Ranked Choice Voting Approved in Virginia

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

Republican election officials in Virginia voted in May to approve using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) software for future elections. The decision may mean an eventual shift to RCV in elections statewide. Republicans in Virginia control both the Department of Elections (ELECT) and the State Board of Elections, and yet, they have worked closely with the Left-leaning activists to introduce RCV to the state. ELECT worked with North Carolina-based Ranked Choice Resource Center (RCVRC) to purchase Universal RCV Tabulator (RCTab) software in January 2023 to administer RCV in the state.

According to a June 13 article written for Restoration for America by Hayden Ludwig, "the group's official name in IRS disclosures is the Election Administration Resource Center." It is a "spin-off of the 'progressive' activist group FairVote." FairVote has been integral to the adoption of RCV across the nation, engaging in "numerous court battles arising out of or relating to its initiatives," which also include robust efforts "to eliminate the Constitution's electoral college."

The approval document from the Virginia Department of Elections states RCV "was established as an optional method for the election of the county board of supervisors and city council members" during the 2020 Virginia General Assembly Session, which is Democrat-controlled. The legislation opened the door to passing RCV regulations in 2021.

Then in Dec. 2022, the all-Democrat Arlington County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance approving a pilot RCV program for use in its June 2023 primary election, "the first use of RCV in a local contest." According to Ludwig, Richmond VA Republicans "want to skip Arlington's test phase altogether and go full-throttle on ranked-choice voting statewide."

FairVote states on its website that the adoption of the ranked-choice voting pilot in Arlington was "aided by efforts from many organizations including UpVote VAFairVote VirginiaFairVote Action, the League of Women VotersRepresentUsVeterans for Political Innovation, and the Voters First Project."

Where Is RCV Being Implemented?

According to FairVote, as of June 2023, 52 American jurisdictions have RCV in place, reaching approximately 13 million voters. Military and overseas voters in six southern states use RCV in federal runoff elections. Alaska was the latest state to adopt RCV statewide in 2020, using RCV for the first time in the 2022 election in all state and federal general elections.

In 2016, Maine was the first state to adopt RCV for use in state and federal elections and all general congressional elections. It was first used in Maine in 2018 but expanded to use in presidential elections "beginning in 2020 (presidential general election) and 2024 (presidential primaries)." The first use of RCV was in 1941 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "to elect nine at-large city council seats and six at-large school board seats," according to the FairVote website.

FairVote/RCV Jurisdictions/https://fairvote.org/our-reforms/ranked-choice-voting-information/#where-is-ranked-choice-voting-used

RCV is also used in many cities for local elections, in some cases starting in the early 2000s. In Carbondale, Colorado, it was adopted in 2002 for mayoral races with three or more candidates but has yet to be used there.

[gallery type="slideshow" size="medium" td_select_gallery_slide="slide" td_gallery_title_input="RCV Jurisdictions" ids="52740,52743,52742,52741"]

Upcoming implementations of RCV are projected in eight jurisdictions, including Amherst, Mass; Eureka, CA; Evanston, IL; Fort Collins, CO; Multnomah County, OR; Portland, OR; Redondo Beach, CA; and Seattle, WA. Notably, Utah now has a pilot program for local elections. Cities must opt into the pilot program separately for each year they want to participate. Twelve cities, including Salt Lake, have opted to participate in 2023. The complete list is located on the FairVote page.

RCV Upcoming Jurisdictions/FairVote

10 other jurisdictions are awaiting the implementation of ranked-choice voting.

RCV Awaiting Implementation/FairVote

What is Ranked Choice Voting and Why Isn't It Widely Implemented?

For those still confused about ranked-choice voting, UncoverDC wrote an article explaining in clear language why Progressives are pushing ranked-choice voting and how the system works. The Left promotes RCV as being a less divisive system of voting. This is arguably an ideological reason for supporting the system. Feelings aside, however, if transparent elections are a priority, then RCV may not be the best option. RCV relies upon calculations that are not obvious to voters and it is also a confusing system of voting to many.

The system tends to lower voter confidence in elections, an undesirable outcome, especially in the current political environment. In addition, as is seen in Virginia and most other states, RCV has not yet been widely adopted and therefore produces inconsistencies. The system may also materially affect voter turnout. In fact, D.C. Democrats rejected Ranked Choice Voting in city elections "after an eight-month deliberation process." The reason? A statement from Party leaders concluded,

"When considering the District's specific circumstances, [the] fundamental issue we identified is that District wards are not equal in terms of voter turnout. Implementing RCV would not adequately address this disparity and could potentially undermine the democratic principles we strive to uphold."

D.C. Party leaders also noted that under-voting would be challenging if RCV were adopted there. Undervoting is one of the most common mistakes made by new users of the Ranked Choice Voting system.

According to reporting by Daniel DiSalvo for the City Journal, it is difficult to broadly implement RCV because it is difficult to garner widespread bipartisan support. Even in Maine, where it was first adopted statewide, the battle to implement it was contentious. According to the City Journal article:

"Maine's Republican governor, Paul LePage, called it 'the most horrific thing in the world' as the Maine GOP campaigned against it in a 2016 referendum, passed legislation to halt it, and filed lawsuits seeking to block its implementation. In New York City, the NAACP and a leading Democratic candidate for mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, oppose its use in the upcoming Democratic primary. And in Massachusetts, 55 percent of voters cast ballots against an initiative to establish RCV for state-level elections in 2020."

There is evidence that the implementation of RCV skews elections to the left, especially in cities where turnout can be very low, according to the City Journal. That can be disenfranchising to many voters. It is, therefore, no wonder bi-partisan support is tough to come by. DiSalvo continues:

"Turnout is less than 30 percent of the electorate for most big-city mayoral elections and falls below 15 percent in some cities. Off-cycle contests decrease turnout further. Low turnout risks giving militant activists and interest groups that engage in electioneering—usually progressives, environmentalists, and public-employee unions—disproportionate influence and may cause elected officials to be more responsive to a group well to the left of the electorate as a whole. Policy outcomes, in turn, skew to the left of the average city dweller's preferences."

There is Money in Ranked Choice Voting

There is money in ranked-choice voting for Progressive activists, according to the Restoration of America article. The RCVRC was "launched in 2019 with $850,000 in seed capital from two funders: the lion's share from the California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (the philanthropy of Hewlett-Packard's late co-founder), and a smaller bundle from the obscure Sheldon Kaphan Foundation, formed by Amazon's first employee. In 2020, about half of RCVRC's budget came from Hewlett, which earmarked another $1 million to the center in 2022. No conservative donors to the center have been identified."

Other contributions came from an LLC, not a nonprofit, Arnold Ventures, in the amount of $500,000—all exempt from filing IRS disclosures—"the very definition of dark money," according to the article. The Unite America Institute also earmarked money in a 2021 grant to RCVRC for "$250,00 to support core grantee programmatic activities, including the jurisdiction support services program and the universal RCV tabulator (URVCT) project"—the software Virginia now aims to implement statewide."

It is not clear why Republicans would work with the Left to implement RCV in a state where the recent gubernatorial election was so hard-won for conservatives. Motivations for the push for ranked-choice voting by progressives may be more clear. The Left may feel it is the surest way to secure a win in jurisdictions where more moderate candidates might secure the majority in a traditional election.

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