Albemarle Supervisors exploring ranked-choice voting

Tomorrow the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will discuss what the Electoral Board might need if a directive was given to adopt an alternative method of selecting candidates. Earlier this month, Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57) briefed the elected officials with control over elections policy on what’s known as ranked choice voting. 

“Ranked choice voting is an election reform that is now being adopted across the country, both coasts and everywhere in between,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said ranked choice would encourage participation both by voters and by candidates who might feel they have a better chance of making the ballot. She also said this method would elect people who can build consensus. 

“Consensus builders who are invested in the very real work of bringing people together to get good governing done,” Hudson said. “That’s what has motivated me to be so passionate about this topic for some years now.”

Under ranked choice voting, people select more than one candidate.

“You get to rank the candidates from most to least favorable,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said the state of Maine has been using ranked-choice voting since 2018. There’s a whole list of Frequently Asked Questions about the process there.  In many cases, there are still only two candidates for a particular office. 

“But in the event that more than two candidates run, the ranked choice voting really starts to come into play,” Hudson said. 

Voters do not have to rank candidates if they do not want to do so. If no candidate wins a majority on the first round of voting, a run-off election can be counted immediately by dropping out candidates at the bottom. If there are several candidates, this process can take many rounds. 

“A ranked choice or an instant run-off election is just like the run-off elections that have been conducted in the south for years,” Hudson said. “You just don’t drag everybody back to the polls and make them cast another ballot to determine the winner in the head-to-head final race.” 

There’s even an example of how the concept works in recent history. On August 20, 2011, the Charlottesville Democratic Party selected their nominees for City Council in a “firehouse primary” and seven candidates were on the ballot. Voting took five-rounds. 

Two candidates had a majority in the first round of voting in the 2011 Democratic “firehouse primary” but it took until the fifth to nominate the third for the November ballot

Write-in candidates could still play a role. In 1993, Sally Thomas won election to the Board of Supervisors on a write-in vote for the Samuel Miller District. In 2019, a write-in candidate for the Rivanna District who failed to qualify for the ballot still received a third of the vote. 

Legislation carried by Delegate Hudson in 2020 passed the General Assembly and authorizes local government bodies to authorize the use of ranked-choice voting for local office. It’s up to the local body to determine how far they want to go. (HB1103)

“Whether that ordinance could include primaries, general elections, or both, the state code is flexible on that,” Hudson said. 

Hudson said the county’s costs would be to adjust the voting equipment to handle the counts. She said all vendors are offering the service. 

“The county would need to update its ballot scanning software if it wanted to offer ranked choice next year,” Hudson said. 

And that’s the conversation supervisors will have tomorrow. Hudson said she would defer to Registrar Lauren Eddy about the costs for the update. She said parties would like to know if this method is a possibility for next year. 

One option would be to eliminate party primaries in favor of a free-for-all in the general election. 

The system would also be moot if no one wants to run. All three of the Supervisors elected in 2021 ran unopposed including first-term Supervisor Jim Andrews. He said he was in favor because it may spur more to seek office. 

“People’s decisions to run as candidates can be impacted by ranked choice voting just as much as the electorate’s ability to choose among the candidates,” Andrews said. 

Hudson said more people have run in New York City’s 51-seat council since ranked-choice was adopted there and it has made a difference. 

“They’ve never had more than I think 18 women and the year after they adopted ranked choice, they have the first majority women city council and the vast majority of those are women of color.”

Further discussion is scheduled tomorrow afternoon in the Board of Supervisors’ meeting. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the November 5, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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