Elections would have to incur, as well.

While Hope’s bill applies exclusively to Arlington, another measure – patroned by Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) would allow for ranked-choice voting in a wide array of races statewide on a 10-year trial basis.

Hudson’s measure cleared the House of Delegates on a 57-42 vote, but a companion bill authored by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria-Arlington) was defeated in a Senate subcommittee, suggesting the Hudson bill might not be on its way to the governor’s desk.

Arlington election officials say they have the technological capability to handle ranked-choice voting. When Hope in 2018 introduced the bill for the first time, county election officials and the Arlington Electoral Board seemed lukewarm on the proposal; there was little discussion of the matter at the Electoral Board’s most recent meeting, although board secretary Scott McGeary said the change would represent the biggest alteration to Arlington’s local governance since the change to a County Board form in the early 1930s.

Hope’s measure is silent on whether the Arlington County Board should submit the proposed change in election process to voters in a referendum before enacting it.

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