RICHMOND (WMAL) — A new form of voting may start deciding local elections in Virginia, with a bill pending in the State Senate that would allow localities to allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than just voting for one.
Its called ranked-choice voting — sometimes instant run-off voting — and advocates say that it creates greater consensus, preventing candidates winning without securing a true majority of votes.
One of those advocates is State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30th) who is sponsoring the bill. He argues that ranked choice voting is the antidote for so-called “strategic voting,” where voters skip over candidates who they might agree more with because they don’t think they have a chance of winning.
Here’s how it works: If several candidates are running and no one wins a majority of the vote, the lowest vote-getter would be eliminated and voters who voted for that person would have their votes re-distributed based on their second choice. If no one still has a majority the process is repeated until someone does. This mean that practically, voters could cast a first choice vote for an independent or small-party candidate while still having an impact on the major party races if their first choice candidate doesn’t win.
The idea of ranked voting instead of single voting is not a new idea, with the State of Maine electing a U.S. Senator and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives through ranked choice voting in the 2018 midterms. Though, in that case, the Maine Supreme Court ruled ranked-choice-voting unconstitutional for Maine’s statewide races.
Ebbins’ bill, however is much smaller in scale.
“This [bill] would allow the Department of Elections to provide for ranked choice voting in any locality that wants to participate and cover the cost. At least to start they’d have to cover the cost,” says Ebbin.
A state report from Maine says that the cost of implementing ranked-choice voting in a typical primary election is about $80,000 more than their usual cost of $250,000 dollars. With continued Republican control in Richmond, pushing the cost burden onto localities is likely an olive branch to fiscal conservatives who’ll likely decide the bill’s fate.
It’s not an unfounded fear. A similar ranked-choice voting bill that would have only applied to the Arlington County Board race was introduced last year by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), but was sent back to committee by Republicans during the last days of the 2018 session, effectively killing it.
Ebbin’s bill – SB1731 – currently is in Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections and Ebbin hopes it gets sent straight to the floor for a vote.
“We’re talking about really reflecting the views of the people in the district so that you wont have a candidate winning with 20% of the vote or 25% of the vote,” Ebbin said. “We want the voters to show confidence in the winner of them in total.”
If passed, boards of supervisors and city councils could be decided by ranked voting as early as next year