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Let’s say the Arlington leaders decide to use a ranked voting method for the county board races. And say that six people decide to run for office.
Voters will likely only have the option to “rank” their first three elections based on the voting equipment currently in use in the county.
“This is how your system was programmed,” said Gretchen Reinemeyer, the district election supervisor, in a working meeting on October 5th with members of the district executive committee.
Improvements to the existing system may be on the way, but “we can’t predict” when they will be available or approved at the state level, Reinemeyer told the county board.
The October 5 meeting marked the first time members of the district board got the ball rolling to reflect a change from the current electoral structure that has governed board elections since 1932.
While the General Assembly passed a bill in 2020 giving Arlington the power to make the change (if only for the county board races), board members voted against putting it into effect for the 2020 or 2021 elections. That has drawn criticism that board members are dragging their feet – any change in the voting process could potentially jeopardize Democratic monopoly in elected office – but county board members said they were incapacitated because the Electoral Department was out of office Virginia did not provide any parameters for conducting ranked elections.
“There is no meaningful way we could have acted earlier,” said Katie Cristol, member of the district executive committee.
(That may be a little insincere; Arlington could have pushed the change and let state election officials catch up, but “we want to make sure we’re … not ahead of them,” suggested Reinemeyer.)
The subtleties can be complicated, but the basics of ranked voting aren’t: voters receive their ballot and are allowed to rank candidates for office (up to the permitted number) according to their preference. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes the first time, the candidate with the lowest number of points is eliminated and his / her votes are reassigned according to the instructions of the voters. The process continues until a candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote shows up.
Proponents of the process say it ensures that the winning candidates have a broad base of support and removes the likelihood of fringe candidates in a large field of candidates sneaking into office with a fraction of the total vote.
The ranked election is no mystery to many Arlington voters. The Arlington County’s Democratic Committee uses it for many of its nomination competitions, and the Virginia Republican Party is using it this year to select candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
Two officials elected by Arlington – County Board Member Takis Karantonis and School Board Member David Priddy – owe their seats to the ranked selection method. Both lagged behind other candidates in the Democratic nomination competitions last year, but catapulted them in later rounds and emerged victorious.
At the October 5 meeting, District Executive Chairman Matt de Ferranti warned his colleagues not to “worry too much about the details,” but as those who watched the working sessions know only too well, this held some off Do not stop them from delving deep into the subject the weeds.
When asked if it would be fair for candidates to allow voters to rank only a handful of them if the field were big, Reinemeyer said that technological challenges have led almost all governments to use the ranked election to set some kind of maximum value.
“Every jurisdiction except Australia limits your choices – every machine has a limit,” she said.
The 2020 law gives the district board, not voters, the authority to move from winner-take-all voting to ranked selection. A decision can be made in the spring of next year.
“We love to do whatever you do – or not do,” Matt Weinstein, chairman of the Arlington Electoral Committee, told the county board.