Ranked Choice Voting: what it means for Virginia
Ranked choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting or IRV) has been growing in popularity across the country. Now, thanks to a new law that goes into effect July 1st, Virginians may be the latest voters to use this election improvement at the local level.
Ranked Choice Voting: the basics
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is an election system in which voters rank candidates preferentially on their ballots, and the candidate who receives above 50% of the vote is declared the winner. If no candidate receives a majority on the 1st round of counting, an instant runoff occurs. The candidate with the lowest amount of first place votes is eliminated, and their supporters then have their second choice vote tallied and reallocated to the remaining candidates until a candidate reaches the majority threshold and is declared the winner.
It has become apparent in recent elections that voters are often faced with a choice between voting for who they prefer and risk electing the candidate they like the least, or voting for the candidate they think is more likely to win. This is called the “spoiler effect.” Using RCV, voters can actually cast a ballot for who they want, knowing that their second choice (if they have chosen more than one candidate) will be counted if no candidate receives a majority.
Because ranked choice voting requires candidates to actually win a majority, it can also lead to better elections and outcomes: including increasing diversity, competition and representation. It’s also been found to improve representation in both candidates and elected officials amongst marginalized communities.
Ranked Choice Voting in Virginia
In March last year, Virginia passed a bill, HB1103, that allows for localities to opt-in to using RCV for local elections (county board of supervisors and city councils), beginning July 1, 2021. Especially in Virginia’s local elections with at-large seats or contests with a large field and multiple candidates, RCV will help ensure that the candidate who wins will have the support of a majority of voters, increase competition, and address the issues of spoilers and vote splitting for similar candidates. In a previous post, we analyzed local supervisor elections from 2019 where approximately 60% of the winners did not receive a majority of support, over 50% went uncontested, and in one Virginia county, the winner received only 21.5% of the votes.
The Virginia GOP has also found ranked choice voting to be an effective way to improve their nomination process. In August of last year, the Virginia GOP utilized RCV to elect the new chairperson for their party. After the first count, Richard Anderson was leading by just under 50% of the vote, and ended up winning the election after one of his opponents was eliminated in the runoff.
More recently, the Virginia GOP has again announced that they will use ranked choice voting for their 2021 statewide nominating convention this May as the party selects their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
Which other states use RCV?
Similarly to the Virginia GOP, both Republicans and Democrats in Utah used RCV for their conventions last year with enormous success. In the 1st Congressional district, Republicans remarkably required counting 11 rounds of votes to ensure majority support. Post-election polls show that both the majority of Democrats and Republicans preferred RCV. Democrats in Alaska, Kansas, Wyoming, and Hawaii also used RCV for their primaries in 2020.
Ranked choice voting is also rapidly spreading as a preferred voting method across the country as well; Alaska became the latest state to adopt ranked choice voting for federal elections in November, joining Maine, who passed RCV in a statewide initiative in 2018. Meanwhile, voters in New York City adopted the ranked choice voting for city elections in 2019, with a staggering 73% of voters in favor. They’ll use the system for their June mayoral election.
We are excited to have Virginia’s political parties and localities adopt this simple voting improvement that results in better elections and outcomes for the Commonwealth.